Adventures in India and Cambodia

When one door closes, all the windows open

After the official end of the Girl Skate India tour, everyone went their separate ways – most flew home for work, others travelled to other parts of India en route to Nepal, and the remainder – six of us: two couples, me, and a French skater named Lisa Jacob – took a bus to Pondicherry from Mahabalipuram in search of Auroville. There was a rumor that there was a skate park tucked away in the sandy paths and lush forest. I was stoked for the search; the excitement helped quell the ongoing feelings of loneliness, lack of connection, and feeling out of place that had accrued throughout the skate tour.

We stayed near the sea, about three miles away from the miniramp. We rented mopeds and searched and searched and searched until we found a blue gate that beckoned us towards a beautiful swath of concrete and two miniramps – one concrete and one steel – peeked out from behind the bush. Yes!!! Skate mission = success. We skated all afternoon and, sticky with sweat, rode home bathing in the light of the waning moon that peeked through the cracks of our tuktuk.

Throughout the three days that the group of six was altogether, I slowly began detaching myself from the group. Every individual in that space is so special to me in ways they may never know, but I was so socially and emotionally depleted that I couldn’t fully commit to showing up as my most authentic self.

Several days after everyone else had already grown accustomed to driving around India’s notoriously frenetic traffic, I finally managed to procure my own moped and taught myself how to drive. Yo. I will forever advocate for non-motorised forms of transportation such as skateboarding and biking, but YOOO! This moped deadass upgraded my whole experience! Wind blowing on my face, through my dreadlocks, whipping through my clothes as I zoomed past temples and shops. Learning how to drive through sand, through grass, on concrete, in the dark… After a lifetime of depending on public transportation, this moped offered me a degree of independence I hadn’t felt since I left Europe. The added benefit of solitude after several weeks constantly being surrounded by and depending on other people energized me.

And then there was one

After three nights at our cottage, we decided that we were ready to move on and go our separate ways. Sam and Chloe flew home to Europe, Molly and Guillaume continued on their Asian backpacking journey, Atita and Mikkjel prepared for a trip to Sri Lanka, and Lisa headed west towards a skate park build in Mangalore. I decided to move to Auroville.

Auroville

Auroville – a sea of green in an ocean of sand and gravel – captivated me. Though the skate park was a pleasant surprise, what really compelled me about the place was the fact that it was a jungle in the middle of a desert.

For those of who may not be familiar with Auroville, it is an experimental community near Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu, India. It was founded in 1968 by the Parisian-born spiritual leader Mirra Alfassa and Indian philosopher and yogi Sri Aurobindo as a “universal town” where people from all over the world could live in harmony. Auroville was “an experiment in human unity” whose charter, originally written in French by Alfassa, contains the four statements below:

  1. Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be the willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.
  2. Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
  3. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realisations.
  4. Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity.

Knocking door to door, I eventually found a host family, Sharma and Sita, and stayed with them for five days in Aspiration community. In addition to skating the miniramp every day, during this time I:

  • Learned how to drive a mo-ped through sand
  • Practised veganism (save for those delicious roadside masala chais)
  • Explored volunteer opportunities at Sadhana Forest and felt inspired by their reforestation projects in India, Kenya, and Haiti
  • Reintegrated yoga and meditation into my daily routine

I left Auroville feeling rejuvenated by the combination of independence, communal meals with my Aspiration community, trying new foods and activities, spending time with my host family, and recommitting to myself and my vision for my Watson year.

Solo travels in South India

After a warm goodbye from my host family, I headed towards Pondicherry, where I would catch an overnight bus to Madurai. I decided that I wanted to take the scenic route to Kovalam, stopping in “temple towns” and skating anything I could (much to the surprise of passersby). For the next week, I took trains, buses, and hitched rides from Madurai to Kovalam, spending nights in cheap hotels and days drinking chai and drenching my idlis and vadas in sambar sitting on colourful plastic chairs while curious strangers stared and smiled and waved at me.

I love the way my skateboard upends any opinions or judgements strangers have of me. I enjoy the way people stop and stare and some ask: Who are you? Where are you from? What are you doing? Why? How?

Every moment of my time alone this week was filled with newness, wonder, mutual fascination. Temples upon temples in which I walked barefoot with the bells adorning my ankles jingling gently, admiring the colours and smells and energy of worship. Sacred, ancient, alive. Letting down my guard and beginning to believe that I belong here, in this moment, with these people, eating my aloo gobi and chapati with my fingers while sipping on my mango lassi, asking for pappadam every chance I get because Sita got me so addicted… !

I travelled by bus and train from Pondicherry to Kovalam, the latter of which is a city by the sea in a state called Kerala. In Kovalam, I was eager to skate, surf, try out some local seafood dishes, and spend some time at Sebastian Indian Social Projects (S.I.S.P.). Founded in 1996 by Belgians Paul Van Gelder and Werner Fynaerts, S.I.S.P. is a non-profit, charitable organisation that works in the coastal region south of Trivandrum (South Kerala, India) in and around the slums of Vizhinjam Fishing Harbor. S.I.S.P. is dedicated to working with and for the poorest irrespective of their cast, sex, or religion by providing services such as:

  • Free second chance education for school drop-outs
  • Family welfare (financial aid, food support, etc.)
  • Social employment for single and/or destitute mothers and unemployed youth
  • Skate park and school for youth of all genders to incorporate play into their lives while also learning valuable life skills

It was so awesome spending a few days with Vineeth, a skater and youth mentor at S.I.S.P., who helped me orient myself around my new neighbourhood by showing me around town on his moped and introducing me to local skate spots. At S.I.S.P., I also got to meet Minnie, a tenacious and stylish 14-year-old girl who was possibly the oldest female skateboarder in Kovalam, if not in Kerala. I enjoyed connecting with Minnie and the other kids at the skate park, which also doubled as a school where kids could receive homework help and meals.

(Back to) Bangalore

After five days skating and surfing in Kovalam, I took an overnight bus to Bangalore for the second time. This time, I was going to meet up with at least 50 other skaters from all around India and the world for Holy Detour, an annual skate and BMX tour hosted by HolyStoked Collective in Bangalore and sponsored by Vans India. 

On the bus to Bangalore, I shared a cot with a young woman named Sona who was studying medicine and was one exam away from becoming a doctor. We talked into the wee hours of the morning as she shared with me her ambitions such as traveling alone to foreign countries and learn how to ride a bike. We talked about gender and caste in India and I shared with her my experiences navigating intersections of race, gender, and class in the United States and abroad. What a story ❤ (Update! She’s officially a doctor!!! Congrats Sona ˆ.ˆ) 

I arrived to Bangalore at 7:30am and was totally lost. No idea where I was and too exhausted to deal with overzealous tuktuk drivers. I managed to flag down a tuktuk and headed to the address of my hostel that I’d written down on a napkin. When we got closer to the neighbourhood, my driver drove in circles, insisting he had no idea where the street was and that it probably didn’t exist. What with my lack of sleep and inability to speak either Hindi or Kannada (or any Indian language), I paid my driver and hauled my bags out onto the street, exasperated. Suddenly a sweet smell wafted by, bringing my attention to a sweet shop down the street.

It was there that I met Akash “David” Rayall, the director of Bethany High School, while he was shopping for flowers and chocolates for his wife’s birthday. He was the only other patron in the shop, so I asked him if he recognized the name of the street I was searching for. After telling me that I was a mere two blocks away from my destination, he proceeded to drive me to my hostel while we talked about who we were and what we did. He was moved by my story of travelling around the world to map the global women’s skateboarding landscape, and I was inspired by his dedication to providing opportunities to youth through education and mentorship.

When I walked into my hostel (which I won’t name for their sake), the receptionist reeked of alcohol and refused to check me in even though I’d called the night before notifying him of my early arrival. Akash took one look inside that dimly lit, uninspiring place and offered me a room at their homestay in the Koramangala neighbourhood of Bangalore. At first, I was sceptical. Why are you, a male stranger, being so kind to me? he He proceeded to share with me a story from his time studying in Ohio. When he was lost, alone, feeling alienated in an unfamiliar culture, complete strangers went out of their way to feed him, house him, and make him feel welcomed. These experiences shaped him as a person and compelled him to help those in need. Long story short, Akash and his family ended up adopting me! I spent that first afternoon in Bangalore celebrating his wife’s birthday with their whole family! This serendipitous encounter felt like a godsend, and I am grateful for Akash’s hospitality and willingness to welcome me into his life and home. Thank you!

Holy Detour!!!

I’ll keep this section short and sweet:

Holy Detour was a wild ride. We camped out at The Cave in Bangalore as well as Wallride Skate Park in Hyderabad, had wild bus rides filled with booze and loud music and the occasional spot check (including one where we skated some full pipes in the middle of nowhere!). In Hyderabad, we set up our tents and speakers and had food trucks and live music and live art/graffiti and so, so, SO much skating! And lots of biryani, of course 😉 Of the 75/80 (I still have no clue how many of us were actually there, but was definitely a lot), at least 10 of us were women (half from India, half from abroad)! That is all I can share publicly. If you want to learn more, go and check it out for yourself 😉

Skateistan launch in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I left for Hyderabad airport straight from HolyDetour’s camp at Wallride Skate Park. I was definitely a bit hungover, but mostly bummed to leave all my new friends and the little skate haven we created for ourselves those days.

I decided to go to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to participate in Skateistan’s launch of their new skate school at Factory Phnom Penh on 23 February 2018. There, I got to meet some of my favorite female skaters such as Mimi Knoop (founder of Hoopla Skateboards who also oversees X-Games Women’s Skateboarding events), Tin (Skateistan – Phnom Penh coach and one of the only females in the Cambodian skate scene), and Sky Brown (a 9 year old girl from Miyazaki, Japan, Sky is one the world’s youngest professional female skateboarders)!!! I also connected with journalists, individuals from Skateistan (including the founder Oliver Percovich!), and connected with Charles Antoine, founder of The Skate Room, who expressed interest in collaborating with me on Meninanda, the girls skateboarding program I founded in Mozambique(!!)

After a few days of skating around the capital, I travelled to Siem Reap for some sightseeing in Angkor Wat. Besides the temples in India, I’d never been in such an ancient place! It was mesmerizing, truly, to watch the sunset over this ancient city and try to imagine how lively and ethereal it must’ve been… 

A short but sweet week 🙂

Skateistan launch in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I left for Hyderabad airport straight from HolyDetour’s camp at Wallride Skate Park. I was definitely a bit hungover, but mostly bummed to leave all my new friends and the little skate haven we created for ourselves those days.

I decided to go to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to participate in Skateistan’s launch of their new skate school at Factory Phnom Penh on 23 February 2018. There, I got to meet some of my favorite female skaters such as Mimi Knoop (founder of Hoopla Skateboards who also oversees X-Games Women’s Skateboarding events), Tin (Skateistan – Phnom Penh coach and one of the only females in the Cambodian skate scene), and Sky Brown (a 9 year old girl from Miyazaki, Japan, Sky is one the world’s youngest professional female skateboarders)!!! I also connected with journalists, individuals from Skateistan (including the founder Oliver Percovich!), and connected with Charles Antoine, founder of The Skate Room, who expressed interest in collaborating with me on Meninanda, the girls skateboarding program I founded in Mozambique(!!)

After a few days of skating around the capital, having a dope street session with some of the guys from Skateistan and a special guest from Finland, I travelled to Siem Reap for some sightseeing in Angkor Wat. Besides the temples in India, I’d never been in such an ancient place! It was mesmerizing, truly, to watch the sunset over this ancient city and try to imagine how lively and ethereal it must’ve been… 

Next steps

I’d bought a one-way ticket to Cambodia thinking I would stay there for a few weeks. After some deliberation (and a few prophetic dreams), however, I decided not to stay in Phnom Penh, choosing instead to head back west through India for Holi and then back to South Africa, where I was planning on spending two-three months learning about and promoting women’s skateboarding in Cape Town.

Check out my next post for updates about my last 10 days in India (including Holi!) and my reflections on 10 weeks in South/Southeast Asia ❤

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