Aizen. An extraordinary name that fits an extraordinary story, one that we will remember for a very long time. In the world of manga and anime, Aizen is an antagonist with immense physical strength, tremendous spiritual power, and exceptional IQ. But unlike the whimsical world of Japanese comics, the Aizen we’re about to introduce here is a pseudonym for a hero who’s far from being fictitious or imaginary.
Aizen is Kerning Cultures’ first ever mini-series, documenting the real story of a young Afghan teenager, whose dream and hope for a better life, away from war-torn Afghanistan, led him to embark on a dangerous life-threatening journey that started from Kabul, all the way to Europe.
In a four-part documentary series, we hear about Aizen’s life in his hometown in Kabul, his dreams to become a football legend, the frightful incident that led to his imprisonment, and the pivotal moment when he decided to leave Afghanistan behind and reverse his fortune.
With little to no money, and no passport – Aizen’s only way to get to Europe is through a vicious network of smugglers promising to sneak him through the borders of Iran, Turkey, and into Europe.
Through crammed car journeys and snowy mountain passages, refugee centres and border crossings; anxiety, pain, football and video games were Aizen’s most familiar companions.
Aizen’s mini-series will keep you at the edge of your seat. This arduous, two-year rocky journey feels like an epic fiction film, spanning tragedy, turmoil, and triumph – except that everything about it is real.
How Aizen Came to Be: The Backstory
A few years ago, while volunteering at a refugee camp in Northern France called Care4Calais, our very own KC Producer, Al Shaibani made a fateful encounter. While working at the refugee sites, Al met a young Afghan man, who was a volunteer at the center by day and a refugee hoping to sneak his way into the UK ‘undetected’ by night.
“There is a magnetic, gravitational pull about ‘Aizen’. His perspective and point of view is so beautiful and wise and considerate, something that I can’t exactly capture in words. His personality is radiant – and as soon as we met, we became friends. We connected immediately,” Al told us.
Aizen’s story intrigued Al. He had heard it in parts and in full and thought it needed to be shared with the world one day. Then, in April 2021, another fateful opportunity happened. Aizen had managed to finally cross to the UK and applied for asylum. He was put in a care center on the outskirts of London, where Al lives.
Al and Aizen were able to spend more time together. Soon enough, a strong friendship and a brotherhood bond was formed between the two.
“I was able to take him to his first cinema experience, on bike rides around town. I taught him how to swim and he taught me how to make Afghan food. I now consider him my brother,” added Al.
The Reality of Being a Refugee
The story of Aizen depicts the harsh realities of being a teenage refugee, traveling through the world on your own in the hope of a better life – without money, family, or support.
“We live in a world where, every day, refugees and asylum seekers’ rights are put up for debate by governments seeking short term political capital. In the UK, where Aizen was headed for, we are living in an environment where these rights are eroded more and more each day,” says KC Managing Producer, Alex Atack, adding that the voices and stories of the people who leave their homes in search for a better life often get lost.
While this is a journey that so many migrants and refugees have gone through, we rarely get to hear a personal story recalled in first person perspective from its own hero, who crossed 10 countries, 4 detention centers and 3 refugee camps.
“Aizen’s story is illuminating, haunting, funny and poignant in our current moment,” added Alex.
He may have called himself the most unlucky person in the world, but we like to think of Aizen as the ‘bravest person in the world’.
“It’s a very unique journey told with the raw perspectives and real humour that ‘Aizen’ has. It’s a story of resilience and reality; teenage passion, belonging and destiny,” Al said.
Aizen is now available on all podcast platforms. The story is produced by Al Shaibani and edited by Alex Atack and Dana Ballout, with editorial support from Heba El-Sherif. Fact-checking by Eman Elsherif and Deena Sabry. Sound design by Monzer El Hachem and Paul Alouf. Artwork by Ahmed Salhab. Tune in to a story that gives resilience, courage, and hope a whole new meaning.