Tuesday, November 10, 2009


The medicine man meets us at the car. He is in full regalia; beaded armbands, a headdress made out of animal fur, a loincloth made of yet more fur, a scepter of sorts with some form of hair sprouting from its tip,  and dusty black Crocks on his feet.

A chicken makes it past us, angling for the hut entrance, but despite his years the medicine man is fast, and a quick lash of the makeshift scepter helps to shoo away the intruder.

We step inside the medicine man's hut.

The floor is lined with an assortment of furs. I only recognize antelope and gnu, but there are others. We are pointed to some straw mats and told to sit down. I gaze around the hut with its furry floor and make out hundreds of dusty jars and tubs - most of which say something like Marmite, Clover, or Flora - by the wall, as well as a good number of Spar, Shoprite, and Checkers plastic bags, all filled with some suspicious looking substance or what appears to be dust in varying colors.

The hut is like a sauna and sweat is running down my face. I fan my face with my hand which makes the medicine man and the ranger who has come to translate jump up in a uniform movement and jointly open the window as much as possible. A bottle of water appears at my side.

I smile at the medicine man and take out my camera.

The old man rushes to one side of the hut, grabs a spear and a shield, attempts what I believe goes for a fierce pose, but ends up smiling at me like a grandfather looking at his first grandchild while furiously brandishing his spear.

"It's okay to take pictures?" I ask the ranger, a 19 year old Zulu.

"All the time. Many!" answers the medicine man and Crock-wearing Zulu warrior in perfect English.

"He used to drive trucks from Durban to Johannesburg," explains the ranger, "he denied his calling, but then he got into a car accident and couldn't drive anymore, and his great grandmother, who had chosen him in the first place told him in a dream that it was because he hadn't taken his calling seriously."

"Also, he had no other choice," the ranger continues, albeit much less audibly, "he had to support his family somehow."

The medicine man grabs a handful of what appear to be dried leaves and wood chips from one of the plastic bags, and sticks his fist under my nose.

I smell the dried leaves obediently. And find them to smell like dried leaves. And maybe oregano. I smile  and nod and make an appreciative noise.

"This is for pie," the ranger explains as he points to his stomach.

"For pie?" I say and look at the Hubby who is looking very confused while I'm formulating a better question.

"Like pie pie?" I manage intelligently.

The ranger looks rather baffled, and repeats, very slowly and clearly: "For PIE in the STOMACH."

"Like the pie you eat? Apple pie?" I offer, accompanied by a crude gesture for something that I hope refers to eating and not sniffing one's stinky fingers, while the Hubby has decided to cover his face with his camera and take pictures of the stuff for pie, instead of bothering with the ensuing confusion. Or any uncontrollable giggles.

"No, pie in the STOMACH... sickness," the ranger makes a fist in front of his bellybutton. I'm sure he would roll his eyes if he weren't expecting a tip later on.

"Oh. Bile," I say and think that I'm onto some backwards way of seeing the root of illnesses being in too much bile, or acid, or bad blood, or whatever it was they figured out hundreds of years ago. I feel a fleeting sympathy for the medicine man's patients with very real health issues, who are lying in the next hut over, and who seem to be treated for excess bile, or some such ancient misbelief. But I'm too high on my horse.

"NO. PIE... PIE?" the ranger counters me once again, and is beginning to look at the stupid blonde woman rather sympathetically in return.

"Ah. Okay. Now I understand you. Yes...er... Pie!" I have no other choice, but to pretend to understand.

And with that, we are asked to smell yet another ingredient, something that looks suspiciously like it came from a chicken, and a lavender good luck powder which also doubles as love potion, before the medicine man throws bones for us.

He burns something, prays, and we take pictures.

After the medicine man has told us that the Hubby's great grandmother and my great grandfather - who met at a war and are the reason I and the Hubs click so well in today as to have married - are angry at us for not being thankful enough to God for all of the great opportunities they have jointly lined up for us, we ask him where it is we might end up next after South Africa.

He studies the bones and other bits and pieces he has in the bag both I and the Hubs have blown into.

"He doesn't have any flags yet. He needs more flags," the ranger translates, "but he says you'll most likely return to South Africa."

The medicine man lifts his eyes up to meet mine, smiles, and says: "Maybe for 2010. SOCCER!" as he flicks the hairs of the hairy scepter at me once more.

The man knows his craft. And his audience.


Omotee! said...

First time here and i think u r cool. will definitely be here more often.

MissBuckle said...

I love this, Extra!What a beautiful story, ad what gorgeous pictures. Fun all round.

Kaotic said...

An interesting read indeed, and yeah, he sure does know his craft and audience. :-)

I've always been fascinated by medicine men, but somewhere along the way I woke up to the reality, that I could not have been one in a past life. Grounded woman, that I am, I concluded I must have been "She-Who-Remembers" instead!

Myne Whitman said...

Nice write-up and descriptions. I wondered if they meant Pile(hemorrhoids) rather than bile but not sure of the dialect.

M.J. said...

What an amazing experience! I will be living vicariously through you from now on...I hope that doesn't cause you any discomfort. If it does, you know who to go see. :)

An Open Heart said...

Can't wait for the next installment! I'm hooked....I wish I could meet a medicine man....


Tina said...

Sounds like its going just as you predicted!

MeanDonnaJean said...

Jeez, I was kinda hopin' he'd come up with somethin' good in the medicine department....like that "new drug" that Huey Lewis always sang about 'n wanted so very badly (as do *I*, my dear....as do *I*)

Optimistic Pessimist said...

damn. soccer in 2010. that's deep. deep man. like deeper than pie deep.

Miss Footloose said...

Great stuff! Who says Africa is a dangerous place? It's full of great fun! Just think, if you'd stayed in Finland, you wouldn't have had this experience.

Chris Hoke said...

Like, blueberry pie?

kristine said...


pain? no?