Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Sunday Blessing: The Devil's Whip Has Beaten Me.

The spirit of Christmas can often be miserable. Not the mean-spirited, Grinch-like behaviour that some cannot cast off even for a few days in December. But the weakening of the spirit that often comes at winter time, when the body is worn down and sees its best moment to trip us up. My little one's body had tripped her up from the day we set sail from Bim. Then, my wife's body had done the Watusi on her from the time she got home to Bahamaland. Now it was my turn. They had resorted to bottled potions. But I'm a bit old fashioned, and like many Caribbean people of my generation prefer to use the power of herbal medicine. Some, like me, are not at all attracted to pharmaceutical potions.

I felt the flu coming on a few days ago. My temperature was rising a little; limbs and joints were starting to ache; appetite was waning; thirst was high. “Where the cerasee?” I cried out. I went to the house of my wife’s aunt, where the bush had run rampant. “Sorry, Dennis. We pull it all up.” They did what? That’s like living in the desert and throwing away water. We all know that cerasee works for a range of ailments, so why pull it up. I had to go to another plan. Fever (lemon) grass is not ideal, but with mint and lime it can work to at least alleviate the agony. Add some rum, which I think only works to help you sleep, and my toddy was fixed. I felt good for a few hours.

Another herb that is good, quinqueliba,I had when I was in west Africa. But could I find it here? Not a chance. Good grief. What has development done to us? I could not go to a "herbalist" because here the potions they sell are the "devil's work" in terms of illegal herbs.

But God works in mysterious ways. We had a Christmas gift to deliver and when it was being delivered we were offered a few “snacks”. Well, Bahamian use of language is loose at best. The snack consisted of avocados with a mango salsa, then a platter, adorned with two types of roast turkey—one with crab stuffing; that’s enough already. Then there was fried grouper, peas and rice, macaroni and cheese, steamed vegetables, and roast ham. “Eat up, dears,” we were told. I explained that my appetite was poor because the flu. Then up flew our host. “You need the devil’s whip. That will fix you.” Surely, this sweet old lady was not part of some coven in the otherwise Christian Bahamas. She went to the kitchen.

Back she came a quarter of an hour later, with a dark grey brew in a mug. It smelt evil. It was not bitter like cerasee, but had a lingering dull taste. My mug went down into the mug smoothly. “Let me know if the devil does not whip your flu,” said our host with a grin, and I thought of those children's fairy tales and wondered who would kiss me later to wake me from a hundred year sleep. “Now before you go, how about some old fashioned coconut tart? Or some black cake?”. Oh, Lord preserve me, I thought.

My first born daughter, who had just arrived before we had to make our snack visit, was in heaven. Straight off the plane into "auntie's kitchen". Oh yes!

We joined the family for evening dinner, but of course did not want to eat. We watched as they patiently waited for their food then ate like starved waifs.

My night was torrid. I sweated like I was in a Turkish bath; my pyjamas were soaked. I barely coughed, but I could feel the cold breaking up. But my head stopped its throbbing. It seemed that the devil had whipped me. I felt good enough to go to church for Christmas Sunday. Of course, the church was bursting at the seams, as is always the case for the main festivals. While I listened to all the references about how The Devil will try to work his evil tricks and turn us to the wrong path, I thought with a wry smile how the devil had coaxed me back to health.

I spent a little time today trying to find a reference to this herb, about which I had never heard before, and eventually found something in a book of herbs from coastal Guyana (see A Guide to The Medicinal Plants of Coastal Guyana) and it also appears in herbal references to Pakistan and south east Asia. It goes by the clinical names Achyranthes Indica and Achyranthes Aspera and has common names of 'cow pimpler' and 'soldier rod', and is supposed to be good for colds, stomach problems and thrush--as my mother in law said, that's dealing with a lot of different viruses; I'll attest to two of those solutions. I can see from the picture how the name could have been gained. I'm not sure if I can find some to take home and let the devil have another chance to put his whip on me.

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