Lessons with Lucy: Guaje Cirial con Jerez, an Asthma TreatmentMarch 28th, 2013 | Posted by in Mexico | Oh
Our hosts, Lucy and Sergio, are incredibly sweet and sincere. Sergio’s family has lived on the property for more than 100 years, and Lucy, though originally from Mexico City, makes their house a home. They have made every effort to ensure that we have everything that we could possibly need, greeting us with warmth and kind conversation when we see them but fully respecting our time and privacy otherwise. Throughout the month, I have had the privilege of spending a few evenings with Lucy, learning small lessons from her amidst laughter and conversation in our cozy yellow kitchen.
For the last six years, I’ve had breathing issues. Sometimes I think I know what the problem is and other times I don’t. Doctors have called it asthma and reactive airways and taken chest x-rays and blood samples. They’ve given me daily inhalers and rescue inhalers and steroids and pills and dietary changes. Results vary. Fortunately, I don’t have big attacks, but I take deep breaths every few minutes on bad days, every few hours on good days, and haven’t felt fully in control of my airways since it started in 2007. Some people notice it, most often those I work with, and it is not out of the ordinary for it to come up in conversation (usually signalling that one of my terrible avoidance lines is coming: “Are you okay?” “Oh, yeah, I’m fine. I just don’t breathe very well…”).
In one of the more fun reactions I’ve ever gotten from this awkward situation, Lucy responded by telling me that her mom is a “natural doctor” and she has a treatment for me that involves a shot each morning and evening of some beverage made from ingredients that I couldn’t understand. This concoction, she said, is used to cure coughs and bronchitis, but has been known to work on asthma as well. I don’t cough or weeze, but I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to drink up some natural healing.
Lucy called her mom to get all of the details, and then we set off to the Juarez Market in Oaxaca for some shopping. The Juarez Market is huge and packed with an enormous variety of products from hanging slabs of raw meat to rows of dresses and stacked cages of pets to stalls full of handmade leather goods. The walkways are narrow and despite that, women from the local villages sit along them to sell food and fried grasshoppers, and small children run and ride tricycles through the crowd. Lucy and I were in search of an herbalist with a supply of guaje cirial (pronounced gwa-hay see-ree-al), which I have since learned is a gourd, possibly referred to as a calabash in English. The first few booths we went to were fresh out, but each vendor sent us on to their nearest neighbor and eventually we found one that Lucy deemed worthy and a good enough price at 35 pesos ($2.80 USD). She handed me the sphere of soon-to-be medicine, showing me that if I shook it, the core inside bounced around against the hard shell. We then proceeded to a corner store with a wall full of liquor, where Lucy asked for jerez (pronounced hair-ez) and was handed a bottle whose label read “Vino Generoso – Tipo Jerez – Tres Coronas – Oro Dulce.” Translated, that’s “Fortified Wine – Jerez Type – Three Crowns – Sweet Gold.” At 47.5 pesos ($3.80 USD) and with a descriptor like “sweet gold”, there was no doubt in my mind that this was a quality bottle of alcohol.
A couple of nights later, Lucy came over to prepare and prescribe my treatment. She broke open the shell of the guaje cirial, breaking off pieces until she could remove the ball inside. This core, which we would cut into pieces and drop into the jerez for its wonderful healing properties, resembled a clump of mold or ash or a piece of trash or maybe a bit of unidentifiable road kill. No turning back now though. After letting the mixture sit for a few days, I began my treatment with a shot each morning and one each evening. The drink is syrupy and sherry-like. It doesn’t feel bad, but the smell and taste are less than appetizing. As for the effectiveness, I’ve yet to decide. Our bodies are complex machines responding to hundreds of different external variables every day. If I’m feeling good, I’m hesitant to attribute it wholey to the jerez as opposed to a dairy-free diet or consistent inhaler use. That said, if my liaison to the natural doctor recommended a second round of “treatment”, I can’t say I’d turn it down.