Text and photos by Arne Fiehl vom BOARDSTEIN
So it’s been a couple of months when I had an interview on this very website for my last video part in which I talked about the new bowl that we had built in Kampala, capital of Uganda, two months prior. Please don’t ask why it took me that long to spread the word with some pictures and the likes, but this is what I’d like to do now with the following article. For the whole story we need to go way back before 2005 when Jackson Mubiru most possibly spotted the first skateboarder in Uganda, became one himself and later on got a tiny skatepark built on some property that he owns in Kintintale, the best slum as the locals call it.
People to this day think Jack is nuts for doing this instead of using the land for something worthwhile or selling it, but Jack got to know early on that skateboarding itself is indeed quite worthwhile. And so he’s trying to give back to the community that has literally nothing in terms of playgrounds or sports facilities, and with that little terrazzo-style skatepark a small scene of skaters started to develop and soon the Uganda Skateboard Union was founded by Jack and his peers.
Later on Jack found out about Skate-Aid and vice versa and a couple of years later they were able to extend the skatepark. What they had learned from the first part is that they had to build the extension above ground level since the park is located at the bottom of a hill. And when it rains – and in rainy season it can rain quite a lot as we experienced – the whole water runs down the roads which are basically riverbeds and deems the whole skatepark unskatetable. But only until the kids come back from school and start drying and cleaning it with the most improvised but advanced and professional techniques you could imagine.
Design-wise the second part turned out kinda shitty and pretty hard to skate, but I guess, that doesn’t matter if it’s the only skatepark in the whole fucking country. So in spring this year Skate-Aid sent us on a mission to build the second extension which was supposed to be a skull shaped bowl. Us being the commander in charge, Skate-Aid veteran Gabriel Roma Santos (Gabu), Kyryl Beranov (Kiki), a young Ukrainian who grew up in Montreal and had never dealt with concrete whatsoever, and myself, Arne Fiehl vom BOARDSTEIN. Gabu had already been in town for almost a month when Kiki and I arrived at the end of March. Together with the locals he had started to build the wall that was necessary so we could fill the inside with dirt and then pour the bowl above ground level.
Yes, this sounds a bit weird indeed and for sure was a tough job, and if it would have been my choice I wouldn’t have built a bowl at this place, but rather something easier that was not to be leveled up only to be build into the ground. Whatever, it was way too late to change the plans and the crew had already kicked ass and filled the space in between the wall with dirt, all by hand and with wheelbarrows.
Since the roads in Kintintale are too narrow and tight for big trucks we couldn’t have big machinery coming down to the site, that’s why we would have to mix the concrete by hand as well. So the first days consisted of a lot of digging which was perfect to get adjusted to the humid heat, it was rainy season after all.
As you might imagine the skatepark of Kintintale is a very special place, it’s definitely an oasis in this labyrinth of shacks, improvised houses and sewers. Besides Skate-Aid there’s a couple other NGOs that help to finance and improve Jack‘s project which literally became something like a community center where he lives with his wife Helen – Mama Jack as everybody calls her – and three kids which have currently become four. Next to their house there’s a shack in which a couple grown up street kids found a home thanks to Jack. Living with four to five people in like a fifteen square meter room is not everybody’s cup of tea, so realize that quite a lot of people on this planet don’t have a choice and can consider themselves lucky to have a place like that they can call home. Next to their room is the studio where they have a sewing machine to repair and make their own style of clothes along with other arts and crafts. Then there’s regular dance classes in the skatepark because it’s the smoothest ground around, and, you know, the african people love to dance. Together with Viva Con Aqua, Jack was able to realize a public toilet built out of plastic bottles and concrete which turns into the local hangout after work and at night, called The Embassy. We spent quite some time there participating in the local after work rituals for which I won’t get further into detail at this point.
After all it didn’t take more than three days to fully become part of the neighborhood, and the ten minute walk from our hotel down to the site every morning was like a scene out of the movie ‘Groundhog Day‘. At least twenty times you would have sweet litlle kids calling out ‘Muzungu, Muzungu‘ which basically means ‘Gringo‘ in Luganda, the local language, but in a friendly way it seems. And there’s a lot of cute little kids running around in Uganda, way way too many actually… At least in Kintintale – but for my experience pretty much everywhere we went – there seemed to be only friendly people in Uganda. Seriously, everywhere you go you get smiles and good vibes, at least we did. Maybe because there’s definitely not too many white people to be seen in Kintintale or even Uganda in the first place, at least not during a world wide pandemic.
Speaking of that, the whole trip felt like a vacation despite the tough work we were doing. But, yeah, Covid didn’t seem to really exist in Uganda, even though there was curfew after 9pm and every half an hour or so you might spot someone wearing a mask. Other than that life seemed to be pretty normal and, of course, we talked about the whole deal with many a local, but none of them knew anyone who had had Covid or even worse had died of it. It pretty much seemed to be non-existent in Uganda, maybe it’s the genes, I don’t know, nobody knew…
But, yeah, the people of Uganda really make it the ‘Pearl of Africa’ as they call it, genuinely happy people who care about each other and welcome you with open arms. I mean, in contrast to other african countries they are lucky to at least have enough water and food (as elsewhere in the southern hemisphere mostly rice and beans though). All in all there’s just too many people especially young ones and kids, wherever you go you see overpopulation roaming, and we’ll see how much longer Lake Victoria, the biggest sweetwater lake in the world, 20 kilometers south of Kintintale, can take the impact and sewage of millions of people. It was definitely the first time ever that I didn’t jump into a lake even though it was 35° degrees plus heat, but I ain’t gonna swim in shit, mate!
Other than that Uganda basically is run by a dictator who was just ”elected” for the fifth time shortly before our arrival, and the opposition, a young reggae artist by the name of Bobi Wine who was favored by most people we got to meet, didn’t have a chance. So, yeah, Uganda has a lot of potential as a country, but with the current set-up it doesn’t look like there’s gonna be any change anytime soon. That’s why we tried to make a change going there and building the first legit bowl in West Africa to give something to a community that we really learned to love with all of our heart.
During the preperations for the bowl we were getting even more D.I.Y. because on my first day there it became obvious that we had to improve the already existing skatepark, because it was pretty lame and there was lots of room for more. So all in all we added four ramps to the bottom section, the first one being a curb, followed by a quarter, a bank and a rooftop bump which upgraded the whole scenery like 110%. I really hope, those guys learned a bit about how easy it actually can be to pour a little curb and what not out of trash basically. We left them trowels and tools, and it’d be great to see that some more spots come out of that in the future.
Once we got to start the pouring of the bowl we had to lift up a monster of a concrete mixer that had definitely seen better days to the upper stage, coming with sand, stones and 50 kilo cement bags that are still standard in many parts of the world. Add the water from the nightly rain falls in the bottom section and you get a sketchy ass rollercoaster wheelbarrow ride that is no place for the weak. The only thing missing were some alligators to complete the video game-like scene. But, bro, I tell you, those guys can work if given the chance, and that’s what they did. Hats off and much love to the Embassy!
I think, it took us eight days to pour the bowl and the platform which is pretty remarkable considering that it usually was just us three plus Patti, a guy from the hood I would hire in a second if I had the chance to back home, hand stacking the whole beast. But we pulled it off without any major hassles or struggles.
The occasional night shift was considered fun at this point of the project.
The last two weeks into a trip like that it’s like every day is Little Friday, right!? Best shit ever was when we filled the bowl with water on Gabu‘s birthday because it was raining anyways, damn, you should have seen them kids raging.
All in all this was definitely one of the best trips I ever had the honor to experience. Without a doubt I shall return at one point to see my new friends again who became family for seven weeks. And I’d like to witness the progress of the Uganda skate scene first hand, I’m sure those guys already rip the bowl as if they’ve had it for years. It would be even greater if I could build some more spots somewhere because all those kids in Uganda need something like skateboarding, there’s no doubt about that.
Unfortunately, president Museveni keeps the import taxes at an all time high so besides donations it’s basically impossible to get proper equipment into the country. Jack told us almost every day he gets called by people who would like to get/buy a skateboard, but besides that little spot in Kintintale there aren’t too many around, and Jack’s boards are not to be sold because the kids in his community need them for their daily sessions. But, yeah, there’s definitely a tight little scene and some really good skaters. Street skating is a serious mission though, the few spots they have are super rough, dirty and broken in every way imaginable. Plus there’s millions of people and traffic everywhere and no lights at night. The few smooth spots in downtown Kampala are heavily guarded by security, so more skateable concrete is needed in Uganda.
As I said, I’d be down to go again and pour some more, because I had an amazing time and the whole trip put me into perspective again on what you really need in life. Not too much actually, just good friends and some smooth ground once in a while… If you’ve never been to Africa, which you should do at least once in your lifetime, I highly recommend going to Uganda first. You will experience a special time and it’s a good starting point to hook up with the skaters of Ruanda and Kenya. Besides that they have a brand new bowl now ready to shred…
All my love to the lovely people of Kintintale, especially The Embassy and Mubiru family! Hope to see y’all sometime soon!
– Arne Fiehl vom BOARDSTEIN