The adventures of a modern medicine man
This post is about a man who wanted to become a medicine man – or at least that’s how I understand it, based on the little snippets of info I’ve gathered. Being blessed with a rich imagination, the huge blank spots not covered by what I’ve read have been filled in by yours truly.
Young man sits in a cold Arctic winter and stares at the snow. It’s cold, it’s been cold for two months, will be freezing for another three, and everywhere is this damned snow. Due to the very low temperatures, the snow is brittle and dry, rising like puffs of smoke around you when you move. The man – being afflicted with being both young and male – has a tendency to brave this weather in jeans, a too short down jacket, a rather ugly purple scarf his ex-girlfriend left behind and downtrodden trainers. As a consequence, snow makes it’s way down his socks, his neckline, his …
“Agh! I hate this!” expresses our hero, stamping to free himself of all this frozen moisture. He scrubs at his hair. “I should emigrate,” he mutters,and as he says it, he realises there’s nothing stopping him, is there?
Our young man – and as of now we’ll call him Anders – is a third year medicine student, he’s single, has no pets, no financial obligations, and besides, he really needs a change of scene to get over Klara. (He does, actually. Klara may have left her scarf behind, but she pretty much cleaned out everything else, leaving poor Anders with the sum total of three glasses, one mug, two chipped plates and a very worn leather sofa. Oh; and the TV)
Said and done. Two weeks later Anders hands over his down jacket to his sister at the airport, kisses his mother farewell and gets on the plane to Brazil. Why Brazil? For one, it’s hot. And it’s green – no snow. Plus Anders has acquired some funding for this madcap venture of his by selling the idea that he will set out to learn traditional medicine from medicine men living in the jungle. In actual fact, Anders is planning on lying in a hammock and flirting with the Indian girls while sipping at whatever intoxicating beverage might be available in the wilds, but why tell anyone that?
No one told Anders about the downsides to this new life of his. Or rather they did, but Anders didn’t want to hear about mosquitoes and snakes, about rabid bats and steamy heat, about nights so humid and cold your teeth chatter so hard your jaws ache. It’s only as he begins the slow journey up the Amazon that he understands this won’t be a walk in the park, but heck, he’s young and heartbroken, and he needs to liven up his CV somehow.
Life on the riverboat is slow. It is also conspicuously lacking in comforts, and for a man who’s lived his life in hyper-clean, hyper-organised Sweden, it’s all something of a shock. Even more so when he sees his first cockroach. I mean, the thing is huge! (You ain’t seen anything yet, Anders. Wait until they swarm, and the air fills with flying cockroaches. Yuck.) The hammock he’s been allotted makes his back ache, he hates being this close to so many people all the time, and guess what? No showers. (This is due to Anders being thrifty and opting for the cheapest ticket, something he now regrets. However, all his attempts to upgrade to the better side of the boat have been met by a resolute head shake.)
This is the furthest Anders has been from home, his previous travels restricted to Mallorca, the Canary islands and Kos in the Greek archipelago. It surprises him that everything is in Portuguese, and that every single meal consists of beans and rice. The first few days he rather enjoyed the black beans, but now, after five days straight he wouldn’t mind a hamburger. Which is why he is thrilled to bits when next afternoon the captain offers him “meeeeet, good meeeet”. It’s only after he’s gobbled down the chunks of spitted meats that he begins to wonder what kind of meat this is – it isn’t as if he’s seen any cows or pigs lately. The captain grins and holds up the head of a monkey. Anders decides to stick with the beans.
After three sweaty days in Manaos, a long weepy phone conversation with his mother who begs him to come back before he is eaten by the cannibals (Anders knows for a fact that she’s got that wrong, there aren’t any cannibals in the Amazon) – and a very long, very wet night in a Manaos nightclub which results in all his money being stolen, Anders sets off on the last leg of his journey, hitch hiking with two very silent Indians as they paddle up the Amazon. He would have preferred to go by riverboat all the way to Iquitos, but no money = no ticket. Anders doesn’t like it when his canoe turns right into the Japurá, even less when they turn into an even narrower waterway, talking amongst themselves in low melodious voices. It makes him nervous when they laugh, and he is beginning to worry that maybe there are cannibals here what with how they’re looking at him. Anders tries out a wide, placating smile. They smile back, but it isn’t exactly reassuring what with their filed pointed teeth.
Five hours later, Anders disembarks. His canoe buddies are swallowed into the welcoming horde of the tribe, and Anders feels rather conspicuous, more than a head taller than everybody else and with a rather unbecoming bright red sunburn. Still, so far he hasn’t been eaten, and right now he is very glad to have solid ground under his feet, even if it does squelch quite a lot when he moves. Two more hours, and Anders believes he has succeeded in explaining his errand, this via a combination of six Spanish words, a number of intense charades and very many wide smiles.
“He wants to do what?” the tribal leader whispers to his medicine man, regarding their strange visitor.
“I have no idea. But he seems harmless enough, don’t you think?”
“Hmm,” says the tribal leader, not at all liking how Anders is gawking at his eldest daughter – and how said daughter is gawking at Anders. “Ugly,” he sighs,”poor guy. Imagine going through your life with hair like cotton wool and skin the colour of a roasted pig. And his eyes …” He shudders.
“Yes,” nods the medicine man. He purses his mouth. “They’d make quite an amulet, those eyes.”
“No way,” the tribal chief says. “Last time I let you have your way with a bloody tourist we had the military here for six months straight!”
“But they didn’t find him, did they,” the medicine man grins. They throw a look at the offal pile in which a number of pigs are rooting.
“Pigs eat anything,” the chief says. “Thank the gods for that.”
Anders decides to embrace his new life and appears at breakfast next day as naked as his hosts. The resulting hoots of laughter have him retreating like a greased monkey.
“Now THAT is what I call an amulet,” the medicine man says, pointing at Anders’ scrotum. The chief glowers, the medicine man holds up his hands. “I won’t, okay? But a man can dream, right?”
Anders has no idea what the potbellied man sitting beside the chief is saying, but he doesn’t like how he keeps on smacking his lips and decides that this medicine man must be approached with some care. He edges towards the chief, lips stretched into a wide, friendly smile.
“What’s the matter with him?” the chief asks. “Why is he grinning like a sick iguana?”
“I think he’s trying to be friendly. Remember that German dude, Heinrich? He was always showing us his teeth like that – well, until I…”
The chief sighs. “No, he didn’t like that much, did he? Poor Heinrich.”
“Poor Heinrich? He was going to steal our secrets and sell them to Bayer – and what did he offer us? A handful of glass-beads, I tell you. Glass-beads! What does he think this is? The 15th century?” The medicine man shakes his head. “Maybe that’s what this guy wants to do as well – didn’t he say he was a doctor?”
“A doctor?” The chief scowls at Anders, happily unaware of this as he is looking the chief’s eldest daugher over. Not at all like Klara, Anders concludes (well, duh! Klara was an anemic, tall Scandinavian girl, all legs and blonde hair. This young lady is curvy and dark, with hair like black coarse silk that falls straight to her waist) Definitely someone Anders could consider getting friendly with – even if he has no idea how to get really friendly with someone of the opposite sex in a hammock. But being young and optimistic, he is quite sure he will work that out when the opportunity arises. (Anders shows some nasty streaks of colonialism here, taking it as a given that all the young ladies will swoon at the prospect of bedding with him, when in fact they consider him to be somewhat revolting, like a two-legged maggot with very much pink skin – and a rather big appendage between his legs)
Days pass. Weeks pass. The tribal chief has no idea what to do with his unwelcome visitor, but word from Manaos has it that the man may be in league with the government – which now and then has the chief considering just how to dispose of Anders. The man is clumsy and inept, so it would be a child’s game to have him fall off a tree trunk into a swamp, or arrange his drowning in the river.
Months pass. Anders has at last cottoned on to what exactly this primitive people mixes together to induce that wonderful, dreamy state when it is no problem at all to make love in a hammock – or hanging upside down from a rafter. In actual fact, this very potent drug combination seems to Anders a miraculous cure against anything he has ever encountered, and he is thinking that if only he could find the energy to do so, he could pack this stuff into nice, green little pills and call them The Cure for Everything. People these days like stuff that comes directly from nature, he snickers, and this is most definitely nature – at its best.
The medicine man just chuckles and nudges the chief in the ribs.
“A druggie,” he says. “He wanted to learn about our medicine, I’ve given him hallucinogens and mushrooms and he’s as happy as a sloth in a beehive – well, happier, even, as he doesn’t need to worry about the bees.”
“But what does he want?” the chief asks. “Why is he here?”
“Hmm,” the medicine man says. In his private opinion, Anders is here to get laid and have a good time with as little clothes as possible on. The chief’s daughter is already swelling up like a giant melon, so the young man must be blessed with vigorous seed.
“Marry?” Anders stutters, backing away from the chief. “How marry?”
“What do you think?” the chief growls. “You take her to Manaos, you walk into the registry office and you make an honest woman out of her – before she has the baby!”
“Err,” says Anders, trying to clear his head from the constant hang-over his drug consumption induces.
“Now,” the chief adds, “or else…” He makes a slashing movement over his throat – an international gesture Anders has no problem interpreting, and he is rather fond of his jugular. But he doesn’t want to marry the chief’s daughter – an opinion he shares with the young woman in question, who just stares at her father.
“Marry him? Why on earth would I do that?”
“Because you’re having his baby!”
“Me?” The chief’s daughter laughs. “No I’m not – this is all excessive flatulence.” She rubs her rather round belly. “I really have to stop eating gluten,” she mutters, before returning her attention to her father. “And even if I was, so what? There are at least five other girls who are potentially pregnant with him, and anyway, what’s with the moral tone, huh? How many babies do you have in the works?”
“Your father is a most virile and powerful chief,” the medicine man puts in. The chief scowls. His love life is neither here nor there. “He’s been sleeping around?” he asks his daughter, jerking his head in the direction of an oblivious Anders. “Where are young people going, eh? No morals, just sex and drugs…” He sets his jaw. “I want him gone – or dead.”
“Dead? I could do dead!” The medicine man brightens. “Now, I could dip him upside down in the water to feed the fishes, or I could cover him in honey and leave him for the ants, or…” His face acquires a dreamy look. The chief eyes him, suppressing a little shudder. “Bloody psycho,” he mutters under his breath, and with a sigh discards the idea of having Anders killed. Plus he doesn’t want the military to pop by – last time it cost him a fortune to bribe those bastards.
“I say let him go,” the chief’s daughter says. “Not much use to keeping him around, is there? He was cute at first, you know, like an overgrown pet, but these days…Nah, the novelty’s worn off. Plus he’s no major thrill in the sack.”
“He isn’t?” The medicine man leans forward. “But he’s so well-endowed.”
“Sheesh!” She rolls her eyes. “Size doesn’t matter, okay?” She crosses her fingers behind her back, because size does matter – to a point – but from the wide smile on the medicine man’s face, she can see she’s made his day.
Three days later, a still very high Anders is bundled into a canoe, handed a large package of various “herbs” and sent back home. “Ticket, passport, credit card,” the chief mutters, reviewing Anders’ documents before stuffing them in Anders’ back pocket. “Seriously, no phone?” he asks, glaring at the medicine man.
“Nope,” the medicine man says. “No phone.” He shrugs. “They don’t deliver out here, okay? he’ll have to buy one in Manaos.”
After what Anders perceives as a very emotional farewell, the canoe shoves off, and Anders twists so that he can wave to his tribe for as long as he can see them.
“Finally!” says the tribal leader. “Now where are my jeans and my Nikes?”
“I don’t know,” the medicine man replies, adjusting his Ray-bans. He sighs. “Too bad; he would have made a great addition to my collection.”
The chief decides not to ask.
Anders does his trip here in reverse, but with every additional layer of civilisation his anxiety rises, and he clutches his precious bags of herbs, not quite grasping how on earth anyone can live in all this noise, with all these people. Still, the young man has money to make, women to conquer, and so he gets on the plane, returns to Stockholm where he is greeted by a weeping mother – and the Customs officers.
No matter that Anders insists all those herbs he is carrying are for medicinal purposes, the Customs officials remain unconvinced. “Hemp,” one of them repeats. “Marijuana. Hashish.”
“Yes, yes,” Anders waves him quiet. “But it’s for making medicine – good medicine!”
“Huh!” The other Customs official snickers. “And you think we haven’t heard that one before?”
And so it is that Anders ends up in jail. It has its advantages, he reflects, being very clean and very quiet. But now and then he can’t help but dream himself back to that little tributary to the Amazon, to the deep green of the jungle.
“My people,” he sighs (he has a rather dramatic streak) “I will never forget them. Never.” He produces the only photo he has of the chief’s daughter and kisses it, thinking that surely the poor woman is weeping her eyes out, longing for him.
Not. Why on earth should she, when gorgeous Peter from Switzerland has just arrived?