This past week, I attended the Islamic Games outside of Trenton, New Jersey. Before I even introduced myself, I was warmly greeted with a hug by the event organizer, Salaudeen, with whom I had spoken on the phone many times.
What a great way to start things off.
My memory is sketchy, but I don’t remember any hugs from the Beijing Olympics officials…
Without a specific plan, I immediately found myself drawn to photographing the sisters, who despite their attire were every bit the same as any of the playful high school girls I’ve photographed over the years. (Ok, most had strong New Yawk/Jersay accents, which only made them cooler.)
While wandering around the tiny campus of Rider U – which was the host of these games – I saw a bunch of girls and boys playing keep away while waiting for their basketball games to start. I was hooked.
I’m glad to have discovered these girls playing around outside the gym, because men weren’t allowed inside. The young ladies removed their hijab – or headscarf – during the games. I would have loved to photograph them ballin’ with other girls, but I completely understand and respect their faith.
And for the record, I don’t think any man could perform sports as well as any one of these ladies in a hijab or abaya (cloak). Especially in the heat. Mon dieu.
I asked one of the girls before a soccer game if the abaya made playing in the heat unbearable. She said that she was able to fall asleep in an abaya at her family’s place during the Egyptian summer – and without AC. This was nothing.
After spending a couple hours hanging with the ballers, I walked over to the track where I caught up with some of the girls doing sprints.
As with any group of kids, I often got the “Hey, will you take a photo of us?”
This is not a comment on anyone’s level of devotion, but I was a little surprised I didn’t see more groups of athletes praying during one of the two afternoon prayers (Dhuhr and Asr). I had a preconceived idea that teams would stop action at the appropriate time and conduct their prayers. Without doubt, I saw many athletes pray during the weekend, but for the most part players played on during the prayer times.
Inside the track, they had arm wrestling for the brothers. It drew a passionate crowd.
Speaking of passion, can we all agree that the (rest of the) world is crazy about soccer??
While walking past a boys game, one player completely and totally blindsided another player. Wasn’t even going for the ball. Just wanted to take the kid out. That sent the coaches off and there was a brief skirmish. Thankfully, the boy seemed to recover quickly and tempers mellowed.
Of course, revenge is best taken on the field of play. So it seemed like good karma that the offending team lost on penalty kicks.
Maybe the most important part of this weekend was seeing boys and girls playing together. In fact, just seeing the girls play – for some of the older women – made them nearly tear up with pride.
“It makes me smile so much to see a sister play,” said one older woman, who added that she could remember times when sports for girls was simply taboo.
On my second day, I decided to focus on the girls soccer games. I really wanted to photograph the girls martial arts tournament, but that was inside the gym and off limits. I did see a female coach warm up some of the boys near the track before their tournament.
One thing I love about spending so much time with a relatively small group of people is that they get to know me and I get to know them. Looking over this edit, I see many familiar and friendly faces that I bumped into regularly.
I spent a lot of time this weekend struggling creatively. I was at an interesting tournament with good access and friendly people, yet at times I felt that I was simply making “girls with hijab” photos. Would the photos be any good if the girls were dressed like western teenagers?
I had the same feelings during the Paralympics. Is it a good photo on its own, or is it a good photo because the person is missing a limb?
It’s safe to say that one reason why this blog entry has so many photos is because I’m uncertain about what works and what doesn’t – and why.
(*) “May Allah Reward You.” That’s the English translation for “Jazak Allah Khair” – or thanks. And thanks are in order for the brothers and sisters that greeted me at the Islamic Games and made me feel welcome.