After a nearly 100 degree day, when the sun was setting and the heat was starting to dissolve into the night, my male partner and I set out to play soccer. The girls in our community hardly ever play soccer, so we end up playing with young boys. Usually we just shoot goals and juggle the ball between our feet, but this night we split into teams and began a game. The young boys immediately placed me in the goal, out of the way of the “real” game. My feminist mind told me I should have protested, but I was so tired that I was happy to just stand in front of the goal. Five minutes into the game, the other team took a shot and I failed to keep it out of the goal. The little boys quickly kicked me out of my position as goal keeper. The kids here can be brutally honest about a person’s skills so I didn’t try to stay in the goal and subject myself to their harsh jokes prompted by my failure.
I was wearing a long skirt, so I gathered it up in one hand and began to chase after the ball. I felt as though my skirt was a physical representation of the limits of my gender. I always had to be painfully aware of my skirt, holding it in one hand, which made it more difficult to play. The boys were blissfully unaware of their privilege to be wearing shorts, never having to think about the scary possibility that someone could step on their skirt and cause them to get hurt. The ease of shorts, the ease they had to walk down the street without fearing for their safety, made me angry. I was angry with their male privilege, and angry with their assumption that I was bad at soccer, simply because of my gender. I was angry with myself for not protesting when the little boys had underestimated my skills and placed me in the goal. It was that anger, as well as my natural rebellious energy not to conform, that led me to play soccer with the young men later that night.
I wasn’t without fear when I asked them if I could play. In fact, I was so hesitant about asking that my host aunt went ahead and asked them herself. I suppose that didn’t make me look any more competent in their eyes. The young man she asked looked from me to her and nodded yes.
I quickly went back to my house and changed out of my skirt into shorts. I had had enough of the skirt that had restricted me, as well as the gender norms that had done the same.
I was extremely nervous, feeling as though I had all the women in the world on my back, waiting for me to prove to 15 young men that a girl could be good at soccer too. Every time I messed up or made the wrong move, I felt like I was reinforcing the stereotype that girls are bad at sports. I fell a couple of times. I let the ball through my legs. I made mistakes. But I realized that really wasn’t what mattered. What mattered was that I, a girl, was playing soccer with a bunch of young men in a community where that wasn’t the norm.
When I had asked my host aunt why the women and girls in the community don’t play soccer, she said it’s because they’re afraid to fall. They weren’t the only ones. I was afraid to fall too. I knew that no matter how much I wanted to be the perfect soccer player, that I would still fall and be scared. Yet none of my mistakes could take away from the fact that I was still doing it. I was still playing soccer, still fighting stereotypes, still fighting gender norms. Pushing on despite the fear.
Doing something even though it makes me anxious or scared is what makes me brave.
It’s what makes all of us brave. I really think that’s what AMIGOS is all about. Doing something that scares you and makes you uncomfortable, but feeling proud of yourself for doing it anyway. I feel extremely proud of myself for not only showing the women and men that girls can play soccer too, but for showing myself that I can do the things that give me anxiety and fear. I’ve been pushing through my anxieties and fears for all my life, but it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve begun to appreciate them for the bravery they give me. I’m still not sure I feel ready to tackle the mountain of college essays I have to come home to, but I feel more than ready to tackle another soccer ball.
These past few weeks in community have been incredible, to say the least. There are so many new things that I’ve been discovering about the culture, about community and leadership, and about myself. This past week, we began our curso de verano, a four-hour-long class where we work on several educational activities with the kids in the community. My partners are divided up into three groups, and I spend every day with the middle aged kids (7–9 years old). On Friday, we did an activity that circled the theme of confidence and self-care. Every kid was asked to write down one thing they loved about themselves, one thing they wish they could change, and one way they take care of their bodies. As we went in a circle, everyone took turns looking at themselves in the mirror and writing down their responses before sharing with the group. After each person went, we discussed ways in which to feel comfortable with their imperfections, and how to keep the body they were born in healthy. It was a really educational experience for the kids, and it really spoke out to me because this activity will shape them into young leaders who are confident in being who they are. Walking back home after, I felt tired and sweaty from all of the work that we did with the kids, but I also felt a pride that came from making that small impact in the community.
Estas semanas pasadas en comunidad eran increíbles. Hay muchísimas cosas nuevas que estoy descubriendo de la cultura, de comunidad y liderazgo, y de yo mismo. La semana pasada, mis compañeros y yo empezamos un “Curso de Verano”, que es una clase de cuatro horas donde trabajamos en actividades educacionales con los niños en la comunidad. Mis compañeros están divididos en tres grupos, y yo me quedo cada día con los niños medianos (7 a 9 años). El viernes, mi grupo hico una actividad con la tema de confianza y el auto-cuidado. Cada niño necesitaba escribir una cosa que le gustaban de ellos mismos, una cosa que les gustarían cambiar, y una manera en como cuidan a su cuerpo. Cuando fuimos alrededor del círculo, todos llevaban turnos usando un espejo, escribiendo sus respuestas, y compartiendo con el grupo. Después de que una persona hablaba, nosotros discutimos maneras en cómo puedes sentir comfortable con sus imperfecciones, y cómo cuidar su cuerpo. Era una experiencia muy educational para los niños, y me llamó el attention porque la actividad va a empujar a los niños a ser jóvenes líderes que están confortables en hacer las personas que son. Después de la actividad, cuando estaba caminando a la casa, me sentí cansada y estaba sudando mucho del trabajo que hacíamos con los niños, pero también me sentí orgullosa. Me sentí orgullosa de hacer un impacto pequeño en la comunidad y en los niños, y nunca lo voy a olvidar.