After this long weekend you might have noticed your timeline filling up with pictures of women in the desert wearing leotards, giant wooden owls being set alight, or shirtless people covered in dust. AfrikaBurn 2017 has just burned it’s last artwork for the year and 17 000 people are back at work today trying to adjust to ‘real life’ . We spoke to Jaime Waddington about her experience at her very first AfrikaBurn, what she found challenging and why she converted from a curious bystander to a ‘Burn-lover.
Why had you never gone to AfrikaBurn before and what made you decide to go this year?
I had always been curious but was nervous to go. The more I spoke to friends who had gone over the years who would say that it’s something you have to experience at least once in your life the more I felt like it was something I’d like to try. What really intrigued and excited me was the fashion; I had seen the beautiful and extravagant outfits and was really taken aback by them. I was excited about being outdoors, separating myself from society for a bit, having no phone signal and getting the chance to create and plan extravagant outfits. My experience, however, ended up being a lot more than that.
In case you didn’t know; AfrikaBurn isn’t a party or a festival. It’s “a radical experiment in self reliance”. That means that everything you need for survival and comfort in the Karoo desert needs to come with you and leave with you. There’s no organized entertainment and there’s nothing for sale – but there’s music playing all day and night. There’s art scattered all over the desert. There are thousands of colourful lights wrapped around bicycles and people twinkling in the pitch dark. It’s a surreal experience of participation and inclusion. It’s not a barter economy, but rather a gifting economy – and people gift everything from ice cream cones in the midday heat to lifts on the back of mutant vehicles in the dead of night. It’s very hot and very dusty and very hard to get there, but it’s also very very worth it. ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• @theblondeabroad #afrikaburn #afrikaburn2017
The outfits of the ‘Burn are famous for being OTT and incredible to look at. Did you prepare your looks in any way?
We planned an outfit for every day that we were there. I had heard about the heat but I didn’t realise just how hot it would be. My one outfit involved a long skirt but it was just too hot to wear so we ended up wearing shorts. Some people don’t dress up at all while others have spent months preparing their looks.
What about the costs?
Most of your money goes toward your ticket, petrol for getting there, food and outfits. It really helps if you have a lot of camping equipment already.
Did anything go horribly wrong, like all your meat going rancid or not being able to shower for five days?
No, not really. My friend is an experienced camper so she had a camping freezer and we took a lot of dry food and lived on 2-minute noodles, nuts and fruit. I was quite nervous about the showering but we filled up a water tank before we went and every two days we would fill up the bucket and have a little “shower”.
People don’t use money at AfrikaBurn, rather ‘gifting’ each other services or items. Did you contribute in any way?
We had solar panels so we gifted electricity for people to charge their phones (there is zero signal out there but people use their phones as cameras). Others gifted anything from spray bottles or fans to keep you cool to socks to keep you warm at night. People were braai-ing and giving out steaks, pancakes, and a variety of different foods. One camp of people who were champagne exporters had a batch of champagne that was too dark to export so they handed it out; it was delicious.
It was hard to get used to someone just giving you something and not expecting anything in return. Someone will give you a water bottle that saves your life (it’s so hot!) and you ask what you can give them back, and they say, “No, just take it”. It was quite surreal.
What did you think of the artworks and the burning experience?
That was probably the best part of it. I think I didn’t really realise the scale of the artworks; they’re massive! They’re beautifully constructed and take months to make and then they are burnt. It’s really interesting that these artists make these artworks purely to be burnt. It almost felt as if the artworks really came to life once they were burning. The artists say a farewell and then they light it up with everyone standing around watching in awe as this big structure burns to the ground. There is a certain beauty in the destruction.
How does it feel to be back to reality after a few days in the desert?
It is a strange feeling. I found it was quite incredible to go away for a bit, not have my phone on me and to meet new people. You meet people from all walks of life and everyone is really open and friendly.
What is your take away from the Afrika Burn experience and would you recommend it to others who haven’t tried it yet?
It’s important to realise that it’s a very individual experience. It’s on such a massive scale. Everyone comes for their own reasons that it’s impossible to put the festival as a whole into a box. There is a sense of community there and I can see why people enjoy going every year to experience something different from their life here. It was a humbling experience, to be in the middle of nowhere making your own food and bringing your own water, and I was taken aback at the mass of it, the beauty and the art. If you’re open and curious like I was then I would definitely recommend that you go. You really have to experience it for yourself to have an opinion on it.