He was the most wanted man in the world. He’s dead now; they’ve made a film about it already. You know that question “where were you when when…?” well when it comes to his demise I can’t honestly remember. We can all instantly recall Sept 11th 2001, but can you say the same of when the news of his assassination broke? Such an iconic figure of the first part of this new millennium and all I can conjure up is those grainy videos of him stood outside a cave. Salt and pepper beard, sand grey backdrop, white turban and shalwar kameez, sometimes with a camouflage jacket over the top.
We’re programmed to identify this man as the mastermind behind the most audacious act of terrorism any of us can remember, the murderer of almost 3000 people on one day. But there are a shit load of people that think of him, and have been taught to consider him, a hell of lot differently, and guess what, we go surfing in their countries.
The sound of the muezzin calling the devout to prayer from the minaret is, for most of us surfers, a confirmation of the exotic. A rubber stamp of surf exploration. Be it Morocco, Indo or Senegal we’re often guilty of inflating our egos with thoughts of adventuring in to what we perceive to be ‘edgy’ countries.
This was never more apparent to me than when my wife and I were driving away from a small house in central Sumatra having been drawn in by a sign declaring ‘Madu Dijual’. I’m a huge believer in honey being a cure all. Hay fever suffers take note, the bees take the pollen that gives you so much discomfort and turn it into nature’s sweetest gift. Imbibing it is nature’s equivalent of inoculation, so a “Honey for sale” sign will always slow me down, but I digress.
The beekeeper who owned the house answered the door in his kufi, the embroidered skull cap worn by Muslim men to confirm they have performed the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca; and once he’d got over the shock of seeing two westerners on his threshold, he swiftly invited us in. He insisted on tea and introduced us to his wife. I have a strict policy of always accepting tea so we followed his outstretched arm into the lounge room and took a seat on his sofa. My attention was immediately drawn to the life sized poster that commandeered the whole of the main wall in the room. When I say whole I mean floor to ceiling wall to wall!
It was a slightly elevated shot taken with a wide angle lens from just over the right shoulder of Osama Bin Laden. The lens made sure his profile was unmistakeable and in front of his outstretched arms was a crowd of thousands. Every one of them had their arms raised. It was as far removed from the wisened perpetrator of evil that we were used to seeing, as you could imagine. I was transfixed and it didn’t go unnoticed. An excitement crept over the beekeepers face, a huge grin spread. He’d realised that I’d recognised the speaker (inconceivable that I wouldn’t, but obviously not to him). “Bin Laden! Good man, good man..”
Even my built in English sensibility (read: lack of confrontation) couldn’t help me here. “Uh.. well.. actually.. umm, he’s not all that good.. (The tea was delicious and we didn’t have the honey yet so I was treading carefully). The beekeeper was not in the slightest dissuaded. “No, no. Very good man. Take money from rich America and give to poor Muslims”. Tea almost finished, money exchanged and honey in a sealed container in front of us I ventured, with some incredulity/pomposity, “like Robin Hood!?” Eyes wide and frantically nodding his head , excitedly he replied “YES! Like Robin Hood”. I had to stop him here. “You know Robin Hood!?” “Oh yes! The prince of thieves! Kevin Costner..”
I felt all the trees in Sherwood forest shudder.
He went on to explain it is the personal responsibility of every Muslim to ease the economic hardship of others and to strive towards eliminating inequality if they are able, this was part of the five pillars of wisdom and apparently the Worlds most wanted was leading by example.
Our Western sensibilities well and truly rattled, but with tea in our bellys and honey in the pot we drove away. In our rear view mirrors Mr and Mrs Beekeeper stood at their gate arm in arm and waved us goodbye with shiny white smiles.