Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Glastonbury; the place that just keeps giving

Colour. Soul beats.  Contagious smiles. Change makers. World food. Swirlers and twirlers. Belly laughs. Wellingtons. And 200,000 people all camping upon Michael Eavis’ 365ha property called Worthy Farm near Pilton, Somerset in England for 5 days of music, dancing and singing. This place is known as Glastonbury (aka Glasto); a mammoth of a contemporary performing arts festival that has been attracting global trotters to its green fields since 1970. Described as magical, another reality and unlike any festival or place you have ever been to, it would be down right silly to not get amongst it - And amongst it I found connection everywhere.

People, people everywhere!
In fact, Glasto was born from a place of connection. People would flock to the historical and mythical site of the nearby Stone Henge, sacred to this day because of the many theories surrounding its bizzare origins and one story telling of its construction by Merlin who was asked by King Arthur’s father to build a fitting memorial and wholla, a circle of stones were born (as rumour would have it!) The farm is also overlooked by the Glastonbury Tor in the Vale of Avalon, an area which has many legends and spiritual traditions, attracting people who wanted to connect with the land, the stories it had to tell and the like-minded people it charmed. Influenced by the hippy ethics and free festival movement of the time, Michael was inspired to host his own festival on his dairy farm and so the fun began! Sponsored and supported by the three largest non-government organisations in the UK – OxfamGreenpeaceand Water Aid - Glasto is not only a place of awareness-raising, but also a means to financially back many good world causes with a mission of creating a safer, fairer, more sustainable place, now and into the future.

Glasto’s thriving popularity and positive vibes today brings artists of all varieties, organisations and community groups, small businesses, and hordes of folk from rockin’ babies and toddlers, to those in their prime youth years, to parents, and even the oldies. Age is limitless. The prerequisite is an open heart and state of mind. In conversation with Simon from Italy who was enjoying his fourth Glasto, he said: “I love all the different types of human expression here. That’s what Glastonbury is to me. It’s people expressing their individuality but at the same time, demonstrating that we are all one and the same. Music, art, performance, drama and colour string us all together. Some expressions just resonate with some more than others.”

Now that's a rockin' stroller if I don't say so myself

Rock, indie, folk, reggae, blues, alternative and world tunes had seas of bodies moving, swaying and bopping at the hundred or so different stages. Among the lead acts were The Rolling Stones, Mumford and Sons, The Smashing Pumpkins, Phoenix, The XX, Nick Cave and many, many others. It was plain to see that it was just as much an honor for these musos to be performing at this renowned festival as it was for the peeps to be in their presence.

The Pyramid Stage - Where the magic happens
Glasto isn’t just about the music though. It’s much, much more. With dance, comedy, theatre, circus, cabaret and hundreds of organisations and groups who set up shop fronts, to bring their art and messages to the party. Pictures of baby elephants of course drew me straight to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) where I met Harriet Wilson; a massive sucker for ellies like me! Harriet explained that in Kenya an extraordinary number of 38,000 elephants are poached every year in Africa for their ivory and if it continues at this rate, elephants will be extinct by 2020. An atrocious fact to learn! The DSWT was founded in 1977 to help conserve and protect wildlife and habitats in Kenya, and have established an Orphan Project, which involves rescuing and hand-rearing milk-dependent ellies so they can be returned to the wild when grown and healthy. “We have reintegrated more than 140 orphaned elephants and over 20 have had their own babies.” A huge part of the project is educating the local community about environmental and wildlife conservation through mobile cinemas and field trips to schools and communities to create a future where people and elephants can live in harmony together. “It is a challenge to say the least. An elephant has the ability to demolish a family’s crop in one afternoon. At the same time, the ivory of an elephant is equivalent to the 15 years wage of a manual worker in Kenya. A big step in the program has been working alongside rangers to remove snares and arrest poachers. Coming here and speaking to the public the past three years has helped spread word of the work we do and that’s all we can ask.”

One of the baby orphaned ellies at feeding time (Photo Source: DSWT website)
The scent of spices, cooking meats, steaming moos moos and stewed vegies led me to the Tibetan Kitchen, where I met the very lovely Sonny. “What I enjoy most about Glasto is the amazing array of people I have met the last two times I have brought my business here. I love to share with them what Tibetan food is because not too many people are familiar with our cuisine and at the same time, educate them about my home.” Sony is from a rural town in northern Tibet and is involved in numerous groups and campaigns to raise awareness about Tibet’s political situation. “I’m a strong supporter of the Free Tibet campaign and am constantly trying to help my people back home. Many struggle for the basics, like food and education.” Sonny’s philosophy on life touched me. He said, “We all want to live in the best world we can and it is each one of our duty to work towards this.”

Sonny admiring his food goodies (Photo Source: Tibetan Kitchen facebook page)
Of course, I got a’talkin’ to the Oxfam peeps. More than 60 volunteers circulated the grounds with red flags raised high in the air reading Love Syria. Through this campaign, Oxfam is advocating for humanitarian access into Syria to assist the 1.3 million or so people who have been severely displaced by years of civil war and conflict and have consequently fled to neighbouring countries to seek safety. “We have 13,000 signatures, but its not just about getting numbers. It’s just as important, if not more, to talk and connect with people on this critical issue, and this is the ideal place to do that. Oxfam’s presence at Glasto is well-known and this campaign is important now more than ever,” shared a volunteer.

Vollies from Oxfam (Photo Source: Love Syria facebook page)
I am still basking in the after glow of this cultural beacon and what I consider to be a melting pot for connection, giving and receiving, learning, creativity and playing like an excitable child who doesn’t want to get off the slippery dip!

A giraffe, zebra, dragon and unicorn. Glasto has the ability to change you into animals and mythical creatures!
Have you had a similar experience at a festival, event, conference or some gathering or coming together of people? Would love to hear about your experiences of connection, what you learnt or simply the fun you had! Share your glorious stories in the comment box below.

Stay tuned for my next blog! I was recently in Morocco and it was Ramadan; the fasting month for Muslims, but also a joyous time for celebration. I have spoken to several Moroccans about what Ramadan means to them on a personal level and dug a bit deeper on the spiritual front to explore what connects them to Islam.

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