In real life we are friends again
Basket brings Syrian kids together in their new country
In the city of Södertälje, south of Stockholm, in one of the smallest gymnasiums in town, a rhythmic beating sound is heard. Like an overstrained subwoofer accompanied by a high frequency beep.
When we stop by, the hall is filled with children of all ages, both girls and boys, who are bouncing their basket balls in step with the coach’s whistle.
It’s Jazire family union who’s managing the practices. It was all put in motion this fall by Elias Bahde, 51 years old, and since then the team has become really popular in the neighborhood. Not least among newly arrived refugees from Syria.
”I thought that maybe 8-10 children would show, but when I opened the door there where over 20, and now there are more than 30 children here” Elias says and laughs when I meet him for an interview to the local newspaper Södertäljeposten. 
Both girls and boys participate at the same time. The oldest are born in 2000 and the youngest in 2006.
The only problem with the big interest is that he doesn’t have enough room for more, the gymnasium is already cram-full. But this fall he’s hoping to gain access to a bigger hall.
”I’ve been forced to say no to many people. Unfortunately we don’t have any children with Swedish parents yet, that would be nice in the future”.
During practice he’s got a lot of help, partly from a couple of youngsters who are leading the younger kids, but also from a more experienced trainer from Syria.
”I studied to be a gym teacher and worked as a basketball coach over there” says the 34 year old Jinan Hadaya.
Except from being a trainer she also used to play on the highest national level in Syria, before she came to Sweden eight months ago. In other words she’s just as new in Södertälje as some of the children are. For her the basketball has made it easier for her to feel at home in her new country.
”Yes, that’s how it is. It’s also important for me that the children get to experience all the fun that the game has given me. I want to give these kids the best I can and that’s basketball”.
One of the participants is 13 year old girl Carmen Karyo who’s played with the team for 4 months.
”I was in queue waiting to play with another team when a friend told me about this one. I was very happy when I could start playing here instead”.
Carmen speaks perfect Swedish even though she’s just been living here for two years. School has never been an issue for her.
”When I first came here I went to a special class, and then after six months I could go to a normal swedish class. There was no problem at all”.
The reason that she and many other Syrians have come to Södertälje is because they have relatives already living here. Immigrants from different parts of the Middle East have enriched this industrial town for decades, from the beginning with manpower for among other Scania and AstraZeneca. After that they’ve helped the place grow and obtain a richer cultural life. Even in the athletic department the city has gained in breadth, and now have two teams in the secong national football league - Syrianska and Assyriska.
Södertälje is a strong sports town and has a classic hockey team and presently the best basketball team in the country. Though Carmen already started playing back in Syria, where the game is far more popular than in Sweden.
”It runs in the family. My father played earlier and when I got a taste of it I liked it right away”.
Carmen grew up in Syrias largest city, multicultural trading metropole Aleppo. She and her family made it out before the war seriously got there. After arriving in Sweden, Aleppo and it’s remaining citizens have been severely effecter by bombes and bullets from both governmental forces and rebells.
”I didn’t see much before I fled, but I have relatives left on my fathers side. Lots of beautiful buildings have been destroyed and many people have died. It’s really awful”.
Because of these reasons basketball has been extra important to her since coming to Sweden.
”Yes it was actually really important for me to be able to play basketball. While playing you start to forget”.
In Syria she rarely played any matches with her team, but she’s tried that in Sweden, and that part has become the thing she likes most about the game.
”It’s fun playing matches. You meet new people and you’re enemies while playing. But afterwards, in real life, we are friends again”.