Words: Scheepers De Bruin
Photos: Header by Amy Scott-Samuel additional images by Kat Catowski and Scheepers De Bruin
This year I had the privilege to represent AfrikaBurn at the Borderland held in the Boesedal Kalkbrud abandoned granite quarry in Denmark from 24th to 30th July 2017, about 10 minutes walk from the nearest town, Rødvig and right next to the ocean.
There are a few historical structures within the quarry. The largest being the pyramid and was available to the festival to use. It is very impressive in size and volume, but sadly all kinds of climbing is discouraged, apart from trees.
Water, electricity and reception were readily available and participants are therefore not particularly survival aware.
The sea right next to the quarry is refreshingly cold and two mobile saunas were installed on the road next to the beach. One of which was see-through. The terrain is far from flat and the roads between camps are winding and quite pleasant to meander. Not being able to see forever took some getting used to but provided for very interesting surprises.
A recycling collection point was available on site and was a bit overwhelmed during the great Exodus as would be expected. An impromptu lost and found spawned itself next to the recycling station and it seems like the Exodus is particularly challenging to all our communities.
People are wonderfully warm and very soon I felt at home, even though the environment, weather and languages were new to me. It is heartwarming to know our culture transplants so well across borders and heritage.
The smaller number of participants make for a wonderfully connected community, with main events being very well attended and feels like the whole of everyone at the festival being at events.
Camp always being 5 minutes away means there is no concept of a day survival bag or kit and a liberal approach to packing.
The community is actively engaged in issues and I could not helped but be impressed at the level of participation in a conversation on the Saturday morning. It revolved around the slave market held the previous day and the Social media furore the announcement of the market sparked on Facebook pre-event. The community is socially aware and encourages healthy, honest and open debate that makes them particularly aware of and resistant to guilt culture.
It also surfaced the issue of the level of involvement of the organisation within Theme Camp issues.
Though the organisational structure is still young it already appears quite robust and the festival ran with very few hitches. Formal emergency procedures were put in place this year and had an impressive level of detail to them.
Working Class Heroes, Port, Sanctuary and The Clown Police (similar to our DPW, Hek, Sanctuary and Rangers, respectively) worked efficiently (bar the occasional non-delivery of a tent and rain vs electricity issues) and was very well subscribed. Clown Policemen did not mind seem to mind pulling 6 hour shifts.
The availability of centralised electricity was well translated to the technical complexity of artworks and it is wonderful to see so many artworks that may continue living in the default world, not necessarily being burnt during the festival.
There is a healthy awareness around burn safety and a very safe and sane burn perimeter.
Participants were extremely well-behaved during the burn ceremony – quite baffling, considering the level of freedom and expression during the rest of the festival – even more subdued than participants at Temple burns. Without being asked!
Performances and workshops were of exceptional quality and I was personally treated to a vegan pancake dinner performance on the ridge overlooking the festival.
Conclusions & take homes
There is a very high level of expectation and delivery of services within Scandinavia. When questioned it was revealed that tax records are publicly available and local council members have a sort of wealth and/or income declaration which promotes a healthy level of trust, transparency and accountability. As nobody within The Borderland organisation earns a salary as of yet, I wondered whether that practice would be extended to The Borderland when that day comes and was assured that it would most definitely.
Would this practice translate well into our Afrikaburn community too?
During the slave market conversation a very important point was made regarding inclusion. That it is not our responsibility to make people come to a burn and that the person in question – who is a person of colour – felt radically included in the community: once she had learned to make money enough to attend a burn event.
How does this translate locally?
Could our diversity challenge perhaps be one of economic class rather than race?
Can we afford to approach this along the same vectors as our government?
Are we making our culture accessible to the right default world audiences?
As we were leaving, I happened to strike up a conversation with a nearby neighbor and I invited him to AfrikaBurn. I was dismayed when he refused on the grounds of “how we treat our labourers” in the desert. He proceeded to tell me how he had heard of locals being made to work in the sun all day long with no water. I explained that particular incident and that the labourers were employed by an external vendor, as well as our community’s reaction to the event. He seemed willing to look into coming after said explanation, but the whole situation still saddened me.
Clearly there is no distinction between how WE treat people as opposed to how we are willing to allow people to be treated.
Are we tough enough on external vendors that we allow on site?
So many people made this experience unforgettable and there are too many names to include all of them. The QQQ that welcomed me into their camp, the Macho Kitchen for being awesome and occasionally sneaking us some meat. All of the Borderlings that co-created this special thing that is not in the desert. In particular many thanks to Alexander and Peter for hosting me during my stay and making all of this this possible.