AfrikaBurn 2024: 29 April to 5 May

Working The Burn

Photo by Sonica Spirit

(words and photos: Sonica Spirit)

Our magnificent Sonica Spirit, MOOP lead for AfrikaBurn and generally capable wonderwoman, shares her experience of working with Burning Man’s DPW and Playa Restoration crews at Black Rock City last year. Read on…

On my first day of Playa Restoration, or ‘Resto’ as it is affectionately known, I had the thought running in my head: “This is possibly the weirdest ‘job’ in the world…” Picking up the tiniest bits of trash, anything from cigarette butts, glowsticks (aaaarggh), earrings and gold rings, carport pins or parts of broken polystyrene yurts blowing in the Nevada desert winds – while being beaten by the heat and the sun – gives you plenty of time to think.

Photo by Sonica Spirit

I had the honour of being the first South African to be invited to work with the Black Rock City Department of Public Works (BRC DPW), and, having volunteered for AfrikaBurn, I had a fair idea of what I was letting myself in for: long days exposed to the elements, extreme heat and sudden changes to icy cold winds. Early mornings and late nights, all surrounded by tough-as-nails characters who only respect a solid work (and play) ethic.

The days continued, and my thought solidified to: this IS the weirdest job on the planet. My six week immersion in one of the deepest counter-cultural revolutions, disguised as a popular event, convinced me of it. Except, maybe, that is the best of the weirdest.

A popular phrase you hear with the DPW crew is: “Burning Man ruined my life.” Sometimes it is followed by “in the best way”, and sometimes it is not. Because you walk away slightly different. It’s not just the complete satisfaction you feel once you have finished with this job and there is only empty, pristine playa left. It’s not just the company you keep of wonderfully weird new volunteers and experienced crazy crew members alike. Or that you feel supremely capable and confident at the end of it all. It’s the Respect: that here you can be as radical as you can imagine, and there is space for it. Yes it’s a working team, and you have to work to be a part of it (or you will be asked to leave), but here you have the Freedom to be who you are, or who you would like to be, or could dream to be, while being an effective part of your society. Of course it sounds very idealistic, and to a degree it is, but I experienced it that way. And what are we aiming for if not some grander vision of ourselves and the way it could be?

Photo by Sonica Spirit

When talking about this emerging culture, I love that it embraces traditions and ritual as part of the vocabulary. The planting of the Golden T-stake at beginning of the event (around which the city gets built) the DPW parade, tutu-Tuesdays, the opening of the Temple, the Burns themselves, all address a larger need in our human psychology: that to feel whole we need to be part of a deeper convergence of like minded people. Yes, we are here to have a good time, and for some that is enough reason to come play in the deserts of the world, but many of us are here because we feel the need for something more. And to have that met and matched, beautifully, gracefully, epically and with a sense of humour too, yes, while being able to giggle at the sheer fun we are having… this is my bliss. For I am a Holy Hedonist. And I have found my tribe. My moments spent in the Temple of Whollyness, with those who felt it as keenly as I, are as special to me as those shovelling contaminated soil into buckets. Somehow the fact that we hold the Playa as sacred as any temple makes sense and carries well.

Photo by Sonica Spirit

In this world were we are constantly asked to be different to what we essentially are, to conform, to play along, to smile and get on with it, the relief of being given the space to be yourself is what we treasure. My weird job may entail picking up tiny (and not so tiny) bits of human debris after an event, but what our job ensures is the continued freedom for us to be our radically inclusive, self-reliant, fully expressed selves.

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