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Dangerous days are behind Kennedy's Yakim
LA PALMA – Beshoy Yakim remembers the huge, angry mobs, the gangs of thieves that ruled the streets of his neighborhood and the nonstop looting.
The world he had known had disappeared, seemingly along with the police, once chaos erupted in his home city of Cairo, Egypt.
The ancient city had turned into a war zone during what became known as the Arab Spring of 2011, and the events that most of the world watched on TV unfolded on the streets where he lived.
Or should that be, where he used to live?
Yakim is now a student at Kennedy High, a midfielder on the boys soccer team, and, at least on the surface, he appears to be just another Orange County teenager.
"Everybody on the team loves him," Kennedy coach Tom Link said of the 17-year-old senior. "It was shocking to hear what he was a part of in Egypt. He is very mature, and that has to come from what he went through over there.
"He has lived such a different life from us."
A more perilous one, too.
"You could kill someone," Yakim said, "and there wasn't anyone to arrest them."
Yakim grew up not far from Tahrir Square, which became the focal point of the uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak. Because of the violence that erupted throughout the city, Yakim helped stand guard with his family and neighbors from dusk to dawn to make sure no one broke into their homes. It's estimated that 846 people died and approximately 6,400 were injured during the period of unrest in Egypt.
Even after the 17-day revolution was over, the teenager still found himself stuck in protection duty, watching over his Coptic Christian Church to make sure no one planted a bomb there.
"It was pretty horrible," Yakim said. "My family and I knew that what was going on (the revolution) was going to be good in maybe 10 years, but not now."
The uprising started Jan. 25, 2011, as protestors filled Tahrir Square to express their anger over the lack of free elections, freedom of speech, poor working conditions, low wages, high unemployment and police brutality. Eventually, the Mubarak regime was overthrown.
Despite the ever-present danger, Yakim stayed in Cairo until May 2011 so he could finish the school year. It was then that his father decided to send both Yakim and his mother to Orange County where they live with Yakim's uncle and brother, who came to the United States two years earlier.
Yakim's father remains in Egypt, continuing his work as a lawyer. Occasionally, he comes to visit the family, and he tells his son it is still too dangerous for him to return to Cairo.
A new president was recently elected, Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Now, the country is filled with tension over a new constitution that is being put in place.
Yakim said it is "hard for Christians to interact" with the Muslim Brotherhood.
"It is still not good over there," Yakim said. "There is a new president and he's more Islamic, and I am Christian, so it is not good for us to live over there. All of the Christians and good Islamic people are against the constitution, while the Muslim Brotherhood is for it.
"It is not good because if you are going to go and protest the new constitution or the president, they might hit you or something."
Yakim still loves his old neighborhood and the country where he was born, but everything has changed. He said he probably will only return there for visits.
This is his home now.
"I will really miss my church," Yakim said. "It is sad, for sure, because I don't know what to do."
The soccer field is the exception. Yakim is trying to use his skills on the field to help Kennedy win the Empire League championship and reach the CIF-SS Division 3 playoffs.
His playing time with the Fighting Irish has increased as an injured hamstring has healed. Link said Yakim is going to become "an important part for us" as the season progresses.
He scored his first goal on Jan. 7, helping Kennedy cruise to a 5-1 victory against Cypress.
"That was a beautiful goal," Link said. It came off an indirect free kick in the box.
Playing soccer for Kennedy has been a culture shock for Yakim. Here the games are 11-on-11 and held on big fields. In Egypt, the games he played with his church and school were 5-on-5 and contested in a much smaller area.
"The schools are not that big over there, so we had to play indoors. Playing soccer here is a lot of fun," Yakim said.
"Scoring that goal ... yeah, it felt pretty good."