Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Some events have arisen recently, which have highlighted the differences in my culture and the people I live and work with. I was chatting with another American friend the other day and he illustrated it this way. When he arrived in Sierra Leone he was doing some training with his organization before he started working. He was in a classroom with a bunch of ex-pats and Sierra Leoneans. The teacher posed this question to the class. “Picture yourself on a boat in the middle of the ocean. You are there with your mother, your spouse, and your one and only child. The boat starts to sink and you only have the ability to save one person. Who would you choose to save?”

My friend said that in his class the answers from the ex-pats were either spouse or child. Every single Sierra Leonean chose their mother…..because you can get another wife, have more children, but you only have one mother. I was kind of floored.

Since this conversation 2 days ago, I’ve been conducting my own non-scientific experiment by asking all my Sierra Leonean and ex-pat friends the same question. All my ex-pat friends have chosen either their spouse or child…..BUT so have all my Sierra Leonean friends! Interesting. So far, not a single choice for mother (sorry to all the mothers out there….no offense intended).

When my friends tell me their answer, I follow it up with "why? THIS has been the interesting part. I will give you a sampling of the conversations.

Me: “Ok, you’re on a boat….blah blah blah….Who do you choose to save?”
Sierra Leonean friend: “My child.”
Me: “Why?”
SLF: “Well, I only have one child. I need someone to go on after I die and this is my only child. So I will save my child.”

Me: “Ok, on a boat…blah blah blah.”
SLF: (After thinking about it for awhile) “I would save my wife.”
Me: “Why?”
SLF: “Well, she came from somewhere else. From a different family. Her family gave her to me. I am responsible for her. If anything happens to her, her family will be very angry with me.”

Me: “Qustion”
SLF: “I would choose my daughter”
Me: “Why?”
SLF: “My mother is getting old. She will soon be a dependent. My daughter is a dependent right now but I am thinking ahead to when I am old and will need someone to take care of me.”
*We then ended up having about an hour long conversation about how his wife left him for another guy and he tried to get her back for a year but she wouldn’t come back and now she’s not even taking care of their child but has given her to someone else. He ended the conversation by saying that he would probably push his wife out of the boat, even if it wasn’t sinking.

So our answers were mostly the same….but I feel like the reasoning behind the answers showed our cultural differences. Instead of the answers being about taking care of the most vulnerable ones, or the ones we are closest too, my friends’ answers tended more towards survival. This isn’t surprising at all when considering the recent civil war and the survival instincts that that would hone.

Anyway, I’m not sure how good I feel about asking my friends to choose the most important person in their life…..but I did enjoy picking their brain and trying to understand them a little better!

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