Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Les Hirondelles

Haro passes to Ido who deeks around her opponent and makes a beautiful cross to Tjebbes… wait a minute… there’s a white girl on this team?!?!

For those of you who know me well, and probably even those who know me less, you would have to agree that one of the most exciting things for me to discover here in Fada would be a WOMEN’S SOCCER TEAM!! Not only did I discover Fada’s women’s team, The Hirondelles, and support them at one of their games, but I am now on the starting line-up as center mid and travel around the country with the team for championship matches.

Being part of the Hirondelles has been one of the best parts about my integration here in Fada. Not only do I now have 25 amazing girl friends but I also have a great daily exercise built into my schedule, and I have definitely broken down the tourist barrier. No one dares question my integration in the community when they hear that I am officially registered with the local team.

The registration process was a challenge. I had to submit passport pictures, a copy of my passport and have a medical check-up. Ironically the doctor doing my medical check-up was the same one I had seen a week prior with complaints of extreme fatigue, uhoh. Luckily he gave me the go ahead stamp and my registration was sent off to the Fédération Burkinabè du Football. This is where things get even more challenging. The woman in charge of the registration was on maternity leave and apparently her replacement was less than competent. After training hard for a month without playing any games, and after a lot of string pulling by my coach my registration finally came through 2 weeks ago.

So now I am officially an Hirondelle!! For the past month and a half though I have been training with the team. And what a training schedule they have. Not only do we practice 6 days a week but in the first couple weeks of the championships the coach had them practicing in the mornings at 6am as well as our usual 4pm practice. I couldn’t attend the 6am practices because of work, and even had to change my work schedule around so I could get to the 4pm practice on time. I changed from working 7:30-6:30 with a break from 12:30-15:00 to now working what’s called “journée continue” from 7:30-14:30. It’s pretty tiring working all day straight and then heading off to soccer practice in 35+ degree weather, but it’s oh so worth it. It keeps me healthy, de-stressed, and very happy!!

One thing I don’t like too much about practice is one of the three coaches. He is a bit of a downer and instead of teaching the girls what they should do, he is constantly yelling “C’est pas bon!!” and criticizing the girls which doesn’t really help anybody. He is a bit of a slave driver as well, but it keeps me fit and healthy which is a great bonus!!

The friends that I have made because of this team are probably the best part of the experience. Above is a picture of my best friend, teammate and neighbour Fati braiding my little sister Océane's hair. The team is so welcoming and fun, and being a part of the team has really opened up my social circle. They are so caring and whenever I can’t make it to practice because of work or because I’m sick I get a ton of concerned text messages seeing if I am ok. I bike to practice with my best friend Fati, and on the way home we bike back with Aissatou and sometimes Monique. I have become great friends with the girls on the team, and have also gotten to be friends with a lot of the supporters and the men’s team as well. The men practice on the same field as us, and we each come out and support each other when we have games.

This is us out supporting the men's team who won 2-0 against Ouaga that day!! From left to right is Fati, Okosha's friend, Okosha, Me, Djelika and one of our coaches Charles. The row behind us you can see Evaste and Salimata and in front is another Salimata.

I’ve never played a game where there are so many enthusiastic fans!! There are always at least 75 fans cheering from the sidelines, and it really gets your adrenaline pumping and puts the pressure on. It’s the first year that the Hirondelles are playing in the official women’s league of Burkina Faso. Before that they played against other school teams, or other sector teams in Fada… much less organized. Because of this there have been some tough games against the Ouagadougou teams who have been part of the league for years. There are 6 teams in the league. 3 Ouaga teams (les Princesses, les Gazelles and another team whose name I forget), 1 team from Ouahigouya (pronounced wayagouya), 1 team from Kaya, and us. As of 2 weeks ago we were in 5th place, but after having tied 0-0 last weekend and having won 2-0 this past Sunday we have moved up to 4th!! Pretty impressive for a first time team.

Here's a picture of the intense fans and the even more intense security guards with mace, batons, guns and major protection

My first official game was last weekend but I travelled with the team to support them for the games before that and played in an exhibition game where I scored my first goal!! The road trips are amazing. When we go to Ouaga to play we wake up at 4am on Sunday to get to the meeting place at 5am for our departure. We ride in a “dix-sept”, a ‘seventeener’, which is supposed to mean that it fits 17 people, but never have I ever seen a “dix-sept” carry any less than 20 people. They are usually JAM-PACKED with people, bags, bikes, motorcycles, and in our case, lots of soccer gear. Needless to say, the ride home when we are all sweaty and exhausted is less enjoyable. So we leave at 5am (well 5am African Time which usually means 6am) and head off to Ouaga. We stop off at Koupela to have omelets and tea and then continue on.

This is the bus that Ouahigouya came in to play against us in Fada and is the same kind of 17 that we travel in

Once we get to Ouaga, around 9 or 10 we head to the team’s hangout to relax and catch some shuteye. The hangout is an artist’s studio that becomes the team’s rest house whenever we’re in Ouaga. There’s mattresses lain out all over the floor and those who can handle the heat and cramped sleeping conditions take a nap before lunch. Then we all head off to eat lunch in the same restaurant. The food is already made, and on coach’s orders we all eat riz sauce tomate so as to be able to easily digest before the game. Then back to the house again to sleep and take turns in the shower. If we’re in a rush it’s 2 at a time in the shower, and yes the shower is a bucket of cold water in the outdoor latrine. We pack our now 25 people into the dix-sept since we picked up a bunch of little kids who are going to act as ball retrievers during the game. We warm up at the field and try to sort out who gets which shin pads this week. The shin pads are provided by the team, but I wouldn’t really call them shin pads. There’s also a good quality pair of cleats that belongs to the team that one lucky girl gets to wear each week. The rest wear broken down, hole filled cleats that may or may not be the right size for their feet (it’s better than what they wear at practice which is either flip-flops or little jelly belly sandals with holes everywhere).

Some of the team at the hangout spot. Left to right: Ramatou, Aisha, Hariette and Salif

After the game we cram back into the dix-sept and head off to eat. Now we have the choice of what to eat and most choose riz gras or riz sauce pâte-d’arachide. After a long and exhausting day we cram back into the dix-sept and make the 3.5 hour trip home. We usually get home around midnight and all saunter off home on our bikes or various motorcycles. As you can tell the team really sticks together on game day. Even when we play at home we have to meet up at 8am and hang out the whole day together, eating our meals together and napping together. It’s a whole different story than everyone all using their own methods of transportation to get to the game and jetting off as soon as the final whistle blows like in Vancouver.

Adji, Djelika and Okosha sharing their meal after our game last weekend

So you guys must be curious to know what it’s like to be the one white girl in the entire league. Unfortunately my race definitely has an impact on my place in the team. At practice if I do a drill well or score a nice goal, my coach will yell to the girls “See, look at how the nasara does it”. He also likes to use me as an example in drills and I can’t tell if it’s because I’m the white girl, or if it is because I have had different training and bring a different aspect to the team. I try to avoid all the praise I can and make sure the team knows that I am not superior by any means because of my race. In games I definitely stand out like a sore thumb. Again that word nasara comes out as the audience cheers from the sidelines. They are starting to get used to me now though so I feel much less like an outsider to the team.

Fati and Djelika after our game in Ouaga

I did have a funny experience a couple of weeks ago with the radio. We were at practice and there was a guy walking around with a microphone who came to talk to our coach. He was asking the coach all sorts of questions, and after a while we stopped paying attention. All of a sudden I have a microphone about 2 inches from my face, and this guy asking me how I got involved with the team. Me being totally oblivious to who he was I explained my story without stopping to think why this random guy was holding a microphone to my face. The next day I went to visit my friend Didier and the first thing he said to me was “I heard you on the radio this morning”. I laughed and thought it was a joke. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that the guy from the night before had been someone from the radio. Didier said it would be coming on again at 11am so I stayed around and waited and sure enough heard myself on the radio!! There really is a first time for everything!

The championships are over now, but the practices continue on. There was an enormous storm last night, but we’re guaranteed to be practicing even if it’s on the dirt mud patch beside the sopping wet field.

Hope you enjoyed this rather unusual post and can appreciate how much this team is a part of my experience here.


  1. Annelies! This is incredible! I can't think of how a JF could have a more authentic experience and integration than this!! You rock.

    Unfortunately even the 10 yr olds in Kumasi are at the level of Drogba and Essien compared to me. hehe.

    Have fun!

  2. Can't keep up with you!
    Good story about the radio! and fantastic about the soccer.
    Checked with your Mom re the malaria...(phewph)...and when you are home.....perhaps a student gathering here on the 30th or 31st??
    miss your smile
    love annette
    p.s. you look more beautiful that ever