Can shoelaces bring people together as effectively as music? The day before our summer music camp began in Borj Cedria, Tunisia, Emeni Jebali worried that she would not be able to participate because her cello had broken six months earlier, and no one had been able to fix it. Cultures in Harmony pianist Kimball Gallagher, Emeni’s brother Nidhal, and I decided we could fasten the tailpiece back onto the instrument with a shoelace. A week later, the shoelace still held strong, a symbol of the strong friendships we had formed. DONATE NOW TO HELP US CHECK UP ON EMENI’S CELLO NEXT YEAR
There was little Taha, an eight-year-old boy who spoke no English or French, but who loved his violin so much he could never bear to put it away. He would follow us around, violin under his chin, and learn everything by listening. He couldn’t read music, but insisted on staring at the music stand because that’s what big boys do. Every time I saw him, he smiled and kissed me on the cheek.DONATE NOW TO TEACH TAHA AGAIN NEXT YEAR
Then there was Soraya, who at eighteen displayed maturity beyond her years. Her growth astonished us, as she played chamber music for the first time with ease.DONATE NOW TO CONTINUE OFFERING SORAYA NEW OPPORTUNITIES
These are just two of the fifty-five students who we put through a hectic pace of workshops, master classes, private lessons, chamber music, and chamber orchestra…with time out for ping-pong. It is summer camp, after all.
We left the camp twice for concerts. Few experiences in my life equal the concert we gave at the best-preserved ancient Roman coliseum in the world, located in El Jem. Yet we made more personal connections at the concert we gave in Nabeul at an English Language Village where Tunisians can go for an immersion program. The Barber Adagio for Strings closed our concert on a note of raw power that deeply affected the several hundred students. One young woman in a Muslim headscarf came up to us afterwards and said, “During the Barber, I saw a woman in the darkened corner of a room. She has been shot and hurt, but she is trying to heal her pain.”DONATE NOW TO PERSONALLY AFFECT AUDIENCES AROUND THE WORLD
Such honest and direct dialogue set this trip apart from any other. We organized a cultural diplomacy forum at which all the students agreed that the sessions had changed their ideas about Americans, and they were eager to change Americans’ misconceptions about Tunisia. When we informed them that our government statistics claim that 98% of Tunisians are Muslim, they laughed. Only a quarter of the students identify as religious, and they estimated the percentage of Muslims in Tunisia at around forty. Yet one pretty girl without a headscarf enlightened us by observing that if you are religious, as she is, it is between you and God and should have nothing to do with headscarves.
The most meaningful comment came from a student named Amal, who gave it to me on a sheet of paper; she had been too shy to speak up in the forum. She wrote:
“It was terrific to meet you and I hope that I will see you again next year and I’m awfully happy to know and to meet you. Besides, you’ve changed the image that I had about Americans because you’re completely different. You’re nice, kind, friendly, generous, awesome, beautiful.”
Choking back tears, I thanked her. Her mother smiled. “Do you know what her name means?” she asked. No, I responded. “Hope.”DONATE NOW TO KEEP THE HOPE FOR PEACE ALIVE
Is there reason for hope? Can Arabs and Americans live together in peace? Can conflict evolve beyond violence?
The coliseum at El Jem once resounded with the roar of lions devouring Roman slaves. At our concert a couple thousand years later, those same walls vibrated with the lively rhythms of music by William Grant Still, the grandson of American slaves. In 1982, the corridors of the Hotel Salwa shook from the impact of the bombs dropped on the hotel when Yasser Arafat stayed there. In 2008, Mediterranean breezes wafted the sound of children practicing Beethoven through those same hallways.
During this project, we were privileged to work with the Association of Supporters of Musical Creation, and we were honored by the support of the U.S. Embassy and the personal involvement of the Hon. Ambassador Robert F. Godec. However, we cannot continue bringing people together through music without your support.
During each project, we create Hands of Friendship, and everyone who donates at least $50 will receive a Hand of Friendship no later than October 1.
Who will grasp your hand? Will it be Amal, who now believes that Americans are “nice, kind, friendly, generous, awesome, beautiful?” As I was leaving the Hotel Salwa with the Jebali family, I saw Amal crying by the hotel gates, her mother patting her on the shoulder. Emeni and her mother spoke quickly in Arabic, and Emeni told me, “She cry because she does not know when to see you again.” Honking horns forced us to drive past, so I just barely had time to roll down the window and touch the tips of her fingers with the tips of mine as our car drove past.
The high-five lasted a nanosecond, but the connection will last a lifetime.DONATE NOW
Forward this message to all your friends, co-workers, and relatives. Don’t forward the e-mail about how Bill Gates will give you money if you forward that e-mail. He won’t.