Afghanistan Water Polo T-Shirts

Help the Afghanistan National Water Polo Team raise funds for their US training trip by picking up one of these bad boys. Red only for now but we're open to suggestions for other colors and styles etc - email if you have a specific request and we'll see what's most popular.
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Sunday, August 31, 2008

National Swim Competition and Dirty Pools

One day after the Afghanistan National Water Polo Team tryouts, I went back up to the pool to gather all of the suits and goggles from the supply room. Rohullah Marouf, the Swim Chair at the Afghanistan National Olympic Committee told me that there would be a national swim competition in a few days and he wanted the 201st Corps Swim and Water Polo Team to be there and if I could contact all of the athletes who tried out for the Afghanistan National Water Polo Team. As I walked up the long and steep hill and past the destroyed buildings, I noticed a lot of Afghan soldiers on the pool deck, enjoying themselves just like people would on a pool deck anywhere in the rest of the world. Soldiers were listing to music, sitting in chairs or on the ground, and jumping in the pool. There was lots of laughter and conversation that could be heard from afar.

Upon my arrival, after about 24 hours from my last visit to the pool, I saw a dirty pool. Not just a dirty pool, a dark pool where you could not see the bottom. It was not windy and there were no dust storms. The pool was a mixture between brown and black and I could not understand how people could be swimming, bathing, drinking, or washing clothes in that water. I ran down the hill, went to my room and got my camera, and then ran back all the way up the hill to take a photo. I took a picture because I knew that I could not effectively describe how the pool would look.

The national swim competition was at a pool near the Afghanistan National Olympic Committee office and is next door to Rohullah's office. The Commando's I mentor insisted that they drive me there and provide security for me. After many discussions with the S-1 and S-3 officers about the security that I did not need, they still insisted that I have it. They said that I was now a very important person for Afghanistan and that anytime I was to leave the base, I must have an armed escort. I laughed at the idea and explained, through Reshad's translation, that it is not up to me or anyone else when or where I die, I have been there many times before without an escort, and that I am not remotely important enough to have a driver and an armed escort. The idea was absurd.

On our way to the event, we dropped Reshad off by his house. He was thankful because it saved him a lot of time and the cost of sharing a taxi with many different people. Before we stopped, Reshad ensured that the Commandos (Yes, I was stuck with the escort) were aware of where the pool was and that if they got lost, I could only help them to a point. My driving time and known routes in Kabul was somewhat limited, my Dari skills and the Commandos' English speaking skills were incompatible, and I did not want to drive around the city, armed escort or not, and end up somewhere where I was in potential danger (My perception for danger has a high tolerance. Most situations are not dangerous for me). Even though the driver and I ended up disagreeing on directions once we were on the road again, we got there without getting lost and with no problems.

The swim competition was a lot of fun to watch. It was very reminiscent of the Pol-e-Charki Base swim competition and of the Afghanistan National Water Polo Team tryouts. Everyone was swimming their hearts out. There were athletes from many different areas of the country. Most of the athletes were novice swimmers, with the exception of the members of the national swim team, who were all there.

The event was very serious in nature, as all other organized sports events I have encountered here. The athletes on the 201st Corps Swim and Water Polo Team wanted to wear their water polo caps to the swim meet to show that they were professional athletes and representing their team (Even though I told them repeatedly that the water polo caps are not designed for swim competition). There were banners covering the fences, VIP seating area, podium complete with microphone and speakers, and seating areas for the general public. There was an opening ceremony, where Rohullah, someone else from the Afghanistan National Olympic Committee, and some other prominent individual spoke; the reading of the Qur’an; and singers.

There were about 50 swimmers who competed in 7 events; 50, 100, and 200 freestyle; 100 butterfly; 100 backstroke; 100 breaststroke; and 100 individual medley (IM). Some of the events they had several heats and other events only had a few athletes. The 50 freestyle had six heats but there were only two swimmers in the 100 butterfly. The two athletes, who swam the 100 IM, swam the strokes well but would have been disqualified in a sanctioned international meet.

Rohullah Nikpai (In the suit, in center of photo), who just returned from the Olympic Games in Beijing, with a bronze medal in hand (First Afghan to ever win a medal in the history of Afghanistan), even arrived to speak at the event. Even though he was late to the opening ceremony and had to speak in the middle of the event, it did not matter. Everyone was in awe once he stepped on the pool deck and it became very quiet in a short amount of time. Even the competitors in the water stopped swimming their event because he walked on the pool deck. He was a soft spoken individual who has the look of pride and determination in his eyes. Everyone wanted to be near him, in hope that touching him or being within a few feet of him would create the osmosis process, where they can take his accomplishments and morph them into something great that the individual who touched him can become. He spoke to the large crowd for a few minutes. At the end of the speech, there were deafening cheers that could be heard all of the way back to Beijing. He shook many hands and took many pictures. About an hour after arriving, he finally was allowed to leave the pool deck and walk out to the street. I would have to imagine that it took him another 30 minutes to walk the 100 yards from the pool to his vehicle before he was able to leave as well.

A few minutes after his final departure, this swim competition finally resumed.

The 201st Corps Swim and Water Polo Team athletes did very well. They placed highly in all of the events, with the exception of the butterfly and individual medley. They even won a few of the events. It was nice to see that they were competitive but I hope in future years that the times in the "national championships" will be a little faster.

With Ramadan coming up and cooler weather around the corner, this will be the end of aquatic sports for the year. Hopefully next year will have more citizens of this country participating in sports that involve a pool.

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