Culture and Ideas—Gold Winner: I Hold High My Beautiful, Luminous Q’uran

by David Grant

How do kids in a rural, West African Muslim village manage to “get krunk” with each other on a Friday night in a culture that doesn’t allow dating, or even holding hands?In mid-November, 2006, my cousin David Agbemabiese and I visited Ghana’s Mole National Park. My agenda for this first trip to Ghana had been unbelievably rich and deep, so this expedition up to a game preserve in the savannah of the far, Muslim north had been only tentatively penciled in… something I’d try to pull off if it didn’t interfere with my primary business. I was here in Ghana because, through DNA-based geneaolog-ical research, I had just recently found and connected with the African family from whom my father’s line had been separated since slavery – a very big deal, indeed. And I had just dived head first into the writing of both a weekly blog and a book about the experience.This fantastic bit of serendipity had turned my first, long-anticipated trip to Africa into something even more special and emotional than I had ever dreamed. I had found a large group of blood relatives here in Ghana, separated from my family in the U.S. by an ocean and about three hundred years of history. And they were anxious to meet me and see, if after all this time and distance, there was anything at all about us that might still make us identifiable to one another as family. We had discovered to our surprise, joy and delight, that yes, indeed, there was. Incredibly, strong physical resemblances had survived; shared interests; attitudes; a dozen different little recognizable traits of family character. Amazing. And there was so much family to meet. Patriarch John Kofi Agbemabiese had, over his long, successful and highly interesting time on earth, sired forty-one children with seven wives. I spent a couple of very intense weeks being escorted around the ancestral Volta region, Accra, and Kumasi, getting introduced by one group of relatives to another. In between, I stole time to write, and occasionally, to be a tourist too.

My cousin David had recently lost his job. When another relative told him of my desire to visit Mole Park, he’d jumped at the chance to accompany me. I was paying, and he had the time. “We don’t do enough internal travel,” he said. “We have so much beauty here, but we Ghanaians, we hardly ever get the chance to see and enjoy our own country.” Travel in west Africa – even in a country like Ghana with much better than average infrastructure – is hard. And it’s not cheap, in a society where the economy just limps along and almost everyone is chronically underpaid.

Mole had held a special allure for me, ever since I first read about it in the process of preparing for this trip. I’d loved every minute of my time on the coast, the hill country; the rain forest. But so much my long-imagined Africa had always been about the savannah too – the land of baobab trees, mud houses and mud mosques; the sahel region at the edge of the great Sahara – the home of magical, mythical towns like Timbuktu and Djenne. And the other savannah; the home of big game and the safari. Mole is one of the only places in all of west Africa where visitors can have that quintessential east African experience of close encounters with some of the big, endangered animals with which Africa is forever linked in the popular imagination. And this is a place where you don’t need to rent a guide and an expensive four-wheel drive vehicle to see the park and its animal life. At Mole, as at some parks in east Africa, you can do your safari as part of a small group led by a ranger, on foot. You can also explore some of the park’s miles of trails by rented bike. The prospect was much too good to resist.

The hotel at Mole is nice. Clean, sunny rooms, but no frills, and the water is only on for a few hours each day. But it’s safe to drink. And there’s a pool. And a decent restaurant with a bar. And just down from the pool, there’s an observation deck, perched in a perfect position for guests to sit and watch the action at the two watering holes on the wild, species-rich savannah below the escarpment on which the hotel sits.

That next morning, just after sunrise, David and I enjoyed a three hour hike with park ranger John, and a very pleasant retired German couple enjoying their second holiday of the year. Our “safari” didn’t disappoint. We got close… almost too close, to elephants and crocodiles. We were treated to close up encounters with three different species of antelope and numerous species of birds. And later in the day, a mere stone’s throw from our hotel door, we watched dozens of baboons and warthogs, as well as green and patas monkeys, go about their daily business as if we weren’t even there at all. Great stuff. I shot a lot of photos and video.

But the most memorable part of our stay happened during the night hours, when all kinds of activity is going on in the park, invisible to all but those who have a great, hidden perch and night vision glasses. David and I lamented the fact that we didn’t have these. But fortunately for us, these are not necessary for night people watching.

Early that evening, a staff person made the announcement that at 6:30, there’d be a graduation ceremony just up the hill in the park rangers’ quarters for several new rangers, and that any guests who wanted to come were very welcome. As soon as we heard, David and I knew we were going. We wanted to support the new rangers, just out of principle. In a region where few good jobs are available, these are good jobs. And local guys like these new graduates are precisely the ones who have the best chance at convincing old friends, family and neighbors not to poach on park grounds; to participate in making this area safer for all the endangered animals and more tourist-friendly at the same time.

I had another reason for wanting to come. The music of this region has always spoken to me in a special way. My cd collection at home is full of the Islamic-flavored music of the sahel: Salif Keita, Thione Seck, Ba Cissoko, Oumou Sangare, Ali Farka Toure, Sekouba Bambino, and Issa Bagayoyo, among others. Wandering through the rangers’ quarters that afternoon, I’d heard intriguing bits and pieces of northern pop music in the air: the
music kids were dancing to while they played, blaring from radios their mothers had placed in windows so they could listen while hanging laundry; wafting out from kitchen doorways while they began work on the evening meal. It was wonderful – melodic; complex; flute and voice driven, with rolling base lines and undulating percussion underneath, and I wanted to hear more. And since every African party is a dance party, I was pretty sure that tonight, at the graduation, I’d get my wish.

When the announced start time of 6:30 rolled around, David and I were the first guests from the hotel to arrive… the only guests for a while. We watched as a couple of local women turned up, matronly, but like butterflies in their brightly colored, party best. As they got the punch bowl and some refreshments arranged on a side table, the DJ set up his turntables and his soundboard, fiddling endlessly with the mix on the microphones that would soon be used for speeches. He started messing around with the speaker mix for the music, and the four nervous ranger graduates got up to shake off their growing anxiety about soon being the center of attention by dancing with one another – tentatively at first, but then with more energy. Soon, a few kids from the rangers’ quarters turned up and began to dance too, around the edges of the outdoor employees’ canteen where the festivities were being held. Before long, they were joined by a growing number of kids who came by bike, on foot and by motorbike from the nearby town of Larabanga, and other smaller villages a little farther up the road. A couple of young European back packers had wandered up there by now as well, but other than David and I, they were the only ones who’d responded to the repeated entreaties to come join the party that had been broadcast down to the hotel over the p.a. system.

An official from the park leaned over the table to speak to the DJ, and within moments, the music came to a crashing halt. Without further ado, the formal program began. It was brief. The four graduates received their diplomas to much applause. Then the music was cranked back up, but this time, it was serious. Now that the obligatory speeches and ceremony were done, it was time to dance.

David excused himself, reminding me not to stay too long because we had to get up well before the sun to catch a 4 a.m. bus into Tamale the next morning. I said I’d be along soon, but I’d been anxious to hear some more of this music, and now, here it was.

The dancing, which had been confined, except for the graduates, to the outside perimeter of the open-air canteen area, now took over the entire space. Anyone who’s ever been to Africa will tell you, there’s no such thing as a wallflower at a party. Even non-dancers with their amateur anthropologist hats on like me will eventually have to get up and dance. In my case, it was young Latif who called me out. He’d seen me smiling at him and some of the other youth as they warmed up to take the floor, and they’d been curious about where I was from. After I gave them a good laugh with my spirited but Cosby-esque gyrations on the floor, we talked – shouted at each other – over the booming, compelling sounds of the pop music of their native land.

It was a big deal to them that I was from the U.S. Huge. When they asked me about my work and I told them I’m a writer, mostly a screenwriter and playwright, they got really pumped. Now, the excited, rapid-fire inquiries were all about who I know. “Damn,” they were thinking, “Brotherman must know all kinds of incredible people we’ve heard of.” I hemmed and hawed… and it hurt me to watch creeping disappointment suddenly dull the bright, expectant sparkle that had lit up all their faces just moments before. I was losing major cool points by the millisecond. I rattled off a few people they might know, before the well ran pretty dry. I had to dig deep for stories from friends and associates who have at least been in the same room with some of the people they’ve heard of. This did the trick. Very quickly, joy returned because, just like that, the huge space between them and the epicenter of all things cool had shrunk considerably, and they were basking in the glow of how it suddenly felt to be a mere two degrees of separation from Tupac, Snoop, Jay-Z, J-Lo and Oprah.

As my official host, my new friend Latif had just scored major cool points too, and I could see it in his eyes as he drank in their admiration – especially the awed expressions of the girls on the periphery of the action here. An already pretty good party was suddenly much fuller of intriguing possibilities for him. He spoke mostly in rapid fire Gonja, but the sense of it was easy enough to understand. “See, I told you he was cool,” he was saying.

And as I scanned their beautiful, sparkling faces, it hit me like a ton of bricks – about a third or more of the people gathered there were female, but so far, between the graduates, the emcee, the DJ, and the dancers, it had been an all-male show. The grown women had been in the background applauding the speeches, serving food; watching the kids. But in the dark fringes of this outdoor café turned party room, they had literally become invisible now. And the girls – all in hijab; all in colorful party clothes – they’d hung together in a pack, in their own space out on the edge of things, their eyes on the boys they knew, watching their moves, tittering back and forth with each other about them like birds on a wire.

Suddenly, my eye caught something else that turned my attention entirely away from them. Into the party walked a lanky youth whose t-shirt sported a very familiar face. Back in Accra, I’d seen several side walk stalls that silkscreen images onto plain white “Ts” for you. It seemed to be the same basic choices everywhere. You could get white Jesus, brown Jesus, Nelson Mandela, Bob Marley or, interestingly, Osama Bin Laden. I’d been thinking, if I had a spur of the moment opportunity, that I’d buy that brown Jesus. No lame, schlocky t-shirt Jesus, he, with his deep, beautiful eyes. And he wasn’t merely the white Jesus, but tinted brown, either. He had his own face; his own impressively deep persona. So… brown Jesus, Nelson Mandela and Bob Marley, I was thinking. One of them for me; the others for gifts. I’d had yet to actually see anybody sporting one of these shirts, so ubiquitous at the street stalls. But now here came Osama, big as life, rippling like a limp flag on the chest of this gangly, dust-covered kid from the village.

Before he could advance even a few steps from the entryway, Latif shot like a bolt to his side and pushed him up against the fence. I was alarmed. I stood up to see what wasgoing on back there where almost no light managed to seep over from the dance floor and the area around the refreshment table. But it didn’t feel like a fight. Nobody back there seemed to feel it was necessary to separate them. All I knew for sure was that Latif was speaking to him very urgently about something, then gesturing back towards me. And then I watched Osama remove his shirt, turn it inside out, and put it back on. Latif seemed satisfied and returned to the area near where I’d been sitting. Now I understood. Latif was looking out for me. He hadn’t wanted me to feel offended by the sight of a local kid sporting a Bin Laden t-shirt.

I caught “Osama”‘s eye and called him over. Now, in the light, I could see something that I’d only caught a tiny glimmer of when I’d first spotted him in the near darkness of the entryway. It was the way he moved. It wasn’t just the awkward gangliness of an adolescent who hasn’t quite grown into his suddenly larger frame yet. He seemed to me now an oddity of nature – someone whose every joint is not merely double, but entirely elastic – a rubber man. As he approached, I smiled broadly at him. “Hey, kid, your t-shirt’s on inside out. That the new style or something?” He grinned sheepishly and looked down at his feet. “I saw you have Osama on your shirt.” He looked confused. “Osama… Bin Laden. I saw you have his picture on your shirt.” Latif spit some terse words at him in Gonja. “Oh,” said Osama. “The shirt. You saw.”

“Yeah, I saw. You a big Bin Laden fan?”

Osama shrugged. “He fight for Islam.”

“Hmmm. Well, there’s all kinds of ways to stand up for your faith without killing folks, don’t you think?”

He nodded slowly, his eyes never rising to meet mine.

“And him and his kind, they don’t like music and dancing, you know? If they ran this town, they’d never allow it.”

He looked a little sheepish and shrugged. I got it. I wasn’t going to break this kid’s balls over his damned t-shirt. It occurred to me that for kids in this part of the world, wearing a portrait of Bin Laden on your chest might mean you want the world to know he’s your personal hero, but I’d bet my last dollar that for most, it’s probably much more about wearing a big “F.U.” on your chest… a way, like anywhere else on earth, for a kid to wave the flag of rebel youth in the face of every adult who crosses his path, the point being to offend or piss off as many people as possible. Osama was no heavily-politicized young jihadi. He was just a kid who likes to dance, looking for a little action on a Friday night in a place where there’s generally little action to be found.

“You like to dance, huh?”

For the first time, he gave me his eyes, and they sparkled. “That’s why I’m here.”

“Let’s see your moves then,” I said. “Let’s see what you’re all about.”

He cracked a wry grin. “Let’s see yours first.”

“I already did mine,” I said. “You missed it.”

Latif backed me up. “He was funny.”

The DJ was into a furious mix now; wonderful stuff; and the crowd was eating it up, girls in their corner and the guys in theirs – parallel universes – a guys’ party and a girls’ party, sharing the same space, but, at least on the surface, only tentatively connected to and aware of each other. Yet all were dancing, on fire, to the same relentless, throbbing beat.

Watching them made me think of other kids in other places on earth on this Friday night, eagerly looking, even within the mannered confines of a well-chaperoned dance, for the hot, electric thrill only a little proximity with the opposite sex can give.

From time immemorial, when men and women have partnered up to dance, dance has been a metaphor – a meditation in motion – encompassing every aspect of our relationship with one another: communication, both spoken and unspoken; nurture; longing and desire; sex. The European tradition is full of slow, courtly dances which leave a lot to the imagination. Subtlety is the point. Boys and girls taught to dance in this tradition learn, literally, to turn slow, cautious circles around each other as they take their first baby steps toward deciphering the deeper mysteries of intimacy between men and
women. Generations of youth have taken some of their most important and memorable steps toward adulthood as they promenaded awkwardly onto the floor with a partner at a middle school dance, watchful adults in the wings making sure that all major body parts remained a respectable distance apart.

But Africa, the original Land of A Thousand Dances, is the home of the beat that created rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and jazz, and funk. The dances people do to this music are more primal and leave a lot less to the imagination. Some are an exuberant and unapologetic celebration of sex and desire. Just as changing beliefs and understandings about sex inwestern culture gradually freed love-making from the insanely limiting confines of “the missionary position,” dances eagerly adopted in the West from the Afro-Caribbean-Latin tradition have profoundly energized and underscored a liberated consciousness that there are, indeed, many, many wonderful ways to make whoopee.

Yet even with their evolution into styles which are, at base, a celebration of all things carnal, the dances which have sprung from this tradition have still left at least something to the imagination. But lately, as any adult who’s recently chaperoned a dance will tellyou, one popular style, even with the middle school set, is nothing more and nothing less than just raw, simulated sex. No matter where parents find themselves between the extreme right and the extreme left of the culture wars continuum, there is, generally, a feeling that this trend away from at least a thin veneer of subtlety has drifted too far.

So, I was intensely curious about how this concern over what is widely perceived as a coarsening of world youth culture might play out in a rural village where fundamentalist Islam holds sway. How much would these kids care to mimic the styles they see in American and European hip-hop videos? How far would their adult chaperones let them go in a culture which forbids both close dancing and dating as we know it?

It dawned on me, as I strained to hear and understand the lyrics of the music being played that a big part of what made this dancing halal (like saying “kosher”, or theologically acceptable) was the lyrical content of these songs. I speak very little Hausa, and no Gonja, the languages of many of these lyrics, but as I listened, the chorus of my favorite song of the evening so far seemed to be saying, “Whatever I do in this life, I know I’m alright as long as stick to my glorious Q’uran.” I checked this out with one of the new ranger graduates when he passed my way to grab himself another cup of punch.

“Yes, yes, exactly so,” he said. “It says, ‘I know I can never stray too far in life as long as I hold high my beautiful, luminous Q’uran.'” As I surveyed the enthusiastic dancers, many of them were singing, some shouting this chorus. So, that was it. As long as the sentiments being expressed by the music were not only innocent, but positively righteous, and the boys and girls were not dancing together, the dancing could be whatever the kids wanted and needed for it to be. And the style they were into was furious and intense.

As the kids with whom I was sitting and I watched, the competition on the floor between the boys was heating up. The dynamic that revealed itself was that one boy or man would make a move toward the center of the pack and then, all eyes on him, he’d bust his best moves, holding the floor for half a minute before fading on back into the pack.

Some of the boys who’d been holding it down on the floor began to look at Osama expectantly. He and Latif gave each other a look, and then rose in unison, heading straight for the center of the action.

They were both really, really good… fluid; athletic; artful. But Osama’s odd body type gave him another whole set of tools, and he used them well. What he was doing out there is hard to describe, simply because I’ve never seen a human being move like that. It was urgent; crazy… like what krunk strives to be, but isn’t quite. His moves were like a rapid-fire ritual in which his purpose was to remove his own skin, not out of some tragic and bizarre self-loathing, but out of sheer joy – as if he wanted to say, “Hey, y’all ain’t gonna believe what I got inside of here! Now, watch; I’m’a show you. Stand back!” Like that.

As he danced on into the next song, neither he nor Latif faded back into the group to let someone else step up into the center. It didn’t feel like a selfish choice on their part. It was as if the collective mindset of the entire male group was, “Hey, the competition’s over, and we all know who won; let’s just dance.” And dance on, they did, letting these two bring the energy of the whole group up to a fever pitch while the chorus of the current tune raved on, “Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!” (God is great), their arms flailing; fists pumping skyward to accentuate the words.

I glanced at the time on my cell phone and frowned. The evening was young yet, but I had to pack, and try to get some sleep before rising at 3:00 a.m. to catch that 4 o’clock bus to Tamale. I waded onto the dance floor, gamely shaking my rump, shouting to my new friends that I had to leave.

Night falls early and hard in this part of the world. I stumbled and twisted each ankle more than once as I made my way back down the pitch dark gravel road to my room. I washed; I packed, and then I fell heavily onto my bed. It had been a very good day, and the party had provided a perfect ending. Now, there was a knock on my door. It was my cousin David, saying he’d come wake me at 3:15 if he didn’t see my light on. We wished each other a good night, and I settled in to catch some sleep.

Some other time, in some other place, the insistent thump, thump, thump from up on the hill would probably have felt like a real irritant right about then. In fact, I’m sure I would have been lying there feeling more and more pissed off by the minute. But not tonight. Despite the fact that I desperately needed to catch some sleep, the music just made me smile. I pictured the kids I’d met still at it up there; the DJ expertly plying his trade under that glorious velvet black African sky full of stars.

But instead of lulling me to sleep, those thoughts kept me awake… kept urging me up out of bed and back outside. That jet-black African sky, for instance. “When, ever again,” I was thinking, “Am I going to have a chance to gaze at stars in a sky like this?” I’d noticed on the way back down to the hotel that there was an area by the side of the road almost completely free of the little bit of light pollution thrown up by the hotel and the rangers’ living quarters. In fact, gazing up at the glory of it as I walked back down was at least half the reason for my twisted ankles. That thought alone got me half way out of bed. But the clincher came only moments later, when, faintly, behind the sound of the music from up on the hill, I could hear the muezzin’s call for evening prayers from the mosques of Larabanga. Soon, the music came to a dead halt; there were a few announce-ments over the p.a. system… then silence, except for the final chorus of the call to prayer.

O.K., that’s it, I thought. Party over. And now, the call to prayer will be my lullaby, and I’ll get some sleep. Perfect. But within what seemed a span of just a few minutes, I heard the party music start back up again. And this time, it was different. Faster; harder. An Afro-beat/Techno/Rave thing going on. “Now, this is interesting,” I thought. If most ofthe adults and some of the youth had all gone down to the mosque to pray, leaving only the die-hard dancers and the DJ up there, what were they into now? Had some of the dynamics on the dance floor changed now that things might be a little looser? Would boys and girls dare to dance together with their chaperones gone? I had to know. If it meant getting through the next hard day’s journey on even less sleep now, or perhaps no sleep at all, I was curious enough to risk it.

I threw on a few clothes and headed back up the hill. The first thing I saw was all the hands waving in the air, in unison. The dancing had more heat; more sensuality. And then, as the DJ skillfully mixed the next song into the foreground, I noticed the big difference between what he had played earlier in the evening and now. This was an all-instrumental set. I got it. If you’re a DJ up in this country, this is how you get around social stricture when you run out of the music with the pious lyrics. You create a hot mix that has no lyrics at all.

I took a seat on the far perimeter of the action. Only the colored party lights were on now, and as far as I could see, no one had noticed my return. This suited me fine since all I wanted was just to perch here for a little while and satisfy my curiosity.

The boys and the girls were still very much apart, but the dynamic between them had, indeed, changed. It was subtle, but there it was. What had seemed before like almost completely separate parties had become one. The boys and the girls were still dancing in separate packs, but they seemed to be dancing for each other now – showing off for each other; flirting across the space that divided them. I couldn’t help but be struck by the sweetness and the innocence of it all.

There’s a strong tendency in the West, especially with regards to the cultural traditions of the Islamic world, to look with a jaundiced eye at such anciently cherished social conven-tions – an easy readiness to judge them pathologically backward and old-fashioned. But as I watched the big fun these kids were having, I had to wonder, “Is it a bad thing to pre-serve a little mystery and innocence about male/female relationships and sexuality for young people making their first tentative steps toward adulthood?” If a culture’s dance traditions reflect in some larger way on the dynamics of relationships between men and women, is it a bad thing to dance in a manner which affirms the fact that men and women live most of their lives in intimately connected, but parallel universes? At the end of the day, is this really so very different from how things are between the genders in the West?

The dancers and the DJ took a break and headed for either the bathrooms or the punch bowl. Latif spotted me and excitedly made his way over to where I sat.

“Ah, Daddy, you camed back. You camed back to us!”

“Yeah; I couldn’t sleep. And you know I love the music.”

“Yeah, it’s good, yes?”

“Very good.”

I nodded toward the girls. “Who have you got your eye on over there?” He looked at me blankly.

“I mean, of the girls over there, is there one who’s special?” His eyes lit up.

“Ah, yes… my love, my wife, Aisha.”

“Your wife? Get outta here, man, you ain’t married yet. Does she know? Does she know
that’s how you think of her?”

“Yes.”

“And does she approve?”

“Yes.”

I was dying of curiosity, of course, so I asked him to point her out. She was a real beauty, with a magnificent smile and bright eyes that could light up any room. I grinned at Latif and slapped hands with him.

“My man. She’s the most beautiful girl here, no doubt.”

“Smartest too.”

She spotted us, obviously talking about her, and headed our way with another girl in tow.

“How long have you known you were made for each other?”

“All our life. Since we are five years old. Our families approve.”

As Aisha and her cousin Maryamu approached, he introduced us. We sat down on a bench, the girls on my left, and Latif on my right. I was surprised at how close Aisha sat by my side. It was like being treated as a favorite uncle might be, even though we had just met. I guessed that Latif’s obvious affection for me and the fact that he’d taken to calling me Daddy was good enough credentials of my trustworthiness for her.

“Latif is real proud of how smart you are,” I told her. “So, you’re a really good student I’ll bet. What’s your best subject in school?”

“Science.”

Maryamu shook her head. “Maths.”

“Science and math, yes, I like them both.”

“And what do you plan to do with your education?”

“I’ll be a doctor, insh’allah. The kind that works with children”

“I’m going to study for electrician,” said Latif. “We’ll get married, and then I’ll support us while she goes to school.”

“No children ’til I’m done with school.”

“Just one,” said Latif. She shot him a look.

“After school.”

She nodded, satisfied. “Then, I will support us while he takes his second degree.”

“I go for electrical engineer. Then, we have one more child, but just one. With only two, we can give them the best of everything and see well to their education.”

It was like talking to two grown folks. I’ve never met a sixteen year old couple with such a clearly thought out game plan for their lives. Nor such complete faith in it.

Before long, the music started up again and it was hard to hear ourselves talk over it. I bid the kids farewell, and watched as they took the floor once more.

I made up my mind to linger only another minute or two. I had to try and get some sleep. As I surveyed the dance floor one last time, I suddenly had a stunning revelation – something my outsider’s eyes had missed when I first returned to the party. Yet, it was so clear to me now. These boys and girls weren’t dancing for each other, they were dancing with each other. Just as water will find its way down a hill, young love will find a way around whatever social conventions may restrict its path. With respect for tradition, but with great creativity and force of will, I saw that these kids have figured out how to use intense eye contact and body language to shrink that twenty feet of space between them down to what must feel more like two inches. Or less.

It was crystal clear when I watched Latif and Aisha. I thought I’d test the premise with Maryamu. She hadn’t mentioned a boyfriend, but did she have one here? I did my best totrace the eye contact she was making straight into the crowd of male dancers… and sure enough, there he was. Young Muhammad, a friend of Latif and Osama’s whom I had met
earlier in the evening, was making strong eye contact back at her, his movements synchronized with hers in every way.

I searched the crowd now for Osama. Did he have a mate here somewhere? This would be interesting. I didn’t see him. Maybe he’d already left. But just as I turned to leave, there he was, alone, still dancing like a madman; like someone who’d caught the Holy Ghost. His body jerked rhythmically to and fro, his eyes rolled back up into his head as if he were dancing at a party in yet another parallel universe… located someplace where the rest of us couldn’t follow.

I finally turned to go in earnest. As I made my way back down the hill, I noticed that a gorgeous crescent moon sat low on the horizon over Larabanga, painted pink from the red dust raised by the early-arriving Harmattan wind. And in the darkest part of the road, my eyes drank their fill of starlight too. The music was still playing up on the hill, but as I walked on, I was suddenly startled to realize how razor-sharp all my senses felt, especially my sense of hearing. I knew that, as busy as the savannah is during the day, when all of us diurnal critters are out and about, it’s actually much busier at night. I couldn’t see any of this activity that takes place in the deep and dark, but I could hear and feel it all around me… I smiled to myself, relishing the thought that I must surely somehow have caught a little bit of Osama’s Holy Ghost, because all of this sounded like music to me now – the rhythmic throbbing of the insects; the shriek of a small animal only yards away who’d just become someone else’s late night meal; the frantic, urgent beating of bats’ wings; the breeze, like someone’s soft breathing, in the long grass.

And even though I was only walking, it felt like dancing, because I was dancing in my head. And I stopped worrying about launching into a long, hard day’s travel on only two hours sleep. I felt good. The day would be fine. I walked down the hill to my room, fully surrendering into the embrace of this good, velvet-black African night.


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