mardi 2 avril 2013

Among the American Indians, You are surrounded by wisdom

When you enter the Indian country, you are in a totally different world. Each time I feel I am entering a ring surrounded by wise men and women and if you listen you learn more.. It has been like this, on my monthly visits to the Indians, over the course of time..
Before driving to the Reservation of the indians, which lie about one and half hours drive away from the city of Omaha (an Indian name, meaning Land of Flat Water, denoting the river without boundaries of that time), I stopped at Trader Joe's to buy food. You see, the area where the Indians live is a food desert, with only the worst food on sale, with no recognized restos or coffee shops and the surrounding european communities about 40 km away are no more sophisticated when it comes to food..
Thus fortified from Trader Joe (a very nice conversation with W, whom I had met on another visit, hope to see W on yet another visit!): bananas, organic half and half, channa masala, organic basmati rice, a nice bottle of NZ sauvignon blanc, granola organic, some nan, organic avacados from the usa, almond milk and falafel... a meditarranean melange i would say.. it was time to drive to the reservation. The day was chilly but sunny, it had earlier snowed. The temperature was 0 C. Pleasant drive through the rolling countryside passing through towns with names from other centurie Tekamah, Decatur.. When i pass through these small towns I wonder, who live in these homes, with lights burning, what are they dreaming in Hermann?
To my surprise the house where I was to stay did not have the gas turned on and the weather was getting colder, with an expected temperature of about minus 6 C! I decided to experience something many of my patients experience, living for days without heat under such conditions. It was not pleasant, there was no way to get warmer, even under the blankets your hands and feet were cold. I was glad when the heater was turned on the next morning.
Those of you who think of youself as culturally competentant, you can interpret correctly what these patients of mine were saying on this day 2nd April 2010.
I had noticed that all of them had uniformly put on 3 lbs, slightly less than 1.5 kg. I asked them to explain, in the anthropological fashion, their own explanatory model..
1. The Spring is here
2. I had a stroke
3. My sister invited me to dinner 
4. It was a long weekend holiday at my daughters school
5. No one cares to learn about my problem
6. my wife referred to our bed room as Your Bedroom
In each of the cases I could correctly understand what they were trying to say. Please dont apply European Psychology and it will not get you anywhere close to the context. I am so glad to have studied Medical Anthropology!!
I will just elaborate on the first Explanatory Model
The speaker is a traditionally living Indian, a full blood, and very fond of his tradition with no cultural conflict of any sort. Spring is the time of rejuvenation, they would like to hear the new life cringing under the weight of the snow, as new plants are trying to come out. This is the season of feasting, celebrating. Normally these would have been accompanied by dancing as well, but among the Indians, any death in the community is respected and no dancing permitted.
My patient, this traditional Indian,is a dancer and he attributes his good health to the fact that he dances .. but lately he has not danced but has attended many feasts.. so he answers my question: The Spring is here..
When I am here with the Indians, I do not think of my other life at all, the life with Non Indians in various parts of the world.. I am focussed on them, the Indians and learn from them about the harmony of living..

I am very much reminded that these ancient people, distinct in their mind and body from the Europeans who came recently to colonize them, have a philosophy so similar to all the other ancient philosophies..
in Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, in II 5 it is questioned: what is the essence of happiness?
It is to know the true self.. who you are. not what you are and not what you reperesent but who you are?
Who are you?
A traditional Indian like this man sitting in my consulting rooms at the Indian Clinic has no conflicts about who he is..
He freely talked to me about his grandparents who might have been born in the 19th century, to his parents who lived in the 1920s.. he is their off spring, he has no question of where he comes from, where he belongs..
He measures time by the nature surrounding him, even in this bleakness of an ending winter.. harvest moon, celebrations, dances...

A Colleague asked me this morning, dont you love coming here to work with all your colleagues?
I answer
I love coming to be with the Indians, even though I am their doctor, I need them more than they need me.

there is no talk of Piper Heidsick, or snails in pesto sauce or ways of snagging a business class seat on long flights..

Here the language and symbols are all human, about relationships, about the society they are living, the powerful forces of the outsiders they cant understand..

I share their pain, their joy, their laughter. With all the oppression, I dont think there is any other group of people in America, who are as happy as the Indians on a daily basis..They will find something to be happy about and then laugh..


To get to the Blue House among the Indians, I had to fly from Brussels to Frankfurt; then Frankfurt to Houston (above) which had the compensation of a nice meal of shrimp with some gnocchi (shown below), after arriving in Houston, to Omaha and then renting a car and driving up 90 miles to the Blue House.








If you ask, is it worth it?
then I have to answer you, from what I receive from these gentle people, ancient as they are, is worth the trouble of flying from all over the world to be with them...I have come from virtually the ends of the earth.. such as Ushuaia in Tierra del fuego..
After a day like today, there is nothing in the other world that seem attractive, since this is the world of reality of affection, and the absence of material things, pleasures of the body are all absent...
I am grateful to be here..