Baroness Karen von Blixen, who wrote under the pen name Isak Dinesen, famously shared her life as a Danish expat living and working on a coffee plantation in Kenya in her lovely memoir, Out of Africa. In that account, she writes that she has a song of Africa that floods her with memories and longing and beckons her back to Kenya and she wonders whether Africa has a song of her. That book, which was made into a very vibrant and lush film, has always resonated with me because I, too, have a song of Africa.
Several decades ago, I married into a Moroccan family and that connection has brought me many times to this old and magical land where the Arabian Nights became a reality and biblical scenes from my Catholic upbringing were in every village untouched by time. After years of being away, my siren song of Africa began its call to my soul and once again I have answered it although I sometimes fear my own memories as I know so much has changed. The world is ever progressing and even in places where time has seemed to halt for hundreds of years, progress is evident. The Internet has connected the world and its people in ways we could never have imagined. Technology and advances in transportation, infrastructure, music and culture have all been slowly changing the flavor of the Morocco I first met almost 40 years ago.
I know such changes are happening the world over, although I suspect there are still tribes in many places untouched by these advances. But they too must adjust or disappear into history. To paraphrase the late, great David Bowie, time might change us but we are not able to change time. It marches on with or without us.
This trip our voyage brought us through the south of Spain and for the first time I saw Morocco from the Strait of Gilbraltor. What struck me first as the ferry pulled into the Port of Tangier was the wind turbines, lazily turning on the hills above the port. New roads were being forged with new equipment and solar panels graced the roofs of old buildings. Morocco is indeed moving into the 21st century. Trains move at lightening speed connecting ancient cities faster then ever. The Marrakesh Express is truly one now, not the slow rambling train I first road to that beautiful desert oasis many years ago. And yet so much has stayed the same. In the magical city of Chefchaouen, I saw rugs being woven in the old way, women washing clothes at the mountain spring, wood panels carved meticulously by hand with old tools and a vibrant spice market mixed with wares for tourists hungry for the charms of the country. There is a dichotomy of old and new sometimes causing confusion but change is always so.
I imagine Karen Blixen felt the same about her beloved Kenya. She could see the changes coming to Africa, much of it imposed by the rich expats who refused to give up their luxuries in the hot African sun and indeed by her own attempts to grow coffee. But life is nothing if not change. It’s not right to hold onto that which must be let go.
And so my own song of Africa changes too. The cooing of the doves outside my window in the morning remind me that peace can come to me if I wish it. That I have the chance to enjoy yet another day of the life I have been gifted with, mindful of my loved ones whose days on earth have ended. In the words of the woman who inspired this post, “God made the world round so we would never be able to see too far down the road”. It’s a lesson I often forget in my tendencies to worry about the future and fret about the past.
Today is a Sunday, a holy day in so many ways. A neighbor is celebrating a wedding or a birth and the melodic, seductive strains of the Arabic music and singing float across the garden walls. The palm trees sway in response and so do I. My song of Africa. Mint tea and sizzling meats, simmering vegetables and spices, a call to prayer from the mosque. I will let my song keep writing itself, growing and changing its seductive strains that speak to my heart and soul. I suspect Karen Blixen did the same.