Kicking Soccer Balls While Militias Shoot Kalashnikovs

"My father had offered me money not to play football back in Syria," Ahmed laughs. "He wanted me to just study. Of course I refused. What else do we have in Hama besides football?"

The team normally plays in a stadium, but today they go to practice at a sandy field in Kobbe, before a row of high rises and alongside a neglected amusement park with a rusting Ferris wheel.

Another match is finishing up, and the players have to hold their jerseys over their eyes when the wind blows. The sidewalk along the edge of the field is littered with trash. There is no place for the (mostly male) spectators to sit. A deafening round of gunfire sounds in the distance.

Nasr Maksoud, the director of the field, walks around with his laminated schedule on a clipboard. "We are here every day from 5:30-8 p.m. having matches. We always play to gunfire like this, but Kobbe district is safe," he says.

He notes that the players come from all districts – even those at odds with one another, like Bab al-Tabbaneh, which is majority Sunni, and Jabal Mohsen, which is predominantly Alawite.

As teams scrimmage, Bilal calls for a young boy to shoot. The boy goes in for the kick.

"Look," Bilal says, proud. "When I say shoot, he shoots."

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