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Afrikaburn – Reflections of the Desert

Another Afrikaburn has come and gone – the Tenth addition to be precise. If you have never heard of it ( ); it’s based on the American principle of Burning Man (well actually there are ten principles –

I could spend hours talking about the diverse landscape along the drive; or the incredible artwork and sculptures on display; perhaps the unrivalled creativity with costumes on offer? But by now I am sure most of you have either heard from friends or started seeing pictures popping up continuously on your Facebook feed. So at this point what I can say is: if you haven’t been – put it on your ‘Absolute Must’ list. You need to experience it to truly understand and decide for yourself.

While you can navigate endless posts and photographs about the various experiences people have had out in the desert, there is one in particular that I’d like to chat about.

The absence of mobile phones.

The location is so remote that almost as soon as you hit the dirt road 120km from Tankwa Town, all reception and connection to the outside world is removed; like volunteering for solitary confinement in prison. Reminders of times pre 1994 when cellular phones descended like the Columbus plague on our South African shores.

The recent onset of smart phones has also meant ‘connection’ is even more at our fingertips with Whatsapp and Facebook just a tap away. This is not necessarily a bad thing; especially if, like me, you have special family and friends afar in Europe and the United States. Nothing is all bad; in fact it’s rather how we use anything that makes it good or bad. Mobile phones are no exception.

For a time, we were free and returned to the Wild West and became ‘primitive’. Or were we?

Over 11 200 people attended this year and whether I was rejuvenating at camp, strolling around the pop up town, cycling in the dust storm or dancing to the Rave Rover’s sunset funky beats; one thing stood out.

People’s heads were up.

Not hiding behind phones. No status update checks. No reading the news. No one almost walked into a street lamp because they were consumed by the dull glow of their screen.

It was magical to see people connecting the way we are supposed to; the way we used to. Talking face to face with eye contact and hand gestures; using changes in tone of voice instead of emoticons; and body language instead of our fingers. Being together and being present.

This is all magnified by the fact that one of the principles of Afrikaburn is gifting – there is no money. You walk past a camp and someone shouts out ‘How about some Champagne?’ – So of course, you stop!

In an instant you go from perfect strangers to opening up about your experiences since arriving. An opportunity for connection that otherwise would have been lost; engrossed in our phone walking by while our head is down texting; or even drinking our champagne head buried in an endless swipe of text and photos.

Of all the magic I experienced out there this is the one thing that I am going to try and keep alive in my city life. While shopping last night at a grocer I made a conscious effort to look every person I walked past in the eye – staff or customer – as I smiled and greeted them ‘hello’.

There are many people who didn’t look up or face me but the ones that did, flashed some of the happiest smiles I’ve ever seen. It’s so simple, yet we all seem to have forgotten to practice it.

The world is becoming nastier and increasingly soulless. Let’s do our part to bring back the human element again.

Let’s walk with our heads high and smile at unsuspecting strangers.

Or like the poor flies doomed to be burned: is that blue glow just too hard to resist?

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