We are driving back to our home after a visit into the more dangerous parts of the city – the parts where the big UN, ISAF and political offices are. It is these places that are most often the target of suicide bombers and armed attacks, and which consequently we tend to avoid. Sadly, in these areas are the one or two nice restaurants that we used to be able to frequent.
We arrive in our neighbourhood without mishap, and driving up the last street, negotiate our way around a group of boys playing soccer. They continue to boot the ball around, mindless of our presence, it seems. As we pass the players, there is suddenly a loud bang from the rear of the car. It is startling, but I quickly realise they have kicked the ball under the car, where we have run it over. Sure enough, we have only driven on a few metres when a horde of angry boys surrounds the car.
Though they are just kids, and we are not at fault, it is amazing how quickly a fear response kicks in. It flits across my mind how terrifying it would be if this were a really angry, armed mob. As it is, Pieta and Elijah, I can see, are scared, sitting in the back. I wind down the window, and am confronted by the boys thrusting a deflated bladder at me. By the looks of it, the ball, pre-destruction, was pretty close to bursting all by itself.
‘You burst our ball! You hit it! Buy me a new ball! You burst his ball! Give us money!’Their voices are shrill and tense. Some of the boys are half laughing, seeing how far they can push this, others seem genuinely angry, and have blocked the way in front of me. Some of them are hitting the car doors. Are we about to die a martyr’s death over a soccer ball? Anger rises in me too, sweeping up, I feel ready to shove open the door, push the boys away, drive on. I am tired of stuff like this.
I try to contain it. ‘I am not at fault. You kicked it under my car. Can I control your ball? Who kicked it? Could I have seen where your ball was?’
I am aware these kids have suffered a loss, but I will not accept blame for it. A sensible person would have picked up the ball, not continued playing while I drove by. They continue, getting in their stride now: ‘Buy a new ball. You burst it. Give us some money, foreigner.’ I respond forcefully, but I think, respectfully: ‘You may not blame me. You are at fault. Did I kick the ball? No. Can I see where you kick it? No. Do you accept that?’
This goes on for a new minutes, but slowly the boys start to get it. I am happy to recognise their loss, but I will not be made responsible for it. Too much of that happens in this country – someone else is always at fault, from minor incidents like this, to the corruption of the Government, or the continued fighting, the lack of reconciliation, the development failures: someone else has always done it. I can think of only one or two occasions in the last 10 years, when I have seen people here take responsibility.
‘Yeah, ok. It is not your fault’. On hearing this, I reach into my pocket, and give them 200 Afs for a new ball. $4. It is nothing, you could say, not worth all the fuss. But I want to believe that it is worth it, that these kids might think a little differently, a little longer before blaming someone else next time.