Afrika Burn can be an emotional roller coaster at the best of times. If it doesn’t challenge you then, quite frankly, you haven’t really been to AfrikaBurn. The key is to immerse yourself in whatever shows up. And burn baby, burn.
Shape shifting in the desert
AfrikaBurn can be an emotional roller coaster at the best of times. If it doesn’t challenge you then, quite frankly, you haven’t really been to AfrikaBurn. The way I see it there are three groups of challenges: The environment, idiosyncratic and personal. The most obvious environment challenges are the hot days, freezing cold nights, dust and wind. The incessant thud of bass speakers is another one. Then there are the idiosyncratic challenges – getting over the fear of using a toilet out in the open is a common one. Going nude in public, another one. I don’t mean baring all for the love of a cool breeze. Nude for hygiene’s sake. I mean who showers with clothes on back in the urban jungle? The third group is, in some ways, the unspoken gift of AfrikaBurn. These challenges are the kind that stir the soul and ignite the fiery passions of the heart. Although at the time they can feel like the most gut-wrenching, arduous and gruelling challenge of your entire life.
The key in all of this is to immerse yourself in whatever shows up. You might have arrived but without participating and immersing yourself in all that is this crazy, commodity-free, community gathering you don’t really experience the Burn. You spectate. That is not what AfrikaBurn is about. It is about radical self-reliance, radical participation and radical self-expression.
This was only my third Burn, Matthew’s fourth. We are babies compared to other veterans but this year we were determined to participate and make a difference. We decided our gift to the AfrikaBurn community would be Emotional Fitness Classes. Two a day, mind you – one in the morning at our camp and one in the afternoon at an art installation called Oasis (pictured above). Matthew posted our gift on the AfrikaBurn Facebook pages. At least people would know we were there, even if they didn’t know exactly where. We had it all planned and like most plans at AfrikaBurn they went up in smoke… more or less.
After more than a year of research, we’d done our first public work with Shape of Emotion a little under three months before, at the beginning of February 2018. We had a whole four Emotional Fitness Classes under our belts. These we’d launched at the beginning of March. We were a little too late to include our offering in the WTF Guide or register a proper Theme camp (deadline end Feb!). As I said, we had it all planned. Do I smell something burning?
An uneventful trip to Upington to collect a 4×4, overnight and then to Calvinia to spend another night before heading onto the R355 to disappear into the Tankwa Karoo and another life. We were prepared, as I said. Tyres intact we arrived exuberant and excited. The Clan artwork was up, majestic, finished and beautiful. Yes! We found a suitable space to set up camp and went in search of our stretch tent crew. A day later we were still waiting for the tent. Can you hear that crackling?
So no classes on Monday, because of the waiting for the tent, or Tuesday, because of the waiting. But at least we had got our bikes from Pedals for Peace giving Matthew the chance to meet Chris Leggatt who he has been following on Instagram for years. They greeted each other like long lost friends. That’s Tankwa Town for you.
Despite our misgivings that we would not find our camp mates because of our delays and waiting, we met them at the entrance when we cycled up to put a notice on the board telling them our location! They had just arrived. A burst tyre had delayed them. Another happy Tankwa Town convergence.
The stretch tent was to be our living area as well as a space to hold the classes, without it we were stymied. We had no protection from the elements and couldn’t unpack any of our equipment. Thank heavens our beautiful camp mates, who had come all the way from the Netherlands, had a campervan. It’s what planning (not like ours) and Euros can do. They gave us protection from the freezing wind on Monday night and a hot meal. After a night spent praying that the wind would not take the rooftop tent with it, our neighbours from Pringle Bay, near Cape Town, offered us the best coffee and sincerest sympathy. We felt loved despite the open scar that should have held our stretch tent. Oh my, it’s on fire!
Eventually late afternoon on Tuesday the tent was erected and we could unpack and start our stay for real. The Dutchies (our Netherlands camp mates) and Pringle Bay neighbours came to our first Emotional Fitness Class. By the time we were done, having had to mitigate external noises and distractions of cyclists, walkers, curious passers-by and multiple informal music camps, we realised that there was no way that we would be able to do an afternoon class at the Oasis art installation. Besides, we also wanted time to enjoy the Burn.
The next challenge was getting people to come to the classes. We wrote it up on the notice boards, told everyone we came across, even organised an ad spot on the Tankwa Radio station. We were surprised by the numbers who had seen it on Facebook. Still, you never know with AfrikaBurn, stuff is always happening, time is always “-ish”. Nothing is certain. And yet we had an Emotional Fitness Class every day from the Wednesday to the Sunday. All in all 30 people attended.
One participant came back to tell us that the class had “saved her Burn”. She had been feeling down and out of sorts and was about to book an air ticket out the same day. After attending the class and clearing this difficult emotion she chose not to visit the airport and stay instead. Another participant who we bumped into at a burn much later in the night told us that she had been reminded by her friend to use Shape of Emotion after a particularly unpleasant emotional encounter. “It worked, I felt so much better afterwards,” she told us. Someone else said that the Class was the highlight of her Burn. We were thanked over and over for the gift we had given.
Some who wanted to come, didn’t manage to get there, but that is how it is. Next time. Next time we will be better prepared. We will register a proper theme camp and get into the WTF Guide. Next time.
What a Burn. Oh, did I mention that I lost the car keys on Friday night and that Matthew got violently ill on the Saturday afternoon? Well, the keys were found and returned to me in another serendipitous way – a story for another day – and Matthew got better. Challenges and learnings, lots of learnings, as there always are at AfrikaBurn. Thank you to everyone who came and explored the shape of their emotion. Thank you to all who supported us so we could gift the Shape of Emotion. Thank you to all who organised and thank you AfrikaBurn, for your magic.
About the author
5th Place offers specialised psychological services in the form of coaching and therapy for immediate relief from stress, anxiety, & other mental health challenges. It works fast, deep and quick. For individuals and groups, children, teens and adults.