An Ode to 7Hills Skatepark..
After 16 years of living in Toronto, I moved back to Jordan in 2014 - for reasons too long to list here.. The main reason though was because I was having a hard time figuring out who I was in such a big city. It was difficult to navigate the streams of who I was or wanted to be on the inside, and project that onto the endless possibilities that exist in a metropolitan city like Toronto.
While I was attending university, I worked at a local coffee shop. I enjoyed that part of my life, my roles were clear. I was a student, and a certified barista. It was after university that my roles started to merge and blur and confuse the hell out of me.
Being originally from Jordan, the expectations were set. You go to college or university, you graduate (on time), and then you get a good job in your field - that's usually the way it goes. Staying a Barista was not really an option (although that would've been just as fulfilling for me at the time), I had to find a 9-5 office job. Luckily enough, I was able to land a full time job at a global media and advertising agency, and then at a tech giant. I made mama proud :)
On my daily crowded subway commute to work in -30 degree weather, everyone seemed as though they were lacking sleep and hating life, their black, brown and grey winter jackets blurred my vision and created curtains across my world. I couldn't take one more ride.
So I packed up, and moved to Jordan. Some people thought I was crazy, I thought it was the best damn thing I ever did for myself. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Toronto. I would be no where close to who I am if it weren't for my brave parents emigrating there in 1998. I just couldn't fulfill my purpose in the city at the time, or break free of the structured and caged routine I had created for myself.
I wanted to be the type to go to museums and art galleries, I wanted to eat at new restaurants and bars (Toronto has the best food scene, no joke) I wanted to go for runs outside, and sit by the lake. I wanted to grab a book and lay on the green grass at the park, or go to concerts and basketball games. However, between the two-hour commute to work and back, and the late working hours, I couldn't do any of those things, and when I did have the time, I was too exhausted. I was literally in a funk, my curious mind racing, while my timid and tired personality stuck.
I arrived in Jordan, after having moved away when I was 11 years old. Fortunately for me, I already had a group of amazing friends, family and a beautiful new home waiting for me. As my parents were showing me around the house for the first time, I literally started bawling. I'm not the biggest fan of change, and I had no idea what I had just done. Everything felt so overwhelming and I think I started questioning my entire existence.
My friends in Jordan already had a rhythm to their lives. Their routine, their outings, their social circles, their jobs, all the elements that make up our daily lives. In the beginning I tried to fit right into theirs. Some days it felt good, some days it confused me even more. See, I wasn't exactly from Jordan, as I had been living away longer than I ever lived there, and I wasn't exactly a foreigner either. I was confused all over again, for anyone who knows me knows this to be true 99% of the time.
So I had to figure it out. That's the whole reason I moved there to begin with, right?
I was aimlessly scrolling through my Facebook News Feed, and I saw that there was a call for volunteers to come and help out with a new skatepark being built in Weibdeh. I was so new I didn't even know what or where Weibdeh was at the time. So I didn't even bother.
It was a friend's birthday at a bar in January, and I met a few guys that looked like they were from out of town. So we got to chatting, and I found out that they were in Amman to help build the park. They explained what the project was, and invited me to come help out.
Call it a coincidence, destiny, fate, but in that moment my life collided and changed forever. I opened myself up to the world, I was ready for change, and little did I know that that chance encounter, meeting those guys, at that bar, that night, was going to have a tremendous effect on my life the way it did.
I ended up going to 7Hills Skatepark, and as a result I met some of the most influential and incredible people that I could have ever possibly crossed paths with.
In the beginning, after the park was built, I started hanging out there regularly. As I got to learn, Weibdeh, a beautiful rustic area in Amman, hosted a lot of foreigners and expats. Many people living there were working at NGOs, embassies, students who lived there to learn the language, filmmakers, Fulbright scholars, there was certainly never a dull moment walking the cobblestone streets of Weibdeh.
I became really close friends with some of the skaters who went to the park daily. I was never a skater myself, yet somehow, it was the most accepted I've ever felt in a community. There were no expectations and no judgements, it was a safe space. Stereotypically, skaters seemed to have garnered a reputation. One that is cliquey, chaotic, and rebellious. That stereotype is flawed.
The skateboarding communities that I've encountered are some of the most selfless, open, humble, accepting and loving people I have met.
7Hills Skatepark was built by an organization called Make Life Skate Life. It is a100% volunteer-run non-profit organization that works to create community built skateparks across the world. They collaborate with local skateboarding communities and use crowd funding and volunteers to complete concrete skateparks as a way to promote skateboarding. They've completed projects in India, Bolivia, Jordan, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Nepal, Morocco, and Iraq.
In Jordan, 7Hills Skatepark is now run by volunteers, and offers classes to four refugee communities: the Sudanese community, Palestinian refugees from Gaza camp in Jerash, Iraqi and Syrian urban refugees, and a girls-only Iraqi and Syrian group.
7Hills became my second home in Jordan. It was a place where I got to start over, a clean slate. A place to discover who I was around new people, dabble in photography, take a moment to be playful and young, interact with the local youth, and shop owners. I had the opportunity to step out of the comfort zone that can easily be formed in Amman, and get my hands and shoes dirty, literally.
Through the people I met at 7Hills, and the meaningful conversations I had, I got invited to help build a skatepark in Bethlehem, and then in Peru.
The Bethlehem park build was an experience I will never forget, especially rushing by myself to make it back across the border to Jordan before they closed it off on a Saturday. The park was built at an SOS Children's Village, where they protect and care for children who have lost parental care. It was not my first time visiting Palestine, and it is never easy to experience the political, social and economic hardships that affect those living there, but this time was especially eye-opening and twice as difficult.
Living in Peru for about two months, was the first time I ever traveled and lived abroad on my own. I'm sure you've heard this so many times before, but nothing changes you like moving somewhere completely new and completely on your own. I was living in a small fishing town called Huanchaco, where surfing was a godly sport, and surf hostels dotted every corner. We built a concrete skatepark called La Rampa in Cerrito de Virgin as part of the Otra Cosa Network. I practiced my Spanish, stopped blowdrying my hair, and ate ceviche almost everyday.
I didn't know my whole life was about to change when I was introduced to 7Hills Skatepark and its community. I thank you for always being there, and accepting individuals from all walks of life. Thank you for providing a space that allows people to come together, forget everything else, and share a common love. Thank you for giving kids both local, and ones who have escaped war a chance to feel like they belong somewhere. Thank you to all the volunteers and dear friends I've made who have traveled from across the world to help build and maintain this park. Thank you Mohammed Zakaria, co-founder of 7Hills, and my dear friend for teaching me street language and how to try and act cool, but most importantly for your dedication to this place, 7Hills wouldn't be what it is if it weren't for you and Kas Wauters. I can't wait to be back and visit soon, it's amazing how much these kids can learn to shred in 4 years ;)
-> If you want to help support any of the organizations that build these community skateparks, and literally transform the lives of local youth, please check out: