Brent E. Huffman, a recent graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, has been making documentaries about human rights violations and social issues for seven years. His most recent film, Welcome to the Warren, examines life at a secretive maximum security prison in southern Ohio. With his wife Xiaoli Zhou, he co-founded a company called German Camera to produce documentaries in Asia.
Sometimes at FRONTLINE/World we like to present the small story that may suggest something larger about a country and its people. That's why we decided to bring you "The Weight of the World" this week.
In newly opened gyms in downtown Kabul, young men are rebuilding Afghanistan one muscle at a time. They are pumping iron and dreaming of Arnold Schwarzenegger. "They don't know much about Arnold the politician," says FRONTLINE/World filmmaker Brent Huffman, "but they do know Arnold the action hero."
"When I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger's film I wanted to start this exercise," explains one enthusiastic Afghan bodybuilder as he proudly flexes his bulging biceps.
This is not what Huffman expected to find when he landed in Afghanistan, a country that is still one of the poorest in the world and remains an unsettled and perilous place after 25 years of war. But all over Kabul he spots giant billboards advertising bodybuilding. He learns that some 35 gyms have sprouted in the capital city since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001.
Entering the world of this burgeoning subculture, Huffman meets Shoib Satar, a 21-year-old math tutor and window repairman, who is devoted not only to his own bodybuilding, but also to encouraging and teaching others. As Huffman follows Satar from gym to work, from home to polling booth, it becomes clear that lifting weights is this young man's way of transforming himself and, he hopes, his country.
"Afghans don't have good nutrition so they are weak," says Satar. "And people's minds have been disturbed by war. Lifting helps us to become strong."
Flying his kite, Satar dreams of what Afghanistan might become, if there is peace. He imagines a country where reconstruction is not just a promise -- a country that earns the respect of the world instead of its pity.
It's reassuring to see Satar and a friend jogging in Kabul's refurbished stadium. Formerly the site for many of the Taliban regime's notorious public executions, the stadium is now a place where boys can play soccer and men can practice their karate kicks, though it is still off-limits to girls and women. Democracy may be taking root in Afghanistan as witnessed by last week's voting for a new national assembly, but there's no Title IX gender equality in sports. Not yet.