Staying in quiet Tripoli on the secluded mountaintop of the Balamand Monastery, Alia and I were pretty desperate for something to do. So when we heard that a Tripoli counselor named Mustapha El-Akkari would be playing in a basketball game on a Thursday night, we were eager to go. Mustapha is one of the best basketball players in Lebanon, and he plays college ball at at BYU-Hawaii. As soon as we arrived, my homesickness was ameliorated by the crowds of people, American hip hop music, and a generally familiar sports atmosphere. But what we didn’t realize when we left the monastery that night was that this basketball game was arranged completely for the benefit of ETI and Camp Rafiqi Tripoli! After the best 14 basketball players of Northern Lebanon had a short warm up, a thug-ish announcer “colorfully” announced the teams. We had a good laugh at the MC’s use of American slang like “young blood” and “boi”, but then we realized that Mustapha’s team was named “Team ETI”, and they would be playing the game just to promote our organization! We cheered even louder for them, of course.
Half time rolled along, and Mustapha came over to our sideline to take one of our blind campers, Nasser, by the hand. Nasser is one of our oldest campers at Camp Rafiqi Tripoli, and he has become a leader due to his skill on the drums. Watch a clip here—he’s truly amazing! On this night, Nasser fit in on the basketball court in his baby blue uniform. He took the microphone from Mustapha and spoke to the crowd about Camp Rafiqi, how it feels to be a blind person, and how much blind people love sports just like sighted people. To prove his point, he moved over to the foul line, basketball in hand, and took a shot. The crowd clapped in rhythm, and as it turned out, Nasser is a great shot! He wasn’t quite lined up for the first two attempts, but once Mustapha told Nasser to take a step to the left, he sunk the third shot without any problem. You can watch Nasser's shot here..
The ETI team won (of course) and thanks to donations from the other fans, Camp Rafiqi Tripoli even raised some money for the next two weeks. I can’t speak for everyone, but it was a powerful night for me. It feels wonderful to see our mission being shared with the larger community, and it feels even better to see people receive our work so warmly!
Thanks, Mustapha, for an incredible night and all your hard work!