Tarek “Laranja” Alsaleh was the first practitioner to introduce Caopeira in Syria. Different from many enthralled young teachers who chose to ‘train just for fun’, Tarek believes that helping children and youth to find joy in their lives is no longer a choice, but an obligation. He coordinates various different projects utilising Capoeira as a socio-educative instrument in different locations. Through CapoeirArab, he launched the “Free for Kids project”, a programme assisting over 500 Iraqi/Palestinian refugees and children in areas of extreme social conditions. Currently Tarek is working to launch ‘Bidna Capoeira’ a NGO that aims ‘to bring capoeira to people in difficult situations around the world’, as he puts it. This is the first part of my interview with Tarek.
1 – 4CapoeiraThoughts – Can you tell me about your Capoeira background?
Tarek ‘Laranja’ – Three things are fundamental to me: a good pizza, Reggae and Capoeira.
My Capoeira roots are from Köln – Germany. Contra Mestre Porquinho, (Companhia Pernas Pro Ar or CPPA) (www.capoeira.de) gave me my first cord and the appelido “Laranja”.
The reason why I’m in Syria is … well, I guess a number of factors piled on top of each other to push me towards finding a new chapter of life: I’d finished university, my job was uninspiring, my girlfriend disappeared to Brazil, and the weather in Germany was really, really terrible. I knew I had to make a change.
In 2007, I started teaching capoeira in Syria, encouraging participation from all sectors of Syrian society, aiming especially at youth, as well Palestinian/Iraqi refugees.
I love Capoeira and there was no school, so starting one here was the only thing to do. There might be Capoeiristas who tell me my belt [level] might be not high enough but when there is no one else, you have to make the best of what you’ve got, right?
I’m inspired by Mestre Bira (Jilberto de souza coelho) – he suddenly showed up at our first Batizado in 2009. He’s like a magnet; a Rasta with huge dreadlocks who’s always smiling. He’s like me, not into capoeira politics, and he came at the right time. He will supervise the upcoming EU project “meeting in play” which starts in February.
2 – 4CapoeiraThoughts – What is the relationship between CapoeirArab, Capoeira CPPA, and the social programmes you have established in Syria?
I had to start from scratch in Syria; nobody knew about Capoeira. I opened the school under the name CapoeirArab because I wanted make a strong connection between the Arabic and Brazilian cultures.
CapoeirArab is an independent branch of CPPA. I knew about social programmes from CPPA in Brazil but I was too busy with organizing and teaching to follow it up.
When Moussa Mokraui, ‘Latino’ – a good friend from CPPA in Köln – arrived in 2008, it gave me more time to organize our social programmes. We began the ‘Free for Kids’ program and soon had trained over 500 kids.
‘Free 4 Kids’ is the central project of our school, in which we try to promote the spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. It teaches teamwork, self-discipline, trust and respect for one another.
We are now working in collaboration with the EU (European Union), the Embassy of Brazil, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Work Agency), UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), and Terre des Hommes International Federation, among others – and have trained over 5000 kids.
3 – 4CapoeiraThoughts – You present yourself as a very young teacher, who might suffer criticism for having set an independent group in Syria given your graduation level in Capoeira. Can you tell us about the ‘pros and cons’ of establishing an independent initiative (group), as a young teacher, to establish socio-cultural programmes in a time when belonging to one of the major groups or lineages, regardless of styles, seems to be ‘the most important thing’ within the Capoeira worldwide community?
I would say in my Capoeira life I’m just beginning to walk … but I’m wearing sport shoes. I’m not suffering any criticism at all; I’m doing what I’ve got to do to get Capoeira established here. I remember the time when I started teaching in parks and on roofs in the old city just to get started. If I hadn’t made this step, it might have been decades before a school was established in Syria… and they love it here.
The pros of setting up your own school are that you are liberated from the political issues in capoeira; free to show your respect for the art in your own way. The cons: it’s a lot of work, starting with just 2 or 3 students and one berimbau.
There aren’t really any critics of what we’re doing; people want to support us. Put simply, you do good, and good will follow.
To be continued…