Monday, October 27, 2008

It Burns us...

Well, Afrika has burnt, although thanks to liberal application of sunscreen and judicious use of shade I managed not to get toasted to a cinder along with it. I find it difficult to write a measured retrospective analysis of the event, as I didn't really have any concrete expectations of what I was expecting or what I wanted to specifically get out of it.

I guess I wanted to go hang out in the desert for a couple of days and just, "tune into, like, this whole community thing, you know?" And to a certain degree I succeeded in that aim. I went with a decent-sized crowd of people, not all from the same background, and together we formed the mini-community of Sanctuary+, or, "Sanctuary with occasional extras". I was looking forward to spending time with open-minded freaks (and I mean that in a nice way), and serving tea was certainly a good way to attract people to us. Our group was aiming to create an atmosphere of welcoming acceptance and peace, and I think that we succeeded collectively in doing that (loud neighbours notwithstanding). We certainly gained a reputation as "those friendly guys who serve tea", but in a way I was surprised that being friendly and welcoming was so remarkable. I speak very specifically for my own experience - I know many others had different ones - but I did not find that the people in general were particularly welcoming. Non-hostile, certainly, but not actually over-friendly.

Part of this may have been the timing. We arrived at midday on Friday in a state of eager anticipation, but the camp was largely still empty, and those hardy souls already at the venue were still setting up their tents, so the whole event really just consisted of one day, with most people only arriving on Friday evening or even Saturday morning. Expecting people to spontaneously shift gear to a new paradigm of social interaction is unrealistic, but I do think that staying there for several days would have helped us all to tune into the atmosphere we were trying to create. Communities need to develop, and without enough time, we are bound to see a lot of baggage from regular life still hanging around. This may also be exacerbated by the particular context of South Africa. In this country we tend to have a survival instinct which is honed towards hostile self-preservation, suspicion of the stranger and an assumption of impending danger from others. To move directly from that to a mental state of love, peace and goodwill to all God's creatures is quite a jump.

In addition, I was actually affected pretty badly by the heat on Saturday. The 33 degrees on Friday was perfectly fine, but when it topped 40 on Saturday I was ill-prepared to deal with it, and was basically out of action for most of the day. Serving tea was fine, occasional musical ventures into drumming or Taize singing were just about possible, but moving from the shade of our tent and actually exploring the rest of the community was simply out of the question until the sun was safely low. As a result, I didn't have all that long to really explore on Saturday.

By the evening I did start to recover, and was determined to enjoy what remained. I wandered over to the Desert Rose Saloon, where I listened to some decent live music and managed absolutely no interaction with the other people in the tent. I went across to the samba drumming circle where things were far more engaging - the orchestration and rhythms were brilliant, and standing in the midst of that while the sun went down was electric. I returned to the Sanctuary for dinner and then strolled out to the main Burn, hoping for a time of peace and meditation before the pyrotechnics, but my mind was feeling the strain of the last two days, and I can boast of neither stillness nor insight. The Burn itself was fantastic, though - I loved every minute of it and was far more impressed than I had expected to be. Strolling back to camp, I saw the bands and moons of Jupiter through a telescope, and relaxed in the cool of the evening. It was peaceful, but to be honest I was just too tired to absorb it properly.

things I wanted to do:
- hang out with some interesting people who I would not normally intersect with
- meditate in the stillness of the desert
- absorb the glorious barren landscape
- groove on some funky installation art

things I did:
- hung out with people I knew from before
- lay immobilised by the overpowering heat
- absorbed the glorious barren landscape
- grooved on some funky installation art

I enjoyed it. I'm really glad I went. It didn't transform my life, but maybe that was just me.

This post is part of a synchroblog:

Also see


Anonymous said...

Thanks Mike
I like your honest appraisal. It brings the survivalist dimension into the foreground. It is an extreme environment in more ways than temperatures: visually, lack of sleep etc.

I'm glad you joined us in the experiment.


The Weaving Between said...

An idea for next year maybe ... designing economic fans (both in creation and operation) to share?

Wish I could have been there - Sometimes I ask myself to evaluate what I sacrifice for my dreams


Anonymous said...


I agree that the experience is too short and the experiment needs to be a day or two longer.

Christina, the fans idea is a great idea for an art installation.


Sentinel said...

Actually, ja, a large installation of shade and fans would be outstanding. Maybe solar powered or something? Some green method of propulsion for fans waving back and forth under a shady canopy... I'm thinking something like the slow fans in Singapore.