Teen Afghan Street Hawker Heading to Oscars
(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- While most Oscar-nominated stars will spend the weeks leading up to the Oscar ceremony living a lavish lifestyle being chauffeur-driven from one red carpet to another, 14-year-old Fawad Mohammedi will be celebrating by doing something he never thought possible. He'll be flying on a plane for the first time.
"When I go there, I will meet lots of people," Fawad Mohammedi, one of the two young stars of the critically acclaimed Buzkashi Boys, says from his home in a quiet, snow-lined part of Kabul. "Some people might even take me to some films."
Buzkashi Boys is the surprise hit of this year's Oscars, nominated in the Best Live Action Short category. The film chronicles the lives of two impoverished young boys as they grow up in Kabul, dreaming of playing buzkashi, Afghanistan's national sport. It's similar to polo, but played with a goat or sheep carcass.
The film is the first produced by the Afghan Film Project, a Kabul-based charity founded by acclaimed filmmaker Sam French in 2008. Its goal is to train and equip Afghan filmmakers that "nurture the voice of ordinary Afghans."
Mohammedi made headlines when Buzkashi Boys was nominated for the Oscar, but it later became clear the young star, who spends his days selling magazines along Kabul's famous Chicken Street bazaar, couldn't afford the airfare.
Chicken Street is in an upscale part of town -- as much as any part of Kabul can be considered upscale -- with shops on either side hawking jewelry, carpets, and various antiques. The area is popular with foreigners and locals, and is often flooded with street kids selling maps, magazines, newspapers, and burqa-clad women holding their babies and begging for change.
Mohammedi refers to it as his "job." On a good day, he'll make 13 cents for each magazine he sells, enough to help support his family, but nowhere near enough for the $1,500 in round trip airfare costs, let alone a hotel in Hollywood during one of the busiest weekends of the year.
For a time, Mohammedi wasn't sure he'd get to walk down the red carpet. But thanks to a crowd-sourcing campaign that's raised more than $10,000 and generated offers of help from around the world, including the U.S. embassy in Kabul, it looks like Mohammedi's dream will be coming true after all.
And if Buzkashi Boys wins in its category, Mohammedi already knows what he'll do.
"First of all I'd like to take the Afghan flag, raise it up, and tell the world this is Afghanistan's Oscar. Afghan people don't want fighting, they want peace," he said. "I want everyone to see Afghanistan's flag on TV. It will be a day for the entire country to share."
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