Tag Archives: rupununi

Mind Over Medicine: Time to Renew My Prescription!

outside my wooden window. ©juliecomber.com
Beautiful Rupununi just outside my wooden window. ©juliecomber.com

I lay in bed crying, under my mosquito net, one infected knee so swollen and painful I could barely walk, my ear infections aching, small abscesses in my armpits and other places I won’t mention, my guts also feeling unmentionably icky, and covered in a dry irritated and irritating rash. Outside the closed wooden windows was sunlit savannah grass, red dirt trails, countless birds, and the nearby emerald rainforest. And my Rupununi friends. My tears were not due to the physical pain and discomfort, but my frustration of being sick, alone, inside, wondering when I would finally, really, live.

Today’s release of Dr. Lissa Rankin’s new book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself prompted me to revisit that dark time. Part of my intense frustration back then was I felt I “got it” about having the power to heal myself, and truly believed in my ability to heal. But I was still sick. Why?

It was October 2011, and I had hit rock bottom with my health. Again. Even in my beloved Guyana paradise. I was finishing up data collection for my PhD in beautiful North Rupununi communities full of beautiful Makushi Amerindian friends who were very concerned about my health. I had my laptop, and the generator happened to be on that day, and the slow satellite Internet was working. So one thing I could do in the dim indoor light was check my email. In sailed Lissa’s Newsletter. I had started following Lissa’s blog on OwnignPink.com because her posts about health really resonated with me. And then I got hooked on her “Inner Pilot Light” daily messages.

When I read the Newsletter about Lissa putting her one-on-one consults on sale, I managed to dig my credit card out of my packsack and paid up. I was an exhausted PhD Candidate out of funding, and not quite sure how I’d pay off my credit card purchase, and I didn’t care. My health was worth it. If I could have figured out on my own how to heal myself, I would have done it already. Time to get help.

I had my phone-consult once I was back in Canada and my doctor had some labwork done beforehand. It was lovely to talk with Lissa, healing vibes just emanated from the phone. I had filled out a very thorough and holistic patient intake form, and Lissa had gone through my labwork, too. It was possible that I had mild hypothyroidism, but more interesting to Lissa was this PhD thang, because it was clearly the source of much of my stress.

“Do you really have to finish your PhD, Julie?” She asked.

Wow. This was a difficult and very important question. Of course I had asked myself this very same question many times before, but there was something about Lissa asking that made me go deeper and be more attentive to my answer. I had lots of reasons why I felt I should keep at it. I felt a sense of duty towards the communities in the Rupununi that I had worked with. I was so close to finishing, how could I stop now? And I felt that the PhD would help me achieve my Dreams.

“OK,” said Lissa, “since you are determined to finish, what if you absolutely knew that for the next four or six or twelve months that it takes you to write this Thesis, you’d have these symptoms you described. And as soon as you finish, you will heal. Would you still want to work on it until you finish?”

“Yes!”

The rest of the consult focused on what to do so I would be able to finish my PhD and still be happy and healthy. The final step was for me to write my own Prescription – and act on it! So that was my introduction to The Prescription, which you can now read all about in Mind Over Medicine.

As a recovering scientist (my first MSc is in genetics; Yes, folks, I know how to wield a pipette), I appreciate Lissa’s careful and thorough review of the scientific literature on our ability to heal ourselves. As someone with chronic allergic and digestive illnesses that I knew in my bones, in my soul, could not be fixed with a pill, I appreciate her message that yes, oh yes, we can heal. From almost anything.

In the third part of Mind Over Medicine, you learn how to write your own Diagnosis by answering a series of questions. These are the same questions I filled out in my patient intake form for my one-on-one with Lissa. Then, you write your Prescription. While your Prescription may include following your doctor’s conventional medical prescriptions, it will likely include holistic changes that will bring about the relaxation response, which will allow your body to heal. A key thing is to have unshakable belief you can heal, just like Algonquin Elder Albert Dumont had when he healed his paralyzed arm (Albert is a poster boy for self-healing!).

I dug up my Prescription from January 2012, and had things like “take one day off a week for my music and writing”, “eat more veggies and diversify the kinds of veggies by juicing”… and “commit to getting my Thesis deposited by 31 August 2012.”

Ouch. Its May 2013, and guess what I am still working on?!

While it does not make me particularly happy to own up to the fact I have not kept some key commitments to myself, perhaps my story may be helpful for others to hear. I still have nagging illnesses and fatigue, and I will write more in a future post about my ongoing conversations with my immune system (AKA my Inner Warrior) and my work to re-program my subconscious mind.

For now, three tips to get the maximum benefit from Lissa’s fabulous book:

  1. Once you write your Prescription, act on it!!!
  2. Make sure your Prescription is written down and posted where you can see it.
  3. Be honest with yourself if it is not working for you. If you are still sick, did you really follow your Prescription? If you did, does it need to be revised?

The next best thing to a consult with Lissa is her book. Whether you’re sick and know you can heal, or are healthy and want to stay that way, Mind Over Medicine is the best medicine! An now, I have my own Prescription to renew…

fire danceKeep Shining Bright,
Julie.

 

You can get Mind Over Medicine online, and it was launched in bookstores on 7 May. To learn more about Dr. Lissa Rankin and her work, go to http://lissarankin.com.

Do you have stories about self-healing? What do you think about our power to heal ourselves? Please share your comments!

Rupununi Red Road: Intersection of Art + Research

Art came to find me in every aspect of my research in the Rupununi of Guyana. I studied the impact of Wildlife Clubs on the young members as well as on their communities. In my fieldwork, soaking in their exuberant drawings, songs, dances, and skits was a delightful way to understand the impact of the Clubs. My own artistic expression through songs and poetry was a way for me to cope with what I summarize as my experience with “blood, pus, pain, and death”, especially the death of 3-year-old Alianna.

Then when I returned to Ottawa to analyze my data, I made it into a ceremony: I’d smudge first, including hiawa resin I was given in Yupukari, transcribe, code, reflect on each interview, and then, as my reward, write two lines of song lyrics. These lines will be woven together as a Song based on all the interviews I did. It will be one part of the creative, engaging, and collaborative projects I’ll do to disseminate the research findings back to the communities I had the privilege to work with.

I spoke about this at uOttawa’s Creativity and Aesthetic Enrichment Symposium on Friday 26 Oct. And opened with one of my songs based on my time on the one red Road we all travel – and WAIT – on in the Rupununi. The last verse is wisdom from Elder Sydney Allicock of Surama about the imminent paving of this red dirt Road.

Rupununi Red Road

In the deep south of Guyana
Through rainforest and savannah
Winds the Red Road of destiny
Linking jewel-like communities

Strong happy people can shine
Work balanced with kari and mango wine
Its beautiful, so easy to be content
but change comes quickly with pavement

Chorus, 2x: Rupununi Red Road
Sun drenched dusty road
rain drenched washed out road
the toughest love you’ll know

They want to pave this red artery
But when we look back on history
Asphalt brings trade and medical care
But also trafficking and poaching, so beware

Will you decide with asphalt heat
or with cool rainforest Earth under your feet?
The Elders’ advice rings true
Use the road, don’t let road use you

Chorus, 2x

For Alianna: Part 2 – A Child’s Funeral Flowers

4 July 2011 (continued from Part 1 – Well of Sorrow)

The background sound to most of the next morning is the relentless hammering and sawing to make Alianna’s coffin. Like the day before, Mira won’t eat or drink and at times blacks out. Veronica, a Peace Corps volunteer who has lived with Marc’s family for the past year, has been caring for Mira. Mira gets more upset when she’s near Alianna’s body, yet some people let her go there. I find out from Veronica later that some people said things to Mira like “its your fault your baby died.” I cannot understand why now of all times people would choose to attack a grieving mother. There does seem to be a dark side of humans that finds it easier to blame people for their misfortune, maybe to make us feel less likely it could happen to us?  This accident could have happened to anyone in the Village.  No one has a secure well, and most people leave their kids “unattended” (with the eldest child in charge).

I feel quite useless waiting, but then Marc’s wife, Jana, mentions she’d like to make a crown of flowers for Alianna. I leap at the chance to do something useful and volunteer to go pick flowers. A teen girl is sent with me to go to a nearby household with lots of flowers. I take off on my borrowed bike, thrilled to use my muscles for something. We come back loaded with flowers, and I ask what is Mira’s favourite colour. Pink. So I help Jana weave a crown from pink, yellow, & orange flowers. There are lots of flowers left, so I imagine they can be handed to people at the funeral service to hold. A fitting visual for a funeral for a sweet little girl.

Finally just before noon the funeral starts. And a friend of the family is already handing out the flowers, mostly orange and yellow ones that remind me of marigolds. I hold three, for past, present, & future. It looks so sad and lovely to see almost everyone holding the flowers, many already wilting, as fragile and ephemeral as all Life is.

I’m underwhelmed by the Service, the preacher seems to take this as an opportunity to drill in the message that this must have happened because the parents and community did not repent enough. And so better repent now. I wish he would save that for his Sunday sermons. Why not celebrate this little girl’s Life, and try to offer her family words of wisdom and love to help them heal? For example, a good time to talk about stones and glass houses.  Its another jarring moment for me… does anyone else feel this way, too, or is it just that I’m not from here?

The small coffin is carried to the above ground Cement tomb, similar to how it is done in Georgetown. One of the teachers has organized the children, and they start to sing “Jesus Loves the Little Children”. The savannah spins and shifts on me as tears well into my eyes. The song causes my heart and mind to ricochet back to 2009, when My Edna died. She was my Guyanese Nanny, a key member of my family, and “Jesus Loves the Little Children” was the lullaby she sang to me and my brother when we were little. My favourite lullaby. I am overwhelmed again by the pain and grief of her loss, for the woman who loved me unconditionally.  It was surreal for me to kiss her goodbye three times, when they opened the casket, the still form inside so unrecognizable as My Edna, but the softness of her skin when I kissed her forehead meant there was no mistake. Then I grieved for a parent. Here, now, the parents grieve for a child. I can barely fathom what it would be like to kiss a child goodbye.

To kiss a beautiful little girl with a crown of flowers goodbye. A hinge on the casket allows people one last look or kiss before she is put in the tomb.

Mira cannot stand as they seal the tomb with wet cement. So Marc sits with her on the ground, holding his sister. The other two sisters are close by. He murmurs to her to remember she has three other children who need her, that she cannot follow Alianna but has to stay and care for them. This brotherly love is one of my strongest memories of this sad time.

We are hurt terribly when we lose the one we Love. But Love is also the key to how we heal from the loss.

For Alianna: Part 1 – Well of Sorrow

A little girl with a crown of pink, yellow, and orange flowers haunts my unguarded moments.  She looks like she is sleeping, but there is water seeping from her nose.   Three years old, her beautiful light brown face framed by long black hair loose in the white sheet wrapped around her small body.

*** (names changed to protect identities) ***

It’s sunny on Sunday July 3, a welcome respite from the frequent rain of the Rainy Season in the North Rupununi of Guyana, S.A.  The puddles on every red-mud path glint in the noon sun, the intense light washes out the tawny greens of the savannah and deeper green of the forested hills.

My community collaborator, Dana, and I are getting ready for the men’s focus group on the Village’s environmental Club.  The consent forms are waiting, we’ve discussed the women’s focus group from the previous week, and the pots are bubbling away in the Community Centre’s makeshift kitchen.

A motorbike passes by, horn blaring, but I don’t think much of it.  Later Dana tells me it was my friend and host, Marc.  Eventually, the news filters to us, as we wait for the focus group at 2pm.  At first it sounds like one of Marc’s sisters has fallen into a water hole, then a niece…. I’m worried, but don’t know what to think.  Then we get the full story from Daniel, who has come for the focus group: Marc’s 3 year old niece, Alianna, fell into a well. Sitting on the steps of the Community Center, we get more news from people passing by.  I feel I should be doing something to help, but I’m so crippled with my burnt feet I’m not even sure how to get over to Marc’s sister’s place since my bike has been borrowed. I ask what is going on, is she being rescued?  Can we help?

Dana looks at me quizzically. “She’s dead, Julie,” she says, gently.

I’m shocked.  All this time I thought she was being rescued.  I come to understand that the parents went to church (an hour walk away) and left the children, the eldest is 13 years old. This is quite common here. It’s not clear what happened but it sounds like Alliana tried to get some water and there was a rotten plank over the well and so she fell in. It wasn’t deep but she couldn’t swim and so she drowned. Now that I know what happened I just want to get over there.  It sounds like most of the people from the village are gathering at the parents’ home.  Of course I cancel the focus group. The issues of unsecured wells and unattended children are discussed by a few people on the steps of the Community Center as I wait for the bike to come back so I can go over.  Finally Dana decides to tow me on the back of her bike. We meet Auntie Elfina on the way, with the Salara and the Malaca fruits ordered for the focus group.  I carry them over to the family’s house.  I find Marc sitting on the ground outside the house, red eyed. “I’m so sorry Marc…” I feel I have no words in the face of such a tragedy.  The family is in one room in the house together all crying. Alianna’s small body is wrapped in a white sheet, lying in the other room.  People are milling around inside and outside of the house. I tell Marc about the food for the focus group and that I would like the family have it.  A motorbike is sent to fetch it. Medex and a police officer come to take statements and investigate Alianna’s death.

There have been many times here when I’m not sure what I should do, but I know I don’t have the luxury to do nothing.  So I try to help others with their tasks.  While waiting for the other food, I suggest sharing around the Malaca fruit, I figure it offers nutrition and some hydration in this heat.  I wander around, despite the pain of my feet, to offer pieces of Malaca.  I ask if I should go to the parents, anxious not to disturb them.  I’m told to go, but am still hesitant on the threshold of that door into the room of grief.  But there are many children inside who light up, and the father accepts some, but Alianna’s mother will not take food or water, and is starting to black out sometimes.  She is too deep in her grief for the small kindness of fruit.  I wish I could somehow help.  Dana starts helping with her, and with serving the food from the cancelled focus group.  Auntie Charlotte, Marc’s mother, the child’s grandmother, talks with me a bit says her husband is vexed with the parents for leaving the children unattended.

I watch as the food is slowly distributed, since there aren’t enough plates and spoons to go around.  I’m trying to guess the “rules” for distribution, it seemed like those considered to be working get the food first, then Elders, and then the order is less clear to me.

Here, people are usually buried on their family’s land.  Alianna’s family decides to bury her at Marc’s place because it would be too difficult for her mother to see her grave every day.  They will already have enough to deal with seeing their well every day.  The Village’s tractor takes Alianna’s body and many people over to Marc’s.  Dana’s daughter Cantina wants to come with me, while the rest of her family will come the next morning for the funeral.  There is no embalming here, so people are buried within a day, with a Wake the night before.

We bike to Marc’s, and I’m not sure what to do.  There are people in groups chatting outside Marc’s house, and in the common room where family and friends gather to talk and eat.  Since only a few weeks ago, there is a giant flat screen TV powered by a generator, and many more people now come to watch DVDs.   At the other end of the room is the kitchen.  Alianna’s small body lies on a pillow to the right of the TV.  The sheet is wrapped so that anyone can open it to see Alianna’s face.

As with the Wake for a colleague’s 5 week old baby son the week before, I don’t know how to feel about the Wake.   I can feel the collective sadness and pain of everyone there.  The contrast of that with what is playing on the TV is jarring.   At the baby’s wake, there was a Christmas comedy playing, the plot: a rich family has to deal with the father not getting his Christmas bonus.  The frivolousness of this “difficulty” compared to day-to-day life in the Rupununi!

I cannot escape into busyness, there is nothing I need to Do.  I could read or write, but would still hear the TV that is now on.  So I don’t resist.  I fiddle with mosquito coils that I light off the gas stove.  There are no matches, no one can find the family’s lighter, but I have mastered the art of lighting the gas stove with the sparks off my empty lighter.  I sit on the floor with many of the other mourners, my legs outstretched, the most comfortable position for my burnt feet.  Marc puts on Wild Guyana, which seems geared towards potential ecotourists to Guyana, and then Barney.  I haven’t been subjected to Barney before, it is as saccharine as I’d feared, but does seem to promote decent values.

It feels surreal to watch TV while Alliana lies there.  Does anyone else feel this way? I wonder what Wakes were like before TVs came here.  Would people talk more?  Everyone, myself included, seems so mesmerized by the TV.  It may numb the pain and grief at the moment, but I wonder if it slows the healing process.  Gathering like this is a chance to find comfort in other people, and also to try to process what happened by talking with each other.  With the TV on, there is barely any interaction, though there’s a constellation of smaller groups far enough away to talk amongst themselves.  Many of them are drinking, too. When football is put on, I escape to the room I’ll be sleeping in. I tell Marc’s family I’m going to bed, I have a headache, very rare for me, and am tired and sick and hurting from burnt feet and abscesses.  I don’t find out until morning that you are really supposed to stay up all night for a Wake.  It’s a long time before I find sleep.  I try to write a bit on the laptop, but its hard to concentrate with the loud TV.

Then its 9:34pm and I am listening to Alliana’s heartbroken mother, Mira, cry for her dead child in the room next to me.  “Mommy, Mommy I want Alianna back, I want my Anna… don’t leave me Anna, I’ll follow behind you…” It’s horrible to be right next to such agony and not be able to do anything.  I send healing energy to her.   Eventually I fall asleep.

Continued: Part 2 – A Child’s Funeral Flowers

gift

on the morning i’m leaving Yupukari

for now

just a typical shower

then

catch breath

orange & pink beautiful moth perched

on blue shower curtain

another perfect gift

so many gifts here

can i possibly give enough back?

Karanambu, motorbike, gold

in 2006, first heard of Diane McTurk and the giant river otters

        at Karanambu

longed to meet them

Sunday morn at Caiman House

the toshao stops by

he’s going there

i invite myself along

only my third ride ever

                on the back of a motorbike

scary and exhilarating to fly across savannah

on eroded rocky uneven red road

i try to move with bike

while thinking about risk

                here

compared to in Canada

                where i would always wear a helmet

how much should i adapt to way things are here?

question for a bike ride or what i eat or what i say…

for now, just grip tighter

but love wind whipping hair, shrub whipping bare calves, ducking under lianas,

                beautiful view of green & tawny gold textures and PEI red and eyes streaming even behind glasses

its so wonderful to be alive and see & feel this

                 life can be taken at any moment,

                                                so enjoy

                                                balance risk & safety

at Karanmbu

watch giant river otters

blinded Buddy down at river plays with fish

gives wet sandy sniff & hug

                smooth silky soft fur

                no trace of fish

                just smells like pure river

though blind, he hops up stairs

                and follows the volunteers back to the Otter House

where the two loud babies

                yell for fish

Karanambu with rum punch  & mangoes & hammocks & good company

                no one leaves on time

                time slips by

                lovely & leisurely

the quick morning visit

                extends to lunch

expat returning Guyanese asks about my proposed research

                cautious, then we realize we agree:

                                no parachuting-in research

                                and lets build local capacity

                                to inquire & share learning

                                                creatively

conversation turns to mining,

the new legislation will prevent small & medium sized gold mining operations

                                on rivers

larger companies tend to do less damage

                but what of livelihoods of miners?

i remark on violence it takes

                to wrench gold out of the land

the big machines and mercury poison

                harm done to satisfy a want, not a need

“go meet the miners”

                judge lest ye be judged

but again, we all agree more than disagree: mining is bad,

                                but need alternative livelihoods

then Ash calls me on the gold ladybug necklace i wear

                it hurts too much to explain properly

                this defensible hypocrisy

that when I arrived for Edna’s funeral

                August 2009

the first thing when i came into her daughter’s living room

i saw she was wearing Edna’s favourite necklace

                the gold ladybug

she asked her daughter

                to take it and put it around my neck

i haven’t taken it off since.

                it hurts & comforts me.

awkward to explain why i wear something i didn’t choose

                am i a hypocrite?

i wonder as i cling to the motorbike

                back to Yupukari over red road and green savannah textures

                tears not only from whipping wind.

running towards dawn

Waking up at 4:50am to run was not as excruciating as I thought it would be. The knock on my wooden window came promptly at 5am “Miss, Miss, you coming Miss???” I mumbled some inarticulate assent and stumbled out.

It was dark. Spectacular stars, yes. Enough light to see where the heck I was going, no.  But I ran. I kept a girl in view, almost the only form I could see.

“You’re all crazy,” I hissed. They just laughed.

“Crazy, crazy, CRAZ-Eeee!!”

Hitting a puddle shut me up. I learned to recognize the slight gleam to avoid other ones. And soon all was good, only sounds our feet hitting the ground, our breath, some birds and bugs. Only stars above and faint outlines of fellow runners near me and mountains far away. And I just had to trust my feet to keep going one step in front of the other, and that this would carry me to the unseen but known destination: the junction with the main Road.

We paused at the junction, stretched a little and back we ran to the compound. Then onwards to the Big Benab (round structure with an Ité palm thatch roof) where the Bina Hill students get their classes. We took over the main room to stretch and exercise. After a few stretches lead by a student, they put me on the spot, they wanted to do some capoeira and yoga stretches. I threw in some nasty abs for good measure.

Then they went off  to work in the garden. Which is why they get up so early to exercise.  Sure it’s dark, but the temperature is right, and they have to get to work in the garden by 6am, so this is how they squeeze in some training. I went up to the second floor of the Benab to do sun salutations, literally, since I could face the dawn. And watch the panorama view of the savannah and distant mountains come to light.