ECU Field Journal: Africa

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Spiritual Healing
September 7, 2008

Remember when I first met Cheetah? That day, I was supposed to witness a spiritual healing ceremony at the home of a woman who works at the hospital. Well, it was not meant to be that day, but luckily we got a rain check for this past weekend. When we arrived at Marie Benoit’s house, she was dressed monochromatically in white, as was her husband, the Spiritual Healer. We had no expectations for what was to come, but at the same time became very anxious. What if something happened? What if we have to decline participation, or the like? Would we offend anyone?

We entered the living room, which was perfectly arranged with seating around the perimeter of the room and a table and two seats in its center. The floor, unlike most houses here, was not bare earth, but covered with a piece of linoleum—a Western influence and luxury not often seen here. The central focus of the room was a table, adorned with a crisp white linen cloth. On it sat a Bible, Holy Cross, 12-inch wooden rod, and a bowl of soil. Among those who had already arrived, I quickly recognized one of my advanced HIV/AIDS patients. She had recently spent three weeks at the hospital, suffering from the complications of her disease.

While waiting for another participant to arrive, the Spiritual Healer explained to us what he does for the ill. He was very forthright in saying that he was born a “Man of God” and that he had never attended school for his work. He made it clear to us that there is a distinct difference between those whom were born as a “Shepherd of God” and those that went to school to become one. He went on to say that he, “does not have to believe in God because he sees him.” To clarify this point, he placed a key on the floor and asked, “Do you see the key on the floor?” We nodded, and he continued. “Well, I see a second key just next to the one you see.” He then leaned over as if to touch it. “Do you see it?” he asked. Okay, now I was starting to get a little worried. I wondered where he was going with this. I thought about Descartes—I think, therefore I am. We sat very still and rather expressionless, as to not offend, but mostly out of apprehension as to where he might be going with this.

As the ceremony was about to commence, the doors to the room were closed and everyone pulled out a scarf, almost in unison, to cover their heads. Being that we had never been to something like this before, and didn’t have anything to cover our own heads with, we just sat there and tried not to draw attention. Well, our bare heads brought much attention and we were asked to take the doilies off our chairs and cover our head. Can you imagine seeing me wearing a crisp white doily lined in blue flowers?

In short, the ceremony consisted of a series of prayers, songs, blessings, and a sermon. Near the end, my patient and a young teenage girl suffering from diarrhea were brought to the center for their spiritual treatment. The healer first placed the Bible on their heads, then he laid his hands upon them both. He followed by touching them with the wooden rod, which represented suffering, and lastly, he sprinkled the women with holy water and soil.

During the ceremony, I realized I was witnessing something I had not seen with my patient before—hope in her eyes. At the hospital, she consistently looked up at us, expressionless, as if waiting for us to tell her what to do. Here, during the ceremony, she was actively participating—showing a passion for life. As the Spiritual Healer sprinkled the holy water on her, and blew the “earthly soil” in her face, she swayed with eyes drawn to the sky and took a deep breaths with so much vigor. I was thankful to see this side of her, but at the same time, questioned what she thought of our treatment. What could I have done, or even not done, to reach her in this way?