On Saturday I went to a Refugee/Asylum Seeker event at St. Fagan’s open-air museum. I admit I hadn’t given much thought to the situation of refugees until I met some a few months ago, and now it’s something I increasingly care about. I also love the warm, vibrant cultures that many of these refugees come from; it stands out brightly against what can sometimes be a rather dreary context here in rainy Wales (sorry, Welsh friends – I do love Wales. It’s just awfully cold and gray, and a bit formal sometimes). Saturday was intermittently rainy and characteristically overcast, but St. Fagan’s was a lush green and the tent that housed the event was filled with the nutty smell of roasting coffee beans as Almas performed the traditional Eritrean coffee ceremony – washing, roasting, and grinding the beans before finally brewing and serving the thick, sweet coffee.
Modernity means camp stoves and electric grinders
We stood outside the museum for a while as Max from Liberia played drums, inviting passers-by to give it a try and encouraging them to come by the tent later. As numbers lagged, we each sat down in turn and tried to drum along. Max showed me harder and harder rhythms but I kept up ok, though I can’t seem to get a very loud “boom” out of the center of the drum head; he told me I needed to cup my hand and that helped a little bit. “You’re good,” he said, “Do you want to play again with me later?”
Can I just tell you now that drumming is ridiculously fun? Naturally I said yes. I’ve tried to play a djembe before but never really grasped it like this before, and I was itching to play more even though my hands ached already.
Back in the tent, a Zimbabwean refugee animatedly told the crowd stories from his childhood, and a Sudanese man sang two hauntingly lovely songs in Arabic, a capella. Then they called Max up to the front to perform- there were maybe 40 people gathered to watch, I guess, I’m bad at numbers so I could be really off – and he said to me, “Come on – you’re playing with me, right?”
So he announced me as his drum assistant and we played together, me on one drum and Max on two.
It was a long day, cool and rainy, but warm and filling nonetheless. I got to observe most of the time, which is what I really love doing, but I was pushed out of my comfort zone in many ways (not just by impromptu drumming), with delightful results, and made a few lovely new friends. Also, the food and coffee was delicious.