Monday in a Picture – What is AfrikaBurn?

Just over a month ago, I was fortunate to return to Karoo National Park the Stonehenge Private Reserve in the Northern Cape of South Africa. The occasion? AfrikaBurn. AfrikaBurn is a regional event of the Burning Man network. It’s the largest of the regional events and the first on the continent of Africa.

When I first received my invitation to serve in eSwatini, I was overjoyed because attending AfrikaBurn went from “possible” to “highly probable”. On occasion, AfrikaBurn or Burning Man would come up in conversations with fellow PCVs. One question kept surfacing. What is AfrikaBurn? Before April 2017, I could only give the textbook answer: “AfrikaBurn is a regional event of the Burning Man network” . Some people would delve further. What is Burning Man? My response was almost always the same. “What I’m about to say won’t make sense, but Burning Man is everything.” Most people agreed. My comments made no sense.

When the theme for the twelfth AfrikaBurn was released, I was indifferent. The theme was “Working Title”. While reading about how this theme was chosen, I got more excited. Working Title is a name given to something still being created. Because that thing is still being created, it can be anything. There can also be collaborations with co-creators. “Working Title” made perfect sense! AfrikaBurn, Burning Man, and other similar events are works in progress. We get to collaborate to make it what we want.

I had an idea. I designed stickers to look like movie slates. On the sticker, the open ended sentence started, “AfrikaBurn is”. Participants were asked to complete the sentence. Afterwards, I asked to snap a photo of the sticker.

So, what is AfrikaBurn?
AfrikaBurn is fuzzy.
AfrikaBurn is freedom.
AfrikaBurn is freeing.
AfrikaBurn is the best experience of your life.
AfrikaBurn is Radio Free Tankwa.
AfrikaBurn is 37 24 16 V M 27 Clap 37.
AfrikaBurn is stepping into your true self.
AfrikaBurn is unicorn exposure.

These were some of responses. AfrikaBurn, like life, is different for everyone. The idea that we get to co-create the experience is magical. Ask any of the 7 billion human inhabitants of Earth what life is. You’re bound to get different answers. The answers may even change with time. None of them are wrong. AfrikaBurn is similar. Everyone has their own unique experience. Everyone is the director, screenwriter, and leading actor. It’s a beautiful thing. So, what is AfrikaBurn? You decide.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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Monday in a Picture – Bushfire

eSwatini is home to the Bushfire Festival, a three day music-focused event that attracts people from all over. This past weekend, the 12th edition of the festival happened. There were thoughtful conversations around warm fires. There were high energy performances that made me remove my sweat-soaked shirt.

The Bushfire Festival invites participants to bring their fire as a call to action. Artists from all over the world perform on four different stages. The live music selection included rap, soul, country, instrumental and traditional. The photo above features Sands, a native son of the kingdom, serenading us with his soulful music. There was also an amazing array of DJs that kept the party going until the early morning hours. Personally, I was elated to see my favorite DJ in eSwatini, DJ Mkay.

Another cool thing about the festival was the plethora of PCVs who visited from other southern Africa posts. It’s nice to meet and chat with people who are having similar, yet vastly different, experiences. It was also great to promote Beards of Peace Corps and take new photos for the project.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Sweet Dreams – Grocery Store Go To Guy

Because I am posted in a country where I might contract malaria, I have been given an antimalarial medication called, “Mefloquine”. One of the side effects of this medication is lucid dreaming. The following is what I dreamt last night (as best I can remember). 

​I was in a small town. It was possibly a college town. I had previously worked at a grocery store. I didn’t work there now, but still frequented the place because I knew it. 

I also was somehow affiliated with the local marching band. There had recently been a big festival or competition. I had said that it was my last one. That I wouldn’t be doing anymore after that. I wanted to focus on something else. Several of the new people in town were interested in the marching band/festival/camp. In fact, at the store, my friend Anna was the manager. She would refer people to me about their interest in the life. I think we had been to a festival together. I ended up serving as a bagger in the store just as I talked to people. I stopped coming around for a while. 

Anna was asking where I was. People had questions and I was still the guy to talk to. After some pressure from various places, I became a de facto section leader of this marching band festival camping experience. I couldn’t believe that I should be entrusted with such an honor. I still didn’t know how to read music. Eventually, I had new recruits before me. I was giving them their first pep talk. I was telling them that even simple words can be used to give powerful speeches. That they need to master the simple if they want to be great at this life. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – Amazingness in Action

Sometimes, amazing things happen. This past weekend saw Swaziland host one of its most famous events, Bush Fire. Bush Fire is an annual music festival that encourages attendees to bring their fire. The suggested interpretation of “bring your fire” is a call to action and to make a difference in your area(s) of passion. The festival benefits women in rural communities and orphaned youth.  But, that isn’t the amazing part. 

A month ago, I met a wonderful young lady from Sweden at AfrikaBurn. We had good times and great conversations. She contacted me before the Bush Fire festival to let me know that she would be here for the festivities. We talked about meeting up during her time in Swaziland. Anyone who knows me knows me knows that I’m always game to talk to burners, and about Burning Man and related events. 

On Saturday morning, the young lady from Sweden messaged me to say that she wouldn’t be able to make it to the festival and didn’t want her ticket to go to waste. She asked if I knew of any Swazis who wanted to attend the festival, but didn’t have the means to go. I messaged a PCV who lives close to the festival grounds to ask if she had a host sibling who might want to attend. The PCV responded that she had a host sisi (pronounced see-see), or sister, who would love to come. She really wanted to see the Swaziland sensation, Sands, who would be performing. The plan was set. A teenage girl from rural Swaziland would be able to experience her country in a new way. Tickets to the festival are cost prohibitive to many Swazis. 

On Sunday morning, I was able to check in with the PCV and meet her host sisi, who was all smiles. She was extremely grateful for the experience.

From Swaziland to Sweden, thank you. Thank you for bringing your fire even when you can’t come. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – Marula and Buganu

This past weekend, Swazis and friends in the northern region of the country celebrated the marula festival. The festival celebrates the harvest of the marula fruit, its resiliency, and the resiliency that it symbolizes for all of Swaziland. The tree produces delicious fruit, even in drought stricken summers. The festival happens at one of the royal residences, and the king and queen mother attend along with hundreds of Swazis. 

Swazis celebrate the marula fruit by home brewing buganu (pronounced boo-ga-new), which is a beer made from the fruit. One PCV, who lives in northern Swaziland, agreed (with his host family) to host a number of PCVs so that we could experience the fruit, the beer, and the festival. He and his host family spent considerable time brewing many liters of buganu for this weekend. The inner council of the community leadership came to his homestead to sit and share buganu with the volunteers. They talked about the fruit and beer before explaining how the beer is made. Then, there was a live, hands-on tutorial of home brewing buganu. The picture above is of the hosting host mom preparing to start the buganu brewing process. 

The fruit is removed from its skin, and placed in clean water. After three days, the seeds are removed from the fruit. Then, the mixture sits for another day. At this point, the beer is ready to be enjoyed. We learned that women typically brew the buganu for her husband and the family. Some women also sell buganu. A 25 liter container sells for between 50 and 100 emalangeni (pronounced emma-lan-gay-knee), which is the currency of Swaziland (on par with the South African rand). 

There will be another marula festival in a few weeks in a different region of the country. This is due to the marula fruit ripening at different times in different parts of the country. We learned that the fruit is not to be picked from the tree, as it is not yet ripe. The fruit should be picked up from the ground once it has fallen. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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​Monday in a Picture – Incwala 

Today in Swaziland is a public holiday, as Swazis observe incwala (pronounced in-click wa-la), which is also known as the festival of the first fruits. 

The festival is a celebration of the king and his kingship. While the festival takes place over the course of several days, there is one main day. During this day, men and boys from all over the country do traditional dances and sing traditional songs with the king and his regiment in the royal kraal (pronounced exactly like “crawl”) at a royal residence in Lobamba. 

This year’s main day was Saturday. I was fortunate to attend the ceremony with some other volunteers. Immediately outside of the royal kraal, the king’s guards were lined up in uniform. Behind them was a small marching band in a different uniform. We noticed everyone moving towards the barricade, so we followed suit. The king was coming! Before the dancing and singing starts in the royal kraal, the band plays the Swazi national anthem and the king inspects his guards and their uniforms.

After the inspection, people are now free to pass through security and join the ceremony in the royal kraal. The rules are very strict for those wishing to enter. We were not allowed to take pictures of the royal kraal activities, wear shoes inside, or have any electronics with us. 

Once inside, all participants circle the king and members of the royal family while dancing and singing. While men and women are allowed to participate in the festivities (on the main day), people are separated by gender. For this festival, men drastically outnumber women. 

Before all of the ceremonies started, we were conversing with a group of men dressing for the ceremony. One of the men decided that I should adorn proper headdress. The picture above is him putting it on me.

Although we didn’t know the dance steps or the songs, the Swazi men and boys were extremely helpful and inclusive.  I am tremendously grateful for the hospitality that Swaziland, both individually and collectively, has shown.  

Happy Incwala Day! 
Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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