Steaming people

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Udekki means the drum and the nights and days are often awake with rhythmic sounds. The fat drumming of sudden rain, the random sounds of people eating, the cutlery clinking, voices rising and falling in cadence in conversation peppered with laughter. This morning the intermittent cries of a distressed dog, I thought. The sounds woke me ahhhhee, ahhhhee, woop, woop Then about 20 seconds later again ahhhhee, ahhhhee, woop, woop, no variation in volume or tone. The noise came closer and closer and I went outside wrapped in a sarong to investigate, a turkey stared at me from my back porch and fled, the noise stopped.

It’s mid morning as I write this: I can hear the dolphin boats returning to shore with their load of orange life-jacketed tourists, wind blown and happy. The staff scurrying about getting coffee and puffing up cushions and primping the pool area. A bird hoots in the trees and a man chops at something while a breeze nestles amongst the trees, moving but still.

Yesterday I went to an Ayurvedic Health Centre in the nearby town of Norochcholai. A week ago I had been dumped by a strong wave onto my hip and jammed my sacrum. Reasonably painful but manageable with stretches. I wanted to see an Ayurvedic doctor who knew how to move soft tissue around bones. The previous week I’d had an amazing massage with the Doctor’s son, strong and effective. So along I trot to my next appointment and It was not quite what I expected. First a massage with a woman who talked and talked and talked and was really concerned that I didn’t pray to Jesus. “Christ.” I thought, “All I need is a relaxing encounter with an evangelist.” She was sweet but as I unclenched my jaw trying not to say anything that might offend recognising that a quiet massage may not be a cultural norm. There was another person in the room a very plump, no fat but pretty moslem girl who was covered in medicated oil and place in a steamer.

Let me explain. A wooden box with compartment underneath containing a gas stove. Medicated water is boiled up onto the bed which is covered by a thick layer of neem leaves and the patient lies on the leaves for 30 to 45 minutes, turning at least once. There is a round cover and only your head is exposed.

After a painful but hopefully therapeutic massage it was my turn in the steamer. Oiled up, naked and a little distracted and unfortunately tense I lay on my bed of leaves and finally was left alone to cook. Then our talker came back and poured a handful of oil into my hair and massaged my scalp. Not that I mind a head massage I don’t but a head full go oil, uck, lank hair and a face that felt like thunder. What can you do?

I sit her the next day writing. My back is really stiff I’m going to have to do some rather unpleasant yoga to remedy this. I liked the steamer, I like massage but I realised how culturally defined we are. I like quiet, silence, rhythmic mellow sounds. I remember going a few years ago to an Indian Beauty Parlour to get my eye brows threaded (if you have never had it done its quite amazing) and the ladies talked to me to each other to themselves in an endless patter like rain, like the drum.

I wonder if the stiffness in my back is associated with my cultural predisposition to want what I want rather than flow with what I have. I’ll have to go have another steam on my bed of leaves and see. At Udekki I have a steamer and a neem tree outside my clinic. I have a bottle of medicated oil, so I will be steaming my oh so tense soul into a rhythm more in harmony with the endless sound of waves on the shore near my house.

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