An Afghan dentist and his teenage son arrived at the United Nations by bicycle Friday to deliver a message of peace and solidarity to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The father-son team of Nader Shah Nangarhari, 49, and Firoz Khan, 17, have been pedaling the world for nearly 11 months trying to change the perception of their country as a war-torn land.
“Many people in the world think the people of Afghanistan they are suicide bombers, they are fighters, that they don’t know about peace — but this is not true,” said Nader Shah Nangarhari. He said maybe 1 percent of Afghans are fighters, but the rest are a peace-loving society.
The father and son started in Turkey and have visited 14 countries so far, including Serbia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Britain, Norway and Denmark. They cycle 80 to 100 kilometers most days and have covered about 11,000 kilometers since they began.
They flew from London to Washington, where they brought their message to the steps of the U.S. Congress, and then biked to New York to the United Nations.
“I really admire your commitment and courage,” the U.N. chief told them during a 15-minute encounter outside the world body. The men came in their cycling gear with their bikes and presented Ban with their message of peace, as well as a gift of a traditional purple-and-green-silk chapan, or coat.
The duo said they decided to make the trip because it was a “good moment” to do something for peace. Afghanistan has been at war for more than 14 years, and efforts to jump-start peace negotiations have stalled.
In the U.S., the Afghanistan Embassy has helped pay for two men's meals, but they have otherwise self-financed their trip.
“They came so far to raise the voice of one nation. As an Afghan, I appreciate their effort,” said Atta Amin of Greenbelt, Maryland, who acted as the team’s escort, driving along with them from Washington to New York to keep them safe.
Young Firoz left behind his mother, three brothers and four sisters to make the journey.
“He has cried for his mother three times,” his father good-naturedly teased.
The duo plan to go to California next and from there fly to Australia to spread their message, and then finally home, where Firoz will have to make up the year of school he has missed on this mission, and then hopefully continue on to university. He says it has all been worth it if he has inspired his fellow youth back home.
“I want to encourage them to go to school, don’t take drugs, don’t fight with your government, don’t kill your people, just do education and build your country again,” he said.