Immediately following the women’s tournament last Friday, I had the chance to meet a newly formed team from the southern province of Kandahar. The team was formed earlier this year by a local NGO and two of the coaches I’d trained in Herat – Said Eqbal and Qawamuddin – went down there two months ago to give them their first training. Following that visit, the rumor was that, in spite of their lack of experience, the team was very strong.

I was naturally curious about this unknown team that had asked to participate in the national tournament we’ll be conducting later this week. I offered to have them come to Kabul a week before the tournament so I could do a couple days of quick training and rules orientation to get them ready to compete against the more experienced teams, which they accepted. I had asked about the possibility of forming a team in Kandahar last year (it’s the third most populous city in Afghanistan), but was told that the ICRC would never send an American to that part of the country since it’s where the locus of the fighting between the armed opposition and coalition forces is happening. This being the case, I was delighted to hear that a team had been formed without my involvement and that they were open to working with me and to joining the league.

When I met the team on Saturday afternoon, I understood what people meant by their being “strong.” These guys are huge! The Pashtun people, which make up the majority of Kandahar’s population, are a physically robust ethnicity in general, but several of the players look like power lifters or body builders. I was really hoping they didn’t have a personal problems with Americans themselves…

Thankfully, they all turned out to be perfectly nice guys who were just happy to have some coaching before getting thrown into the fire of the tournament. They definitely have a ways to go to catch up with the rest of the teams in terms of knowledge and skills, but they were extremely attentive and adept students that made a marked improvement over just two days of training. They won’t win the tournament, but if they play smart and get a few breaks, they may steal a game or two, which would be a huge accomplishment for such a new team.

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The Kandahar team makes up for its lack of experience with sheer intimidation

On Monday morning, my wonderful wife, Lindy, arrived for her first visit to Afghanistan. After fighting through a day of massive jet lag on Monday, Lindy came to visit the ICRC Orthopaedic Centre to meet all the people I’ve been working with my last couple years in Kabul. She then joined me for a coach and referee class I was teaching, where she had the chance to meet many of the players from all across the country. It’s been a wonderful first two days of introducing her to this part of my world – the first time I’ve been able to share it with anyone from home.

Lindy will be acting as Michael’s film assistant during the tournament, which starts tomorrow, so she’ll be working as hard as I am very soon!

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Lindy meets Shir and Mirwais from Kabul