Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Magic Soup

It's been a long time since I posted: hard to get the right balance between inspiration, internet access and time to fiddle with it. But I'm in Los Angeles at the moment with all three in fair abundance and remembering an experience I had while in Papua New Guinea in August.

I'd been travelling to different friaries, eating whatever was put in front of me--including, during my stay at Alotau, bandicoot. Read rat. My easy accepting attitude toward food is generally rewarded with pleasant surprises. But I hope never again to eat bandicoot. During my time at Haruro, St. Mary of the Angels Friary, I came down with diarrhea. Not an uncommon illness. It usually passes with a few pepto-bismal tablets. But this time I was laid low. I think the culprit was unrefrigerated food that had been re-heated after sitting out all day. But who knows? I missed prayers. I scuttled to the toilet all night and all day. Sometimes in time, sometimes not. Pure misery.

The brothers brought me a warmish coca cola to settle my stomach. Then they brought me crackers and papaya. Transit time for these foods seemed about 15 minutes. I was beginning to wonder how long it could go on. I began to remember every terrible story of travelers suffering (and some dying) from unchecked diarrhea. Which made me pray harder. And turn my life over to God's keeping.

God heard me. The brothers came with greetings and a message from two sisters from the Community of the Visitation of Our Lady, another Anglican Religious Order in PNG: "Come down stairs, now!" I said no. But they insisted, and the brother carrying the messages was getting agitated. So I went and they greeted me with a huge pot of soup. My stomach clenched at the smell of it. "We heard you have diarrhea and made you some of our famous magic soup!" they said. They laughed a lot and cajoled me into looking into the pot: it was greyish with orange lumps and green stems. I was reluctant.

In the past the brothers and sisters in Melanesia have tried to help me out with traditional cures for all sorts of ailments and difficulties, but the treatments have never worked. They covered their bases by saying it is probably because I am white that it doesn't work. But this soup the sisters said had worked on a whiteman before, so they knew it would work for me. So I ate a bowl of it. "Eat more!" they said. Surprisingly it tasted good and my stomach rejoiced in it. Then I broke out into a flop sweat, water streaming off my body as if I were under a shower. My clothes sopping wet, hair clinging to my scalp. "It worked," crowed Sister Anne. Sister Beverly went into great detail with the recipe: chicken stock, papaya, pumpkin leaves and stems, cut up green beans, and the leaves and fruit of soursop. Soursop is known throughout the tropics, by many different names. Spanish speaking countries call it guanabana: green spikey skin peels back to reveal a white flesh with big black seeds. It is a delicious fruit. The sisters swear by it for every ailment. When I got back to Google-land I learned more about it, both that many people find it has wonderful healing properties and that there is no scientific basis for it. I leave it to the chemists and pharmacists. I also learned that if you are in the northern hemisphere and have diarrhea blackberry leaves (or if you are strong enough or have a robust friend, the roots) are a great treatment for diarrhea. I'll keep that in mind... Maybe Google will fund research into better living with soursop?

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