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The story of Samia, who drowned chasing the Olympic dream

Wednesday July 10, 2024

Former Somali Olympic sprinter Samia Yusuf Omar, who died on a migrant boat, Beijing, August 2008 | Photo: EPA / KERIM OKTEN

Samia Yusuf Omar was a Somali athlete who competed with honor in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Driven by her dream of participating in the 2012 London Summer Olympics, she left her country, which had fallen into chaos, to come to Europe as a migrant. Her journey ended when she drowned while trying to reach Sicily. Her story is now recounted in a theater play in Ravenna, based on the novel "Don't Tell Me You Are Afraid" by Italian writer Giuseppe Catozzella.

"I cannot say that I am afraid," says Laura Ruocco with an emotional tone of voice. She is the director of the theater adaptation of Giuseppe Catozzella's novel "Non dirmi che hai paura" (Don't Tell Me You Are Afraid), which was staged on Monday, July 8, at the Alighieri Theatre in Ravenna.

The world premiere was part of the Ravenna Arts Festival and the "Vie dell'amicizia" (The Ways of Friendship) initiative, which also produced the event.

"Everything started six years ago, I was working with Giorgia Massaro (who plays the protagonist Samia in this show), she was studying an animated reading of this book that I did not know. I could notice a twinkle in her eyes as she talked to me about the book, it made me curious to the point that I decided to read it and I admit it changed my life in some way," recounts Laura Ruocco in an interview with ANSA.

The tragic destiny of Samia and her dreams that sunk in the sea

The theater show narrates the true story of Samia Yusuf Omar, the talented Somali athlete who with great determination and dreams, competed in the 200-meter female race at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

On her way back from Beijing, Samia abandoned Somalia, by that time under a fundamentalist regime. She embarked on a journey as a migrant, believing it was the only solution to reach England and find a trainer who could help her compete in the 2012 London Olympics.

But her dreams vanished, swallowed by the Mediterranean, when she drowned in April 2012 while trying to reach the Italian coast on a boat of migrants that had departed from Libya. The boat sank off the coast of Malta. Multiple sources confirmed this news, also stating that she had traveled through Ethiopia, Sudan, and Libya.

Laura Ruocco said the first love was for the novel itself: "The simplicity of the structure, the heart-breaking ending, written with lovely poetry and human values".

This was the departing point from where Laura Ruocco had the idea of turning the book into a theater show: "I felt I had a responsibility of continuing to narrate her story, and by doing so diving my own contribution. This is how the long journey that led to the show in Ravenna began."

'We are the others' says Samia in Catozzella's novel

"After securing the publishing rights, Catozzella was immediately with us. The next step was the soundtrack by Peter Gabriel, which is perfect for its emotional nature." There are also some original tracks realized by Alessandro Baldessari, "who does electronic music".

"The show is the result of a human and artistic mix which for me is an added value. In the book, Samia says: 'That place was the death of others, but this time we are the others'. The concept of universality is deeply felt."

"This show is not a musical, nor a musical comedy, nor a musical theater show: it is the result of the mixing of different worlds and it will make its debut in the temple of opera. A show, that is very physical, in which there is also contamination in the cast," she said.

The performance includes the appearance of two taekwondo athletes on video, Hadi Tiranvipour and Mahdia Sharifi, as part of the refugee Olympic project.

Since the 2016 Olympics in Rio, a program for refugees was included. This program allows them to continue their training with the refugee Olympic team. If they qualify for the games, they can compete under the refugee emblem.

The show in Ravenna is supported by UNHCR and the regional committee of Emilia-Romagna (CONI).


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