Hi! I’m Farida Salem. I’m from Cairo, Egypt. I’ve been playing the beautiful game since I was 11 years old, and this is my first soccer blog post. I’m very excited to share my story with you because I find it very intriguing myself.
I understand we might come from different worlds, so I’ll try to paint the picture as clearly as I could. Today, I’ve decided to show you a handful of snapshots of what I have been through this past decade, so I could freely go in depth the next blog post. I hope you enjoy this walk down my memory lane, and possibly help me out here. Sometimes I don’t get myself, or anyone around me, to be quite honest. But I know where I want to end up, and that is all that matters.
Growing up, I believed I could be whoever I want to be, even if it seemed bizarre. I was raised to believe so, and I chose soccer. As a middle school student, I was as ordinary as they can be. Until one day, I got into an argument with my basketball coach at school for calling me names, and eventually quit the team. I quit playing with the girls all-together, and started playing soccer with the boys. At that point, I had never come across such an awesome game, even though I had tried almost every other sport since childhood. Soon after, I was known as the girl who carries a soccer ball under her arm all around school. I was the only girl.
I got asked a lot of questions concerning my likes and dislikes, especially all the way through high school. “What do you want to study in college?” was the most popular one, almost as popular as the girl who is reluctant to do anything in her life except play soccer. Where I come from, my role in the society is to fulfil my duties as a full-time student, get a job, but if I don‘t it‘s not that big of a deal, and start my own family. Professional sports was never even an option. All my friends played sports when they were young, and none of them followed through, especially girls. So, naturally, all my teachers assumed I would go to college like everyone else, which I most certainly, yet unwillingly, did. And my answer was always, “I want to be a soccer player.”
I cannot live off of being a professional soccer player in Egypt. Women’s soccer was, and still remains, an exotic sport in Egypt, despite its dramatic rise in popularity during the last decade. Everyone automatically assumed I didn’t know how to play. I always found it difficult to convince someone that I do, in fact, play the beautiful game without getting myself on a field, or sometimes in the garden during a family gathering, with a ball at my feet. Mesmerizing people never seemed so easy. My family is all for soccer, on one condition: I have to finish my education and get a respectable job in case my soccer career falters. However, here in Egypt, it’s a “this or that” situation. I can either get a proper education or pursue my soccer career. I cannot change the norms, but I can bend them. Or so I thought.
I could do both. I mean, why not? I graduated high school with a 3.4 grade point average. I knew college wouldn’t be easy, especially with semi-professional soccer on the table now. I was starting a new journey in my life. How would I be able to finish my education, with exceeds expectation, now that I have another commitment off campus? Commuting on its own takes a toll on me. On a daily basis, commuting to and from campus takes around an hour and a half, and the club where I train is halfway between campus and my house. Public transportation in Egypt is a nightmare. With all the harassment cases and muggings reported due to corruption and chaos that had fallen upon Egypt before and after the revolution, one can only pray to reach their destination in one piece. So I have to use the family car or the university bus to commute, which are not always viable options. That is just a small glimpse into the obstacles I face every day. I’m sure you don’t want to know more about this right now, so I’ll leave it at that.
What is starting to get to me is how much people encourage me to pursue my dream, yet don’t know how incredibly draining it is for me to actually do so. Being a student athlete over here is excruciating. No one understands you. Your friends get bummed out when you ditch outings for the gym, your family gets upset when you bail on family Friday lunch for a match, and your professor gets disappointed when you skip your only “A course” exam for training camp. That always got me thinking, “What now? Who am I today? And what am I doing wrong?” But the answer is: I’m not doing anything wrong. If anything, I’m more right than I ever was. I am following my dream, my goal, my purpose in life. I wake up in the middle of the night to watch the U.S women’s soccer team make history. I rise every morning to drag myself to the gym against my will. I follow through till the very last minute of a match, limping, and score the winning goal. I do all of this because I believe in soccer. I believe in me. Everyone else will come around eventually. Because right now, who I really am is me. No matter how hard it is, I will go all the way because I have already come too far to quit now. I am a soccer player. And there is no one else I would rather be.