Our wake up call did not happen this morning. Luckily Katie set an alarm so we could be on the mini buses by 7 am to start out 8 hour drive into the Sahara towards Zagora. I slept through most of the ride but stayed up for the switchbacks through some of the Atlas Mountains. They are so beautiful and I would love to return some day to backpack through them. We stopped for lunch at a random roadside restaurant where we had some sort of meat in various shapes. Our long and hot journey led us to the side of the road in the desert. Not really the middle of the desert and there weren’t many sand dunes. There were actually power lines that we followed for part of the way on our camel trek. Janae and I shared a camel for our hour long ride to the nomad camp. We passed some houses and saw children staring at the crazy Americans.
INSERT MUSIC REPORT HERE: (I already wrote about this once and I’m pressed for time so forgive me if it’s not exactly what you want to hear)
We were greeted by singers and dancers at the entrance to the cluster of tents. As we hopped off our camels, our group cautiously filed past the nomad performers, under the archway, and into the center of the camp. After putting our bags in our individual tents, we settled on carpets around the campfire. While we chatter, a group of performers entered the campsite. It was a group of thirteen men, dressed all in white with caps on their heads. They wore black belts across their chests and small swords at their hips. They lined up as if setting up a stage and two men crouched in front with big drums. They sang a traditional Berber song in Arabic accompanied with hand gestures and slight body shifts. At one point two men stepped out of line to dance in front of the group. The two danced in a back and forth way, mirroring each other’s movements. When they returned to the group, the lined joined hands and continued singing in unison. I originally thought their sound was homophonic; the melody of their voices sounding over the supporting beat of the two drums. As I listened more closely, I could tell there was something else going on. I scanned the faces of the singers, looking for a clue. The second to last man, on the far right of the line, was the one who was throwing me off. He was not singing the same sounds as the rest of the group. He wasn’t even singing on the same rhythm. His voice was contrasting the group in pitch and in time. His high pitched shout poked sharply through the solid melody of the rest of the line. The fact that he rose forward on his toes as his voice piped up accentuated his oppositional stance. Once I recognized the source of the contrasting sound, I was totally fascinated by it. I whispered to everyone around me and pointed excitedly to my discovery.
I spent the rest of their performance sitting with my mouth hanging open trying to soak up any and all details I could observe. At that moment I tried to take in the moment and the experience as a whole while trying to thinking critically about the music I was listening to. As much as I was wrapped up in the surreal concept of being somewhere in a huge desert in a nomad camp with the sun setting colorfully behind me, I was aware that the men in front of me were at work, performing for tourists. If I turned around the little bubble that I was in with those men would pop and I would be once again sitting with two hundred other students watching a show instead of living the life of a Berber nomad. Although the music, the singing, and the dancing were authentic Moroccan, there was something holding it back from being completely traditional. I think that something was the setting and the audience. When one of the singers brought a girl up and placed her in the middle of their line to join the group, I was again aware of our position as outsiders. As far as I know, a woman would not just jump up and join the ensemble for laughs in any other situation. However, the look of sheer terror on the face of the girl was too priceless to be critical any longer and I laughed along with the rest of the audience.
As the men’s troupe exited, another musical ensemble entered with two female dancers. This group included a ney, and three different drums. One of the drums was played with the hands but the other two were different than any other drums I’ve seen. They were played on both ends at alternating times, with two different kinds of sticks. The four musicians played while the women walked around the audience dancing. They grabbed students and got them dancing; first in a small circle and eventually in a long conga line around the entire central part of the campsite. The audience participation was the same as the night before, when we went to the folk show and horse fantasia. The women danced throughout the group while the male musicians followed behind.
Although I had experienced similar musical performances through video clips before arriving in Morocco, I do not think I would have been able to understand the attitude the performance creates in person. The look of happiness on the women’s faces as the led a train of young Americans around in the flickering fire light or the serene but serious expression of the men as they chanted deep into the night. Watching a documentary, reading other’s research, or listening to recordings would not do this experience justice. There is no way to learn what it’s like to fall asleep listening to a drum séance from reading a book. Being in the field and having the opportunity to get to know the people you are studying on a personal level is the only way to have the complete experience. Facts and figures are the same in life as they are on paper, but culture cannot be fully transmitted over distances through various forms of technology. Culture needs to be experienced firsthand, from those who live it daily. Culture is shared, learned, patterned, adaptive, and symbolic.
END MUSIC REPORT
As the night went on, some annoying kids decided to get drunk and cause a ruckus. We had settled into our tents and fallen asleep after gazing up at the billions and billions of stars that reminded me of The Lion King when the starts form Mufasa and he talks to Simba. Around 1:30 am we heard a commotion from the tent next door. A guy and a girl had run up the top of the (handmade) tent and slid down the other side. I sat up as they were running up the top of my tent and they stepped on my head. I ran outside to yell at them as they jumped off the other side. As they ran past me I said, “You stepped on my head.” The boy’s response was, “You’re lucky that’s all I stepped on.” I don’t know this boy and he doesn’t know me so there is no reason for him to say that. Yelling amongst the drunken people continued till 3 am when Pearson finally intervened. I was so angry and embarrassed by the vulgar things that these people were saying that it was really hard to sleep.
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I have never seen anything more amazing (although I probably said this in another post) than the stars in the middle of the Sahara. I really expected Mufasa to start lecturing me on my purpose in life.
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I don’t think I have to explain what my minus for today was.