A touch of normality

July 21, 2014

Juba, South Sudan
By Andreea Campeanu

I first heard about kickboxing in Juba over a year ago, long before fighting broke out in South Sudan that has so far killed over 10,000 people.

The kickboxing team had members from different tribes as well as two South Sudanese girls and two Italian girls who were training with them. There were about 20 of them altogether.

Kickboxers stand in the ring before a competition in South Sudan's capital Juba November 22, 2013. REUTERS/Andreea campeanu

They had contests every so often and in November, I photographed one, which was held to promote diversity and peace. I kept promising myself (and the coach) that I would come back to shoot their training.

Then war started in December and everything changed. The coach left, and the focus of my coverage was elsewhere: people being displaced by the fighting, abandoned and burned towns, children suffering from malnutrition.

Slowly, things started getting back to normal in Juba, even though the situation is still bad in many parts of the country.

I heard the kickboxing coach had come back and although he left soon after, the guys started training again, this time led by a member of the team named Daniel. There are only nine of them left in the group now, and when I went to a session, only five were around.

A kick-boxer stretches during a practice session at a sports center in Juba July 11, 2014. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

At the session, one thing struck me as really cool: one of them was lifting weights. Then there were the others lifting weights. It’s not common to do this kind of thing out in the open. I mean there are gyms in town, many hotels have them, but that’s where expats and the rich South Sudanese go. These men are not rich, they are just average guys.

Bodybuilders lift weights at a sports center in Juba July 11, 2014. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

I didn’t talk to them a lot as they couldn’t speak English and I don’t have much Arabic. But I don’t think there is any other place like this in Juba.

A kick-boxer lifts weights during a practice session at a sports center in Juba July 11, 2014. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

The atmosphere was warm. They were helping each other out, laughing as they practiced. One of them was paralyzed from the waist down, but he still took part in the boxing, and then lifted weights. He was just part of the group, it was nice to see.

As the sun started going down, I said goodbye and they invited me to come again. I might do it. It’s great to photograph something that, even though it’s about a kind of fighting, has nothing to do with war.

Bodybuilders lift weights at a sports center in Juba July 11, 2014. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

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