Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Iyah, the Roots Doktah

Roots Doctor
Ink and wtercolor on paper
Purchase a print here.

Shelley was feeling miserable. She had just arrived on the island the day before, after a two-week trek through Italy. She was tired and looking forward to just sitting on the beach for a week. She needed a vacation from her vacation.

And somewhere between Milan and Montego Bay, she'd wrenched her shoulder. I expect she'd hefted a too-heavy bag one too many times in the past 48 hours and winced with every movement of her hand. I fetched two bandanas from our cottage and tied them together, an impromptu ragamuffin-stylee sling. It eased some of the downward pull on her strained muscle. I bought her a gin and tonic at the Whistling Bird bar and she gingerly sat herself down at the nearest table.

And as things often mysteriously transpire in Jamaica, I soon spotted a small, spry elder dread trudging up the central path of the WB property, heading for the bar. He looked to be close to 70, with salt-and-pepper stringy dreads to his shoulders. He'd clearly taken time with his attire that morning, wearing freshly-pressed trousers, a clean white tee shirt topped by a bright tomato-red vest. A bowl-shaped caramel brown felt hat threatened to tumble off the crown of his head with each step. He carried a heavy backpack over one shoulder.

"Have you had the pleasure of meeting Iyah, our favorite roots doctor?" boomed Jim, as he followed Iyah up to the bar. Nope, we have not. But how fitting that a Roots Doktah should appear in Shelley's hour of need.

Iyah removed his hat briefly to wipe his brow and nodded in our direction. He asked Miss G for a glass of water and dropped his backpack to his feet.

"Got anything in that bag for a sore shoulder?", asked Shelley, grimacing. "I could sure use some kinda nice bush salve. Whatcha got in there Iyah?" Shelley had been traveling to Jamaica for nearly 20 years and was well acquainted with the wonders of the bush.

Iyah shook his head slowly, smiling. "But mi haff da ting fi heal yuh sed weh." He reached into his pack and pulled out a gallon-sized plastic jug, filled with the requisite murky brown roots tonic.

Oh no. Not the roots tonic. We'd all tried the roots tonic, that fermented mixture of a dozen different roots, barks and leaves that "purified the blood." And tasted like a compost heap.

"Mmmm, no disrespect, Iyah, but mi nuh really wan' the roots right now, seen?" said Shelley. "Mi no teenk dat can fix what ails mi." Iyah bristled visibly at her characterization of his elixir as simply "roots." He stepped closer with the heavy jug, lifting it up to her face. The jug's murky contents sloshed up and down the inside, leaving a filmy residue.

"Dis nah jess roots, miss," sniffed Iyah. Jim nodded approvingly from the bar. "Dis yah a mi own speshal tonic. Dis yah tonic a cure evry-TING."

Shelley gave him a cool nod. Nobody wanted to insult the elder but she knew the roots was not what she wanted right now, no matter how unique the recipe. She had no doubt of the curative powers of certain roots, but knew its limitations as well.

Iyah continued with his spiel. "Dis yah tonic a cure headache, it a cure cough, an it a purify deh blood." We nodded, we knew the reputation of the roots.

"An' it a cure CAN-SAH." What? Hmmm, that's a new one.

"An' it a cure deh AIDS dem!" Well. THAT certainly was a new addition to the miracle healing power of roots. Shelley glanced at me, raising her eyebrows.

"Cancer? And AIDS?", asked Shelley. Iyah nodded knowingly at us, fools that we were, apparently unable to appreciate the value of his wares.

"Well, that sure is some powerful tonic yuh got there, Iyah, but right now I'll just settle for the tonic that comes with mi gin, seen?"

Iyah shrugged, put his jug back in his pack, gave us a slight bow, and moved on up the beach. There was no doubt another sufferer in an hour of need.

Bush Doctor
Ink and watercolor on paper.
Print available here.

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