Amman skatepark becomes oasis for teenagers in a grim urban landscape

The 7Hills park offers boys and girls, many of them refugees, a place to practise and simply hang out

Young people, many of them refugees whose families have fled to Jordan, skate at 7Hills park in Amman. Khaled Yacoub Oweis / The National
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Before Tayseer Ahmed's family fled Yemen's civil war and arrived in Jordan three years ago, he used to go out on his skateboard every day in Aden with his friends.

To his good fortune, his parents found a new home in the Jordanian capital Amman, on a hill overlooking a skatepark.

Tayseer, 15, is one of dozens of young boys and girls who meet every Sunday and Wednesday for free skateboard lessons at the park in the centre of the city.

“We did not have one like this in Aden. We used to skate in the streets,” the teenager says, as he takes off on his skateboard.

We did not have one like this in Aden. We used to skate in the streets
Tayseer Ahmed, refugee from Yemen

In a city with few green spaces or public squares, no cycling lanes and hardly any accessible centres for sports, the skatepark is a rare space in Amman for children of all nationalities to mingle.

Named 7Hills ― after the seven hills that the city is built on ― the park was started in 2014 with support from the US and Germany. Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, last month honoured its founder with the Sharjah International Award for Refugee Advocacy and Support, which carries a prize of Dh500,000.

Most of the children who come to the park are from modest neighbourhoods and attend government schools which, unlike private schools, are not co-educational.

Children receive skateboards to practise on at the 7Hills park but must return them when they go home. Khaled Yacoub Oweis / The National

Here, boys and girls hang out together, skate and share jokes, enjoying simply being teenagers.

The park management lends them skateboards at no charge, which they must return before leaving.

In one group, sitting together and sharing pastries from an Egyptian street vendor, are girls who have come by bus all the way from Bayader Wadi Al Seer, a district on the edge of Amman. Asked how they spend their time, one of the girls replies: “Home, school, and here.”

The park's head instructor is Abdul Hakim Barakat, whom every one calls Hakeem, which means "the wise one". Some of the junior instructors started off as his students.

Abdul Hakim Barakat, the head skateboarding instructor at the &Hills park, is also known as Hakeem, meaning 'wise one'. Khaled Yacoub Oweis / The National

One of the best skaters is Khaled, a Year 10 pupil, who lives in Jebel Al Hussein ― one of the original seven hills of Amman. But he will be leaving for Chicago by the end of the summer after his family received a Green Card, and plans to enrol at a high school there.

“I like Jebel Al Hussein. I like my friends there, and here at the park, but I think I am making the right move,” Khaled says.

“Chicago is better.”

Two girls sit chatting and watching the other skaters. One of them, Balqees, is holding a basketball. She says she likes both sports, although she spoke more passionately about basketball.

“She used to play basketball for a club,” her friend confides. “But she fought with the coach.”

By the end of the two-hour lesson, most of the children show noticeable improvements on the skateboard.

Sami, who is in the seventh year at school, has been trying to master a move known as "rock to fakie", which involves rolling up a bank and stopping with the front wheels locked on the edge, then raising them to roll back down again.

He still has problems shifting his weight on the skateboard.

“I am happy. It was my first time practising this move,” Sami says.

But executing the rock to fakie is not a problem for Jameel Koukas, 10, a Syrian refugee from Aleppo who is a natural on the skateboard.

"That move is very easy," he says.

Jameel appears to be a natural on a running track too, easily winning a race around the park despite competing with children who are older and taller.

It's another day of fun for the children at the park.

Updated: July 15, 2022, 6:00 PM