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.
A crumpled pile of Mathieu is sitting outside the row of shops and cafes on the run up to the Turkish border. At first I don’t even recognise him – partly because he’s so unlike his usual smiling cheery self, partly because he left the camp in Bulgaria a full 24 hours before me and was heading in the direction of France… “Mathieu – is that you?! What are you doing here?!”
The whole sorry story comes out. He left the camp with two friends heading to Germany and was persuaded to take a roundabout route via the Turkish border in the hope of getting a straight lift to Germany. Well, they got one, but just as Mathieu was climbing into the truck, the driver changed his mind and said he would only take two people. So his friends waved goodbye and set off for Berlin, leaving him to catch the next ride… only there was no other ride, and despite seeing three other pairs of hitchhikers get rides head of him, despite sleeping on a cardboard box behind one of the cafes, despite being up again with his thumb out at the crack of dawn, and despite now being on first name terms with all the restaurant owners on this road… Mathieu is still here 25 hours later.
Borders are funny places. Sit for ten minutes and a group of stray travellers forms, all from different countries and heading in different directions. Many are from the No Border Camp, like us. Determined to see Mathieu off before I leave, I swap my pre-arranged lift on the other side of the border with another traveller and poke my thumb into the blazing heat. I will get him a lift… After an hour Mathieu is smiling again, relieved that at least it’s not just him. Me and a young blonde girl from Germany, also from the camp, switch places – taking breaks in the shade between shifts. The sun really is scorching. I take a final twenty minute shift and start counting down how many more cars I’m prepared to see roll past me. I’m just about to call it quits when a car stops. The car full of Turkish men seem a little put out that actually the ride isn’t for me, but for my male friend. I tell them what a wonderful person he is, hug him to show we’re really good friends, tell how he spent last night on the cardboard box behind the cafe, and eventually they cave in – “tamam, we take him.” “Yay!” “But where are they going?” asks Mathieu. “Who the fuck cares? – just get in the car quick before they change their minds!” - There he goes, smiling and waving. I’m so happy I could cry.
My hitching buddies now consist of the blonde girl from camp and a random guy from Mexico we met on the border. We crossed the border on foot and now wait in the thin strip of shadow created by a lamp-post, shuffling backwards every couple of minutes as it moves around us like a sundial. A guy stops and agrees to take us, all the way to Istanbul!
Istanbul welcomes me back with open arms. There are many people here from the No Border Camp, and I seem to bump into them all every time I walk down Istiklal Caddesi. There are still a lot of Rainbow people too, just returned after the 66 day sema recently finished in Yalova. I find them playing music as I’m walking with some activists and suddenly all my worlds collide – how strange to see these people here on the streets of this city, playing this music I was whirling to – what – a month ago? It seems like a decade!
I’m staying with Helene, the original initiator of the continuing weekly vegan potlucks. It’s good to always make sure I’m here on a Sunday, when deliciousness occurs. This time a few of the Noborderers attend too and we all scoff our faces with humous, ciappati, stuffed tomatoes, chocolate walnut cake (made by me), and the biggest bowl of fruit salad I’ve ever seen.
I arrive at the Iranian Embassy looking something of a hippy-muslim-punk hybrid: not-quite-ankle-length orange skirt over stripey trousers, a-symmetric zip-up green jumper – holes in the sleeves carefully disguised with rolling technique – and a blue, orange and white headscarf. I feel certain they will see through my disguise.
The guys with the Australian passports in the queue in front of me used the same dodgy online visa agency as me. One is told his visa isn’t ready yet, despite having applied a week before the other. Mine seems to be ok, but I’m given another form to fill out anyway – the one I was trying to avoid by using this service. £52 wasted then! I have to wonder who is this Iranian woman, with the Hamburg address and Swiss bank account? The instructions for the bank transfer came with the same warning twice in capital letters, highlighted in red: Due to embargo on Iran, please do not mention Iran in your transaction. Do not mention Iran, do not mention visa, nothing at all, just your own name.
I reach the front of the queue for the second time and am given a slip of paper with an account number on it. The man tells me to take it to the bank over the road and pay €100. Ok, bit weird, but I go dutifully over the road and take a ticket from the machine before sitting down on a plastic seat among lots of other people. Slowly it becomes apparent that we’re all here for the same reason, only most people are Iranian themselves or dual nationals. The bank must be in on the swindle! Soon the Australians from the queue arrive and we discuss our travelling arrangements (they are cyclists) and wait for the numbers on the screen to go up. Finally I get to the counter and give the man my debit card. But now of course, the Embassy is shut…
The following day I’m back at the embassy the minute they open, handing over my receipt for the money. The man takes my form and passport and tells me to come back in two days… two days?! What on earth did I pay that woman for then? The strange thing is that it’s not possible to get a visa for Iran without going through this palava.
Finally I’m leaving the Embassy for the final time, passport in hand, new shiny Iranian visa inside. However, my plans have changed…
At Antalya airport a snaking queue of mostly British voices welcomes me. They are all complaining – the queue, the heat, the other tourists – “our holiday would’ve been great if it weren’t for all the bloody Russians!” I look at the floor, embarrassed that I’m the one he’s speaking to – that I somehow prompted this. “Them bloody Russians don’t give a toss about anyone, pushin’ and shovin’…” Later, his eight year old son is running around, tired and restless at 4am. He bumps into someone by accident – “Oi! You gonna be a Russian when you’re older are ya? Are you gonna be a bloody Russian?”
My first flight in eight years. I wasn’t missing much. Bureaucracy, secuity, controls – everything moulded, plastic and sterile. We are shepherded into lines, scrutinized, ticked off and stamped.
The clouds look beautiful at dawn.
When it’s time for the individually packaged food portions to come out, the vegan one I ordered especially over the phone is missing. Nothing can be done: it’s egg, or hunger. I choose hunger over egg, but not without regret.
We soar over an endlessly billowing white carpet as specks of pink and then orange appear. As we drop below, everything turns grey and the concrete down there glistens. “Not quite what you’re used to”, says the man beside me, whom I’ve not yet spoken to. It’s a funny thing: wherever I go, people assume I’m from somewhere else.
Oh my god, I’m in England! I’m in England and it’s 7am. Now on the ground I wait for a bus. The hunger cuts deeper, the clouds sway open and sunlight trickles through. Birmingham. I order a medium soya latte at the nearest coffee shop and get out my laptop. It’s the biggest coffee I’ve ever seen – have portion sizes grown while I’ve been away?
Epilogue: an email from Mathieu
A little tiny word before to go to work: I made it!
The people you stopped for me…. haha, they drove me 90km, and then dropped me on the side of whatever Bulgarian “highway”, by the bushy side road …. I had a hard time, even a finger from a driver, but I made it to the border of Serbia at night. And day after have been horrible. Woke up at 4, no cars, no truck, no one to stop for me. At 12:00 I sent a message to my boss saying that I won’t make it, asking for the money to cover my way back by flight. Right after sending I was on the side of the road and a car stopped. It was like:
“Hey, where are you going?”
- Don’t know, Belgrade?
-… what ’bout you?
- “ho, Germany. Stuttgart”
So I had a 1700 km ride, 20 hours, 180km/h, only slowing down to avoide the speed controls …. The night after I was in Lubeck.
You rock and I think you’re awesome.
Empty bottles, musical instruments, stray socks and dreadlocks decorate the floor of a one-bedroom fifth-floor flat in Taxim, just off Istanbul’s famous İstiklal Caddesi. Two anarcho-hippy friends from the Rainbow have been subletting this flat from a friend, but have become inundated with hippies as word spread there was a free space to crash. On an evening you can see buskers dotted up and down the length of Istiklal – at least 50% of them staying in this flat. Add to this Caleb’s younger barefoot and outspoken anarcho-primitivist brother and their vegan-yet-still-quite-macho friend from the U.S. The flat is a one-bedroom affair, covered in grime and mattresses. The city, like the flat, is hot, crowded and noisy, five stories above a bar. It’s great to be back in this city.
A “Retro Shop” on Istiklal, proclaims “everything 5TL, 10TL!” Lots of identical clothes in piles tell me these aren’t second-hand and I don’t find much of interest except a skirt. I haven’t bought clothes in years, but I try it on. While rummaging, the shop owner chats to me. He offers me tea and I drink it with him. I decide to buy the skirt, but he won’t accept money – not only that, he wants me to take more stuff for free! I find some tops I like and try to give him 5 lira for the lot, but he still won’t accept money. “Take it, it’s good energy,” he says. Finally we agree that I will also take some sunglasses and he accepts the money.
We’re back just in time for the weekly vegan potluck. It’s as though I never left Istanbul – we first started these when I was here the first time. It’s nice to see the tradition continuing. I’m still with Lila and Rooz. We hitched back with our friend Maura from the Sufi Gathering, but soon said goodbye to Maura who flew back to the U.S. Rooz seems somewhat distant and I feel he needs some space. Lila and I move to my friend Yiğit (pronounced Yee-eet)’s place to find a little space of our own, but end up getting locked in and out of the flat – with Lila downstairs on the street and me unable to open the door for her. I throw her book down from the balcony and she goes to our friend from the potluck, who luckily lives in the next street.
Strange to be back in Europe, though no part of Turkey really feels the same as the E.U. to me, as I am about to discover…