I arrived safely back in Kabul last night on the Red Cross flight from Mazar. The trip north was a great success, and I had a blast coaching the teams from Maimana and Mazar. The last day of practice with the Mazar teams went very well. The ladies got over their nerves and did a great job learning proper shooting technique. I then ran them through a scrimmage game, and that’s when they really got going. They wanted to win and were every bit as competitive – and rough – as the men’s team. I wish I’d had a few more days to work with them, but it was a lot of fun while it lasted.

The Mazar men did well too, though they kept insisting on far longer shots than they could make using proper form, so I instituted a new rule during their scrimmage game. Anyone who took a shot outside a certain distance – beyond which no player was able to shoot properly – had to sit out until the next team substitution (every 10 minutes or so). Everyone applauded the new regulation… then at least six guys proceeded to get unceremoniously benched because they just couldn’t help themselves and launched 20 footers with one hand. It was all taken with good humor though, and every guy who took a bad shot looked back at me instantly with a guilty smile before rolling to the sidelines.

In addition to my aformentioned housemates, I wanted to give shoutouts to a few other cool expats I met and spent quality time with in Mazar: Brian from New York, Lucy from London, Anders from Norway, Sanaz from Iran/Germany and Eric from Paris. Thanks for making my brief time in Mazar so memorable, everyone!
This morning I had a great return practice in Kabul, where I showed up unannounced to the team’s regularly scheduled session. They were all excited to see me back, and it was really fun to see them again. Even after just a week away, it felt strangely like coming home to be back on the court at the Kabul Orthopedic Center. It was good to see my physiotherapist friends and training partners Malang, Catriona, Rafiq and Raz Mohammed as well. They’re learning the game right along with the team, and will be in charge of coaching once I’m gone. Keep up the good work, guys.

Following practice, Malang set up a meeting for me with the president of the Afghanistan Paralympic Committee at the Kabul Olympic training center. I had no idea before this trip that there was a Paralympic committee in Afghanistan, but once I heard, I wanted to find out how their basketball program is structured. The Olympic training center, where all Olympians and Paralympians in Kabul go to train, is huge in size but obviously underfunded. The equipment is the equivalent of what you might find at an old worn-down high school in the US. The wheelchair basketball team doesn’t even have basketball wheelchairs! I watched them run through a practice and gave them some notes on things to work on, both individually and as a team. A few of the players were pretty good, but they need proper training just as much as they need new chairs. From what I can tell, the team is mainly cobbled together from athletes that specialize in other sports, but also have some sense of how to play basketball. I’m going to try to help them find some good wheelchairs that they can afford with their meager funding, then will hopefully get a chance to work with them the next time I’m in town. I’d also like to convince the committee to arrange open tryouts so players from around Kabul (and perhaps even a few from outside the capital) can have an equal chance to make the team.

Just two more practices – this afternoon and tomorrow morning – before I fly home. See you all soon!

Photos:
1. Me and my old buddy Abdul Salom, looking like an Afghan Jack Palance after his solo push from Maimana to Mazar last week
2. The Mazar women’s team waited around for close to an hour of the men’s practice before finally asking Oldoz (far right) if I’d pause to take a picture with them so they could get home before dark
3. Me and Zakhi, the English speaking Maimana player I bonded with on my previous trip, now attending college in Mazar and joining the team there
4. The Mazar men’s team. They were laughing like hyenas the second before this picture was taken. It’s amazing how quick the mean mugs come out in Afghanistan when a camera comes into view.
5. In the rest of the world airplanes have “No Smoking” signs. In Afghanistan they have these.