One day in Togo, West Africa, I returned home to find a group of village women gathered around my house. The house was roofless. Its corrugated lid lay thirty feet away. Inside, I found everything heaped in a pile at the center of the room. Even the most fragile things, like the glass chimney of my hurricane lamp, remained intact.
My friend and colleague, Sebou, arrived as soon as he heard that I was home. He acted as my interpreter. The village women spoke over one another, competing to talk about a mighty wind. They said they’d watched it spin down from a nearby hill. They saw it swirl in through an open window. Then the roof popped off like a champagne cork.
Having exhausted all comment, the group dispersed. I stood puzzling over the improbable pile of items stacked in the middle of the room. I wondered if the village had gotten together and taken the roof off themselves.
Sebou laughed when I told him what I was thinking. He said it was crazy, first because why would the village do that? And second, he said, if they’d done it, did I really think they’d be able to keep the secret for as long as they already had? I agreed that, knowing them, it seemed unlikely.
He then told me two more things. First, there would be no end of speculation about why this had happened. The whole village would want to figure out what I had done to deserve my house blowing down. They would want to identify the person whose spirit-guide had exacted this revenge. Second, I couldn’t sit back and shrug this off because there were things I had to do. He said he wasn’t sure what those specific things were yet, but he’d speak with the village elders and figure it out. They would know exactly what to do.