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Munrize and the Little Drum with the Big Voice

In a time not of this time, not yesterday or tomorrow but once in time lived a little girl named Munrize (moon rise), in a small town, called Sonrisa. The town sat in a valley beneath a range of high mountains near a swiftly flowing river. Munrize lived happily with her mother, father, and two older brothers. Her father was a carpenter. Rich and elegant were her father’s furniture, strong and stable were her father’s houses, magical and mystical were the masks and statues he carved. Munrize’s mother was a weaver. Thick and soft were the rugs she wove, warm and strong were her blankets, and the clothes she wove were the most colorful and comfortable in Sonrisa.

Munrize’s two brothers were drummers. Ever since Munrize could remember she had heard the sound of drums. When she awoke she heard drums. When she went to sleep she heard drums. When she was born her brothers drummed.

"They played a rhythm like the rolling of the sea," her mother said. "I heard waves crashing to shore and you were born." Then she tapped out the rhythm, the rhythm of Munrize’s life. By the time she was three, everyone saw that Munrize walked with a distinct rhythm, the rhythm played when she was born. At four she began to dance. By ten she was the best dancer in the region as her brothers were the best drummers.

Munrize lived to dance. She excelled in school just to have more time to dance. But, in one storm her whole life changed. The rain beat on the house and suddenly sirens were heard warning of high winds. Munrize and her family crouched together in the corner of a bedroom, she was behind everyone against the wall. Suddenly, a loud, piercing sound roared all around her and Munrize felt a cold wind. Then something hard hit her head and she fell into darkness. Hours passed before she woke up to find her legs bound by casts. As she came fully awake, she felts so alone her heart ached and she could hardly breathe. Tears fell freely as she felt the deepest sadness she had ever known. Soon she was told that everyone in her family died in the storm. The doctors, nurses, and later her aunts and uncles said over and over that it was a miracle she was alive.

Every night Munrize cried herself to sleep. Not only was she totally alone, the doctors said she had very little, if any, chance of ever walking again, let alone of ever dancing again. Munrize decided that without her family and unable to dance she could not bear to live any longer. Every day she ate less and less of the nasty hospital food she was served. She flushed down the toilet what she did not eat to return empty plates so the doctors and nurses could not understand why Munrize was getting thinner and thinner and weaker with each passing day.

Warmly the sun touched the face of Munrize and she opened her eyes wide with surprise. She was sitting on a stool in a wide, flower filled park beneath a giant tree. Between her legs sat a small djembe drum, the same kind of drum her brothers played, only much smaller. She touched the drum and it felt warm, familiar to her touch and then she began to play. She played all of the rhythms her brothers and father had played for ceremonies, marriages, funerals, and parties. All of the rhythms she had danced to flowed from her head, through her heart, to her hands. Suddenly she stopped playing and looked up noticing the darkness, lit by a full white moon, but she still felt warmth on her face. She thought, "This is a dream," and opened her eyes to see her uncle standing above her.

He helped Munrize sit up. Then, he turned around, picked up something and turned back to Munrize holding in his hands a drum that looked just like the one she had just dreamed about!

"This is the first drum both of your brothers played. I thought it might help you get your strength back." He placed it in her lap. The drum felt just as it had in the dream, but she did not have the energy to play it even a little bit.

Her uncle continued to talk as he took the drum from Munrize and set it on the floor. "You’ll have to eat to get the power to play your drum. So, I’ll leave it here to give you encouragement. Rest now Munrize."

Within three days Munrize sat up and played the drum. Unlike in the dream, she could not play as well as her brothers or remember all of the rhythms. But she practised every day. Everyday she ate more. Every day she grew stronger but she could not walk.

Finally she was able to go and live with her uncle and his wife. Three times a week, a nurse came to give Munrize physical therapy. The rest of the time she drummed. For weeks Munrize prayed for a drum teacher to come to town. Finally, one day she saw a flyer in the library advertising "Douma, master drummer, classes for adults and children." She almost jumped out of her wheelchair.

All of the drums and students seemed very large to Munrize when she was wheeled into her first class. She was the smallest and youngest student with the smallest drum. But, Munrize loved her drum and knew it was special. A very dark skinned man with large laughing eyes, a wide smile and colorful shirt stepped briskly out of a room and said, "Welcome, come in, come in, so you are my littlest drummer."

Every week Munrize arrived on time for class. Every day she practised the rhythms she learned. But, ever week Damou came later and later and the class became smaller and smaller. Munrize said nothing as she heard others complain.

"He’s always performing instead of showing me how to play. But, I do learn a little just by watching him."

"Yes, I’m learning too, but he keeps starting at the beginning each time a new person comes."

Munrize let the complaints flow in one ear and out the other. Drumming was her life. She still could not walk, even though she worked hard at making her legs stronger. Pushing her wheelchair made her arms were very strong and this helped her drumming. Sometimes at home she would play very loudly and very quickly as if her hands were dancing. Sometimes she could play rhythms that comforted her aching heart the way her mother used to wipe away her tears.

The class was down to half the size it was at the beginning when Damou arrived one time only half of the class time was left. So, several students paid Damou only half the class fee. When Munrize left, Damou and those students were arguing. The next week none of those returned who argued about paying. Even though others stopped, Munrize continued to take the class.

Every year at spring time Sonrisa held the Coming of Age Celebration for all of the girls who entered womanhood and couid now bear children. During this special time the girls were in retreat for a week of classes, rituals, fasting, and meditation. The week ended with a huge celebration in which the whole town took part. Sonrisa’s leaders invited Damou to be the guest drummer for the Sunset Ceremony and Grand Dance. He said Munrize could play with him because she had been such a good student and it was her celebration year. Damou tried to get Munrize to play a large drum but she said, "No, my drum sings with my brother’s spirits and gives me strength."

In addition to the sunset ceremony, Munrize drummed for all of the secret woman way rituals which were held during the week. Finally the last day arrived and everyone was excited and awaited Damou’s arrival. But, as the sun began to touch the horizon, Damou was no where to be seen. Everyone began to worry because the ritual had to start before the sun totally set. So, Munrize began the beat for the ceremony. The sun was setting on the girl’s childhood as they danced beneath the arch formed by all of the older women. As they stepped out they were recognized as women and they continued to dance through Sonrisa.

Munrize’s uncle pushed her wheelchair as she played the drum. People along the way joined in the dance. As her strength grew so did her beat. Her tones were loud and smart, her slaps, sharp and high, her bass, loudly vibrated the space around. A rhythm steady, lively, rhythmic, enchanting and mesmerizing sang from her drum. Suddenly Munrize felt herself drawn in the opposite direction the people were dancing. Quickly she told her uncle to turn, her rhythm changed, and the dancers followed her drumbeat. They danced out of the town unto an old farm road. Now, it was dark and a full white moon lit the sky.

Munrize stopped drumming when she saw Damou stumbling toward her. He he used a long branch as a walking stick to guide him because his eyes were sealed shut by blood and scar tissue. "Damou, let us help you." Munrize said as her uncle ran to his side. Several days later Damou told his story. "I was running very late, so I was speeding and had an accident. When I came to, I could not open my eyes, I could not see. But, I heard the drum. The drum led me to you. The beat was so loud and strong it was eyes to me. Munrize, you were right. Your drum is little but it is special. You have a little drum with a big voice."

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