Thursday, June 7, 2012

"Be my love when the (Bush)fire is low..."

Some of the girls at the campgrounds, we miss you already Phyl!!!

hi friend. this tent slept 3 people, btw.
View of Ezulwini.

The house, the house, the house is on FIYAH

Outside at Bushfire

Back in August, Nicole and I were trying to figure out what Bushfire was. Or even what it was called. “Hot bush? No, no I think it’s fire-bush. Burning bush? OH, the bush on fire”
Bushfire is a music and arts festival that takes place in Swaziland every year, the last weekend in May. 100% of all festival profits, as well as profits from other aspects of the weekend, support OVC's and rural boMake. Many of the vendors support fair trade, or community-based income generation projects, so a portion of the profits goes back into Swaziland. I have never been to a music festival before, but couldn’t imagine something like Lollapalooza happening in Swaziland, considering the city of Chicago has many times more people than this entire country, so what would it entail exactly?
We got to the House on Fire campgrounds, a music and dining venue in Ezulwini valley. They were divided into: people who rent tents, have tents, or have tents and cars. The volunteers dominated the middle category, so it was very laid-back and we all hung out in the sun. The bathrooms were immaculate and the showers provided for the camping area were consistently hot. Also the food and beverages were either average-priced or slightly less what you would find elsewhere – I was floored by all of this and how well it was set up and carried out. I was used to paying like $20 for a water bottle at a concert in the States, that I would not dare to drink, because the bathroom situation would be a nightmare.
The first time I went to House on Fire, my mom warned me to be aware of the emergency fire exits, as if it were a thatch-roof gogo hut literally aflame with a dance floor beneath. It’s hard to describe exactly what it is, and for Bushfire it was transformed. The structure is always very beautiful with random mosaics and sculptures sticking out of walls and crazy painted walls, similar in a lot of ways to Magic Gardens on South Street in Philadelphia. The grounds around the usual restaurant area were full of food stands and shops set up from all over Swaziland and southern Africa ranging from REAL pizza, Indian food, sushi (this I still don’t believe but I heard it from the mouth of a one-time sushi chef) and my personal favorite, an SA Hare Krishna Ashram’s “karma free” gluten-free stand. There was also mulled wine (glögg!) and smoothies containing homemade yogurt and real vanilla beans, all very affordable even on our budgets. Guba, the organization that taught us permaculture back during training, even set up a café with locally grown food and bangin’ Chai. The vibe of it all was “cool in a way that Portland, Oregon is cool”, spoken from a real Oregonian. Or anywhere where farmers’ markets, homegrown, high-quality ingredients are cool. Or where Tibetan prayer flags and Guatemalan fair trade hemp clothing are cool. I loved it! And frankly was surprised to find that pulled off here, where I am not used to seeing culinary diversity and am used to MSG found in headache-inducing quantities. There’s nothing worse than an MSG headache…except one knowing you just ate 5,000 Niknaks.
Friday night was not too crowded and the venue wasn’t too large, so we could always find our group of friends, unlike any other festival I have ever been to. Even NJ’s Cranberry Festival is more hectic than that. After the performers, some local DJ’s played and everyone danced in the indoor area till they were too tired to dance anymore. It was cold, but most of our small tents had 3 people squished inside and lots of thermal sleeping bags so it was hardly a concern. The next morning was my 23rd birthday. The weather was great, in the 70’s, ideal for relaxing outside on the ground and listening to bands whilst watching dancers and performers on stilts (The Giant Puppets of Mozambique). Some volunteers made (gluten free!) cupcakes for those of us with May birthdays. At the end of the day, with the sun setting, the Mbabane mountains in the distance and pineapple fields and sugar cane in the foreground, cool music playing and tons of great food on our plates, we couldn’t help but feel incredibly lucky to have gotten placed in Swaziland, as much as we sometimes complain.
Saturday night was incredibly crowded and most of us were tired from the previous day, but some great performers were on that night such as Bholoja and Mi casa, who I just read in GQ opened up for Drake on his last tour. Basically, everyone got their party pants on under the stars. A handful of people hung out Sunday, which was by far the most chilled-out and low-key day of Bushfire. Jeremy Loops, a one-man act with computers, instruments and a harmonica made for probably the best performance of the weekend. One of the volunteers even got on stage and played with him for an hour or two. We watched some local hip-hop artists rap and dancers shake it the way I wish I could. Later on, the bulk of people moved to the restaurant area, Malendela’s, where the owner of the establishment, a drumming troupe, and spectators had started an impromptu drum circle. I had never seen one before, but I felt drawn to it magnetically. We were “vibing” (while I use that word a lot, it really was meant to describe drum circles). I did feel a little like Robin in the How I Met Your Mother where she starts dating Enrique Inglesias, but still, it was great, just a bunch of strangers drumming away on bongos and getting into different rhythms.  In my head I was laughing to myself because I could imagine my brothers making fun of me for this flower-child episode, “where are the dreadlocks?” All I have to say is, two by two by two by two by yeah!
Robin and Gael, "it is pronounced Guy-el"

Bushfire was easily the coolest, best experience I have had so far in Swaziland. There is something for everyone, of all ages and walks of life. I highly recommend it to anyone in neighboring countries. You could dance the night away, hang out among the shops and eat great food, and/or have gluten-free cupcakes for dinner and marvel at how awesome your surroundings are. I wish I got to catch more artists and eat more food. Mainly, it was a great way to commemorate a transitional period where Group 8 begins to COS (close their service) and Group 10 comes in. Kamnandzi kakhulu eSwatini!
Random fact of the week: Apparently we may be on the verge of a zombie apocalypse (thanks to information derived from my main correspondent Katie Deal in Philly). Anddddd, my shortwave radio broke, basically the only thing I had on my side survival-wise. Hopefully, Hunger Games comes to our theater soon so I can brush up on some sick survival tactics from Katniss Everdeen. Also, I recommend this article about why Hunger Games is the antithesis to Twilight.

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