Letters From Around the World
African Roots in the Andean Highlands:
The Shaman of Cotacachi
Victor motions for us to enter the room he calls the shaman’s laboratory, while he steps outside to negotiate the price of our ritual cleansing with the shaman.
In the cool white-washed room, a small, wooden block dripped with candle wax, a wooden box decorated with saints, and an ebony-black spear surround a red plastic lawn chair. Unable to resist peering into the shaman’s box, we take a peek at his tool-box containing sticks, leaves, and several smooth earth-colored and black stones. Joy quickly snaps a photo and we sit down on a bench against the opposite wall.
The shaman, enters carrying a spray bottle of clear a liquid that we assume is holy water, and sits in his chair, followed by Victor who gives us white candles, keeping one for himself.
He motions Joy to stand in front of the shaman, and then he and the shaman begin a discussion. We don’t speak Spanish and Victor speaks little English, so he gesture the shaman’s request that Joy remove her blouse.
Uncomfortable with the suggestion, she shakes her head, and says, “No.”
More discussion ensues until an agreement is reached where Joy can remain clothed.
“Las mujeres creen,” says Victor, “The women believe.”
And that seems to satisfy the shaman who smiles at us.
And we do believe. Since we’ve both been baptized in the Catholic faith, the idea of invoking the spirits of ancestors and saints is familiar to us. The trip has been a whirlwind of people, inspirational thoughts, and new beginnings. Our individual yoga practices have taught us to keep our focus and let go of anything which does not serve the better good. If the shaman can conjure forth spirits, then we’re perfectly willing to let those spirits, through his intercession, remove any negative energy from our minds, hearts, and bodies.
The shaman takes the candle from Joy, lights it, and asks her profession.
“Journalist,” she says.
“Periodista,” Victor translates.
Joy closes her eyes and concentrates on removing any negative energy that would get in the way of reporting all that she has seen and experienced during the past week.
The shaman nods as if he understands, and the ritual begins. She hands him the unlit candle which he rubs over her body, front and back, and then over face, forehead and hair. Then he hands her the black spear, having her grasp it with both hands, repeating the procedure he initiated with the candle – front, back of body, over face and hair.
She hands back the pole, which he sets against the wall. He picks up the spray bottle and makes a grimace to indicate that she should squeeze her eyes tight. Before she can close her eyes completely, he sprays the holy water directly into her face.
Angie glances toward Victor. With a look of shock and disbelief, he covers his mouth to suppress a laugh.
Joy, however, is not laughing. The solution that the shaman is now spraying and rubbing under her shirt, arms and hands stings her eyes like hell and smells like an herbal, alcoholic beverage. Tears fall from her eyes as the shaman sprays her hands with the mixture and asks her to rub it over her hair.
The process continues now in rapid motion. Chanting an incantation, the shaman plucks first one smooth stone from his box and rubs this over Joy’s body and under her shirt. Then another and another, before rubbing her face and arms with a shorter black stick. Finally, the candle is blown out and the ritual is over. The shaman and the saints have completed their work.
Joy sits down on the bench rubbing her eyes, whispering, “So this is Santeria.”
Over four-hundred years ago, African slaves brought the practice of Santeria “La Regla Lucumm” to the new world via the Spanish slave trade routes, first to Cuba and then the Caribbean. By integrating their religious beliefs with Catholicism, they were able to create a thriving faith, keeping it alive and secret at the same time.
The Yoruba people of West Africa overlaid characteristics of their Orisha – a spiritual being or presence that is interpreted as one of the manifestations of God represented in stone deities – onto Catholic saints, the very saints who are manifested in the shaman’s black stones.
Now, it’s Angie’s turn for the cleansing and knowing what awaits her, she concentrates on being present in the moment. Yet, when it comes time for the spray to the face, she’s unprepared for the burn and sting to the eyes. Tears flow out like pouring water. Maybe, like life, pain is part of the process of Santeria.
Finally, the shaman nods at Victor who gamely removes his shirt and stoically goes through the motions. He winces only once while being doused with the alcohol mixture. Later, we learn that this is his first visit to the shaman, too.
Out in the sunlight, the world seems to glow, making us believe that all things are possible. We retreat to the small sanctuary to deliver our candles to the saints, and then return to Victor’s taxi for the drive out of Cotacachi, the little town that UNESCO has declared a World Heritage Sight.
by Victor Penafiel
In 2006, Joy E. Stocke founded Wild River Review with Kimberly Nagy, an outgrowth of the literary magazine, The Bucks County Writer, of which Stocke was Editor in Chief. In 2009, as their editorial practice grew, Stocke and Nagy founded Wild River Consulting & Publishing, LLC.
With more than twenty-five years experience as a writer and journalist, Stocke works with many of the writers who appear in the pages of Wild River Review, as well as clients from around the world.
In addition, Stocke has shepherded numerous writers into print. She has interviewed Nobel Prize winners Orhan Pamuk and Muhammud Yunus, Pulitzer Prizewinner Paul Muldoon, Paul Holdengraber, host of LIVE from the NYPL; Roshi Joan Halifax, founder of Upaya Zen Center; anthropologist and expert on end of life care, Mary Catherine Bateson; Ivonne Baki, President of the Andean Parliament; and Templeton Prizewinner Freeman Dyson among others.
In 2006, along with Nagy, Stocke interviewed scientists and artists including former Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman and Dean of Faculty, David P. Dobkin for the documentary Quark Park, chronicling the creation of an award-winning park built on a vacant lot in the heart of Princeton, New Jersey; a park that united art, science and community.
She is president of the Board of Directors at the Cabo Pulmo Learning Center, Cabo Pulmo, Baja Sur, Mexico; and is a member of the Turkish Women’s International Network.
In addition, Stocke has written extensively about her travels in Greece and Turkey. Her memoir, Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses & Saints, based on more than ten years of travel through Turkey, co-written with Angie Brenner was published in March 2012. Her cookbook, Tree of Life: Turkish Home Cooking will be published in March, 2017 by Quarto Books under the Burgess Lea Press imprint . Stocke and Brenner are currently testing recipes for a companion book, which will feature Anatolian-inspired mezes from around the world.
Stocke’s essay “Turkish American Food” appears in the 2nd edition of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America (OUP, 2013). The volume won both International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) for Beverage/Reference/Technical category, 2014; and the Gourmand Award for the Best Food Book of the Year, 2014.
She is the author of a bi-lingual book of poems, Cave of the Bear, translated into Greek by Lili Bita based on her travels in Western Crete, and is currently researching a book about the only hard-finger coral reef in Mexico on the Baja Sur Peninsula. She has been writing about environmental issues there since 2011.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with a Bachelor of Science in Broadcast Journalism from the Agriculture Journalism School where she also received a minor of Food Science, she participated in the Lindisfarne Symposium on The Evolution of Consciousness with cultural philosopher, poet and historian, William Irwin Thompson. In 2009, she became a Lindisfarne Fellow.
Works by Joy E. Stocke in this Edition
AIRMAIL – LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
AIRMAIL – VOICE FROM SYRIA
ARTS – ART
COLUMNS – THE MYSTIC PEN
FOOD & DRINK – ANATOLIAN KITCHEN
FREYMAN & PETERSON- Your Life is a Book: How to Craft and Publish Your Memoir
LITERATURE – BOOK REVIEWS
LITERATURE – ESSAYS
LITERATURE – MEMOIR
LITERATURE – POETRY
LIVE FROM THE NYPL
The Euphoria of Ignorance: Being Jewish, Becoming Jewish, The Paradox of Being Carlo Ginzburg
Fountain of Curiosity: Paul Holdengraber on Attention, Tension and Stretching the Limits of Conversation at the New York Public Library
Paul Holdengraber – The Afterlife of Conversation
2013 – Three Questions: Festival Director Jakab Orsos talks about Art, Bravery, and Sonia Sotomayor
Critical Minds, Social Revolution: Egyptian Activist Nawal El Saadawi
INTERVIEW – Laszlo Jakab Orsos: Written on Water
Tonight We Rest Here: An Interview with Poet Saadi Youssef
Georgian Writer David Dephy’s Second Skin
On the High Line: Diamonds on the Soles of Our Shoes
Car Bombs on the West Side, Journalists Uptown
New York City – Parade of Illuminations: Behind the Scenes with Festival Director Jakab Orsos
The Pen Cabaret 2008: Bowery Ballroom — Featuring..
Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses and Saints
Daring Collaborations: Rolex and LIVE from the NYPL at the New York Public Library Composing a Further Life: with Mary Catherine Bateson
WRR@LARGE: From the Editors – UP THE CREEK
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 1
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 2.5
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 3.3
Up the Creek: Number 4.4
Up the Creek: Beautiful Solutions
Up the Creek: Blind Faith, July 2009
Up the Creek: Create Dangerously
Up the Creek: What Price Choice?
Up the Creek: Before and After: September 11, 2001
Up the Creek: Candle in a Long Street
Up the Creek: Crossing Cultures: Transcending History
Up the Creek: Man in the Mirror; A Map of the World
Up the Creek: Stories and the Shape of Time
Up the Creek: The Divine Road To Istanbul
Up the Creek: What It Means to Yearn
WRR@LARGE – WILD COVERAGE
UNESCO World Heritage Site Under Threat of Mega-Devlopment Sparks International Protests
The Other Side Of Abu Ghraib — Part One: The Detainees’ Quest For Justice
The Other Side of Abu Ghraib – Part Two: The Yoga Teacher Goes to Istanbul
WRR@LARGE – WILD ENVIRONMENT
WRR@LARGE – WILD FINANCE
WRR@LARGE – SLOW WEB
WRR@LARGE – WRR BOOKS
Freelance writer and illustrator, Angie Brenner, is a contributor to the online magazine, Wild River Review, covering PEN World Voices Festival and Los Angeles Times Festival of Books events, international topics, current events, political issues, and author interviews such as those with Orhan Pamuk, Elif Shafak, and Pico Iyer.
Brenner is currently writing a cookbook with co-author and Wild River Review founder, Joy E. Stocke, Anatolian Kitchen: Turkish Cooking for the American Table, to be published by Burgess Lea Press in the fall of 2016. Her first book, a travel memoir, also co-authored with Stocke, Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses, and Saints was published in March, 2012, by Wild River Books.
Brenner left the security of a managerial job to follow her passion and opened a travel planning service, Journeys by Angie, where she created personalized travel itineraries for clients that included researching history, art, and cuisine. Later, she bought and operated a travel bookstore, Word Journeys, in Del Mar, CA. For nearly ten years, Brenner nurtured her inner travel bibliophile by buying and selling travel literature. She closed her store in order to travel and write.
With a business background, Brenner worked in the health care industry in Southern California for several years, and later as Business Manager for a public school district. Yet, a love of travel and a curiosity of foreign cultures led her to explore Europe, East Africa, Vietnam, and South America. For over twenty-five years, she traveled the four corners of Turkey, and became immersed in all aspects of Turkish culture from food, to politics and religion. She is a member of the Turkish Women’s International Network.
It was during a research trip to Turkey that Brenner began to sketch and watercolor, and to create the illustrations that are included in her memoir. A certified yoga instructor, Brenner lives, writes, and facilitates weekly yoga classes in Julian, California.