In this country, a girl can’t just put on her cleats and join a group of guys kicking balls, especially if they’re Middle Eastern men or kids. Unless, of course, you want to be stared at, scoffed at, laughed at or just plainly ignored.
If there’s one thing I miss the most in the Philippines, it’s the many pick-up games I could join without the feeling of being discriminated. The nice thing about football in the Philippines is that it’s a co-ed (mixed gender) sport. Women are recognized to be able to play as good as men and there are official tournaments where both sexes could form a team.
When a girl asks to join an ongoing pick-up game dominated by men, she does not become a show-stopper. She’ll be acknowledged with a nod, the ball rolls on and she slowly becomes part of the play. The players quietly assess her moves and give her opportunities depending on her playing skills. If she’s a pro, they give her chances to strike. If she’s a newbie, they guide and support.
I cannot count the many casual games I played in, where I am the only girl in the field. It is not actually a big deal in the Philippines and my teammates would laugh at me right now for even pointing it out.
I have two favorite all-male football club I play with occasionally.
First, is the ARRUPE guys. This is a group of East Asians (Thailand, Singapore-Malaysia, Micronesia, East Timor and Burma) who are taking theological degrees in the Ateneo. Almost daily, they meet after classes for a game. I would join them whenever I could and even if I can’t memorize their names, I have formed a fun bond with this happy mix of culture. Sadly I don’t have a photo with them.
Second, is the NUVIZ Football team in my hometown.
Every time I go home to the province, my afternoons are spent with this group of ball-skilled guys.
I can’t play for them during official games but any time they could squeeze me in – trainings and practice games – they’d shout to call me, ”Vi, tara!”
During 11-aside games like this, I blend in. You won’t even notice I’m there (thank you manly body) until someone draws a red circle on me. In the field they don’t treat me like a girl, instead they respect me much and give me finishing crosses or fast passes that challenge my speed button.
(Excuse that awkward leg)
I like playing with football guys because they respect you as a player. The game doesn’t slow down or stop for you. Like the rest, you get hit hard, slide on your face, gain bruises, get injured. All is fair. But amidst this toughness I still feel protected, they watch my back, they intercept a fast high ball and they open up for support especially if i’m running out of breath.
Ever since I arrived in Abu Dhabi, I see men playing almost everywhere and all I can think of is how convenient football life is back home. All I can do here is watch them from afar (because even a girl watching is a total no-no) and sigh, and drool and feel really bad. But that didn’t stop me from praying and pleading to God to make me play again.
Remember when I told you that God cares about the little-lest details of our lives?
He really does and he answers in the most unexpected moments. Last night was my first pick-up game with a group of guys from Nepal. I was a show-stopper, not for them but for the passers-by. It was like playing with the Arrupe guys all over again, and the familiar shouts of ”pasa, pasa!” transported me back in the Ateneo. I blended in naturally, no feelings of discrimination or of harassment. I scored 2 goals and 2 assists and the cheers and claps were more fulfilling than any of my job accomplishments in this city.
”Tommorrow come back,” they told me as I left them still playing (because my married soul couldn’t stand my husband worrying about me). They didn’t have to ask me twice.
Thank you, Lord, for another check in my prayer list.