Sunday, September 17, 2006

Another Cultural Prejudice in Chacala, Mine!

It's been very cloudy, rainy, and overcast here in Chacala. The remains of Hurricane Lane, I guess. Lane was the second hurricane to miss us in two weeks. I hope they don't come in threes. It's continues to be hot and humid enough that I am still wearing shorts, shirts and flip-flips. And sleeping half-under a sheet, and all the way under the ceiling fan.

I have noticed that most illness in Chacala are self-diagnosed as kidney problems. Like most illnesses in rural France and Italy seem to be labeled liver problems. I guess all approaches to health, wellness, and illness are culturally-based. But I didn't realize how culturally limited my approach to Diabetes is until this morning

About 10am I was doing something in the house, and I heard a familiar "whack, whack, whack" of a machete hitting vegetation. This morning it was Galvino (sp.?), chopping away at something in "jungle" next to the driveway. I have seem him around Chacala, but never spoken with him before. He was cleaning the small branches off a tall branch of a tree next to the driveway. He pointed out the tree to me.

Somehow he had missed stepping on all my little plants on that side of the driveway. He laughed when I pointed out the new plants. My interpretation of that laugh was that it's a machismo response. Never admit you made a mistake, or back down, or show any "unmanly" weakness, like apologizing if you goof. But he hadn't goofed, so it was okay.

Anyway, it turned out that he collects the stems on the new growth of a small tree, called Paniqua (maybe) to make tea for his Diabetes. That's a new one for me. I had only heard of Nopali (a cactus) as a treatment for diabetes here in Chacala.

After hearing that I too have Diabetes, Galvino left me a stem of the plant (I probably have that wrong, but that's what it sounded like). With directions for making the tea. When the water is yellow, it's ready to drink.

I started thinking about all the offers I get in Chacala for various herbal and plant remedies, and about what I think is my culturally-based aversion to, or fear of, things I don't know much about. In this case, plants remedies for illnesses.

I often use my glucose meter to test blood glucose for people in Chacala. I check the blood of anyone who asks me, and who hasn't eaten or drunk anything yet that day. I have probably tested forty or fifty people, some of them routinely. About six or seven have had elevated blood sugar levels (and know they have diabetes).

I usually ask the Diabetics if they have a doctor. And if he tests their blood, and if they take pills for their Diabetes. Generally they say they have a doctor but he doesn't test their blood, and they don't take pills. I haven't met anyone here who takes Diabetes medication. Several people who don't think they Diabetes have had elevated glucose levels. I offer to write them a note with the date, and result, in case they want to take it to their doctor.

But now I realize I have never asked those who know they have Diabetes, how they treat it. My assumption has been that they should do what I do, take pills. There is a very inexpensive form of Metaformin available here. A 1.50US a month for the lowest dosage, but apparently it's unusual to take it. They are also now carrying my drug, Avantia/Avandia in Las Varas, for about $120US a month for the lowest dosage, 4mg.

But for all I know, the plant treatments are just as effective as medication, and maybe the medications are actually based on Nopali or "Paniqua". It never even occured to me to ask. In my mind, if they weren't taking care of their Diabetes the way I was (woth Coca Cola and Avandia), they weren't taking care of themselves. Cultural blindness. And the plants may not have all the evil side effects of diabetes medications. Avandia apparently causes heart disease in some small number of people, for example.

I am not going to start taking Paniqua (?) tea right now. I do eat raw pieces of Nopoli most every day, but I am not sure if it's the one specific variety that helps diabetes. I like the taste though, so it's okay. And it's a fresh veggie, which are hard to come by here. Except for tomatoes, cabbage and celery. All of which I like, luckily.

But I am going to reseach the whole issue more carefully, now that I recognize my closed-mindedness about using plants for illness. First thing to do, I think, is to try to find out exactly which variety of Nopali is supposed to be the effective one. And the second thing to is find out the real name of the other plant.

Later: When I wrote what I thought might be the correct spelling of the name of the plant (Paniqua), I asked Galvino if it was correct, he said it was. But he barely looked at the paper. It's possible he either couldn't read what I had written, or he needed glasses to see the paper. I often share my reading glasses with people when we are looking at something I have written, or a photo, or whatever. Many people in Chacala seem to need glasses. But most of them don't seem to carry them around, or maybe don't have them. The reading glasses from the tianguis at usually 30 pesos/ less than $3, but I only see a few people using them.

So far I haven't found the name via Googling etc. So I probably got it wrong. I will ask someone else, I guess, what the tree is called. And go from there.

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