Thursday, January 21, 2021

Today's Story: A Time to Heal



                                                                    The Procession

     I walk up the main street, along the plaza, and I look to the parking lot where the van dropped me off. It's empty. Evening quickly descends. Desperately, I search for a van, any van. I ask a man, a Chamulan. He tells me the van service from San Juan Chamula to San Cristobal stopped at 7:00 P.M. He points to the taxi stop where two taxis wait. The sun reddens the mountaintops. Taxis in Mexico after dark, especially in rural areas? But what other choice do I have?

     A short, elderly man, standing next to a Toyota, raises his hand. The car has seen, as they say, better days. I ask him about the vans, as if I need a second opinion. He confirms the only way back to San Cristobal is by taxi or walking. He gives me a price. I accept, and when I sit in the car, I make sure, like always, it has door handles on the inside panel. The images from the strange church service I’ve just witnessed clash in my mind.

     I tell him to call me Antonio.

     “Like the saint,” he says.

    “Yes,” I say, “the one from Padua.”

     “The one who returns lost objects, like men, and souls.”

     As he drives, he begins to talk, his voice soothing. My mind slows. He tells me about the ranches and the settlements in the valley below, the process to cure sheep wool and turn it into clothing, the different Mayan languages, and beliefs of the various Maya clans throughout Chiapas. The eerie events of the church simmer.

     I ask him about the words I heard in the prayers, the ilol, the chulel, and the kamel. He’s hesitant, at first, as if revealing a secret, but says the ilol is a header, like a curandero, some ilols more powerful and wiser than others. The service in the temple of San Juan was a ceremony to start San Juan Chamula's annual fiesta. He explains the chulel is our animal spirit. We all have one. If our chulels suffer, we suffer. The kamel is a sickness, when our fear is too strong for us to cure. A powerful ilol can cure us.

     “What happens when one’s chulel is weak or lost?”

     His eyes on the road, he says, “Sickness, anxiety, fear, fevers, stomach problems, many things. Also, illusions, nightmares, terror. The sick are lost. A good ilol can bring them back to reality.”

     “Like San Anthonio?”

     He smiles.

     “Can a person cure his own chulel?”

     He waits, thinking. “If the person’s ilol is seriously ill, that is very dangerous.”

     I laugh, nervously, “I guess we all need good ilols then.”

     He doesn’t laugh. He says, “The world is very big. Different worlds have their own ilols. Our ilols pray to Chulmetic and to Chuloltic for healing.”

     “Who are they?”

     “Our earthly mother and father, the moon and the sun.”

     “So, they are the real healers?”

     “No. They ask nichonil, the son, to intercede.”

     “Intercede—to whom?”

     “Totic, tata.”

     “And that is…?”

     He turns to me, as if I am dense. “God the father.”


                                                       The temple of San Juan Chamula

     My mind wanders. I try to hold it still but can’t. I am back in the church, blinded by incense and deafened by the monotonous strains of the musicians. I try to interpret the scene, as if I’m deciphering a code.  Geronimo continues to talk, his voice hovering above the images in my head.  

     He says, “You came from the church service?”

     “I did, yes.”

     “It is not what you expected.”

     “They killed a rooster.”

     “No. They stopped killing live roosters many years ago. They bring in a rooster but turn it loose after.”

     “I saw the blood. A man had to wipe it off of his hands.”

     “He is the nichin. He helps in the ritual. They use red liquid, like a dye. They are good at making it look real, for the tourists.”

     “Geronimo,” I ask, “do Chamulas believe St. John the Baptist is greater than Jesus.”

    Again, he waits before answering. “Some Chamulas do. I am an evangelista, a Baptist. There are Presbyterian Chamulas and Charismatic protestant Chamuluas, traditional Catholics and reformed, like you saw today. There are even Muslim and Mormon Chamulas, and that is only around here. Across Chiapas, the Maya have different beliefs. No, to me, Jesus is God’s son. Without Juan Bautista, there is no way to the son.”

     I spend the evening recording everything I can recall, but we all know how memory plays tricks on us, especially when it's time to heal.

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