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An ode to Black Girls Camping Trip '21

Black Girls Camping Trip offers a space for Black women and non-binary Black folks to be outdoors and experience camping in a safe space. They host black-led activities over the camping weekend including tarot readings, dance classes, art sessions and cocktail parties just to name a few. I headed there ready to be at one with nature and my siblings. It was magical.

The weekend started on the train from Brighton - just me (Fez), a backpack, a book, and a crumpled up list of planned activities since I knew my phone battery wouldn’t last the trip (something I found oddly exciting). A Thameslink train, a tube and a short carpool later and I had arrived. Epping Forest surrounded the campsite and there were Black people everywhere. The sounds of Black joy buzzed around: giggles, shouting, laughter. I breathed in the optimistic hum of airbeds being filled. Tents of many shapes and sizes started to appear around us and bundles and braids soon became bonnets and headscarves. Everyone had arrived and was ready for a good time.

Music flowing out of a big white tent was like the unofficial welcome call and I instantly jumped to my feet to make my way over there. I hadn’t danced freely in such a long time -I was ready to turn up. I met with a friend at the camp and we danced so much in those first ten minutes that we needed to make a quick trip back to base to reevaluate our attire and ditch a few fleeces. With fewer layers, we returned to find our sisters and siblings whining to the riddims provided by the DJ, Mercedes Benson. We went to bed buzzed, ready for the first full day on site.

Rain pounded on our tent overnight and an unexpected water feature had appeared by the morning…making a part-pond-part-bedroom. We decided to relocate our belongings to the car, vowing to up our tent game next year. We headed to breakfast and saw the destruction of last night's rainfall, realising we were not alone. Hot topics over breakfast included the rain, tent temperature, reality TV, and how nice the vegan options were. Despite some damp campers, the consensus was that we were ready for a day of fun regardless of what weather apps were predicting.

Our first activity was an art class. We each had acrylic paint and a canvas to decorate. As we sat and painted, we bonded with those around us - mainly on Love is Blind: After the Altar. (If you know you know). Among compliments of each other’s masterpieces, it became common courtesy to ask friends you’d made what they had planned for the rest of the day. “See you at the pub quiz,” “What you wearing to the dinner party?” and so on.

Camping can really take it out of you and so can a wet sleeping bag, so my friend and I took a nap in the car while we waited for our next event. Waking up revitalised, we strolled around the campsite while the rain subsided, waving and smiling at now familiar faces, and then made our way to the BBQ - next on my crumpled list. Fritters, corn on the cob, grilled veg, coleslaw, mango dip - even the salad slapped! With bellies full, I decided to walk it off with an impromptu wander around Epping Forest with some of the gyaldem.

The five of us took to the woods with waterproofs in case the skies opened up again. As we walked over muddy earth, we spoke of dating, love, family, geography, decoloniality, academia, art, work, home, aunties, camping, uni life, and so much more. We chuckled and weaved our way through the woods and soon became lost, eventually succumbing to our combined Duke of Edinburgh orienteering skills and random Epping Forest knowledge to navigate our way back to the campsite. We arrived back in one piece, emerging from the trees straight into a cocktail party.

The vibe in there was wild. Most people had two drinks in their hands and the chairs were organised in a "Black church party" style - that’s around the circumference of the tent facing inwards, ready for a dance circle to start at any point. The cocktails went down and everyone was turnt and ready to dance. Someone bravely took to the aux and we moved like we had the night before. The dancing continued in the cocktail tent right through into the pizza party. As night fell around us, the drinks continued to flow and, naturally, the friendships we had made strengthened.

One of the purest moments of the whole weekend was when a dance circle formed, the star of the show being a little girl - the child of a performer at the camp. She danced and we clapped and cheered. Seeing young Black joy warmed all of our spirits and reminded us of how important these spaces are. Her mum told us that earlier that day on the train, her daughter had boasted to a random passerby: “I’m going to a Black girls camping trip and you can’t come because you're not a Black girl.” The story made us all roar with laughter. The pride and joy that filled this child at the prospect of being surrounded by their Black siblings was something we could all identify with. Our smiles were from ear to ear.

On our last night, we gathered around the campfire and spoke of how much fun we’d had. This soon descended into a game of truth or dare which was surprisingly fun. We played games and roasted marshmallows. We coined a game called campfire confessions, where the person holding the torch could tell us something they have never told anyone before, which provided the perfect ending to a wholesome camping weekend. The darkness of the night also provided perfect anonymity, and we all shared and vibed safely with our siblings around the campfire.

This was one of the most nourishing weekends I’d had in a while and I think it was because everyone was so focused on having a good time. No one was worried about what they looked like. No one felt the need to perform. Our energy wasn’t being policed. We were all just existing together in a space where we felt safe.

I also want to take this opportunity to big up BGCT and really highlight how easy they made being truly inclusive look! They included many sober spaces and events, wrote helpful pre-camping articles about how to style Black hair for camping, and information for neurodivergent campers. They provided designated prayer areas, quiet spaces, and had separated the campsite into quiet and loud to support campers to get what they wanted out of the trip. While praising them for this, it is important to note that this should be the bare minimum for all events and spaces, and it truly is easy when you care about your community. It was clear that their focus was on including everyone to ensure there was space for us all to enjoy the trip in a safe way in whichever way we wanted to.

Black Girls Camping Trip, thanks for providing the motive. I’ll be back again, hopefully with a better tent.

Help keep Black Girls Camping Trip running by donating to their fundraiser here:

Written by Fez, 1/2 of the SHY Collective

Read more about her here

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