April 2015, Volume 19, Number 2

Academics

 

Sailing Down the World’s Longest River

MDC student Gaby Rosario experienced a magical evening at InterAmerican Campus earlier this spring when she learned about The Nile Project, heard excerpts of the group’s music and then sat down to dinner with the performers to discuss their work.

A graduate of New World School of the Arts (NWSA) at MDC, the classical dancer and future advertising major knew about the growing stress placed on local water resources, but she didn’t have a full handle on issues along the Nile.

“For the past couple of years, I’ve helped NWSA Professor Dale Andree organize the National Water Dance to bring attention to the need to conserve our nation’s waterways, but this is the first time I’ve met with people from abroad to discuss the problem in more global terms,” Rosario said.

The special dinner helped Rosario and the more than 80 students, faculty and administrators who attended to more clearly understand the depth of the disputes about water rights among the 11 countries bordering the 4,132 miles of the world’s longest navigable river.

Multiple Perspectives

Leading the thought-provoking discussion were members of The Nile Project, a group of musicians representing each nation that touches the waters of the majestic river, from its source in Tanzania to the sprawling delta in Egypt. The musicians create an eclectic mélange of sounds fusing instruments, timbres, rhythms and lyrics of the vastly diverse region into songs that can be lush, haunting and even ecstatic. The group’s goal is to transform the discord stemming from the Nile basin’s disagreements into dialogue.

While even the most credulous utopian would not expect an artistic collaboration to fix a problem involving nearly a dozen nations, hundreds of millions of inhabitants, a limited vital resource and frictions going back centuries if not millennia, it is nonetheless a promising prototype for approaching complex disputes that cross borders and cultures. If present trends hold, there likely will be more of these types of conflicts in the future. The realistic hope is that the microcosm of collaboration The Nile Project has created could become a template for 21st century conflict resolution.

“The dinner and dialogue tonight are about creating bigger opportunities to act and surmount barriers when trying to fix global problems,” said Colleen Ahern-Hettich, director of the  Earth Ethics Institute, which organized the dinner in collaboration with MDC Live Arts. “By talking to each other as individuals, we are able to cut through divisions. After all, if we can’t find ways to work together on problems that affect everyone across the globe, well, the planet will be fine, but we are in for a rough time as a species.”

Setting the Table for Interaction

The Nile Project encounter became in itself a microcosm of MDC collaboration. At a multicampus institution as large as MDC, the dinner and discussion offered an opportunity for conversation across localities and disciplines. Students, faculty and staff from 18 different departments gathered to enjoy the music and exchange ideas in a festive, stimulating environment.

The event that night was followed by a Nile Project concert later in the week organized by MDC Live Arts, which fosters cultural and intellectual exchange by presenting performances and educational activities that strengthen relationships between artists, students and the community at large. In addition to the concert, some Nile Project musicians gave workshops at MDC.

“They were here for a five-day residency,” said Kathryn García, executive director of MDC Live Arts. “They visited classes at several different campuses to introduce their music, and it gave students a chance to learn more about what they are doing and why.”

An Offbeat Way to Talk About Tough Topics

Pleased with the results of the collaboration, Ahern-Hettich said, “Programs like this provide a space for a different kind of dialogue, and it is this type of discussion we will need to have to solve the big issues.”

García agreed. “Bringing people together through art, dinner and conversation makes it personal. Once you meet someone, you have a different relationship. You can no longer look at them as some distant, impersonal ‘other.’”

For her part, Rosario was grateful to have participated, since she had the chance to speak with people she never otherwise would have met, including a musician who plays the oud, a Sudanese singer now based in Brooklyn, N.Y., a civic engineering student and professors from  the English and social sciences departments at campuses other than her own.

“I haven’t met that many people from such diverse backgrounds all semester long,” she said. “And then tonight, there we all were sitting at the same table eating dinner together and talking about so many different things. It was great.”


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