On that hot summer day in Strasbourg (Aug 1997), you are unable to walk anymore with the group, your asthma is acting up. Pollution levels are high, the TV had warned the previous night. In front of the ancient Strasbourg cathedral, many things are happening to attract tourists.
Among them a small group of short South American native Indian men are dancing in a circle, in their colorful ponchos and long braided hair. One of them is playing a flute with many reeds. You are captivated by the music, there is something primordial and familiar about it apart from its haunting notes. You sit in the circle of people standing around them. You tell your friends to go ahead, you are staying here the rest of the afternoon.
So people come and go, but you are still sitting, watching the dance, entranced. The dancers have noticed you, and are now smiling at you as they pass you in the circle. Their faces are deep brown, their skin is polished and taut, their smiles are very warm.
There is a break in the dance. They all come around to you, you are taken aback. They start speaking in Spanish addressing you as Senorita, they thought you were South American. Had to do the No speaka Espagnola bit. They are disappointed. Then the leader of the group comes over, he speaks French and German. Voilà! You tell them that you are Indian. They are excited, they are also Indians. You clarify that you are a different kind of Indian. It didn’t matter, their smiles are just as warm. Through the interpreter, we converse a bit.
They are from Ecuador, they are part of this group traveling across Europe, playing their native music at different tourist spots. [You wonder how much of the earnings they actually get in hand]. They are terribly homesick, wandering around in places where they cannot talk to anyone. They feel that you are from their place, though you aren’t, they feel a certain connection to you. You understand what they mean. You’ve always had this doubt that in a previous birth, you were from a tribe that was very closely connected to nature, spoke to trees, understood the language of the wind.
When you finally have to leave, you buy a cassette of their recordings. [Proyeccion Inka’s Musica Tradicional] They insist that you take it at half the price. All of them turn to you in the middle of the dance and wave to you, smiling from ear to ear and bidding Adios, Senorita!
In the midst of strange cities, the strangest of people sometimes connect, in the most curious of fashions. For we are, in the end, human, and so vulnerably so?
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