The good cop and the ninja
Trying to write a personal story about peace makes you realize that perhaps we don’t often understand what our actions actually do. Much like the ripples from a pebble tossed into a lake, what we do may continue to have effects beyond what we can see, or bother to look for. At least I fantasize that my actions might. Here’s my story and resulting fantasy.
I’m in Peshawar on the North West Frontier in Pakistan. One afternoon the UN / IBRD project team I’m with is invited into the Bala Hisar Fort which stands guardian over the city. It’s an afternoon of crumpets and tea, white tablecloths and silver cutlery under open tents, on the green grass next to a parade ground. A kilted soldier plays the bagpipes for the group.
This is one aspect of Peshawar in the early ‘90s, but it is not really representative of the traditional life of the area. To experience that, an English economist colleague and I slip away that evening to wander the streets of the city. We encounter no-one but armed mujahedeen, turbaned vendors, men sitting outside cafes smoking, donkeys, carts, children playing, and the very occasional fully-veiled woman. We wander around the old town, without encountering a single other Caucasian. Suddenly we see a sign we can understand – a picture of a snooker table, hanging over a whitewashed entrance to a narrow corridor. At the end of the corridor – a room with two snooker tables and a group of men in burnouses or black ninja-looking outfits rowdily applauding each shot played. As we cautiously enter, the room falls into a shocked silence – then a challenge is issued – we are to play their two top players.
At best I could keep the balls on the table, but my English colleague, as a result of a misspent youth was a fine player. Our first dilemma quickly arose, do we play down to my level and allow the locals to win, beating a hasty retreat while they congratulated each other, or do we play for keeps, and possibly ignite World War III? We decided to ignore the old adage about discretion and valour – and roundly trounced the local team. Instead of despondency and chagrin at losing, the locals challenged us through loud shouting and sign language to another competition the following night. We agreed just to escape the gunfire that normally accompanies celebrations in that city.
The following night, throwing caution to the wind, we found our way with difficulty back to the competition arena. This time a new team appeared. ‘Our big brothers’ we were told, as the snooker tag team of good cop in the white robe, and bad cop in the black ninja outfit came forward – warming up by swinging their snooker cues like baseball bats. It turned out that this really was their ‘A’ team. An even more boisterous evening ensued – until at one frame all we broke through and won the final frame, thanks to my English colleague, who they now seemed to be referring to as Fats Domino. At that point I used discretion and didn’t suggest that perhaps they really meant Minnesota Fats. After much nodding and smiling we left a saddened group as they commiserated with their ‘big brothers’.
Now here’s the ripple affect, and the peace connection.
When we left, possibly one or more of three things happened –
i)the big brothers continued to be harangued for losing
ii)the group rejoiced that they had participated in an international competition without either party shooting the other
iii)the group took heart and decided to practice hard for the next Olympics.
Having a glass-half-full view of life, I think that all three possibilities happened, and hope that the next Caucasians to be challenged were no worse players than my English colleague and I.
I wonder how far the ripples actually reached, and now I can even wonder whether one of our ‘A’ team competitors is actually reading this now ………
By Harry Monaghan