AfrikaBurn 2023: 24 to 30 April

Painted Boots and a Beard ~ Part 4

Writing and pictures by Solar Santa.

You are rewarded for having endured this far with more stories from Solar Santa

Sonica has gifted me an amazing site. Corner of 6ish and Black Rock City. Prestigious address linked to the original Burning Man a mere 10 000 miles down the road. For neighbours, I enjoy the ever busy Burning Mail Post Office. I get to meet Rod when we repair a faulty solar panel to power his fridge.
Opposite is the Tankwa Town library with angel Shazelle and Tim. Behind me, Andrew is the Tankwa Bubble Blowing champion who delights with his giant bubbles in the still morning air. The cherry on the top is a few meters down the road. Alex and Elmay are an institution serving freshly baked bread daily. Straight out of Alex’s designer oven dozens of loaves are served with real butter, jam, peanut butter, syrup and even marmite. Young Rene and her camp team are kept very busy slicing and serving a hungry crowd. Including lucky me. I get to repay Elmay one night on leaving a big burn. She is struggling to unlock her bike in the dark. I have a brightly lit bike with a spotlight. We cycle home together through the party throngs. Some are not lit up and a collision in the dark, not a pleasant thought.
Tankwa Town is a massive undertaking extending kilometres in an expanded horseshoe – called the Binnekring. Watching it come to life for two weeks is mind-boggling. The sheer combined effort to achieve this is indescribable. And then it is all gone and the desert continues empty but for the scrub and wind. Ephemeropolis is the theme name this year. Sheer genius choice for a world of temporary dreams come true.
The Spirit of !Xam is no more. A spiritual Khoisan-inspired art piece, it was visited and enjoyed by thousands. But now the aged structure has become too dangerous to climb. The burning ceremony is perfect. A Khoisan leader and his clan dressed in their traditional skins circle the fire perimeter slowly, holding a smouldering grass bundle in his hands. They are saying goodbye to the spirits. I sit silently with Kelly, a scientist, all the way from Toronto, Canada. The structure has weathered dry in many seasons and burns easily. The enormous heat and a gentle breeze combine to form mini tornadoes of smoke around the disappearing piece. The spirits are dancing for us as they say farewell.
In contrast, the memorial to Larry Harvey is a fitting riotous affair. A founder of Burning Man he died last year when we were burning The Temple. He was with us then and I’m sure he visited us again as his trademark symbolic hat burnt with fury. A moment of noise is called for and the Burners do not disappoint. Followed by a dancing procession of totally naked boys and girls celebrating the gift he has created for us.
Several days after I have left my shredded tyre rim at the Tyre Shop I return. They operate outside Tankwa Town so cash payments can be made. Webster promised me that he will find a Get You Home tyre from his second-hand stock. At R350 a bargain for an essential rescue. I meet Daniel the co-owner. I tell him that I have learnt that my misfortune on the section from the turnoff is a common occurrence. Cheekily I ask him if they spike the road. He laughs and says: “It’s good for business”.
I am dusty and grubby. The New Beginnings camp offers naked public showers. Or a private cubicle if you prefer but the queue is long. The outdoor customers have bodies that range from the stunning to wrinkly like me. Nobody cares. Cleanliness is the objective of organic soap and hot water. Desert Heaven. Fiona and Arto guide me through the system. Surprisingly the embarrassment of public nudity is overcome in seconds. The hot water washes it away. I’m so invigorated I ponder a ride back to camp starkers on my bike. But it’s getting chilly and I’d better not push my luck.
My camp is a one-man band. But I am not alone. The Doyle brothers and their D camp members are a formidable team. Art Sluts also provide the tall Heinrich to fasten the top bolts on the solar panel. Whenever heavy lifting is required they appear like magic. I get the added bonus of extra hugs from the pretty girls. And Skippy even wears clothes as he hammers my rebar into the rock hard desert floor. My extended Tankwa family is awesome. The day I leave is special. The regular Burners have left days before and the desert a ghost town of emptiness. I await the departure inspection of the MOOP team. Kettles, Ilse, Bongo, Kayla, Cri, Shani, Kieron and Jon arrive in an overloaded car. The Tim strolls in in his regal dressing gown. They have come to say goodbye. I recite a Yeats poem* for the pretty girls before they leave for a busy day. Perfect farewell.
*”Had I the heavens embroidered cloths / enwrought with golden and silver lights / the blue the dim and the dark cloths / of night and light and the half light / I have spread the cloths beneath your feet / But I, being poor, have only my dreams / I have spread my dreams beneath your feet.  / Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams. ”
Kindness is everywhere. Some examples. Lella makes me real coffee Italian style. With homemade beskotti. The Deliciousa team make fresh pancakes with all the trimmings. Julian has a big team on 10ish. Spaghetti Junction is practically neighbours. They feed an army of visitors with vegan pasta every day. And me. Really tasty food. It is Sunday and the camp is clearing out. Belinda is the pretty lady from Nanyuki, Kenya. She has charged her phone and I ask her if the food will still be available today. I am up the ladder taking down lights when she appears below. Bearing a plate of fresh spaghetti and a fork. She is worried the pasta will run out before I get there. You can’t explain the loving communal effort, only experience it.
A bicycle pulls up at the pergola. It has two wheels at the back and a seat like a rickshaw. And configured as a dragon. Chris has been a regular visitor to charge his camera batteries. He invites me for coffee. I get chauffeur driven to his camp and get a bonus. He is camped at Pedals for Peace and I meet Steve and Di the engines driving the initiative. I had seen a huge multi-trailer pantechnicon arrive and disgorge hundreds of new bicycles. I learn that they are all pre-ordered and paid for by visitors to the Burn. But the unseen component is what happens after the Burn. Steve is a hard-nosed businessman with a mission. No bleeding heart. This year the bikes end up at Ceres area schools. Where poor kids who have no public school busses to travel to school will each sign a contract on receipt of a bike to make their life easier. The conditions are clear. Discipline at home and hard work at school. These tykes will save energy for schoolwork and enjoy a little status in a poor community. And there is follow up to ensure that all 350 bikes have achieved their purpose. Positive Afrikaburn influence spread far and wide. Heart warming.
End of part 4.
Thank you for your patience. Back soon for the final chapter. If you missed it, there’s a Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 to read too. 
Want more Solar Santa?
Check out last year’s story. 

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