Burners Without Borders – Dispatches from Peru

For those of you who may be unaware, a Burners Without Borders contingent has been in Pisco, Peru for years now, helping the locals recover from a devastating 8.0-magnitude earthquake that took place in 2007.  Chriz (aka North) just spent his first week in Pisco with BWB, and we thought you’d enjoy his account of his experiences there.

If you’d like to join Burners Without Borders in Peru, or anywhere else they’re engaged (including Haiti), learn how on the Burners Without Borders website. Here’s Chriz:


Hello from Pisco!

To start, I’d introduce myself as a long-time Burner with a mere 3 days with Pisco Sin Fronteras (PSF), so this is coming from a curmudgeonly old it-was-better-last-year Burner who is a wide-eyed  gobsmacked Pisco virgin with a fresh optimistic view.

The first thing I’d say is that Burning Man was actually good preparation for Peru and PSF. I’ve only been in the country for a week now, but the friendly cacophony reminds me of life during Burning Man. Take sleeping: On the playa, you overhear drunken neighbours and roaming art cars blasting Johnny Cash. Here it’s three-wheeled “tuck-tuck” taxis, dogs barking, and the Peruvian music blasting at 6 a.m. from the Peruvian guy down the street, but somehow the balance of order and chaos feels just right.

One thing that I enjoyed was realizing Peruvian culture hasn’t buffered personal responsibility or every day danger from living. Building Code is optional. It’s safety third, every day. Don’t look across the street before you cross, and you may get hit by a tuck-tuck. Go too fast down stairs that don’t have a railing, and you’ll fall. Everyone seems more aware here because of it. There are also a host of negative consequences too. People get hit, and accidents tend to be gruesome. Also, my heart breaks a bit for the less-able. I’m young and healthy, and even still I sometimes trip on cracked sidewalks. This is a hard place for people in wheelchairs and for the elderly. I haven’t seen many of them out on the streets, and can only guess that the daunting effort means they are limited to the isolated lives that were common in North America until Universal Access became a part of building code.

The work itself reminds me of time I’ve spent working with DPW and art projects. We are building a city after all. Here, like on playa, improvisation is necessity. There are only so many tools and work sites are often a drive away from the home base, if home base even has what you would need. There is no Home Depot, so even if there was money, there is no easy way to get what you think you need. Instead, you make due, and finding solutions without having what you thought you absolutely had to have back home is deeply satisfying.

Personal satisfaction is kind of what this place runs on. It’s a happy mix – there is the pleasure of mastering new skills, be it swinging a hammer, writing a blog, or learning how to cook dinner for 50 people (yikes!). Volunteers are given independence, respect, and an open door to take initiative – it’s a scrappy, low-income Do-ocrachy. And of course, there is a real joy in knowing you are helping people here.

Yesterday the crew I was on worked to rip down a daycare modular building from a dirt-floored site and moved it to a new site with a concrete floor. It was sweaty work with new friends from across the world. There was some danger in sorting out how to take it down without having it fall on us in the process, and we solved the challenge together.

Near the end of the tear down, the woman across the street gave us a bottle of Coke and glasses, and one of the people who runs the facility brought us to a nearby daycare for a lunch of salad, rice, and spicy chicken. Sitting together on chairs made for 6-year-olds eating food and sipping soda that were real-world token of appreciation from some of the poorest people in the world was both humbling and kind of beautiful. Sour workplace politics and a good paycheque in the default world could never compare. It makes the hassle, the noise, and the lack of creature comforts totally worth it, and somehow makes even the terrible coffee taste better.

Take it from an old Burner curmudgeon – I’ve been to Burning Man seven times, and while it’s great, it’s not the same thing anymore. If you want more Burning Man away from Burning Man, save your cash and come on down. We’d love to have you.

All from here, at least for now,


About the author: Carmen Mauk

Carmen Mauk

Carmen Mauk is passionate about creating platforms that encourage radical community participation. She is the co-founder and former director of Burners Without Borders, a program of Burning Man Project that creates participatory models for international disaster relief and community initiatives. She is also the founder of Burning Man Information Radio, BRC's community radio station. Carmen holds a Masters degree in Transformative Leadership from the California Institute for Integral Studies where she became an enthusiastic student of the art of creating community collaborations that bring about positive change.

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