I woke up in the middle of nowhere. The grey morning skies greeted me. While everything was still, a few people passed by me barely giving a glance. Music thumped from across the way, signifying last night’s party still going strong.
I crawled out of my sleeping bag and rolled it up. My mattress had been two beanbags pulled together. My bedroom had been the open desert. My backpack lay nearby sheltered by the bedouin of the group I had only met the day before.
Pulling out a bottle of water, I drank and splashed my face, before setting off in search of the nearest toilet. The makeshift loos where a few hundred metres away, outside of the ring that would be my home for the next week. I had no idea what the time was but it was early. Dawn. And, yet, people were alive, some early risers, some who hadn’t yet found their bed. I walked up to one woman stretching on a yoga mat and engaged in conversation.
People are so easy to talk to. I reminisce on last night, walking by myself in the darkness of the desert to the only party tent that was active. In the dark, I bumped into a girl. She smiled at me and said, “Hey!” I “heyed” back, we slipped our arms into each others and skipped along, together, to the party, where we parted ways and, it turned out, did not again meet for the duration of the Burn.
The Burn. That’s what I have come to experience. A Burn in Africa. At the end of this week and several times during, I would wonder why it is that I’ve not known, not been aware of this festival that has been regularly held six years running. Especially since so many of my friends have been attending for years, some of whom I did not even fathom I’d bump into in the middle of the Karoo.
I have been here for a day and already I have traveled with total strangers, made new friends, danced my heart out, and duck-dived in the rain. In a desert!
Now, on my way to the toilet, I chat to a girl doing yoga in the open. Later, I will swap pants with another girl whose name I will not know, out in public. Later still, I will pose naked for photos, wearing only camera/recorder strapped to my wrist. I will meet new people, party into the night, drink cherry brandy, sleep under stars, walk around without clothes on, randomly perform for passersby, express my artistic side, and have a ball of a time.
I had no idea what to expect from AfrikaBurn. I knew that we would be secluded in the desert. I’m a traveler, backpacker, and camper. I was relatively prepared to survive the elements. I had food and water, arranging friends to bring me stock since I travel light, I had my shockproof, dustproof, waterproof cameraphone on hand. My headlamp was charged and working. My tiny travel towels, emergency heat blanket and foldaway crockery were packed securely into my backpack. I was perfectly equipped.
I thought I would get bored just being out in the desert. I mean, I fell in love with the concept, reading the website, hearing what little I could glean from friends, but, seriously, what does one do for a week in the desert without ready electricity available?
I was to discover that so much happens. Too much to explore and experience in one week, that’s for sure. The number of concept and theme tents, combined with the artworks, the events, the amazing people that I was to engage in and with simply blew my mind. Even now as I write this, I struggle to put everything into a coherent linear line. There was just too much. Too much excitement, too much enjoyment, too much awesomeness.
I was told before heading to the Karoo that one cannot explain what AfrikaBurn is. I concur. I could tell you that it’s a collection of people, 5000 strong, that are there to explore, collaborate and express. I could tell you that it’s a community of hippies and artists and performers and party-goers and adventurers who do not judge you, who are open to expression, who are there to have fun and be free. I could tell you that there are sculptures and live performances and art works and photos and food and amazing dresses and firedancing and so much more. I could tell you that it’s like a family camp-out with the most accepting, most fun, most creative family you could imagine.
But I cannot tell you how you will feel. I cannot tell you the experience of being there. I cannot tell you how much I long to return. I long to dance in the cold rain that visited the desert. I long to duck-dive in the puddles that surrounded our camp. I long to party through the night and well into the morning, dancing by myself because I lost my friends amid the darkness and phonelessness.
I long to relive the freedom. To meet new and interesting folk. To make lifelong connections. To just stand in the middle of nowhere, naked as the day I was born, crying out to nobody and nothing that this is the happiest I have been in a long time.
Photo credit: Jonx Pillemer