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Bhakti Fest Work Exchange Experience

This September I went to Joshua Tree for 10 days to do volunteer work at Bhakti Fest and had the time of my life.

Until now I’ve been involved in, worked at and sponsored many events, organizations and festivals, but I must say that this was the most enjoyable and beautiful experience that I have ever had.

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It all started after going to Wanderlust Festival at Lake Tahoe, which was the last stop of our California road trip with my brother. Because of my experience there I made a list of Top 10 Yoga Festivals around the World and made a goal for myself to attend every one of them. After realizing that it is not financially possible for me to go all these festivals (since I just resigned from my regular paid, corporate work life to become a full-time yoga teacher), I applied to the work exchange programme that I discovered while doing this research. Bhakti Fest was the first festival that I got accepted to!!

First, let me talk about what ‘Work Exchange’ is. It is actually similar to the ‘Work & Travel’ program that I wish that I had done while studying in college, and basically volunteering on-site during the festival in exchange for a full festival Pass, free camping and food.

Most yoga festivals in the world are organized by non-profit organizations with the help and support of fully voluntary workers coming in through work exchange programs.

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You apply online if you want to be involved and support the organization, and if your application is approved you have a short interview to be assigned to a position with regard to your previous work experience and competence in different fields.

There are two types of volunteer categories; WE SEVA and MAHA SEVA. WE SEVA volunteers work around 6 hours of service per day or a total of 24 hours during the festival. This may include work in the Yoga/Workshop Halls, greeting guests as they enter the parking lot, Registration, Stage support, supporting our Green Team or Hospitality. In return, free entry and camping bracelets are provided. MAHA SEVA volunteers work 8 hours service per day or a total of 32 hours during the festival. These are typically people with previous Seva experience, however there may be exceptions due to areas needing specific expertise. Maha Sevas work in similar positions as Sevas and have 3 vegetarian/vegan meals provided as well in exchange.

I had the chance to have an interview with Bri and even though I don’t have any experience as a Seva, due to my previous work experience I was able to become a MAHA Seva and assigned to the Vendor Registration Team at marketing department.

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My priority was to attend the festival and be a part of it in a way, however having the kind of work experience this brings in the US, being in the yoga network and connecting with the yoga community in California, being a co-creator of such an amazing festival and serve the community was also quite an experience.

I arrived to Joshua Tree Retreat Center on Monday September 10th, set up my tent at the campsite, put on my little camping lights and prayer flags to get into the festival vibe.

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There was a welcome dinner on the first night for the volunteer workers at the founder, Sridhar’s amazing house at Yucca Valley. The rest of the team started to arrive the next day. Since the vendor check-ins and installations was starting on Wednesday, I was completely free on Tuesday. I walked to the Joshua Tree Center which is a one-hour walk form the retreat center, had breakfast, discovered the area, and in the afternoon, I practiced in front of my tent and hung out by the pool at the retreat center.

Wednesday however was a very long and busy day for my team since all the sponsors and vendors were arriving to set up their booths. We were a team of 8 volunteers, including the field team and registration team. We worked all day from 6:30 to 19:30; our job was to check-in all the sponsors and vendors, give their wristbands, car cards, inform the field team for each vendor who has checked-in and direct them to their space for installation. And of course, do our best to be as welcoming, smiling and sweet as we can the whole time.

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I learned a huge lesson from doing this simple job, that this kind of work, while looking super easy from outside, and seemingly needing no qualifications, can in fact be quite tiring. I am sure we all do have this kind of behavior sometimes to the people at the service industry; we become angry or rude, or even underestimate a waiter who serves us, a taxi driver or a bank officer for not being kind or quick enough. But even these simple jobs are not as easy as they seem. To be always smiling, 13 hours in the middle of the desert without given that many breaks turned out to be much harder and exhausting than I expected.

However, the flip side of this was that we completed most of our working hours the day before the festival started, so I ended up with a lot of free time on my hands to really enjoy the festival. Also, it was very fun to meet all the vendors and see this magical place being constructed from scratch.

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The rest of the time, I attended classes, practiced, met some very interesting people, ate amazingly delicious healthy and vegan meals and enjoyed the festival to the fullest.

The festival itself started on Thursday. I didn’t put in any shifts that day since I was tired from the day before and I wanted to enjoy the first day of festival. On other days we had single shifts and I completed the rest of my share on Saturday and Sunday.

A regular day for me at the festival started around 5:30 – 6:00 in the morning; I had my shower before the bathroom got crowded and watched the sunrise with a big smile on my face.

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After that, I got my Hemp Latte (hemp milk latte) or Dirty Chunky Monkey (bananas, raw cocoa, almond milk and two shots of espresso) from Java Gogo, and head over to my booth to start my 07:30 shift.

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Around 12:30 usually my shift was over and I started running around back and forth between yoga and workshop halls, getting in lines to catch the best workshops to practice, listen, discover and get inspired. From 18:30 to 20:00 all the volunteer workers meet at the dining hall to have dinner, connect and share after a long day. After dinner I had another shower session, get all cleaned up and head to the Bhakti Town for some warm tea and listen to badass rock’n roll kirtan. And the best way to end the day and get a good sleep of course was to lay down and close my eyes to a sound session. I was sleeping like a baby after that.

Of course, even if we had very delicious food for free I couldn’t help but try all the yummy looking foods from the vendors. Some of my favorites were; Raw Revelations smoothies and hot drinks (especially their Golden Milk), Bite Bowls, Lydia’s Golden Bar and Cashew Cream Kale Salad, Buddy Pops banana and date vegan popsicle dipped in dark vegan chocolate, toasted coconuts and hazelnuts, Teecino Herbal Coffee dark roasted turmeric tea, and of course the Indian Gourmet team cooking badass Samosas while dancing to some crazy Indian music!

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For those 4 days we felt free, liberated and expressive, to the point that it made me wish this was the reality. Being a part of such a beautiful formation and to have a contribution to it made this experience super special. Besides, it was a truly great and unique experience to meet and communicate with inspiring people from all around the world and California.

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Bhakti Town was for me was a Disneyland for yogis. I will have a separate blog post later about my experience as a participant, about the classes and teachers that inspired me.

Last but not least, I completely believe that if you really, but really want something, then you definitely find a way to make it happen. Dream, show up every day to do your best and let the universe take care of the rest. I sincerely recommend the Bhakti Fest volunteer experience to anyone who is interested in yoga.

Namaste!

Deniz Orbay.

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