Into the Desert
I finally drummed up enough courage to ask for a day or two’s leave to attend AfrikaBurn back in 2009. It was only the third Burn in South Africa and I’d only seen and heard snippets about the massive Burning Man festival in the States.
After seeing a video or two of Burning Man, however, I was more than amped to experience the experience. Travel, adventure, dancing, camping, radical self expression, music and art.
What more could a gal ask for?
With a couple of extra days leave granted, I had a long weekend to attend the gathering in my pocketses.
Sure… it was only for the last weekend, but it was enough to get there to participate in what seemed to be a growing event that sounded very interesting indeed.
I love gifting, by the way.
I mean… I love making people feel good and happy for a while. It makes me feel good and I’ve always been more naturally inclined to offer services, resources or experiences to folks pro bono. I guess some of us are simply built this way.
I’d also been suspicious of Capitalism for some years by this stage of my existence on the planet and had already joined the South African version of the ITTE. The Cape Town Talent Exchange. As it’s still called today.
Point being that I was already looking at alternative ways to trade and earn alternative currencies of alternative financial systems. I was totally disillusioned with consumerism, the constant treading of water and the obvious bull-shit dream of 1980s “success” based on material wealth and bling.
My life consisted of rushing my young daughter off to school, rushing myself off to an office, rushing both of us home in rush hour traffic, doing her homework with her on the counter next to me while I cooked dinner, maybe a bit of a movie if we were lucky and the inevitable witching hour of bath-time, story-time and bedtime.
Wake up and repeat.
And I still never had enough money to travel or do the things I really wanted to do.
But things did get easier, than the stressing I might lose my cottage many sleepless nights, when I bit the proverbial bullet and got a full time, oh-so-corporate-fish-outta-water gig that eased the pain of monthly bills.
Before I accepted the position, I’d still been trading festivals with my own t-shirt business.
A free spirit, you might say.
But we’re only as free as our own thinking, really.
At festivals, we traders would congregate for meals and trade of goods like the peculiar family we were. And I always preferred this to paying for shit as well.
I swopped some serious psychedelic trance gear imported from Bali via some international travelers of the trance scene, who followed the festival circuit globally to move their designs, for a hand made African drum at the Oudsthoorn festival one year. And another similar garment for a quirky, designer hand-made clock at the Grahamstown Festival of Arts a year later.
I can’t remember what became of the clock. The drum I finally gave away in 2021 when I shed the last of my once-was-more-socially-acceptable life.
My point is that gifting, and trading, came naturally to me and I’ve always been a bit less sold on commerce and “money”.
Just too much “business-business” and less “soul”, I guess.
And so… I was also really amped about the gifting part of the Burn experience!
It was a quiet period at the clothing manufacturer where I worked as a textile designer. Coming up to year end and annual break, our orders for summer were already in production and the design room was in a quiet spell.
This gave me ample time to prepare some gifts for the upcoming Burn and, over a week of creativity, I made twenty full color star gazing charts.
Exactly like this one. I actually managed to dig this up again on the internet of amazing things.
What are the chances?
I guess the stars never go out of fashion.
I’ve always been fascinated and in awe of the night skies and their impossible to imagine infinity. I knew full well that the night sky out at the dusty, deserted flats, where the festival was to take place, were going to be astounding. Keen.
I also drummed up some home-made Hashish fudge a day before I left for the gathering.
This, I wrapped in white wax paper one piece at a time. I then tied each piece with a blue ribbon, curling the ends with a blade to make them look pretty.
To one of the ends of each ribbon I tied a small white card, printed with a quote about something philosophical and desert related. Some kind of desert journey, a meeting between travelers and a collaboration and success of some kind.
Sadly I can’t remember what it was and no amount of digging on the internet of amazing things has revealed or reminded me of anything more.
I put these gifts into a handwoven basket that I’d bought from a woman selling her wares on the streets of Muizenberg.
Support local traders. Support local business. But also because I knew how hard the lifestyle was and, to this day, have enormous respect for people who are brave, resilient and creative enough to do this kind of thing.
And who suffer the mild disdain of those with more education and opportunity every day as they try to make an honest living.
It’s far more challenging, in many ways, than a comfortable regular salary and free coffee on tap for days. And holidays. And weekends. None of those, you know. Or sick leave either.
I bought this exact basket from her, in fact.
Yes. It’s one of the things I’ve kept for all these years. Red riding hood and cookies and adventures through dark forests and all that. If you know me at all by now, you’d understand why.
I added some party toys to the basket as well.
Glow sticks. When snapped, they glowed flourescent colors and you could join the ends together to make bangles or necklaces. Or just wave them around in the dark for fun. Party, party, disco, disco. Always.
And bubbles. Of course!
This was still back the age of innocence and fun in the EDM scene in Cape Town. Before we became too cool for old-school and took it all, and ourselves, all too seriously.
Back when our biggest motivating drive was to wow people, surprise them and bring them some joy for a while.
Back then, before the events became so big and so slick that DJs turned into rock stars and organizers became demi-gods.
But AfrikaBurn was no psychedelic trance event. A different kettle of fish entirely, I was really looking forward to the art and variety of music and themes.
I was, however, dating a DJ (again) who usually played at the trance events in Cape Town. And so it was, that I joined the camp he was involved with.
This basically meant I spent a good deal of the time at the Burn with the exact same people I spent most of my time partying with in Cape Town.
A five hour drive into a pretty rough environment is a long way to travel…
to hang out with the same people that you’d pretty much do the same thing with at home.
In far more comfortable circumstances.
But it was only the third round of the event. And we are only a small tip of the whole wide world, at the very Southern end of Africa.
There was some great Art.
Capital A intended.
The drive along the dirt road to the pan was also pretty exciting.
Reknown for people hitting it too fast, losing control of their vehicles and ending up in ditches and isolated on the road for however long it took for someone to find them, I navigated it respectfully.
Gal traveling alone and all that.
Here’s a shot of it.
I finally made it to the front gate and was super amped to be there.
The folks at the door welcomed me in and showed me the gong I was ‘sposed to bang as I entered. Okay. Bit excited. Bit of a bang on the gong. Not cool enough apparently. There wasn’t much fun or sense of humour at the gate and I was straight off a bit bummed.
Perhaps because I hadn’t been there for the prior week(s) I was considered just a weekend tourist or summink. Not in the know. Not part of the inner kring. A nobody. A nothing. New energy upsetting the recently new collective.
All good. You find this everywhere. The “us and them” thinkers. Or the “me and them” more accurately. Is it rude to roll my eyes slightly at this point? My bad. Only human, after all.
In truth, we all do this most of the time. We assess. We assume. We presume. We stereotype. And, ultimately, we judge.
Usually so quickly that we aren’t even aware we’re doing it.
Always from our only own experience and perspective. Our own “dream”. And it’s this and only this that is probably holding us back from being all that we possibly could be.
No mind. I’d come bearing gifts that it’d taken me over a week to prepare. Hooray! Gifting!
On I went enthusiastically, smiling with a wave of thanks despite the liddle bit weirdly stern welcome.
This is Perfect
It’s about freedom