I arrived safely in Maimana yesterday morning. After dropping my bags off at the house where I’m staying, my friend Vesa drove me to the Maimana Orthopedic Center, where the basketball team practices, to meet the staff for lunch. It was great seeing the folks at the center again, especially Latif, the technician who fixed my badly broken basketball wheelchair with a few simple hand tools the last time I visited. He was glad I had two fully functional chairs with me this time.

After lunch, the players from the team started arriving to discuss the practice schedule for the week. It was amazing to see each of them walk or wheel through the door; they all look so much older than they did a year and a half ago! Most of them were under 20 the last time I saw them, so recently grown beards, mustaches and – in the case of the recently-appointed team captain, Shapur – a subtle mullet, changed their appearance enough that it took me a second to recognize several of them. Each of their faces lit up as they came around the corner and saw me waiting for them, though. They’d been waiting so long for me to come back, and the excitement of reuniting with them almost made me choke up.

This morning we ran our first practice – like in Kabul, beginning at 5:30am to avoid the midday heat – and it was excellent. The players have improved a ton in many areas since I last saw them, but they still all shoot the ball like they’re throwing a football, so we have plenty to work on. Given how young and athletic most of the Maimana players are, this team definitely has a ton of potential. Shapur – who is only 18 – picks up everything I teach extremely quickly, so it’s great that the other players respect him enough to have voted him captain. He will be an invaluable assistant coach as I try to explain concepts in English and struggle to get the others to understand what I want them to do.

Following practice, one of the players – Homayun – brough everyone glasses of warm milk he’d gotten from his cow that morning. According to the players, this was a rare post-practice treat in honor of my return to Maimana. While obviously touched by the gesture, I’ve never been more frustrated to be in the company of people who couldn’t understand the context of a perfect movie quote for the situation. Hopefully someone reading this can appreciate Ron Burgundy’s classic quote even in absentia: “It’s so damn HOT! Milk was a baaad choice.”

In Afghan cities, the local Mullahs begin singing the morning prayer around 3:30am, well before dawn. They all have microphones and sound systems to allow their message to be broadcast to anyone within a mile or so of the mosque. In Maimana, there are three mosques within very close proximity, so I woke this morning to the geographically unique experience of three mullahs singing the same song in slightly different keys at slightly different times. Some Mullahs have decent voices, while others can’t carry a tune to save their lives. The whole situation reminded me a bit of the scene in Spinal Tap where the band tries to sing “Heartbreak Hotel” at Elvis’s grave, but can’t manage to figure out how to sing in harmony. That’s two classic movie references in two paragraphs. You knew there was a reason you read this blog!