Bowling for Peace: Why an Afghan Woman Risked Her Life to Bring Bowling to Afghanistan

It's a stark contrast to the world outside, filled with barbed wire, soldiers.

ByMuhammad Lila
June 02, 2012, 2:08 PM

KABUL, Afghanistan, June 3, 2012— -- Behind a blastproof door and through a cordon of armed guards searching for hidden weapons, Meena Rahmani is planning her day.

"I'm responsible for taking part in rebuilding the country," she says, walking through her establishment with a sense of purpose that lets everyone know -- she's in charge.

Rahmani, whose family fled the country when the Taliban took power, is one of many Afghans who have since returned. But unlike the vast array of health workers, diplomats, government officials, and aid workers who've come back, Rahmani is doing something no one else has ever done.

And she's doing it one strike at a time.

Welcome to Strikers -- Afghanistan's first and only bowling alley. It's a stark contrast to the world outside, which is filled with barbed wire, armed soldiers, and concrete blast-proof barriers. Inside, it's a different world: Strobe lights, a menu with nachos and pizzas, and families enjoying a night out together.

It's so authentic, so western, you'll even hear the latest Rihanna tunes blaring from the alley's many speakers.

"They should feel like they're not in Afghanistan, a war torn country," Rahmani says. "They should feel like they could spend hours here in total peace of mind."

See Afghanistan's First and Only Bowling Alley

That, in a nutshell, is Rahmani's goal. Using the alley as an escape, a chance for ordinary Afghans to forget there's a war outside, and just have fun.

It's a simple concept: In a country plagued by 30 years of war, giving ordinary Afghans the chance to relax and feel safe while enjoying a night out with friends, can make all the difference in the world.

"I came here with my wife and my friend," says Hadi Safdari, who works in IT.

Before Strikers, the closest Safdari ever came to bowling was on an app on his mobile phone. Now, he's convinced the new bowling alley can be a ray of hope in what otherwise appears to be a dark future for Afghanistan. With NATO troops scheduled to pull out of combat duty in 2014, many fear the Taliban will become emboldened, targeting western business -- like Rahmani's -- with more frequency.

"When we see people of different ethnicities or tribes coming together, with their family, it shows something," Safdari says. "It shows they want to experience a sort of normal life.

"Having this attitude in the back of their minds to have a normal life... that's a ray of hope in Afghanistan," he says.

Rahmani's journey to becoming a female Afghan entrepreneur came almost by accident. Although she was just a child when her family fled the country, she always remembered its natural beauty -- and longed to return.

Four years ago, she moved to Toronto, where during the cold Canadian winters, she learned how to bowl. When she moved back to Afghanistan last year, she convinced her parents to sell their ancestral land, and invest a million dollars into her business. She imported brand new bowling lanes from China, and brought in trainers from Brunswick Bowling to help get the business off the ground..

With a price tag of more than $30 an hour, in a country where the average per capita income is less than $500 dollars per year, she knows she's taking a big risk. But she's convinced the business will take off.

Through it all, she sometimes works 20 hour days, has faced taunts from conservative Afghans who say a woman has no place running a business like this, and has fought off officials from the Olympic committee who've threatened to close down her business unless she pays a hefty "registration" fee -- what many consider a bribe.

Despite the struggles, she's persevered. From humble beginnings -- the bowling alley used to be a vacant parking lot -- the place is now packed on Thursday and Friday nights, and Sunday afternoons, when -- in a nod to Islamic culture that encourages segregation -- the lanes are reserved for women and children.

Rahmani, herself a devout Muslim who wears a hijab, also doesn't allow smoking on the premises, and refuses to admit anyone who appears drunk.

For Hadi Safdari, it's proof that bowling can exist, perhaps even flourish, in a country as conservative as Afghanistan.

"Who knows," he jokes. "Maybe one day, the people who are fighting outside will put down their guns, and come in here instead."

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