Smiling in the Kabul Sun

by Zaffar Khan

Ramadan is one of the most important holy months in the Afghan calendar and at times a tough one for all of us who are still getting out and playing rugby. The children seem to have no problem and are full of energy and stamina as they brave out the days in the heat, running and leaping around. With no food or water for more than sixteen hours it’s taken a lot more than being brave for me, and I always seem to be the Coach seeking out some shade.  Sikandar, aged twelve on the other hand well he’s very excited about coming out on the field during Ramadan saying, “playing is tough but I am working on my six pack so it will help me” he winks with a big smile, as I retreat from the sun, again!

Khanjer with his Khelo Rugby Children

Khanjer with some of his Khelo Rugby Children

Our community head coach Khanjer is presently working with eight communities in Kabul teaching and guiding them in Khelo. We are planning our first Khelo tournament after Ramadan and every one is super excited about it.  We’ll likely have more than 100 children for the tournament. Khanjer says, “rugby is getting bigger and better, it will be great for rugby in Afghanistan. May be one day these children will play in the national team in the future… but we are being realistic it’s a long and hard goal and we are being patient with it. Khelo has also shown us that rugby is about so much more, the children learning together, supporting each other and playing.  We want to make these children’s experience very good so they want their friends and one day their children to play.”

In Khelo Rugby we talk about ‘Growing up with Rugby’ and this is really blossoming in an exciting way in Kabul today.

Finally I must mention that some of the Afghan rugby boys and friends from Kabul have been very kind to invite me to dinners in this month and so I wanted to share some of the pics as it looks and of course tastes WONDERFUL!

Glorious Afghan Feast!

Glorious Afghan Feast!

 

Khanjer’s Dream

Latest post from Zaffar and Khelo Rugby in Afghanistan

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Beautiful Afghanistan

The past week in Kabul most days for me has started under the strict rule of our latest Khelo Community Coach Khanjer, and things could not be going better! Time in Kabul is punctuated in a way I have never experienced before same usual bomb blast, the same usual dohg (a local street drink made with Yogurt) and most of all the people and their smiling faces in times of difficulty and misery.  But Afghanistan still looks stunning all the time.

Kabul has always surprised me and the biggest surprise came to me these last few weeks while I was coaching with Khanjer.  Khanjer has quite a bit of experience as a rugby player, in 2011 he came to Kolkata to train with my club the Jungle Crows hardly knowing the game, since then he has played for Afghanistan in Dubai and Asian 7s in Mumbai.   And he has also just gone through our Khelo Community Coaching programme here in Kabul.

What Khanjer has is this great way of coaching, a way I have only seen Coaches with ten or more years of experience coach.  He has a focus on precision and the skill of making difficult drills or game situations look really easy to kids.

I sat down with Khanjer for a few minutes between coaching and dohg and asked him what Khelo meant to him and what he thought were his coaching values.

Khanjer started by saying the most important part in coaching was to give “TIME and have FUN, especially with kids. I have not been too long in regby (that’s how he says it) but I have tried to watch games on TV and think why would some one do this in a particular game situation and that keeps me updated and thinking about the game.  I research all the time watching videos through my phone and laptop either live or downloaded slowly. Zindagi ma tabdil shood hamrahe regby  (life has changed in many ways with rugby).”

I ask him how, he says smiling “my knee is injured so that is the biggest change as I cannot play so much but one of the best things which has happened to me is , people know me now because of regby and more off I have a crazy group of kids hanging around me all the time.”

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Khanjer and some of his Crazy Rugby Gang

So I ask him, what do you think of Khelo Rugby, how’s that made a difference?  “Khelo is a good thing that is happening to the kids here, many kids now are playing and having the chance to learn, I cannot say in hundreds now but Inshallah (Good willing) it will get there soon and then these kids will be the next champions of Afghanistan when maybe I am old… (laughs) well not that old I think. We have lot of players here who can be good coaches and I think they should get more involved in developing regby.”

It’s been great working with Khanjer over the past couple of weeks and seeing how he is really driven by his dream of taking rugby to all the children of Afghanistan, I am hoping that Khelo Rugby can bring that dream a bit closer to reality.

Khelo Khelo Kabul

By Zaffar Khan, Khelo Rugby’s Man in Afghanistan

It’s been the 5th time I have been to Afghanistan but the feelings of coming to this land is always special. I remember I have never been to Kabul in a full summer season but this time I was lucky as both time and season was on my side. I have come to Afghanistan to develop Khelo Rugby and I have given my self four months to achieve it with the help of my rugby friends and supported by the Jungle Crows Foundation.

As we landed and the airplane door opened the smell of fresh air punched with diesel hit me. I loved the smell, do not know why, maybe because I was now familiar to it. It was a stunning afternoon with the sun beaming down on the far mountain. People seemed happy I was back so was I. The boys from Kabul United RFC picked me up along with the CEO and as we drove through the busy street of Kabul I was smiling.  Everything had changed so much and some time it felt nothing had changed.  The tour started with a coaching session with the Afghanistan National Rugby team who I will be helping out along the way.

Coaching with the National Rugby Team of Afghanistan

Coaching with the National Rugby Team of Afghanistan

I was excited the next day and the eager feeling of going to a field was for sure displayed on my face in bright big block letters. Mustafa the Captain of the Afghanistan national team had arranged for a ground after a lot of efforts.  What I did not expect was that it would be the Bomb disposal squad ground… every time I walked my mind and heart for the first time agreed together and said “STOP MOVING” .Boys from two clubs Kabul United and Khorasan R.F.C came to the practice and rather making it structured, I just let it flow, did not want to be a pain on the first practice.

Our first Khelo success was at the organization called the Kabul Circus. Situated in a posh suburb no one would believe behind the walls was so exciting, it was a group of Afghan boys and girls juggling tennis balls and sticks and bowling pins. We did a small session with the kids and they loved the game, throwing the mini rugby ball around and watching them have fun, both boys and girls was something special.

Fifteen Girls and sixteen Boys participated in the session and the feedback we got from the directors of the organization was positive. The only concern they had was, “would it be possible for girls to also participate in rugby” I said according to my experience they could give the boys a run for their money. They smiled.

Kabul Circus: a Rugby Ball Jugglers Paradise

Kabul Circus: a Rugby Ball Jugglers Paradise

Lyce Amania is the second Khelo centre we have targeted and the principal was more than happy to introduce a sport he has never seen. After a brief conversation with the principal he mentioned that the son of the President of Afghanistan also studies in the same school…I said to one of the new Khelo coaches (Khanjer) we have got to get him to join Khelo Rugby and play. He said “yes we should, rugby is a wonderful sport and every one should have the opportunity to play”…that kept the smile going!