When I made my last trip to Ghana in the fall of 2000 (from the starting point of Maine, where I had spent the summer working to raise some funds for my future with Koro), it was shortly after hearing the news of Koro’s death, and I was in a very broken state. Back in Ghana, dancing was eventually the one thing that seemed to really bring me back to life, the most healing practice I found – besides perhaps my life-long, tried-and-true and very much-needed writing practice. When I resumed my former dance lessons in the village of Kokrobite, the drums got everything inside me – all the emotion and heartache, black holes and anything else going on in there – moving, as they simply took over and moved not only my body but my whole being. The movement brought change, the change brought growth, and my reality could not help but be transformed. And meanwhile, as this all transpired, I was completely absorbed in feeling the Divine Spark running through me when I was inside the rhythm, enraptured, quite oblivious of all else.
Those drums brought me back to life whether I wanted to be brought back or not; I had no choice in the matter as that Divine element within them, coming through them, connected with that very same Divine element within me, shoring it up and prompting it to kindly toss my ego aside – so as to possess all of me, to shine through every speck of my being as it moved me. At that time, dancing provided me with the most clear experience of the Divine, and that experience of the Divine was all that really mattered to me, was “what it was all about” for me – perhaps now more clearly than ever before, as after losing my husband and my entire future in Ghana with him, I felt that the Divine was all that was left for me, all that remained. Soon dance was the one thing actually making me want to live again – just so that I could keep doing it, so that I could keep feeling myself enveloped in this pure, Divine experience – so that I could simply keep experiencing the Divine. Plus… it brought some sense of joy back into my reality.
Within the first few days of my arrival back in Maine – after that last trip to Ghana in the fall of 2000, my good friend Becky, whose family I had been living with over the summer, was randomly gifted two tickets to a West African drum and dance performance in Portland. (Side note: I had actually met Becky on my first ever trip to Ghana, while we were in college, and by now she had pretty well saved my life twice, both times Ghana-related – good friend indeed.) The group, we discovered once we were in the theater, was from Guinea, and I was absolutely blown away by what I witnessed in that show: the dance was so much more intense – so much MORE – than what I had been doing in Ghana. Eyes wide open, I turned to Becky and told her that this was what I wanted to do, that I wanted to go to Guinea and do this kind of dance.
And so the idea of going to Guinea, arising on the heels of losing the future I had envisioned for myself in Ghana, was tacked onto the return trip to Ghana that I always felt coming in my not-too-distant future. I still just wanted to live in Africa – saw no real future for myself anywhere else, and while I had just seen another prospect emerge for me with a friend back in Ghana… all I really wanted to do now was dance – so that I could keep experiencing this blissfully divine state into which it brought me. In Kokrobite, I had been taking daily dance lessons, and now I just wanted, again, to simply be in a place, preferably in Africa, where I could dance every day; and once I saw this style of dance, I thought, “why not Guinea?”
Back at my mom’s home in the suburbs of Chicago that winter, I began to dance with teachers from Senegal and Guinea. And over the years to come, when I began to study with particular teachers from Guinea, many of whom took students on trips home with them most winters, going there eventually started to look not so much like a dream but like a possibility. …Except that, by the time I was actually anywhere near ready to go… realistically… my lifestyle by this point being a bit… particular, and entailing a certain standard of healthy environment (relatively clean air at the very least – meaning no highly-polluted African cities), and also preferably a flexibility of schedule (hello three-hour-a-day yoga practice)… finding the right teacher with whom to travel was a bit of a challenge, as most of the teachers base their “camps” – consisting of a full schedule of classes – in or around the highly-polluted city of Conakry. I knew staying in Conakry was simply not an option for me, as my generally light, fruit-and-juice-based diet makes me extremely sensitive to air quality (among other things) – and at this point, I know I need to stay within that diet in order to feel fully healthy – a necessary piece of the puzzle for a return to Africa, as I would not risk getting malaria again. (After coming far too close to death-from-malaria back in 2000 – two blood transfusions and some heavy medication required to keep me in this life, a desire to be in Africa without getting sick was actually what first drew me into an increasingly cleansing diet, back in 2001 when I began to learn much more about the connection between diet and health.)
When I started to drum again, after many years away from it, I felt I had finally hit upon the right teacher with whom to travel. Alisco, my favorite drum teacher and a trusted elder in our community, took his students not to Conakry but to Dubreka, a supposedly much quieter, smaller place, about an hour outside of the city. As I have known the cities in West Africa to be extremely polluted (I’m sure I’ve mentioned in previous posts, for one thing, the lack of emissions controls over there), I planned to spend absolutely no time in either Conakry or Accra, other than on my way in and out through the airports there; and Alisco assured me that with him I could do this. Besides the big issue of air quality, living in a quiet, peaceful place was a necessity for me if I planned to stay for any length of time. And with Alisco, I could stay for months, not weeks, as he went home to Guinea less often but for longer stretches than the dance teachers I knew – and I felt that when I finally made it back to Africa, I would probably want to stay a while. His trip also seemed much more laid-back than the others – less structured, meaning that it wouldn’t be a struggle to try to fit in my long yoga practice.
Alisco knew me well enough to know about my yoga and my diet, and it also helped that I loved him dearly and had always felt very comfortable with him. He had always felt like family to me, ever since I had met him in Chicago many years before I began studying with him in California, when I was introduced to him by a friend who was also my first ever West African drum teacher. I trusted Alisco and felt safe with him. And… drumming with Alisco generally felt like pure magic: beyond feeling that divine element of Connection running deep, it often felt as if he was downloading rhythms into my mental and physical bodies as meanwhile my spirit soared. So yes, for so very many reasons, Alisco seemed like the perfect person with whom to travel to Guinea…
Aharona Shackman has used writing as her primary practice for connecting with the Self pretty much since she learned to write. With the commencement of this blog, she is now beginning to practice the sharing of some of her writing...