Today we took a 7-hour ride to the Sahara Desert. The city near the desert is called Merzouga We are staying in a hotel called Timbuktu. If you know the history of Timbuktu you will know that this area in Morocco was once a part of Mali and eventually was taken over by Islam and boundaries were cut. The hotel is absolutely magnificent. It is so magnificent that I felt guilty, (American guilt). After taking in the beauty we were ready for our camel ride to the sand dunes of the Sahara. You are on flat ground with rocks one minute and the desert just starts. It is a blending of unbelievable colors; black that turns into an orangeish yellow. The camel ride was amazing and everyone was in awe of the beauty of Northern Africa and the Sahara desert. Once into the dunes, we got off the camels and walked to the top of the dunes where you could see the sun set. Imagine leaving earth and flying so high that you felt breathless; can you? I felt overwhelmed by the experience and almost began to cry. We took pictures and watched the sun set.
Dinner was a wonderful experience. It was a buffet with Moroccan salad and other traditional food. We ate and drank and felt merry. We were enjoying each other’s company and talking about the experiences we are going to take home. Later that night, the moment I have been waiting for—drumming. The drumming was great, but I must admit I did get a little upset. See, drumming is my thing. I take it seriously and the rhythms and history of the music I am trying to learn. I got up and started playing with the drummers. I then danced. Then our guide, trying to get everyone involved asked them to come up and play. I understood, but to me they are not drums to just beat and make noise. You must respect them and learn their Afro-Islamic rhythms and music and dance. I let my needs move to the side to appease the guide, the touristy aspect of the drumming bothers me.
Since I have been studying Afro-Cuban drumming and folkloric music, I came to Northern Africa to study the Ganawa music. They are decedents of Mali and Sudan that were brought over as slaves at one time. They settled in Northern Africa and mixed their West African music with Islamic music. They are darker skinned that most Moroccans. The one thing that is apparent in Morocco, they are united through language. Don't get me wrong, racism does exist, but it feels different. They don’t understand our concept of race. Consistently, when the Americans on the trip, bring up race, the Moroccans reply, “we are all Moroccans, our language unites us not color”. As always, the realization that America is so race driven is an everyday thought for me back at home.
I loved dancing and singing with the Ganawa people. I really wanted to stop and talk with them about their music and what the religious chants meant, but we were pushed to move on. I almost began to cry due to my love for the music and the connection I felt with the people. I have a CD if anyone is interested.
Next, we went further into the desert where we came across men mining. We stopped to talk and look into the mines. One colleague, Joel, stated that there are just ropes dropping down into the mines. We all realized that this was suicide and crazy to work in the mines. One of the workers then came to us and showed us the rocks they were mining. He said they are used for European makeup companies to make your mascara. All of our hearts dropped. It was at this moment that Q (one of the other African-American women) and I started to cry. We know exploitation of the African continent is abundant and we even teach about it to our students. However, it was too real at this moment. I could not contain my anger, guilt, and helplessness. It took a moment to recompose and as I write my composure is leaving. Just a minute……………………
Tomorrow we are leaving for another city. I am not sure where we are going, but I am sure it will be adventurous and a history lesson.