Amanda Kovattana

Middle-aged musings in interesting times

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Of Mind And Mud

In which I find everything I need in the mud pit — an international sisterhood, a shifting paradigm and a cure for cancer. Here I offer my report from a ten day adobe building workshop with 30 women in northern Thailand.

Stories From The Mud Pit

The earth that would build our house was so red with iron it stained our feet like red betel juice and could not be washed out of our clothes. Behind us the mountain of Chiang Dao earlier masked by the morning mist was now revealed in massive peaks. And just to the right the golden spire of a pagoda high up in the hillside reminding me that we were in Thailand. 

In this orchard of mango trees watched over by dragon flies hovering overhead, a space had been cleared at the rear of the property for us to build the first of many tiny houses. Houses that would provide a retreat space to rejuvenate the activists of IWP (the International Women's Partnership for Peace & Justice).

My first clue that this was going to be a unique experience was the revelation that one of our American members was an amputee. Her boyishly short haircut having already set off my Gaydar. Nattily attired in backward baseball cap of local fabric and a tie died t-shirt over jeans she looked all of 19 and struck me as slightly cocky and sure of herself having been to Thailand before. But her radiant smile as she showed up at our morning yoga class in day glow green shorts won me over. Actually it was her leg that did it for that was the first glimpse I had of it in all it's steel and fiberglass novelty. Anyone going through life explaining that detail over and over had to have an interesting take on life I figured. 

The prosthetic leg made a rubbery farting noise as she popped it off for one of the yoga poses. The noise startled the woman to my left who said "oh" audibly as she looked over. I partnered up with Val for one of the exercises. In studying the leg I could see that it was a birth defect being shorter in the thigh bone than the other so not a result of an accident.

"I like your leg," I told her.

"Thanks," she said. 

"It's different," I said which was all I could manage in the way of scintillating observations.

"Yes it is," she confirmed. Val was 24 the youngest of us save for our mighty girl builder Ailsa (pronounced Elsa) the daughter of one of our instructors.

Later when I asked her if she was out about her leg she said yes, why would she not be and told me her story which she began with a question.

"Have you heard of Chernobyl?" she asked me.

"How could I forget," I said suddenly aware that I had over half a century of history embedded in my memory and at 57 was likely the oldest woman present. She continued with her story.

She was born in Russia along with a number of other babies born with deformities soon after the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuke plant though the authorities never admitted a correlation. Her Russian parents immediately put her up for adoption. An American woman with a birth deformity herself (an undeveloped hand) had adopted her and with her husband had brought her to the states. Decisions were made that led to Val having her foot amputated and several operations later a prosthesis fitted. This gave her the most options for mobility. Val had a maturity and cheerfulness beyond her years possibly in part because of this journey. I found myself wondering what missing pieces, what traumas we had all sustained that were not visible to the eye. 

Photo by Melissa Mulder-Wright
The missing pieces of my life were soon soothed by the mud. Making cob gave me time to process while doing something useful. Cob, a mixture of mud and straw, would be in much demand for the build. The doors and windows as well as the wood beams upon which the roof would be built were all attached to the adobe walls with mud. Plus two of the bathroom walls were wattle and daub, a similar idea to lathe and plaster only with cob filling in a lattice of bamboo splits. We would also include in the walls a pattern of bottles embedded in cob which would let in light and provide decoration.

The cob pit team sat on piles of dry straw and rubbed a handful of straw into the softest part of the mud in a motion that reminded us of washing clothes. The color of the mud prompted comparisons to poop, diarrhea and coffee.

"I like to put coffee up my butt," said Sherrie to amuse Val who had started the conversation.

"You did the coffee enema treatment?" I asked her eager to hear details. Sherrie was my roommate for the duration of the build. On the first day at the building site I had glanced at her t-shirt and was startled to recognize a profile as familiar to me as what I saw at home everyday. There where her left breast would have been was a flat space. 

"This is a wild coincidence", I told her in our room at the end of the day, "but I live with a one-breasted woman." She did not seem particularly surprised being possessed of an even tempered demeanor. At first impression she had struck me as a very nice woman if a little mainstream in her presentation. Someone reliable with no surprises. She had just turned 50. My respect for her increased tenfold with this additional revelation. No one is left unchanged after such an experience I knew from my own still fresh memories of Catherine undergoing treatment for her cancer two years ago (not to mention my dad having died of cancer at 69). That Sherrie did not hide this absence of a breast impressed me even more. 

She also happened to be a molecular biologist which made her the perfect person to explain how a coffee enema worked to both detox and revitalize all the cells in the bloodstream while also de-stressing the liver. She had followed the Max Gerson protocol for her cancer she told us because there was no cure for triple negative breast cancer 8 years ago. They offered her a clinical trial of a new drug, but as a scientist she knew better than to take that option, she said. Nor did she accept radiation; she didn't believe it would help. Her doctor gave her 6 months to live. And her family ostracized her for refusing the conventional forms of treatment. Only her husband stood by her.

I was now no longer in the realm of mere coincidence. Triple negative breast cancer was not all that common, but it was the same cancer that Catherine had had two years ago only she had taken the clinical trial option and when that nearly did her in was given treatment with two more chemotherapy drugs. The experience was so horrific it scarred us both. I was still angry at the cancer narrative perpetuated by Western medicine. The whole story about pushing the body to the brink of death in order to kill the cancer as if cancer were an alien virus and not something the body fought off regularly never sat well with me. It reminded me of the defense industry, so eager were doctors to use these pharmaceutical weapons to fight the noble battle against these terrorists cells.

Sherrie told us about how the cyanide in seeds attack cancer cells while leaving healthy ones alone. Apple seeds for instance were worth eating for that reason; she ordered apricot kernels online. The substance found inside an apricot kernel, the key ingredient of her treatment protocol also known as B-17, was a controlled substance in the United States, the FDA having determined it was a harmful toxin.

"I've read that testosterone is also a controlled substance;" I said. "Perhaps it should be more so," I added referring to those in charge.

 "We're working on that," she said good humoredly. She was lucky that she had the background to do her own research because even in this retelling I cannot remember all the details. I had heard of many of these alternative cancer treatments that were offered in Mexico and elsewhere. They had sounded hoakie and too good to be true. Recently an internet video series called The Truth About Cancer had surfaced on my FaceBook feed. It had an overdramatic narrative reeking with conspiracy theory rhetoric, but the information on alternative treatments was intriguing and I thought worth perusing. Sherrie confirmed that the series interviewed many of the doctors and treatment options she had researched. Two of them had recently been found dead. They were just about to publish a paper on their cancer treatments Sherrie said. So you see how the plot thickens. 

Every member on the board of The American Cancer Society is a representative of a pharmaceutical company, Sherrie told me. This was why there was nothing in the organizations literature that spoke of finding a cure for cancer. They only talk about treatment, preferably pharmaceutical treatments. Conspiracy or not, Western Medicine is being controlled by the pharmaceutical industry. But we live in such fear of the dreaded disease that there was no way people were going to disobey their doctor at the very moment they were most frightened. We had to believe something else first before we would be able to say no to this self flagellating narrative. Nothing like hearing a personal story to bolster confidence. And this was the second one I had heard regarding triple negative breast cancer.

I asked Sherrie if she had considered sharing her story. She had thought of writing a book she said, but in the end the retelling of her story took her back to that dark nightmare time and she wanted to move on. I could certainly understand that; other survivors probably felt the same way. So that left me, the side swiped bystander. I sat in the cob pit after everyone left mulling over this confirmation that there were plenty of alternative treatments to cancer. Later I would ask Sherrie if she would mind if I shared her story. She kindly offered additional information which I've put at the end of this post. I also asked Val if I could share her story too because sometimes you just need live confirmation that man made disasters did indeed have the impact we predicted though authorities are loath to admit it. 

Of Mind And Mud

As Sherrie told her story others too spoke of using coffee enemas. And drinking their own pee. Was there no end to these interesting 'home brew' treatments? I had come to the edge of the world to meet my people and they were pushing me where no one had pushed me before.

Meanwhile Rebekah our Goddess of Yoga whose statuesque physique and lion's mane of blond hair made her stand out like a deva, was having us do a yoga breathing exercise while compressing our stomach that she told us would cure constipation and indeed I can testify that it worked. This healing vortex along with the ongoing building of our mud house was beginning to make me feel I had arrived in a utopia, an alternative universe of peace and healing. 

The next day in the mud pit Simone the young woman from the Netherlands told me how she had suffered from job burn-out at a high tech start-up. The Dutch had a word that described a pre-burnout condition so she had been sent home by the company doctor to rest. Ah, the Dutch, they are so civilized. 

"We need that word," I told her. 

During her time off she had participated in a rocket stove building workshop which encouraged her to seek out more off grid type solutions. And so she had quit her job to take time out to seek a more fulfilling vocation. Many others too had the same story about quitting their job after burnout. It was sort of a recurring theme of the group.

"I don't want to quit my job," said Penny from New Zealand, "I like my life." She was a nurse and was currently taking a 9 week holiday to use up her vacation time. (Nine weeks! Think of it, what poverty of time off we live in in the US.) I sort of felt the same way about my life though I was intrigued by all these options of dramatic change and relocation.

I was very curious about the Chinese women, three from mainland China and one from Taiwan plus MayMay who was 12 who spent the time reading a Harry Potter book in Thai and could speak at least four languages including Karen. The Chinese women were networked into the group by Sylvia, May May's mother, a woman who lived in Mae Sot and had learned about earthen houses in that busy border town of cross pollination. Sylvia was in charge of preparing the food for our group. Many had gone to Mae Sot just to explore all the various helping professions offered by NGOs camped out there. Yu Yin had met Sylvia there and heard about the workshop, posting it on Facebook for others to find. (And yes Facebook is blocked in China, but you can buy a workaround black box to access it.)

Xiaoou (pronounced Sho-A), a mainland Chinese woman who had majored in gender equality studies at the University of Ireland wanted to know how I identified my nationality when I had two parents of different nationalities. I wrote a whole book about it I said acknowledging the complexity of my life as we sat in a hot tub together at the day's end. At the nearby hot springs, hot tubs had been fashioned out of cement culverts just big enough for four to sit in. Xiaoou asked the same question of Gioia (pronounced Joy-a) sitting across from me; a stunningly beautiful woman of mixed Japanese and Italian blood living in Rome, she had chosen to document the workshop with a video camera having just finished a degree in filmmaking from the UK. We both spoke of having many skills with which to relate to our different nationalities, but not feeling completely at home in any one place. A fourth person in that cement culvert was an Australian who lived off grid and had completed a few building projects of her own. Dhaniella said she didn't relate to her nationality, but more to various sub-cultures within Australia. This sentiment was easily shared by those of us from North America. The problems of the US in particular stood out this year.

"The whole world is wondering why America can't just get rid of guns," said Tracy at dinner. She was English living in Bangkok and married to an American with whom she could not discuss this problem America had with guns.

"You can't take guns away from Americans because they are afraid they'll run out of food and they'll need their gun to shoot squirrels," I said, "It's the same reason you can't take cars away from Americans because they might have to sleep in them if they find themselves without housing." This made her laugh. But there was a kernel of truth in the absurdity of the U.S. being the world's wealthiest country while its inhabitants lived in a psychological state of impending scarcity. A sort of ongoing pre-apocalypse mindset.

Others from the US (and Canada) commiserated with me about how nuts our country had become. It seemed to help to get that off our chest right away. 

Val said to me that she didn't know what to plan for because the world seemed to be so imminently ready to end that she didn't expect to see 30. I had felt that way too I told her.

"But then another ten years go by and the world still hasn't ended," I said, "except that the rich have gotten richer and the poor poorer." 

There were two things that eventually changed my mind about the world ending I told her. One was the mushroom people. Paul Stamet the mushroom man I'd heard at Bioneers had been developing mushrooms for mycoremediation, developing strains of mushrooms to break down oil, nuclear waste and possibly even plastic he said. Mushrooms seemed to have an intelligence, a caretakers mission; the vast mushroom network could reach out to the far edges of the forest and bring back nutrients needed by the trees living in the dark regions of the forest. I was happy knowing that mushrooms could also detox the planet. 

The second promising thing that changed my mind was meeting a Canadian psychic on my Stonehenge trip who told me she and other intuitives got together to broker deals with Gaia to ease up on things like earthquakes in populated areas. Saying this out loud I realized I sounded a bit wacky, but my point was that that there were unseen forces at work that we have no idea about that are trying to help us. 

Women Building Community

Meanwhile here on the edge of the forest we had managed to build a house in seven days with a group of untrained women. Women who individually had had no idea they could accomplish this. "I don't see it is possible," Xiaoou had told me on day two. But we had done it in community, with kids playing by our side and one 8 year old as able to swing a bucket of mud as the rest of us. Ailsa was half Scottish and half Karen and looking at her I saw myself at 8 not just in her mixed blood, but in her spirit. How able she was and eager to contribute to the build, cutting bricks with a machete and climbing up on the scaffolding with the rest of us. There was something that felt so intrinsically right about women building a house together with children being cared for in our midst. Perhaps it harked back to the origins of communal living in small tribes. Or it was the egalitarian-ness of it, something I longed for and when it happened left me feeling deeply satisfied.

The mud had worked its magic again as I knew it would. What fascinated me now was seeing what intrepid women would be drawn to this experience. Who would make visible to me the new paradigm that each of us were embodying in our own way.

That we were an all women build had been commented upon by both outsiders and within our ranks. The purpose of an all woman build was to demonstrate that women could do every part of a build. If a job needed muscle the job was broken down until it was manageable. Four bags of cement to mix became half a bag. No one need compete to show how strong they were. We more preferred to be useful to the whole, pitching in and supporting one another compensating for any shortcomings. 

By the sixth day I was in love with everyone confident that no one was judging me or misunderstanding my motives. By the final day we had not only finished building the house, we had plastered all the walls inside and out and created three dimensional vines and flowers to decorate the exterior walls. The experience of this accomplishment profoundly affected us all and comments at the wrap-up expressed some of these revelations.

"I've always wanted  to build my own house, but I thought I would need to find a man first," said Cheyanne a young woman from Australia, "now I know I just need a few friends."

 "I will be a seed," said XiaoV another of the Chinese women as she explained that she would go home and give a presentation so that those in China who were beginning to be interested in sustainable living could benefit from her time with us. Like the mushroom people we were bringing needed solutions from the edge of the forest back to the center where convention and fear had kept people in the dark.  

"I feel healed," I said. Healed from my fractured life of keeping up with my tribe in three different time zones all on Facebook. Healed in the knowledge that cancer could be cured with coffee enemas and seeds. Healed by the door that had opened to greater control of our lives. Healed by living in community for ten days harvesting the stories of woman I met. Stories of seeking a better life for ourselves, stories of self-healing, independence and free thinking. I could spot us now, see these women at airports traveling alone all over the world bringing home new skills and ways of thinking. 

And so was I, for all of these new gleanings would go with me into everything I did and talked about as I too wished to push the old paradigm through to a more enlightened understanding of how we could live in harmony with the natural world and in turn enhance our own well being. In telling this story I hope to bring to you some of these gleanings.

Wishing you all the best for the holidays and for 2016.

For more photos of the build click here to my album on flickr.

A useful site about alternative cancer treatments. Sherrie also wants to share the fact that there are many resources available, but she does not believe any one of them to be 100% accurate. So ask who is delivering the information and judge for yourself how credible they are. Any information or topics that resonate with you as an individual is an invitation to learn more, she says. She believes that the best chance at success is to participate in our your own healing because no one knows you better than you. So it's important to scrutinize many sources and consider what might work best for you.

Labels: , , , , , ,


At 6:26 PM, Blogger Ann said...

Thank you for writing and sharing this with us. Your experience really resonates within me. I have lived your cool experiences vicariously over the years. Happy New Year and holiday joy for you and yours.

At 6:55 AM, Blogger AK said...

Thanks Ann. The information I gleaned from this trip was so compelling I felt I had to synthesize it all as a single story. Happy New Year to you too.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Earthworm. Get yours at