No shit, there I was in a West African country.
A friend and I were asked if we would like to visit a local fortune teller by our local guide whom I will call Kate. There is a form of Sufi mysticism in the region but this fortune teller practiced an older form of indigenous rites that pre-dates Islam called Set. Kate had known him since she was a child and referred to him as a uncle. My friend, whom I’ll call Rich, and I were enthusiastic to experience some local flavor and readily agreed.
On the car ride there Kate asked us if we believed in the paranormal. I replied that I think there is a such thing as ESP but that the effects are very subtle. They are also very hard to prove scientifically. She told me that a lot of Westerners come to West Africa thinking such things are nonsense but end up leaving true believers. Predicting the future, medicinal healing, and even black magic are all practiced by various “witch doctors” in the country we were in. Since a man can have multiple wives there, it is also not uncommon for one wife to put a hex on another wife.
It gets even more fun when one wife will drug the husband in order to keep him to herself. Then the wife he was supposed to be with the next day chews him out and so she ends up getting to keep the husband an additional few days.
Parking the car on the side of the road, we walked up a narrow cobblestone street to the fortune teller’s home. As we walked in we were provided with chairs to sit in. A family member sat next to us, his knee inflamed from playing basketball. It looked like he had a grapefruit for a knee. The fortune teller came out from his room with a bag of items for medicinal healing. He was the blackest person I had ever seen in my life. He wore glasses and local garb.
“What are these two white guys doing here,” he asked Kate. “They don’t believe in these sorts of things.”
She assured him that we were both open minded to what he had to say. We watched as he held a small cotton bag over a flame until something inside began to melt and drip from inside. He then took the bag and rubbed it in circles across the inflamed portion of his family member’s knee. Once he had finished, we were invited into his room to have our fortunes told.
A cloth covering the door was pushed aside as we were ushered in. It was dark inside and the floor was covered in sawdust. The only furniture was a bed and a wardrobe. I sat on the bed with the fortune teller. Kate and Rich sat on the carpet. It was determined that I would be the first to have my fortune told.
The fortune teller emptied a bag of seashells onto the floor. I was asked to hold one of the shells and speak silently into my hand, asking the questions I wanted answers to. I asked what my future would be before casting the shell into the pile. The fortune teller then shifted the shells around with his hand. He stared directly down into them and began speaking in his native language. Kate translated.
His revelations started off benign. I was in good health and anyone who tells me otherwise is a liar. In the future I may have a problem with my stomach but that it wasn’t a big deal and I would survive. He said I told people about my trip to Africa, which was true, and that in the future I would be taking a trip to Asia but I should not tell anyone about it or something bad would happen to me. The fortune teller said that one day I would find a bag of money and if I kept it and didn’t tell anyone about it that it would become mine. He predicted that one day I would be a “big man,” a term that carried a special African connotation. The Big Man is basically the tribal boss, which of course, is kind of a big deal. But was he just telling me what I wanted to hear?
He picked up the sea shells and spread them out over the carpet again before continuing. He saw my daughter. She was going to grow up smart and said that I should maintain a good relationship with her because one day she may have future in politics. Then he began talking about my family. He told me things that I’ve never spoken of to anyone in my life. He talked about my mom having a hard time raising me because of my dad. He didn’t realize that the reason was because my father had died. Or was he just guessing? The fortune teller said that my mother was a good person and that I should take care of her.
At one point during the reading he turned around and looked at me for the first time. Grabbing my shoulder he asked, “do you understand what I’m saying?!” After Kate translated, I told him I did.
Tossing the seashells again he continued, telling me more things about my life and my family that I’ve rarely if ever spoken of. It was so specific in detail that there is no explanation for how he could have known these things. He knew that I had worked for the government and told me that more opportunities to work for the government will appear in the future and that I should take them because they would be good for me and I would have the chance to be promoted.
There were some other things about my family, but he didn’t want to tell me because it would only serve to make me upset.
He spread the sea shells out across the carpet again, but no, there was nothing left. This was all he saw at the moment for me.
Next it was Rich’s turn. His reading of Rich seemed just as accurate and I think Rich had the same expression on his face that I had which was a not very well disguised shock. He then told Rich, “you were in the Army and you got out. That was a mistake and you’ve alway regretted it.”
A few days prior Rich had told me that he had always wanted to go to SFAS and deeply regretted not trying out for Special Forces prior to leaving the military. Now it was Kate’s turn to be shocked. “You were in the Army?” she asked. She had no idea. By this point, I think Rich and I were both scared of what was going to come out of the fortune teller’s mouth next. Hopefully it wouldn’t be state secrets!
I think it is safe to say that Rich and I were both a little shaken by the end of the reading. We thanked the fortune teller for his time. On the way out, he told me again that my mom is a good woman and to watch out for her.
Getting back in the car and driving away, Kate asked us how accurate the fortune teller had been with our readings. I estimated that he was at least 90% accurate in everything he told me in as far as I knew.
It was a long car ride home. Even if it was just for a few minutes, I think we rode along with the West African currents.