Chapter 4: The Witch Doctor, or the Sleepy Healer
Early the next morning, my trustworthy cell-phone alarm clock woke us up. We hurried through our routine morning preparation and went for a quick breakfast. We had to be ready before 7:45 a.m. for a bus pickup. The ride to Chacara Flora, a part of Santo Amaro, one of Sao Paulo’s largest suburbs, took over an hour. The traffic was horrendous. When we finally arrived at the outskirts, we got out of the bus and were escorted to a very poor area full of shacks. We had to go through mud-filled pathways and garbage-filled alleys until we finally reached our destination, almost one hour later. Flies were everywhere because of the garbage, which seemed to have been there for weeks, if not months.
I had already told my wife that this seemed to be a bad idea. She said that she felt the same way and had repeatedly told me to forget this adventure and learn to live with my tremor. I had to agree. At that moment I felt that Juan had fooled us and that we were on a wild goose chase. Then we saw the shack. It was painted green, and there were over a dozen stray or abandoned dogs in the surroundings. Our bus driver went into the shack and, a few minutes later, motioned Otto to come in. His father and Frank went in and were immediately told to wait outside.
We had seen Otto’s leg in the hotel, and it was totally covered with a red structure. I touched it, and it was skin. I took a picture with my phone. It was a strange situation. I really felt sorry for Otto. It had been ten months since this had developed. It had simply appeared one day when he was going to take a shower. Since then his life and his family’s lives had changed dramatically. They were very wealthy, but what can money do or buy when one has a disease or a sickness or something that no one seems to know how to resolve?
The sun was immediately on top of us, and there we were in the middle of nowhere waiting in the most severe favela, waiting to be seen by a witch doctor. One hour later, Otto emerged, and I was introduced to a room by a man, who I figured was an assistant, and told to sit on a dirty rug. The witch doctor was asleep. I was told to “shush,” or “shhh,” which I understood as “be quiet” or “shut up.”
After what seemed ten hours but was really twenty minutes, he opened his eyes. I showed him my hand and how it trembled when I grasped an object. He placed my hand on the floor and took what looked to be chicken bones from a dirty old basket. He started to mumble and press the bones to my hand, arm, and sometimes my head. He changed bones artistically, going from one to another. He never put the bones back in the basket; he would throw them over his back. This went on for ten minutes or so. Then he went back to sleep. I was escorted out.
The driver told us in broken English, “It’s ended.” We asked him how much we had to pay. He went into the place again and came out saying, “They offended. No money, please.” I really did not understand his Portuguese. I spoke Spanish fluently, and there are enough Spanish-sounding words in both languages, but he didn’t speak clearly.
We walked back to the minibus and had the driver stop at the nearest food place for a cold drink. We had definitely not prepared ourselves for this type of reception. We asked the driver to call Juan on his cell phone. We then asked Juan to tell us what the driver had told him. The driver had told Juan that results were never immediate. That was all. There was no one to ask, no one to speak to.
Otto said that he had experienced the same situation with the chicken bones and that the witch doctor had fallen asleep without uttering an understandable word.
That was one hell of an experience, I thought.
The fact that the witch doctor did not ask for money was something we did not understand. The bus driver took us for a two-hour tourist adventure and showed us all of Sao Paulo. We were dropped off at the hotel, paid the agreed fee, and went upstairs to shower.