This is my oldest daughter, Rowan. She is nearly nineteen, and as you can see, utterly gorgeous. Rowan did not come with us to Mexico, because she is just starting university. A talented artist, she's planning on the design program at Western Washington.
It wasn't easy leaving Rowan behind. I left her in a pretty good position; a free roof over her head, a closet full of dry goods, paid up health and car insurance, and a small monthly stipend. Objectively and rationally speaking, she is sitting fairly pretty. But still, when one sends one's firstborn child off into the world to fend for herself, one doesn't usually imagine that she will be five thousand miles away and that, should the unthinkable happen, one couldn't rush to her side in less than three days.
Rowan has been coping on her own for five months now, and doing it handsomely. I am inordinately proud of her. We missed her so much, we decided to fly her down here for the week before Christmas, while she is on break. Rowan has been visiting Oaxaca with some regularity since she was 7 years old, and there isn't a whole lot around here she hasn't seen. One tradition which neither of us have experienced, however, is the temescal.
The temescal is basically a steam bath. As in many other cultures, a steam bath is used to purify and purge the body of toxins. Always, a temascalero/a is in charge of the procedure/ceremony. That person - most often an elderly lady versed in herb lore - is in charge of building the fire and heating the temascal to the right temperature; of interviewing the clients and choosing the right herbs for their needs; and of actually conducting the ceremony, which involves joining the clients inside the temascal and singing and praying while gently cleansing them by beating them with bundled herbs, which are them thrown onto the hot rocks to produce fragrant, medicinal steam.
This particular temascal is located quite near our house. It has a lovely garden, and a whole house with various rooms devoted to various parts of the temascal ritual. There is an antechamber with a gorgeous altar, where clients disrobe and may have a few minutes to themselves to meditate and ask the powers that be for help in their particular cases. I can't reveal my daughter's petition, but I asked to be relieved of my impatience, of my restlessness and discontent.
After an hour in the temascal, which is all anyone could possibly stand, we were led into another room and laid down on white-draped mattresses for a massage. It was a very thorough and not particularly gentle massage. I asked what style it was, from what tradition, and was told "indigenous." Apparently that means being pummeled to within an inch of one's life by a well-muscled middle aged stout Indian lady. I loved every minute of it. As soon as we could move again, we were given warm herbal tea and released to dress ourselves and wander about in the garden until our taxi came.
The entrance to the temascal.
We were left as limp as rag dolls, relaxed nearly into insensibility. This particular temascal, as enjoyable as it was, was clearly run mostly for foreign tourists. The temascalera did a fine and serviceable job, but she wasn't a professional curandera. I still hope to experience a true old fashioned temascal run by a curandera - not as a spa experience but as a medical/spiritual treatment. Perhaps up in the pueblo, come new year's.