Monday, January 18, 2010

Spirits and Shamans

The dank and gloomy entrance to the lair was an indication that the upcoming event is going to be unpleasant but memorable. I slowly entered the hut, the building's simplicity does not qualify it to be a house in my snooty opinion, only to find my fears realised. There was nothing of the usual things found in a home. At best there were four rows of chairs arranged like a seminar setting. All faced a platform that took up three quarters of the room. Probably for the spectators who've come to accompany the patients. Sort of like a viewing area. All the windows were closed but one, which let in the afternoon light to shine on her. Around her were strewn the paraphernalia of her trade; boxes and bottles of suspicious looking ointments and pills. A plastic container which was half melted from the careless toss of a few cigarettes was inches away from her. This item has become almost an obligatory item amongst the "women" I was forced to fraternize over the years. As I continued to observe the uncomfortable surrounding, I sensed 'her' presence. In the middle of the sunlit area of the platform she sat, contemplating the newcomers, wondering what ailment or which evil spirit have brought these believers and sceptics to her this time. Oh yes, I am sure she can sense the scepticism in me as the ensuing activities proved to me that she did.
Why was I there if I am such a sceptic to spiritual medicine? Well, I was playing the dutiful wife and DIL. Anyway, it couldn't hurt to try anything. She looked at me, that centenarian with eyes that were grey and cloudy with years of seeing what mere mortals could not. When she spoke, she spoke with a voice that was raspy yet powerful which must have been the result of shouting commands to the invisible spirits to leave the mortal body she was treating. It was hard to believe that that tiny frame of a woman had the power bestowed by God to cure what modern medicine could not. That she could find the cause and name the ailment that was unnamed in the ultra modern world I am used to. A grudging respect I admit was slowly building up in me. But still the sceptic, I was sure this visit would have the same outcome as all the other visits made to this sisterhood of shamans like her. MIL was busy paying her lip service so that she would consent to treat Ilham. To cast away what evil spirit that had built a home in him. After much interrogation, she turned to Ilham and tried to strike a conversation with him; to which Ilham ignored (but of course!). Then she asked my MIL to hand her a bamboo stick on the floor. My heart skipped a beat, if she dares to lay that stick on my son, her centenarian record would disappear in an instant. That I swore. But all she did was to strike the floor vertically with the stick to get his attention. It did little to make Ilham pay attention to her. He was busy studying the hut and possibly thinking of how to get out of there and make mummy take him to Tesco. Mummy was thinking exactly the same, darling.
After awhile she asked me some questions which I could not understand. I kept asking MIL to translate. The old woman gave up and started muttering to Ilham that it's because he spoke like an 'orang putih' that's why there's a Chinese spirit residing in his body. What a load of c**p! Then she asked where's the father? Er.... I was told to come alone with Ilham by MIL. So MIL was lambasted for not bringing him along. "What kind of father is that; not bothering to show up at his son's exorcism? Bla, bla, bla.." and so on. Not coming along well, this, I thought. When she was through berating his shortcomings as a father she consented to perform the treatment.
Hmph... I suppose that gave her license to say and do whatever she pleases to her patients. At the end of the treatment it took all of my willpower to keep a neutral expression on my face or to bolt out of the lair screaming profanities. I will never, ever again consent to that kind of treatment if I can help it. First, she asked Ilham to strip totally and sit while MIL pours 40 buckets of water over him. That task proved difficult when Ilham decided not to cooperate. Well, I didn't help much by not pushing him on. When he finally got into position I could see beads of sweat on MIL's face. Oh heck, here mom, I'll help by counting the buckets of water and tell you when. That was not the horrible part of the treatment, worse was yet to come. Until now I could not decide whether the spitting part or the cold powder treatment was worse.
After 40 buckets, she hobbled to the bathroom; which was nothing more than a tiny room with a hole in the floor. Being a properly raised child, I held her elbow while she fumbled with her sarong and balance. I am sure if I had letten go her candle would have poofed. But what she did next made me regret my earlier courtesy. She took a long gulp from the tiny bucket she was carrying and spit it out to Ilham. A full blown spit if that can be used to describe what she did. One, two, three..... possibly ten spitfuls of her special blend water mixed with her 100 year old saliva. MIL managed to get a few spits on her. I was lucky I did not get any as I was on her side. Ilham was cackling away, finally finding all this hilarious. That did not make the old woman happy. I think she expected him to break down and cry "stop, enough, I'll leave this body and never come back!!" (As if). But she did say that now the spirits have run away to the horizon and never disturb her grandchild again.
If you think that was the end of it, think again. Once Ilham was dressed (do not wipe him dry!) she asked him to sit in front of her. She did not realise the folly of this request. Ilham cannot sit properly on the floor. Well, we never taught him to. Good thing she did not ask him to use the hole in the floor of the toilet... that would have horrified her to death - him not being able to, I mean. (hm... a bit too many wishes for her demise here). Anyway, she chewed us out again for this flaw in his traditional upbringing. No wonder the spirits have blended into his flesh and bones. She proceeded to paste his face with liquid rice powder. Ilham took all this in stride and giggled along. After that she started muttering and hitting his back a few times, not hard enough to make him cry but strong enough to make him whimper in discomfort.
Next came MIL, and then the cousin who brought us there and finally me. Yup, we all got the liquid powder treatment. Remember I said she sensed I was a sceptic? When it was my turn she pointed a finger to my face and declared that I was a non believer, stubborn and hard. I mustered all my inner strength to keep calm and not react to these accusations. I guess that was why she hit me so hard that tears immediately came to my eyes. She hit my back over and over. The resulting pain could not have come from a fragile woman. She must have had assistance from above. That I believe. And for the finale, she again berated the absent father for his apparent lack of concern.
We left, minus RM30 in my purse, with MIL over the moon that such a revered woman took pity on us and performed the treatment, Ilham whining to go to Tesco, and me fuming inside at the indignities that I was subjected to. The only thing I could do was send caustic messages to the man who made all this possible.

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