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“Unnskyld meg?”

“Do you have a soccer ball?” I asked again, feeling slightly uncomfortable, only partly due to the language barrier. My torso was awkwardly positioned as I leaned outside the car window from the passenger seat, causing the rest of my discomfort. My friend, Matt, had seen photos much like this one, depicting a remote soccer field on a little archipelago in northern Norway–the same soccer field on which we stood moments ago, just before realizing we didn’t have a ball. Matt recruited me to go with him to find the fabled pitch and kick a ball around, a bucket list item now near completion.

The village is called Hennigsvær. Walking through the windy, undulating streets feels exactly how this image looks. It’s contained, but the corridors of the street make it easy to lose your sense of direction.

I estimated the village’s population to be about 500, and considering they had spent the resources to build a soccer field in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, I safely assumed that hidden soccer balls could be found around town. We just needed to look in the right spots. So this puts us back in the car, pulled off to the side of a street, my right arm half-asleep, asking a local pedestrian through the window where to buy a soccer ball. Blank stares, or worse, looks of confusion, filled the first 20 minutes of our quest.

We started by checking in all the stores, but to no avail. So we switched to knocking on doors and asking around on the streets. Just as we were beginning to doubt our chances, I saw a young heavy-set kid, maybe 10 or 11 years old, flying towards us on his bike. I frantically waved my hand out the window, signaling him to stop. When he did, I began my spiel. He gave plenty of affirming nods, and gestured for us to follow him–so we did.

Winding through the streets tailing the kid, Matt and I giggled the whole way at the thought of this actually working. Why would this random kid give his soccer ball to some foreign strangers?

We arrived at his house after about a 5-minute ride to a new corner of the village. He quickly ran inside and emerged a minute or two later holding a soccer ball. As he handed over the ball, he said, in decent English, “Please don’t lose it, this is my only one.” We gave him our word, told him we’d be back within 2 hours, and headed back to the mystical pitch.

For the next two hours I felt like a kid, playing with my camera, drone, and the soccer ball, with the whole field to ourselves. The setting I found myself in seemed utterly unreal. It was like I was suddenly living inside those pictures that inspired this trip and I didn’t know how I got there. We got our own picture, and ran around wildly, played 1-on-1, and snapped our own inspiration image of Hennigsvær just before the wind picked up and the blue skies turned gray, signaling the approach of a harsh Norwegian storm.

I remember being snapped into each moment as I ran around that field, frolicking like a carefree child. There was no place I would have rather been, and it was all thanks to the kid who lent us his ball. On our way back to his house, we stopped at the store and bought him 4 or 5 family-sized chocolate bars as a token of gratitude.

When we handed over the chocolate at his door, he was taken aback. Literally. He took a step back and refused. It appeared that he thought whatever was happening wasn’t real. We insisted that he accept the chocolate, explaining that this was our only chance to play soccer and we greatly appreciated him letting us borrow his ball, so we wanted to thank him with this chocolate. After some back and forth, he begrudgingly accepted our offer, realizing he had no way out.

Just as we turned to walk away, a woman who appeared to be his mother pulled into the driveway. She glanced at us, then at the kid, who was still standing in the doorway like a deer in the headlights, chocolate in hand, then back to us. “You couldn’t have given him an apple?” she responded off-handedly, with the slightest hint of scorn.

I still wonder today what made that kid put his trust in two random foreigners. This memory makes me want to extend that trust beyond him and beyond myself. Being so far away, in perhaps the easiest place in the world to break trust without repercussion, he offered his to us, no questions asked.

Thanks, kid! Next time we’ll bring you some apples.

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