18 July 2011

Precious Pills and Parasites

16 July
Have you ever wondered how folk wisdom comes about?

My guess is that it is not unlike the way Thalia's neighbors in Donald Marshall's "The Week-end" generated their own version of her getaway: a grief-driven trip to escape the home where her mother died. The neighbors are wrong about Thalia, but that possibility never occurs to them. Perhaps, later, the story will become an old wives tale--"I once knew a woman who was so crazed with grief at her mother's death that she locked up her house, leaving her pets in there to starve, and ran away to California with the postman. That's what grief will do to you." Two parts truth, eight parts fabrication.

A friend of mine learned from the folk wisdom of Ukraine that sitting directly on the floor will cause barrenness because it will freeze your eggs. Tibetans believe that sitting directly on the floor will cause a stomachache, and that is why Amalah always hurries over with a cushion if I sit on the floor to read. Bits of folk wisdom are the quirks about foreign cultures that usually make me laugh. It stopped laughing, though, when it became necessary to trust my health to folk medicine.

Julia was the first in our group to get sick. She ended up at the traditional Tibetan hospital and acquired some "precious pills," along with perhaps 20 other pills of still unknown function. A precious pill is a tablet that has been blessed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and can only be taken on auspicious days. Fortunately, Julia had fallen ill on an auspicious day, so her host mom helped her dissolve the pill in boiled water, which she was then supposed to drink. If you were a child like me and chewed on a pill that you didn't know you were supposed to swallow whole, then you know what Julia tasted not only as she drank the water but as she tried to forget about drinking it for the next several hours. It didn't do much for her already-ill stomach.

Fortunately, we've had only minor illnesses so far. 

In fact, up until the trip to Amritsar I needed only one antibiotic and a couple ibuprofen.

We realized in Amritsar that Elizabeth probably had a parasite. When Bonnie and I fell ill the day we returned to McLeod, with Elizabeth's same symptoms, it didn't seem like too much of a stretch to conclude that we'd shared more than a hotel room in Amritsar. We piled into a taxi to lower Dharamsala to visit an Indian clinic.

I sat on his little square stool. "Stomach?" he asked. I nodded and described my symptoms briefly. He felt my pulse on my wrist. Then, without further ado, he explained that I had "eaten something that I shouldn't have eaten" and gave me two small packs of pills. They may or may not have helped; I think the smaller ones at least settled my stomach.

Now it's been five days and I think I'm almost recovered, which means that it most likely was not a parasite. The most memorable moment, however, from those days when I felt too lightheaded to stand, was the moment I woke up on the second day. Gyurme greeted me with, "Ah, Kurstill, how is today?" I explained that I was still sick. He understood, but he wanted me to get up anyway.

"Many sleeping is not good."

"What?" I asked.

"It is not good to sleep so much when you are sick."


"In Tibetan experience, we have learned that sleep is not good for you when you are sick."

Ah, that's right. Elizabeth's host mom also refuses to let her sleep when she's sick. Folk wisdom. Well, there wasn't a lot I could do while I tried my best to avoid standing up, so I read until Gyurme went to work and Amalah to English class. Then I slept.

I don't know of a time in India when I was quite so keen on returning to America as the time when folk wisdom got the best of me.

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