European (Mis)Adventures Part II

France

After an incredible week of serendipitous, fulfilling encounters and experiences in London – long bike rides with new friends, exploring the city with skaters from Girls Can’t Skate crew, soaking in lessons from Pushing Boarders, and catching up on some much needed rest and artmaking, I took an 8 hour bus from London to Paris. I arrived at night on a Friday around 22h. Emilie’s friend Axel picked me up and graciously explained how to get around using public transportation and carried my heavy bag through the crowded subway. Backpack, skateboard, and duffel in tow, we went straight to a party at Les Nautes to meet Emilie and her other friends. Met up with some guys I met on the bus with whom I had an incredible, thought provoking conversation about politics, imagined communities, and the dynamic between nation-state-building and language supremacy that leads to the suppression of expression of local cultures and dialects.

Some highlights from France:

  • Spending the night before my birthday eating dinner near the Eiffel Tower with Emilie, calling my mother at midnight to show her the Eiffel Tower lighting up (it’s always been her dream for us to go to Paris together and spend one of my birthdays there), then going to Oberkampf and enjoyed a long walk home to Camilo’s at 2am drinking wine straight from the bottle and waxing poetic about life and the beautiful series of events that led us here, now, together. 
  • The morning of my 24th birthday, I walked around with my friend Camilo at a market where he we bought pungent cheeses with names I couldn’t pronounce and had the most exquisite expresso and a cafe where people kept approaching me to compliment me on my colorful dress. We went to the grocery store to shop for food for a picnic and biked across town to go for a long boat ride along the river. Drinking Rose, eating delicious cheese and bread, and fruit in company of a wonderful and dynamic friend Camilo, a fellow Latino with whom I spoke a mix of French Spanish and English. So many fun stories and a delightful way of expressing himself and enjoying life. We ended up at a Tibetan festival, watched some monks do sand painting, drank nice delicate tea, and bought some beautiful handmade jewelry. That night we went to Les Écuries for a night of poetry. There I met up with François, a friend from Brazil study abroad who’s from Paris. Amazing to see this beautiful soul with whom I definitely relate and could connect over reverse culture shock, the merits of Parisian lifestyle, and simply enjoy the quirky yet undeniably burlesque show ^.^ thank you for trekking across the city to drink a glass of wine with me ❤
  • On my way down to Marseille for a skate competition, I missed my train to Nantes and had to pay for another one, a TGV. Unfortunately on this day there was heavy rain all over France, which led to flash floods that killed 15 people and left 12 missing. What would’ve been a 2.5 hour train ride turned into an 8 hour misadventure to get to Nantes after switching trains 3 times, crying at my frustration over lack of organization in my own life and chaos around me. And I was alone! At one point my train was stranded in the middle of nowhere for 20 minutes. I took advantage of the extended smoke break to walk around and get some fresh air. To my pleasant surprise, a few meters beyond the train tracks in this middle of nowhere was a playground with a bunch of metal ramps – a skatepark :’) This felt like a sign from the universe that I was still headed in the right direction, following my path, even if for the moment it was derailed.
  • Arrived in Nantes after finally getting a train after meeting a skater named Valentin who’d just returned from 5 years of travel. We had rum and bread and talked about the merits of travel and manhood. It’s refreshing to see how much more open minded and patient I’ve gotten to talking about men about masculinity.
  • Participated in my first skate competition in Marignane, a town near Marseilles that has one of the best skate parks in France! At first, I didn’t want to compete because I felt ashamed that my skateboarding wasn’t exponentially better. I thought by now I’d be nailing kickflips every time I attempted one; so far I’d only landed a few mediocre ones but never stuck the landing. Yet I realized soon after saying no that even if I finished in last place (which I did), the point was to show up and represent for the few but powerful women at the competition. Aside from the thrill of competing for the first time, I enjoyed seeing old friends Chloé and Lizou (who I’d met during the Girl Skate India tour in February) making friends with people from Spain and Congo and even South Africa! Felt deeply humbled by the hospitality of Jean Baptiste’s family in Marignane, who graciously hosted Emilie and me despite not having met us prior. I loved feeling that distinctly Moroccan vibe in the south of France, the epic skate spots in Marseille, amazing conversations at the beach about being a woman of color in France with Emilie (who is half French, half Thai), navigating geopolitics of demographics in southern France, gorgeous sunsets from the beach and the terrace Emilie and I shared… What an awesome experience!
  • My relationship with Emilie was honestly quite rocky to say the least. She’s such a wild cat! She’s 35 and has been skating for twenty years and has two children; we’re in such different places in life but our fundamental passion for skateboarding and belief in its capacity to change the world for the better is what unites us. Yet there were moments where I felt I had to walk on eggshells because she would be nice to me one minute and the next insolent and difficult to please. She felt frustrated by my flightiness and cheeriness. I felt bummed out by her dramatic outbursts and sometimes morose perspective on her life and future. At first it really broke down my optimism and spirit. Then I remembered that sometimes people are only treating you as a mirror, and their treatment of you is less about you and more about them. Though there were definitely moments where I could have been more considerate, or things got misconstrued due to language barriers since we interacted mostly in French, I realized through our trials and tribulations just how much my experiences in SA and India – Auroville, Couchsurfing with Tami, staying with Charl’s family, and AfrikaBurn in particular – learning to share what I have, being considerate and kind, always smile, greet folks when you enter a space, the spirit of exchange, among so much else – had changed my demeanor. I was still the same Kava at my core, but I felt unfamiliar to myself because I had to adjust to my new responses to stimuli and trauma. When I interacted with Emilie I could tell she wanted to also embody that spirit, but that there are times when our individual needs and desire to please others are at odds. There’s also the fact that I need to be mindful of the fact that Watson is a very unique and privileged opportunity that most people in the world don’t have access to. How can I challenge myself to reimagine travel as something that doesn’t need to happen on an international scale to be impactful? I’m grateful for Emilie’s hospitality, will forgive any hard feelings in order to leave energetic space for both of us to bloom, and continue to promote positivity in her life because she is ultimately a sister in arms, a comrade. Thankfully we are on better terms now and keep in touch; one day soon we’ll see each other again and be so grateful for the ways in which our friendship challenges us to be accountable to ourselves and others we say we’re in community with.

European (mis)adventures

After France, I spent about two more weeks in Europe. Some highlights include:

  • International Go Skateboarding Day takes place every year on June 21st. Though I liked France, I honestly didn’t feel that compelled to stay in the country. It felt too easy, too predictable. Of all the places I could have spent the day, I decided to return to London to join my girls for a day full of skating, debauchery, and being a public nuisance in a totally unapologetic way. Go Skate Day was EPIC – flooding the streets with hundreds of other skateboarders, taking over public spaces and turning them into street spots, filming and documenting the fracas… That night, the girls and I went to the premiere of Concrete Girls, a photodocumentary of the UK’s growing girls skateboarding scene. We ended the night with a session at Southbank and then St. Paul’s Cathedral. Go Skate Day 2018 was everything I could ever ask for 🙂
  • After another epic week in London, I boarded a flight to Prague, Czech Republic. I went on a whim, having been invited by some skaters I’d met at the Mistral Skate Cup in Marignane/Marseille, France a few weeks prior. Upon arriving I felt overwhelmed with happiness and excitement at the prospect of being in a totally new country and context. For some reason don’t feel totally lost or aimless as I explored the city by boat, bicycle, and trolley. I went to Prague for an international skate festival called Mystic Cup. It was like Pushing Boarders in that I saw friends I’d met throughout my Watson travels, but way less academic and way more full of punk and shred and stoke.
  • After Prague I took a bus to Berlin in order to attend the Bright Trade Show, recommended to me by Julian Dykmans, a Dutch ex-pro skater turned documentary artist. Bright Trade Show is a European platform for skateboarding and the universe around it; their three-day gathering was intended to encourage dialogue between brands, retail, press, athletes and individuals. I admit I was skeptical – what with my critiques of the corporatization of skateboarding, going to a corporate event in which loads of brands would be trying to sell themselves as radical seemed uninspiring. However, I’d gotten an invite from Doyenne, who’d secured a booth, to represent them at the conference. At the last minute, Doyenne couldn’t make it, so they had Women Skate The World take their spot instead. Since I had befriended WSTW founders Nanja and Amber at the Pushing Boarders conference, they too extended me an invitation to help them out at the conference. My initial skepticism transformed into excitement upon walking into the Bright Trade Show warehouse and seeing a DIY skate park set up alongside booths of people of all ages selling everything from keychains to socks to social change. Brand activism was a totally new concept for me and I’m glad I forced myself out of my comfort zone to explore this aspect of skateboarding.
  • After Bright Trade Show, I went on an impromptu road trip with some of the ladies of Girls Skate Berlin. We went to Bremen for an annual old school skate jam, where I ran into Amimi. Remember him from Indigo Skate Camp in South Africa?! Yeah, what are the odds of finding him in this tiny German town I went to on a whim!? Turns out his daughter is half German and his daughter’s mother is German from Bremen, which is why he relocated there to be closer to his family. We ran into each other at the old school skater event and ended up spending the evening biking and skating around town, catching up about our lives. Since meeting him in South Africa he had become a mentor to me, but the opportunity to share space with him in Bremen really solidified that relationship. What a beautiful gift from the universe!
  • I lost my phone on the train back to Berlin from Bremen! Unfortunately this meant I couldn’t spend my last day in Berlin visiting Skateistan and going to all my favorite skate spots, but this mistake showed me just how kind strangers could be.

Going back to Europe after 6 months in the “global south” was one of the most jarring aspects of my Watson journey. South Africa, India and Cambodia were so saturated with complexity, smell, color… it is in these countries that I was able to regain my sense of purpose in my global exploration of women’s skateboarding culture. Each of these three countries is characterized by stark contrasts in landscape, socioeconomic realities, relationships to the global political economy. Each one constantly challenged me by forcing me to confront my own unconscious biases around poverty and possibility. Coming back to Europe felt like arriving for the first time when I flew from Mozambique to Denmark in August. That familiar feeling of relief and unclenching from the constant anxiety around safety and permissibility… I’d felt it in Denmark too. 

Spending time in London, Paris, Prague and Berlin made me realize just how much my personality had changed as a result of being in environments where women weren’t as free to occupy public space (especially at night, when it was the most unsafe). What if women all over the world could experience such peace? Is it even possible to have progress without struggle? Why does it feel like entire swaths of the world are tasked with bearing the brunt of global inequality?

In Western Europe, skateboarding is extremely popular and women’s participation in the sport is common and widely accepted. What is the relationship between political/economic/social stability and skateboarding? Can skateboarding even be considered radical in Western European societies where there’s more equality between women and men? What about in countries where that isn’t the case? Skateboarding for me will always be radical because of its roots in rebellion to authority and capitalistic perceptions of time and space. However, I believe that skateboarding in India, Cambodia, and South Africa is way more revolutionary not only because it was relatively new, but also because it challenges the established sexist, classist, and racist social order in ways that radically re-configure the local population’s relationship to public space, identity and democracy itself. This is why, after five short but eventful weeks in Europe, I decided to ignore my original plan to finish my Watson year in Spain (to give myself a second chance) and fly to my final destination: Mexico.

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