Buying a hammer, reprised.

As mentioned, Wonderful Wyoming, in the middle of Mazar-I-Sharif. Note also the fake antique-y carvings, apparently dug out from the ruins of Balkh.

From this shop, the one with the smaller red traffic cone outside, in the summer of 2000, I bought a hammer.

It was an intensely irritating and confronting experience, and made me think long about violence, hurt, rage and reconciliation, and what we do with our anger. I wrote a piece about it, subsequently published anonymously in a magazine. I have reprinted it, below. Anger and its ugly relatives are more and more common in this country, and yet no one is really talking about how to deal with it.

Buying a hammer.

A provoking encounter the other day. I have been looking for a hammer, a nice heavy hammer with a good handle. Most of the hammers I see here have big heads and crummy handles, held on with bits of nail and glue and they look like at the next big swing the head would fly off and bury itself into your neighbour’s wall or even your neighbour himself. So, finding a little shop on the east side of the Rouza and seeing it had pukkah hammers, I was delighted. 1.7 lak *, not a bad price. I looked it over, pulled the head, twidled it around, much to the amusement of the shopkeeper, who said smilingly – ‘Its strong! You can’t break it!’

I said, ‘No, it looks good, but if it does break, I’ll bring it back and you can swap it’ and he said, ‘Yes, yes, of course. It is 2 lak, but for you, a guest, 1.7’.

So I bought it. Took it home. Told Julie about it. Ate lunch, thinking about my nice new hammer. Hit my first rusty bolt with it, trying to loosen it. Put the claws under the bolt and pulled, and ping! the claws snapped.

I went out later in the evening to get meat and mandarins, and so I went back to the shop too. I just put the pieces on the bench and told the shopkeeper what had happened. It was very apparent that he soon realised he was reasoning with a fool. Anyone could see that the claws had broken – but not the head. It the head had come off, he would replace it – ‘without question! But this is the claws – how could you fix this? You can’t replace this!’ I said, ‘Yes, you could and what’s more, you said you would.’

It would be hard to describe the excitement that ensued. The conversation had begun reasonably enough, but soon it just escalated into a whole new dimension. The shopkeeper began remonstrating loudly with me, his partner and everyone else in the area. Anyone who came it was told the story, persuaded of the facts, asked for a verdict, dressed in robes and put in the judge’s seat. “I was a foreigner, it was ridiculous, I should be giving him money, not him giving money to me. What could he do with a broken hammer – you couldn’t sell that for 10,000Afs”.

In the microsecond when he drew breath, I interjected,  ‘Yes, you could sell it – there are plenty lots worse than that at the second hand bazaar’, to which he said, ‘That’s absurd! You want me to go to the second hand bazaar! I’m a shopkeeper! You go to the bazaar. This hammer’ – he held it disdainfully – ‘this is from China! Of course it will break. If it was from Pakistan, or even better, Afghanistan – then it would not break. See my hammer ‘ – he pulled out his own wooden-handled, creaky-looking nail-banger – ‘This hammer would never break’. It looked like a stick with an iron potato stuck on the end. Nothing to break, I thought. He was still going: ‘If you sell me a car and I drive it, and have an accident, can I bring the car back and you pay for it? Can I?’

‘Give me 1 lak then, that’s all. Finish it’, I said.

‘A lak! A lak?’ Another round of haranguing, wringing of hands, impassioned pleas and shaking of fingers. A lot of it was beyond my infant Farsi, but the meaning was always clear. Finally I said, ‘Ok, give me 80,000Afs. That’s less than half. Half your responsibility, half mine’. He just wouldn’t budge. ‘Shame on you’, he said. ‘Shame!’

He wrapped up his case with an angry flourish and turned to serve less obstructive customers and I stood there, raging, and thought about it. To leave with the hammer would be frustrating. If I demanded the money and refused to budge, I could probably eventually maybe get 50,000Afs, and feel rotten and angry and win a lifelong enemy. So I took out my wallet and took out 30,000Afs and put them on the counter, with the bits of the hammer.

I said, ‘You said, Shame on me. You said I am the foreigner, I should be giving you money’. I said ‘I am a Christian, and you said this cost 2 lak originally. I am giving you the full price. I am giving you money. I am upset, but Jesus said we should be good to one another. I do not think you have been good to me. May God be with you.’

So then I got back in the car and left. No hammer, no money.


* This was before the currency was revalued. The Afghani was so inflated then, that everything cost hundreds of thousands of Afs. The term ‘lak’ – common across Asia was used to denote 100,000. $1 was about 140,000 Afs.


So, on this recent trip back to Mazar, I went into the shop. The same shopkeeper was there. We chatted a while, I looked at his jigsaws and drill bits. I am sure he did not recognise me. I don’t think my actions back then meant much to him, then or now. I doubt my response lead him to view God, forgiveness or reconciliation much differently. Back then, I simply realised it was the right and the righteous – the graceful – thing to do. I still think that, and in this country which increasingly affords so many opportunities to build and hold anger, I wish more people were thinking and acting similarly. Well, I have had plenty of furious moments here. But I aspire to be a person who defuses anger, who shows grace.


7 thoughts on “Buying a hammer, reprised.

  1. Hi Phil, …… my favourite quote from the great D.L. Moody, is “I have had more trouble with myself than with any other man” gives me hope that if people like Moody had internal struggles, then I must be ‘normal’ to cope with my inner turmoils when confronted with my faith versus self. That’s why Im not in charge, there would be hammers flying everywhere and at everyone!

  2. I’ve heard it put that anger is really ‘fear’ in another guise. That puts a different spin on my own anger, and on other peoples. It seems to me that Australians are becoming angrier, and more fearful (which I’ve just suggested might actually be the same thing). Probably not so much with Bunnings returns policy. Men seems to have the bulk of the anger. I see it lots in the way we drive cars – the type of car, the speed, the aggression, the overreaction to minor hassles.

    Trying to respond Jesus-like isn’t measured by whether the other person responds well or is transformed by my grace. I like how you’ve observed that your move from anger to grace didn’t seem to have any impact on your hammer-vendor. But it did on you. And it was right. Somehow each time a Jesus-follower makes such a choice the Kingdom of God becomes more present on this earth. Even if the hammers remain crap and men get angrier.

    I get mad and react to certain stuff badly, so my challenge is to match this reflection with my own actions.

  3. You did the right thing, and the righteous thing, giving him the full price. Love your enemies. That’s THE Christian distinctive. Sometimes we think it’s loving one another, and yes, that’s a good thing to do, but in the race to love one another, we have many competitors and we’re not always in the lead. The mafia are very good at loving one another. So desperately loyal. And bikie gangs too. You don’t want to cross a Coffin Cheater because they are so very, very good at loving one another. And then there’s the homosexual community, with its well-deserved reputation for non-judgemental acceptance, unconditional approval, rock solid support within its community boundaries. But none of those groups are interested in the race to love enemies. We are the only runners in that race. “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy”–the creed that every human being lives by except those brave enough to agree with Jesus. Loving your enemy was brave, and to mention his name in connection with your action was braver still. And right.

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