She looks up from the washing and rests her weary hands on top of the bucket to see where all the sound is coming from. As she walks out beyond the gate and down the path to the small patch of red dirt the sounds become louder and more familiar. When she reaches the area where the sounds were emanating from, she steps forward with uncertainty to the small group gathered. As her calloused and tiny bare feet come into the circle, all eyes are upon her. The sounds she heard were familiar ones…those of the neighborhood boys playing and kicking around a make-shift soccer ball in one of any number of informal spaces in the area. But when she approaches, she is met with many looks of displeasure, restlessness and discontent. The cackling and sighs under their breath make their feelings transparent. The “ball” rolls to her feet, and with one touch she unlocks a palpable sense of vigor and excitement. Small posts made of sticks and old bottles are put on either side of this makeshift (garage-sized) space and the competition begins. Although the first days and weeks of ‘toeing the line’ to be just ‘one of the gang’ [who used every spare moment to play] were brutal and sometimes defeating, she remained persistent, focused and simply tried not to screw up and hear the demoralizing criticisms with arms raised in her direction. She is eager to hold on to this rare opportunity.
Born in a rural area of
Growing up in the
Bayana Bayana (the female national soccer team) called her to come and train at a camp and play some matches with them when she was 15 and 16 years old. It was not long before that she was given her first pair of soccer shoes. To put on the national uniform in the relatively new democratic country was an amazing feeling for her and opportunities she says she will never forget. Although the experiences were meaningful, she wondered what was next in store for her career, as there still remained relatively few opportunities for females to play in the area. ‘Here I was playing for Bayana Bayana and now I come home and it’s back to playing with the guys.’ Although she admits that playing with males helped her with her skill, speed and toughness, she always wanted the opportunity to compete with and against other females.
It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that an organized league for females in the area was available. She has been playing on this team (
She remains with the local women’s team, and continues to play at a very high level, although the gray hairs on her low cut style are apparent. She spends many a weekend working with and coaching the next generation of female players and continues to assist SAFA with scouting of female players around the region. Her goal is to provide the opportunities and encouragement for young girls that she always yearned for. Although the days of females getting kicked off the soccer pitch by male teams and being scoffed at when arriving to play against male or female teams still happens (and did while I was there), strides are slowly being made.
It has been my privilege and joy to be able to call the person in this story my friend. We have not only played together in practices and games, but coached young girls alongside one another from all over the surrounding areas. Walking alongside and accompanying one another in mutual respect we have learned so much about not only each other but also about one another’s country, language and culture. Above all, the passion that we share is for women and girls to have the opportunity to compete, participate and enjoy the gift of games and sport...no matter what sport that is or where in the world that female may be!
With peace and blessings,