Learning Man Festival
Tash, Jirka and I wanted to do something special for New Years besides the usual drunken party. While volunteering on a permaculture farm, one of the other volunteers there told us about a festival called Learning Man. It was not like any other festival I had heard of, it was literally about learning.
The creators got the idea from Burning Man in the USA where people gather in the desert for a week, creating art then at the end of it they burn it all down, burning thousands of dollars down into worthless ash. The creators of learning man wanted to keep the creative concept minus the burning, thus Learning Man was born.
About 2 hours outside of Cape Town, learning man was created for the first time ever. The festival ran from 26th December until 3rd January in a beautiful natural environment. To buy tickets online you had to first register yourself into a database of people who trade in talents instead of money, they are trying to create a world which gives the power back to the people through kind of creating their own currency which the government cannot control.
The talents currency works the way that if you were say to attend a yoga class, you would then sign on the yoga instructors paper that she can take 20 talents from your account. So your account would be minus 20. Then you could for example sell some pancake, each worth 10 talents, sell 10 of them are you are up by 80 talents.
The concept takes out the idea of money being made by the banks typing digits onto their computer and helps people take charge of their ‘account’ without fraud and with the government not being able to step in and reposes your ‘talents’. This is what we signed up for which has a worldwide database of people using the same system.
Our tickets to the festival then cost only 450 ZAR (about $45 AUD), not bad for a 9 day event! Once we arrived at the gate, we were greeted by Rod, one of the organizes, he gave us a wrist band and we were told to choose anywhere to camp. Before us was a large flat area full of trees, fire pits, tents and tarps. To one side was an open grassy area which looked out over a slow flowing river full of blow up tyres for lying about on. On the other side of the camping area were sheltered toilets and showers.
The whole area felt so peaceful and relaxing. The shaded camp spaces were open and inviting, but the best thing about the festival was the people. Such warm and friendly faces which lit up and smiled at me whenever our paths crossed.
Tied up between some trees were a few big notice boards, this is where people could write in a time slot for their workshop offerings. There were such an abundance of different things to learn, from such a variety of people, we didn’t know where to start. Massive tarpaulins were put up to give people separate workshop spaces. There was the heart space, yoga space, green tent and more.
Every morning Tash and I headed to the notice board and excitedly chose our activities for the day. I felt like I was almost back in school filling out such a full timetable. 7am yoga, 8am breakfast, 9am knot workshop, 10am hypnosis workshop, 12pm pita bread making, 1pm compost shower workshop, 2pm tightrope walking, 4pm live music, 8pm classical free dancing. This is just an example, but you can probably tell how busy people could be.
A great thing about the festival was that everything was free flow. To attend or run a workshop was optional, everything was just about what you wanted to do, and everything was done by everyone attending the festival.
There was a volunteer sheet up where positions needing to be filled were posted on the notice board. Positions like lifeguard, security and toilet paper patrol. People would sign themselves up and get the work done.
Jirka, Tash and I held acroyoga workshops, well it was more like a jam than a real workshop, but people loved it. We were on the grass down by the river hanging out with a bunch of likeminded people, helping each other to do new and crazy acrobatic yoga moves. I’m pretty sure thanks to us many people went home quite bruised.
Jirka also made a couple of jet stoves out of raw material. He did it nice and quietly in our tent area, but when word got out how well it worked, and people announced it around the fire, he because quite the famous stove maker and made another at the main kitchen for the chefs to use.
Next to Jirka’s jet stove were two cob ovens which were made at the festival and used to cook oven fired pizzas on for New Year’s Day and let me tell you, pizza in the bush, cooked in a handmade oven on New Year’s Day is the best pizza you will ever eat!
Another successful project was the sweat lodge, a team of people collected sticks and wound them together into a dome, covered them with blanks and placed hot rocks in the middle, creating a super effective sauna. This one I failed to try because when the daytime temperature reached 35 degrees in the shade, a sweat lodge was the last thing I thought about. It was actually so hot that every couple hours I jumped fully clothed into the river then spend the next hour enjoying being cooled by my wet clothes.
Every afternoon at 5pm everyone gathered at the ‘drum circle’ to play drums, dance and sing. There was a massive circle of us, those who brought their drums sat down and played enthusiastically while other went into the circle and danced with the kids, dogs and hula hoops. After about an hour of this announcements were made, these included lost property, workshops for the following day, and plans for New Years.
As the sun set people wrapped up their workshops and cooked dinner, many gathered around various fire pits while others watched live music or fire twirling.
On one day I attended a compost shower workshop. The idea is that you can have hot water for your shower for about three months by just using the heat that one compost can create.
The way it is done is that you have a 25:1 carbon to nitrogen. Carbon being your browns like your dead wood and leaves, nitrogen being your greens like your fresh grass clippings. Or you could use cow manure which has a perfect 25:1 ratio. You then need to make sure you have 4 elements: air, water, carbon and nitrogen. Your compost needs microbes and bacteria, which eat the cellulose from your browns (carbon) and use the nitrogen in your greens to breed. This creates a lot of heat.
A 1 cubic meter of dry plant material compost mixed with ½ cubic meter chicken manure plus enough water to keep it moist, can give you a hot shower for up to three month, and I mean 40 degrees hot water! The middle of the compost reaches about 70 degrees and can reach this in all climates, even in winter under snow. A dry compost is a cold compost, water is the key. Bacteria are also essential so if you have just plant compost, add in some manure to generate heat.
Once your compost has finished giving you a few months’ supply of hot water it is usually too acidic to use on your garden plants, a remedy for this is to add coffee ground to the mix which evens out the acidic levels. The man that ran the compost demo told us he goes to cafes to collect their used coffee grounds for free, he throws 8-25 liters of the grounds onto one bucket to make it alkaline enough for his garden.
Ok enough about poop, now back to the New Years. I have to admit it was one of my most sober and enjoyable New Year’s ever. A massive stage with dj’s and drummers kept everyone dancing all night. We noticed only a couple people with alcohol, the rest were similarly sober. Just dancing out to tunes surrounded by trees, I haven’t had New Year’s like that before, and it was good knowing I wouldn’t wake up with a hangover.
It was amazing to see people out there developing more sustainable festivals where the emphasis is on learning, creating, sharing and recycling. Hopefully someone in Australia or the Czech Republic starts a learning man, I’m surely keen to attend another one.