The Odyssey
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Latin America Kavitha Dispatch

Healing with Dreams and Herbs
 
My Comedrona,Josephina Puebla
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Ahhhh! The bedbugs do bite! I spent another sleepless night itching from my bedbug bites. Even after we washed all the blankets and mattresses in my room and hung them out to dry in the hot sun, I still was itching all night from the bites I had already gotten. I was tired and cranky from not sleeping and my bites weren't healing at all since I was scratching them all the time. So I decided I had to get some help.

Getting back on the bus for another miserable three-hour long bus ride into town (where I would find a doctor) was not an option, so I opted to try a visit with the local comedrona. A comedrona is a Mayan midwife and spiritual healer. Perfect. I didn't want to use any strong chemicals or medicines anyway. I had heard fabulous stories about the healing powers of the local comedronas--here was my chance to see if it was all true!

Josephina mixing my bedbug brew
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Comedrona Josephina Puebla is a sweet, forty-year old woman who lives in a small, one-room house just off the path leading to my own. She has lived in Todos Santos all her life. Although she speaks Mam and I don't, we were able to communicate just fine in our broken Spanish. Josephina's mother was also a comedrona. Because her mother already knew the healing ways, there was no reason for Josephina to learn them as well. When she was very young, though, she started to have clear, vivid dreams of her becoming very sick. She dreamt that if she survived her sickness, she would go on to become a comedrona, too, just like her mother. At first, she didn't listen to her dreams, but as the dreams continued she realized they could not be ignored. She started to learn all about the plants in the area and their healing properties. And as her dreams predicted, she grew very, very sick. Looking at the strong, glowing woman in front of me, I was surprised to hear her speak of how sick she was for so many years. She grew very weak, but she believed in her dreams and knew that she would pull through and go on to become a healer. She learned from her mother, who explained everything about the plants and herbs and how to make the medicines. When her dreams ended, she became well again, and is now a well-known and respected comedrona in Todos Santos. "Our ancestors lived in the mountains with the animals. There were certain plants the animals only ate when they were sick. By observing which plants the animals used, our ancestors came to know about the sacred, healing plants of this area," she explained.

The chu (sauna) where I've been taking my daily bath
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Comedrona Josephina has helped over fifty women give birth in the past five years, and has also helped many children and adults with all sorts of illnesses. She has no assistants: "Only my heart, my head, my dreams. My mother did it on her own and so do I." As soon as she saw my bites and listened to me explain how I had been itching all night, she knew exactly what to do. She went and gathered some herbs and disappeared into her dark kitchen. I sat waiting, feeling skeptical about whether or not it was going to work. After an hour, she emerged from the kitchen with a large black pot filled with a hot, steaming liquid. She set it down in the chu, the ceremonial Mayan sauna, and set another pot of cold water beside it. For three days, I returned every morning and bathed in the chu by mixing together the hot and cold water. The hot liquid was a bath boiled with the dark green leaves and flowers from a local plant called Cascavella (in Spanish). She also added whole limes and, on the second day, threw in some cloves of garlic as well. The dark sauna instantly relaxed and soothed me, and, sure enough, by the third day the itching had lessened and I was able to sleep again. With this ancient wealth of knowledge of healing plants and herbs, it is no wonder that most of the people of Todos Santos opt to go to the spiritual healers, like the comedronas and the shamans, when they feel sick, instead of doctors and hospitals. "Our ways and our herbs are here, inexpensive, and they work. You won't find our people in the hospitals."

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