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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Vacation: Bushfire

After 51 weeks in Lesotho, I finally took my first vacation. It was actually only a long weekend trip. I
traveled with twenty-one other volunteers to Swaziland for Bushfire, a three-day music festival.

The travel was pretty uneventful. Another volunteer and I had arranged a private sprinter to take us from Lesotho through South Africa to Swaziland. We listened to poor intel, however, and therefore were operating with the misguided understanding that the trip would take us eleven hours. In reality, it was only a seven hour drive, which we learned at about 10:00 PM while at a gas station in South Africa. This was the same moment we learned that the border crossing from South Africa to Swaziland was four hours away and closed at midnight.

Thus, we spent five extra hours at the border gate waiting for it to reopen at 7. Despite this, people were in pretty good spirits and mostly relaxed when we reached the Bushfire campgrounds.

The festival itself was incredibly fun and relaxing. Since we arrived early Friday morning and events did not start until later in the day, we had time to take showers, nap, and relax before things got started.

I was unprepared for exactly how free and relaxed I felt at Bushfire. Excluding “Consolidation Vacation,” this was my first time out of Lesotho since joining Peace Corps. I have become so accustomed to adapting to the Basotho cultural norms, that I did not even realize I was still doing so. And yet, once in Swaziland, at an event known for drawing a diverse crowd, I found myself relishing a freedom I had not realized I was missing. Having experienced this, I now understand why we were told in Pre-Service Training that days in country are work days even if we are not actively working on a given day.

Bushfire included a really diverse variety of performers from the Unites States, Europe, and Africa covering most musical genres. I got to enjoy Nomsa M, 123, Haja Madagascar and the Groovy People, Shortstraw, Tonik, Stelth Ulvang, Sweet Sweet Moon, Sweet Honey in the Rock Freshlyground, Les Nubians, Joana Serrat, The Soil, The Parlotones, Continental Drift, Amandla Freedom Ensemble, Outcry, and a bit of Ghetto Villah.

Of these, my favorite moments were definitely:
Hanging with Mackenzie-Fellow PCV Mackenzie and I had planned months ago, before the Lesotho PCV group swelled to huge numbers, that we would do Bushfire together. While we occasionally hung out with other PCVs that were there, we mostly did our own thing. We had splurged for a pre-erected tent in the woods, which set us apart to begin with. Then we wandered in and out together. We relaxed and chatted in our tent one afternoon while listening to the music from the mainstage. She is a pretty incredible human in general and it was wonderful spending so much time together doing our thing at Bushfire.

Joana Serrat-a folk musician from Spain who says her musical roots come from American artists like Bob Dylan. I liked her music so much that I had to buy her album to enjoy in my hut. I highly recommend checking her out.

Breakfast with Tonik-perhaps the most unusual show I went to was Tonik, who I enjoyed both Saturday and Sunday morning. They are a duo that claim to perform “music without sound.” This seemed impossible until I popped into the art exhibit barn they were playing in on Saturday morning. Around them was a circle of people looking entranced with nice earphones on. The Barn itself was filled with artwork and occasional light percussion sounds but was otherwise silent. I wandered around for a bit until someone leaving gave me their earphones. As I donned them, I was stunned by the beautiful and rich sound I heard. The next day, I had to visit again because I enjoyed their music so much.

Being a VIP-a handful of us had splurged on the “Golden Lounge” tickets. The Bushfire website had implied that the more expensive tickets came with food so we were a bit disappointed to learn that was not actually the case. I felt a bit ripped off at first, but by Saturday was celebrating the extra expense. We had large seating areas in the shade with waitstaff, which allowed me to avoid both sunburn and sunscreen for the entirety of the festival. We had access to really delicious and healthy tasting meals from a reasonably priced restaurant instead of the corndogs and other festival booths. And maybe most importantly, we had access to warm drinks so I could enjoy hot coffee in the morning and hot chocolate when the nights turned cold!

Ghetto Villah-most people know that rap is not my favorite music genre, however, Mackenzie and I had stayed in the small venue amphitheater after the Joana Serrat show talking to her drummer. We stayed long enough that we were accidentally there for the start of the rap duo's first few songs. Midway through their second song, the vocalist came off the stage and made very deliberate eye contact with me for an oddly long time while singing. Mackenzie and I laughed about it. A few minutes later, he slowly swaggered over to me while continuing to rap. He then put the microphone in my face for the chorus and after I chimed in (I am thankfully learning to quickly pick up songs I do not understand from going to church in Lesotho) gave me a long hug. Mackenzie and I left to see another performer on the main stage shortly after, but I am certain that had we stayed, I would be announcing my new relationship with a Swazi rap star!

Stelth Ulvang-Despite the unique name, this was one of the American performers. He was the first main stage performer on Sunday morning and he blew me away with his ability to energize a tired crowd. His stage presence and charisma were amazing. I can see why he earned the stop to tour with the Lumineers and strongly recommend folks check him out.

Our return trip to Lesotho was shorter than the trip to Swaziland. Maybe because we were tired, it seemed like we all slept better during the trip back. Thus the only notable moment was when we made a pit stop at a 24-hour McDonalds only to learn that the interior was closed. As we were traveling in a group of 23 on a mini-bus, we were not too keen on going through the drive-thru. This changed into great enthusiasm when the staff told us we could walk through the drive-thru, something most of us had attempted and failed in America. Thus, twenty of us cheerily ignored the cold and walked our way through the the drive-thru.

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