Saturday, June 25, 2011

To Skateboard Or Not To Skateboard

"Cowabunga, dude! Skateboarding in Kabul?" That's Mikey expressing his surprise after Master Splinter told him over the phone that he's being invited by a clothing company to teach skateboarding lessons to kids in Kabul, Afghanistan.  
The teenage swashbuckling sewer-dwelling turtle as skateboarding teacher in Afghanistan is far fetched even for a beloved cartoon character but the skateboarding kids in Kabul are not.
Young skateboarders skillfully maneuver the dusty and pot-hole 
ridden streets of Kabul. 
Skateboards first surfed the sidewalks and pavements of Southern California during the 50s. Since then, it has evolved into a popular culture involving a skilled tribe of people—school children, teenagers like Mikey and his dudes, young adults (dudes and dudettes), and even some grown-up men who defy the challenges posed by their sagging assess and weakening knees due to age and degeneration—who fly and ply the concrete jungle with their boards. Dogs and monkeys have dabbled in skateboarding too just check YouTube.      
Skateboarding, in fact, has permeated almost all asphalt and concrete jungles around the world and it created  niche  micro-cultures of individuals wanting to have a creative outlet within societies regardless of cultural background, social status, age, or even gender. 
So, what's the big deal about a skateboarding school in the heart of Kabul? I'm not sure. Is there something wrong with Afghan children skateboarding in the streets of Kabul? Maybe.  
I must admit, there's this part of me that is discomfited by idea of skateboarding in post-Taliban Kabul—a still fragile time when Afghanistan as a self-ruling "free" country is yet to show political and cultural oomph. Afghanistan is in the throes of rebuilding, redefining, and re-enforcing its identity as an ancient nation of strong-willed people who have endured and struggled under different invaders and oppressive regimes and many armed conflicts just in the last three decades. What remains of the Afghan culture as a whole after the Taliban rule of tyranny are vestiges of its glorious past. Now that music, movies, TV, books, beauty pageants, porn, and a whole lot more of forbidden things banned by the Taliban are once again back in the mainstream, I am hoping for caution through a more tempered approach in introducing things like a skateboard, which is very pop culture Americana. 
Perhaps, I'm still enamored with the idyllic scenes of kite flying Kabul children portrayed in the book and movie, "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini. But then again, that was pre-Taliban era.     
Eureka!
Afghan kids flying on boards in the streets of war-ravaged Kabul. 
Skateboarding in Kabul? Why not? It's 2011 and it's been 10 years since the US with the help of British Special Forces and the Northern Alliance invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban Government. Osama is dead.    
Obviously, I've had several turnarounds while writing this post (within a span of 20 minutes) whether I should problematize or antagonize the promotion or introduction of skateboards in Afghanistan or whether I should just take it as it is and marvel at the heartfelt and guileless hunger of Afghan kids for something purposeful and for something they can claim as their own. 
And then, the remarkable story of how Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz and the "Surfing 4 Peace" movement with the help of One Voice made many Palestinian surfers in Gaza happy when they received donated old surfboards from Israel came to mind. Their story, which received considerable media attention, was an inspiring one and it proved that a surfboard can become a bridge between two sides. New surfboards came and a wave of support landed on the Gaza shores straight from California through the Gaza Surf Relief started by Seweryn “Sev” Sztalkoper.
If good things can come from boards like the surfboards in Gaza then it must be a good sign too that boards with wheels have made its way through the urban maze of Kabul, the capital and largest city of Afghanistan. 
“It is solely because of the support of Skateistan that I am standing now.” Murza, one of the skateboarding Kabul kids in the short documentary, "Skateistan"
Funded by Dazed & Confused and Diesel (the Italian clothing and apparel company) through an artistic collaboration called "Diesel New Voices," "Skateistan" is one of the three short documentaries tackling youth "micro-cultures" in different places around the world. The documentaries aimed to highlight "how a small number of individuals can have a positive social impact by going against the grain, and forging a shared identity through opposition to social pressures." This documentary was part of the official selection during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.       
FROM THE FILMMAKERS:
Skateistan: To Live And Skate Kabul by ORLANDO VON EINSIEDEL is a beautifully shot film that follows the lives of a group of young skateboarders in Afghanistan. Operating against the backdrop of war and bleak prospects, the Skateistan charity project is the world’s first co-educational skateboarding school, where a team of international volunteers work with girls and boys between the ages of 5 and 17, an age group largely untouched by other aid programmes.