On the 24th of April 2018, I set out for my fourth rendezvous in the Tankwa desert.
Tents, rebar, glitter and water packed, I moved my life for a week, to a much simpler, free existence: AfrikaBurn was waiting.
I was excited, giddy like a 12-year-old. Tankwa and it's gifts waited for me, beautiful and ingenious artworks, new, sometimes strange people, music thumping and strumming in the middle of the desolate desert.
The greeting you receive at the entrance every year rang in my mind: It was true, part of me was going home. My excitement was interrupted by a WhatsApp…
The morning of the 24th I got a message from a friend. She was very worried.
Her husband and his friends had decided to go to AfrikaBurn on the Saturday night to have a “Nappy Party” - excuse me for my ignorance, I had to google “Nappy Party”.
“They were going there to cause trouble.” Were her exact words, and her friend had told her that there are orgies in the desert.
Now, my first reaction was that there’s clearly something wrong with your relationship if you can’t trust your man and you are subconsciously already make excuses for his infidelity. Second reaction, I have neither seen nor heard of an orgy at AfrikaBurn, ever.
Does it happen?
Probably, just like these things happen in luxury mansions all over Joburg on any given night.
I was shocked, I had never thought of society’s view regarding something that I anticipate every year and hold very close to my heart.
So I quietly reassured this friend that the only trouble their husbands will find themselves in, is trouble they caused themselves, my typing trying to imply more than the words it spoke. I felt unnerved that people would think this of AfrikaBurn and so I led myself down a horrible path of trying to gauge society’s opinion on Tankwa, I didn’t like what I found.
So here I’m writing about what AfrikaBurn is, to me. Everybody experiences life differently and I can only retell what this desolate place in the desert means to me. To many others it’s a week-long party filled with copious amounts of alcohol and other substances without any rules or regulation, without anyone to answer to but yourself. I guess what happens in Tankwa, stays in Tankwa.
Before we delve into the AfrikaBurn I know, there are a few things that you have to understand.
Number one: AfrikaBurn is not OppiKoppi.
It’s in the middle of the Karoo desert, about 120km’s from the closest town on a treacherous tyre-eating road that you can’t attempt at anything faster than 80km/ph. There isn’t a lack of running water, because there is no water, you have to take that with you. The same statement goes for electricity and any kind of signal. Goodbye phone!
Longdrops, if you don’t know what they are, google it, because that’s what you will be using if you want to go to the toilet for the next week. The wind can be crazy and brings with it huge dust-storms that you can see coming on the horizon, it’s a beautiful, frightening sight that rolls closer over the desert and moments later will take you off your feet and hopefully not blow away your whole campsite.
It can be hot (it is a desert remember) and icy cold if nature is inclined that way.
The venue itself is beautiful in an odd arid, moon landing kind of way. The terrain is rocky and rough and it’s best taking a bicycle because your feet will be ruined after a week of walking in Tankwa. Lastly, your money means nothing here, AffrikaBurn works of a gifting system, which means your wallet can stay in your car for the next week.
It doesn’t sound like much fun, but all these things add to an experience that’s uniquely AfrikaBurn and you will either love it or hate it.
“Our intention is to generate a society that connects each individual to his or her creative powers, to participation in community, to the larger realm of civic life, and to the even greater world of nature that exists beyond society” - Burning Man
That is the guiding principle for all Burns across the globe, sounds complicated right?
The Burn is about community and giving, it’s about sharing your experiences and knowledge at no charge to enrich someone else, it’s about learning, it’s about seeing and living moments that you could not have anywhere else. It’s a place that allows you to ask the questions you want, express yourself as you see fit, it’s a place where children play in the sand until well after the sun has set. A place that lights up the night sky with millions of multicolored lights, but you can still see the stars clearer than anywhere else. A place where people share their food, drinks, tales and seats without expecting anything in return except your company. Everyone always smiles, every person you pass will bid you a good morning and often a conversation is born outside the awkwardness of the longdrops.
In four years I have never seen a fist fight at the Burn, and there’s a good twelve thousand people there every year.
For me the days are filled with crazy costumes and crazy people, some handing out free tequila! The “binnekring” hosts all the artworks for the Burn, with structures, mechanisms and statues that reach many storeys into the sky, the beauty of some of these will take your breath away. Bright colored flags fly high in the sky and as you walk between the camps, people call to you to join them around their table. You will find thought-provoking art hidden in corners or boldly laid out for everyone to see, the ingenuity of it all still astounds me. Some artworks are complex machines that ,when interacted with, will result in some beautiful reaction, other artworks speak of beauty and many hours of hard work and planning to please the watcher’s eye.
There’s a daily treasure hunt scattered throughout the whole venue, and you see many kids forming bicycle gangs looking for the treasure. You can attend hundreds of workshops, from yoga and juggling to permaculture farming and recycling. There are talks about natural healing and subjects regarding your mental wellbeing. The air is filled with music and laughter, sight with color and beauty.
The night is a completely different spectical, thousands of multicolored lights fill the sky with the occasional flame throwing vehicle doing the rounds. DJ’s set up stages in the middle of nowhere, play their set and disappear into the night as quickly as they appeared. The music that thunders through the night ranges from minimal techno to drum-n-bass to good old disco music, dancing feet kick up huge clouds of dust that often look like a smoke-machine was let loose on the desert dance floor.
Everyone wears some form of light or glowing device on them, usually weaved into some insane glittery costume, bicycles decorated with fairy lights and flags. The music lasts long past the first rays of sunrise and at times just settles for a slower rhythm.
For many AfrikaBurn is a spiritual experience, given the time for introspection in a place where there are no interruptions. The discovery of self and the dissecting of it, is a topic that often comes from first-time burners, left with no real distractions you have ample time to ask yourself the questions you usually ignore or don’t make time to ask. Many life-changing decisions have been made at AfrikaBurn, be it a career change or a life change, the Burn makes you realize things about your life you may not have when buried deep in the bustling city. For myself, I always leave rejuvenated and positive, ready to face the things that were dragging me downward as I left for the desert.
AfrikaBurn is a celebration of live and living, a celebration of beauty, art and expression. There is no age restriction here and don’t be surprised if you bump into your mother’s best friend in the dusty streets of Tankwa. It’s a place that gives you the time to decipher life in your own way, surrounded by the friendliest, most giving community you will ever know. Here you recharge, relearn and accept what life has given to you, and you smile, because life is much simpler than you know you make it out to be.