Ma, Please Don’t Make Me Go to AfrikaBurn

africa burn pic

I am of the firm and growing conviction that the world is divided into two distinct types of people: those who Burn and those who don’t. And it’s with no small measure of regret that I have to place myself, without question, into the latter group. While there are times when, after enough wine, I get momentarily bamboozled by the enthusiastic superlatives Burners throw out to convince me of how much I’m missing, I think, well, maybe I could do this… maybe I should just give it a try, the second I open my eyes the following morning I know for a fact the very notion is tomfoolery of the most delusional kind.

You see, while I nurture a self-image of being cool and chilled and even a little bit of a hippie, the truth is, over and above some nice wedges and a peasant top or two, I’m probably the least chilled person you’ll ever meet in your life. My super not-chilled-ness is somewhat disguised by my warm, over-share-y personality. But, dig a little deeper by putting me in a lift which looks like it might stop between floors, wake me up in the middle of the night for no good reason or give me bad Wifi when I have low blood sugar and you’ll see the truth emerge.

It’s not that I don’t get the appeal of AfrikaBurn. Art is great, and art installations in the middle of the desert are greater, still. Also, drugs are fun. And drugs, when everyone around you is dressed in sequins and has flashing lights attached to their heads and all the world is a disco, must be the biggest fun ever. The trouble is, morning. Hungover mornings wrapped in your own duvet where you can reach for the Ibuprofen, swallow it with water from a tap, take a long, hot shower and eat bacon on the couch all day are bad enough.

But waking up on stones with dust matting your eyelashes, a stinking long-drop seven kilometers away, wet wipes your only grooming tools and nothing to eat but Chakalaka… The thought alone makes me shudder. How? How do you people do it? When the first thing you see as you venture out your tent of death and squint at the unkind position of the bright sun is a naked couple on a tandem bicycle waving wands and looking happy and fabulous? How do you not crawl out and slap them senseless? How, with a pounding head and a mouth that’s drier than the Tankwa terrain, do you gather yourself sufficiently to get back into your sequined bra and face all that madness?

Do you swallow magic mushrooms with vodka to anaesthetize yourself enough to cope, and if so, isn’t that just a lot of hard work? Wouldn’t it be much easier to go to the National Gallery in the afternoon and then on to Galaxy for a dance? I’m sure nobody would protest if you wore crotchless panties and insisted on handing out free things. That way you could have a nice Banting salad beforehand and be happily tucked into your clean, quiet bed by 2am (or 11, if you’re me).

See, I wasn’t joking when I said I was a Mother Grundy. And yet, so many people love it and take months preparing for it and never want to leave, so clearly there are some important parts I’m just not getting. And I know, I’ll be inundated with comments about the community spirit and how everyone shares and how awesome the installations are… ja ja. But, wet wipes. And the small issue which seems to bother nobody but me of getting no sleep at all for the duration of your stay because apparently the music never stops ever and you can never get far enough away for it to be quiet. To me, it just sounds like so much torture and suffering.

Maybe one day the FOMO will get bad enough that I’ll cough up for a helicopter which can deliver me in my ball gown and overnight bag and I’ll have meaningful conversations with strangers and ride fire-spewing rhinos and dance till the sun comes up and then, just as my hair starts getting unmanageable, pick me up and whisk me away before I have time to get grumpy. I hope so. Because it really looks like something you want to experience once in your life.

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A Tale of Two Pretties

Lisa, Elisabeth TWO.jpg
Besties.

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune of hanging out with these two extremely glamorous 9-year-olds who sit next to each other at school. They skinny-dipped, assured me that boys are stupid and re-applied their red lipstick with a dedication that would impress Dita Von Teese. But there was something poignant for me as I half-listened to their chatter and the casual way they argued, made up, continued playing. It was so effortless and natural the way they interacted with one another, untainted by the heavy pall of South African history which hangs over my own dealings with people of colour – the way I am conscious of everything I say and do, and my tendency to overcompensate because of way I grew up as a child of apartheid.

And I wondered how long it could continue, this neutral space they inhabit with each other. Because surely it is just a matter of time (if she hasn’t already) that the child on the left will begin to notice that most of the children in her class and her teachers and their doctor and the lady on the billboard are light-skinned, while the security guard and the cleaner and the assistant teacher are dark, like her; that the people who drive the luxury cars look like the girl on the right, while the people in buses and taxis look like her mom and dad. And maybe she’ll start to wonder – like my Facebook friend’s adoptive black daughter did – whether people who look like she does can also own nice cars and live in big houses or whether that privilege is reserved for white people. Because that is certainly how it appears.

The little girl on the right comes from a dual-language household, English and Danish. So does the little girl on the left. Her home languages are English and isiXhosa. But you won’t find people commenting on the blonde child’s enunciation; it’s a given that she’ll speak ‘good English’. For the one on the left, however, she will regularly receive compliments on how ‘well’ she speaks – and the implication, of course, is ‘for a black child.’ The one on the left lives by the sea in a more affluent suburb than the one on the right. Yet, she’ll have people quizzing her on where she comes from; what her parents do, and whether it’s her ‘first time on the beach.’ She’ll be patronised, talked about as if she’s not there and have strangers randomly touching her hair. And it’s hard to imagine that the relentlessness of this othering is not already making an impact; making her question her identity, her belonging, her worth in a society which – if we are to be honest – values all things white and disparages all things black.

In our brief conversation she confessed that a (blonde, popular) little girl in her class had deliberately trampled on her hand and thrown her sandwiches on the floor because they were ‘disgusting.’ Maybe this wasn’t a racial thing, but… it probably was. While the child on the right will benefit from the complex tiers of white privilege, her darker friend will be forced to fight many battles and clear many (often invisible) obstacles if she is to succeed in life. And it is inevitable that at times this bright-eyed, smart and lovely little girl creature is going to be made to feel not good enough for the world. And it makes me feel weary and powerless and sad.

When her parents showed up to collect her she gave me a big hug and thanked me politely for inviting her to come and play. And I have to consider the fact that maybe I’m just as bad as the white people I criticise because I can’t help feeling overjoyed that my kids have dark-skinned friends. That they are my proof that I did okay as a parent and managed not to pollute my children with the crazy things I was taught to believe when I was young and impressionable. My wish is that, of the white people consistently saying stupid things to black people, the ones I’ve raised will not be among them. At this point in our crazy history, where so little has changed for so many, that’s probably all I can hope for.