Meet the Capoeira Trainers: Mohammed

Mohammed shares his experiences in Raqqa

By: Catri Foot

Mohammed became a trainer, because of his love of the special sport. There he saw a chance to provide a new culture for both himself and the community that he lives in, as well as a job opportunity that suited him. 

He mentions what distinguishes the support “is that there’s no winner or loser”.

He first got involved with Capoeira at the beginning of the project after Faris, another trainer, proposed the idea to him. “Without my love of sports, and glory to be Allah, it came to my heart. It’s different, it has music, I even heard that capoeira has something spiritual”.

In a meeting with Amer, a trainer with 14 years of experience, they both agreed that the sport leaves the participant continuously learning because every once in a while you discover something new. 

For Mohammed, Capoeira is like a sea, not easy to reach its top, but its malleability allows room for creation in comparison to many sports with limiting and very specific rules.

“Only in capoeira we felt that we could, for example, compose songs by ourselves. Last time, we created a song, “Let’s play capoeira ya 3uyuuni [my eyes] Allah Allah”, this is from Samira Said [singer] song, and we applied it here.” 

He says, “After you know capoeira, you as a trainer or as a capoeira coach can create something for you based on its foundation. In addition, you can improvise, just like how poets improvise, you can improvise from yourself.”

According to him, the role of capoeira is to build trust among and create new friendships amongst children, despite coming from sporadic neighbourhoods. “One child”, he says, “gave the gift of a yellow flower to another child”. Children are taught to accept western cultures and others strange and foreign to them, allowing them to accept and understand other cultures better in the future.

“We were able to accomplish success stories like Taman and her brother. Tamam was displaced from Ba’dinli to Al Raqqa. Her brother feels ashamed of her because she’s sick and some kids bully her. We were able to fight the idea that her brother had about her, that she’s sick, even if she’s sick, so what? At the same time, we attracted the girl to play with us on the roda, I don’t know if you have seen the pictures. It’s unbelievable how she joined us, and this is truly a success story. This is regardless of their displacement and living in a tent. Now as a human, for me I feel like I’m offering something great to them when I see their situation, it’s something that… something that to be honest can’t be described into words.”

Meme, a girl with a disability, has the power to light up the room when she smiles – and makes Mohammed particularly happy. “One situation that made Meme smile is that one time we were playing the musical chairs game, so she was the last one with another boy, so she lost, the boy sat on the chair and she came and forced him to get up. She was so touched. If she didn’t have a disability, she would act like this. So that really impacted me. And her current smile is something that I don’t know how to express.”

Another story that touched him, is the story of two displaced sisters in camps they would teach at. Every day he would see them running from their mother to come train. It turned out she was their mother in law, as their father had been married twice, and they had left her working on the cotton fields. She said, “Once they knew there’s capoeira, they left their work to come play capoeira.”  

It made Mohammed sad because the two girls would go to work on the cotton fields from 6 am in the morning and come running to capoeira in the evenings at 5pm instead of going to school and learning, which wouldn’t have been the case if they were financially stable.

“When we first started teaching kids, we noticed that the boys do not accept playing with girls even if you cut his head [ it’s a way of saying even if you punish the boy, he would still not play with the girl]. It’s impossible.” Mohammed discusses the challenging and sensitive barriers for the children, especially the boys. “They just need some time to accept it, with a couple of days, In’Shaa’Allah we can help them break this barrier”.

From the different dialects on the camp, the nicknames of the organisation from the songs they sung, to breaking a clothing line whilst getting tangled standing on his head, some memories from the training sessions have really stuck out in Mohammed’s mind.

The training sessions have affected him in many ways, giving opportunities for new friendships, deepening existing ones – despite age differences, for example his friendship with the coach Osama. Physically training everyday and practising ginga, has also enabled comfort against pain in his lower back.