Someone in Detentions told me: you are going to a bad city.
I stayed seven days in the YWCA, then I was lucky. They didn’t send me to a hotel or hostel, they sent me to a house. I was there for one year maybe – just by myself. The first time, living alone.
You know I’m going to tell you something very important; I have always loved people. Everyone who knows me knows I love people, and they ask did you really come here alone? I asked myself, are you able to live alone? How do I do that? One common reason for stress is not having anyone to speak with. You are afraid, you don’t have any friends, you miss your family.
Let me tell you something about myself.
It’s difficult to introduce yourself because you know yourself so well…you don’t know where to start. But I’m going to say I am a person who is positive. There are many things I like to see, do, listen to. The most important thing is to learn and challenge yourself. You know, I hope my impressions about myself and your impressions about me at the end of this are not so different.
When I came here I had a different life.
At Detentions in London, they took my fingerprints. I stayed for two days before they told me where I would be going. So many people of different nationalities – Eritrea, Somalia as well as Sudan – were being assigned cities all over the UK: Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Manchester. I knew the names because of the Premier League. Manchester United is my UK team, although my heart beats for Real Madrid. From Scotland I knew Rangers and Celtic. I hadn’t heard of Glasgow.
In Sudan I worked in the Football Academy, playing and coaching, but in Sudan there are rules, specifically for women. In the academy no one would come to watch us. If you played football as a woman people saw it as a crime - haram.
Women don’t come to matches in Sudan. Some women might look at us and think we have freedom. But some would think, this girl - how can she do something that is only for men?
Women in my country have to stay at home. No study, no education, no work. If you do something different people look at you…maybe in front of you they’ll be nice, but behind your back….
Sometimes when practice began the temperature would sway between 42 and 45 degrees. Sometimes the hall where we played was locked, or there was no air conditioning. Sometimes we played on a pitch, but the pitch had sand instead of grass, and the sun blazed over our heads and made us tired and thirsty.
There were charity grants from FIFA each year for a women's team, but the officials at the Sudanese Football Federation ignored us so we paid our own money to rent out the halls.
Even though the conditions were bad, I loved it; I forgot myself.
When I play football I forget that anything bad happened to me in the past.
On the first night in the Glasgow YWCA I couldn’t speak any English, and I didn’t know anyone who spoke Arabic who could help me. How would I order my food? Where could I find a restaurant? In the end I didn’t eat dinner that night. I stayed in my room with a lot of questions.
I told myself, I have to start making my life better.
It was seven or eight months ago that I joined the football team in Glasgow. There’s a good pitch, friendly people, a great coach. Other girls are from Iraq, Scotland, Cameroon.
When you play football, it rids you of any feelings of boredom. You forget all of your worries, you meet new people. One of the things that makes me happiest in the world is making friends and building close relationships.
I'm someone who suffered female genital mutilation at the age of five, and I still suffer the effects today, in my menstrual cycle and my poor psychological health. I’m afraid speaking to people, I'm anxious, I can't eat or drink, and I feel a lot of pain in my stomach. But when I play football I feel so mentally and physically well that I don't have to take the medication the doctor gave me.
In Glasgow there are beautiful fields with green grass, the weather is good for football because it's cold, which makes you feel fresh and active, like you want to go to practice, unlike in Sudan where you wish practice would end because it's so hot you feel it might kill you.
In Glasgow we play in the open-air when it’s beautiful and rainy. It’s a wonderful thing when you're playing and the rain is falling on your head and the pitch is wet and you sometimes slip; a challenge as well as fun.
When you do something because you want to do it, or you love doing it, you feel a true sense of happiness. Playing football means that I discover new streets and neighbourhoods in my city. Football practice is supposed to be in a hall but sometimes, if it's in a different place, I discover a new street or neighbourhood, as if I'm on a journey.
People always ask me, do you really live alone?
I’ve had this conversation with myself many times in a day. It’s not easy but it’s a chance to learn about yourself - who you are, what you want to do, what you want from life.
When you are alone, there are no limits. You can go north or south, by boat or train. You can do whatever you want. There is no one else to worry about and no one checking up on you. You can eat when you want and sleep when you want.
I love football, but when I need to, I am able to sit in silence and enjoy the company of myself. The world has become a completely different place.
For once just ask yourself what you want to do today. And then do it. Yes, that’s freedom: yes, yes, yes….
With some additional translation by Simon Atkins
This piece has been developed with support from Scottish Refugee Council - celebrating 30 years of helping refugees rebuild their lives in Scotland www.scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk