I had another great practice with the Maimana team this morning. The big mini tournament – we’ve decided to combine both groups from this week as well as invite back last week’s men’s team to create a nine team 3-on-3 bracket – will be tomorrow from 2-6pm, and since the Maimana team will have to head home afterwards, meaning they don’t get an extra training day on Saturday like the rest of the teams, I decided to make their practice much longer this morning – over 3 ½ hours.

I branched out beyond individual skill development today and taught them the fundamentals of team defense and offense. Both of these ideas are entirely new to the Afghans – you may remember my entry from last week about how neither the Mazar men nor women would ever talk to their teammates on defense no matter how many times I demonstrated it – so it was a lot for the guys to absorb in one day. Amazingly, though, they really started getting both ideas by the end. As I told them the first time they started communicating with each other on defense, this is a first in Afghanistan’s history; you are the pioneers of talking on D in Dari! We’ll see if they can put either concept into practice in the games themselves, but they’ve shown a remarkable ability to retain instruction and learn difficult skills, so hopefully it will stick.

I encouraged them throughout the practice to ask me questions since I know the information – not to mention my style of teaching – is very foreign to them. Usually they ask good questions about the technicalities of fouls and other rules that they are unclear on. At the end of practice, though, when I asked if there were questions about how to set picks on offense, Rafi, a great guy in his early 20s with a goofy personality, raised his hand and asked a question with a serious look on his face. Jamil the interpreter immediately started laughing and it took him a minute to compose himself enough to relay the question in English. Rafi had asked, “why aren’t there any dots on the letters in English like there are in Arabic?” When he stopped laughing, Jamil helpfully pointed out that there are, in fact, dots over the letters i and j. This mollified Rafi’s curiosity.

After practice each morning, the team eats a breakfast of bread, packaged cakes called “Orange Roll” and, of course, hot milk. While I was talking to them during breakfast this morning, one of the Afghan Orthopaedic Centre employees – probably in his mid-40s – came in and sat down. He told Jamil he had four questions he wanted to ask me. I said, “four questions?? Wow. Ok, this should be interesting. Hit me.” He told Jamil his question in Dari. The questioner’s expression was earnest; I could tell he legitimately wanted the answer to this question, but was obviously nervous to find out what it was. Given the amount of news over the last couple days – Koran burning in Florida a few days ago, President Obama’s surprise visit to sign an agreement between Afghanistan and the US yesterday, the first anniversary of Bin Laden’s death today, etc. – I was assuming this was headed in a political direction, so braced myself for a challenging answer. Jamil translated the question with a trace of a smile. “Is WWE wrestling real or do they know the outcomes of the matches ahead of time?”

Oh man! I burst out laughing, but then realized I didn’t know how to answer. American pro wrestling is apparently hugely popular in Afghanistan and this guy wanted me to tell him if it was a legitimate sport or not. I felt like an adult being questioned by a 5 year old about the existence of Santa Claus! Jamil insisted that the guy wanted the real answer, though, so I told him the truth, that everything is scripted, kind of like a TV show. Apparently he was prepared for this answer, because the other three of his questions were:

2. Ok, if it’s fake, how do they punch each other so hard?

3. What about when one wrestler jumps in the air and kicks the other in the chest with both feet??

4. In a recent match, the two biggest wrestlers slammed onto the mat so hard that the whole ring collapsed. How do you explain that??