Dreams in the Desert- page 8 | Travel | Smithsonian
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Dreams in the Desert

The allure of Morocco, with its unpredictable mix of exuberance and artistry, has seduced adventurous travelers for decades


As Mahmoud and Malika wrap up their description of the ceremony, which involves colored cloths, perfumes, food, drink, incantations, prayers and mesmeric, trance-inducing rhythms, Mahmoud slides onto the floor and begins picking out a hypnotic tune on the goatskin lute called a guimbri. Malika claps in counterpoint, and the drummer from his group joins in, tapping a syncopated beat on a plastic box of a cassette tape. The children are soon clapping and dancing in perfect time. “Hamza is only 10 years old, but he’s learning the guimbri from his father and has already performed with us in Japan,” says Malika, hugging her oldest child.


After a while the group takes a break, and I step outside, alone under the stars, to smell the sea breeze and listen to the distant echo of fishermen dragging their boats across the rocky beach into the surf. Soon, this scraping sound mingles with the faint plucking of the guimbri as the music resumes inside. Caught up in the Moroccan need to entertain and be entertained, they’ve started without me. Escaping the guimbri, like sleeping through Imilchil’s Berber festival, is out of the question. I inhale the night air. Refreshed, I slip back inside, ready for more.

About Richard Covington

Richard Covington is a Paris-based author who covers a wide range of cultural and historical subjects and has contributed to Smithsonian, The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, among other publications.

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