Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Africa stories

Today, Africa was on my mind.

I listened to the music I recorded while I was there. Immediately I was brought back to that evening on the balcony, with Sidy and Maze and Yacouba and the rest. Maze wearing his yellow shirt and playing his jaunty new, yellow trimmed drum. I could see the bats and smell the night air of Bamako.

My memories of Mali will always be bittersweet for me, I think, now that Maze is dead. It has been 5 months since he died and I am still caught by surprise by grief.

I am dreaming of red dust and prayer trees. I am dreaming of homemade wooden benches and brightly colored tessolets. I hear the sound of the call to prayer and it brings me home, back, there.

As a young adult, I thought my adopted culture was Japanese. The structure and formality and hierarchy beckoned. The control. And the seething emotion just under the surface.

But no. Not Japan. Not formality. In the drum rhythms there is an intricacy and complexity, but it isn't stiff and formal. It is wild, it swings, it beckons and draws you near and if you let it, it seeps into you and animates you like nothing else every will.

I danced to the sabar the other night. I couldn't find the rhythm. It was an otherworldly sound. But the drummer invited me to dance with him and I closed my eyes and let his drum speak to my limbs, my core, my soul. I just gave my body over to the sound of his stick and hand slapping the surface of the drum, whack, and I moved, whack, and my arms flailed wild, whack, and then it was over and I went back to dance on the sidelines.

I have no fear anymore. No fear that I look like a fool or that I can't dance as well as an African. I have no fear. I have learned that from the drum, I think.

And the queens, the Jeli women, in their stunning dresses and big head wraps and their beautiful kind words to me. When they tell me I am family, I believe them, though I don't know their names or how they are connected. Yet, we are family. Yes. I believe it.

And God, who is so big he can hold us all in his love. God, who speaks to me in the sound of the drum and the flight of a giant fruit bat and the song of the call to prayer and the red dusty leaves of the prayer tree.... God is in the midst of it all.

Africa haunted me today.

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