Modern warfare has become very user friendly as, at most US military bases, the internet and cable television are readily available. Therefore a ceasefire need not be called for March Madness, the NCAA basketball tournament. (Yes, Helen Cheng, this is the BASKETBALL tournament. The Kansas game we watched in January was football.) I am so happy with the tournament coverage here that I even look forward to Dick Vitale and his shameless ACC apologetics.
My beloved Marquette Hilltoppers/Golden Avalanche/Warriors/Golden Eagles (our mascot changes every 20 years) punked Kentucky for a first-round victory, and next we face Leland Standford, Junior College. Let's hope the damn tree that somehow serves as Stanford's mascot doesn't get too close to Marquette's players and handicap them by inducing corneal abrasions with its branches. Let's hope as well that Stanford's band is NOT present at the game as it is likely to charge the floor before the game is over.
The game telecasts in Afghanistan start late in the evening and proceed overnight, so the tournament has not been good for productivity in the office. With pre-game prognostications and post-game analyses, then the games themselves, my colleagues and I are spending 10-12 hours daily following the tournament and our personal brackets. That doesn't mean we aren't in the office. Very few people have televisions in their rooms on this base, but the offices have sets and access to AFN, the Armed Forces Network, which has devoted two channels, AFN Sports and AFN Extra, to the tournament. So although we are not exactly working, we can claim to be in the office all night long. The dining facility always serves a midnight meal as people work around the clock here, and the "mid rats" (midnight rations) are welcome as I adjust to a nocturnal life for the next few weeks.
Most NCAA tournament devotees know that much of the event's excitement comes from entering the office pool and testing your bracket of winners against that of your coworkers. Usually there is an entrance fee. As gambling is haram, or forbidden by the Koran; and since gambling is illegal on US military bases, we cannot and would never consider having an entrance fee for such a pool here in Kabul. Therefore, we play for "jellybeans." It's twenty "jellybeans" to enter the pool, and you take home more "jellybeans" if you win. "Jellybeans" also come in handy here when playing poker and rolling dice.
I don't think the Afghans really appreciate the enormity of March Madness. So I have to say that a University of Georgia hoopster was overstating things just a bit when he stated that the Bulldogs "shocked the world" the night they unexpectedly won an NCAA berth by taking the SEC post-season title. Basketball from any league is not a passion among the Kabul locals. Sami, one of our office custodians, has heard of Michael Jordan but could not tell me what sport His Airness played, although he did mention "the Bulls of the Chicago."
Afghans reportedly are more fond of flying kites (although I have yet to see one in the skies over Kabul) and a traditional sport called buzkashi. I would classify buzkashi as a variation of polo, as men play on horseback; but I doubt Prince Charles could be persuaded to suit up for a sport where the object is to carry a dead, disemboweled, decapitated calf the length of a field while other riders use any means possible to thwart you and take possession of the carcass. (See photo above.) Cricket must have influenced the evolution of buzkashi, as a match can last several days. To toughen the skin of the calf for such an extended contest, the carcass is soaked in cold water for 24 hours before the competition. A goat can be used if a calf is unavailable or too expensive, although aficionados claim the goat carcass tends to disintegrate before the end of the match.