With these few sentences found in the AfrikaBurn Survival Guide, I discovered the universe and the philosophy of this «festival». The first edition of AfrikaBurn took place ten years ago. After three years of meeting, organizing, bargaining with the Black Rock Art Foundation – created in 2001 by some of the organizers of the Burning Man festival – the concept finally emerged. Like its big brother, the principle remained the same: the desert, a temporary city, artistic activities, both incongruous and foolish, a burning love of life and a philosophy based on respect and sharing.
«You exist. You build camps, art, and mutant vehicles. You are the artist – and the public. There is no ‘them’ – it’s just us, and we are all together»
– from the AfrikaBurn Survival Guide-
As I read these words, I feel the fire burning in me. A desire to live this experience, diving into the unknown, back to basics.
Thus, having bought my ticket online, I put a red cross on my calendar, to April 27, 2015. That day, I will become a «Burner».
I met some «Burners», happiness recidivists, a few months prior to that date. «To make the most of the event, it takes a minimum of preparation”, advises me Jason, who participated last year. And to live in total autonomy in the desert for a week, this minimum quickly becomes a challenge. Tents, camping equipment, food and water ( five liters per person per day), costumes and transportation to bring all these people in the desert. «The only thing that you can buy on the spot is ice, he says. Better bring something that’s thirst quenching” He concludes. At this point, I did not know that Jason would be with me for my first steps on the planet «Burn».
Today is the 27 April and we have been driving for 3 hours. Destination point: «Tankwa-Karoo», a semi-arid desert located 330 kilometers north of Cape Town. At each turn that brings us closer to our promised piece of desert, my heart starts racing. These few months of preparation grew in me an excitement that is expressed openly at this moment. We stop by the gates of the site. We present our ticket that gets us a bracelet, as in any festival. But the comparison stops there. Before launching its «burn» each neo-burner must comply with a series of rituals. There is to pour a handful of sand on his head to soak up the place and to be one with the desert. Then he is asked to ring a gong to announce his presence and mark the beginning of his experience. Finally, the neo-burner must promise to follow the rules of the burn and respect the others and the surrounding nature. A promise sealed by putting the imprint of his hand, previously painted in a chosen color, on a huge white wall. I did so. «Welcome to the Burn», Jason whispered.
I then walked across this imaginary line that splits the desert. One that separates the known from the unknown. Behind me, I leave the civilized and ultra-connected world. In front of me, in this suspended universe, money and time do not exist. Watches and smartphones no longer have their place. During these 7 days, the sun will become a common reference, accurately timing every burner’s own adventures. The first day of the adventure consists of setting one’s camp. In this desert where the temperature rapidly reaches 40 ° C, the shade is a luxury one can’t live without. Some will choose to create a pleasant and functional space. Others will engage in theme camps, more or less extravagant: cinema space, Derby- Roller Track to take part in wild races or an open stage for a Punk-Rock concert. There is some for everyone. I take full advantage of this day to get familiarized with the site and Tankwa Town’s rules. The event is governed by a set of principles that promote inclusion, civic responsibility and active participation.
Leave no trace is also an essential part of AfrikaBurn. I don’t think that the sun is aware of it. During its sunset, it set the sky alight and marks its territory. It engulfed my vision and pushed my thoughts away. Everything I expected! All around me, thousands of people wearing costumes as extravagant as wacky. In my African King outfit, I walk the streets of this ephemeral city: I pause to enjoy gypsy concert, talk with an 8 years old girl who is attending her 5th «Burn», I play djembe with a Zulu warrior, photograph the huge sculptures that will soon disappear among the ames, I write my thoughts on one of them, jump on a tarantula-like vehicle, embrace the sunset to the sound of bagpipes and fall asleep under a tree with roots as soft as cotton.
The friendships we make at AfrikaBurn are reinforced by the shared experience to exist harmoniously in such a hostile environment. At every meeting, every discussion, I cannot help but think of the African philosophy of «Ubuntu». «Ubuntu» is a concept that everyone knows, but that (too) few people apply. It is that of a mutual incentive, a sharing, a mutual interdependence between human beings. This concept germinated in me throughout my adventure. I felt it and saw it during my encounters, my interactions. Like the time, my mental does not really exist anymore. I let go and «Go with the flow» to paraphrase a friend of mine. That’s when experience takes its full dimension: what is happening here is more than just entertainment. By giving me the power of the present moment, I allow myself to be who I am, to embody whoever I wish to be.
The D-day of the Burns has arrived. The day that everyone expects, the one everyone dreads. There is beauty in this temporary ceremony, but the human mind has trouble letting go. One by one, the artistic structures go up in smoke, leaving behind a great void, the desert. The excitement is at its peak, misty eyes meet. All these faces look so familiar to me: I am them, they are me. I thought I’d become a «burner» when arriving, but it is from the moment I left the Karoo that I became one. Before moving back to the other side of the imaginary line, I looked behind me one last time. The wind lifted the sand, whipping my face. In the middle of the tormented desert, I noticed a large colorful wall. A fresco of thousands of handprints that stood proudly. A gentle allegory of my adventure, seeming to brave the elements and defy time.
You can find the publication of this article here.