From the official explanation: Black Rock Rangers are participants who volunteer a portion of their time at Burning Man in service of the safety and well-being of the Burning Man community. Rangers act as non-confrontational community mediators, providers of reliable information, facilitators of public safety (with the expectation that everybody read the back of their ticket, of course!), and navigators of the edge of chaos.
Day or night, pairs of Rangers can be found walking and bicycling the streets of Black Rock City, engaging with the community, enjoying the art, and always ready to help sort things out.
Carmella and I have Rangered the main event, Burning Man, in Nevada, for many years, and some ancillary events, but never a full-fledged regional event, and never in Africa! Much of the art of Rangering is helping the community of participants uncover the ways they can resolve issues themselves.
Rangering is broken into four 6-hour shifts, covering the 24-hour day, but it’s still common to use the terms “day”, “swing”, and “graveyard” to describe the different environments commonly faced while Rangering (and as a throw-back to the original 8-hour Rangering shifts).
As experienced Rangers, Carmella and I choose to be available around-the-clock for emergencies, and scheduled to work from dusk to dawn (about two shifts, more or less).
“Rangers rise from the dust when they’re needed and recede when they’re done.” — Danger Ranger
At Burning Man the Rangers wear khaki, to blend into the surrounding playa. In Tankwa Town the Rangers wear bright orange tee-shirts and orange reflective vests. It gets cold at night in the Tankwa Karoo so Carmella and I are wearing warm hats. As she says, this isn’t our first rodeo :-)
AfrikaBurn 2015 feels like Burning Man 1996; small and intimate. The infrastructure is minimal. The Ranger station is one canvas tent with several folding tables, a bunch pushed together for the public, one for supplies, and a third for a huge Bunsen burner to heat water for tea and coffee.
This is the Ranger station at midday.
The public-facing table has a reminder of the FLAME protocol: (Find out, Listen, Analyze, Mediate, Explain), the lost-child protocol (we close the exits to the city while the search is underway), a map of Tankwa Town, a flashlight, radios, and a log-book in which to record the goings-on.
Some days we choose to start our Ranger shift early: here we are at sunset, getting ready to hold down the town.
Here’s Carmella Rangering the perimeter of the big burn. She’s facing outward, towards the crowd, keeping an eye on the facial and body movements of the participants, anticipating “runners”.
One of the most challenging aspects of providing Rangering services for long hours during the event is the parallel need to replenish all the calories burned. Going through the efforts of cooking meals takes time and energy, which are in short supply when you’re on-duty for 12-18 hours. Some resort to consuming ready-to-eat meals, or surviving on canned food. Luckily, most big events also provide a commissary for the volunteer staff, where hot meals and assorted beverages are available.
There are also staff showers; minimal but necessary when a shift includes dust, sprinting to emergencies, contact with all sorts of substances, and as care for exhaustion. A gravity-fed shower in a portable plastic cube is worth another three hours of work, in my experience.
Here Carmella celebrates the end of yet another successful shift. Sometimes the quiet shifts are harder to get through than the busy ones, but all feel good coming to a close.
Sometimes the food, shower, coffee, and celebrations just aren’t enough to keep one going. A characteristic of a successful Ranger is to be able to catnap as necessary; Carmella has it down.
Next up: the AfrikaBurn - Ranger Tarot game Carmella created to engage the community.