Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Devil's Gin and a Dukun's Tonic

Photo of a Dukun preparing herbal medicines – from   
The Dukun's primary role is that of a healer. They may use herbalism, incantations (jampi), chants, animal parts, inanimate objects, spiritual communication or guidance, prayers, offerings…. or any combination to effect their curatives - Wikipedia
“There is People and there is Gin”  Poryana, my colleague, interprets.  His gaze flits between myself and the “Orang Pintar” – the “Clever one”, the “White” Dukun  – a surprisingly young  man who is currently lounging, rather “unspiritually”,  his two unexpected companions flanking him, on my sofa.
Whilst I have tried to restrain my thoughts to remain within the bounds of reasonable expectation, recognising that an old, wise man, sitting cross legged under his sarong and uttering ancient incantations might be a slightly elaborate and incongruous scene in my tiny, modern living room, I did expect someone different:   older, perhaps more “wise-looking”, definitely with a more commanding presence.   This guy is around 35, wearing trainers and a leather bomber jacket, his jeans hanging despondently off his slight frame.  His friends, their eyes watery and off-white, have a distant yet vaguely amused look as if they have just finished smoking an enormous bong and thought it would be fun to tag along. Not for the first time in my life I am experiencing a role reversal, the unfortunate and inevitable fate of the over- curious traveller:  that of becoming a foreigner-in-a-goldfish-bowl.  What’s worse, it seems I am a rather underwhelming subject as one of these young men has promptly fallen asleep!  This is certainly NOT a scenario straight out of the book/film Eat, Pray, Love!   But then little about my experiences in Indonesia so far have mirrored the satisfying ease with which Elizabeth Gilbert negotiated her final few months of travel:   I have not bought a house – not even a new motorbike - for a friend in need;  the effects of my addiction to nasi goreng have not been tempered by  scenic bike rides along near-empty roads;  and I have not been rescued from my own neuroses by a gorgeous, Brazilian husband-to-be!    
Pak Haji is a specialist in “herbal”, Poryana had told me.  I’m sure he is!  I think to myself now.    “And he will bring some herbal medicine to help you“.   I am suddenly feeling uncomfortable, remembering what it was that, months ago, I had told Poryana I wanted to explore with the Dukun.   His question had caught me off guard and I, keen to secure the chance to meet a spiritual healer in person, had uttered the first preoccupation that happened to descend from my over-crowded head and out of my under-guarded mouth.   It had been a decision, as usual,  between my personal life and my career, about the former I could be forgiven for being dissatisfied but it is as if a lack of progress in one area has encouraged me to desperately and relentlessly seek purpose, to make up for that lack with success and ability in the other.   I don’t now much feel like getting personal with this group of strangers and peers,  and regret that I hadn’t wished instead to open my eyes to friendly animal-spirits, to invoke them to sit on my desk and lure curious customers to buy from me , like Eskimo children to an ice-cream van.
 “Gin?” I force my attention back to the room and the three and a half conscious people who have, after all, come all the way from Soreang, south of Bandung, by motorbike, to see a stranger on a Saturday night.
“Yes, Gin, a kind of invisible spirit”
“When Gin presents itself, it is often a way for the devil to try to get the people to follow him and to lead them astray.”  My eyes dart guiltily towards the amply stocked “ emergency” booze shelf in my open kitchen , the room’s artificial white light refracting off the unmistakeable blue glass of a bottle of Bombay Sapphire like a strayed course of action suddenly illuminated.    
I am not optimistic about where this is headed and I start to feel the creeping horror that comes with the realisation that one is about to be hijacked, unprepared, into religious participation.  Like the time I accepted a wedding invitation from a young Christian couple only to end up holding hands with hill tribespeople (formerly animists themselves), singing Amazing Grace in Chinese, I am torn between a wonderful feeling of community and peace that is so often the product of shared belief on the one hand, and a disappointment at the preclusive terms that absolute faith inevitably imposes, on the other.
To break the ice, I had asked Pak Haji about ghosts - and Indonesians’ apparent obsession with them in particular and with the supernatural in general.  Pak Haji however, seems more interested in condemning my lifestyle as an example of the devil’s work.
“Gin and people are similar – they have the choice to do good or bad.  But Gin have some special abilities that people don’t have, like the ability to travel at great speed and change their shape or appearance”  Poryana continues by way of no explanation whatsoever.
“Gin were created a long time before people.  People come from the Earth and Gin come from smokeless fire. ”
And We have created man from a clay hardened and shaped. And the Jinn, We created him before that from the fire of the fierce hot winds." (15:26-27)
“ But they have a similar purpose in life, and they will also be held accountable for the actions that they choose in the end .”
"I did not create the Jinn and mankind except to worship Me"
(Surah Ad-Dhariyat 51:56)

“Their parallel worlds are not supposed to cross but sometimes people can see the Jinn and the Jinn interact with the people.  What are considered ghosts, or when people get possessed, is when Jinn present themselves in human form or as some kind of energy. Ghosts are not what people say that they are.  They are not dead people whose spirits are still hanging around.  That is not what the Muslim religion believes”.   
“What people think is the supernatural, magic, or fortune telling, it is actually the Jinn taking on different forms or interacting with those mediums or magicians, using their abilities to manipulate people and lead them astray by playing on their fears and desires”.
Some people asked Allah's Apostle about the fore-tellers.   He said. “ They are nothing"…….They said:  ”Sometimes they tell us of a thing which turns out to be true." Allah's Apostle said, "A Jinn snatches that true word and pours it into the ear of his friend [the fore-teller]. The foreteller then mixes with that word one hundred lies."
Bukhari :: Book 7 :: Volume 71 :: Hadith 657 - From 
“Every person (Son of Adam) is believed to have one Angel and one Jinni (single form of Jinn and the origin of the word GENIE) as constant companions. The Angel is a witness to your actions.    Allah, although he created the Jinn before people, asked the Jinn to defer to humans.  Saytan refused to bow to Adam and vowed to prove to Allah that Humans were not worthy of the position they had been granted.  When a Jinni presents itself to you, you have two choices for how to react.  You can stand up to the Jinni by following the path of good or you can allow the Jinni, and the leader of his kind, Saytan, to play on your fears and lead you astray”.

So why does everyone believe in ghosts in the traditional Western sense of the word ?” I ask, relieved that I have misunderstood the theme of the discussion.
 “Most Indonesian people are Muslim but many of them don’t really know Al Quran.  They listen to what other people say and so they are easily led.  But they are not knowledgeable about the ancient beliefs either.  Pak Haji  has a great understanding also of traditional spiritual Javanese beliefs and customs such as Kebatinan and also of Animism.”
 “I have talked to Pak Haji about your problem.” Poryana treads gently.  He has come to see you first, before he introduces you to another Orang Pintar who specialises in fertility problems. “ 
I shift uncomfortably in my chair. 
“So how long have you and your husband been trying to have a baby?”  Pak Haji asks me
Our different cultures affording us different perceptions on the topic of marriage and children notwithstanding, I am forced to realise something for the first time:   I have been jumping ahead of myself.  I am not right now in a position to think, single or not, about a family of my own.   This preoccupation has been hanging around for too long in my mind, like a comforting, identifiable companion with whom I can curl up and indulge in a guilt-free melancholy whenever things in my life don’t go to plan.   In the meantime however, it has most likely served only to push my ideals further away.
Pak Haji has a lot to say – too much in fact for Poryana to translate.  But I watch and listen as he speaks.  His face suddenly seems kinder and, yes, older, his eyes clearer, his regard more purposeful. 
“Don’t think so much.  You must focus on doing what you are able to do now.  Don’t think about the problem because there is nothing that hasn’t got the possibility to heal or resolve.  If you think that this is the way things will be forever, then you cannot move forwards in any area of your life”.   
“Islam believes that your life is set already by God.  In the river you will meet with rocks and other obstacles, but in the end you will end up in the sea, in a nice place and situation.   Having this belief carries us through and allows us to face the future without fear”.  
“Of course, you must do things now, work hard, plant something good for the future, but you also must LIVE in the present and adapt so that the future that you want has the chance to grow.  You can influence the future but you can’t control it.    Also you must not live in the past.  Something that happened previously should not be blamed for any situation now.  You should forgive also your mistakes of the past so that your past weaknesses can make you stronger.”   His words call directly to me, universally-relevant though they may be.
Pak Haji can’t give me a blessing because I am not Muslim.  He can however perform some kind of “transfer”, either physically (a physical transfer of energy) or simply via his words as he has done today - to encourage me, as “spiritual guidance”.   No spells, no Genie, no magic quick fixes - just a lot of sense, a bit of faith and a compassionate ear.
Stubborn curiosity forces me to ask what it was that he had brought with him to give to me.  He will not tell me because he says I should not accept that the situation is absolute and cannot change when the time is right.
Pak Haji points to the bottle of water that I had been instructed to buy and that has been sitting, as far as I have been aware, untouched in the middle of the coffee table between us.  He tells me that I must drink all of it.   I notice only now that the seal has been broken but that all of the water remains.  “We are mostly made of water.  Healers use water as a medium as it allows them to reach all parts of the body” Poryana explains.  “Pak Haji says that this is to give you energy and make you brave as you make your way to Hong Kong and to your new life.”
As my guests stand up to leave, the underwhelmed friend picks up his helmet, nods sleepily in my direction and shuffles towards the door.  As if hearing my thoughts, Pak Haji explains that they had brought two companions because on Saturday evenings there are motorcycle gangs on the roads and it is dangerous to be on a motorbike on one’s own.  No wonder Luki’s Mum wanted to give him the note, the Dukun’s blessing, to keep in his wallet as protection and guidance.
I’m not in the habit of drinking anything that might have been laced with something unknown - illegal, spiritual or otherwise.   However, left alone in my now-empty flat, and emboldened by a renewed perspective, I drink the water slowly and purposefully, pausing to focus my energy on the calm stillness of the moment.
I open my purse and take out a folded piece of paper.  I have carried this note around, I could say a kind of blessing in itself, for 12 years – since my 3rd Dragon year. 
“Be happy darling, in everything that you do, be it work or play. 
You can then look back and be content with what you have achieved. 
So many people do not have that luxury and live with regrets. 
This is your year, the year of the Dragon.” 
As my 4th zodiac cycle is coming to an end, the impetuous, feisty Dragon is yielding slowly to the more graceful, reticent Snake.  
I realise that my Mum had been saying a similar thing to me then as the Orang Pintar was telling me tonight, but that somehow it was a subtle wisdom, a secret that I had recognised but not yet been ready to be told:   Often in life there are different paths that present themselves before us.  We have a choice in which path to take.  
 “Remember, L, you are only one in this world make this world colourful.”  That sms that I had once interpreted as simply a young man’s infatuation, rings true:    You can make your world colourful through your choice in how to live your life.  And if it doesn’t go well today, it’s ok ...... tomorrow’s another day. 
Magpie is an animal that comes into our lives to tell us that it's okay to have irrational fears.[It] helps us confront that which we irrationally fear, and does so in a gentle and compassionate manner. – Sarah Messina, Animal Communicator