Sunday, October 5, 2008

Mister Mister

Yesterday, I got so frustrated by the boys coming to play soccer. I went to the gate, to collect the players (I have to escort them onto the compound). And there were 10 other boys there, who had never been part of our small game; one of them was taller than me.

So I had to sift the weeds from the chaff, as the saying goes. As I am personally responsible for whatever 'invitees' (including kids) do on the compound, I was not comfortable having so many boys on the field, especially the big ones.

Standing with the guards at the checkpoint, I selected the ones I knew, and who I knew had ID cards that we had made for them. And then a couple extras whom we'd allowed to play before. So I sent about 10-12 of them off to the field and asked the guards to tell the other boys, "Sorry, but the game is full". And yet, a number of them, despite guys with AKs standing in front of them, ran under the post at the check-point and tried to get inside the approved group.

By this point I was really frustrated. I had told the Blue Angels that the team was full, and that they should not invite any more friends. We can barely handle the load we have, and I can barely communicate with them.

Now, keep in mind that I want to bring soccer to as many boys as I can, but there is a limit. A limit on my energy and a limit on how much I can spend out of pocket, and a limit on how much others will sponsor this whole effort. And what about the wear and tear on the grass in which I have invested quite a bit of energy?

Early on, I had a philosophy that every boy must have a ball of his own, so that he can play at home every day, even when he can't come to practice. You should touch the ball every day if you want to be a good player. And you need shin-guards, and socks to hold them up. Not to mention shoes.

So I invested quite a bit of money in balls, shin-guards, and socks, plus the blue jerseys I had brought for the group, the cones, whistles, first-aid kits, etc., for this whole project.

I got a slap in the face, when I realized that some boys were learning about what I am doing, just to show up and grab a ball, some gear, and never show up again.

My Iraqi assitants said, "Don't want to say I told you so, but I told you so."

The thing is, these boys mostly live in my neighborhood and come from families which can afford a ball, some socks, and shinguards.

The advice I got from my assitant coaches (Iraqis) was to stop handing out stuff, as these kids come from families that can afford at the least the very minimum of gear--shoes, a ball, socks, and shin-guards.

Last week we sat the boys down and explained to them that there is not an unending supply of balls or other gear.

So, you can understand, that when I get out to the field and every kid says "Mister-Mister, me no football," and I hear it from 15 kids 100 times each, I got really angry. It really ticked me off that these relatively well-off kids had one get a ball from me. I could hardly contain it during practice.

Every time we sat down to stretch, every time we did an exercise, one of our best players (great goalie), would start the YAP about getting a football. And all the others would chime in!

Is this what I did this for....? To create a bunch of greedy little guys that would rather mouth off to me about getting a ball than actually training and learning to play soccer?

I was so ticked! I wanted to throw in the towel, and just tell them to walk off with all of the remaining gear, and just wait for the field to fall into disrepair, like so much else here. I have a job, a family, and friends that could take up more of my time and resources, if I didn't invest so much of the latter two in them.

There was one boy who would not stop....constantly calling me, "Mister, Mister, Rick, Rick"
...I had to sit him down for a spell. (I have a set of yellow and red cards.)

The other two coaches weren't there. So I was by myself, with this mass of boys, with whom I can communicate only by body-language, whistle, and a few words of Kurdish I have learned (shouted above the YAP of the boys).

Then one of the other two guys (Matti) showed up and took control. He actually ran the field with the boys for awhile. He tired them out, or so I thought.

At some point, Matti had to go, and it was up to me to close down the practice with a cool-down exercise routine, and a song: "Dale, Dale, Dale, Dale-O". I was so happy to be rid of the little brats (sorry, but I was angry).

But even after the 'Go Home' that normally ends our practices, they swarmed me asking for balls. I saw one of our guards passing by, who speaks English, and tried to explain to them via him as translator, that I was not giving away gear to them anymore.....the ones that came early got the best of my intentions. How do you explain to an 8-year-old that someone else beat you to the deal--the first guys to show up got the best of my intentions, balls (to be true, very worn balls, by now, as they have been the balls in play since the field was ready), socks, shin-guards, etc.

I realize that this is becoming a saga, but I really had a bad experience yesterday. Perhaps lack of sleep, or the fact that I wasn't really feeling well all day to begin with. I guess we all lose our patience now and then.

I just don't like it when boys who have the material resources at home to at least get a cheap soccer ball and some socks and shin-guards come to beg me for those things.

There is a shipment of second-hand gear on the way, donated by a soccer league in Virginia, and I intend to find poorer communities in which to distribute these things. With perhaps small exceptions, most of this gear will not go to the Mister Mister crowd.

Maybe it's cultural, maybe it's moral.

Today at Mass, I asked for forgiveness at my lack of patience with the boys. I hope they learn something from the program, other than just coming to collect a ball and go away.

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