One humid afternoon, a young woman dressed in sweat pants, white t-shirt and a neat hairstyle with a pink bag was making her way through state-of-the-art community sports complex at the Kidongo Chekundu grounds, in search for her coach. She walked past a team of men in red who were warming up ahead of their football match, two secondary schoolboys with their backpacks by a bench who were tying the laces of their luminous football shoes and a group of young boys jogged past her into the hockey field with their football shoes on. It was almost fair to say that it felt like she did not belong.
“You are ruining the pitch with your shoes, please leave the hockey field and practice in the grass pitch,” she politely but eagerly requested the boys who jogged into the hockey field with their football shoes on.
The boys continued playing ignoring her polite request. She did not give up. She walked back to the entrance to inform a watch-guard so that the boys could leave the hockey ground without misusing the pitch with their shoe studs.
The woman is Kidawa Suleiman, a 31-year-old national women hockey team player.
Her way into field hockey
Kidawa Suleiman had completed her O-Levels (Ordinary level) when she comprehended the fact that her family could not support her further studies. In 2004, the then 19-year-old Kidawa was desperate for a good job so that she’d be able to sustain herself and her family.
That same year, she got to know through acquaintances that women trained at the Magereza Ukonga Grounds in Ilala every day for netball. “To be in a sport was a gateway to get a good job at the military services and I worked hard to be selected in the women netball team,” Kidawa told Woman the birth of her interest in sports.
There were various sporting activities that used to go around the area, from volleyball to hockey. “Our netball coach informed us that there is a women hockey team that the Tanzania hockey association is planning to start and I only joined the team then because I was desperate for a job at the Tanzania People’s Defense Force (TPDF) and was hoping to be selected. I wanted the job because it was well-paid and I always wanted to dedicate my life in protecting my country,” Kidawa explained why she joined the hockey team.
Risking it all for the hope to be employed, she began training with the financial support from her parents. “It was not easy for my father to fend for my transport and food money every single day. He encouraged me to go for the training and workouts and he used to give me little money that would take me to and from Magomeni to Ukonga grounds,” Kidawa’s parents were under the same hope.
Being the first in her family to take up sports, it seemed unlikely that Kidawa would succeed, especially in an alien game like field hockey, though she began vigorous training and was introduced to the game in 2005. “Field hockey was new to me. I didn’t know that a sport using a stick to dribble a ball existed. But three months of vigorous training, I and the team were prepared for the East African hockey competition that was held in Tanga,” said Kidawa.
The first competition that the women hockey team of Tanzania took part in was held in Tanga, where Kidawa was one of the players representing Tanzania in the national team. Four teams battled it out on the Tanga grounds, one team from Uganda, two teams from Kenya and one team from Tanzania. The Tanzania women hockey team secured the second position.
Upon return, Kidawa and the girls were hoping to be interviewed for the job opportunity at the military forces. This did not happen. “We shifted the training place to Lugalo grounds and it was disappointing not to have heard any news on employment from TPDF, but I did not lose hope. It was hard to tell my parents that I still do not have the job,” Kidawa explains her first disappointment.
The women team went for one more tournament held in Kenya. Upon return, they received the good news. “This time, we were told that the interviews were scheduled at a particular day and I was overwhelmed and had to tell the good news to my parents,” said Kidawa.
Out of 40 who applied, only 6 were selected for the job at TPDF, unfortunately Kidawa was not among the selected ones. “It was a heart-break and a risk I had taken, I lost hope and heart in field hockey,” Kidawa broke-up with sport hockey in 2006.
The same year, when the girls were called to come back for hockey training, majority of them refuted because of the disappointment and moreover the game did not earn them their daily bread. “I don’t know what to call it, whether it was a blessing in disguise or bad luck, I encountered an accident where both my hip-bones were fractured and due to this, I could not go back for training,” Kidawa said.
In 2006, Tanzania women hockey team disappeared into thin air and the women team from thereon was dissolved.
A comeback as a senior player
After 7 years, Kidawa now a mother of two children – one 14 years old and the other 10 years old, received a call from her former trainer, Coach Mnonda Magani.
“He told me that the women hockey team is being revived by a woman from Italy and himself and that he would like me to make a comeback,” Kidawa said that she did not know how to respond to that immediately.
Coach Mnonda Magani, the Tanzania Hockey Association (THA) assistant Secretary General, who also doubles as assistant coach told Woman that Kidawa Suleiman was one of the first players he thought of calling upon when they wanted to re-form the team. “Kidawa knew the game and she was one of the senior players who had mastered the skills of field hockey and was a good player back in those days,” the coach said.
Poverty in question
Kidawa was forced to be cautious and put her family ahead of the decision to join the hockey team again. She is a single mother of two children who are dependent on her, her father who is retired and aged, is also dependent on her and so are her two siblings with their children.
“I was weighed down by the burden of financial challenges that made the decision to make a comeback even harder. But field hockey is embedded in my blood, it gave me hope all over again,” Kidawa explained why she joined the team again despite the challenges.
Kidawa makes efforts to save some money for transport earned from her hair-dressing skills to attend trainings either at Lugalo grounds or Kidongo Chekundu grounds. It becomes a challenge for her to come every day.
“It is not the taboo of domestic responsibility that hinders women to sustain or excel in sports, rather is it the financial constraint. The players will always prioritise earning some money or putting food on the table for their family rather than attending training. It is difficult but the women in Tanzania, despite poverty in question, make an effort to come for training,” Kidawa stated. She continued, “We are about 13 of us in the Twende Hockey team, but you will find six, sometimes only three or none are able to make it to the training on a regular day. You cannot blame them; life is a struggle in today’s world. To be honest, the women hockey players love the sport, you should see them when they are on the field, but we are always in a tug of war between poverty and love for the sport.”
Kidawa is a trained coach but she cannot fulfil her priority to go and coach in schools because of her priorities. “If only there was a way forward to keep the girls together by giving them a salary, I guarantee you that Tanzania would have one of the best women’s team in sports globally,” Kidawa gave an honest solution.