by Ramzy W. Natsheh and Mohammed H. Zughaiar
My name is Ramzy W. Natsheh. This is a story about my life, and how capoeira affects me in a good way. I have to introduce you to my cousin Mohammed H. Zughair. He is my cousin, but more like my twin because we do everything together.
When I was 7 years old I witnessed the intifada. My school was in Jerusalem, but I lived in a small town next to Ramallah, which is under the Israeli authority. It meant that I had to cross the Qalandia checkpoint every day not only to go to school, but also to reach Mohammed’s house.
During the intifada I witnessed so many bad scenes. I saw people shot, and other awful things. I was seven years old, so I had to take therapy to be a normal human being again. It took me four years to be normal.
Mohammed had his school almost near his house, so he didn’t have those kinds of troubles. However, he was still living near Qalandia checkpoint – on the other side – so he had no neighbors. The army was all the time in front of his house, so we couldn’t meet. It was so bad to not see your best friend / twin for almost two years.
Later, Mohammed’s father bought a house in my neighborhood so we got united after many years. We were very much into sport and movement. We heard about capoeira classes in Jerusalem. We had to go right after school to capoeira and get back at midnight. In terms of distance, it wasn’t far away, but because of the many checkpoints on the way, and the different transports between the Palestinian side of Jerusalem and the Israeli side – East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem – it took a long time. All of the classes were in West Jerusalem, and it took four transports to get to the class, and four more to get back home. We did it all for the love of capoeira!
After a couple of years we formed new classes in Jerusalem on the East side, in the old city, but it was in an area that was under threat to be taken by the Israelis. In order to maintain our capoeira space we had to fill it up with classes, so that it would always be busy and full of people. Israeli capoeira groups led all of the classes that we organized in the space. In these groups we didn’t feel very comfortable. To train with someone who one day might take your house, or if not him, then perhaps his father, or his grandfather took the house that they live in now, is very difficult. Even if it wasn’t him individually, he is still benefiting from what his parents, or grandparents stole, so there is some hate that we have toward him. Mohammad and I felt sure that it was a mutual feeling – they hated us and we hated them. The proof was there inside the rodas: always the Israelis cheer for their guy, and we cheered for our guy. It was so challenging, and so rough. Because it was Cordão de Ouro, that means regional, many flips and acrobatics were taught in the classes. You could always sense the racism inside the acrobatic class–like the Israeli teacher used to explain the movement to us in 5 minutes or less, and he would explain it to the Israelis students for half an hour. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we were better than them–of course we were–but still we also needed the deep details of the movement also.
This situation went on until one day we found a social capoeira class that was provided by Bidna Capoeira. We went, and there we met many great people like Goia, Peruca, Khaled, Arame and Karam. Together we had very nice classes, and after classes it was always a nice gathering with nice people. This made us want to learn more about capoeira, and the best we could learn was from Goia. He was more than a teacher, he was also a friend. We used to go to his house for play musical instruments and sing. He was a great teacher! After that Jorge left, and Bidna Capoeira closed the office, so Peruca started to offer classes under his group, which was Dendê do Recife. For two years we had classes with Peruca. We launched the Capoeira Freedom Collective in 2013 after a long talk, and during that first year we had a big tour hosted by us, Goia and Toca. It was so great! So many great people came from different nations! We toured all around the West Bank, and that same year we started the 29th of November Solidarity Day with the Palestinian People Roda. Many rodas in many countries all having Palestine flags in the background …
In 2014 there were rodas in 17 different countries around the world. It felt really great to see that people knew our story and our struggle all these years. For people like Mohammed and I it was the best way to show support for our people – we are not the type of people that could hold a rifle and fight. We have so much to lose if we resisted that way. So in order to send our message internationally we chose the game that we love the most, which is capoeira because of its deep history of resistance to oppression.
So at the end capoeira did so much to affect me in the best way. I became more social with many, many friends, both local and international. Capoeira community is my life, and my best friends are my capoeira friends. It just feels amazing after a long day, and many checkpoints and soldiers and cops checking me in Jerusalem on every corner to go and play capoeira in a good class with good people. Please believe it helps so much to relieve negative energy, and I think it’s the only reason why I am still alive now.