Guest post by Bruise Li, All Star and interleague wunderkind explains how opening up her home, opened up her #derbyverse family
The day that I passed my MST in June 2013, I rushed from the hall to the train station to hop on a train to Belgium with one of my fresh meat buddies. The following day we would participate in our very first roller derby bootcamp in Charleroi. She had arranged for us to stay with one of the Blackland skaters and her partner, who would pick us up from the station in Charleroi. That is how I got to meet the wonderful Vincent and Valerie who welcomed us with open arms in their lovely home. Two derby enthusiasts, photographer and skater respectively, who had decided to open up their house for guests they had never met before. Although they had visited the league in Amsterdam once and Vincent remembered in particular one of our skaters, Fuss Ro Dah, who’s derby name he thought was the best (and nerdiest) ever.
It was a great experience to stay with them and my first encounter with how welcoming the international derby community is. I’ll never forget the delicious breakfast they had prepared for us the next morning to fuel up for the long day of skating ahead. Since we left Amsterdam in such a rush we made sure to send them some gifts after our stay via post to thank them for their kindness. I met Vincent and Valerie again at a couple of other derby events in later years, always happy to see each other again and unfortunately often too busy to engage in a longer conversation. But at some point I could tell Vincent that I was now calling that Fuss Ro Dah my girlfriend 🙂
I was never the one to be on a couch surfing website and allow unknown people in the sanctuary of my home. Let alone leave them a key or let them stay in my house when I would be not there myself! But inspired by this experience in Charleroi I decided to host a skater for the next big derby event in Amsterdam. I was brought in contact with her via a skater from Prague I met at the bootcamp in Belgium, so I considered this sort of a ‘safe’ option; not as close to the unknown as would make me uncomfortable. And luckily everything worked out great! Although we haven’t seen each other in a while, I believe I can still call Lenka my friend. She came back a few times to hang out with the people she met here in Amsterdam and once even helped us build a wardrobe while she was here.
After Lenka’s first visit, myself and Fuss hosted many people from the roller derby community. Whether it was planned well in advance or someone who missed the last train home at the after party, people who were in Amsterdam to participate in a derby event or skaters who were just travelling and in need of a place to stay. I also stayed at a couple of houses abroad. Apart from a very good reason to finally thoroughly clean up the house, hosting people so far always brought me interesting unexpected encounters, new and inspiring stories, happy faces and unforgettable moments of fun. And within derby you never have to worry about uncomfortable silences because whether there is a language barrier or not, there is at least always something you share and can communicate about and that is the inexhaustible topic of roller derby!
In my non-derby life I’m a PhD student at the University of Amsterdam and for my research I had to spend a few months with a research group in Liverpool. Before I booked my flights or arranged anything else, I contacted the local derby league (as long as one can play roller derby, the rest will be fine, right?!). At my first practice with the Roller Birds I even ran into a skater from France who had once stayed at my place in Amsterdam! She had moved to the UK in the meanwhile and just joined the league. Skating with the Birds made my time abroad so much more enjoyable and gave me something to look forward to after a long day of work, a great bunch of people to hang out with and some very cool drills to try with my team in Amsterdam. One of the skaters offered me a room in her house for the second part of my stay and so it happened that I found a little sanctuary away from my own home.
Roller derby brought me many things but one of the most important ones is that I now know that I have friends and family all over the derbiverse and with most of them I’m still in touch through social media. It also helped me to believe and trust in the kindness of people. This all started with that one time in Charleroi… Unfortunately Vincent passed away much too early recently and I won’t run into him at a game or tournament anymore. I’ll never forget and always be grateful for how he and Valerie opened up my world. <3
Much #derbylove Bruise Li