Pyre provides. And we twirl some hula hoop.

Play it out and then read the following.

It’s the same pyre that tries to burn down the man, the MAN representing the machine behind the neoliberal market system, the MAN as the elite, the MAN as the those with evil power, the MAN as the First World ego, the MAN as the sexist asshole, the MAN. At the Burning Man, the pyre provides. It’s the pyre connecting all those wonderful people and that makes things happening. You through a wish towards the universe, and you get what you deserve.

Me, for example, got myself a hula hoop. Never in my life had I twirled a hula hoop like this before. This blond sweet girl taught me a quick lesson and I was in the hula-hoop-mode for the rest of the eternal afternoon at the Burning Man Decompression party in San Francisco – one of the epic parties of the year, as they say. Whenever we stopped to catch up with another friend, I rolled my golden hula wheel around my waist, keeping it tuned with the beat of the band of seven drums.

As I entered the festival, impressed by all the colorful crowd who had certainly taken some time to dress up, acting out a fantasy, a joke or their deepest desire, I immediately remembered a song by Mr Bungle from his album California – Vanity Fair. And it is hella vanity fair here, as we all live it out, embody and FEEL that we’re somewhat awesome today.

hula2 burning man decompression my white rabbit

Pics by Jocelyne Hershey

Of course there could be many ways to be critical of the whole commitment around the Burning Man – “it’s just a party scene, it’s all about vanity, drugs and alcohol”, right, that’s what some say. People decide to be part of that scene for various reasons, yet all of these reasons are just reflections of what they had heard or thought about it previously. But once you’re in it – the essence of it all starts suddenly emerging. You might not even get it immediately, but there will be moments when you do, and it will change your life as all the intensive, beautiful, fun, heartily experiences might do.

Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin worked on the concept of carnival describing it as the sphere where our fears and desires, social tension and inner imagination come together and manifest through the carnevalesque. Carnivals have been held around the world for centuries in very different cultures, and no-one doubts their ‘reason’.  Burning Man – the annual artistic event and temporary community held  in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada  is a rather contemporary manifestation of such drive, originating from the hippie movement and artistic circles. No spectators, only participants.

Then the hipsters took over, then the yuppies took over. Well, better that than nothing. Let the yuppie burn his Man.  You already might be a member. And we twirl some hula hoop some more.

Lonely foreign women in the ferry, dress code: “not-too-vulgar”


Just as much I love traveling by train in Russia, I love ferries in Indonesia. Crossing the ocean on the Christmas Eve from Jawa to Sulawesi, there was something that rudely came between me and the big blue nothingness: men and their smartphone cameras. 

Leaving Surabaya

It was a Christmas eve, and we were on a ferry riding across the big blue ocean. We were on the way to another cultural realm within the colorful mosaic of Indonesia. We had left Jawa behind, with all it’s big cities, race for the consumption, traffic jams, Islam-driven “modernity”, Hindu-bristled cultural past, and in around 36h we were about to face the life in Sulawesi, this strange-shaped island, known for great diving and huge buffalo sacrifices  of the Toraja folks.

Me and my occasional travel-mate Minna Hint were surrounded by the blue nothingness, …and tens of local men, curious about the foreign female independent travelers. All those days in Surabaya I had been waiting for the ferry to depart, similarly as exactly one year ago, when me and Berit wanted to take off for Kalimantan.

Of course it would have been much easier to just take a plane (just as me and Berit had to last year, after four days of waiting for the ferry that never departed), but crossing some Indian ocean had just been one of my dreams, and I love traveling slow, especially when I had a lot to catch up with in my mind, after being thrilled by the intensive fieldworks in Jawa.

This time I was promised on Monday, that the ferry departs on Wendesday. Which never happened. When I called them again Thursday, they said there’s no ferry before the new year. I just couldn’t believe it!

Are you absolutely sure?

Yes.

Well. When I called back just 15 minutes later, there was a completely new picture: there’s a ferry tomorrow morning. What the hell!

I had nothing else than naive hope, that this information has some validity, and a great desire to reach Sulawesi by Christmas, where I was intending to study gender system of the Bugis culture, meet some bissu (mostly transgender priest/ess) and hang out with the waria in Makassar.

Ready to step into a battle, we went to the harbor Friday morning. And… luckily there was a ferry! I only had to stand out for the cabin, which has electricity access and does not smell too bad. We had couple of rats sneaking around the cabin, crazy for the smell of our fruit and  the water melon we got as a gift from the chef boy.

It came as a mild surprise, that we were warned at the reception desk not to dress too open, too vulgar. So, how is it, the “not-too-vulgar”, I was wondering. They conformed that my T-shirt and skirt would be all right. Only later on I heard that while I was taking a nap in my cabin, there were men snapping photos through the tiny cabin window. For that they even had to draw away the curtain! A sleeping bule (white person)-  isn’t it a wonder?!

But this is the harsh reality we, the independent female travelers have to face. And even though I really disgust it (constant feeling of ‘being a foreign women’, and all that follows, is actually what I like the least while living and traveling in Indonesia), I’m also completely aware of the social situation that has produced this behavior. It’s the result of the segregation of genders in the society, the sexual symbolism around Western women carried and magnified by the media, it’s the patriarchy that limits the female sexuality under strictly defined ‘proper femininity’ and motherhood. And even though I possibly can’t have anything against the gift water melon, it sucks.

Leaving yesterday