Drove through adobe walled villages strung along the river and perched over vivid green wheat and paddy fields; through wooden bazaars stacked with fruit and brightly coloured scarves and butchers stalls where halal meat swung from hooks in the crowded street and goat heads littered the pavements below.
As we continued the landscape became more beautiful as the valley led into the snow capped mountains beyond. At last we saw the school and were welcomed in by all the teachers. The school is on a hill, surrounded by green valleys and the snows of the Hindu Kush. In front of the school building are lines of tents full of classes of giggling, waving children and also classes of children outside on mats.
We met the headmaster and the twin school teacher and explained all about their new twinning with Eton, reading letters from the boys there and showing them photographs ...even produced the Keate House flag for them. Then they gathered the whole school morning shift-1000 out of the 2000 pupils outside in the school playground —and we were introduced to them and they were told about the link with Eton.
It was a wonderful sight—hundreds of boys, backdropped by mountains, all listening to the teacher’s speech.
We had brought some cricket kit with us and asked if anyone knew how to play. Cricket is a new game in Afghanistan, brought back to the country by refugees returning from exile in Pakistan. It is very popular in the East especially and is gradually spreading to the North. 2 students came forward who had learned to play in Pakistan and hadn’t had a chance since. We kitted them out and in front of the whole school, started a demonstration cricket match----it was fantastic ,with the ball flying into the crowd and boys clapping and longing to join in. These two students will be in charge of cricket coaching at Sang Boran and have asked Eton boys to make a training DVD for them.
We then gave out all the football strips and balls and volley ball nets and balls—all purchased from money raised by Eton’s chapel collection. The teams dressed up and held a match in front of the school and then went on to play volley ball. They were so grateful for the help and kept on and on thanking us.
There are only 14 classrooms for 2000 children---I promised that I would go home and try and raise the funds to build them a new school block---and I will!
We were given a lunch in the school and then had fond farewells ....interrupted by local security chief, who, with nothing better to do, turned up with is heavies and asked for a meeting with us......we escaped, said our goodbyes and head off back on the 6 hour drive to Kunduz. As we drove away, we saw the two cricketers, surrounded by boys begging to play cricket ....could be the start of cricket in this valley...
Our journey was interrupted when we saw a cricket game taking place on the floodplains by the river of Aliabad. We drove down in the fading evening light and sat watching boys playing cricket. It was a marvellous sight and we soon had an interview underway with one of the team captains. He had fled to Pakistan as a refugee during the Taliban regime. He had returned with a passion for cricket. He and a friend had founded two teams—one South of the river and one North. Each evening the two teams come together and play a match. They have one bat and a ball made out of rubber and white sticky tape.
We still had some kit in the car—some wicket keepers gloves and some cricket balls......I have never seen such a response ....they were absolutely thrilled ...very humbling that such a small token caused so much joy. We drove off into the twilight feeling so happy and also wishing we had had a whole boot full of equipment to give these worthy and passionate players.