Sunday, September 22, 2013

Belly No Di Bite

After my discussion with my friend Peter about his visit to the traditional doctor, he promised to take me to meet Dr. Moses.  After buying boxed wine and bread for the doctor, we took a taxi and then a motorbike to his house about 30 minutes outside of Bamenda.   When we arrived at his house, we were warmly greeted and given bamboo stools to sit on inside his mud brick home.  After some brief introductions, Dr. Moses looked at me and said, "You have stomach problems and you have terrible dreams that worry you so much that you sweat in the night."  I was flabbergasted.  How could he know this after only telling him my name and my relationship to Peter?  He was right, my stomach was bothering me that morning and a few days earlier I had a terrible nightmare about one of my friends that   was disconcerning.  I asked Dr. Moses how he knew this and he said that he had four eyes and he could see spiritual causes of sickness that other people cannot see.  
Dr. Moses and his son in front of his house
He then walked across the room and reached inside two rice bags and pulled out two different kinds of powders,  one was reddish in color and the other greenish.  He placed the powders in my hands and told me to eat it.  Both tasted like sawdust and dirt. 
Dr. Moses' pharmacy
After drinking half my water bottle to rid my mouth of the taste, Dr. Moses showed us around his farm where he cultivates the medicine.  Before we looked at the different plants, we walked past his father's grave.  His father taught him everything he knows and when someone is very sick, he asks that person to stand on top of his father's grave so he can invoke his father's spirit to aide in the healing.  
Dr. Moses' farm
One of the leaves Dr. Moses uses to treat stomach pain
One of the pods Dr. Moses grinds and mixes to treat "man pikin" (male) problems

Berries!  An unusual site in Cameroon.  The leaves of the berries are used in medicine.  
After visiting the farm we returned to Dr. Moses' parlor/consultation room where he showed us the traditional bags that he uses in treatment.  The bags were made by his father out of animal skins.  Before he uses them they are warmed in front of a fire and then medicine is placed inside.   He will then hit the sick person with the bags wherever they feel pain.  Next, he lit a fire inside of a clay pot so that the smoke would drive away any evil spirits that were seeking to harm us.  

While the fire was burning we talked a bit more about my "belly pain".  Dr. Moses told me that it was the result of someone in the United States casting a curse upon me and there was an evil spirit inside.  He told me to hold my stomach while he held out his hand, closed his hands, and uttered some words.  He then promised me that the pain would be gone forever.  Was he right?  Does my "belly no di bite" as is said in Pidgin, meaning no more stomach pain?  Time will tell.  
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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I No Be Fine

As a Nutritionist I talk often with Cameroonian friends and health professionals about sickness, disease, and wellness.  Last week I had a particularly interesting conversation with my friend Peter:

“Sister Kate, I was really down.  I no be fine.  For five weeks I couldn’t eat a-n-y-thing.  My figure was like this” (pinky finger pops up to demonstrate his thinness) “I went and consulted at the hospital and they told me it was malaria and gave me drugs.  I took the drugs, but didn’t get better.  I went me back to the house.  My stomach was worrying me! I was just down.  I finally had to go see a traditional doctor.  The doctor told me I had food poisoning.”

“But Peter,” I said, “If it was food poisoning that wouldn’t last for five weeks.  Usually that passes in 24-48 hours.”

“No, Kate, someone poisoned my food.”

I quickly learned about the existence of traditional doctors and medicine in Cameroon when I first arrived in Cameroon in 2005.  They are omnipresent and exist in parallel to the biomedical system of hospitals and clinics with nurses and doctors trained in the germ theory of disease.  I still remember years ago as a Peace Corps Volunteer seeing a child admitted into the hospital because of severe anemia.  She had an enlarged spleen and her parents thought this was because of an evil spirit and brought her to a traditional doctor for exhortation.  The traditional doctor tried to rid her of the evil spirit by cutting her spleen with a razorblade.  After this didn’t work, her parents brought her to the hospital. I’ve observed that there are a number of factors that determine whether Cameroonians will consult traditional doctors, Western doctors, or use both when they are sick.  Generally, I’ve seen that they use both. However, if they believe that their illness is the result of spiritual forces, only a traditional doctor can cure them. 

Peter believes that someone was jealous of him and so this person tried to harm him by poisoning his food.  I asked Peter if he knew whom this person could be and he said that the traditional doctor told him that the person would appear to him in a vision.  Shortly thereafter he had a dream about a co-worker with whom he had a disagreement a few weeks prior to his sickness.  Peter went on to tell me about how the traditional doctor treated him by having sit on top of a clay pot with traditional medicine burning inside while the doctor laid his hands upon him and called out names of ancestors, hitting his stomach with a pouch full of powder, and then using a razor blade to make small cuts throughout his body and rubbing powder inside the cuts.   The traditional doctor gave Peter rubbing oil with traditional medicine to be rubbing on himself and Lord, Babila, and Kate to protect them from future attacks.

The day after Peter told me all of this I woke up sick.  The sudden onset of headache, lower back pain, nausea, cyclical fever 14 days after being bit by a mosquito could only indicate one thing—malaria.  I’ve had malaria before and keep treatment with me so I can start taking the drugs immediately.  I went to the hospital the next day for a confirmatory malaria test and see a doctor.  Three days later, I’m feeling fine and almost back to normal.  However, after the long discussion with Peter it crossed my mind that what if my sickness was the result of an evil curse on me?  I asked an anthropologist friend this question and she told me, “Your malaria is only a result of a curse if you believe that is the cause.”