Saturday, May 16, 2009

African Drumming in North Yorkshire

Last night we took a night off from local and European politics and family worries thanks to an SOS phone call. Justice First needed help to transport drummers and drums to Ampleforth for a fund-raising social there. A trip to Middlesbrough first, to collect our 3 passengers and 3 drums. Waiting for our passengers to arrive at the designated meeting point we watched hundreds of students beginning their celebratory evening at the end of exams, all wearing their specially designed Final Fling T-shirts. It brought back happy memories of completing our courses at the same university, then Teesside Polytechnic. What a long way it's come in the intervening years and what a high standard it achieves now in its speciality subjects.
With Jose, Patrick and Rosie plus 3 drums safely on board we set off for a drive across the moors to the little village of Ampleforth. The church had organised a social evening as a fund-raising effort for Justice First and the hall was packed. A good number of students from Ampleforth College had made the trip from a mile up the road and it was something of a surprise to find that the college is now co-educational. One of the Benedictine priests told me that it was certainly better for the boys to have the girls there. He couldn't comment on whether the girls would have done better elsewhere!
The evening was a wonderful mix of music, film and words. There was the chance to hear about the real difficulties faced by people seeking asylum - fleeing their own country, arriving here and finding that they don't have the necessary evidence from their own country. As though anyone running for his life with bullets whistling round him stops to ask for a sworn affidavit from the pursuers!
A film made by students at the university told the story of Joseph who, hiding in his bedroom, heard his father being beaten and then shot by militia. Discovered, he managed to pull himself free, jump out of a window and run for cover with bullets whistling past him. In his own words "I must have run until I passed out".
There were other stories too, and the young people sat as quiet as mice through them. They were absolutely engrossed in the stories and I hope that the impact stays with them as they reach the age of voting on these and other issues. Like us, they sat entranced when the musicians sang a song in memory of all their friends and compatriots killed, injured, disappeared in the fighting in the Congo. And even today I sit slightly guiltily using this laptop, thinking that some of the components may well have materials that came out of DRC via Rwanda or some other neighbouring state, materials which fuel the instability and the conflict in Congo.
Those same young people were the first on their feet to dance to the exciting rhythms of the drums but they certainly weren't the last. By the end of the evening almost everyone in the room had been up for at least a minute or two of dancing. Videos of my contribution are banned!
All too soon it was time to load up the car and start on the journey back. Lightning and thunder accompanied us for part of the way but fortunately the rain held off.
A very good evening that made me very glad I answered the phone when I did and could respond to the plea for help. The reward far exceeded the effort of responding. My one regret was forgetting to pick up my camera and only having a phone to take snaps on. I'm sorry to say that the settings weren't right so the photos aren't very good at all.

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