Wednesday, February 24, 2010
I’ve devoted hundreds of pages to dead people—people I don’t know other than by name or photograph. But despite the fact that these people are dead, they still talk to me. I began to write years ago because I thought this would stop the noise. I thought that perhaps by writing these spirits would be vanquished by reason. To this day, the act of writing hasn’t vanquished anything. I suppose I have my mother to thank for that.
When I was seven, my mother told me a story that I would never forget. “Buddha was living in Pou Tea, and he kept smiling at me. Smiling. Sitting. Smiling. My eyes became stuck on a candle. I was fifteen at the time. All of a sudden, something came into my stomach like a big lump. You can feel it, rising, rising.” She touched her neck, and it made me nervous. “And I knew something was in my body, and I tried to stop it. I knew what was happening. I kept trying to block it. I tried to close my jaw. I was fighting with the spirit. Since I wouldn’t let it talk, it made me shake my head like a peh, a bad angel. I didn’t let it because I knew if a spirit beat me once, spirits would always be able to come into me.” My mother pulled the bedcovers over me, and I held on to them tightly. “It happened to me – ” she said “ – So it is real. You must believe.”
My mother vouches for these spirits, telling me that they not only exist, but also are in many ways alive. To be alive means that they can hurt you, help you, become a part of your existence. How foolish of me, it seems, to try to kill them with pen and paper. When I was in America, Cambodia was still a place that existed only in books and photographs and stories. There was a separation between me and the land, which included the spirits living there. The spirits couldn’t catch me in America where they’d perish because they had nothing to feed on. No mudfish, or ground-up shrimp. No mounkout, or sai-mai, or lamout or pinkie-sized bananas. In America, they wouldn’t have bowls of rice for every meal. Yes, in America, they’d die. My reasoning that spirits needed physical nourishment may seem peculiar, but in Cambodian culture, spirits still need physical and emotional nourishment. I was successful in ignoring the spirits’ existence for some time, but how strange it is that I’ve now run to their home here in Cambodia.
Maybe they’ve reeled me into their soil because I’ve denied their existence for so long. I think I’m starting to believe my mother about these living spirits. Or, maybe I am starting to admit that I’ve been a believer all along, but feared admitting belief in something that wasn’t accepted by the Western culture I’d always known.
I went to a Kru two days ago, which is a person who has a spirit living in them like Pou Tea, the man in my mother’s story. My aunt took me to see Kru. This Kru lived in a beautiful wooden house that was built for him by one of the people he had helped. He asked for nothing from people who came to see him, but those who he had helped reach great success repaid him with land, villas and cars. This somewhat helped his credibility in my eyes, so I thought why the hell not.
Kru wore dirty white cotton pants and an equally dirty white tank. Otherwise, he looked like a normal man. He didn’t have a strange headdress or long overflowing beard as I’d imagined a Kru might. He spoke casually as we prepared to have what might be called a seeing. I lit five incense sticks as instructed to by my aunt and looked up at the Buddha shrine before me. I closed my eyes and prayed. That’s another thing I’ve found myself doing more since I’ve come to Cambodia. Praying feels less awkward. But I still feel strange and don’t really know what to pray for. I think I end up praying for the same thing—people.
My mother who did her seeing first began asking questions. While I usually divulge her secrets, I think I’ll let her keep these ones. In the middle of asking one of the questions, Kru looked up alarmingly. He pointed to me, and in that moment, I became afraid.
“Your daughter must be careful,” he said. He closed his eyes and listened to Buddha. “Pra-ong says that she must be very careful here in Cambodia. I see a tall man chasing her. A thief in a car. Yes, you must be very careful,” he said looking at my hands. “Give me your jewelry.”
I took off my bangles, watch and ring, and handed them to him. He held them for the next hour we were there, blowing on them and blessing them, so as to keep me out of harm’s way.
“I had a dream ten years ago that my daughter would face danger in Cambodia,” my mother told Kru. “Then I had a dream a week ago and saw I man jump out of a car and try to pull her in. He held a white kerchief and tried to wrap it around her mouth. I screamed and told her to get in the house. And, the day before my daughter came to Cambodia, my husband dropped a frame with her picture in it, and it broke.”
My mother looked at me. “See, Kru sees the same thing. You must be very careful.”
I don’t know how I felt at that moment. Confused, probably. A bit scared. I’ve always thought that I’d only be in danger if I put myself in a position to be harmed, which I don’t think I do. But when Kru looked at me, I felt something. I don’t quite know how to describe it.
Kru later asked me, “Do you get headaches often?”
I thought of the killer one I had a few nights ago, and the ones that never go away. “Yes, yes I do,” I said.
“Does your body hurt?”
My ass was killing me during that moment, but in general, my body aches much more than a twenty-two year old body should I think. I nodded.
“Can you not sleep, and do you see terrible things in your dreams?”
“Yes, a lot.”
Kru closed his eyes again, and listened to Buddha for some time. “You have a peh in you.”
“What?” said my mother with wide eyes. My aunt gasped, covering her mouth.
I looked at my mother. “A what?” I asked, forgetting the meaning of peh.
“An evil spirit.”
Great. I have a fucking evil spirit in me, I thought.
“Well, can you make it leave?” I asked Kru in a slightly irritated voice.
“I can try to chase it out of you,” he said.
“Ok,” I said to Kru. “Get out of me you stupid peh,” I said to the spirit.
Kru laughed, and pulled out a black stone that I’d seen him use earlier when healing a sick child. He placed it on my head as I faced away from him. My scalp began to feel hot and heavy, and I thought Kru had replaced the stone with his hand.
“What is on my head?”
“The black stone. Is it hot?”
“Is it heavy?”
“Not to worry. It will get better. It feels this way because the spirit is angry it must leave you,” he said.
“Here, feel the stone,” he said, bringing my hand to touch the stone atop my head. It was cold, but I felt hot. It was light as my bangle, but felt like a book. I looked at the floor confusedly. How could this be possible?
I decided to stop being so confused for the moment, and just be there. In my head, I chanted Get out evil spirit. Get out. Get out. Get the fuck out.