Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Witch Doctor

She scoops the rice porridge into her granddaughter’s mouth during this stop-by visit after I dropped my son off at preschool. I watch and wonder what traditional medicines she’d grinded together with that hand for her clients last night.

I sit on her floor, holding my daughter, while ordinary life happens around us. Her husband runs out to get a new faucet to replace the one that was broken. Her son watches cartoons. Her daughter—the grown one who is my friend—is washing clothes.

She smooths her head covering, then lists for me the kinds of services she provides—healing for stomach aches, problems with infertility, breaking of curses, circumcisions for both male and female.

I’ve known her since my son was my baby and my baby was my bump. She calls herself my daughter’s grandmother, asking me to call her mother.

She also calls herself a witch doctor—one of the most powerful of her ethnic group.

I didn’t know this until I’d already spent months of visits, sitting on her floor, helping one daughter with English homework, another with her priorities. I guess I didn’t think to ask that question: “Are you a witch doctor?”

But I had learned a new word—the one for talisman—and asked her daughter who is studying English if she had one. Yes, she did, pulling out the string of stones that she wears tied to her shirt to ward off evil spirits. Her mother gave it to her.

Her mother helps people with their problems, the daughter explained, their heartbreak, their poverty, their ailments, their failing marriages. She uses traditional medicines grinded from leaves, spells, incense, prayers, holy water, weaving together Islam and animism, herbal remedies and the occult.

She works late into the night, making house calls and receiving guests.

A spirit guides her, this woman explained to me. He speaks to her and gives her power. He told her she would have to become a witch doctor, when she was just a child, that she had no choice. Her twin sent him, he said. The one who was born, but then disappeared.

I nod, listening in the place in between doubt and belief, east meets west, truth and lies, sadness and anxiety.

I process the fear and the skepticism and the desire to run and never come back.

I choose courage, telling her of my own Spirit who didn’t force himself on me, who also has the power to heal from the deep-down kind of pain we all have. At least that’s what I mean to say, in my second language in which the words don’t always come out right.

She nods as she finishes feeding her granddaughter. My own little girl whose eyes the witch doctor loves is getting fussy and needs a nap. I leave for now, promising to come back again soon.

photo credit, cumi&ciki

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