What Burning Man has in common with a deployment to Afghanistan

The Denver Post has a great story from Burner Frances (originally written for the LA Times),  a member of the Council on Foreign Relations who went to her first Burn direct from a stint as a civilian at Kandahar, NATO’s main airbase in Afghanistan.

Two years ago, I made my first-time Burning Man pilgrimage. To my relief then, I realized I already had most of the answers. I was a civilian working at Kandahar Airfield, NATO’s largest base in southern Afghanistan. The parallels hit me sometime after procuring ice from a friendly guy in a penguin suit, and before hopping onto a Psychic Taxi (“Random Service”) to explore. The surreal scene was eerily reminiscent of my surreal job, and not just because of the dust and heat.

For both places, these were the transferable rules:

• Accept over-familiarity with neighbors’ personal lives. Donald Rumsfeld — the man who helped to bring us Baghdad and Kandahar — once observed that you go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish you had. The unspoken corollary is that once at war, many will go to bed with the bedmate they have, not the bedmate they wish they had. Pressure and proximity do strange things, at Kandahar as at Burning Man. And in both cases, soundproofing is scarce. Get used to it.

Forget capitalism. Despite my good free-market upbringing, I quickly came to appreciate that Kandahar’s policies verge toward “to each according to his need.” With meals, office supplies and gym access all provided free, I stayed weeks on the airfield without spending a dollar. I hit up the free videos. When malaria season arrived, I rejoiced in the free clinic and its socialist medicine. Meanwhile, among Burning Man’s 10 guiding principles is “decommodification,” which translated as a passerby in a Catholic priest costume handing me a Bloody Mary in exchange for “confessing a sin.” Who needs currency when you have “radical gifting”?

Respect the porta-latrines. At Burning Man, they’re the site of brilliant potty poetry. At Kandahar, they’re a semi-poetic reminder that you’d rather briefly be there than permanently bunking next to the “poo pond.”

 • Always wear sunscreen. And something that glows in the dark. Sunscreen needs no explanation. But those are some dark desert nights. At Kandahar, wear your over-the-shoulder reflective strips after dark or face military discipline. At Burning Man, wear whatever form of glow stick you can best weave into your pirate costume. It’ll save you from being run over by, respectively, a Humvee or an ornate 60-foot yacht on wheels blasting electronica.

• Celebrate the “entertainment.” At Burning Man, the participants are the performance; they don’t disappoint. At Kandahar, it’s C-list celebrities interested in Supporting Our Troops and, well, sometimes they do. Nonetheless — even if it’s Christmas Eve 2009, your entertainment is Anna Kournikova, and you’re unclear how her tennis career translates into a stand-up routine — go, enjoy and maintain your morale.

Read more:Brown: The rules of Burning Man, Kandahar – The Denver Posthttp://www.denverpost.com/brown/ci_21485083/rules-burning-man-kandahar#ixzz261xXp1MG
Read The Denver Post’s Terms of Use of its content: http://www.denverpost.com/termsofuse

6 comments on “What Burning Man has in common with a deployment to Afghanistan

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