June 2011

“We have tasted basketball. Now we need more!”

This was a quote uttered yesterday by one of the Kabul wheelchair basketball players I worked with and passed on by my friend Alberto, who runs the Red Cross Orthopedic Center there. It feels great to know how excited these guys are to be learning the game, even those who are brand new to it. I’m already looking forward to going back and working with all the players again, while hopefully getting one or two new teams up and running in other cities around Afghanistan in the meantime.

For now, here are a few more pictures from each phase of the trip that I hope give everyone a better sense of what the experience felt and looked like.

1. These kids, who watched every Kabul practice from start to finish, may be the next wave of Afghan wheelchair basketball talent.

2. Habib, the one player from the city of Herat to attend the Kabul training sessions, was probably the most knowledgeable – and inquisitive – person I worked with about the rules and structure of basketball. Every day after practice, he and the Herat team trainer would ask me a long list of questions about various rule details so they could be sure to take the correct messages back to their team.

3. Malang, a giant of a physiotherapist and my usual translator at Kabul practices, interprets one of my post-practice speeches for the team.

4. Driving through the narrow alleyways of a Kabul residential area, I saw a group of small neighborhood kids rush to help an old carpet vendor who was struggling pull his heavy cart across the rocky ground.

5. Shir Padshah, the double amputee paraplegic player whose home I visited early in my trip, attempts a Magic Johnson-style no look pass to Wahidullah. For the record, I did not teach Shir this pass.

6. While running a passing exercise with the Maimana team, Khair Mohammad (in blue), is blithely unaware that he is about to have two basketballs hit him at once. My warning came a second too late, and the lesson of always being prepared to catch a pass from any direction was successfully reinforced.

7. During a Maimana team scrimmage game, Rafi – the one new player to have joined since my last visit and a great kid – mercilessly fouls Amasho while trying to defend a shot.

8. The staff at the Maimana Orthopedic Center (from left: Tawfiq, Vesa and Niaz) were very helpful in both organizing and helping me with translation while working with the team. Tawfiq had, until recently, been living in London for 8 years when his father called from Maimana to say, “Book a flight home as soon as possible. You’re getting married next week.” This is Afghanistan.

9. Working with the Mazar women’s team while Oldoz translates and a crowd of fans watch the action.

10. On my last day in Kabul before returning to the U.S., I had post-practice tea with the team. Before my trip, drinking hot tea after playing 2 hours of basketball in the sun would have seemed crazy to me. After getting used to the Maimana team’s tradition of drinking warm milk after practice, however, tea seemed downright refreshing.

I finally arrived home in Brooklyn this morning around 1am – almost 16 hours after my scheduled arrival – following the longest single stretch of sitting on planes and in airports I’ve ever experienced (and hopefully will ever experience for the rest of my life). Wind storms in Kabul on Tuesday afternoon delayed my outgoing flight to Dubai just long enough that, not only did I miss my connection, but I missed all the possible connections to the U.S. for that night. Thankfully I was able to get re-booked on a flight the following morning, but that meant both spending the night in a Dubai Airport lounge and adding an additional connection – in Memphis, TN of all places – to my trip back. My final flight path ended up being Kabul-Dubai-Amsterdam-Memphis-New York – what my parents would call “the scenic route.” 42 hours door to door. Ah well, it was an amazing trip and I made it home safe, so what’s a few extra hours here and there?

I slept through most of today and am hoping I’ll be able to get back on a normal schedule fairly quickly, but apologies in advance if my response time is a little longer than usual for the next couple days. I’ll post some additional photos from the trip this weekend, so check back soon for exciting retrospective action shots!