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By Lauren Herman
When filmmaker Sarah Menzies traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan to document the lives of female cyclists, she began an unexpected journey not just as a director, but also as an individual.
She spoke at the TEDxSacramentoSalon “This Changes Everything: WOMEN” about the film, Afghan Cycles, and how it was more than just another job. She admits that it did not take much convincing for her to pack her bags when she learned about the female cyclist team based in Kabul. But, what was surprising about the project was her unexpected personal growth before and after the film that began when she landed in Afghanistan meeting, befriending and filming the female cyclists.
In a recent blog post about her TED talk, Sarah wrote, “I’ll be honest, when I was asked to speak at TEDxSacramento this winter, I was nervous...I think it’s because for the first time, I was required to insert myself into the story. We’ve tried so hard to keep ourselves out of any of the messaging, so it was strange to personalize this story and talk about myself. The truth is, the women we’re profiling in the film have completely transformed me and my way of thinking.”
Sarah’s Unexpected Journey
Sarah’s unexpected journey as a filmmaker and individual brought to light her own misconceptions of Afghanistan and the role of women in it – a county made familiar to Westerners through scenes of war produced by mass media rather than personal experience.
Sarah explains on the TEDxSacramento stage that, “Afghanistan is not an easy place to be a women let alone a women riding a bicycle.” But, she goes on to explain that the females she befriended and worked alongside were not helpless, weak individuals that need saving like she once imagined.
The women in the film completely changed her “western bias and western fears” about the lives of Afghani women. She realized that even though “women are oppressed by men, culture and tradition...that does not have to mark them as victims.” She is determined to showcase these women as the strong, hopeful females she met who challenged her to see them as more than the conflict of their homeland. They are individuals with hopes and dreams doing something they love – riding a bicycle. Rather than feel pity and sorrow, she wants the world to feel the hope of these Afghan women cyclists when learning about them.
Sarah’s Gift to Us from the TED Stage
Sarah wanted to give a voice to the story of these female cyclists through her film, but they in turn gave her a new perspective that she is now able to use to speak to our own prejudices, biases and misconceptions of our world – especially Afghanistan.
Even though Sarah was not in Afghanistan offering humanitarian aid, I believe that she was on a mission for humanity to save ourselves from our fallacies and misjudgments of “the other” -- other cultures, other religions, other countries, other governments that are different from our own and which, we -- in turn -- deem as inferior or a danger to our own. In this case, it is the unexplored country and women of Afghanistan in which most Americans only understand through the lens of the violence and conflict.
We need people like Sarah to wake us up to the realization that despite differences in culture, gender, age, nationality, and occupations, we are all human. All seven billion of us experience pain and joy; we all have family and friends; we have much more in common than differences. To truly appreciate that, we need to listen and learn from one another and be open to the possibility that the labels we give to one another are most likely wrong.
Take the opportunity to listen to Sarah’s story on the TEDxSacramento stage to see how her journey will change you. Let her film and her talk serve as transformative agents for you.
Want to learn more mind blowing ideas worth spreading? Attend the upcoming TEDxSacramento2015 conference, "THIS Changes EVERYTHING," at the Community Center Theater on June 12, 2015. Register Now!