Guyana Stories by Peter Halder
The Seventh Day Adventist Healer
by Peter Halder
The Seventh Day Adventist Church was located along the Christianburg Main Road in the Christianburg/Wismar/Mackenzie District,Upper Demerara River. The Main Road, adjacent to the river, began at the northern end of Christianburg and ended a little past Sproston’s Stelling at Wismar.
The Pastor of the Church was Rev. Mordecai Baramboolah. He was the quintessence of quaintness. His head was as bald and smooth as the outside of a calabash. In fact, the top of his head resembled heaven – there is no parting in either place. He was tall and well-built, probably as a result of the quantity of food he consumed daily. Some in his flock nick-named him Pastor More. His forehead had as many furrows as bicycle tracks on the main road after a heavy rainfall. His eyebrows were thick and bushy and when asked about their unusual growth of hair, the Pastor said that it was neither here nor there.
The Pastor’s wife was Nita (nee Twicky) from Dunoon, a village down river. She was the exact opposite of her husband. She was short and thin, so thin in fact that in the sunlight, she had to move twice to cast a shadow.
I first met Pastor Mordecai at a wedding reception. The cook at the Government Rest House at Section C, Christianburg, where I lived, was getting married at the Seventh Day Church and she asked me to be the Master of Ceremonies. Lutwena Allicock was 48. She had been married four times before and had two children with each husband. She was, as they used to say in those days “wide and thick” and when she rode her bicycle, you couldn’t see the saddle.
Her fifth husband was going to be Quimby Penkawr, also called Brother Q.
Pastor Mordecai also referred to him as Brother Q during the wedding ceremony. He asked, ” Brother Q, do you take Lutwena to be your lawful wedded wife, to have and to hold, till death do you part?”
Brother Q replied, “Yes, I will have her often but I don’t know about holding her until death since she left me four times before.”
When the passed-over bridegroom opened his mouth to speak, the inside was like the fabled City of El Dorado. His teeth were paved with gold.
The story was that Brother Q was Tweena’s first boyfriend but she left him and married someone else. Then she was divorced and they got together again. She did this four times until she finally decided to marry him.
I recall that, during Speech Time at the Wedding Reception, after all the speakers, and there were many, had had their say, I called on Brother Q to reply to the plethora of good wishes.
Brother Q stood up quickly, turned to his bride and said, “Ah gat yoh to mesself at lass!” and abruptly sat down.
I was introduced formally to Pastor Mordecai and his wife during the Reception and invited him to join my table. As we chatted, he told me that apart from his preaching, he rendered first aid to his flock since there was no hospital or clinic at Wismar/Christianburg, not even a doctor. There was a Government Dispenser, Babbooly Rangassamy, who was invariably ‘under the weather’. The rumour was that he treated himself daily to doses of surgical spirit mixed with tamarind syrup. The people called him “Surgi” behind his back. It was his custom to examine his patients using a magnifying glass.
As a District Administration Officer, I cautioned the Pastor about his first aid services since he had no formal training but I understood his penchant for wanting to help his congregation. I asked him to invite me over whenever he had to treat someone.
The first such occasion arose the following Monday morning. A tall, singularly looking man with a bulbous nose, small staring eyes and some teeth in his mouth, all rotten, came to see me at my office. He said, in a sing-song manner, “Meh name Jumbee Jummer an de Pasta seh foh meh ta tell yoh to cum foh he wan foh see yoh.”
I got up and followed him to the church. There I saw the Pastor in his office and a man sitting in a chair in front of him.
“Please have a seat,” he said,”I have a church member here whose name is Ramroach but everyone calls him Cockroach.”
I took a seat and paid close attention to what was about to transpire.
“Now Mr Cockroach Ramroach,” said the Pastor, “tell me what is wrong with you.”
“Pastor”, replied Ramroach, “ah does some jobs at de Wisma Stellin. One day, ah stump meh big toe on the big ion ting dem does tie de boat to. Meh toe swell up rite away. Meh caan walk praperly. Till now meh caan walk praperly. Do fuh meh, Pasta, meh beg yoh.”
The Pastor pulled up the pants leg and examined the big toe. “Get up and try to walk,” he told Ramroach. The man hobbled around.
“I know for sure what’s wrong with your big toe,” observed the Pastor, “it is clear to me that after the accident you developed ‘toelio’. Just sit and wait here a minute and I will be back.”
I sat there aghast. I was astounded over the diagnosis of the Pastor but I thought it best to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. Besides, there was such a thing in the country as faith healing. I waited with bated breath, the return of the Pastor who went outside in the yard.
He returned shortly with some washed leaves in his hand and put them on his desk. He took a hammer from the drawer in his desk, as well as a plastic sheet and a bandage.
He placed the leaves on the plastic sheet and pounded them with the hammer into a kind of paste. He put the paste on the man’s big toe and tied the bandage firmly around it.
“The leaves are from ants’ bush and soldier pursley growing in the yard. They have indescribable medicinal values. Now,Mr Ramroach, take your time and walk gingerly home. Stay in bed for the rest of the day. By tomorrow the ‘toelio’ will be cured,” advised the Pastor.
And so said, so it happened. The very next day, Mr Ramroach was able to walk normally. The toe problem was cured.
I was so glad I remained silent.
A few months passed and then Jumbee came to see me again to tell me the Pastor had another patient.
I hurried quickly over to the church brimming with anticipation and interest.
A beautiful, thirtyish, fair-skinned dougla woman, was seated in front of the Pastor’s desk.
As I took a seat at the proceedings, the Pastor asked her, “What is your name, my good lady?”
“Meh name Ann Onymus,” she coyly replied.
“Well, Ann, what is the matter with you?”
“Nuffing is de mattah wid me Pastor. Me an meh husban bin togedda foh sum ten years an we livin gud. But sumting ah de mattah wid meh knee. A latta spats ah gadda roun it foh days now. Meh na kno why. Meh husban nah waan cum neer meh now cause ah dat. He ah beeleev meh gat coccobeah. So dat is wye meh cum to yoh. Meh waan yoh get rid ah de spats,” explained Ann.
“I got you,” replied the Pastor, ” just raise up your dress above your knee and let me have a look at it.”
Ann did as he asked but hesitatingly and cautiously.
The Pastor looked at the knee area and began to touch around it. The lady wiggled in the chair at his touch.
“Are you feeling well?” asked the Pastor.
“Yes, an soh are yu!” she replied with an alluring smile.
The Pastor rubbed his chin for a moment, thought long and hard and, with a wide smile on his face, said, “I know what the problem is. You are suffering from ‘kneesles’. Wait here a moment and I will be back to take care of it.”
He went outside and returned in about ten minutes. He had in his hand a broad waterlily leaf that grew in a trench nearby. He dried the leaf over a kerosene lamp. He then placed the warm leaf over the infected area and tied it around the knee with a bandage.
“The ‘kneesles’ will disappear in twenty-four hours,” he told Ann.
Gently overcoming my shock and amazement, I again said nothing.
Two days later, I sought out Ann at her fruit stand at Wismar Market. She gleefully told me her knee was completely cured and that she no longer had ‘kneesles’.
Several months passed before Jumbee came again. I told him I couldn’t go immediately because I was doing something urgent but that I will be at the Church in fifteen minutes.
I hurriedly finished what I was doing and walked quickly over to the church. As I neared it, I was utterly astonished to see a man clinging desperately and tightly to a lamp post at the side of the road, near the church. An awful, nauseating odour was emanating from him.
I quickly walked past him and as I did so, I looked back for a second and saw that the back of his pants was wet. I thought nothing of it at the time.
Pastor Mordecai shook my hands and offered me a seat.
“Well, Pastor,” I said, “sorry I am late but what is the problem? Where is the patient?”
“Nothing much happened,” explained the Pastor with a grin, “a man came to see me and he had a very serious cough. In fact, I saw specks of blood in the mucous he coughed up from time to time into a newspaper he held in his hand. He was wracked with coughing and he was weeping too. Coughing and weeping, weeping and coughing, what a combination. He was also bending low from, from his waist down, time to time.”
“And what did you diagnose was his ailment?” I asked.
“It was a simple and straightforward case of ‘weeping
cough’” he replied.
“And how did you treat his ‘weeping cough’?” I inquired.
“I gave him a large enamel cup filled with glauber salts and castor oil,” advised the Pastor.
“And how do you know that that mixture is a cure for what you said was ‘weeping cough’?” I asked again.
The Pastor looked at me smilingly and replied, “Did you see as you walked here, a man holding on to a lamp post for his dear life? Well that’s the man with the ‘weeping cough’. From the time the mixture entered his stomach, he stopped coughing. He stopped weeping. He stopped bending. He locked his legs together like they were welded and inched his way out of here. When he reached the lamp post, he grabbed on to it like a louse grabbing on to a hair. He don’t dare cough. If he only coughs or weeps, the walls of Jericho will come tumbling down behind him. So that’s the end of and cure for his cough and his weeping. “
I was at a loss for words. I got up slowly, said goodbye and walked quickly out of the church.
I returned quickly to my office, not even sparing a glance at the man clinging to the lamp post.
I saw the man a week later at Lieu Ken Pen Grocery. He was looking thin but healthy. He told me his coughing and weeping was completely cured. He never coughed nor wept from the moment he drank the medicine that Pastor Mordecai gave him, he said, adding that all medicines had side effects.