Of course I was apprehensive! Ten days with people I did not know, in a desert, listening to music I did not like, radical self reliance, radical self expression, drugs, weird costumes and then there was the issue of all the naked balls I would have to see. Afrika bladdy Burn baby! It was one mad adventure and I loved every second of it.
I grew accustomed to the desert winds, the music that sometimes screamed/ shouted from every corner, men walking around with only their shoes, the drugs freely offered along with water, alcohol and food of course. If you wanted it, you could try it. No one batted an eyelid. Except me, when a handsome chappy politely asked “Would you like some ketamine?” as though he was offering me a piece of cake.
There were moments of sheer absurdity and magic. Driving in a mutant vehicle while a man’s legs, wearing fishnet stockings, was straddled around me. ‘I was born to live like this,’ he purred. I think I might have married a few people on those very first nights, was part of an energetic orgy and followed a giant rhino emblazoned in lights for longer than was necessary. We did not want the party to end and so was prepared to follow anything that blasted sound. Of course we got hopelessly lost and was rescued by some rangers. ‘What’s the name of your camp?” Well, uhm…the G spot!
Our camp was called the bladdy G Spot and yeah, it was as good as it sounds. As Afrika Burn progressed our camp became the place all must travel to in order to lose themselves to dance. Thanks to Alexis Tucci from Nightchasers USA, there were dj’s blasting music to a full house every single night. Picture the scene…I am in my tent and on the one side I can hear the mad thumping of music and bodies gyrating, while snatches of rock/pop/rap/folk music can be heard from our neighbours at the Atypical bar. We were in the thick of things, in the loud zone of the Binnekring, and sleep visited when She was ready dammit! By the time it was over, ten days later, I felt rested and relaxed. ‘Is that your uber driver or your friend?’ one of nearest and dearest asked as was dropped at home. No, that’s just Afrika Burn energy baby..
“What made Afrika Burn such a transformative experience for you?” I was asked. Without hesitation I said, ‘the people I was with.’ Nour Addine, Katherine, David, Kevin, Luke, Karoeline, Evi, Leslie-Ann, Russ and Alexis. A mix of Belgians, South Africans, an American and a tall and lovely Dutchman. An eclectic mix of people who found a way to not only coexist, enjoy themselves but also made our offering to the Afrika Burners (great music and Gin and tonic darlings) an experience worth desiring. Karoeline, the Belgian tattoo artist, is one of my latest muses and she has a very special super power; she could sniff out a party. And if one could not be found she would resolutely march, whiskey bottle in hand to hunt one down!
No one was more surprised than I to discover that I no longer gave thought or energy to my family, friends, music or the many other troubles I have. The fact that there was no signal in the desert made the process of ‘shedding skin’ natural. I could feel them, those worries, drop from my bones. All the burdens I did not know the weight of…slipped away and burned silently as I danced in the desert. I tried to take pictures, tried to write often. Yet after a few days I grew less interested in documenting everything as I always do. For the first time in decades I was not caught in my head or my heart. I was skin and bones. Flesh burning in the desert sand. Or as I overheard someone say, ( and I could not help but steal this line) “I am just a girl on a couch talking to boy I met in the desert.’
There were so many places I did not visit. Like the Spank Me tent or the various sex tents at Afrika Burn. Look, I just wanted to walk past…very slowly…and see what goes on, okay? As one ventured deeper into suburbia (I liked to call it), a gentler Afrika Burn emerged. I heard musicians enjoying the magic their voices and instruments offered in the early hours while sitting around a fire sipping rum. I found it hard to believe in the ethos of Afrika Burn to be honest. On my first day all I saw was white privilege. But as the days progressed a deeper reality struck. It is a privilege, regardless of your colour or creed, to inhabit a space where you can leave your troubles behind, where you are able to express any aspect of your nature, where you can be a naked man with scant clothing blowing in the wind while others stare at the beautiful god you know you are.
It is indeed a privilege being able to offer others an experience. And that is what struck me about Afrika Burn. It was not the crazy outfits, the art, the silent burns, the alcohol, drugs and nudity that captivated and amused me. It was the display of human nature. I saw people offering others the best of who they are, regardless of what they carried in their hands, hearts or bodies.
I will leave you with a quote by Frank Herbert, the writer of the Dune series of sci fi books, based on a desert planet. “The mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience.” Do yourself a favor. Go to Afrika Burn, but go with good people as I did and try to say yes as often as you dare. Then savour those moments when the layers and burdens slowly peel from your skin. But don’t forget to bring all the things you’ve forgotten – the crazy clothes, your laughter, your imagination, plenty of water….and then take it all in. The beauty of the desert, the art, the people and dance…