This post was written on April 15. Finally back in internet land after another three days of darkness.


Today marked the end of my time training teams in Mazar, with the conclusion of a few days working with the Maimana team that was the original impetus for my coming to Afghanistan back in 2009. It was so good seeing my old friends and students from Maimana, who were just as energetic and eager to learn as they were when they were all just kids learning the first fundamentals of basketball almost four years ago.


Posing in the rain with Khair Mohammed and Sakhi, two of my original students from Maimana. Full disclosure: Khair Mohammed was not technically a ‘kid’ in 2009, but he was young at heart.

It was particularly good to see one player, Shir Mohammed, who was a clear leader of the team on my first trip, but who had been dealing with various health problems over the past three years and hadn’t been able to participate in any of the subsequent trainings. Shir is hands down the most peaceful, zen-like player I’ve met here, and he is deeply respected by all his younger teammates. He was obviously shaking off a little physical rust from the years of not playing, but his mind was as sharp as ever (as an example, his teammates told me Shir recently conducted surgery on himself to remove a bladder stone, then, as a result of his success, performed the same surgery on multiple other people despite having had zero medical training. Only in Afghanistan!). By the end of our sessions, he was always the one explaining the new team concepts I’d been teaching to all his teammates. He’ll be acting as the coach for Maimana now that their leader, Shahpor, is studying in Kabul, so I’ll get to work with Shir again during a coach/referee clinic I’ll be putting on before the national tournament. I’m already looking forward to it.


My last practice with the Maimana team was this morning, and our court time was limited to a few minutes because of the second rain-out of the week. We ended up having a very fulfilling classroom session instead, where I taught them a few offensive sets (something none of the teams in Afghanistan have used before, but are all being introduced to this spring) as well as some team defensive concepts. After the session, I went to the players’ converted dorm room – a bunch of mattresses scattered across the floor of the orthopaedic centre treatment area – to say goodbye until the afternoon exhibition game against Mazar, but was pulled by a mixed group of Maimana and Mazar players into a game of “carom board,” which is sort of like a combination of shuffleboard and pool played on a miniature scale. The game was a lot of fun, and I had some good laughs with the players, who marveled at my lack of skill as I took a beating at the hands of Haroon (wearing the Christiano Ronaldo jersey in the picture below).


Clockwise from left: Ramazan from Maimana, Sayed Mohammed and Mojeeb from Mazar, Haroon from Maimana

The exhibition grudge match between the two cities who had each won one of the two 3-on-3 national tournaments staged in 2012 (Maimana in June, Mazar in November), was at threat from the first all-day rainstorm I’ve experienced in all my trips to Afghanistan. The court had standing water all over it 30 minutes before game time, with a persistent drizzle still hanging on from the heavier rain earlier in the day. The players insisted that they wanted to go one with the game, though, so I summoned my Oregonian upbringing (rain is just a part of sports where I’m from) and marshaled as many mops and brooms as we could find to clear most of the court.

I won’t sugarcoat things; the conditions were miserable. Despite the mopping, there were puddles all over the court, every caught pass meant water splashing in the face of the receiver, the chairs were sliding all over the place, and it was legitimately cold (this is two days after it nearly hit 100 during afternoon practice). The rain never let up and, over the course of the game, actually got quite heavy. Despite the fact that everyone was soaked through and shivering, the players carried on with full intensity until the final whistle.

Mazar won handily, which was expected since four of Maimana’s top players were absent from the game (Shahpor in Kabul, and Sakhi, Rafi and Ahmad Shah having returned to Maimana early this morning for university commitments), but I was really proud of all the players for not only carrying on in the face of inclement weather, but for actively employing many of the things I’d taught them over the past week. I also have to extend sincere thanks to the group of my expat colleagues and friends from the ICRC and other organizations who braved the rain to come and cheer on the players. I know it meant the world to both teams.


Mazar executes a perfect example of the teacup defense, which I just introduced to them last week. Not pictured: me smiling


Ramazan (second player to the left of me) uncorks one of two three pointers he made in the game


Mojeeb drains a free throw on the way to his game-high 16 points (out of 28 total for Mazar)

I have a much needed break tomorrow before heading back to Kabul on Wednesday, then onto Jalalabad on Thursday.  Fingers crossed my internet access there will be more consistent and I can make regular updates on my first trip there. Being so close to Pakistan, it should be a very interesting contrast to the northern cities where I’ve spent my time so far.