My first few days back in Kabul – and the first couple days of the first of three consecutive basketball camps here – have been great. It’s nice to be back in a familiar environment and reconnecting with the players and coaches I worked with on my trip last year. 

Thursday was my first full day in Kabul and my one day off for the week, so Michael and I decided to spend the afternoon hiking up a hill near Alberto’s house that is renowned for having amazing views of the city and surrounding mountains. Following the travel experience coming back from Herat – flying through the aforementioned hail and wind storm – it was great to wake up to a sunny day with scattered white clouds and highs expected to be in the mid-70s. Perfect for a climb.

About halfway up the hill, though, we started to notice a very imposing, very black cloud lurking behind the mountains in front of us. We could see the dark streaks of rain descending from the cloud, so we spent a few minutes trying to figure out which way the weather was moving and if we needed to turn back. I ended up deciding that, based on the wind and the movement we could observe, the cloud was going to pass to the west of us and that we should continue the climb to the top. I turned out to be right about the direction of the weather, but hadn’t been able to see another, larger black cloud bank that was just behind the top of the hill we were climbing – and headed right for us – until we crested the summit. Woops.

The first few drops of rain started just as we reached the top, so we followed a young Afghan boy that had been walking with us for the last several hundred yards of the climb to a tiny shack with a covered porch at the edge of the hill. Problem solved. Or so we thought. The resident of the shack emerged – a short one-eyed soldier who came out to look at the approaching storm – and when he saw us taking pictures of it with our cameras, made a gesture that didn’t leave much doubt that we should find another place to get out of the rain. We crossed the top of the hill as the rain and wind gradually picked up and found that it had a fairly large covered patio at the opposite end. It was the perfect shelter until the wind reached such a peak – and the rain turned to hail – that it started whipping ice pellets horizontally under the roof of the shelter. We ended up crowded into the far corner of the patio with about 25 Afghan civilians, soldiers and kids – all standing with our backs to the now screaming wind and hail. Michael and I ended up standing directly in front of a father and his four scared little kids, letting them use us as shields to avoid the worst of the storm. As cold and uncomfortable as it was, it was a really cool bonding experience with a completely random group of people I otherwise never would have come into contact with.

Here’s a picture of the approaching storm – which looked a lot like “The Nothing” from cinematic classic The Neverending Story.

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And a shot immediately after the storm passed by, taken over the husk of an old Soviet tank that sat rusting on the edge of the hill.

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On the basketball side of things, I’ve been having a great time teaching the first two groups of Kabul players and coaches. Ever since the hilltop hailstorm passed, the weather has been perfect and we’re playing on the brand new ICRC Orthopaedic Centre court that Alberto had built just in time for the first day of camp. It’s a full sized court, elevated above the surrounding Ortho Centre campus, with a high metal fence that keeps the balls from escaping but allows passersby – both within the Centre and on the street outside – to watch the action. I haven’t seen the insides of the few gymnasiums in Afghanistan (other than the one where we practiced in Herat), but this is definitely the nicest outdoor court in the country. Maybe it could still be improved in one respect, though, as we found this morning when one of the players approached Alberto and said, “I fall out of my wheelchair sometimes. This concrete seems like it will hurt. Is it possible to remake the court out of wood?”

Commentary about the playing surface aside, the energy of the players in Kabul is great and is bolstered by the presence of Alberto and several of the able-bodied physical therapists, all of whom work at the Centre and are volunteering as coaches and referees. Best of all, the coaches are all participating in wheelchairs, learning the same skills and techniques as the players. This has made the practices the best of my trip thus far and everyone is having a ton of fun.

He’d kill me for saying this, but Alberto just turned 60 last week. Still, he’s been out there at one or both practices each day (3 hours apiece) in a chair, pushing hard enough to make his fingers bleed. It’s hard to quantify how much his presence means to the players, but suffice it to say that they’re having the time of their lives playing alongside one of their real life heroes and a legend in the Afghanistan disabled community.