Roxane Jessi: Once Upon a Time in the Dust
She traveled to six continents for Burning Man Regional Events, to get to the heart of an ever-evolving global culture that creates community in a disconnected world. She wrote a book about it, and we published it!
It chronicles her odyssey to
- Afrikaburn (South Africa)
- Black Rock City (USA)
- Blazing Swan (Australia)
- Burning Japan (Japan)
- Fuego Austral (Argentina)
- Midburn (Israel)
- Nowhere (Spain)
Hear Roxane’s impressions of each wildly unique event in this audio travelog. She talks with Stuart about how she would work, Burn, write, repeat. They explore how Burning Man culture rubs up against other cultures as it spreads.
As an aid worker, Roxane sees first hand how vibrant Burner networks create positive impact. Burning Man events transform people, AND some people become Burners before ever attending a Burning Man event, by resonating with the 10 Principles and crossing paths with Burners up to new good.
Once Upon a Time in the Dust: Burning Man Around the World (the Book)
Burning Man Journal: Books About Burning Man: Roxane Jessi
Regionals Reawaken: A Blog Series by Roxane Jessi
Roxane Jessi is an aid worker and roving Burner who has participated in more than a dozen different Burns around the globe. Burning Man Publishing published her book of stories from exploring Regional Burns.
ROXANE: To have a movement which isn’t just in Black Rock City, but extends all around the world, that’s what the Regional Network for me, does beautifully. It brings people in, transforms them by letting them feel part of a community that’s creative, by making them feel like they matter, and whatever they want to build, to gift, to bring, matters to other people. Then these people who have been in this pressure cooker for a different model of society, then go back out, and they become agents of change for that community.
STUART: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Burning Man LIVE. I am Stuart Mangrum. And today my guest is somebody I’ve wanted to have in the studio for quite a while. She is the author of our latest book from Burning Man Publishing, titled “Once Upon A Time In the Dust,” joining us from Barcelona, Spain, Roxane Jessi. Hi, Roxane.
ROXANE: Hi Stuart. How are you doing?
STUART: Great. Yeah. This is a long overdue conversation because I’m super excited about this book, but the book is sort of long overdue too. It’s taken us a while to put this one together. Let’s just start talking about it.
First of all, let’s start at the top. Why would you do this? You went around the world, you went to seven different Burning Man events on different continents. I just want you to tell me about the moment when that seemed like a good idea when you kind of sat up and said, “I’m going to spend the next year of my life going to Burning Man regional events around the world.” How did that happen?
ROXANE: I think it was a few years in the making for the idea to come up. I first went to Burning Man back in 2015; the Burning Man in Black Rock City. The first day that I was there, I was actually a bit underwhelmed. I was stuck in this crazy dust storm, which seemed to be relentless and going on for the whole day.
And it wasn’t until my first sunrise at Burning Man that I truly understood the magic of the place, when the sun came up and I saw all of the art pieces in the light of day, and I just realized what an incredible world of creativity I had before my eyes.
And then after that experience at Burning Man, I then happened to be in Africa for work, I work as an aid worker. And I heard that this burn event, Afrikaburn, was happening in Cape Town. And like many people, I didn’t even know that there was Burning Man events outside of Black Rock City. So I jumped at the occasion to go, and three days later I hit the road to the Tankwa Desert, and ended up at AfrikaBurn with a suitcase full of suits, because I was on a work trip.
When I got there, I started having the same sort of interactions with people at AfrikaBurn as I had had at Burning Man in Black Rock City. And it was at that moment that I realized that, well, you didn’t need to go all the way to the Nevada desert to feel the strength and power of this community. You could be anywhere in the world. And then the idea came that I wanted to experience all of the different regional events that happened around the world in very different contexts.
STUART: Well, I think you have now joined a pretty small club of world travelers. It’s kind of ironic that so many of us, even who work for the Burning Man Organization, don’t get to get out into the field, so to speak, that much. Part of that is structural. It’s because we’re not a franchise organization. We don’t host these events. We give people the ability to do it if they base them on the 10 Principles.
So, I’m a little jealous. But the only person I know who’s been to more events than you, we just lost him a few years ago; there’s a fabulous fellow in Chicago named Hey You Kelly, who spent a lot of his time, tripping around the world and going to as many regional events as he could. I’ll ask you the same question I asked him:
How do you pack for these things? I know that the suitcase full of suits was just an anomaly, but how do you get on an airplane and take everything you’re going to need to survive, to gift, to costume, to whatever? God, it takes me weeks just to pack my truck to get out there. How do you do that?
ROXANE: Well, I can’t imagine the lovely outfits that you must have in your suitcase…
STUART: I do, oddly enough, wear suits sometimes, but just for ironic value.
ROXANE: Great. Yeah. How do I pack for these events?
I’m quite small and usually the burns are in hot places. So really the night before I go to a Burn, I actually lay out all of the outfits that I’m gonna wear. I really sort of roll them up and make sure that I don’t take more than hand luggage, really. Traveling isn’t new to me. I’ve spent pretty much my whole career traveling to different countries. I’ve traveled to about 60 countries, between work and play, so I’m used to traveling light. I think the more you travel, the more minimal you get in your packing. Lugging around a huge suitcase all around the world is a bit of a nightmare.
And in terms of gifts that you mention, I’m a big believer in giving experiences to people, rather than things. I don’t take huge truckloads of trinkets, usually, to the burns that I attend.
STUART: They just turn into MOOP anyway.
ROXANE: Exactly. So maybe I’ll take five special things that I want to give to special people.
STUART: With your career, if you’ve been to 60 countries working as an aid worker, you probably have a lot of frequent flier miles?
STUART: No. So you paid for all this out of pocket? My God.
ROXANE: Yeah, funnily enough, I always tend to fly with different airlines, and getting those frequent flier miles, you need to fly with the same airlines over and over again. And if you’re flying to different destinations, well you are really looking for the best value at that time. Right. but no, I, you know, unfortunately I don’t have a huge trust fund, to pull from for travel. so for this journey and all journeys that I’ve done, I’ve had to work remotely. I tend to travel, work, play, write, all at the same time.
STUART: That’s amazing. Yeah. Because otherwise. You know, I tell people all the time that the most expensive part of going to Burning Man is really the opportunity cost of not working for a week or two weeks. Right. So you managed to work while you were there. Okay. That’s really impressive.
ROXANE: Not at the events themselves, but around the events. I’m a contract worker, so I’m lucky enough that I can take contracts, and then maybe take a week off and then roll into the next contract. So I have some flexibility working as a consultant. But I have to say that, that’s only been in the last five years of my life, actually around the time that I started this journey, that I did start working as a contractor and a consultant. I did my fair share of time in an office environment that has allowed me to have the contacts to then be able to work as a consultant. I think I’d clocked well over a decade of work before I decided to go on this rather crazy journey.
STUART: I think ‘odyssey’ is a good word for it. And thanks for dispelling the trust fund rumor, because you have a rather posh accent. People might jump to the conclusion that perhaps you’re a secret baroness or something like that.
Let’s talk about the events. This is where I’m super interested. I mean, my focus whenever I hear these accounts is how Burning Man culture – our little weird emergent culture, and values – how that rubs up against other cultures as Burning Man spreads around the world. And one thing I love about your book is that you dive into that. You put on a cultural anthropologist’s hat a lot, and look at that.
So, let’s kind of go through the events, if that’s okay with you.
Let’s start with Fuego Austral, which is, as far as I know, the only event in the Americas that’s not in the US or Canada, right? Down in Argentina. What was that experience like?
ROXANE: It’s true. It is the only event that’s in the Americas. They did do an event in Brazil called Tropical Burn, if I’m not mistaken, but that only took place during one year. Aside from that, yes, Fuego Austral is the only other regional on that continent.
It’s based about four hours outside of Buenos Aires, and it’s in the pampa, and It’s completely different to Black Rock City. It’s 500 people in a field. And the art is very small. And what’s cool about that is that you really get to meet the artists that are behind all of the art pieces. It’s almost like just a single camp would be in terms of size at Burning Man.
STUART: Yes, it is. It is village-sized. In Argentina, I’ve never been, but you have your cowboy culture, you have your indigenous cultures, and did you drink a lot of matte when you were there?
ROXANE: Yeah, and actually one of the art pieces at Fuego Astral was a giant matte pot, and it was, kind of tilted to the side, and at sunset it just caught the light, so the light would come through the matte pot. It was a really beautiful art piece.
Obviously matte is quite integral to Argentina culture. There’s a whole ritual around it. And the ritual is very much focused at creating community around the act of sharing the matte. So every day you would wake up in your tent in the pampa, and you would come out and people would be shouting, “Matte! Matte!”
And at all Burns, I always turn off my phone so there’s no distractions. I think it’s so important. Otherwise why do we go to these things, right, if not to disconnect completely.
And then you would sit around in a circle. You would sit cross-legged and you would have these lovely conversations with people that you just met. It was a very special part of the day, starting the day that way; very different to the way that I would start the day in London, jumping on the tube and not talking to a soul.
STUART: Well, having a hot, tasty cup of stimulants, I mean, that goes back to my origins in early Black Rock City. Café was one of the first things that we installed. We were all city kids. We couldn’t go anywhere without coffee in the morning.
Could you read us a little bit about that chapter, Roxane?
ROXANE: We sit around camp and our neighbors come to greet us. Such a simple gesture, but one that we are desperately hungry for in our modern world: to connect with those around us. There is no set plan, just conversations and sharing a vision of the world.
We are free souls, free spirits. Playful and open to the experience. This is what makes a burn unique, but is replicated across Burning Man’s Regional Network. It is the people who set the tone, who make the magic, not a structure set up to entertain. In this simple field, we create the experience together.
We passed the matte around, disconnected from the stresses and strains. No phones, no internet, no mad rush to take us away from this shared moment. We remember who we are.
STUART: That’s lovely. Okay, now, staying in the Southern hemisphere, but zipping across: Let’s talk about AfrikaBurn, probably top of my list of official Regional events that I want to attend one of these days. What’s AfrikaBurn like? From a cultural point of view, it must be crazy to see Burning Man culture rubbing up against what’s happening in South Africa.
ROXANE: It is, and as I mentioned earlier, AfrikaBurn was the first Regional that I ever attended. And it was very special to me because the African continent is also where I’ve spent most of my career working. I have a very strong emotional connection to the continent. AfrikaBurn is very different to Black Rock City. it’s 13,000 people, so it’s a little bit bigger obviously than Fuego Astral at 500. It still feels like a city rather than a village. But the art is completely different. You have very earthy looking art, a lot of wooden art, and it’s set in this gorgeous African wilderness in the Tankwa Desert.
STUART: Tell me about the indigenous culture of that area and how that interacts with the AfrikaBurn experience.
ROXANE: The Karoo, and that Tankwa Desert, is the homeland really of the San People who are the, well, ancestors of all of us really. And one of the peculiarities of AfrikaBurn is that the effigy is built so that it has two heads, and then arms that represent doing a rain dance.
Maybe I should find the passage where that’s written and read that out.
ROXANE: Okay. I found it.
Clambering through the Binnekring, we suddenly see the central effigy rising in the distance. The Man of AfrikaBurn is called the San Clan. It is a uniquely South African symbol, taken from San culture, the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa. It stands a good 20 meters tall with one body, several heads, and dancing feet, and is based on an image from the Eastern Cape Province, where it’s found in San drawings in the sandstone caves and rock overhangs.
Legend has it that it represents the sensations of having extra limbs as a result of shamanic dancing, performed during trance dance ceremonies of healing or rainmaking. The symbol speaks to release in ritual, so entrenched in African folklore, and traditional communities the world over. The AfrikaBurn organizers sought the approval of KhoiSan elders for use of the image. And members of the Khoi Khoi and San elders participated in AfrikaBurn 2016. It is a beautiful ode to the communities of afore, that shaped this land into what it is today.
STUART: Lovely. One more question about AfrikaBurn. They’ve adopted an 11th principle of “Each one teach one.” Did you teach anything or learn anything, while you were at AfrikaBurn?
ROXANE: When I was at AfrikaBurn in 2018, I was camping with Outreach who is the BWB equivalent in AfrikaBurn. I was camping with recipients of the Outreach grants, and they were circus performers, so they did teach me a few circus tricks, which hopefully I will never be asked to repeat cuz they’re quite difficult.
STUART: Oh, oh, we know now… So once again, zipping across the globe — and in my mind I’m visualizing one of those 1950s movies where, when somebody travels to a different place, you see the dotted line go across the map and the little old Ford Tri-motor land there.
ROXANE: Yeah, absolutely.
STUART: Let’s go to Israel now and talk a little bit about Midburn.
ROXANE: So Midburn I would say was the Burn that I was probably the most apprehensive about going to because it is set in such a challenging context where the principle of Radical Inclusion seems to be a little bit, taken with a pinch of salt, let’s say. I really didn’t know what to expect.
I was also camping with a circus crew, bizarrely enough, when I arrived at Midburn.
STUART: I see a trend here.
ROXANE: There was a trend. I always say that I always wanted to run away and join the circus, so I got to do that twice during that year.
What I was blown away by was the speed at which people put camps up. So, the way that people build camps at Midburn is really phenomenal. And I think that is a bit of a testament to the fact that some Israelis have lived in kibbutz. All of them have also done military training. So they are able to come together and collaborate, and really build camps in a phenomenally efficient way. I learned a lot from that experience; the true power of actually working as one. It ended up being a very beautiful experience.
STUART: Yeah. I’ve always been curious about how the fact that everyone has done military service influences the culture. I remember in the very earliest days when I went to Burning Man, I’m a veteran and there are a few other vets who we kind of felt like we knew how to camp, and nobody else did. Sounds like there, everybody knows how to camp.
ROXANE: For sure. And it was the same during the build as it was with takedown. That whole city disappeared one morning. It was unbelievable how efficiently they worked.
STUART: What a dream.
ROXANE: The circus tent that we were staying in was huge, the camp that we had, but because everyone sort of really knew what they were doing, and they were being led in this incredibly efficient way, and no one stands on the sidelines. It all disappeared. It was unbelievable. They’re real believers of Leave No Trace because it was absolutely immaculate when we did depart.
STUART: Nice. Closer to your home in Western Europe, tell us a little bit about the Nowhere event in Spain.
ROXANE: Well, the Nowhere event in Spain, as you say, it’s my home burn because I live in Barcelona. It’s a very interesting burn.
First of all, it’s held in July in the Monegros Desert, which is probably the hottest time of the year in Spain, in one of the hottest places in Spain. So those extreme years of heat at Black Rock City, that’s what Nowhere is every year. It is phenomenally hot.
I remember once going out and falling asleep after sunrise in my tent, forgetting that two hours later I was gonna be scorched alive in this tent, which I joke about was as hot as Satan’s jockstrap!
STUART: There’s an image!
ROXANE: I feel like Nowhere really has that anarchical feel that Burning Man probably had 20 years ago. It’s completely self-policed, and there’s a very strong sex-positive liberal vibe to it as well. It’s a bit like anything goes at Nowhere.
STUART: Yeah. You mentioned it as having also some sort of a steampunk kind of a feel to the art and the construction? You got a little passage to read, right?
The Nowhere Playground has a distinct steampunk feel at night. It feels like anything goes, with a raw energy unlike the other burns I’ve attended. As I step into the fray, my gaze turns upwards to two huge circular metal cages welded together like an apocalyptic fairground attraction. It is powered by a pulley system, activated when participants enter the cages and start walking.
As the wheels spin, fire is propelled into the air in controlled explosions by four or five canons attached to its center. An indelible image is imprinted in my mind as a participant in the top cage spreads his arms victoriously and howls, illuminated by a fire spewing from the cannons. The whole crowd howls back. Fuck yeah.
STUART: So Nowhere, I’ve heard the principal organizers, at least the founders, were English rather than Spanish. As an English expat in Spain, you must have felt kind of at home.
ROXANE: Nowhere is very much a European burn. It doesn’t feel like an exclusively Spanish burn at all. In fact, I think that the Spanish might be in the minority, compared to some of the other nationalities. There’s a lot of French people. And despite what my accent might sound, I’m actually half French.
STUART: Mais Oui.
ROXANE: Yeah. There’s a lot of English people. I felt when I was there that it was a bit like a mini European Union. I say that with a pinch of salt because obviously the UK has since left the Union!
STUART: Thanks for not making me have to say that! Yeah. The way a European Union might be in an ideal world.
STUART: Does everybody get along and cooperate, or do they fight like the EU does?
ROXANE: I think everyone gets on and cooperates, but as I say it does have quite a wild feel. It doesn’t feel like a particularly very organized European Union — unlike Midburn that is quite structured and organized in it’s set up. But there’s an appeal to that as well. There’s an appeal to both.
STUART: Is there a law enforcement presence at Nowhere?
ROXANE: No. No, no, no.
STUART: There is a Midburn though, right?
ROXANE: There is at Midburn. And actually at Midburn you can’t be naked. It’s illegal to be walking around the playa naked. Which is crazy because it is just so against Radical Self-Expression. We call them the Nipple Police. They go around the Midburn playa just looking for a rogue nipple. It is quite strange, but it doesn’t mean that Midburn isn’t wild in its own way.
STUART: I can only imagine.
Okay. Once again, jumping in our imaginary animated airplane and going across the dotted line, once again around the globe, to Burning Japan. Now this event sounds like it’s completely different from everything else and very much reflective of the local Japanese culture. Is that true?
ROXANE: Absolutely. Burning Japan is maybe the most alien burn that I’ve been to. And as you know, I’ve been to quite a lot of burns. First of all, it’s tiny, it’s about 300 people, or at least it was the year that I went. It’s nestled up in the mountains outside of Tokyo, so it takes about four five hours to drive there.
And on arrival, You don’t get a hug. You don’t get that customary hug that you might get at Black Rock City or other events from the Greeters.
STUART: Do you get a bow?
ROXANE: You do get a smile, but I think that touching is just very alien in Japanese society. It may even be disrespectful to hug someone that’s a stranger that you don’t know.
STUART: It is rather intimate.
ROXANE: I guess it’s quite intimate. There’s a story that I heard that school children at the age of six, their parents stop hugging them, so that they realize that they have to get on, and be strong, and fight in this individualistic type of world. It must be quite strange for a child who’s lived up until the age of six and then from one day to the next doesn’t get hugged anymore.
So anyway, back to Burning Japan. No Greeters, and you get given an armband to signal whether you want to be photographed or not. Because as a Japanese person, if your picture ends up on social media and is seen by your boss, or someone within the hierarchy of society who shouldn’t be seeing that, it could cause you a lot of trouble. The burn is still seen as quite an alternative movement, and there’s not really much space for that in Japanese society and culture.
That said, it’s quite incredible because it’s a three day event and during that time you really see how people start opening up. People are quite reserved at the beginning. And little by little, you start to see how that initial apprehension kind of fades away and people get more comfortable talking with strangers. People get more comfortable with giving and accepting gifts. In our western societies we are more comfortable with speaking to strangers, giving each other hugs, and being generally more connected.
STUART: Well, some of us, anyway. I know you got a little passage you might wanna read us about Burning Japan.
ROXANE: Yeah, absolutely.
Unlike the larger desert affairs, here there is no dust and little physical hardship is faced. Still, escaping from the conformist culture and embracing burner values is no small feat. One exchange I had with a Japanese Burner following the burn seemed to sum this up particularly well.
He had set up a private area for a meditation space at the event, but after the Temple Burn, he decided to remove the walls of the space, to leave the meditation bed under the blue sky. He described how in removing the walls, his consciousness changed from himself to others. He spoke of a chemical reaction during the event that freed him from introversion. That this can happen over three days, in a culture that places limitations on the self, and avoids interactions with strangers, is a beautiful thing.
And I must add that he told me about this experience via Google translate because he couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Japanese.
STUART: Great. Okay. Blazing Swan way down in the Antipodes, the southern part of our planet. Wow. So tell us about Blazing Swan.
ROXANE: Blazing Swan was the last stop on my odyssey. It was held in April, 2019, so there was a break of six months between going to Burning Japan, and going to Blazing Swan. It’s just outside of Perth, which is one of the most isolated cities in the world. There are no towns close to it within thousands of miles.
STUART: Yeah, that’s way out on the west coast of Australia, right?
ROXANE: It’s way out in the west. There’s a big mining community. But that comes with challenges of its own because it means that the families that live in Perth are often broken up because the men have to go out and work in the mines. And that leads to different social challenges for that culture. Blazing Swan is very much akin to what is called the Doof culture; these parties that happen in the Australian Outback.
STUART: Big drink-ups with sound systems.
ROXANE: Yeah, I mean, I never really like to highlight the more party aspects of the burn because I tend to connect more with the community. But I have to say that Blazing Swan does have a big party element to it — which is also fine because it’s about people letting loose.
And so arriving at Blazing Swan there’s a whole alley, which is called Sound Alley, which has a lot of different crazy, sound camps. One of them was in the shape of a Star Wars spaceship, which was incredible. So, you know, there’s a lot of work that goes into creating these sound camps.
Another one is called, “God Said No.” It was the original sound camp in Blazing Swan, and it was called God Said No because originally when the Blazing Swan organizers wanted to set up the event on that land, they’d come to an agreement with one of the farmers there. And at the last minute she said, “No, actually you can’t rent out this space.” They said, “Well, why not?” and she said, “Because God said no.” And so they then had to find another space to hold the event.
STUART: Okay. I’m putting that on my list of possible Burning Man event themes for Black Rock City.
ROXANE: “God Said No.” It’s quite a good one.
STUART: Yeah. Speaking of Black Rock City, let’s go back there. How did you get to Burning Man in Black Rock City in the very first place? Way back before this extended adventure?
ROXANE: It was back in 2015 and I’d had a friend who had gone a couple of years before. And as so many people that come back from Burning Man say, she said, “Well, you can’t explain it. You just have to come out and experience it for yourself,” you know? So I was like, “Okay, well that sounds intriguing.”
STUART: Good advice.
ROXANE: But I didn’t think about it for another couple of years. And then I had a group of friends who were going, and the opportunity lent itself to go. I didn’t research the event before going; I quite like surprises, so I wanted to keep it a complete surprise.
I came from London obviously, so it was a bit of a marathon journey to go to Burning Man. And I arrived jet lagged, deaf in one ear, cuz my eardrum had exploded on the plane, and quite disorientated.
My first day I was just stuck in a never-ending dust storm. I don’t know if there’s any listeners who’ve been to the Burn on that year in 2015, but there were, it was just crazy dust storms.
STUART: It was a little dusty.
ROXANE: It was quite dusty. Yeah. I remember all day, every day it was just a complete whiteout. And then at night it was freezing. It was around minus one degree Celsius. But I didn’t have any reference points, so I thought, “Oh, this is just normal. This is just what Burning Man is like.” So the first day that I was there, you know, I was quite underwhelmed as I think I said.
STUART: And then you had a sunrise experience and decided to come back.
ROXANE: And then I had a sunrise experience and the rest is history. Now I’ve been to 18 different Burning Man events.
STUART: Let’s stay in the Gerlach Regional, as people out in the network like to call it, in Black Rock City. You’ve been, three times now?
ROXANE: I’ve been six times, I think.
STUART: Well, that’s enough to see changes. So what are your observations of what’s changed over that time? Where are we headed?
ROXANE: Who knows where we are headed? The first time that I went, already, Instagram wasn’t such a thing as it is now. And obviously we hadn’t gone through this pretty significant global pandemic. It was quite a different time.
I feel like these days, that whole glamor, and the glossy images that we see on Instagram has kind of taken over the conversation. It’s almost like it’s been appropriated by the mainstream, which is ironic because Burning Man was a counterculture event. I’m not sure that it’s going in the particularly right way. I think that there are some things that need to change, to take the conversation away from it being a big party in the desert, where people dress up and look good in pictures, to going back to the Principles and going back to the basics. In many ways, the Regional Network allows us to change that conversation.
STUART: Well, a lot of people would argue it is just a big party in the desert. What do you say, why does any of this matter? Or is Burning Man culture actually anything beyond that to you and why is it important?
ROXANE: It’s absolutely beyond that to me. That’s the reason why I wrote this book. When I first went to Burning Man, I was just very jaded by the society that we live in. You know, our modern societies are so disconnected. We’re on our phones all day. There’s very little sense of community and togetherness. There’s a lot of consumerism.
STUART: It’s a rather big question. Why does this matter?
ROXANE: I’ve spent five years dedicating my life to figuring out why Burning Man matters as an event. As I said, you know, we live in these societies that are so stale, and so commodified, it’s so hard to find connection in these modern times. So to have a movement which isn’t just in Black Rock City, but extends all around the world, that reminds us that it’s okay to be creative, that it’s okay to be in a community, that it’s okay to talk to strangers, is just such a beautiful thing.
My actual work is working in the development aid industry. I’ve worked in that industry for 15 years. I’ve seen how we are really trying to put capitalist models in place, in contexts that are just not set up for them, and we don’t take the time to localize solutions. We don’t take the time to involve people who are part of those communities, and make them feel like they have a voice and they can be agents for change.
That’s what the Regional Network for me, does beautifully. It’s a network that expands around the world, brings people in, transforms them by letting them feel part of a community that’s creative, by making them feel like they matter, and whatever they want to build, whatever they want to gift, whatever they want to bring, matters to other people. Then these people who have been in this pressure cooker for a different model of society, then go back out, and they become agents of change for that community.
And because the Regional Network is now expanding to places like Namibia, to places like Morocco, potentially Colombia, where there’s so much need for different social models and social initiatives that go out and make positive change. The ramifications of a movement like this can be a step towards making the world a better place.
ROXANE: The importance of the Regional Network also is that it localizes the experience and reduces the footprint and makes the Burn more accessible. So many people I speak to, I say to them, “Oh, I’m going to a Burn in Africa.” And they’re like, “What? But there’s only Black Rock City.” It’s crazy how few people actually know about the Regional Network.
STUART: Including some 20+ year Burners who just go to Black Rock City every year; including people in AfrikaBurn. I’ve heard there’s a whole generation that’s come up going to AfrikaBurn, and they don’t even know there’s anything in the United States, so…
What’s next, Roxane? You have 93 or more official Regional events still to cover. Do you have any plans to get any more of them?
ROXANE: Well, I’m an addict, I’ve got to admit. So I’m going to AfrikaBurn. And I can’t wait to go back.
But what I am starting to also get more interested in is the community of Burners beyond the events, because being a Burner doesn’t stop when you leave the gates of an event. So I’m starting to get really fascinated with what Burners Without Borders is doing all around the world. Burners Without Borders, for those who don’t know, is the arm of Burning Man that implements social change initiatives and community development projects.
I am really wanting to almost shift my focus away from looking at how people are transformed by going to these events, which was very much the topic of book one, to what they do once they go out and have internalized that change, and become agents for social change through BWB initiatives, or through Burner-affiliated projects.
My hope is to see that, very much different than the aid work that I do where donors come in, you know, we implement projects for a couple of years and then pull out. If you have a vibrant Burner network around the world that understands the kind of positive impact they can have on their countries and their communities, that they’re invested in those communities because they’re from those communities, then you can really see change happen and impact happen.
So that’s my hope for the future. Being a Burner is being redefined. You don’t need to go to these events; you can be brought in through so many different avenues. You know, I met a, what I call a Burner who’s never been to an event, in Colombia who wanted to join a BWB project because she really resonated with the Principles. If we multiply that around the world, it could be a source for good.
STUART: The book is “Once Upon a Time in the Dust: Burning Man Around the World,” on Burning Man Publishing and available in all the usual places where you might go to buy a book. Its author and my guest today has been Roxane Jessi. Thanks Roxane for joining us today.
ROXANE: Thank you very much, Stuart, it was such an honor, and thank you for making my dream of publishing a book come true.
Burning Man LIVE is, was, and shall be a production of the Philosophical Center of Burning Man Project. That is, in case you don’t know, the nonprofit that’s responsible for the celebrated annual Burning Man event in Black Rock City, Nevada, as well as being a catalyst for arts and culture around the world and year round.
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