Poet and writer Tamam Kahn had the wit to contrast these two aerial photos of temporary cities — the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in northern Jordan, and the Burning Man encampment in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. The desperate on the left, the Dionysiac on the right (below).
She also had the fortitude to use the Zaatari one as her screen saver for the past two weeks.
Zaatari, she writes on her blog, is “miles of boxed lives,” with each box a caravan, a prefab shelter, or by now simply a tent. By last month, the population of the two-year-old camp was 115,000, including 60,000 children. It is now Jordan’s fourth-largest ‘city.’
Tamam quotes Angelina Jolie on the Syrian refugee crisis, speaking in June: “1.6 million people have poured out of Syria with nothing but the clothes on their back, and more than half of them are children… Every 14 seconds someone crosses Syria’s border and becomes a refugee.”
And she ends her post with this: “I’m struck with the surreal thought that this is the time Burning Man begins to come together as a desert city — half the size of Zaatari — a celebration of life, way out in the Nevada desert. Two cities: one a sudden city of survival, the other — an enormous party of freedom and excess. Hold them both! I tell myself. May all beings have what they need. May all have shelter, food and clean water, be well, safe, and happy.”
I wonder what the Rainbow Family encampment would look like from the air. It is dis-assembled and the site restored afterwards. I’m curious to know what the average income for Zataari is, compared to the average income for Burning Man and the Rainbow Family. It would be fascinating to convene a panel of representatives.
Hi Lesley, Forgive my ignorance about this event. First time I heard about it. Why 50.000 people goes to middle of the dessert in hot August? Syrian are fleeing from Brutal Assad Regime to save their life’s. Obviously, Burning Man participants life’s are not in danger. They live in a best country in the world for many categories. If they are paying for this event they are not poor. How they spend their week at that camp? Is it religious gathering? Is it social event? Or they don’t have any serious problems, they are bored, just looking for adventure? Or nudity, drugs, etc. living crazy life with no moral code is provided at that camp. Sincerely
Burningman is an amazing experiment in communal living. Aside from the initial cost, there is generally no money exchanged there. I went several times, took an old RV and was part of a group camping there. One evening a bicycle rider brought our camp a hot pizza in a box, delicious and free. Our neighbor hooked up a bicycle to an ice-cream maker and gave out cold treats. The infrastructure is admirable in that a responsible number of people hold the energy for 50,000 people to celebrate and visit the art and music that is available 24/7. On one level it is a “party” but on another it is so much more. Ritual actions — like honoring the dead of the last year and writing their names on a beautiful sculptural temple for 5 days, then celebrating the “burn” as it goes back to dust. And the clean-up takes a month or more until nothing is left in that pristine desert. You bring in what you need and leave with it all. It is so colorful that everyday life — when you return— seems in black and white. It was started by the dot com-ers back in the 90’s. I went just after that. Everyone I brought there had a memorable time. The “wildness” is just a small part of the picture.
Someone just suggested that Burningman could contribute to the refugee camp — helping purchase water. I think that’s a great idea!
Fatma — There are so many ‘compare-and-contrasts’ involved here. So many ironies I don’t think I can count them all. A few:
East v. West. Wealth v. poverty. Choice v. no-choice. Freedom v. no-freedom. Indulgence v. necessity. One week v. indeterminate time. Desperation v. partying. Survival v. art. Danger v. safety.
These multiple ironies are what made the twinned photos so powerful for me.