Chandrika & Syesha,
Current Location: Washington, USA
Tell us about you all, how did you meet?
--We first got to know each other by driving into "The Storm of 2016" (any other Washingtonians remember that buzz?) to go stay in a yurt on the beach. Everyone thought we were crazy, but the storm blew right past us and we spent the whole time laughing and frolicking.
Since then we've weathered a lot of other types of storms and managed to keep laughing through it. We love adventure, hate packing, and will do almost anything for good food. I (Chandrika) am in the worlds of environmental education, and always on the brink of living on a farm (but haven't quite made it happen yet!), and am currently so excited to be teaching swim to Black women and other women of color (Freedom Tree Swim School, website in progress!). Supporting marginalized folks to reconnect to land/water is my jam.
Syesha recently graduated from law school and manages a sales team at Amazon. She loves coaching basketball and working with the youth dem. Syesha's the type of person everyone comes to when they need a shoulder to lean on. We love good snacks, good people, and belly laughs.
What is a "Skoolie"? Why a skoolie?
--As far as we understand, "Skoolie" is a cool kid nickname for a school bus conversion. We had been playing around with the idea of alternative living options - a boat, tiny house, van? The motivation is to create a life of adventure, while also not having to get out of your pajamas. It's about escaping the endless rent trap without falling into the sky high mortgage trap. I (Chandrika) have been obsessing over bus conversions since high school, but we fell in love with the idea of doing a bus build together when we visited the Tiny House Festival in Oregon, and ended up spending all our time with the bus people. For us, they were the perfect mixture of relative affordability/ mobility (vs. a Tiny House which can get pretty pricey and seem more made for the occasional move, not constant motion), and spacious home-i-ness. We LOVE vans, and even spent a week in one, but it felt cramped for the full time living. Plus, bus people won us over with their friendliness :D
What was your inspiration for starting this journey? Anyone or anything in particular?
--Everyone in our community who has gone out on a limb to create a way of life that more closely matches their dreams. Also all of our ancestors (Black women in particular) who did not have the freedom of mobility and choice around their lifestyle and living situation. That and the Bus Instagram world. Instagram will have you questioning your whole life.
Have you lived a nomadic lifestyle before or is this brand new for both of you?
--Brand spanking new!
Do you have any specific plans about where you want to move or are you living more spontaneously?
--We just came back to the Pacific Northwest from our maiden voyage - a month long meander up and down the coast as far as Joshua Tree. However, employment ties us to Seattle (for now!), so we are actually figuring out the living in a city with a skoolie deal, which has its whole own unique set of challenges.
What has been your greatest lesson since starting on the skoolie?
--Everything has a down side. Every lifestyle, every path. But doing everything in your power to create a life you don't need a vacation from, a life where you look around and think 'yep, this is me' is worth it. Maybe that's a skoolie, maybe it's getting a cat (I want a cat, can you tell?), maybe it's getting a degree, or never setting foot in a school again, but reaching towards what calls you is your birthright.
Do you feel embraced by other nomads as a queer person of color?
--We have found that depends. Bus and van people have been incredibly welcoming, generous, helpful, and open hearted. They keep us hyped! We had a very negative experience at an RV park where we actually were very rudely asked to leave. We're still undecided if all RV parks are where racists go to retire, or if that's just Malibu, but we don't plan to find out. Camp grounds, pullouts, sidestreets, and the highly coveted - friends driveways - are where we will be parking from here on out!
Non- nomadic people - or muggles if you will (we get a little full of ourselves from time to time) - have been a mixed bag. Largely, people are interested, supportive, amazed, and inspired to come across two Black women in a bus with a license plate that says "WAKANDA". We have already had countless heartfelt and life affirming interactions with strangers. Syesha in particular has a knack for making "trail friends" and befriends people of all walks of life. We must have given bus tours to at least 20 strangers by now haha.
However, we've also come across a lot of people making misguided assumptions about us and our level of income, education, respectability, and how this somehow speaks to our worth. Strike one is your a black woman (and queer at that), step two is you live in a bus. We have definitely had quite a few people show their prejudices and interact with us as if we are something they scraped off the bottom of their shoe. They tend to change their tune when Syesha ever so politely (or not) lets them know she's an attorney. It's a shame that's what it takes to be seen as a human by some people.
We are interested in exploring how being part of the mobile community in Seattle will impact our beliefs and actions. There is a large homelessness (read gentrification) issue in Seattle, and a lot of poor and working class folks are turning to RVs. People at times assume we fall into that category, and there is nothing like walking a day in someone else's shoes to wake you up to injustice. We are feeling more and more called to find ways to support other mobile dwellers with less societal sway then we may hold as people with higher education degrees and a steady income.
What's next in your traveling journey?
--We are excited to do lots of weekend trips from Seattle - Canada, the ocean, lakes, Portland!
What advice would you give to anyone interested in a skoolie?
--P A T I E N C E. Don't have a timeline of less than 1 year to build if you're new to building. Just don't do it to yourself. Enjoying the process is a lot easier when you don't have to rush! Also, don't be shy to reach out to people with questions. Syesha did a great job of following up with Instagram bus community folks who have been instrumental in guiding us along. Also, if you can, rent a van for a few days and try it out, rent a bus, ask if you can go inside peoples buses. It helps so much in the process of understanding what you really want. Also know that you don't have to have the ideal set up that many bus people have - experience building, land and shop to work out of, a father in law that happens to be an electrician/plumber/welder/carpetner (seriously how does everyone have one of these?!). Even though the journey is a harder and longer without these things, don't let that be the reason you don't go for it. You can always reach out to us!
Follow us on IG @reclaiming_our_bus