I’ve no doubt many community members have been to Afrika Burn. It’s a one-week festival held every Autumn in the desert near Sutherland, and it’s AWESOME!

For an entire year in advance, teams of very creative people built the most incredible wooden structures that are burned during the course of the week. Many of them are HUGE and breathtakingly beautiful. But that’s just one part of it. There is music everywhere: mutant vehicles, people in outrageous costumes, decorated bicycles, stilt walkers, fire poi, and a sea of colourful campsites. It’s nuts. A sensory overload like one has never experienced! And people are having a blast! No rules, no judgement, no boundaries, just good times for a whole week!

It’s been almost 10 years since my last Afrika Burn experience, but the memories live on. The ethos of the festival runs deep. Participants are invited to embrace a level of consciousness, making it extra special. “Leave no trace” means people manage their own waste. Volunteers will pick up whatever small amounts may be lying around. In my experience, very little. Barring ice, there is nothing on sale whatsoever. People bring whatever they need to sustain themselves, so one does need to plan. The most remarkable thing, however, is the “gifting” economy. People are encouraged to share. In whatever form, large or small, they do.

This guy had set up a camp with screen-printed pictures of Rome inside his stretch tent. Off to one side is a caravan offering freshly squeezed orange juice. In front, the local farmer re-filled two porta pools daily for people to swim in. A full-on PA system with him (Caesar) and his friends blasting live music. The place went off non-stop! Can you imagine?

As one weaved through the campsites, less generous but incredibly thoughtful gifts were offered everywhere. At one camp, there were two large piles of matchboxes, small pieces of paper and pens on a table. There was a fire burning adjacent to this. Their gift was to invite people to write a secret or confession on a piece of paper, fold it up, put it in an empty matchbox then place it on the second pile of matchboxes. After doing so, you took one from the same pile, opened it and read the note of another person. After that, you crumpled up their paper, dropped it in the fire and kept the box as matches as your gift. You became the sole bearer of their secret or confession. Cool huh! Although I don’t remember my secret, I do remember the words of the person whose note I read. I hope they don’t mind me sharing all these years later. Their message said, “I have absolutely no clue what I want to do with my life” That touched me quite deeply.

As I walked away, I reflected on my life and remember having experienced similar thoughts as a young adult. I smiled, sensing it may have been a younger person who wrote it. “Life happens,” I thought, “and here’s to yours being awesome!”

Many Burners will agree that returning to reality after that week in the desert is a bit of a shock. Life does happen, but for most of us, it is earning a crust and helping support loved ones. So returning to the routine and cycles of “normal” life, sitting in traffic, too many emails in the inbox, so much to do, so little time, right? Eish!

Gridlocked on the M3 the following Monday, I strangely felt no frustration. No desire to lane change to try and get to town quicker. I was casting my mind back to Africa Burn. It was amazing. As I let a ‘lane changer’ in, I pondered, “What if we were always as nice to each other, all the time? It can’t be that hard, right?” Then it dawned on me. This whole experience, I had gifted myself. I had done it for myself, and I felt so good inside. I had loved ME for an entire week! In so doing, I had brought out the best version of myself. An ‘Aha moment’ helped shape my life from thereon in.

So, if you (and a bunch of friends) are due a bit of self-love, Burn Baby Burn!