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Angola – A War Child

Not far from the dimly lit bar, some barefoored boys chase a ball around a small, glass-strewn pitch in the twilight. Hundreds of bats fill the air above. Other boys sit on the touchline playing with faded cards bearing pictures of football stars from a foreign world – Matthaus, the six of spades, Kahn. the seven of diamonds, Deco. the ace of hearts, and Figo, rhe king of clubs.
The men and boys of rhe village garher here no matter what time of day. They come before work in the morning, in the blistering midday heat, ancl in the evening, even if it is pouring with rain. All of them play to forget. And like everyone else, the 13-year-old Joao is a war child. His father was killed when he was six. His mother disappeared in the confusion of the war. When he looks back, it is as if he has been struck by lightning. His smile disappears, and he looks years older. At moments like these, his ragged Porto shirt and a tattered boot that is way coo big for him are a great comfort. He is a good player – in spite of his handicap.
“Never leave the path” is the first rule of life in Angola. Parents drum it into their children’s heads every morning. It is a serious topic of conversation between brothers and sisters. Friends warn one another. And all across the land, posters are a reminder of the most important rule in Angola: Nunca sai estrada – stay on the toaci! But on his way home one evening five years ago, Joao forgot what people had been telling him for years. “All I wanted to do was take a shortcut, just the once.” Instead of staying on the road, he strayed off it – only by two or three metres, but that was all it took. He was just eight years old when the mine tore his right leg apart.