New Neighbours

I'm Better at Parkour Than You, Bruv

My entire life revolves around the fact that I am a refugee, but parkour helps me forget the stuff that I can't forget otherwise.

by Talal Akkasheh; as told to Lars Jellestad
30 May 2017, 5:49am

Talal Akkasheh is 19, and originally fled from Syria to Egypt with his mum, dad and little sister. When he had just turned 16, he left Cairo for Copenhagen by himself.

Parkour makes me forget the stuff that I can't forget otherwise. It gives me focus and a space where I can shut everything else out. My entire life revolves around the fact that I am a refugee. When I learn Danish, when I Skype with my family and see my little sister – who has grown so much that I almost don't recognise her – it all reminds me that I'm a long way from home; that my homeland has been bombed to pieces; that I live in a foreign country and I have no idea what my future looks like. All of those thoughts evaporate when I do parkour. That's probably why I've become so good at it. It's therapeutic.

All photos by Daniel Hjorth

Denmark is a good country, because it offers so many opportunities. My family will never move here, but I can't imagine that I'll ever move back to Syria. My dream is to be a doctor like my uncle, so I want to make it here on my own. I work hard as a bartender, I earn my own money and I'm in Year 11, where I'm also learning Danish intensively. But the thing that makes me the happiest here in Denmark is doing parkour.

Each day, I practice for three hours in Game Copenhagen – a centre for street sports. Practicing parkour is like walking up stairs – first, you take one flight of stairs, and when you reach the top of that, you take the next one and so on. In the beginning, you have to learn to jump and land properly. Then you start nailing somersaults and backflips and stuff like that. That's where the real fun begins. I've just reached that point.

With parkour, you have to be fearless and practise like crazy. You'll hurt yourself again and again – and sooner or later, you'll break an arm or a leg. That hasn't happened to me yet, but as my girlfriend keeps reminding me, it's just a matter of time. Her name is Emma, we met at school and we've been together for eight months.

My family is also following my progress, thanks to a Facebook page I created, where I upload my videos. My parents aren't as worried that I'll hurt myself – they know I'll be alright. I fled a war and travelled from Cairo to Copenhagen alone at 16 – I can deal with a few bruises.

I knew I'd be good at it even before I started. Back home in Damascus, I saw a lot of videos on YouTube and just kept thinking "How hard could that be?" I have an athletic build and I'm good at jumping and diving, so why wouldn't I also be able to learn parkour? I know you're not supposed to be too vocal about the things you're good at in Denmark, but I'm actually better at it than a lot of people who have been practicing twice as long as I have.

I have friends I practice with and an instructor who helps me with technique, but for the most part, I'm alone. That's how I prefer it. When I arrive at practise I've set a goal for myself, and I don't cycle home until I've achieved it.

I like parkour more than basketball and skateboarding, because it makes me feel like my skill-set is a little more special. I don't speak Danish as well as all of the other boys I meet here, and I don't have much money because my family depends on me sending them a cut of what I make every month. But being good at parkour means that I don't need to speak flawless Danish or have the newest iPhone to get people's respect. Trust me, I've got this.