By MATT LUSH, global ambassador, AYLP
It’s a beautiful thing to witness the power of music. At today’s opening barbecue for the Algerian Youth Leadership Program, it wasn’t long after everyone finished eating that the drum began to play, and the Algerian students began to dance. They chanted, they clapped, they sung and they spun around and around. Smiles were everywhere!
It’s beautiful thing to witness people living in the moment. As the Algerians danced, there were those of us—myself included—who were documenting the jubilee on our iPhones. I still felt like part of the experience while taking the video, but it wasn’t until an Algerian student whom I’ve never met before grabbed my hand and pulled me into the circle that I realized it’s worth sometimes putting the camera down to truly focus in. That was so much fun.
These students are not shy. And they connect with those they meet almost immediately. It’s a different kind of interaction that the Western world is used to. It’s an intimate connection—a haptic connection. Like hugging someone you’ve met for the first time and then pulling them into the circle to dance with you. Like you’ve known them your entire life.
Somehow the focus spontaneously shifted from dancing to soccer—or football as it is called in Algeria—and a group of students and I ran from the picnic tables to the nearby field. We played for about 20 minutes, and then disbanded to rest. Some of the students grabbed a Frisbee; others simply lay on the grass and looked at the sky. I walked over to a table where the drummer from earlier was teaching a program counselor how to play.
“You’ve nearly got it!” he said. “Try it like this.”
He took the drum to play a common rhythm. Everyone’s began to smile and move their heads to the beat, almost unconsciously. The energy was contagious.
It’s apparent that this program is about more than bringing two cultures closer together. While celebrating differences is expected, it’s more amazing to see that there are more similaritiesthan differences between Americans and Algerians. Seeing people from opposite ends of the world immediately join together in song and dance gives hope that understanding can be fostered and peace can be accomplished anywhere on earth.
What I witnessed today goes deeper than nationality and culture. It was the banding together of humanity, the “brotherhood of man” in the words of Lennon. I’m excited for these next two weeks.