Three very cool things happened over the past two days. First, I went to visit Wahidullah’s home and had a two hour conversation with him while his ancient father and mother sat and listened. Wahid was shot when he was 12 years old during the Mujahideen’s overthrow of Kabul in the early ’90s. I’ve already mentioned his crazy demeanor and thrill seeking spirit, but I learned a lot more about the more philosophical side that he has in equal measure underneath the surface. He talked about the fact that he feels it is necessary for him to always show the manic energy he displays at practice because if he doesn’t accentuate his happiness, he fears many of the other players won’t feel happy. I thought that was a very interesting observation, and it made sense given his more subdued, introspective personality while at home. He lives in a very poor residential area that is nearly all mud houses with narrow dirt alleyways connecting them. Even given the completely monochromatic dirt surroundings, there was something peaceful about the back alleyways leading to his home. He also had several small neighborhood children running in and out of the house during our meeting, all of whom seemed to be captivated by him and be constantly angling for his attention. Even though they were regularly interrupting our conversation, he was amazingly gentle and patient with each child. It was a really tranquil scene for someone whom I’d only known as the team’s resident lunatic before the visit.

Second, I had the last practice with the Kabul afternoon team (the rookies) on Thursday afternoon. After only four days, they are a completely different group of people than the ones I met on Monday. This was the group that was much more introverted in the beginning. By the end, when I refereed their first scrimmage game ever, they were delighted to be competing with and against each other and were extremely happy even after the game ended in a scoreless tie. After giving them my version of a motivational speech to close the practice, each player came up to me with his camera and asked to take a photo. Then, after I’d taken one with another player, the previous one would come back to get a shot from a slightly different angle. Afghans love their photo shoots. The picture below is of the team giving a group cheer – something I couldn’t have imagined any of them doing just a couple days ago.

Third, I finished the last practice with the morning team today. It was absolutely phenomenal. Not only did they show amazing aptitude with the individual skills I’d shown them, but they even began grasping team defensive concepts – something so far outside their realm of basketball experience that I hesitated to even approach the subject. I shortened the skill training today so they could play an hour-long game, then ended up extending that by about 30 minutes because nobody wanted to stop playing – this despite it being around 90 degrees by the end of the game with no shade on the outdoor court. The first game they played this week, they may have made two baskets between the two teams combined. In today’s game the winning team scored at least 25 points. They were all elated, and Shir and Wahidullah each gave very nice speeches thanking me for coming to teach them. It was a special moment.

Tomorrow morning I board a UN flight for Maimana. I can’t wait to see those guys again.

1. Me and Wahidullah in his home
2. Wahid’s father
3. The afternoon team giving a big cheer to finish our week working together