I’m sitting here in Kabul with my first brief minutes of Internet access, hoping the connection holds long enough write a quick post. The trip out here was long, but relatively uneventful until the very last moment. I arrived at Kabul airport from Dubai on Sunday morning after 24 hours of travel and, despite having gotten assurances from the Dubaians that my two wheelchairs (everyday and basketball) would be waiting for me at the door of the plane, was lifted from my seat by two not-quite-big-or-strong-enough-to-be-carrying-someone-my-size airport staff, who deposited me in a barely functional hospital wheelchair. No sign of either of mine. After meeting up with Sadiq, my contact from the ICRC, we waited for the baggage to come out, me hoping that my chairs would make it in one piece (I was admittedly leery given the damage both sustained en route in my previous trip to Afghanistan). After about 45 minutes, all the baggage had come through and been claimed, but still no wheelchairs. Sadiq asked the local authorities what might be the problem and came back to tell me there might have been a mistake and that there was a chance my chairs were still in Dubai. Bad, bad news. After another 15 minutes of looking around the terminal, we were on the cusp of giving up and just hoping they would show up on the next flight from Dubai when, as we turned toward the door, the chairs came rolling around the corner. Sweet relief! It felt like a test to make every other challenge for the rest of the trip seem a little less daunting.

Today was the first day of practice for the Kabul players. There are 30 of them – 15 have been playing together for a short time and 15 had never touched a ball in their lives. The ICRC broke them up into two groups, with the more experienced players practicing from 5:30am to 8am and the new players playing from 4-6:30pm. Both groups were fantastic to work with. As had been the case with the Maimana team I coached in my last trip to Afghanistan, they started out very quiet and reserved, but gradually opened up as they successfully learned new skills and gained confidence. By the end of each session, nearly all the players were laughing, joking and had huge smiles on their faces. I can’t describe how uplifting it is to see that transformation happen in the space of 2 1/2 hours.

The most unexpected, comical sight of day 1 happened as I was leaving the orthopaedic center (where the practices are held) and driving through Kabul to my friend Alberto’s house. About a quarter mile from the center, I saw one of the players I had just coached – a long haired, gregarious, maybe-slightly -crazy guy named Wahidullah – rolling through middle of the insane Kabul traffic in his wheelchair, holding onto the back of a motorcycle. Awesome!

That’s it for Afghanistan entry #1! I’m completely wiped out, but ready to get back to work tomorrow.