During a field trip out to Oruro, we had the opportunity to visit with traditional doctors and midwifes from around the area. To learn more about indigenous customs, each set up their own display of herbs, syrups, powders and creams that they commonly use. We went around to each doctor, asking questions and purchasing remedies for our sunburns, aches and other pains.
It was so interesting to listen to the traditional doctors and midwifes describe their remedies. Some went into such detail that they could have been scientists describing a chemical solution.
When I asked about their training, each doctor or midwife’s face lit up, telling me about how their grandmother, father or other relative had taught them everything that they knew. Some even told me that they were now teaching their daughters and sons in order to continue the tradition. Each spoke with such pride about their work and seemed genuinely happy that we, a group of gringos, were interested in their customs.
Back in the United States, I feel that natural or homeopathic remedies oftentimes have a negative connotation for not really working or are associated with Hippies and counter-culture. However, in Oruro, this wasn’t the case. We also visited a nearby women’s health center that promoted connecting traditional and Western medical practices, even offering two separate delivery rooms, one for each type of medicine.
Right before it was time to leave, one of the midwifes I had been talking to throughout the afternoon pulled me aside. We exchanged “thank you’s” and “so nice talking to you’s” before she grabbed my arm, placing my hand in a bunch of crushed herbs, and rapidly said something about needing to do this before I leave. The fellow midwifes broke out into laughter, and I nervously joined them, not fully comprehending what was going on. The midwife then sent me on my way with a big smile and kiss on the cheek.
Now, I honestly do not know what kind of blessing I received, if it even was a blessing at all, but regardless, I am grateful to have connected with this woman and for her to have wanted to include me in practicing her traditions.