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Shilela combines the heart of a lioness with the gentleness of a star-studded sky. We met in an online class, where she kept our gaze on all that was uncomfortable. Poked around in it, until she was satisfied that nothing had been unturned. And then that smile took over her face.

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SHILELA BOPAPE


artist, teacher
Cape Town, South Africa


 

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un-being

I was invited to RISE, out of the blue to, participate in a flagship program between the Solidarity Fund, and AfrikaBurn, as one of 40 facilitators. The five day event ran from Friday, to the next Tuesday; 5 days of radical change.

 

“AfrikaBurn supports a participant-created movement, experiments in inclusive community building, decommodification, creativity, self-reliance, and radical self-expression. It is a chance to invent the world anew” (Afrikaburn, 2021). 

 

All those words. Non-profit. Don’t bring money, it’s based on ‘gifting’. What did all that actually mean? What if I just went the way I am: black, queer, unsure? And, I did. I was terrified, curious, excited and willing to take the experience simply as it came. Tickets and meals were sponsored for me. It was my very first time camping and being off grid as an adult. We hiked together, walking and being told stories of the land, its indigenous people and how it seemed ruined by settler colonialism.

 

I find I am mourning the pain I have been through, either at my own behest, other people, or the world itself. I mourn my ancestors’ dreams and the realities of what they could have been. I mourn for the lost opportunities for life. And I also follow that deep knowing, that there is so much life that awaits. 

Before I went to the Burn, I had a recurring thought: “I am living wrong. I need to change something”. Little did I know, a whole lot more than ‘something’, would change.  The experience was so far out of my comfort zone and quite unimaginable. It seemed to invite the most unexpected collective healing and thorough self-exploration whilst being completely vulnerable and held by others. 

After experiencing ‘there’ – there as not a place or the Karoo, there as the ultimate state of being that my soul has been yearning for. To say right and wrong is just perpetuating the problematic binaric ways of seeing that I care little to preserve. However, ‘there’ felt so right. The immense connection with the souls of the 45 sisters I made, the community we built in four days, the utmost immersion and oneness with nature. As vast as the Karoo was, and as it barren as it seemed, it was a place bursting at the seams with life and energy and willingness to have us inhabit it, learn from it, love it, connect with the ancestors and spirits of the countless lives which have passed through – paying close enough attention to them and saying:

“I am here. Land. Spirit. I am here and I see you. Thank you for letting me experience your beauty. Thank you for teaching me what love and compassion it. Those who settled here, colonised you and destroyed your ecosystems for years to come; they may not be here to apologise or take back their actions, but we are here to say. We see you. We honour you. We thank you. And we awe at your majesty and vastness and resilience.” 

 

“still landing. mostly feeling.

 

still landing; but also held - most importantly in my spirit, and by those that guide and walk with me.

 

so grateful for the femme beings I experienced and,

so grateful for the space for allowing all of me to be.

 

honoured to have shed, lived, loved, cried, laughed, learned and shared with them all 

 

to experience community, love, compassion, humanity, peace, freedom, honesty, and vulnerability…

to lose your sense of time for days because you have managed to separate yourself from the noise and connect to yourself through connecting with nature, self and spirit? priceless. addictive. never tried crack but I’m sure it’s better.

 

(and being able to get absolutely rickety rickety wreckedt, son, in the desert w/o any fear of being violated in any way was - liberating)

 

to God, to the land of Tankwa, the ancestors, and the spirits of all the lives who’ve passed through throughout time - thank you for allowing us to radically be, for holding us, and for letting us honor you in the ways you have always deserved.

 

aye, peeps, by honoring the land, you will honor yourself and that which matters.

 

may the love that naturally flows through the earth flow through your hearts and lives.  and may we be vessels for good in times of unbearable pain.”

For a description of all aspects of the programme: 

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