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Tourist and Terrorist

by Phumlani Pikoli / Images by Mads Nørgaard / 25.05.2012

I’ve been a fierce critic of this little pop up community for the longest time, based on two principles. One: The name. A spinoff of Burning Man, I still can’t understand why it would be named AfriKaburn. There’s way too much unpacking that needs to be done on that conjoined word. Two there’s a sanctimony it’s attendees carry with them that I can’t get down with. A complaint I heard from a purist not so long after getting back is that this year wasn’t the same. It somehow had been tainted by a new element that turned it into a festival, which it is not. Damn! I missed out on the good old days!

Anyway, I went, loved it, fell into an unexplainable spiral and now know this:

Nothing can ever really prepare you for it.

I really enjoy feeling welcome in a place, especially if the welcome comes from a place of personal sincerity. There’s nothing like an embrace from a connection made from a natured honesty. A full acceptance of the self. I enjoy an encouragement which is of personal fulfillment no matter what the avenue one chooses to drive, ride or walk down. What I mean is, basically I just like genuinely nice people.

A night spent in jail, a full day at work and then the trek out to the desert. Eight hours later we’re in the mud and have entered the sleeping community as the birds (had there been any) were about to stir. I’m tired, I’m muddy and I’m scared. A little bitch; I had to have a cut on my pinky finger washed off using Listerine as the antiseptic, fearing an infection from digging one of the cars out of a muddy ditch for two and a half hours. We’ll go back there later. We park the car and decide it’s time to go and talk to people, it’s only 4am, they should be up anyway. Stop, listen… follow the music!

Two Afrikaans dudes with a battery powered music generator (I didn’t see what they were playing off, all I know is that it was fucking loud), welcome us to their fire and hand us sachets of homemade honey. Kous and the other Afrikaans dude. It’s a bit gutting that I can’t remember his name. It’s motherfucker cold and we’re only opening the vodka now, so we need the fire. We chill, make small chit-chat and poke fun at the funny. Like an old Afrikaans guy saying: “Wassup my niggas!?” A few uncomfortable glances exchanged, we stammer our laughs and lose our first man to the car. They’re nice guys and we have at least two real jokes where we all find ourselves laughing. Finally their battery dies and we take that as our cue to start exploring. The sun is approaching and we’re in the desert. Kous is sad and airs that we were only there for the music. I suppose disgruntling the locals isn’t a very good start to a four day adventure in the desert. Wait… Did I say happy Freedom Day?

Assume I am Carlton Banks. By the time we’re into it, my sphincter is so tight I’m surprised that my sag is still intact and that I’m not wearing suspenders. First time going on an adventure this big without my squad. I barely know any of these people except for the one I’m sleeping with and even she’s a rather new addition to my life. They’re loud and I’m just not that kind of brother. Except they’re funny, and having fun, and I wanna be that kind of brother. It took Super Mum-Z two and a half hours to dig out the car, he allowed the Polo 1.4 to help pull the Mazda out the ditch and then I stepped into a pile of mud wearing my favourite skate shoes, that I don’t skate in. I finally give into the desert. At 7am I finally take off my shoes and socks and let the mud cover my feet and jeans. Miles Davis played in the background. My life at this point was cheddar cheese. A Hollywood movie scene.
“I’m in the desert for the next four days. Fuck it.”

A first time burn club member I’m still anxious as the city wakes up. I greet with a handshake and slowly enunciate every part of my name. The inevitable, “Punani?!” Still comes, fuck it. We’re a pair it seems to me. I’m the Tourist; wide eyed with my camera and loving the spectacle that is the desert, she’s the Terrorist; inventing the plots and schemes on how to fuck with peoples’ perceptions. We’re actually suited to this climate. We eventually touch base with the other non-others and I finally feel like I can kick off my shoes, grab a beer out the fridge and talk shit about the game. Still I notice their eyes telling me not to get too comfortable, anticipating a statement that’ll fuck with everyone’s mellow.

Unprepared as fuck, the free ticket was exactly that. I appreciate the opportunity to witness this rare glimpse of uncivilized society being extraordinarily civilized. Imagine Cape Town had an actual public art policy… Now don’t. It’s a desert without buildings, just flammable art.

I have to admit that I love hating on the whites as much as the next cell number, but sometimes they get the party right. For a while I’m happy that I’m there without my friends, I love them and all but we’re all into similar shit and sometime’s don’t know what we close ourselves off to. But the one thing about my group of friends I do miss is that critical point of engagement and not accepting everything at its surface value. While I agree with the spirit that the place is trying to invoke; that pure spirit of humanity: both acceptance and giving best exemplified in the gift economy, I still see the societal pressures of the outside entrenched in the fibre of a lot of these beings. At the end of the day this is a playground for the rich. Although the policy is of acceptance, the poor who attend the fest are still mostly labourers, only getting the chance to participate because of the gift economy. Welcome, but don’t feel at home. I am the Tourist, lucky to know the Terrorist joined at my hip. I don’t know if I would have loved it otherwise.

*All images © Mads Nørgaard.

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