A black skinned hand with enlarged knuckles and thin misshapen fingers held my left hand as it pulsed up and down to the beat of hand drums which are warmed and their edges blackened in the golden rising flame of the fire; as the cold air descends on the expanse of the light coloured silted river valley.
After the soulful melody of a solo male voice calling hand drums and feet….my own stepped in unison to the sideways shuffle of yellow skin pointy slippers – some with heels; others not. The circle of soft shoes sank gently into the rising dust – periodically stepping forward and backward in rocking rhythm….then again side wards on what seemed to be on the off beat rather than stepping on the beat. Africans are born with rhythm in their bones and what is innate for them I found at times a little challenging and I had to observe and then let the vibration of the instruments lead my body with joy to feel the rhythm within myself.
In a small line encompassed by the men and their voices and drums, local girls joined my hands with theirs in a small line; my feet shuffling with theirs and a subtle movement of my shoulders shaking, as our hands circled up and down just in front of our bodies. It wasn’t like the seductive hip movements as I danced with the belly dancers some nights before… this dance was far more restrained and subtle. I must say I found the shoulder shake quite difficult to accomplish!
A Nokia phone ring tone filled a pause and the pocket of one of the musicians ..and then another….and a third ring tone. “Puma” on a T-shirt beamed out from underneath the white djellabah of one of the musicians. It was obvious that this was a ‘tourist performance’… and not a ‘real’ dance and song performance of the locals as they would be doing in ‘real life’…. But ironically this WAS ‘real life’ and WAS REAL.. I AM a tourist. I am not living in their communities where these celebratory or day-to-day dances would have been or perhaps still are part of THEIR private community lives. I am certain a couple of the musicians would have been called up earlier that afternoon and offered a few Dirham to come to give us a ‘performance’… but regardless of that… it was fun…and it was an experience in which I was part of; of where people sharing and expressing their own gifts and abilities and this was the REAL Africa…where people make money any way they can to survive.
The aged black gnarled hand once again found mine and I was instructed in some finer movements to accompany the narrative of the melody. My arms and legs jerked not unlike a long legged spider on a hot surface; sharp, angular movements…then my new solo performance was accompanied by sounds from my voice as instructed by my new teacher; repeated in the spaces between the layered rhythms of the music. My new mentor and teacher and I laughed together as my short apprenticeship with him in dance came to stillness.
Palm leaves on top of the logs of hardwood had been burned and subsided as the crescendo of drums; shakers and voices was taken away with the desert breeze under the full moon, to the cliffs of clay, hardened silt and sand of this remote river valley near Tissent.
Dancing under the full moon was a few nights ago now and as Penny carried us on our way to Marrakech, we became part of the most exquisite landcape. Soft lines curved from one horizon to another; layer upon layer of compressed history, folded by heat and pressure and eroded creating swirls and curls of rock and time; and as we came closer to these mountains of rock, cactus draped their withering fruit in desperation for the usual seasonal rains, which seem at present so far away. Lines in the dry earth were contoured around the slopes of the landscape; donkeys with wooden ploughs stumbled jerkily – led by women wearing brightly coloured fabric who struggled tilling the soil awaiting for he skies to turn grey and wet so their seeds could be planted for their life sustaining crops.
Everything seemed layered in this diverse country. Fabric was layered. Rhythm was layered. Stone was layered. Tagines were layered. Goods on the tops of vans were layered and tied on with a network of rope and knots and balanced precariously atop of the vans…and then a layer of people clung on to these loosening ropes on their journey to and from their work in the towns where hammers banged metal and sparks flew from welding rods…and wood shavings dripped from hand lathes going back and forth planning the edges of trees which once struggled on the rocky slopes.
As Marrakech came closer the villages showed some evidence of technology with white circular satellite dishes perched on hardened mud roofs; all pointing in one direction like the sharp vertical stones in the graves scattered across the landscape. In places where there was no running water and sanitation poor; it became evident that televisions were where families gather together.
Penny drove us past a huge timber wheel four feet in diameter, which lay on the side of a hill, speared by a large trunk of wood and rested upon a giant slab of worn stone where it became evident was another place where people gathered together- this time for a different purpose. We stopped and scrambled up the hill and after salutations, smiles and an offering of silver coins so I could take photographs ; we were invited inside a small wooden door and into a dark room which smelled of oil dust and history; where another huge trunk of a tree lay horizontally and was impaled by a carved timber screw. We were instructed in excited sign language how this ancient olive press worked a month prior as the olives ripened. We were witnessing a tradition from centuries if not thousands of years ago… and we were a part of this real Morocco. Hugs and handshakes with sun and stone hardened hands led us down the rocky path as their generous waves continued as Penny continued north.
Vast areas of agriculture seemed abandoned on the terraced slopes yet small family plots were being tilled and the roughened earth speckled the hillsides. I looked down and quite a distance away a woman wearing bright pink cloth was working in her garden beside her burnt red mud brick home. We waved excitedly to each other. I don’t know what it was but we could see into each other’s eyes and into each other’s lives. There was a connection between us which I cannot even being to explain, but lingered in my silence for a long time that day. I can still feel that moment of connection and am still no clearer on it – but it is one of those moments which has become part of me and of my experience in Morocco.
Even as a tourist this is ‘real’ Morocco…where my feet step in rhythm in the dust; and I put notes and silver coins into dark hands which clasp and shake mine with generosity and wave with a connection I cannot understand but only feel.