AFRIKABURN 2014 DIARY: First Impressions and Lessons Learned from a Burner Virgin

It's strange to be back in rainy and wintery Cape Town after a week in the Karroo desert - where it is so hot during the day that the moisture literally gets sucked out of your body through your bare feet. Of course it's the opposite extreme at night when your balls disappear to who-knows-where and you get permanent nipple-rise through seven layers of clothing. Ahhh, such is life in the desert...

Afrikaburn 2014 Diary

Afrikaburn 2014 has been one of the absolute highlights of my year. Although I have already readjusted back into 'normal' society, I am still digesting the whole experience. It can be quite overwhelming for first-timers.

Afrikaburn 2014 Diary 2Afrikaburn is certainly no place for the prudish or for those can't handle getting a little dirty and shitting off. If the thought of having an open-air pooh in the Karroo (in a compost toilet) while others saunter past or perhaps bathe in the nude nearby scares you, then Afrikaburn is not for you. If, on the other hand, you welcome the sweaty embrace of those on ecstasy, listening to shroomy interpretations of beauty or witnessing ideas of alternative living come to life, then put Afrikaburn on the calendar right now!

Afrikaburn is not for the ill-prepared, but at the same time it was not nearly as tough-going as I expected it to be (which probably has a lot to do with my semi-rustic upbringing). The Afrikaburn Survival Guide (which one is encouraged to read beforehand) warns about puff adders and scorpions – flash floods and heat-stroke – and the highly likely event that you might die. The organisation of the event is top-notch though, with medical staff and “rangers” doing regular patrols. There is also a camp called Sanctuary where one can go if it all feels a bit much.

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Afrikaburn may sound like one massive drug festival but it really attracts people from all walks of life. Feral children run amok and you're bound to come across at least one nudist per day, but I would say that the majority of Burners are friendly, open, creative and generous sorts. You could quite honestly go there with nothing and survive on the kindness of others (if you had to).

Participation and volunteering at Afrikaburn is encouraged. It is a place to express yourself however you talents or imagination see fit. Some throw bones and read your future while others offer home-brewed beer. If you feel you have nothing to offer, you can always volunteer to clean up MOOP (Material Out Of Place). Or you can simply get naked, meditate and be one with nature.

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Money is worthless at Afrikaburn. Nothing is for sale apart from R20 bags of ice. Coffee, alcohol, food, water, showers, performances and various activities are all on offer, for free, every day. New artworks appear all the time – from the colossal to the miniature. You can paint your friends from head to toe if you like, or adorn yourself with hand-crafted jewelery. The only thing I still don't quite understand is the burning of it all. I know that the whole idea is to leave without a trace but how fantastic would it be to pass by gigantic artworks placed around the Karroo desert as one drives along the 113 km stretch of dusty road? Maybe I just don't get it yet.

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During the day it is fiercely hot, dusty and dry but with plenty to see. There are daily schedules but I honestly found it best to casually walk around and take it all in. There are various theme camps set up (some with their own head chefs) and you can catch a ride on one of the many mutant vehicles that roam around – from a giant rhinoceros to a flaming teacup. At night, the place looks like Las Vegas. Glow-sticks, LEDs, strobes and luminous outfits dominate and trance-type music pounds through the chilled air right up until sunrise. I would love to see an aerial shot of Afrikaburn at night...

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There were approximately 8500 people that attended Afrikaburn 2014 – up from about 4000 last year. It seems to be growing exponentially and has clearly caught international attention. I met people from France, Germany, Holland and the Americas – the latter who mentioned that the original Burning Man festival boasts around 65 000 people. I can't imagine what that must be like.

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So what did I learn from my whole Afrikaburn experience? One: there are some extremely talented and creative people in this country. Two: when people are encouraged to be lekker* (which is enforced by a majority ethos), the best in them can really shine. Three: embrace your inner-hippy! Four: wet-wipes and earplugs are highly underrated inventions. Five: access to fresh water is a hugely under-appreciated privilege. Finally, Afrikaburn can help you rediscover a part of yourself that you may have forgotten or lost. It certainly inspires you to live more sustainably – ideally off the grid entirely. Perhaps the organisers put it best with every new arrival when they say:

“ WELCOME HOME ”

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* All Afrikaburn 2014 Photos credited to my friend Evan Hughes
* Lekker: South African slang meaning good / worthy in a generic sense

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BEACH VIBES: And what they reveal about human beauty

THE beach taught me something valuable recently. Like many guys, I can often find beautiful members of the female persuasion rather intimidating. The thought of approaching these goddesses of beauty and striking up conversation is quite frightening. I'm sure many 'nice guys' out there will empathise here.

It's fair to say that our perceptions of beautiful people are largely obscured by how the media portrays them to be. At nightclubs or social gatherings, people of beauty are further armed with seductive scents, makeup, carefully crafted hairstyles and outfits that attack the imagination.

Clifton Beach, Cape TownOn the beach much is revealed. One might realise that beneath our seductive garments we all have blemishes and spots; birthmarks or scars. Even the most beautiful are perhaps not as attractive as one might imagine them to be if clad in clothing. The ocean washes away makeup and the salty water frizzles our hair. The beach reveals a large portion of our true selves.

It then becomes easy to single out the secure from the insecure; the one's fixated on appearance from the one's who are comfortable in their own, imperfect skins. Beauty is exuded by those with confidence and a sense of fun. It's not so much about how our bodies look by anyone's standard, but how to choose to behave within them; and there's nothing preventing us from taking good care of them.

So enjoy your body, and viva the beach! And now a quick word from Gwyneth Paltrow:

"Beauty, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin. That, or a kick-ass red lipstick" - Gwyneth Paltrow

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OPEN LETTER: When human soldiers kill for you

Dear World Leaders,

Could you ever take the life of another human being? What would it take for you to kill someone?

Assuming that most people are morally good, asking this of anyone seems to me morally wrong. Yet this is exactly what soldiers are asked to do when trained and sent to fight wars in foreign lands in the name of “national security.”

We would all like to believe that soldiers are no longer trained to kill by dehumanising the ‘enemy’ – by characterising them as sub-human and less deserving of living a human existence. We are made to believe that soldiers are now trained to kill “only when necessary”, but this isn’t quite the case, is it?

It is not in our nature to kill. Unless one is psychotic, the psychological trauma that comes with killing another human being, even in the name of defence, can have irreparable effects on both the soldier and society.

Instances of girlfriend and wife abuse may increase and traumatised soldiers may become plagued by fear and hatred. Equipping soldiers with expensive machinery – which we all have to pay for – and asking them to “fight for their country” is a burden on us all.

No man or woman should ever be asked to kill a fellow human being for any cause other than their own self-defence. To do this is to suppress a part of their humanity and to lose a part of yours as well.

Sincerely,
Humanity

“You don’t really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around – and why the parents will always wave back” – Bill Tammeus

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BUSINESS: Banks, insurance companies, religion, prison and parking lots

I TRY really hard not to be cynical about humans and the world order. Of course there are some honest Abes out there.

I asked a forthcoming bank teller the other day why banks encourage us to swipe our cards rather than withdraw cash. Turns out shop owners have to pay the bank a service fee for using card machines. More physical money in the bank also means higher security expenses.

I asked my favourite pharmacist if it's bad not to finish a course of flu tablets (as specified on the bottle) once you're free of the flu. He told me "not at all! It's only to encourage you to finish the lot so that you buy more." Most products tell us to use them every day, unnecessarily, so that we'll buy more.

Insurance companies are up there with the worst. It took me three phone calls before I could leave my car insurance company for a cheaper one. Those with the "gift for the gab" will say just about anything to make you continue paying a monthly premium, even if it's not car related. Health insurance companies 'want us to be healthy' because that means less claims and more profits.

Even parking lots are a business. Close inspection of my parking slip revealed that the owners of a parking lot in Pietermaritzburg were based in Johannesburg. One can assume that that's where the money is sent.

The Internet is a business. You can't even watch a video on YouTube anymore without an advert popping up. And just look at all those flashy adverts to your right! I would even go as far as to say that education and politics are business. Religion and superstition are certainly big business. "Show your faith!" The more money you give the more faithful and blessed art thou. Even prison is big business.

To not be cynical about all this is to consider that people aren't to blame. We are all forced to live under the system that perpetuates this gross behavior. I only wonder if we’ll ever collectively take a stand and do something about it...

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EXOTIC PETS: Know the commitment you are making

Exotic petsI OFTEN see that neighbour’s cat hunting in the garden and wonder whether cats are simply born to be wild. Several domesticated cats ‘run away’ from home - adding to the growing number of strays that hunt birds, rodents and lizards.

To my knowledge, the domestication of animals by humankind began with the reindeer. Since then, pet stores have thrived, and now offer a variety of exotic animals from the scaly to the fluffy - from around the world for people to keep as pets.

I can understand the lure to own an exotic animal. The good than can come from this is that it should encourage the owners of such animals to take a bigger interest in their lives and better understand their worlds. As an owner of exotic fish, I also understand the chances of survival of such animals in the wild. But once equipped with the right knowledge, the hobby of keeping exotic fishes extends to recreating a safe and happy habitat in which they may thrive.

I all too often notice people coming into pet stores, noticing them see something unusual and getting excited, buying something exotic, and exiting the store without the proper knowledge of how to properly care for their new pet. Pet stores do offer brochures and guidelines on how to look after most of the exotic animals they sell, but what’s really needed is more expertise and customer interaction between animal experts and consumers.

As far as exotic fish are concerned, I appeal to pet store owners to simply print out and place relevant information regarding proper care of different fish species above each tank in the pet store. Information regarding their diet, tank requirements, how large they grow and what other species of fish they can be kept with. This way, at least consumers may get the information they need for proper care of these animals at a glance.

More importantly, it is the responsibility of all those who wish to acquire an exotic pet, to do their homework beforehand and fully understand the commitment they are making. It can be a thrilling and educational experience. Let it be that rather than a tragic and sad end.

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