For most individuals, obstacles are not part of their dreams. They do not acknowledge and deal with obstacles courageously.
Most, if not everyone, is pursuing a dream. However, very few are taught the main obstacles to expect and deal with.
This story is about the obstacles I discovered while pursuing my dream.
They include relationships, environment, decision, and rejection!
I was born in June 1993 in Jordan, away from my parents’ hometown in Palestine. Due to the poor conditions in Palestinian hospitals and the risk of attacks, my mother decided to move temporarily to Jordan to have a healthy and safe childbirth. If she had stayed back in Palestine, probably one of us could have died.
After birth, we returned to the country, and that is where I grew up. I went to school and started to play football from there.
Looking back, I don’t remember how the passion for football “sneaked” into my life. It probably did not. On the contrary it must have emerged from within my being.
Despite dwelling in a life threatening environment, whenever I played football with my friends, I felt a sense of freedom.
I thought I could fly!
Although my newly born passion for football was seeking to grow, the environment was not supportive. The village where I lived didn’t have a football field or a safe open area for playing and self-training. Not even a football club which we might have utilized to learn the sport. To deal with this obstacle, we improvised.
First we raised money and bought our own ball. Then we turned the street into a football field. We put our school bags between the houses as goalposts and play.
In our simple games we often imitated our football role models, those we saw on TV. It was always funny acting. My role model was and still is Zinedine Zidane.
The simple games exposed the great potential I had in football. My friends, who had watched me play, revealed that I had many good moves, and that I had great potential to become a professional footballer.
They further advised me to take it seriously and work hard to improve my skills.
Although my friends encouraged me towards football, my parents were absolutely against it; especially my father! He used to tell me that “there is no hope for you to play football here in Palestine. There is no club, no future on that.”
He advised me to be focused on my education at school. He wanted me to study, and have a better life. Unfortunately people in Palestine don’t have the opportunities to be doctors or lawyers. Most of them are simple workers trying to make a living.
I desired to be a professional footballer not only because I had passion for it, but also because I thought it would grant me the opportunity to help my family improve their lives.
Although I obeyed my father and continued my studies in school, I also continued playing football in the streets.
Good fortune soon befell me.
At the age of 16, I was invited to participate with my school in a football tournament. For the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to travel to another city in Palestine and play football not in the streets but in a real field.
At that game, some people from a football club, Rummana Club, watched the match. A few days later they contacted me expressing their interest in taking me into the team. Even though this was very exciting news, I was still worried because I knew that my father would oppose the opportunity.
I asked for the help of some of my friends and my mother to explain to dad how important it was for me to be in this team, and highlight the benefits that we might have in our lives if I became a football player.
Working together, we managed to convince him, and he gave me the permission to play for the team.
I played there for two years and things got difficult for me. I had to move from town to town either for a game or training, and this posed great challenges. The situation in the country was unfavorable. Given the tension with Israelis, oftentimes I had to explain to the guards at the checkpoints the purposes of my trip.
And whenever I told them that I’m going to play football, they responded by saying “go back to your home! You are not allowed to get into this city”. They wanted to control our lives. They didn’t want us to have any connection with other people.
The situation remained the same in the later years when I played for my second team, Hilal Arraha Club. I was disappointed but I never gave up! I continued to try. I played in the team for one year. We became champions but I still had a void. I wanted to carry out more and more exploits in Palestine, but at that time it was impossible.
The environment was so limiting. Moreover, the danger in the country escalated, and I was forced to stop my studies at the University, as a mechanic.
In light of the challenges I was facing, it was the time to make a decision about my future. I often thought about living in Europe as a great alternative. In addition to not having freedom, our lives were exposed to danger.
Some of my friends had already lost their legs from shootings in their villages. Some others had lost their lives.
Therefore, both my dream and life were at stake.
A tragic incidence drove me to make the big decision to leave Palestine faster than I imagined. It was a day or two after practice with my team when I noticed that one of the players was missing.
When I asked where he was, I learned that he was killed in an attack in his village. I couldn’t believe it.
My family who had also heard the news advised me to stop going to the training because they were afraid for my life. “It’s better to stay home”, they told me.
It was terrible… I felt like I was driven deeper in prison.
At that point, I said to myself “enough is enough! It’s time for me to leave!”.
I had to abandon the known and pursue the unknown. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave behind my whole life and move to another country with different culture and people. I didn’t even speak English at that time! But I didn’t have any other choice. The future was uncertain.
My trip to Europe started in 2016. I chose to go to Germany because I had many friends there. First I traveled alone from Palestine to Jordan. I had to walk many miles for many days just to find a car to take me to the border. Then, when I arrived in the country, I took a flight to Turkey where I stayed for a week. During that time I planned my next trip to Greece. I tried to pass from the Turkish coastline to Samos twice.
The first time we got arrested. We were 16 people, children inclusive, trying to fit in every inch of space on a small inflatable boat. You can’t imagine how we felt at that time.
They sent us back to Turkey and guided us to a prison where we stayed in custody for two days in a cell. I didn’t sleep those two days. The room was so small that there was no space for all of us to sleep.
When they released us, I started planning again my trip to Greece.
The weather on the day of the trip was very bad. There was a heavy rain and the sea was rough. I consoled myself with the thought that if something went wrong, I would swim. “But how can I swim if I lose the lifejacket?”, I asked myself.
I boarded the boat with approximately 20 to 30 people and we set off. An hour and a half later, the sea waves started shaking us up and down. We passed the Greek borders but as we got closer to the coastline of Samos, we lost control. It was a matter of time to overturn.
Quickly we sent out an SOS for help.
Fortunately, twenty minutes later a rescue boat from the Red Cross accompanied by the Greek port police and a helicopter arrived. Some of the crew members started to yell at us “What are you doing here? Why did you pass the borders?”
We responded with silence; no one had the courage to answer.
When we arrived in Samos we breathed again, and thanked goodness we were safe! Our hope was rekindled. Unfortunately, two days after our arrival to the island, we learned that the border of Central Europe had closed. “Now what?”, I thought to myself.
Some people there tried to convince us to stay on the island. “Don’t leave. Stay here and in a few days the borders will be reopened. We will handle your paper work”, They told us. We didn’t believe them; we did not trust them. We knew they were telling lies.
I took the paper from the asylum service and soon moved to Piraeus, then to the port. Gate 1.
I will never forget what I saw at the port. Dozens of people in tents. Both women and men of all ages. Some of them were very sick. Babies were crying and screaming. Adults running up and down fighting to get some food. Indeed, it was a scary scene. In reaction I said “Oh my God! What am I doing here? What did I do to myself?”
Fortunately in Piraeus, I met someone that I knew; he was from Syria.“What are we going to do from now on?“, I asked him. Together we brainstormed possible solutions to escape from the nightmare.
For months we stayed in a tent.
We showered with cold water and waited in long lines to get some food. There are days we were very hungry. Life became a bitter pill.
At that time, my family from Palestine called me to check if I was safe. I hid the truth from them. “I’m doing well”, I said to them. “I have a good place to live with three more guys and we eat good food every day”, I added. Of course I was telling lies. I didn’t want to worry them.
On many nights I cried on the bag that I used as a pillow. I couldn’t bear the hardship anymore. Once again it was the time to make another decision for my future.
After six months of living in Piraeus, I moved into a hotel in the Centre of Athens. There I shared the room with four guys, but I at least it wasn’t outside in the cold or the heat.
Soon, I started learning the English language through some videos on YouTube and Google. Shortly an idea interrupted me, “what if I can play football in Greece?”. Immediately, I started to send out messages through Facebook to football clubs, presenting myself. Most of the clubs were in Piraeus. Nobody answered my messages. It was a little bit crazy, but it was a start. I couldn’t sit down and complain.
One day, a guy named Giorgos, suddenly came up from no-where. I don’t know why, but he offered to help me find a team. I thought probably because he felt that I was telling the truth about myself. He introduced me to Artomitos Keratsiniou, a club where all members did not segregate me for being a refugee. All the players were very friendly with me. They made me feel comfortable.
Rejection is another obstacle to our dreams. Sometimes the people or the situations that you hope can propel you towards your dream will drop you.
Unluckily while on the new team, I discovered that I couldn’t play in the official games because the only paper I had since I arrived in Greece was the one that had been provided in Samos by the asylum service.
I didn’t have papers from Palestine, neither a Greek ID. Realizing that I could not play hurt me so much. The coach and the president told me that if I wanted to continue training I was always welcomed.
In the meantime, I looked for a job. I needed money to buy clothes and food. The president of Atromitos Keratsiniou had a company with sanitary ware and tiles and offered me job. “Do you know the job?”, he asked me. “No, but I will learn it,”, I answered. In that job I worked many hours for a little money.
A few months later, a friend of mine told me about a football team with refugees. It was made from an organization known as “Organization Earth”. It wasn’t the first time to hear about this team. I had heard about it earlier while living in the port of Piraeus.
I made contact and soon was admitted to the organization.
There I found people who knew me from the port. They cooked and offered food to the refugees.
I told them that I was interested in playing football with the refugee team; thus they added me to the “HOPE Refugee.”
For me, the “Earth” is not just an organization. It’s a family. Similarly, the team, HOPE Refugee which was created by Mr. Petros Kokkalis and Antonis Nikopolidis, wasn’t just a team. It was my home! Soon I became the captain of the team, and the Organization gave me chance to work for them as a football coach at Barcelona Foundation which they were in partnership with.
Finally, after so many years of struggle I found a belonging. Life made more meaning. I was at ease to plan for the future. Eventually I breathed fresh air. Now I’m doing what I really love to do.
As a coach, I’m working in Skaramagas with many children who are refugees, like me. Some of them are here with their families. Some others came alone.
In the Barcelona Foundation we teach them not only how to play and have fun through sports and football, we also teach them how to be better people bearing the five values of life: Effort, Teamwork, Respect, Humility and Ambition. They have lost many years of their lives and many years away from their school. Indeed some of them have never even been to school.
Looking back, my life has changed so much and now has got even better! After four years and three rejections from the Greek authorities, finally I took my papers.
In 2019, I got the opportunity to play football in a professional team: Ifaistos Nikaias. I still remember the first official game and the first goal I scored. It was a great moment!
At last my dream has come true. Now it’s time to make the next plan. To move to Luxembourg, where I’ll continue to play football with a professional team.
I have to say thank you to Greece and Greek people for their help, but I have to move forward.
My goal is still to raise money and help my family in Palestine. I haven’t seen them since I left my home. However, I hope to see them soon. Now they know the whole truth and they are very proud of me.
Finally I heard my father say, “you made it my son“!
Editor: Elena Vogiatzi
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