What happens when you throw a polished corporate businesswoman into the mud and muck of a music festival? A lot, as it turns out. Reem Al-Zahawi tells us her story.
"I recently attended -- and camped -- at the Roskilde music festival in Denmark to meet up with my best friend, who is married to a Dane. Sounds like a pretty normal summer activity, right? Wrong. I am a 34-year-old Iraqi-American executive who grew up in between Cairo and California due to my father’s job with the United Nations. Camping is not something within my comfort zone.
This was my first time camping and I had no idea what I was getting into. I pride myself on being a light packer. (In fact, I never take more than a carry-on bag.) I brought along a backpack and a roll-on case for my five day trip. I mined my friends for their camping knowledge and clothes. They said that the key to camping clothes is that they have to be versatile and convertible, if possible (like pants that could change into shorts, and back again). The weather would be unpredictable, too. So I needed to factor in the possibility of rain.
I ended up stuffing the following into my bag: 10 pairs of underwear, four tank tops, yoga pants, denim cut-offs and flip-flops. I knew this stuff would probably be destroyed (if not from the elements, than from my sweat and general disarray), so they had to be disposable. The two most important things I brought were a bikini top and wellies. The bikini top served as a bra, and as a top when it got really hot, and most importantly, it dried quickly; and the boots kept me out of the muck.
When I had to decide which beauty products to bring, I was at a loss. I don’t really care what I look like, but what I smell like is another matter. If I stink, I can’t sleep. So I brought two different kinds of deodorant, a "24-hour" stick (Degree Clinical Strength) and a men's brand. The men's deodorant worked better. I slathered on Neutrogena SPF 30 every day.
Upon arrival at the festival, I was in shock at how enormous it was: The rows of tents stretched on for what seemed like an eternity. My friends told me to drop my stuff in our tent so we could set off for a show. I blanched -– leave my things for thieves to steal? They assured me that would never happen at Roskilde. (They were right.)
It took a day for me to adapt to my temporary surroundings. There were so many people (the stench was unbelievable) –- so many blonde people. I was expecting fair-skinned blondes -- this is Scandinavia after all -- but I really felt different. I’m short and dark-skinned with a body that hasn’t changed since I was 12. Living in New York, I’m so used to blending in wherever I am; there’s always a mix of people.
This was not the case in Denmark, everyone was tall, slender, blonde and blue-eyed. Each woman was better than the next, and their lithe frames leant themselves to pretty much whatever they wore. Their uniform seemed to be high-waisted denim shorts that were tight enough to restrict breathing (I thought so, at least). They wore Doc Martins and light sweaters, which they destroyed and taped back together -- with orange duct tape.
Strangely, amongst this crowd of incredibly gorgeous people, there was not a hint of sexuality in the air. We were all there for the music, and objectifying women would have gone against the all-inclusive spirit of this festival.
After five days of not much sleep, communal living and not showering, I was ready to head home.
But I did learn a lot about myself. I realized that I was able to be free from all the restrictions i had previously put on myself and it was liberating to know that I was capable and able to live in a totally bizarre environment that was unfamiliar, and still thrive in it and enjoy the festival. You could say this experience pushed me to try something new, and I adapted. Would I do it again? Probably."