We are all storytellers. We all live in a network of stories. There isn’t a stronger connection between people than storytelling.—Jimmy Neil Smith, Director of the International Storytelling Center.
Since human life began, we’ve shared stories. Whether the details of the buffalo hunt or the dramatic polar bear escape were told around a campfire on the plains or inside an igloo lit by whale oil, stories have entertained and connected us.
Here are three stories told by master storytellers that have stuck with me, and they’re worth sharing.
My sister-in-law, Shirley, a nurse and missionary, tells the story of helping set up an emergency room in Gabon, Africa. The deadly disease, Ebola, originated nearby, so she was on the alert for any signs of it.
One day, a 24-year-old man arrived with blood flowing from his mouth. Shirley donned protective gear and asked him questions: “Is there anyone else in the village who has a fever or these symptoms? When did you get sick? When did the bleeding start?” He wouldn’t answer.
His mother and sister looked guilty, but said nothing, so Shirley pressed them. “If you don’t tell me what happened to him, he’s going to die.”
She learned that the man was afraid of the forest gods so he saw the witch doctor. The Nganga told him if he wanted protection against the forest gods, he’d need to get five razor blades, chew them, and swallow them.
Shirley was both appalled and relived, knowing that it wasn’t Ebola. She ordered an X-ray. Gabonese nurses assessed him and prepped him for surgery. He survived the ordeal.
The Nganga ruled the community through fear, be it from forest gods or through telling them someone had cursed them. Shirley tried to reason with the family, pointing out that they often ended up at the clinic after seeing the Nganga.
Witch doctors weren’t the only scary beings in Africa and Shirley tells the following story featuring African baboons.
Shirley met other missionaries in Kenya for medical training. She and her Lebanese friend, Enya, decided they’d go to the Nairobi National Park to hike the hippo viewing trail. An armed man at the entryway should have been on guard, but he slept.
The women didn’t spot any hippos, but on the hike back, they noticed a troop of baboons only 50-75 feet away. Shirley turned around and brought her camera up to her eye. Through the lens, she saw a protective female curl back her lips revealing sharp, deadly teeth. The baboon let out a high-pitched alarm call, and the others joined her in a charge. Shirley screamed. She and Enya ran.
To this day Shirley doesn’t understand why the baboons’ screaming and the charge stopped. But that’s when she made her second mistake. She turned back to look. Another high—pitched alarm call, and the troop charged again. Shirley and Enya ran again, screaming shrilly.
An elderly missionary couple heard, got in behind Shirley and Enya, and faced the troop. They clapped loudly. The baboons stopped, but kept baring their teeth. The couple clapped again, even louder. The baboons turned around and retreated.
When the women met back up with others, Shirley asked friends if they’d heard the screaming. “Yes,” one missionary said, “it was the baboons.”
Shirley wiggled an eyebrow at Enya. “It wasn’t just the baboons.”
The final storyteller is Wisconsin Dells’ Kim Kolumba who interviewed for a teaching job in the Dells years ago. Kim’s mother would often join her for the ride to various towns. The Special Education director at the time, Ron Piekarski, interviewed Kim. When he discovered they were from the same small town, he said, “Your mother ... She’s dead, isn’t she?
Kim blinked. “I hope not; she’s waiting for me in the car.”
After the interview, chuckling to herself about the exchange, she headed to her vehicle. She spotted her mother’s head drooped against the seat—eyes closed, mouth open. “Mom!” Kim called, opening the door. “Mom!”
Her mother awoke and sat up.
Kim let out a long breath. Whew! “Come on, let’s go out to lunch. I have a funny story to tell you.”
Stories—whether they’re frightening or funny—connect us to one another. Do you have a favorite story to share? If so, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.