Monday, April 13, 2009

Soccer, kind of

I took my first walk up swimming pool hill, with an Olympic-sized pool that dates to the Soviet era (ca.1980s). Reportedly, the Taliban once used it as an execution site, but it's now used as a soccer field, complete with burqa-clad cheering moms sitting on the edge of the pool.

The kids use empty plastic soda bottles instead of soccer balls, and when the bottle goes out of bounds (ie, into the deep end of the pool), they run down the slope to retrieve it, set it upright and then kick it in.

Perhaps there's a need for more soccer balls. However, kicking balls is a delicate matter in Afghanistan: In 2007, the U.S. military handed out soccer balls that was decorated with flags from around the world, including Saudi Arabia, whose flag has written on it the Koranic declaration of faith, "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God." The Afghans protested, taking offense that the Westerners wanted them to insult Allah and Islam by kicking the holy phrase around on the ground. U.S. forces later apologized: The "distribution of soccer balls was done in the spirit of goodwill, something that we hoped would bring Afghan children some enjoyment," said Sgt. Dean Welch, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition. "We regret any disturbance that was caused in this case. If we hurt one person, that is one too many."

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