Returning from a week-long engagement at the Burning Man Festival in Reno, Nevada, Montreal resident Solmaz Meghdadi boarded a flight home carrying a layer of desert mud, a symbol of her uniquely intriguing, albeit challenging, adventure. The much-anticipated hot shower in her hotel room was a much-needed respite and underscored her gratitude towards every indoor plumbing facility she came across. The precarious sanitary situation at the Burning Man prompted Meghdadi to resort to rudimentary “camping techniques” when even the porta-potties could not be serviced.
A summer storm had taken the vast pop-up city in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert by surprise, ensnaring the area in a foot-deep layer of sticky mud and pockets of flooding. With roads inaccessible, tens of thousands of participants found themselves stranded amidst the slush for an indefinite period.
Closing in on its fourth decade since inception in 1986, the annual gathering is a magnetic hub hosting close to 80,000 individuals including artists, musicians, and activists who converge for a fusion of wilderness camping and avant-garde performances. Meghdadi, who had the taste of a “tough burn” at her maiden outing in 2022 attributes Burning Man to a week-long societal experiment characterized by harsh desert conditions, swarms of dust storms, and searing heat.
This year, however, Meghdadi found herself reliving an episode of history that was hauntingly similar yet held in stark contrast – Quebec’s ice storm, albeit this one was a desert version, leaving attendees facing an unanticipated ordeal of rationing food and water, and sheltering in place.
As torrential rain cascaded over the site, Meghdadi embarked on a trudge from her workshop to her camp, parting ways with her inadequate bike along the 15-minute journey. The hope that the dry desert air would nullify the rising water concern was soon dashed as the relentless showers unfurled into the night.
Beyond the unsightly overflowing porta-potties, the caked shoes that seemed more akin to cement blocks in essence portrayed the dire scenario. Venturing barefoot, resorting to futile attempts at shielding their feet with Ziploc bags encased in socks, or even limiting their radius of exploration to the vicinity of their camp were some of the available choices. Amidst the apparent chaos, though, the fencing community welded together to share resources and endure.
As days slipped by, the condition of the tormented city took a turn for the better by Monday afternoon. The hardened veneer of dried mud signaled that the festival was set to regain its lost momentum. The transportation facilitated by Burning Man, the ‘Burner Express’ bus, provided her and others a channel for efficient evacuation, bypassing the mass exodus on wheels.
Although some reports hinted at escalating stress levels for those awaiting departure on the RV-lines, Meghdadi reflected the sense of collective resolve within the community at large.
Despite the experiences at the festival oscillating between harsh extremes, Meghdadi believes the friendships forged and the sense of community she felt injected silver linings into the event. She doesn’t discount the possibility of returning to this “beautiful movement”, albeit potentially after a hiatus.