Wow, another totally amazing day!
This morning began at 4:30 when the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers came to the place we’re staying to continue the Global Day of Listening that they had begun at midnight. Again I found myself inspired by their responses and the openness of their hearts to so many people around the world. The responses they were giving are way way beyond their years.
After meeting with a friend at a local NGO I made my way to the internet café at which the Day of Listening was continuing. I decided to get some writing and blogging done, so managed to get online before a familiar voice floated over the Skype connection of the Global Day of Listening.
It was my parents! Such a strange feeling hearing their voices as though they were in the next room, with me all the way on the other side of the world. It did my heart good. It also seemed to do the AYPVs good, as they excitedly laughed and asked questions.
Not long after, Julie and the kids also connected to the Skype call. The sheer delight on the faces of the AYPVs mirrored my own. The kids’ rendition of Twinkle Twinkle almost brought the house down. Here, I thought, was true peace – human beings connecting as family across oceans, mountains, deserts, entire continents. And that’s just what it felt like – they had connected with my family just as I was connected to them as family. We were all one.
As I was finishing up in the internet café I looked out the window to see a game of street cricket! Couldn’t have been more delighted. One of the things I’ve been keen to do is connect with Afghan cricket, which is just beginning to take off as the Afghan national cricket team has been doing particularly well (in fact, as I found out later, they are ranked 13th in the world!) At Urban Seed we run Laneway Cricket competitions, bringing together people from the street with lawyers, accountants and other professionals to build
relationships and break down stereotypes. After all, cricket is the great leveller – a good inswinger can’t tell if you’re rich or poor. Games take place in the various laneways of Melbourne – transforming dodgy back alleys into places of playful enthusiasm.
This street cricket was all happening in front of a razor wire guarded compound, with the armed guards occasionally swapping their huge automatic weapons so they could have a bowl or a bat. On top of that there were two kids and a couple more teenagers. I wandered over initially to take a photo, but when I said I was from Australia they immediately handed me the bat.
The challenge was on.
So, it turns out they can bowl fast. The wickets was a solid pile of bricks, but that didn’t stop them knocking it down with a taped tennis ball. I got a few away, but definitely missed more than I hit. The drawback with playing street cricket in Kabul is not the six-and-out-over-the-fence hit, but the ball-rolling-into-the-open-sewer hit. Twice I hit it in there. Twice I retrieved it (yes, it was worth it).
Soon I was due to meet with Mum’s friend Mirwais, and I still hadn’t eaten my lunch, but they were determined that I should play on.
When I insisted I had to go, they insisted they all have a photo with me. Once again I’m totally amazed at how cricket – or any sport really – can bring such different people together in genuine warmth comradeship!
I soon met Mirwais, who took me to his house. Mirwais was one of my Mum’s students in Melbourne for a couple of years, before he was sent back to Afghanistan. His English is amazing, and though he does use it frequently in his job in the health field
It was great to just be in an ordinary Afghan home. Mirwais lives in a set of highrises with his parents, wife and two brothers. Immediately out came the tea, and we were chatting like old friends.
Too soon I had to go and meet with Raees Ahmadzai, an appointment I’d set up long before. Mirwais offered to drive me there, so I accepted with delight (truth be told, he was worried for my safety meeting with a total stranger in a place I didn’t know!). On my way out the door, in true Afghan style, they invited me to come back afterwards for dinner. Again, I accepted with delight.
Raees Ahmadzai was the captain of the Afghanistan National Cricket Team until last year. He won seven man of the match awards in
his career, and captained his side to victories over Pakistan, Ireland and more (in fact, it was a loss to Afghanistan that cost Ireland a place in the World Cup, he told me with not a little pride).
It took a while to find his house, but find it we did. He welcomed us in, and we sat out in his backyard on deckchairs on only the second patch of green grass I’ve seen in Kabul.
I was here because after his retirement Raees started an organisation called Afghan Youth Cricket Support Organisation (AYCSO), developing cricket skills in Afghan youths. Cricket used to be seen in Afghanistan as a Pakistani sport, and was therefore regarded with high suspicion. It certainly still holds a more popular place in Pashtun circles. But since the national team has been doing well in the last few years, it has exploded in popularity in the north as well.
Raees grew up in a Peshawar refugee camp. He first heard of cricket in the camp, and they would cut straight branches from trees and shape them to use as bats, and rolled up rags for a ball.
When he returned to Afghanistan in 2002, he tried out for the cricket team. He made man of the match in his first game, and was soon captain of the side.
Now retired, he uses cricket as a way to connect the different ethnicities, and to give them something positive to do with their time and bodies. After all, as long as they’re picking up a bat or ball, they’re not picking up a gun, and it gives them something better to aspire to than corruption and violence. He goes around the provinces with AYCSO, running training camps using the players from the Afghan National cricket team. In his position as technical director of the ACB (Afghan Cricket Board) it also gives him a great position to spot talent and develop it. Kind of a win-win situation for him.
“We have a saying in Credo Cricket,” I said. “’Cricket is not war. Cricket is morally superior to war.’”
It was nice to get in a proverb of my own – Afghans have one for every occasion.
He showed me around his trophy room/office, and gave me a couple of gifts. He invited us in for dinner, but as I’d already accepted the invitation to Mirwais’, had to decline.
Then we made our way back to Mirwais’ home. Mirwais remarked that despite his initial misgivings, he was amazed that he had never heard of Raees Ahmadzai, and that we had been able to meet him.
Dinner was totally amazing – dumplings (not the Afghan name) and sweet fried rice and vegetables and then dessert! All Afghan food, eaten on the floor, with our hands. I think I could get used to this.
And now I’m back in the internet café for the last stretch of the Global Day of Listening – the boys have been going almost nonstop for 24 hours! That’s the kind of commitment to genuine friendship and love that will see them become the future leaders of Afghanistan.