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Saturday, August 23, 2008

First Day of the National Team Tryouts

I went up to the pool this morning, at 7 AM, and the water was filling slowly. Using hand gestures and my extremely limited Dari skills, I asked the soldier who was in charge of the pool to add the hose that he was using to water all of the plants, to the pool. Hopefully this will get the water level to an acceptable level.

I then went to the Commando Kandak (Dari for Battalion) S-1 to see what Abdul Kholik, who is the Admin Officer, and his staff had planned for the day. I reviewed the daily tasks for S-1, that we spoke about the previous day, and made sure that he or the rest of the S-1 staff had no further questions about the tasks and were on track to completing them.

At 8 AM, I went down to the front gate of the Pol-e-Charki Base, to ensure that there would be no problems at the gate for people coming to tryout. There were already a dozen people waiting at the gate to start the entry process of getting a background check and a temporary pass.

I then proceeded to Camp Blackhorse, which is a US Forward Operation Base, which is located on the other side of the Pol-e-Charki Base from where I live and work to find Specialist (SPC) Jennifer Ocque, United States Army. Specialist Ocque works in the Public Affairs Office (PAO) at Camp Phoenix. Camp Phoenix is located near Kabul. She supposedly hitched a ride last night, or possibly this morning, to Camp Blackhorse so she could cover the event and send it to the media outlets. She was very excited for the opportunity (Who she heard about from her boyfriend, who was part of the New York Army National Guard unit that was at Camp Blackhorse) to write a story and take photos of something exciting and good that comes out of Afghanistan. It was not her regular story, writing about combat missions, change of command ceremonies, or about incoming or outgoing units. This was about a national event, where citizens from around the country would be attending, something aside from war.

I have no clue what she looked like or where she was. I looked around for some of the enlisted Guardsmen that may have known her and asked them. Luckily, I ran into some of the enlisted guys who went on the convoy to Camp Phoenix yesterday. They told me that she was not on the convoy back to Camp Blackhorse yesterday but she did tell them that she will be coming on today’s convoy. If you ever want to know what is going on, just ask a Private First Class (PFC) in the military, he will be able to tell you everything that is going on, plus all the gossip that you would ever need, and then some.

I went to the Dining Facility (DFAC) and grabbed some fruit for breakfast. As I was sitting there, one of the Regional Corps Advisory Command's (RCAC) linguists asked if I could answer a few questions for some of the Afghan workers on Camp Blackhorse. When I walked outside, the workers started asking me questions about the “water volleyball” tryouts they heard about from their families back home and how they could be part of the team. After trying to figure out how these workers heard about the tryouts, I then explained to them what time to be at the Pol-e-Charki pool. They of course then asked if anyone could tryout and if people from their village could come to the tryouts. My response to them was that as long as they came in enough time to go through the gate and make it to the pool, it would be great for them to come.

I then asked if they had any additional questions and then told them I had to go back to the Commando Kandak. The workers asked if I would stay and drink chai (Tea) with them. I politely declined, told them that I greatly appreciated the invitation, and that I must go.

On my way back to the Commando Kandak, I stopped off at the Base Commander’s office to thank him for his unit’s assistance and professionalism in this process. He was very excited about the opportunities that we are providing his soldiers and countrymen. He then asked me if I would join him for tea as well. I told him that I would love to but I had to get back to the Commando Kandak. He seemed disappointed that I would not stay. I felt bad about this because it always seems when he asks me, I say no most of the time. I do not to have tea with him soon.

Getting back to the Commando Kandak at 9 AM, I was already tired. All of the running around is tiring and I only slept a few hours last night. I needed to slow down and pace myself. Of course, I did not do that.

As I went to the pool, almost every hour, on the hour, I saw the water level rising at a decent rate. I was getting a little more confident that there would be enough water in the pool.

As lunch neared, Arif (Pictured left) and Sorab, from S-1, asked if I would join them for lunch. I agreed to their request, primarily I was too tired to go all of the way to Camp Blackhorse to eat. Arif and Sorab grabbed their spoons and we walked across the street to their dining facility. As always, we enjoyed our time eating together, creating bonds, and sharing stories. Mohammad Amin and a Commando from 3rd Company joined us for lunch as well. This lunch was a little bit different as all of the Commandos wanted to speak with me about the opportunity coming up in the afternoon. I did not want to be rude and not answer their questions, so for the better part of 30 minutes, Arif, Sorab, and I were answering all of their questions about the “swimming football” tryouts. The Commandos were so excited and were determined to make the team.

After lunch, and after taking another quick trip to the pool and the front gate, we went back to work and took care of some pay issues. After everything was on track for the afternoon, Abdul Kholik wanted to drink tea and talk. He invited Arif and Sorab (Pictured right) to join as well. Once Reshad came back from eating lunch, he joined us as well. We drank tea for the better part of an hour and mostly spoke about work and about the rug that I just bought for them for their office. He was so thankful and appreciative but said that the Commandan Kandak (Battalion Commander) was mad that the S-1 Officer had such a nice rug and that he was going to take it from him. Even though the rug did not cost that much (Only a couple of US Dollars), I bought Abdul Kholik the rug as a present. I told him that if the Commandan Kandak were to try and take it, to tell him that he needed to speak with me about it. We concluded with discussing the topic of the day, the Afghanistan National Water Polo Team tryouts. Abdul Kholik said it was a great day for Afghanistan and that it will help unify the country. I am glad that he believes this and I hope that this team, whever it may end up in the future, will accomplish this.

After we finished our work, and multiple trips to the pool, Reshad, Arif, Sorab, and I headed up to the pool for the tryouts. Reshad was there to help with translation and for whatever else he saw that I needed help with. Arif and Sorab were there, at Abdul Kholik’s order, to support me in whatever I needed for the national team tryouts. I had Arif and Sorab be in charge of registering all interested athletes, explaining to the athletes what the process for the tryouts would be, and wrote numbers (In English) on the athletes’ arms so I could identify them as they competed. Arif also conducted some interviews with a few aspiring athletes who were there. Arif would ask them their name, where they were from, and why they were there. The interviewees look very excited and I just wish I could understand what they are saying. I am sure that I will have Reshad translate these for me someday.

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I am glad that Arif took these interviews and photos, otherwise there would not have been a record. SPC Ocque did not show up for the tryouts, but I am not worried since there are a few more days. Reshad, Sorab, and Arif did an outstanding job helping me. I was very thankful for what they did and they knew it.

The tryouts went very smoothly. The Base Commander’s staff did an excellent job with processing all of the civilians, provided transportation for them from the front gate all of the way to the pool, and even had a few guards there for our protection. The solder who is in charge of the pool made sure everything was ready and even set up a little desk for Arif and Sorab to use for registration.

From my estimation, hundreds of people showed for the tryouts and over 70 participated in the tryouts (Even though 120 registered). I personally believe that double the amount of people would have participated in the tryouts had they not seen how “fast” some of the people were. The first dozen people that tried out were from the Afghanistan National Swimming Federation, followed by many of the athletes from the 201st Corps Swim and Water Polo Team. Some of the people lost any confidence they had and decided not to try out. I had Reshad ask one civilian who was standing on the side of the pool why he was not going to try out. He said that everyone was too fast and that he had no chance. Reshad told him that everyone had a chance and that he should just do it. He unfortunately did not tryout out but did stay and watch. I understand the lack of confidence of some of these guys, never swimming in a pool before, never participating in an organized sport, and trying out for a sport they have never seen before. But they were still there to witness and be a part of it. Pretty exciting stuff.

It took about three hours to go set up, go through the tryouts, and tear down. I mostly had the participants swimming 25 yards of freestyle, backstroke, and breaststroke, in waves of five athletes, as that is all I could effectively fit. I also had these waves tread water for a period of time to make sure they had some of the basic skills required. No water polo ball today, that will come later in the week.

To my surprise, and let me tell you, it was a surprise, I had to jump in and grab an athlete. Have you ever heard of someone having to jump in during a national team tryout for water polo or swimming to save someone? He was swimming 25 yards of freestyle. He started off fine, but he started struggling, and then could not make it to the wall. I tried to grab him from the edge, but when I realized he was out of my reach, I slid in the water and grabbed him. He then persisted that he get another chance and that he could do it. So I let him try again, this time next to the wall. Same result (Minus me having to get wet again). He tried to convince me again and I then told him that he did a great thing for his family and village by trying out. But told him that he could not continue with this tryout because I was concerned for his safety. Arif stepped in and said he would take care of it. Unfortunately (Not for me), the other swimmers who swam their hearts out to get the best time and that were in the same heat (wave) as the participant who struggled, had to re-swim their length because I did not see how they performed. They were tired and wanted more of a break. I told them no and that they had to prepare for the next length.

Even after the tryouts were over, people just stayed and talked and were hoping that I would provide insight to who made the team. I told them that they had to keep on coming and that I would provide that answer after the tryouts ended. After all of this, Reshad, Arif, Sorab, and myself walked back down the hill, Arif could not stop talking about how exciting it was.

It was exciting. I am glad that everything worked out today and will pray that it will all work out for the rest of the week. I am starting to wonder though, with all the people who came to tryout, some from 8 hours away by taxi or jingle truck, where are those that do not live local going to stay this week? What are they going to eat? It is not like there is a hotel down the block or even a restaurant. Even if there was, where would they find the money? This is just completely different than what you would find in the United States or the rest of the western world. Hopefully, I will see them all tomorrow and that the rest of the week will be a success, for those who are trying out and for the soon to be formed Afghanistan National Water Polo Team.

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