So, my next adventure after Service Learning was taking part in the Global Health and Healing Traditions. Anitha taught this class, and I realized even more what a powerhouse of knowledge she is. Not only has she organized all our field trips throughout the semester and gotten a degree in Zoology, she is an expert in Traditional Healing in India. She introduced us to the major systems in India - Ayurveda (the most popular one, lots of meds at the chemist/pharmacy are based on Ayrveda), Unani (based on Muslim traditions), Siddha, and Tibetan Medicine. We also looked at uncodified traditions from tribal peoples as well as home-recipes. Most of our classes were field trips, which was a fun change. There were only five of us in the class, Alex M., Alex F, Mica, Ana and me, so we went everywhere in a crowded taxi.
We visited an Ayurveda clinic and saw their system of preserving and recording herbs - they had a whole moving shelving system full of leaves glued to pages! We visited a Tibetan doctor who could tell what our body components were (air, fire, water, earth) just by checking our pulses. I had him examine me and he gave me some herbal pills for my headaches. Three times a day I had to grind up and swallow these little brown balls which tasted sooo bad! The Unani hospital was gross, the bathroom there was worse than some of the cheap restaurants we've been too! One expert came here and taught us how to make home remedies - they were pretty gross too, and we were made to try them all! We also learned how to make sourma, the therapeutic eyeliner that most Indian women wear on the inner rims of their eyelids. It is made by burning strips of linen soaked in herbs and collecting the ash. Anitha and the woman applied it for all of us and we looked like Cleopatra harlots, it was priceless! By the end of the day, my contacts had big black spots on them from eyeliner! I don't think it will be a habit for me.
On one really awesome trip, we went to the rural outskirts of Bangalore and visited a traditional poison healer and a bonesetter. The poison healer was an old man, but we talked to his daughter, who was taking over the practice. She treated people with all types of snake bites as well as bites from poisonous insects like scorpions, spiders and millipedes. When we were waiting for her, we saw several of her patients with open wounds from snake bites. She arrived, and told us about her methods. She used only herbs and mantras to heal her patients, and she said she could heal any bite, unless it happened on an inauspicious day - people bit on those days she wouldn't even treat, knowing that she wouldn't be able to because they were meant to die! That seemed a little extreme, but it was amazing all the stories of people she cured. She even cured her husband from a poisonous cobra bite! The woman was really incredible, you could actually feel the power emanating from her. She used some spiritual power, i guess, in mantras to call the gods to her aid and cleanse the person's spirit.
After visiting her, we drove through some of the beautiful countryside around the village. Karnataka has a lot of hilly areas, and we drove around to some beautiful viewing spots. We also stopped at a cool temple on the side of a high hill. Next, we visited the bonesetter. Whereas the poison healer just had a small one room clinic where patients were treated and stayed if they had come from faraway (many did), the bonesetter had a huge building with rooms for treatment as well as several halls for patients to stay in. His practice drew so many people from other villages and from Bangalore, his parking lot had become a bus stop! This man also had a very large presence, he was eighty years old, toothless and illiterate, but he was incredibly strong and obviously extremely successful. The skills had been passed down to him from generations of healers in his family. Bonesetting was historically an important skill because so many of the men in the area were engaged in warfare and the needed a quick and easy way to heal soldiers who had bones fractured in battle. Although warfare is no more in the area, fractures are still prevalent - he said he heals people mostly from auto accidents or falls/injuries while doing agricultural labor. The process of healing is all external, he feels the break and the energy flow, and using certain pressure points, he realigns the bones and then immobilizes the area. No pain killer is used, although he does apply some numbing oil.
When we were discussing his practice, I asked if he did chiropractic work too. He said he did, and Alex mentioned (thanks!) that my neck had been hurting me and he immediately set to action. Before I knew what hit me, I was lying on a reed mat on the floor with my shirt off. He rubbed some oil on my neck and back, and then laid practically on top of me to listen to my flow. Then all of a sudden he jerked my neck back into the side. I started to panic and told him to stop and the whole class, who were watching, started to freak out too. He ignored us all and went on until he was done, pulling other parts of my neck and my legs. Then he asked for rupee coins and I thought he was getting tips! But instead he rubbed the coins on a few pressure points, and them taped them down. He got up and told me to turn over and stretch. I was in a lot of pain and really freaked out - Anitha was too, she looked a little sick actually! We went out to watch some other operations, and after a hour or two my neck felt a lot better! The next couple of days I felt great, but I think Anitha worried the whole time that I would wake up someday and be paralyzed!
Our last field trip was to B.R Hills, a nature reserve about five or six hours outside of Bangalore. We left early in the morning, and we spent WAY too long in the car together, especially as my stomach was unhappy. Thank God for headphones is all I can say or I might have murdered someone. But when we arrived, the hills were beautiful. The only people allowed to live inside the reserve are tribals and we stayed at a school/clinic for tribal kids. The first day we just toured the compound, where kids could get elementary and high school, as well as vocational training. There was also a clinic and hospital, as well as a school for nurses learning about women's health that th had a great poster of Florence Nightingale, looking like an Indian woman!
That evening we went to the sunset point to watch, duh, the sunset, and it was absolutely beautiful - so many hills, where the eastern and western ghats meet. Apparently, there was a sort of robin hood type criminal who lived in these hills until he was captured recently. He would rob people but help out the poor people living in the area. He even kidnapped a famous karnatakan Bollywood star for ransom, and I think that's what really did him in, because no one messes with an Indian movie star. The police sent in a secret agent to join the guy's gang, and once he had infiltrated he betrayed the leader and had him shot! It was quite an exciting tale, as Ali, our driver, told it. After watching the sunset we went to a nearby temple to Billigilliranga, the local god. Inside were a humongous pair of chappals (sandals) that he wore and outside of the temple the floor was carved by different people who had been cured of demon possessions by visiting the temple - super creepy!
After dinner, we had a chance to talk to some social work students who were also studying at the place. They were all our age, and it was the first time we had really interacted with a group of Indian students. It was pretty interesting. We all introduced ourselves and talked a little about our interests, and then this one vigilante guy got right into it and asked us why we were working with NGOs, did we really think they would help India, blah blah blah. He went on forever and all the rest of his classmates were getting annoyed with him too. Then we started talking about America, I think Alex F. asked what "Indians really think about the U.S." The Indian students were very blunt, they said they don't like us as a country due to our foreign policy. big shocker, right? They didn't really address the fact, however, that so many young Indians want to move to the U.S. Alex and Mica went on to say how they hate the U.S. and how all Americans are brainwashed. This is where I got pissed and showed it. I said that that was bullshit, and there are a lot more historically based reasons why things are they way they are right now in the world, and those should be considered rather than just vilifying one country. I mean, I totally disagree with a lot of our country's policies, but hating it is the last way to improve it. you have to love your country to help fix it, I think. Plus, you can't just blame other countries for taking advantage of you (India) you have to take responsibility for what happens in your own country. The really vocal guy was just saying that everyone is coming into India and all that but I asked him, isn't there corruption within the Indian government letting these companies and stuff in? We ended the discussion pretty soon as it got kind of heated and late as well. Alex and I discussed these issues with Anitha for a while, and she said some of the same things about India, how it needs to assert itself. We talked a little about how it absorbs so many other cultures, and couldn't that porousness in culture also lead to openings politically? It was good talking to her and hearing her opinions. Then we had girl talk and learned the story of how Anitha met her husband, it was cute!
The next day, we went into one of the tribal settlements and had a discussion with a shaman and a midwife. We just learned about their skills and how having the western medical clinic has affected their practice. In general, women still come to the midwife, but the shaman was losing customers. Just like the snake healer woman, the midwife radiated knowledge and power and it just felt incredible being around them. After lunch, we found some puppies and we played with them for a few hours. I named them Georgie Porgie and Phillip Douglas. At sunset, we went to the point again, and afterwards we had the best dosas ever at the village surrounding the temple. We ate outside in the dark, and I practiced my kannada with the dosa man. Bindu, the guest house keeper, really enjoyed that and began to fall in love with me ;) he was at least forty, but when we left BR Hills he was very sad to let me go! the dosa man was nice, he said he fed the dogs and a cow everyday from his stall. After dosas, we met with the woman doctor who ran the clinic, and learned about some of the common ailments affecting the people in the region. Then we went on a night -safari! BR hills is supposed to have elephants and tigers and all that, so we were really excited to see something. We just took our truck out, and Ali became the safari master and we drove along the backroads with our eyes peeled for wild life. Whenever we saw a movement, we were sure it was an elephant, but it generally turned out to be a deer. We did see a sort of indian bison, which was cool, and two jungle cats, which look like raccoons.
The next morning, Anitha got us special permission to hike into the interior of the reserve to see a tree that is considered holy by the tribals. When we first saw the tree, it was across a little stream from us, and it towered above the rest of the vegetation. Approaching it, you could really feel its energy force. The tribals believe the tree was planted by Shiva and Laxmi and it was one of the first things put on the planet. From its size, this seems possible, as it has at least four separate trunks. It was early in the morning, and the priest, his assistant and his wife and kids were setting up all the prayer implements and worshipping the tree. The would circle the tree with incense, put flowers around it and repaint the surrounding rocks with red, yellow and white. They also had shiva's staffs which they speared fresh limes on. The combined smell of lime, incense, and woodsy nature was heady and intoxicating. We must have sat and simply watched for at least an hour. It was a really magical morning.
Before going back to Bangalore, we stopped at another local clinic. This was run on the same format as a government clinic by a NGO that wanted to prove you could do a lot more with the money than the government was. It was cool to see some of the operation rooms, and we also found out via a poster in the maternity ward that finding the sex of you unborn child is illegal, probably because of problems with female infanticide. We also saw some vocational training rooms and a place where they make medicine, but we were really ready to go. Onto the long voyage home, where I was in the jumpseat with Alex, literally falling on the floor whenever we hit a big bump. Finally, we made it back to Bangalore, with tons of new knowledge about healing and less than 24hrs to recoup before I left for my Independent Study! Yay!