Aussie's Afghan travel show a tribute to crazy love

McClatchy NewspapersApril 8, 2010 

KABUL — It's amazing what a man with a broken heart will do. Join up with the Afghan army. Rollerblade through the Taliban's spiritual capital in spandex shorts and a pink tank top sporting the slogan "Dead or Alive."

Perform rapper Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" as part of a cultural exchange in the Afghan desert with bewildered Kuchi nomads.

Along the way, consult a scorpion doctor to exercise the genies cast upon your soul by an ex-girlfriend.

What started out as a romantic quest for love in Kabul for Australian filmmaker Sabour Bradley quickly turned into an irreverent, some might say reckless, five-month journey across Afghanistan. That odyssey is now the focus of a six-hour travel series, "The Extreme Tourist: Afghanistan."

With an eye toward the Hollywood distributors he wants to woo, Bradley calls the series " 'Indiana Jones' meets 'Avatar.' "

"There are no blue people in it," Bradley said in a telephone interview from Kinshasa, Congo, where he's now working on a "Sesame Street"-style children's show. "But it's a world that you've never seen before."

No doubt. In one segment, Bradley Rollerblades in Kandahar in an effort to uncover what's behind the Taliban-saturated city's reputation as a gay man's playground.

With a healthy dash of "Borat," a smattering of documentary filmmaker Michael Moore and a heavy serving of slapdash Jim Carrey humor, Bradley embarked on his improbable Afghan adventure in 2008.

Joined by Australian cameraman Jacob Simkin and a young security guy called Z, Bradley trained with Afghan soldiers and met with a Taliban fighter-turned-gardener who was thinking about returning to battle.

The group headed to the caves of Tora Bora in a Michael Moore-esque search for Osama bin Laden and embedded with gospel-singing U.S. soldiers in Logar province.

Bradley oiled up with Mr. Afghanistan at a bodybuilding contest, auditioned for Afghanistan's version of "American Idol" and mounted a horse to play Buzkashi, the Afghan national sport, whose aim is to drag a waterlogged calf carcass across the goal line.

Nothing, it seemed, was out of the question for Bradley and Simkin (Z the security guy declined, however, to accompany them to Tora Bora and on riskier trips into the desert).

"Neither of us had an off switch, and the crazier I got, the more he said yes," said Bradley, who's now 30. "So the rest of it was making sure we didn't get killed along the way."

One day, while traveling along the Afghan border with Tajikistan, Simkin said, he convinced Bradley to wade across the fast-moving river that separates the two countries. As might be expected, Bradley had to scramble back into Afghanistan as an irate Tajik military patrol fired shots near him.

Bradley probably never would have had to jump from a cliff with a bungee cord tied around his waist if he hadn't come to Kabul to pursue love.

Three weeks after he'd given up his life in Australian television to woo an aid worker in Afghanistan, Bradley said, his Kabul love gave him the boot.

That's when Jahid Mohseni, the CEO of Moby Group, Afghanistan's premier media company, found Bradley and asked him to host a travel show.

"He's a little bit crazy and it kind of worked," said Mohseni, who founded Moby Group with his siblings. "He was being himself to be honest. He's thoughtful, but he does some crazy stuff."

Mohseni is taking the one-hour pilot episode to a television buyers convention this weekend in Cannes, France, in hopes of generating interest in the series.

For Bradley, the opportunity came at the right time.

"We'd broken up. I was stuck in this war zone with not a lot of money and not a lot of contacts," Bradley said. "When the offer was put to me, I kind of didn't have a lot to lose."

As Bradley serenaded Kuchi nomads with Vanilla Ice lyrics and sparred with members of the Afghan female boxing team, the failed relationship was there in the background.

Bradley eventually found some unexpected answers when he went to a scorpion doctor seeking stress relief. The snake-handling healer found a surprising source of Bradley's stress: An ex-girlfriend — it wasn't clear which one — had put a curse on him.

If he ever wanted to have good sex again, the doctor informed Bradley, he had to cast the genies out of his body.

That would require jumping from a cliff into a mountain lake with a bungee cord wrapped around his waist (the doctor advised him to tie it around his groin) and swimming across the chilly waters in Bamiyan province.

The small team began filming the series in 2008 when Taliban attacks were on the rise and the safe areas of Afghanistan were shrinking.

The series is dedicated to Malalai Kakar, the first woman to become a detective in Kandahar and one of the people profiled in the series. The Taliban killed Kakar a few months after Bradley interviewed her.

"I found her inspiring; her and all the other people like her who refuse to stop living their lives, even though they get continuous death threats," Bradley said. "Every day they say, 'I'm going to stick my head up and have courage under fire.' "

While the show is outlandish, Bradley, Simkin and Mohseni said the goal was to show the outside world an unconventional view of Afghanistan that went beyond what many people knew of the country.

For Mohseni, Bradley's Rollerblading adventure in Kandahar captures the image he's trying to convey.

"You see people staring there like an idiot, but not trying to kill him," Mohseni said. "Most people think of Afghanistan as being full of guys with long knives and guns waiting to kill them, when they really just want to live their lives."

As for the broken heart, Bradley eventually met another woman and followed her to the Congo, where he proposed. She accepted, the curse apparently broken.

ON THE WEB

"The Extreme Tourist: Afghanistan" trailer

The Extreme Tourist home page

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