Years ago, firmly settled into my evening routine among the stones in Sierra Leone, I painted the words providence in the wilderness on my bedroom wall. Not much an artist, I used words and phrases plucked from anywhere to decorate and inspire me. A mix of something in Malcolm X’s autobiography and Robinson Crusoe, I thought I was being philosophical.
I thought it represented my past-self’s idealized trajectory; starting with being a young, confused, but lively person in the world and maturing into someone confident, more focused, spiritually satiated, sure of things. I naïvely thought age and interestingly curated living arrangements would help me with finding that providence. The years pass and I count more grey hairs in my beard, but I feel no closer to that mythical providence in the wilderness than all those years ago.
Which isn’t to say things are bad. Things are great for me, actually. But maybe it is this dual thinking that grinds on me occasionally; that I take on too many externalities, like the state of U.S. domestic politics or global opinion on the existence of a dying biosphere, that are very much out in the wilderness for me.
So, enough with resolutions or promises. I know myself. I need better habits and routines. But since I have rarely had those, I feel more comfortable bringing a few intentions to the coming ten years.
Read more for pleasure, less for knowledge
Don’t be afraid to show yourself
Be mindful of spreading your general positivity too thin
One of the best things about living where we do is the lush flora, with trails and paths everywhere along and protruding from the riverbank. We can explore our surroundings on foot, without the need of a car to reach a trailhead.
A few days we took Alqo to a wide open space. Unofficially designated as the dog park of the town, there weren’t others dogs for him to play with. It had rained the whole day before and we weren’t ready to head up the monte to cloister ourselves up by our heater, so we started down a path following the river. It turned in to a 6 kilometer out-and-back, leaving town behind, crossing the river, and heading deeper into the forest.
These paths bring back so many memories of Sierra Leone. The foot paths from my village in Loko country led to smaller settlements, passing upland farms, palm plantations, sacred bush for gbangbaní ceremonies, and irrigated swamps for rice farms. The human interaction with the physical environment was minimal but symbiotic. You could see palms with a small plastic container hanging from the tree collecting palm wine, or a bundle of sticks with thread and a lock, signifying some type of swear that a moriman had constructed, for a price, to protect the property or harvest of another. While there are no fetishes, we could see the land was cared for in a wild way. There were mossy stones organized as small walls or boundaries, and small plastic water bottles hanging from young castaños (we’re still unclear what function they serve).
We saw a lot of quartz on the walk too. Even up on the monte the cloudy white rock is everywhere.
Despite the cold and rain, I’ve been outside every day. It’s quite a change from living in Cologne, and it’s much appreciated. Nature is close, and I feel it.
Note: This is the first time I’ve written anything about me and Islam and shared it. I am hesitant to write this even now, mostly because I’m scatterbrained and a terrible writer. I linked to blog posts from others who are more knowledgeable in certain topics to keep this short. You might not know I’m Muslim. Or you might consider me too recent a convert, not informed enough. It should be obvious, but these are just my thoughts and I speak for myself. In some stricter circles, it might be considered inappropriate to do so without having some type of qualification. I don’t speak Arabic and I wasn’t raised in a Muslim household. But these are blessings and my reality. I am a Muslim by choice. I have unique perspective and a voice. As the Qur’an commands of us, we must come to know one another [49:13]. Here is a part of me.
Sometimes, I have the feeling I’ve lived two separate lifetimes. In some way, I have. It started when I woke up one morning after the doctors pulled a tube out of my throat in the ICU. That tube helped me breathe while my body and a drug cocktail dealt with inflamed membranes in my spine and brain, poisoned blood, and renal failure. It was a year after high school and I was hospitalized with meningococcemia. Before then, I was a very average teenager in the suburban sprawl of the San Gabriel Valley playing in a band, hanging out with friends, and going to shows. I lived in my bubble. But after that morning, something changed. I no longer desired to stay close to home and play video games on my free time. I wanted to use my brain. I needed to see and feel all life.
Bai Bureh is recognized as the leader of a 1898 Temne rebellion against British colonial rule in northern Sierra Leone. His father was a Loko war-chief and in his youth, Bai Bureh was sent to Gbendembu to a training school for warriors. Throughout the 1860s and 70s he served under a Susu ruler but in 1886 was crowned ruler of Kasseh, near Port Loko. Needless to say, he was opposed to British indirect rule. When the protectorate was declared, the British immediately issued an arrest warrant.
After the British protectorate was declared over the Sierra Leone interior in 1896, a house tax was imposed, which many of the rulers and their people opposed, in addition to imposing the new laws the British were trying to implement. The British reaction was a forceful show of authority, including arresting, deposing, and brutalizing some of the local rulers. Bai Bureh was believed to be one of the rulers staunchly opposed to the tax and thus faced inevitable confrontation with the British who determined to make an example of him. This led to a major war of resistance in 1898 between the British and a Bai Bureh–led coalition that lasted for 10 months. Bai Bureh was defeated by the British-led forces, which had superior resources and armaments and had also destroyed the food supplies and large sections of territory. Bai Bureh surrendered, was arrested, and was exiled to the Gold Coast. He was brought back in 1905 and reinstated as ruler of Kasseh where he died in 1908.
Bai Bureh’s guerrilla tactics were very successful in the initial stages of the rebellion. Due to his reputation as an effective warrior was able to bring many fighters from all around Northern Sierra Leone to help him; Limba, Temne, Loko, and Susu.
This is the only known photograph of Bai Bureh. It was discovered by Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Gary Schulze, who found the photo on eBay. Before this discovery, there was only a pencil sketch of him from a British army officer.