If you have Arachnophobia—the kind where mentioning spiders may cause you to have a panic attack—you might want to skip this post.
So my first night in Sierra Leone, I’m brushing my teeth with bottled water, getting ready for bed. I glance up on the wall and almost had a panic attack of my own. The biggest spider I have ever seen in my entire life was right over my head. I’m not going to explain everything that happened over the next 30 minutes, but let’s just say I was desperately trying to find anything longer than 12 inches to kill the spider with, and completely failing, but at the end of the day I was alive and the spider was not.
The next morning I sat down for breakfast with Ibrahim, who slept in the next room over. (OK, I can’t help mentioning that Ibrahim is from Freetown, which is even hotter than Kabala where we’re staying, and so he packed his coat and beanie, which he put on whenever it dropped below 80 degrees. No joke. In the picture below, it is hot and humid. I wished I was wearing shorts.)
Alright, back to the story.
I told Ibrahim, “Sorry if I made a lot of noise last night. Did you hear any of that?”
“Yes, what was happening?”
“Um, there was a really big spider in my room, and I was trying to kill it.”
Ibrahim looked a little surprised. “Why?”
“Well, I didn’t really want it sharing the bed with me.” Based on the look on his face, I needed another excuse. “And where I come from, some spiders are poisonous.”
After laughing at me good-naturedly, Ibrahim replied, “You can’t control everything in this life. Only God can protect you.”
That’s true. And something I need to be reminded of a lot. In every single area of my life. Speaking of being reminded of God, Ibrahim is also the guy who made sure we prayed together each morning before we started training. He talked about God a lot, and reminded me of a lot of truth that week. We stayed up late at night, talking about the Bible, Adam and Eve, and Jesus. We both really like Jesus.
Oh, did I mention that Ibrahim is a devout Muslim?
Here is what is truly awesome and crazy about Sierra Leone. It’s 78% Muslim and 21% Christian, and they get along really, really well. The majority religion isn’t trying to control, oppress, exclude, or convert the minority. There is total freedom of expression. Every person I met confirmed this. And it’s not like there’s one group over in one part of town living, working, and praying completely separate from the other group. From what I could tell, it seems wholly integrated. It’s not just coexistence, it is true cooperation. I was blown away.
When Ibrahim invited me to go pray at the mosque with him, I thought he was trying to convert me. Until I got back to the Land of Wifi and read this article that was published before the Ebola outbreak:
As Ebola was sweeping the country in 2014-2015, this cooperation was only amplified. Churches and Mosques banded together to establish handwashing stations and educate the community on Ebola prevention. Muslims and Christians worked side by side to keep their communities safe.
I am by no means a cultural anthropologist, and I certainly can’t see the big picture or all of the nuance of this phenomena, but people: we have a lot to learn from the way they’re doing it in Sierra Leone.
– Marc Malone