I’m now halfway through my second week in Mazar, during which I’m working with the team from Maimana in the mornings and the second group of Mazar men in the afternoons. Both groups are off to great starts and, as happened last week, the positive momentum – both in terms of basketball and my connection with the players – is continuing to build each day.

Seven of the Maimana guys arrived on Sunday, and two more – including my old friend and the team’s resident English speaker, Sakhi – showed up yesterday. It’s been fun to reconnect with the team and see how they’ve grown as players and people over the last year. Shapur, who is now 19 (he was only 16 when I met him on my first trip to Afghanistan – hard to believe), is continuing to evolve as a player and a leader. He is probably the best ballplayer I’ve worked with in Afghanistan, and is very motivated to continue to improve. He’s taken on the role of team captain, so I’m grooming him to be a player/coach for Maimana.

I had a hilarious experience with the Maimana team this morning that further illustrates the challenges of teaching a new sport to a group of people in a language they don’t understand, in a teaching method they’re unused to. I mentioned in an entry last week how I was struggling to get the players to understand and implement certain basic concepts, no matter how many times I explained them and no matter how many times the players said they understood. Today I introduced a drill where players line up, five at each end of the court, and one player tows the player behind him to generate resistance while he pushes his wheelchair. This is intended to build speed and explosiveness, and is a very effective exercise if done correctly. I explained the format several times, pointing out that only the first player in line is pushing his chair, with the second player holding on to provide resistance. Once the first player reaches the opposite end of the court, the second player returns to the front of his line and becomes the pusher, with the next player in line providing the resistance. I thought it seemed pretty clear, and the players assured me that they understood and had no questions. I blew my whistle to start the drill and immediately collapsed in uncontrollable laughter when both lines of players started moving verrry slowly down the court in separate trains – somehow my instruction of “one player holds the back of the other player’s wheelchair” translated to “all players hold the backs of the wheelchair in front of them, so the player in front of the line is towing four teammates at once!” It’s hard to explain how funny it was to see two guys using all their strength trying to inch their chairs forward with roughly 600 pounds dragging behind them – in a drill intended to be fast and explosive, no less. As soon as the players saw me buckled over laughing, they realized their mistake and dissolved into howls of laughter themselves. What a moment. It’s too bad no one was filming this. It was a comedic moment that was made for a movie. Oh, and just in case anyone was wondering, yes, the Maimana guys have continued their tradition of drinking hot milk after practice. Thankfully I’ve been able to beg out of being included this time by insisting that it’s bad for my stomach.

I have a new translator who joined me in the middle of last week when Tawab, my original translator and one of the Mazar player/coaches, had to abandon his position to finish planning his wedding (his guest list for the wedding is over 1,000 people and includes all his coworkers and each of their extended families – Afghan weddings are no joke). The new translator, Jamil, is also a physiotherapist for the ICRC and is a single leg amputee. He had never played basketball before, but has decided to join the training this week so he can become part of the Mazar team. He has spiky hair, a distinctly European style of dressing  and a good sense of humor; he’s a great translator and a lot of fun to work with. Yesterday he met me for the morning practice wearing headphones. When I asked what kind of music he likes, he said, “Do you know Rebecca Black? She’s a new singer from America. I think she’s very good!” If you’ve ever heard “Friday” by Rebecca Black, you know that said everything I needed to know. Rebecca Black!!

Since there are two groups of men playing this week, I’m going to combine all the players for the end-of-week mini tournament, making it even bigger –and undoubtedly even more lively – than the tournament last week. The players are already excited about it, as am I.