Adam Abada is a New York-based artist, filmmaker, and skateboarder. He went to visit family in the small village of Guela’a, Algeria. He brought his board, and without realizing it, was probably the only one to ever do so. Here he explains his story.
This past winter I went with my family to Algeria for the first time in about five years. Aside from skateboarding, my identity is shaped by my parents: my mother is Jewish-American and my father is Algerian. Knowing I’d have almost no time to skate, I brought my skateboard anyway. On past trips, I would scope out spots in my cousin’s town, a suburb of Algiers endlessly being built on cinder blocks and re-bar, and in the city of Algiers, a sprawling metropolis with a blue and white downtown, sitting like a jewel on the hill as it meanders down to meet the Mediterranean Sea. There were plazas and stairs and the kind of tectonic shifts in the ground created by decades and decades of layered concrete blasted by salty ocean winds that create funky bumps and ditches. There were certainly things to skate, even if there weren’t the skaters to skate them. Most of my visit was focused on reconnecting with the family I do not get to see regularly. I didn’t put my board on the pavement. That is, until we went to Guela’a, the small village in the Kayblie Mountains, which are a part of the Tell Atlas Mountains, which are a part of the greater Atlas Mountains, where my father grew up.
Guela’a means “fortress,” and it is named that because of its cliff-side location that is only accessible from one point, which made it easy to defend in ancient times. Up until recently there was only one road in and out of the village, a twisting, nauseating wisp of dirt with a near vertical drop on one or both sides. As far as I know, my dad’s family is from there from as far back as there is to know. At the top of the village, towards the entrance, is the ceremonial resting place for Guela’a’s martyrs of the Revolution, freedom fighters in Algeria’s Revolution from France who never returned home. It is very near to that spot where, as a young boy at the war’s end in 1962, my father stood daily waiting for his father to return with the survivors of the maquis, or “shrubland.” He never did.
Like most of the villages of Northern Algeria, the French bombed it in the late 50s during the Revolution and most of the population moved out and relocated to cities in a massive nation-wide country-to-city exodus. The village life was sustained by a water well at the bottom of a switchback path in the cliff. Donkeys were loaded up with the water jugs. There was no electricity in Guela’a until power lines were added in the 1990s, cross-hatch metal poles piercing upwards from the rock homes. The lights of Guela’a and it’s neighboring villages now add a sense of place to the quiet, massive dark of the night landscape, but before that, a night on the cliff of Guela’a was so black it was as if you were the only person standing on the edge of the world.
I love returning to Guela’a, for the sheer, overwhelming, breathtaking beauty of the place, and for the knowledge that it is a part of my past and me. I love it for helping me to better understand myself and my identity.
I had my skateboard with me and, finally, for my first time in Algeria, lowered it onto the pavement of a “terrace” that was once a room until the bombs blew it away. I cruised around a bit, cracking ollies over a wooden bench that my great-great grandfather had probably sat on. I lazily rolled off the two stairs from the terrace into the courtyard, then ollied back up, looking up to see, beyond the terrace, the stony shingled roofs of stone houses and the valley of olive trees that my Uncle Hassan cultivates. My cousins were psyched to see this going down in the village. I bet that this was the first skateboard that has ever been to Guela’a. I’m almost sure of it.
I took my skateboard and placed it on a windowsill. The stone of the house was filled in with cement as many of the post-Revolution houses needed help to be rebuilt and couldn’t stand as they once did. I snapped a photo. That was it. I didn’t use my skateboard before or after that in Algeria.
Any skateboarder knows there’s nothing better than spots you’ve never skated before. Any skateboarder knows there’s nothing better than meeting new folk in a strange place, knowing that the board ties you together. When I brought my skateboard to Algeria I had zero intentions of using it in Guela’a. But when I got there, looking out over the vast maquis, the land that made and took my grandfather, my homeland, I felt like I had brought a part of me there that had never been before.