Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: Ayahuasca (Part Seven)

Ayahuasca (Part Seven)

Interviews with Shamans Part One

Interview with Gido, Part One

I've been on vacation so long now that anything resembling an appointment means I'm sleepless all the night before; and last night as I lay awake in bed was no exception because I didn't sleep at all. That's how nervous I was about my up-coming doctor's appointment. Not a blink. I was too nervous; so I went with Paula, she being five years older than I, and thus at my age she's old enough to be my mother. This is not to say, which I mistakenly did once before, that she is a little old lady. I erazed that from the public record, for all the good it does me, Paula continuing to bring it up, often in Spanish, sometimes in French, and when she's particularly pissed off at me, in her broken English. So, I got her to take me to the doctor, on the chicken bus across town to the most run-down dock in the city, the place only peke-peke boats dock at, canoes with outboard motors on poles and a man at the throttle swinging the boat around against the current by main strength when he drags the motor at the end of the pole through the water as passengers sit on wooden benches along the length of the canoe, their feet in the water that sloshes inside when a fiberglass and windows “fast boat” comes by and swamps us, or when it rains and the water comes through the thatched roof. Or when someone spills a bucket full of wet stuff. We could see the boats all jammed together between the petrol station on the water and the barge that sells supplies for the river trade, the peke-peke boats so tight together that one must leave for an incoming to unload, unless one walks across a lot of boats to the mud that is the shoreline. I've done this before and thus, nervous as I was, I felt I should have some breakfast to make my day as normal on the surface as I could. It was a bit overcast as the chicken bus pulled into the roundabout in the centre of the dockyard and we jumped down to the pavement, missing the sink hole and the heap of vegetable stuff and meat, and we picked our way across the slick pavement to the row of stalls streetside where I decided to grab something tasty but light, something healthy but yummy to calm my nerves and my growling stomach at 8:00 a.m. before my big day at the doctor's office.

Fried maggots and roasted nuts on a stick

The first stall I came to had balls of banana leaves filled with mystery, so I got two and looked for something more substantial in case whatever inside was totally gross. Luckily I found a bucket of live qui and a skewer of those giant maggots already fried on the brazier. Uh. But no. I turned to the next stall because of the smell of charcoal roasted alligator arms and fried bananas with dinosaur fish soup. There is this girl I like a whole lot, and I like her so much that I'm trying to lose weight and get into some kind of decent shape to impress her. I looked longingly at the alligator claws and that lovely yellow flesh just calling out my name, and then I said no again. Paula, like the motherly type she is, had bought two packets of instant coffee, and I had a half bottle of diet soda from the night before, so I decided to leave breakfast for the time being and feast when we arrived at the village an hour and a half later for my doctor appointment. There's nothing at all wrong with me, in spite of Paula's constant claims that I don't take care of myself, but I came close to losing an arm when I casually draped it around a post on the peke-peke boat and a wave came and rippled all the boats one after another up and down and against each other even closer, my arm whipping back around just in time to slam my knuckles into the sideboard. But not enough to warrant a trip to any doctor at all. I was faking the unwell and in need of healing stuff. It's really OK, I know the doctor and he knows I'm a fine guy who has no need of healing and that I wanted to talk about plants-- ayahuasca in particular. Even so, an appointment with a doctor in the jungle who lives in a wooden shack with plastic wrappers all around, who doesn't have a secretary or a phone, who doesn't wear a white lab coat, who doesn't look any more like a doctor than I do, I was still nervous, even though I know him an like him and wish we could hang out together if his wife would let us, maybe getting in a round of golf and some cigar smoking after the links, a bit of time for guys to talk about stuff. I ended up hungry looking at the banana leaves. Greasy. I resisted. It must be love. Love-sick don't need no cure. 

Bananas and gator heads for breakfast

I'd been to the village with Paula before, once to go to school and then play hooky when the kids got bored and wandered off to play, the adults, as it were, going in search of peace and quiet in the dense jungle, finding there a resort of sorts where I poured myself a cup of complimentary coffee that, as a non-guest, I felt I should pay for, causing endless trouble because no one at the resort had any idea how much to charge, my temper getting ragged, and finally all of us leaving in a huff, Paula promising to return a week later to pay whatever the $0.50 tab might be. Thus it was that my first time in the village had led us all around the jungle and to a rise by the abandoned church that I wanted to buy and turn into a jungle fortress to hide out from my enemies who probably couldn't ever find me if they tried, and then into some plain wooden building where somehow all of our stuff was piled in a corner, the building somehow being the very place we had gone to in the morning when we dropped off our things before going to the school. It was some kind of miracle, I thought, though Paula told me I have a bad memory. It was at the collection of wooden houses in the thick of the trees and the plants all around that I chatted first, or probably the second time, with the owner of the place, a short and happy little guy of 42 who has a 20-something wife and two kids, five and one and a half. That guy is Gido, Paula's landlord in the village. I like him instantly, his easy smile and calm demeanor, his happiness and openness and obvious lack of menace. I was that day too dead tired from lack of sleep the night before. I was forgetting things badly, but I liked my host and remembered that impression, if not the actual man, embarrassing when we met at a party a week or so later and I asked who he is. He is the village doctor, Gido, and cool guy to hang out with. I even had photos of him showing me his garden. He was the doctor I decided to consult about the psychic pains of Modern Man, me being so fine I'm fine.

From a peke-peke boat on the Amazon

I am a sentimental guy, I admit, finding myself wiping away the tears as the credits roll past, “Mirv Newland. Mirv Newland produced by Mr. and Mrs. Newland” and so on, thinking of the sheer horror of the final moments of the movie as Bambie is crushed mercilessly by Godzilla's giant foot. I can't help myself. I am too emotional sometimes. It's my psychic pain coming out, Bambie meets Godzilla catching me unawares each terrible time. I fight it, and when we crossed the foot bridge in the jungle over the garbage choked ravine on the way back to Gido's place in the thick of it all I stopped and, in a surge of manliness to restore my harmonies with the universe and balance my chakras, I took a piss over the edge, a mere mist sticking to my bare feet. From there on I walked proudly through the thickets and to the doctor's office, my nervousness dispelled like a bad charm, my mind clear and at ease. Paula called and we entered the doctor's office, me feeling better already, the calm of the place embracing me and the sight of Gido repairing something of the ceiling made of overlapping meter long woven palm frond lengths climbed lightly down slight edges of windows and doors in the room to the floor and came to greet us, making all my fears of shiny metal cutting instruments and solemn pronouncements of miserable doom after years of unbearable pain from an incurable psychic pain gone from my mind. Gido shook my hand, and now, after some previous warnings, didn't try to kiss me. I like him more all the time. We went into his office and sat down and Paula explained why we were there, me to talk to Gido about ayahuasca. 

Gators and taters

My interest is in public health, when I care about health at all. Public health, according to me, is the best one can do, cleaning up the living environment, in a sense, pulling the ripcord and letting people float where they may, the wind and gravity of life doing the rest till they land. The hard thump of a life without sewers and soap is pointlessly cruel and stupid, though it took all of our time till a hundred years ago to figure that out, our miraculous life now so different that we come to see it as the only life anyone has ever lived, our benefits being so obvious we can't, most of us, comprehend how new and strange it really is. So long as half the children born don't die before they reach the age of five, then I think medicine has done its job well, and health is for the living thereafter. Individuals, of course, are right to pursue their own interests in living well and without pain, and so it is that we have doctors who make things wrong right as they can. I don't expect much. A hundred years ago they worked for chickens and were overpaid for it. Today, well, they do somewhat better, to what point I do not know. Or, I do know when I go to the doctor and demand a cure for my pains, whatever they might be. But for the lives of others I stand in amazed disbelief that they cannot accept that life is hard and we all must die. I go to the doctor often because I live like an idiot and get injured and sick often. But if there were no doctors I would live or die as well. Maybe I'd go to see a man like Gido and ask for relief. Maybe Gido is the first man I would consult to find out about my psychic pains. That would be personal, not an “interest” at all. But Gido, as a jungle doctor who deals in jungle medicine in a remote village on the Amazon, is in the public health business in that he is the one who heals the ills of the villagers generally, though one at a time. Gido doesn't do so much with tourists. He'll never get rich as a doctor. 

Doctor's office

Gido is 42, married to a young woman, has two young kids, and lives in an unfinished wood-plank house with mosquito mesh on some of the windows below a grass roof that the government is going to replace for him and seemingly every other voter in the Amazon. Gido's place, for what it is, a house in the jungle, isn't that nice. Because his house is in the jungle all the wood is from the jungle, rough planks that don't join well, walls open, floors with gaps, and an enormous open space in the middle of the floor where somehow no one has gotten around to nailing down more planks to keep the kids in or the chickens out. Maybe that is the plan. In a fit of delicacy, I didn't inquire. Gido likes to wear his hair in an Elvis do, and his pants need a wash, and in all, Gido is not your average medical man in Manhattan. He is, however, a man of seriousness that I find attractive in ways missing from the medical professionals of Modernity. Gido is a medical man and doctor in ways one might otherwise describe as a medicine man and a witch doctor. If I were unwell I might consult those more to my own tradition, as if it were traditional at all to bombard a man with spaceage stuff I know nothing about; but I might, and I hope I could, consult a man like Gido to inquire about death instead. That, for the seriously ill man, is the best healing one can hope for, a peaceful surrender to the inevitable end of a life, though I would live happily in my miseries for a thousand years. That's not going to happen, and I would consider talking to someone like Gido about it if I have such a chance at the end.

Doctor Gido

Gido is a busy man, though one might not think so to see him sitting with me and Paula for four hours talking about plants while we sip lemonade and he smokes mapacho cigrarettes rolled as thick as contraband Cuban cigars, acrid smoke and black tobacco that Gido uses not to satisfy a nicotine fit but to dispel bad spirits for the house and the village. Second-hand smoke, in this world of shamans, is a good thing. He lays his burning cigarette on the edge of a plain plank table and puts back his head and thinks about some particularly tough question I stayed up all night thinking of, and he smiles and grins and tells us about the universe of living things all round that we don't see because we don't see. Gido is busy because his life is filled all the time with beings demanding of him. He spends his time talking to plants and their spirits. He is a very busy man. He talks to me for hours in the middle of the day.

Next in this series, what a local shaman has to say about plants and spirits and ayahuasca.

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:


And here are some reviews and comments on said book:


No comments: