Selling Gum and Skateboarding in Kabul

Posted in photography, portfolio, writing by rhianon on February 5, 2015

SBC skateistan skateboarding kabulDuring the last five years working at Skateistan I was asked a couple times to write stories for external media, and even a column for the Huffington Post. Unfortunately between living in somewhat of a warzone and growing professional responsibilities I didn’t manage to fit this in. An exception however is the article below, which I wrote for Canada’s primary skateboard magazine, SBC. In 2011/2012 I also managed production on a 320 page book, from which I’ll post some excerpts from that here at a later date.

Selling Gum and Skateboarding in Kabul
Female shredders on the front lines for hope in Afghanistan
(Published July 2010)

The first time I met 12-year-old Fazila was when we pulled into a gas station one evening in Kabul. She was there begging for money, as she does almost every day in some part of the city or other. I had arrived in Afghanistan a week earlier to volunteer and teach at an NGO called Skateistan, and the last I’d heard of this girl Fazila was that her father had forced her to stop skateboarding (again) because she was supposed to be out begging.

Skateistan’s a school centered around the idea that skateboarding creates unique opportunities for building connections – even between youth traditionally segregated by ethnicity, language, socio-economic status and gender. Fazila got involved with Skateistan back in 2008, outshining almost everyone else during the frequent skate sessions at an empty fountain called Mekroyan. The NGO has since grown into a facility with an indoor skatepark and classrooms for students from all backgrounds to learn together.

In the Mekroyan days, though, there were a mere handful of skateboards to be shared among several dozen curious kids, many of them taking a break from selling gum or washing cars. Kabul has a war economy, and more precisely an international aid economy. Little kids can make $20 or more a day begging from ridiculously-paid aid workers and contractors in fancy SUVs, while a good monthly income for adults here is $100. Instead of attending school, kids here become breadwinners at six of seven years old.

Fazila’s family arrived in Kabul quite recently as refugees. During the Taliban regime many fled their home regions for Pakistan, and have since returned to the relatively secure, severely overpopulated city of Kabul, where haphazard mud huts dot the mountains that rise up on all sides. Fazila is endearing, softspoken, observant, and mentally tougher than you could ever imagine. She met her best friend and skate buddy, Wahila, working in the streets and the two could hardly be more different from each other. Wahila is dangerously mouthy, restless and never hesitates. What these girls have in common though is that they are fearless – in life and in skating.

While boys here face multiple barriers, it’s really the girls of Afghanistan, rich and poor, that need something like Skateistan. Females aren’t supposed to do any sports and are essentially treated as servants at home, so for a girl here to take up skateboarding is actually a little bit insane. Yet Afghanistan now has the most egalitarian male-female skateboarder ratio in the world!

That night I first met Fazila we convinced her to come by the skatepark to get a used board. We were so close to losing her. Now, only a few months later, she and Wahila are both helping regularly in the girls’ skateboard sessions. It’s never simple though. When Wahila slammed on her arm one day we had to take her for an X-ray against her will – she was nervous about not getting home in time for housework and about her father banning skateboarding if he found out she’d hurt herself. When I left for Afghanistan I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew that skateboarding had guided my own life to some unexpected, wonderful places and I didn’t see why it should be any different for a child growing up in Kabul.

The highlight of my week now is goofing around with these two girls, just seeing how stoked they are to be skating. And on the drive home afterwards, sometimes it’s really hard for me not to look at a young girl selling gum or tapping the window asking for “One dollar?” and picture Fazila or Wahila, who still spend their days in the street. Their futures are uncertain, but in a place with so few opportunities for the young, the poor and the female, I think there’s more hope for them through Skateistan than anyone could ever have imagined. www.skateistan.org

cut n’ paste on a rainy winter night.

Posted in news, notebook, photography by rhianon on December 5, 2009

IDLEWOOD ‘zine is done! some of the raddest ladies in Vancouver recently got together and made the ‘zine they’d been talking about making for about two years. There’s not much writing in there, except Natalie’s comprehensive history of female skateboarders, but there’s loads of photos and little snippets from the likes of Alana Patterson over in Copenhagen. We basically wanted to make the ‘zine that would’ve gotten us the most stoked when we were just getting in skating. There’s also a bunch of motopickle stuff in there – a trip to SF/Yosemite and a double-trouble roll to Montana.

idlewood zines

We thought there would only be one issue, but we had the ‘zine release last night at Antisocial Skateboard Shop and people were really excited about getting involved in the next one. So, we’ll see. I’ll be going to Europe, Israel, Egypt and Lebanon this coming year with my fellow adventurer, Erika. I’m sure we can get some interesting content for Issue #2. Coming spring (?) 2010!

There are only 100 copies of Idlewood, but if you’re interested in getting one e-mail or visit Michelle at Antisocial.

A dilly of a pickle.

Posted in news, portfolio, writing by rhianon on September 9, 2009

My most recent article for Color Magazine, entitled “We Are Not Style Icons,” is featured on the cover of the newest issue. The cover photo is a portrait of Jason Dill (taken by Mike Piscitelli), who was one of a handful interviewed for the article.  There’s loads of other interesting stuff within those pages too. The issue is hitting news stands on September 25th.

Color Magazine 7.4 cover: Jason Dill

Poof! Out of the Bloom! Here we all are.

Posted in news, photography, portfolio, writing by rhianon on September 8, 2009

I studied in the south of France for a semester in 2006. While there I took any chance I got to travel around with my skateboard, camera and some friends. The editor at Color Magazine mentioned that he’d heard rumours that Barcelona as the skateboard mecca was “over” and wondered if I felt this was true. I got to thinking about how traveling – whether it involves a two hour drive or a voyage around the world – has been so important to skateboarders. There something quite amazing about the flexibility of the act of skateboarding and its ongoing interaction with architecture and cities. The innumerable ways in which this interaction can play out with a given place, time, and individual is the really fascinating bit. Here’s a short piece that I wrote and co-photographed for Color while I was overseas.

Europe or Bust - Color Magazine 4.1 (Winter/Spring 2006)

Out of the Bloom
(Color 4.1 – Winter/Spring 2006)
by rhianon bader

What is it that makes us constantly search for the untouched, for the treasure chest that holds everything we could’ve ever imagined? The thing with skateboarding is that, like any passion, it cannot provide us with the same feelings of excitement, reward and adrenalin, always and forever. Skateboarding can continue to be the cause of some of the most enjoyable moments in our lives, but the longer we skate and the older we get the harder it is to thoroughly feel the same attachment that we felt in the beginning. I read in a National Geographic about how the ecstatic feelings we get from “being in love” with someone must end after a certain number of months simply because the chemicals our brain releases to give us that feeling will eventually diminish, basically for the sake of maintaining our sanity. The brain would be overloaded if it felt that good all the time. In the same way, the passions we have in life cannot keep the same hold on us as they did in the beginning. But if we are truly dedicated we find ways to make it work, to create “special moments” that reacquaint us with those initial butterflies… perhaps by simply reserving Sunday afternoons for beer/bowl sessions, using long-weekends to take short roadtrips to somewhere new, or skating around downtown solo late at night while the common folk of the world are sleeping. By circumstance and choice, some of us go further, less like lovers trying to keep the magic and more like an addict trying to relive that first high.