I’m nearing the end of my second basketball camp here in Kabul – the last practice is this afternoon and the week’s mini tournament is tomorrow – and it’s included more inpiring, rewarding and occasionally frustrating experiences.

In the frustrating category, I had to cancel my planned trip to work with the brand new team in Jalalabad due to a minor medical issue that forced me to postpone two days of this week’s practices (everything is fine now; nothing to worry about). Since the timing for the trip was so tight – I literally didn’t have a single day off scheduled for the last month of my time here – there was no way to make Jalalabad happen without cutting short the current week’s camp, something I wasn’t willing to do since J-bad was a last minute inclusion and the groups I’m working with this week had been waiting for their camp for months.

Fortunately, we found a workable solution to the problem that will get the new players in Jalalabad the introductory training they need and will further another goal of mine in the process. Two of the player/coaches I’ve been working with this week – Sher and Mirwais – will travel to Jalalabad after the big national tournament and will lead a week of training themselves. Both guys have taken naturally to coaching and leadership and are already helping me run training sessions just a week after theirs concluded. They’re both excited to be chosen for this opportunity, though I don’t think either is particularly looking forward to trading the dry mid-80s weather in Kabul for 110 degree, humid days in Jalalabad in late June. Sorry, guys.

This is an exciting development in spite of my disappointment at not being able to make the trip to work with the Jalalabad players myself. It’s the first step toward my long term aim of building a base of coaches here in Afghanistan that can help to spread education and widen wheelchair basketball’s impact from within the country itself.

Image

Mirwais

Image

Sher

Sher told a story in our classroom session for coaches yesterday that really brought home what playing basketball means to him and the other players.

Sher was injured at 12 years old when a rocket explosion severely damaged his spinal cord and left significant wounds on his legs. Eventually, both legs developed gangrene and had to be amputated near his hips, leaving him a high level paraplegic (his spinal cord injury is around the same level as my own) and a double amputee. 

When he was old enough, Sher decided he wanted to get a job to help provide for his family. His brother, though, told him that since he was disabled, he needed to forget this idea and be content with staying home and being taken care of by family members. Sher said this life was impossible for him to accept. In the years after his injury he would spend days on end lying on the floor of his family’s tiny one-room house waiting to see if anyone would manage to bring him home something to eat.

Eventually, Sher decided to apply for a micro loan from the ICRC to start his own business selling gasoline from free-standing barrels; a necessary commodity in Kabul at a time when most homes ran on electricity from gas generators. The business was a success and Sher was able to bring home food for his mother and sisters. A few years ago, though, Kabul finally implemented a centralized power grid, bringing 24 hour electricity to the city for the first time. While this was great news for the populace, it rendered Sher’s business obsolete and he lost his ability to earn a living.

Struggling to find a sense of purpose, Sher took the opportunity to start playing wheelchair basketball when the first Kabul teams were organized by Alberto and the ICRC last year. He said the first reactions he got – and continues to get – were, “Basketball?? Don’t  you have to run and jump to play that game??” He said it’s still common for people to laugh at the very idea of people in wheelchairs playing a sport, and that his brother has repeatedly insisted that he quit wasting his time with such a ridiculous pursuit. Sher has never flinched in the face of this reaction. He says that soon enough, his family and friends – and the rest of Afghanistan – will see him and his teammates playing the game with the skill and determination of true athletes. Then they will understand.

Since I met Sher for the first time last May, he has started a successful job selling a line of clothing in the Kabul bazaar. He struck me with his quiet confidence last year, but he’s taken a huge leap forward since, both in terms of basketball skill and team leadership. In addition to his role as a player/coach, Sher is now the vocal leader that I hoped he could eventually become.

The most popular TV station in Afghanistan, Tolo TV, sent a news team to our morning practice yesterday and interviewed a few of the players, including Sher. They say their plan is to air significant coverage of the national tournament in June as well. Since Tolo TV’s news programming typically sets the agenda for all the other TV stations here, this could lead to significant local and national media pickup of the event. Sher’s vision of his country watching him and his teammates and seeing what people with disabilities are really capable of may become a reality in the very near future!