I’ll never forget the rather infamous last words I uttered during a conversation at a festival a few years ago whilst in the company of mainly young white women (some of which I knew). Despite the festival attracting in excess of ten thousand people over the course of the weekend, there were very few people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds present.
Noting the shortage, I said “Black people don’t really do camping – why would we camp outside in the cold, on the ground when we have a roof over our heads and a bed to sleep in at night?” *(Disclaimer: At this point I A) apologise for this crude generalisation although even the Guardian published an article on this matter a few years ago with some equally compelling stats to substantiate the case and B) secondly I know BAME is a problematic term- but just stick with me on both accounts).
Camping, to some, may appear to be complete and utter lunacy; paying to knowingly subject yourself to the elements, sharing toilet facilities with strangers, having no access to electricity, limited water supply and snuggling up to creepy crawlies does not constitute a holiday to most (irrespective of race), it sounds like self imposed poverty.
It’s a similar logic applied by my parents when I asked to attend a slumber party at my friend’s house as a child (‘party’ being the operative word, completely missed them). “Let’s get this straight, you want to sleep on someone else’s floor when you have a bed at home? No, you are not staying over”. My mum only relented when I reached my late teens. Now I understand her objection was primarily fuelled by her concerns over child protection related issues, in addition to her disdain at sleeping on a stranger’s floor.
So unsurprisingly, God taught me a lesson to banish my ignorant, stereotyping mindset. A friend and I recently went camping. Both of us are Black women in our early thirties and are first time campers. (Well I have been once before but when I was thirteen and on a school trip which doesn’t really count). I have attended festivals before but usually on a day basis or if over the course of a weekend, sleep at a nearby hotel (perks of work!).
The opportunity to camp arose due to the kindness and persistence of a friend who for the umpteenth time asked me to attend a festival he has organised for several years. After much deliberation, I finally relented and am glad I did because it was such a positive experience; it’s true what they say that life begins on the edge of your comfort zone.
Festival essentials: love my wellies.
In true thrifty fashion, I volunteered, saving on entrance fee (which, might I add, was VERY good value at £50 for three days) but primarily to keep me preoccupied whilst still enjoying the delights of the festival. I was given role of ‘Artist liaison’ which basically entailed running round and schmoozing with artists ensuring they got paid, fed and watered. In reality, I did very little but it it felt good to be involved, supporting my friend in some small way whilst finally experiencing this event he’s been harping on about for almost a decade!
Located in beautiful Wiltshire countryside, the festival attracted 3,000 people throughout the three days. The weather was equally glorious aptly embodying this year’s ‘Club Tropicana’ theme. There was a wonderful variety of music, arts and cultural events / workshops including Latin themed Brazilian samba bands and capoeira workshops. More traditional festival entertainment was also on offer such as folk music, rock and roll, dance and cheesy pop sets alongside new and interesting sessions on how to take care of chickens, painting, carpentry, short films, yoga and meditation.
We survived and thrived: My friend and I dancing our hearts out to Congolese music.
(Copyright. Richard Shakespeare.)
Determined to reduce costs, I managed to borrow a tent, sleeping bags and roll mats from brother’s girlfriend- a six man tent, which weighed a ton but kept out all the bugs and was such a blessing on many levels (thanks Jodie!). Similarly, as volunteers my friend and I were entitled to free meal vouchers, which we didn’t always use, but were helpful on the odd occasion for saving money. Adding our own thrifty Afropolitan twist we also brought along some snacks from home including chin chin and plantain crisps (lol #keepingitNaija).
I am ashamed to admit that for my friend and I, our biggest fear was not being able to shower properly over the three days and using public toilets. Let’s be honest – personal hygiene is a big deal but especially in hot weather, so we came prepared bringing copious amounts of baby wipes, Dettol, antibacterial spray and packet tissues to compensate. In fact my friend even bought a small basin to collect water for bathing purposes which came in very handy. By the end of the weekend, I had perfected the art of squatting in public loos to avoid contact with the toilet seat, overcoming any irrational fears I had (which were plenty).
It was a positive experience on many levels but particularly because it:
Allowed me to switch off and be present in the moment- no distractions in the guise of social media, TV, Internet and the like.
The instant camaraderie, community and free spiritedness were infectious – I am convinced this is where all the adults come to retain their sense of youth and playfulness.
Lots of dancing until the early hours- cheesy pop or Congolese ‘happy’ music = #fun!
Random, funny encounters with strangers including an inebriated man calling my perfume, a love potion then bowing down to me! (I promise this rarely happens!)
Enjoying the simplicity of country living- we don’t need as much as we think!
Stunning natural scenery – so much open space and beautiful fields of green and gold.
As a self confessed Crack-Book addict, the festival forced me to digi-detox because there was almost nowhere to charge your mobile phone. The only place which did was the stand of a Bristol based charity called Temwa, which runs a number of sustainable community development programmes in Malawi-one of the poorest countries in the world (www.temwa.org). Someone came up with the genius idea to make people pay a fiver each time they want to charge their mobile phone with donations going to the charity!
The only downside of the camping experience was that I ended up with the flu the following week, due to a rookie error. I completely underestimated the number of layers I would need to keep warm at night ( I forgot the temperature dropped so dramatically), so ended up with cold in my bones rendering me bed-bound for almost the entire week.
With this exception, I can say that I am a camping convert and look forward to doing more of this in the future but perhaps better prepared.
Would love to hear from you re. Your experiences of camping. Is it something only particular groups of people do? Would especially love to hear from women of BAME backgrounds who camp regularly, what are your experiences? X