In a time not of this time a little girl named Munrize lived in a town called Umoja. The town sat near the seashore, surrounded by a rich forest. Munrize lived happily with her mother, father, and two older brothers. The sound of drums was the earliest memory of this wide-eyed girl. Her mother loved to tell the story of her daughter¢s birth. "When you began to kick in my belly your brothers began drumming. They played a rhythm like the rolling of the sea, like waves dancing to shore so I felt no pain."
Before she could walk Munrize danced to her rhythm. When she took her first step her second step was a dance. By the age of three, Munrize was the featured dancer for the harvest festival. Her brown legs moved in perfect rhythm to the beat of her brothers¢ drums while her long beaded braids created floating rainbows.
Munrize lived to dance. She studied hard and did well in school so she could join the older dancers and perform for every festival, wedding, and special event. As each year passed her dancing became better and when she was ten she was chosen to be the principal dancer for the New Year¢s celebration.
The following spring her whole world changed. The rain began gently but it grew stronger as the days passed. Then one morning, the house shook like a giant rattle and Munrize tumbled from her bed. A loud, piercing sound roared all around her as a strong, cold wet wind blew breaking the windows. She tried to get up but something hard and sharp hit her legs and she fell into darkness.
A bright light pierced through the forest as Munrize danced along to her brothers¢ drums. Walking ahead with her parents, they turned and looked at her. Her mother and father smiled as her brothers drummed with an intensity she had never before heard. In a flash they disappeared.
Slowly Munrize opened her eyes and saw Aunt Damali. She smiled and said, "Munrize, can you see me, do you know who I am?" Her hand gently stroked her niece¢s forehead.
"Why, Auntie, why are you crying?" Then, Munrize saw that her legs were wrapped in thick plaster casts that hung from the ceiling and she suddenly felt a sharp pain like a fire run through her entire body and heart. "Where is Mama? Where is Daddy? Where are my brothers?"
"Lucky to be alive, it¢s a miracle you¢re alive, thank God you survived." Her aunts and uncles, the doctors and nurses tried to make Munrize feel better. But, their words did not stop the pain of loneliness. Never again would she hear her mother¢s bright laughter. She would never again crawl into her father¢s warm, strong arms. Never again would she dance to her brothers¢ drums. When the doctors said she had very little, if any, chance of walking again, let alone of ever dancing, she felt a weight crush her chest.
"What did I do so wrong? Why was I left like this? Why did everyone leave me alone?" Every night Munrize cried herself to sleep. No matter what anyone said her heart felt like ice. She wanted to die. So every day she ate less and less of the nasty hospital food she was served. She threw it in the trashcan when the nurse or her aunt wasn¢t looking. The doctors could not understand why she got thinner and thinner. They wondered why she could not get enough energy to begin physical therapy.
Warmly the sun touched her face and Munrize opened her eyes wide with surprise to find herself 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 head of the drum and it felt tight and alive, familiar to her touch. Suddenly, her hands began to play. She played all of the rhythms her brothers had played for ceremonies, marriages, funerals, and celebrations. All of the rhythms she had danced to flowed from her head through her heart to her hands. She stopped playing. She looked up and saw darkness lit by a full white moon but still felt the warm sun on her face.
"This is a dream," she said.
She opened her eyes to see Uncle Paul. "Good-morning Munrize, I brought you something to give you strength. Here, let me help you sit up. Now, close your eyes."
Munrize felt her uncle put something that felt round and hard on her lap. She opened her eyes and saw the drum she had just dreamed about!
Smiling, Uncle Paul said, "This is the first drum both of your brothers played. They left it with me when they got larger drums. It is a magical drum because it carries all of the rhythms they learned. Playing it will help you get well."
Slowly Munrize touched the drum. The wood felt smooth and cool, the head tight and strong, just as in her dream. She had enough energy to only rub her hands over it.
"You¢ll have to eat to get the power to play your drum. So, I¢ll leave it here to remind you what you need to do. But, you should rest now, Munrize." Gently he took the drum from her lap.
Three days later Uncle Paul returned and placed the drum again on her lap. This time Munrize had the energy to hit the drumhead. But, unlike in the dream, she could not play as well as her brothers but she could play the rhythm of her birth, the rhythm she had danced to for so many years. She played her rhythm over and over, hour after hour, day after day. Even though the hospital food didn¢t taste any better, Munrize ate everything. She began to go to physical therapy. She asked to sit outside in the sun. One day as she beat on her drum she felt a seed of joy rise in the center of her heart. She still missed her parents and brothers but she knew they lived inside her heart and her drum.
Her aunt and uncle took Munrize home to live with them in a city on the other side of the forest, far away from the sea. At first Munrize was sad again, she missed her family, she missed the sound of the waves and the quiet of the forest. But, when she played her drum it seemed as if she was still home and she could bring back the sound of the waves to her heart. Even though a she did physical therapy three times a week, Munrize still could not walk, but learned how to move around in a wheel chair.
Her new school was big and bright with halls and doors wide enough for her to easily move around in her wheel chair. Although the teachers and students were friendly and kind, she felt alone and shy. She only looked forward to going home and playing her drum. But, now she wanted a teacher because she had learned all that she could remember. One day she saw a flyer in the library with a picture of a man drumming, she read, "Damou, master drummer, classes for adults and children."
All of the drums and students seemed very large to Munrize when her uncle helped her into the 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 and a wide smile walked up to her and said, "Welcome, come in, come in, so you are my smallest drummer."
Every week Munrize was the first student to arrive. If Damou was there he taught her special rhythms just for her alone. Every evening, after she did her homework, Munrize played her drum for hours and hours.
One of the best drummers in the class, Damou always tried to get her to play a larger drum. Munrize always refused. Finally one day she said, "Damou, this drum was the first drum both of my brothers played. It carries their spirits and their strength. When I was in the hospital and wanted to die it brought me back to life. My weak legs can hold it because it is small. This is my spirit drum and I will play it as long as it can sing."
Munrize had been drumming for a year when the city council of Imani invited Damou to lead the parade for the city¢s 100th anniversary celebration. Damou asked his five best students to play with him. He taught Munrize all the parts that he played and she would lead the parade with her uncle pushing her chair beside Damou. They practiced three times a week and she learned more complicated and energetic rhythms.
The day of the parade, she and her uncle were at the parade site at 11:30 but Damou had not arrived. No one was surprised Damou was often late. But, when he was not there at noon the mayor frowned and said, "We will wait 15 more minutes, then we will have to begin without him." He turned to the oldest male drummer and said, "Can you lead the drummers."
"No, Munrize, will have to lead because she is the only one who knows Damou¢s part." The mayor turned and looked at Munrize and then at her uncle and said, "She can lead the drummers with that little drum?"
Proudly, Uncle Paul said, "Yes, she can. The drum may be small but it has a mighty voice."
Suddenly Munrize felt something was wrong. She felt a pain in her chest like the pain she had felt when she first awoke in the hospital after the storm. But it disappeared as soon as the mayor blew the whistle for the beginning of the parade. Her hands hit the drum as she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and whispered her brothers¢ names. She hit a deep bass and her uncle pushed her chair as Munrize played. The rhythms were so steady, lively, enchanting, and magical people danced along the way.
Munrize felt herself drawn in a direction different from the parade route. She told her uncle to turn from the main street. Everyone followed them. Soon she knew she was headed in the direction of Damou¢s home. Her drumbeats became louder and stronger and so did those of the other drummers.
They came to the top of the bridge over the Imani River and abruptly Munrize stopped playing. There, crashed into the bridge balancing dangerously over the edge was Damou¢s car. Her uncle and others ran to the car and carefully pulled him out. They laid Damou on the pavement. He had a large cut on his head and one of his legs was broken.
Damou looked up at Munrize and weakly said, "I was late and speeding. I crashed and called out for help. I knew you would hear me. I was afraid the car would fall into the river because I was so sleepy. Then I heard your drum. Your beat was so loud, so strong it gave me hope and kept me alive. Munrize, you were right. Your drum is little but it is special. You have a little drum with a giant voice."