In Memory of AfrikaBurn 2012: A Tribute to the Desert

It’s that magical time of the year again: colourful costumes, moments of blissful joy as strangers exchange the most incredible gifts, a celebration of life, and a sense of community that has become rare in today’s society.

It’s that time of the year again when burners from all over the world set out for Tankwa Town; a city you won’t find on a map but a place that still exists nonetheless: In a place where exceeding views over rocky desert soil and massive mountain ranges can be taken in throughout the rest of the year Tankwa Town comes alive for six days every year. It’s a place of great beauty, a place where dreams come true and the impossible becomes possible – it’s a place where money doesn’t fit in.

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I still remember that day in late April 2012 perfectly. The overland truck was packed with food and drinks for the week, the costumes and decorations were sorted out. We were ready to go. Tickets in hand, we got on the truck.

We were driving for about three hours until we hit the dirt. While stopping at a garage on the way, we ran into fellow burners. There was a connection immediately and the anticipation of the upcoming adventures grew immeasurably. We got back on the bus and left civilisation shortly thereafter.

Even after passing two ticket check points in the desert the camp was still nowhere to be seen. Finally, after crossing a small hill, Tanwka Town appeared on the horizon. It was drizzling when we got off the truck to ring the Tankwa Bell, an annual ritual that is kept for Burn Virgins, but no one seemed to care about the weather.

As I look towards the sunny sky from my backyard now I try to imagine the faces of this year’s Virgins and the thoughts that ran through their minds in that moment. When I rang that bell  I felt I became part of something I had always dreamed of even when I hadn’t known it really existed.

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By the time we started setting up the tents it was raining heavily. Within minutes the place was flooded with water, turning tents into islands. Despite the sudden change of weather the atmosphere remained unimpaired: Jumping into pond-like puddles, we got to relive childhood memories. I saw people smiling wherever I looked.

By Friday, Tankwa Town was busy as ever: all the theme tents had been set up and the camp came to life. If magic exists… it was right there – in the costumes, the creative minds around me, the gifts people handed me in the most random situations, the smiles people put on my face and the smiles I earned in return; that happiness, the incredible gratitude I felt towards nature and all fellow burners, gratitude for being alive, for being right there with them in that very moment…

As we wandered through the camp, as we talked to people and exchanged ideas, or as we shared moments of silence when no words were needed, as we discovered new places and emotions, I found myself overwhelmed all over again. At times it all seemed surreal. So much that I almost worried to wake up from a dream I didn’t want to end. I knew I had set foot into a different world. It was a world where there was no judging. A world where people could be who and what they wanted to be. A wold of respect and joy, a world of appreciation of creativity and beauty.

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The burns at night time were some of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed in my life. I won’t ever forget the night they burned the temple or the night they burned the main statue. We were all standing around it in a huge circle. Hundreds and thousands of people who came together to be part of something that was bigger than life, bigger than anything we had known before. Mesmerised and awestruck, we watched it burn, watched the flames wind around it, watched its reflections dance in each other’s eyes. It collapsed as the flames took over its middle part. And people cried and cheered and screamed with joy, they laughed and clapped their hands, they danced and fell into each other’s arms. And as the sparks set off into the starry night sky, a thousand different feelings crushed down on me, and I felt them all.

Above all, I felt alive.

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