Yesterday, one of the employees at the Maimana Orthopedic Center, Niaz, brought his younger brother to see me. His brother, Farid, is about 24 and was paralyzed a couple years ago when he was shot in the back while serving as a policeman guarding a UN convoy that was attacked by insurgents. In addition to being a paraplegic, his left forearm was crushed by a second bullet, shattering the bones and leaving his forearm bent at a pretty serious angle. I first met Farid at his brother’s urging on my last trip, because Niaz said Farid was having a really hard time adjusting to his injuries. At the time, I tried to talk to Farid about taking a positive attitude toward his situation and viewing his disability as a challenge to be beaten, not an insurmountable barrier. I also encouraged him to think about trying basketball since he’s tall and athletically built. Unfortunately, he was just too depressed to really respond much to what I was saying and was convinced that he couldn’t play basketball because of his arm injury. I left feeling like I hadn’t done much to help him. It was one of the few regrets I had following that first trip to Afghanistan.

When Farid came in yesterday afternoon, though, he was a completely new person! He looked much healthier, smiled easily, and told me he had recently gotten married and was expecting his first child in a month. This is huge news, as it’s often very hard for disabled men to convince a family to “give” them their daughter (it’s a country of arranged marriages… this is how things work). I was delighted to hear Farid’s news and see his new attitude, so I introduced him to the guys from the team, who had come to the Center in the afternoon for a film session watching an instructional DVD about wheelchair basketball. I had them explain why they play the game and got him to try out a basketball wheelchair for a few minutes. He seemed to enjoy it, though he’d never played basketball in any context before, and actually started to pick up basic shooting mechanics pretty quickly. He joined us for the film session and I invited him to come to practice the following morning to try playing for real. His response was a bit noncommittal – I think he was a bit intimidated by the idea of being thrown into full practice with an existing team never having done anything athletic in a wheelchair before – so I figured there was a slim chance he’d actually show up, at least this time.

I arrived at practice at 5:30 this morning, though, and Farid was there! He went through the full practice with us and – despite being pretty awkward as he got used to using the new basketball wheelchair and learning basic ball skills at the same time – really started to pick things up after a while. The other players were helpful in explaining how they learned the techniques I had taught them, which sped his progress far more than my translated explanations could have. Farid will be really sore tomorrow, but I hope he enjoyed the cameraderie of playing with the team enough to come back. It was great to see him out of his shell, no matter what happens in the future.

A cameraman from the local news came to film practice today, as did a freelance journalist from Norway who is living in Maimana, so hopefully the team will get some positive press and raise local awareness about what they’re doing. They deserve the recognition.