European Rainbow Gathering 2012, Slovakia
Going from a No Border Camp to a Rainbow Gathering is quite a contrast. Perhaps a little too much.
I left the squat in Krakow, where I spent a couple of nights after Berlin, in the afternoon. I was only going 240km and figured it wouldn’t take long. I was wrong, of course.
I got out of Krakow fine, with a guy who was driving almost to the border, where he would spend a week walking in the mountains around Zakopane. He spoke almost no English, but we got on well. “Ahh my lovely mountains!” was all he could say, as soon as they came into sight. He took me further and dropped me at a cafe close to the border, just as thunder crashed overhead and a sheet of rain fell down. I ran inside and ordered a coffee.
The next part of the road was slow, very slow. I got a few rides for a few kilometres each with long waits in-between. I reached Hnusta and again the rain came down, making a river out of the road, washing over my sandals. No cafe, no nothing. I passed a big Tesco and stood in the doorway, but got kicked out by security since they were about to close. It was very dark. What to do? With umbrella held aloft I thrust my thumb toward every passing car, but to no avail. Feeling very bedraggled and flustered, I continued walking on and on through the road-river until finally… the crustiest hippy van you ever saw ground to a halt right beside me. Rainbow family! Welcome home!
These three Rainbow brothers were returning to the gathering after being away at a psy-trance festival for a few days. They were every kind of stereotype of hippy you could wish for: stoners with dreadlocks and munchies, driving a big crusty van painted with flowers, from a psy-trance festival to a Rainbow Gathering. They left me in the Parking, from where I managed to find my way by torchlight through the narrow paths to the Welcome tent. The rain fell down again just as I got there.
No sense going any further that night. We huddled together around a fire under a dripping tarp. The rain blew in from all around. Some people were sleeping under another tarp, but there was no more space. I would have to pitch my tent. But first, I would have to fix the broken pole that Nomadic Pete sat on and snapped. In the rain. In the dark.
I sat with my back to the waterfall with head-torch and shaky hands, trying to be quick. Unfortunately, the brothers sleeping around me were not very accommodating and rather than offering to help, they began shouting at me to turn my light off so they could sleep. “Yes, soon, I would also like to sleep, but first I have to fix this…” Welcome home, indeed.
I had noticed sexism at Rainbows before, of course, but never so much as at this one. I don’t think the European Rainbow in Slovakia was any more sexist than the others I have been to, but coming from a No Border Camp where it’s considered sexist to refer to people as men and women (that’s “female-ized” and “male-ized persons” to you), to a place where I’m advised not to carry a box of tomatoes because I will have babies some day, tends to highlight the issue. “Well, I don’t want babies anyway, so I guess I’ll carry it”, I told her. Her eyes grew wide – “Are you a feminist?”
“Strong men! Strong men needed to carry wood!” Fuck off then, I won’t help.
I pitched my tent in a good flat place in the woods, fortunate to find it just as the previous occupier was leaving. I made my little camp, happy to be home at last, and went to explore.
“Foooood ciiiiircllllle!” “FOOOOOOOD CIIIIIIIIIIIRRRRRRCLLLLLLLLE!” “NOOOOOOWWWWW!!!!” Horay, just in time.
I sat on the slope around the main circle area and waited. Slowly, very slowly, people gathered and joined hands, forming a circle which grew bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, broke into two circles and then three. I held hands with the brothers and sisters around me and we began to sing, “We are cir-cl-ing, cir-cl-ing to-ge-ether, we are sing-ing, singing ou-ur he-art song, this is fam-ily, this is un-ity, this is cel-eb-ra-ation, this is sa-a-cred…”
Later, I was sitting with two guys by a tent, listening to one of them speak. I looked up, and there in front of me were Matthieu and Alex, friends from the Hitchgathering and No Border Camp. I jumped up and hugged them with a big grin. It’s unbelievable how, with three to four thousand people here, they somehow managed to spot me before even pitching their tents. I was delighted to see them.
Now I was no longer the only one with a heightened sexism detector. Alex and I attempted to go to a tantra workshop, but finding it run only in French, we co-erced Matthieu into going instead and reporting back to us. He found us again two hours later, deeply frustrated. “That fucking tantra workshop that YOU made ME go to!” “Oh yes? What happened?” “It was soo sexist and soo homophobic and soo fucking horrible.” He proceeded to tell the entire story – the sexual harassment (“she said no FIVE TIMES!”); the macho guys imitating bears and lions; the guy who was running it basically denying homosexuality existed…
I have never been to less workshops at a Rainbow. I shirked the following day’s English language tantra workshop, which apparently wasn’t much better; I wasn’t in the mood for the Angel Walk and the Nine Dimensions Meditation workshop never happened. We assumed they had already made it to the ninth dimension by the time we got there and that’s why we couldn’t see them.
What I did do though was hang out a lot at the Karma Bar. A brother named Stefan had created this space and was putting all his time and effort into it, creating a warm and cosy atmosphere. People were bringing coffee, tea and food to donate and there was always something to share. I have very fond memories of sitting in the Karma Bar for hours every day with my wonderful friend Sara, her partner Aycan and the other “locals” (how we referred to the others who spent most of their time at this particular hang-out), watching Aycan learn to make a fire and then learn to make vegetable kebabs to put on it with his own carved sticks and having political discussions with some of the other locals, many of whom seemed to be activists. In general, it was a lovely Rainbow.
I had intended to stay for one to two weeks, but after having a particularly vivid dream, I decided to follow it to Lithuania. More on that next time.
The crossroads in Kemer are starting to feel like home – actually more like a point in a Neil Gaiman story: the archetypal crossroads where decisions are made and travellers meet, or return to over and over in a recurring dream.
Here I am again.
There are fifteen hippies at the crossroads, ordering pide and çay at the cafe, where men smile in recognition when they see dreadlocks and dirty backpacks approaching. Nobody knows where to go, least of all myself. I make a phone-call to The Gentle One, who scribbled numbers on a piece of paper when he left the Rainbow quickly the day before… “Yani, in Fethiye. Fifteen of us staying on a hotel roof. Yani, come.”
Fethiye. The place I least wanted to go. But gradually twelve out of the fifteen decide to go there, myself included. I finish my vegetable pide and step into the emblazoning heat with my thumb and a Canadian. We get a lift with a family who drop us on the other side of town to the hotel. The Canadian disappears – off chasing a girl he says – and I crawl across town, a tortoise in an oven.
The hotel is on the way to the spot Marta, Alex, Lisa and I wild camped some ten weeks ago – weird. Nobody at the hotel, but I meet some Scottish Palestine-Solidarity activists on bikes, part of the P.E.D.A.L. group on their way to Palestine. Nice to hear Scottish accents and we have friends in common it seems. They’re having trouble with their route – Syria is in lockdown and boats are hard to come by. I give them some web addresses and the phone number of a friend with a truck-driving brother. You never know.
The hotel roof is open and has as many mattresses as possible squashed in alongside one another. The deal is 50TL (about €18/£15) for the whole of the roof. During the day the sun is so strong it’s impossible to even sit and read a book. After 9am, everyone has to wake up. Imagine your alarm clock, instead of beeping, literally turns your bed into an oven.
All these familiar faces slowly appearing at the hotel. Some of them make me smile, others I hug. Six of the Iranians, the Gentle One of course… But oh shit, the Arrogant American is here too. We really didn’t get along at the Rainbow, but here he’s making an effort to speak with me and I do likewise.
Several of us are looking for a cheap place to eat together. There are a few suggestions of places – we tour them all, looking at the boards outside, listening to the menu. Nobody is saying no exactly – just not yes either. Right then, let’s just keep walking… Every negative stereotype of hippies is being played out by this group. Go with the flow man, don’t make decisions. Go out in a big group, take up lots of space, be completely unconscious of the people around you… Somehow we get into arguments everywhere we go – taking up too much space on the pavement, littering sunflower seed shells everywhere, people insulted we don’t want to eat at their restaurants… something about this group isn’t working.
One guy – beautiful, dreadlocked, classically “Rainbow” – tells me he thinks we’re like Krishna. “Everywhere we go, people see our energy, they invite us…” Krishna? How the fuck are we like Krishna? Everybody hates us – open your eyes!
I can’t handle more than three hours of aimless, hungry walking. Still weak from my sickness, I go and sit in the park opposite the hotel, wondering what to do. I can’t travel with this group any more. I will go insane. “Hello!” says a familiar English voice – it’s Lilah from the Rainbow. “What are you doing here? I’m so happy to see you!” I rant about the flakiness of the group I’m with – “I need direction – what’s your plan?” Lilah’s plan is to visit an elderly English man living in a nearby village – he’s had a life of travel and studied Sufism and philosophy… Then she wants to hitchhike directly to Yalova for this Sufi event everyone’s been talking about – it’s perfect!
So, one more night in Fethiye.
Walking the streets in Turkey, it’s possible to meet many people. I have a friend here in a carpet shop. He lured me in with çay, though I told him I had no home and thus no need of a carpet. “No home? Do you mean that?” It’s difficult to convey to conventional Turkish people the intricacies of my situation. The initial reaction is pity and it’s often hard to show that no – I really love my life. Fish swim, birds fly, I travel…
A restaurant owner chats with me as I amble past. It’s one our group passed up on, though many of us wanted to go in. He doesn’t like my friends, he tells me, apart from the tall one from Lithuania… but I’m different. Won’t I come in for an apple tea? – on the house! I accept. I always try to accept these offers, they often yield surprising results. In this case the surprising result is an Australian backpacker on his laptop behind us – “Hey, I just found a flight ticket to Berlin for 50 Euros!” “You should hitchhike!” I tell him – “It’s free!” “Hitchhike? Really? Is that, like, possible? How long would it take?” I do some sums in my head. “A week maybe, five days if you’re lucky.” “Shit man, this is quite a big thing, but seriously I’m tempted. I’ve never hitchhiked before though. Do you think I could do it? And what route would I take? Would I have to go through Istanbul?” “Yeah… actually you know what, a friend and I are leaving tomorrow to hitchhike to a town really close to Istanbul. You can come with us if you like…”
And so once again we’re a party of three. Banjo (his real name, hippy parents), Lilah and myself. To make things even better, Banjo is a guitarist and a busker and Lilah has just started singing and wants someone to practice with.
We go to meet the English man, David. Coincidentally, this is the someone I emailed months ago when I was here before, wanting to meet up with. David has led a seriously interesting life, travelling to many African, Middle and Far-Eastern countries before they became tourist destinations, when many people had never seen a foreigner. We speak about how the tourist industry is changing cultures, as well as physical spaces, how we ourselves are a part of that. It’s true I don’t consider myself a tourist, but my presence here is still having an effect – in some ways a detrimental one.
After tea, coffee and the most delicious pide in the entire world, we three say goodbye to David and his quaint little village Üzümlü and pick the road we believe will take us back once more towards Kemer and those old familiar crossroads.
“This one will stop.” says Claire as a large white vehicle approaches. She spins around confused as it drives past. “That’s funny – I was so certain!” A couple of minutes later the same vehicle reverses back to us. “Nereye giddyorsunuz? – Where are you going?” They laugh and shake their heads when I say where we want to get to. “But where are you going?” They say the name of a place I’ve never heard of. We want to go with them anyway. This is the right road, we must be going the same way – right? We pile in the back of the large and luxurious car, more like a London taxi with a long seat at the back, two single chairs facing it and little curtains at the windows. The woman in the front seat is in hysterics – who are these crazy people? We begin driving and I ask again where they’re going, laughing along with her. We scour the map and find it eventually – we’re not on the road we thought, we’re on the mountain road, the one that peaks at 2,200m. Wow, this will be a great adventure!
The mountain road is as beautiful as you could possibly hope, but eventually we’re once more on a long, straight, boring road. Stopping for a break on a table outside a petrol station, we discover the magic quality of carrying a guitar. When people see it, they ask Banjo to play – and when he does, free tea and snacks are heaped upon us.
A van, a lorry and a lot of sunshine later we’re in a service station, wondering whether the patch of grass outside is a good place for a tent. The truck driver wants to take us further, but he’s not really going our way. He drives us to the back of the car-park where there’s a slightly bigger patch of grass. Yes, this will certainly do.
Gözleme for breakfast, what better start to the day? A trucker suggests we go to Iznik – he’s very passionate about this suggestion. It’s not really on our way, but it’s not far off-route either. OK, why not? “Iznik!” We say when the next car stops. A taxi takes us the last part of the way with music blaring – he’s just finished work. At any rate, he doesn’t want money.
Iznik is a small city by a lake. Banjo and Lilah playing music in a park once more yields gifts – a local drunk buys us beer and follows us to where we eat çiğ köfte – insists on paying for all our dinners, then disappears.
An unexpected downpour turns the placid lake into a raging sea, with waves attacking the benches at the edge and the small beach where we’d planned on camping. We go a little further back instead, under the protection of a plane tree.
Onwards, to Yalova…
“WELCOOOME HOOOME!” The best thing about Rainbows for me is the greeting. We arrive sweaty and exhausted at the top of the mountain. Tents come into view, followed by a beautiful plateau with a small marquee – the kitchen – at one end. Our “brothers and sisters” come over in turn – welcome us, hug us, tell us to put down our bags – “rest, rest…” I try to remember unfamiliar names. One thing about Rainbow people is their eyes – somehow almost everyone has a radiant light shining from them.
A Man and a Gun
“Foooood ciiiiirrrrrclllllle!” I’ve been collecting water – a fifteen minute walk down a path, the opposite side of the plateau to where we climbed up. There’s a road by the track which seldom sees cars, but now hurrying back, I see one. I look down as four men get out and walk in my direction. Back at camp everyone is already sitting in a circle, the servers dishing up. “Just to let everyone know – some guys are coming up here now and they look like locals”. “Ah well, hoş geldiniz! – welcome,” says the Moroccan Clown in the top hat and red felt tunic. I go to the kitchen marquee to get my bowl, just as the men appear over the ridge. One has a shotgun. Someone has already gone to meet them and they’re speaking in Turkish. Another man is Irish and chats with me while the Turkish debate continues. He asks who we are and I ask if he’s heard of Rainbow Gatherings – he has. He smiles slowly in recognition. I tell him it’s the ‘Peace in the Middle-East’ Gathering – “God knows we need it,” he tells me.
Something has been decided. The man with a shotgun, the owner of the land, addresses us all – “ok, we know who you are now. Enjoy yourselves. In a while we will be going up to the water source to drink rakı and play music. If any of you want to join us you are welcome.” The men leave and the rest of us have a talking circle about what happened – passing the talking stick around. Talking sticks are a great idea in theory, but many people seemingly can’t control themselves and blurt things out when the stick is elsewhere. Others hold onto it for several minutes, trying to think of more to say. This is a good exercise for me: how not to blurt out – “you selfish fucking bastard! Pass the fucking stick!”
It seems he first wanted us to leave, then demanded money – 5,000 lira (about £2,000. Eventually this was brought down to 2,000 lira – 3,000 if we become more than thirty. Right now we’re around twenty. It’s decided that some of us will go up to the source – the best musicians, some women… “we will pirate him!” says a dread-locked pixie. “He will not ask for money once we are his friends!” Gradually the talking circle dissipates as people drift off or head uphill to drink rakı. I follow. The two older men are already drunk and firing a shotgun for fun. The Moroccan Clown is also drunk and has seemingly fallen in love with the oldest man, father of the land-owner – “look at his eyes! Wowowow! I could sit by this man forever!” I speak with the Irish guy some more. He’s close friends with the landowner and doesn’t understand why he would charge us money. He has an openness and sparkle to him. He tells me he can see energy – what he calls souls; he says he can see badness in people. He understands what we’re doing and supports it, but says it’s not for him – he wouldn’t suit this kind of life. “Well, you’re doing it now,” I point out, smiling. He tells me the older man that Moroccan Clown is in love with has the cleanest soul he’s ever seen – like pure love.
The rakı finished, the men stagger back to their car – with hugs all around between hippies and landowners. We stagger back to camp, the drunken antithesis of Rainbow energy. Alcohol is banned at these gatherings.
Gradually the gathering picks up as more people arrive. Two food circles per day and music at night by the fire are the only certainties. The time inbetween seems to somehow disintegrate – a quick cup of tea can take three hours from your day.
One of my favourite places to hang out is Yani Café. This is where the gentlest man I ever met sleeps in shade of a tree on a folded quilt. He has a small fire at the foot of his bed and serves tea and coffee to those who visit – gently coaxing and fanning the flames with his hands. “This man has the energy of the earth,” said the Irish man when they met, “he’s in touch with the elements”. We call it Yani Cafe because of the way he speaks… “yani, it is good, yani…” The English equivalent would perhaps be the tendency to say the word “like” in every sentence – “like, y’know, like?” - only this sounds better. When people are sick they go to him. I’ve seen him rub fire-ash on mosquito bites, fresh mud on sunburn.
The antithesis to this man is The Arrogant American. He knows How Things Should Be Done and chastises people accordingly. There are no rules at the Rainbow – only guidelines, traditions – but these haven’t been explained to the newcomers. The Arrogant American arranges a session for people to share their Rainbow experiences and tell of these traditions. I arrive with my cup of tea and am subjected to an hour long monologue about his own shamanic practise.Others are complaining this is more like a picnic than a Rainbow – no workshops, no healing circles… Often after eating the same people stand up and shout “FOCUS! FOCUUUUSSSS! FOCUS POCUS!” A “Focus” is an indication somebody wants to speak to the group, that they have something important to say. Again and again we hear these complaints, but why not do something about it? One Rainbow principle is “if you see a job, it’s yours.”
24 Hour Om
It’s decided we will have a twenty-four hour Om, beginning at sunrise the following day. As people wake up they can join the Om and those who began can rest. I get up late and go to the kitchen to help. Jammin is in there, chopping food and Ommming continuously. “Are you the only Om?” He nods and rolls his eyes. “How long?” He holds up four fingers, thinks, wobbles one of them up and down. “Three or four hours?!” Later I find Rooz, the half-Iranian, half-Mexican Californian guy who’s fast becoming one of my favourites. It seems Rooz was the only one awake at sunrise, sitting huddled and freezing, Ommming at the rising sun. Eventually Jammin came and took over. Nobody else came.
A girl has brought aerial silks and hung them from a tree. The problem: rather than a nice soft crash-mat, they’re hanging above an enormous rock. There’s nowhere else suitable – we decide to shift the rock. We are all women. As we’re pick-axing and digging around the edges with our hands, many men come over and make helpful comments such as – “you’ll never shift that!” “Are you sure that’s not the mountain itself?”, etc. The Israeli who looks like a Persian Prince comes over and speaks to Rooz who’s standing nearby – “what do you think, shall we help these girls and shift this rock for them?” Rooz looks at him – “God, you’re such a man! This is their project, why don’t you let them do it?” Rooz sits down against a tree and begins painting his fingernails. I want to hug him.
I’m returning to the Rainbow after a visa run to a Greek island. It’s a smooth journey in comparison to the first time I came up, on the back of a trailer with nine other hippies. We’re dropped on the road that runs up past the water, a ten minute walk from site. I’m happy to see everyone again – and one in particular. Sietse has been squatting my tent while I’ve been away. He lost his own tent in a shipwreck – long story – while hitching a boat from New Zealand, so I said he could use mine while I was away. Now I’m back he’s afraid he’ll have to move out – but actually, I don’t want him to… It’s strange how people are brought together – shipwrecks and rainstorms.
A few days later I’m leaving again, this time for romantic reasons. Sietse and I walk down the mountain chased by rain-clouds, which quicken their pace along with us and are soon upon us. Finally a car comes and a Turkish family take us to the crossroads, where we find the bags another car took for us waiting in the pide restaurant. The guys who work there are used to babysitting backpacks for hippies by now.
Once more I’m returning to the Rainbow, this time in thirty-eight degree heat, alone and with a marginally heavier heart. I have the sunglasses Sietse gave me as a goodbye present and my umbrella to protect me from the all-consuming sun. I stop in the village to splash my face with water, perching the glasses on a rock. I get a lift on a moped and then – joy of joys – a dolmuş going all the way up to site to collect people who are leaving. Only when I arrive do I remember my sunglasses…
Back at the Rainbow for the third time – everything’s the same, but different. Many people have left and others arrived – now I know under half. Lisa is here now and I’m curious as to how someone who describes me as “full-hippy” is finding this super-hippy gathering, but actually she’s doing fine – “trying to embrace the hippyness.”
Fasting and Silence
I’ve returned in time for a day of fasting and silence, organised in a typically flakey way with disagreements about whether the main area should be in silence and food-free or not. For me, a day of silence is exactly what I need – space to digest these past days. Occasional voices drift over and mingle with music, clatter of teapot, clunk of wood. At sunset the silence is broken. A few hippies gather at the last place light falls. Most seem stoned, some talk quietly. One guy plays a drum, unrhythmically. A guy in wacky glasses offers me a sniff of incense, laughing. Mango would hate it here, I think.
I break my fast at the evening food circle, along with most of the others. I distinctly remember enjoying the beans, but it’s the image of these that flashes into mind with my first bout of diarrhoea the following day. I’ve made it to the water and am halfway back when a sudden all-consuming weakness overcomes me. I struggle back with the water I’ve been carrying for the kitchen and collapse in my tent for twenty-four hours, passing in and out of delirious consciousness. Lisa and others come and talk near my tent – I hear them but the sound is distorted. Have you ever taken ketamine? Like that.
Celil brings food in the evening, but I can only manage a few mouthfuls of carrot. Apparently many people are sick. I leave my tent only to go and shit, but this is a frequent occurrence. Each time I bump into somebody they give me a medicine: a Russian woodland faerie gives coal capsules and sea salt; a tall slender Iranian gives seeds and spiced mint tea. Near the end of the second day, The Gentle One finds me – “You are sick?” I nod. “Yani, look around, maybe some medicine here…” He floats off. I see him a few minutes later sniffing and tasting some nearby plants. He returns to my tent with something in his hand. “What is it?” “Yani, it is coffee grounds, with milk of a plant.” I hold out my hand and he pours the mixture in. “It is good to keep it in your mouth.” I put it in, as directed. It feels strange in there, but not altogether unpleasant as I thought it would be. “Now, yani, repeat some words…” I repeat strange syllables as best I can after him. This goes on for some minutes. I have no idea what I’m saying, but I’m certain he is healing me.
In the morning, my strength is returning. I go to the water and bathe under the waterfall. Many people have left in the time I’ve been huddled in my tent.
Two days later I walk again to the water and back, shitting twice on the way. Clearly I’m still sick, but somehow, minutes later I’m in a dolmuş heading down the mountain with fifteen other survivors. I found out the sickness is DYSENTRY no less! No idea where I’m going – back to Kemer crossroads, and then…?
Epilogue – please don’t worry, I am fine now!