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  • Lorraine Johnson

[97] Distance

It was 1995 and a very long ride of swells on a dhow to get to the Island of Ibo, with its bluest waters and pink coral, its whitest sands, and ancestral land graced for eternity with palms and baobabs—filled with the secrets of architectural remnants and ancient stories of pirates and slaves, and ivory, and gold trades. The Arabs and the Portuguese, the Muslims and the Catholics, they all left a mark on this island dotting the vastness of the Indian Ocean. An island where Mozambicans still continue to make theirs—and carve out a life—and sing and dance.

The school was inside one of the outer rooms of Ahamad Assane's stone-built house, aging from long years that have now passed and generations that slept, danced, sang and studied inside its walls. The room served as the Madrassa Chame Al Arabia School, and it was filled with young students—girls with veils draped over their hair, sitting on the floor on one side, and boys on the other. The hexagonally built drums with small metal jingles embedded in their red-painted sides were in the middle, nearest the inside wall, waiting for the rhythmic hands of drummers' calls.

The drums started and the girls began to sing and dance Damba, a Mozambican dance for Alá. And the boys responded in kind. They sang to Mahomé, the messenger from the god Alá—in simple words that came from deep in their breath. And the words spoke—do everything beautiful—do everything good—every day—so you too can go to paradise, when called by Alá to the afterlife.

The time then arrived for Ahamad Assane to bid us his gentle goodbye, as the ocean's mangroves and coral reefs created distance between song and dance, and a life lived boldly—reclaimed—in the shadow of long-gone circumstance.


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