India and the Medicine Man
I sit in a bamboo hut, waiting for the Filipino healer to arrive. Tuesdays and Fridays he comes down from the mountains to heal whoever might be sitting in this flimsy, makeshift shelter with the dirt floor. My knees are ruined, casualties of a hill that I never should have hiked down — but did. For three months I have suffered, limping and grimacing in pain. Nothing has helped.
I’m now a little frightened — what if this is permanent? I need to solve this problem soon, as I’m about to walk the Inca Trail in Peru, four days of challenging trekking in the Andes. “Why don’t you try the healer in Balatero?”, a friend suggested, which is how I have come to be the lone foreigner among nine Filipinos waiting for the medicine man. I don’t particularly believe or disbelieve. I am curious but open. I WANT to get better.
He arrives late, despite the fancy watch on his wrist. There is nothing special about his appearance — nothing to suggest that he is the possessor of magical powers. He is bone thin, cigarettes sticking out of his shirt pocket. He looks at me, surprised to see a white woman among his patients. “Please wait, Ma’am”, he says. The other patients have explained to me how this all works. This is not “first come, first served”, as is the norm for hospital clinics in the Philippines. The healer will point to us in the order he wishes to see us. Mothers with sick babies go first, followed by those most in need.
There is no private examining room. A single plastic chair sits in front of the healer, in full view of the other waiting patients. Forget modesty — people hike up their shirts, roll up their pants, and display their wounds and illnesses for all to see.
This healer does not — cannot — accept money. Apparently, God has given him his gift of healing and if he chooses not to use it, he becomes ill himself. We will each give him a token gift: a bag of sugar or instant coffee or fruit from a garden or a pack of cigarettes.
I am the last one called. I accept this as a good omen, a sign that I am not particularly sick. Though they have been treated already, several other patients hang about, curious to see what is wrong with me. The healer asks why I have come, consults his spirit guides and writes symbols on a piece of paper. He rubs coconut oil on my legs, yanks my feet so hard that my groin hurts, tears the sheet of paper apart, and sticks four symbols onto each leg, while speaking unintelligible words. Mumbo jumbo.
“Okay”, he says, in surprisingly good English. “Keep the papers on your legs until they fall off. You will feel better by tomorrow.”
“Thank you so much,” I say, handing him a bag of Nescafe.
I stand up and walk carefully out of the hut, not quite able to believe that I no longer need to limp. During the ten-minute walk to my house, I enjoy the sensation of moving pain-free for the first time in months. With each step my legs become increasingly looser and more limber. By the time I reach my yard, I am completely cured — there is not a trace of stiffness or discomfort in either leg. I test myself by successfully doing deep-knee bends. I’m astounded.
In Peru, I walk the Inca Trail without a hitch, and though much of my body suffers and aches each day from lugging heavy camera equipment up and down the long, steep miles, my knees feel nothing, not even a twinge.
Do I understand how my knees were healed that day? I do not. Was it just a coincidence, a psychosomatic curing of myself? Possibly. Would I go to the medicine man to be treated for cancer? Doubtful.
As Hamlet said, “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”…