I arrived today after a long (26 hours) but uneventful “day” of travel from Denver to London to Istanbul to Kabul. I went through the usual experience of not having my two wheelchairs (my everyday chair and my basketball chair) show up at the door of the plane as they should up on arrival, followed by sweating out 30 minutes of watching luggage come through the baggage claim with no chairs and wondering whether the ground crew in Turkey put them on the plane or mistook them for two of their own. Thankfully, they eventually showed up (as they always have) and were undamaged (which they always haven’t been).

When I got outside the security area in the airport, I was pleasantly surprised to find my old student and friend, Shir Pacha, who some of you may remember gave me a very special pack of chewing gum last year, waiting for me with the ICRC welcome staff. It was so good to see a friendly face right off the bat, and I immediately forgot the jet lag that makes everything a bit foggy upon my arrival each year. Exciting as it was to see Shir, though, I had no idea what other surprises were in store for me.

When we got through the military-patrolled inner area of the airport and into the public parking lot, I was absolutely floored to see a large group of people in wheelchairs shouting my name! It was 15 of the Kabul men’s basketball players, who had apparently been waiting for over two hours for me to arrive. It was all I could do to process the scene without breaking down as the players shoved bouquets of flowers into my arms while clapping me on the shoulders as they welcomed me back. Shir also presented me with a beautiful Afghan scarf from the team.

Before I knew it, a microphone was being shoved through the flowers in front of my face and a Kabul news team was interviewing me on camera while I sat surrounded by the excited players. The interviewer didn’t speak English, so I was responding through a translator as I tried to recover from the shock of being delightedly ambushed and as I did my best not to drop one or more bouquets on the ground. I have to assume it wasn’t my best-ever interview, but it was a testament to the growing popularity of the game and the societal respect for people with disabilities here that the news saw fit to film it at all. Even games weren’t filmed until last year, so the idea of an ancillary event like a group of players welcoming their foreign teacher being newsworthy is very promising indeed!

The players looked even stronger than they did last year, so I can’t wait to see how that has translated to improvement in their games. It’s good to be back!!