Wednesday, April 1, 2015

My Tennis Team

Today it is 97 degrees in Doha, Qatar, and the long time expats are warning me the summer heat is beginning to escalate. But it hasn't stopped my little crew of tennis students from practicing on the court. Today about 20 girls turned up to learn how to play with me (usually there are a few boys, but they were playing soccer in the neighborhood). There are always a few younger siblings who function as ball girls when we don't have enough rackets. They are all in my compound, a few live next door or a few doors down. Many times during the week, they approach me, and ask, "We are having tennis lessons this week, right?" I tell them I wouldn't miss it.

When I moved to Doha last September, one girl revealed to me she wanted to learn how to play tennis. I offered to teach her since we have a tennis court on top of our club house roof, and the word spread. Of course, the lessons are free; I am no professional. Some of the kids have been playing weekly with me for months, and now that the sandstorms have abated somewhat, more kids are turning out to play. As I watched one 13 year old girl serve perfectly today into the diagonal court, I was so proud to see her progress. She is the one who fasts when she really doesn't have to--just to get the extra blessings she says she needs--even when it is very hot.

Most of the kids who want to play are girls from about age 10-13. They have instructed me on what it is like to be Muslim: how they fast at Ramadan, when they start wearing their abayas, teaching me about their prayer schedule. Sometimes they want to talk about school and friends, and their old lives in the U.S., Jordan, Lebanon, or Egypt. One of them gave me one of highest compliments of my life when she asked me if I had played tennis on TV, like I was a Wimbledon star. Ha! I tried hard not to chuckle too loud. No, just a high school player, someone who was taught by my mom when I was about their age.

Sometimes when I go to their school where my boy also attends, they smile and wave to me, inviting me to sit down at lunch with them. Frequently, they knock on my door to talk or tell me some impending news. Often I will open the front door to one of them holding a dinner or sweet Arabic dessert for my family to eat that evening--sent from their mom. One mother had me "consult" with her daughter when she did not receive high enough marks on her report card. The ball girl who has been with us for six months now, a younger sibling that is six years old, calls out to me often in the schoolyard or in the neighborhood street, "I love you." I teach them for free, but they give me so much more in return for my meager efforts.

I love these girls who have allowed me into their lives and dreams. I am honored by their trust in me, a middle-aged woman, with such a different background than their own. They are kind to my son with autism, as he hits the tennis ball with them. We are a team, a community, who are trying to help one another. As I watch and teach them every week on the tennis court, I often reflect on my luck to land in the best neighborhood in the entire world.