SkatePal in Palestine

Text & Imagery – Sam Hutchinson

I have never been to anywhere as fascinating, beautiful and welcoming as Palestine. I knew I would enjoy my visit, but didn’t realise how much of a profound connection I would make with the country and the people, young and old, who made our trip so worth it. Volunteering with SkatePal; a Scottish charity founded in 2003 by Charlie Davis and described as a ‘non-profit organisation that works with communities throughout Palestine to enhance the lives of young people and promote the benefits of skateboarding’, I was there with a group of volunteers over the month of October 2017.

Something that really stood out to me was the friendliness of the Palestinian people. We were never made to feel unwelcome. From our friend Abood, whose falafel shop we visited at least every other day, and his cat Nookie, the white, blind feline who plays fetch and apparently survived a fall from 3 floors up unscathed, to a family of 4 children who came to the park every night for weeks, and our arabic teacher Hani, who we spent the day with, olive picking in his family’s field of trees. Scorpion hunting, speed shades, wild dogs and cats, falafel and hummus, kunaffa, sunsets, olive harvests, the call to prayer, football games, long walks, ruins and big hills. The landscape is one you should visit. Inshallah!

The easiest way to get to the skate park from our accommodation was to hitchhike. Our favourite vehicle choice was to jump in the back of a trailer or an open van. One evening we did just this, straight onto bags of freshly picked olives, and took a different route. We finally stopped at the olive oil factory and jumped out to help the family who kindly gave us our lift, take their stock into the factory to be freshly made into olive oil. The locals would hold bread under the machine churning out the fresh oil and eat it like dip. ‘It makes you strong’ I was told, by a local shop owner who tried to make me drink a cup of fresh olive oil at about 8am one day. Don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff, but first thing on a morning this was kinda gnarly. I walked to the back of the shop pretending to browse, and saw that my friend Ben was too kind to decline the offer of a fresh cup, and in turn, necked it. He said his stomach hurt for a good few hours. But maybe he is now stronger.

A taxi driving from Nablus back to Asira Al Shamalia was playing some very upbeat, catchy tunes- the Arabic music we heard is so dope, made even better by the fact the lyrics seemed to reference Asira itself. As a few of us started to join in, the local Palestinians in the taxi had already whipped out their phone and started to snapchat us all to their mates, taking videos and recording via facetime to their friends and families. We would come to befriend Amjaad, the driver of this cab (He soon became our favourite driver, and someone I’m still in touch with today), who would later introduce us to his whole family, by means of driving to the door of his house, getting them all to come outside, and hinting to us by playing very loud music that we should dance in front of them. We seemed to now be the attraction of the village. You would dance too if you heard this tune.

In the UK, it’s a rare occasion when the public and/or security are interested in skateboarding. In Palestine, we didn’t meet anyone that wasn’t fascinated by us doing so. I wanted to skate this handrail into a hill bomb in Nablus, right next to the old-city market. The rollout is a main road, with drivers flying down at full speeds. It was rare to get an opportunity to skate, regardless of the attempts to actually commit to landing the trick. A local man in his taxi who had been watching on the roadside jumped out with much enthusiasm. He ran into the middle of the road and halted the long stream of traffic firing down the road, turning to me and excitedly signalling me to go. I was scared of the trick regardless, without this pressure! You have to commit to landing the trick after that right? This was very much the case for the many of the areas we visited, people really look out for you. About 10 minutes before walking to the spot, my friend and volunteer Josh had found a piece of wood that he felt may come in handy, we wouldn’t have been able to do what we did without both the wood and the help from our new local friends.

SkatePal’s most recent achievement is the completion of the new skate park in Jayyous, (situated near the Western border). We went there the weekend before the official opening. The skate park is situated directly outside the local school. For this reason, it’s recommended that you don’t skate during school hours, as the kids will physically not do anything but press their noses against the windows in fascination of the skateboarders. Myself and a few others woke up at 5am so that we could walk to the park and skate it during sunrise, as the school opened at 7am. As we left our accommodation, we realised that we didn’t really have much of an idea how to get to the skate park, even though it was only 10 minutes’ walk away. With the beautiful call to prayer in full swing echoing around the village streets, we walked in the pitch black into the rough direction in which we felt the skate park was situated. As our confidence was starting to grow, we walked around a corner to a gang of about 8 large, wild dogs. Without saying anything to each other, we did a complete U-turn and started in the previous direction. The locals said previously, ‘the dogs are harmless’, and I’m sure they are, but we didn’t wait to find out.

Thank you to SkatePal, thank you to all the volunteers and builders, and especially thank you to the people of Asira and Palestine. Go to skatepal.co.uk to apply to volunteer, donate, or learn more about their amazing work.

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