I set off for Bir, in the foothills of the Himalayas, late March 2012 and arrived, despite the vagaries of Kingfisher Airlines (which is apparently run on beer…), on time to be met by Spero and Robin, the former sporting a local-style high-collared jacket, and Robin’s lovely face lost under the brim of a hat to die for. I’ve worked with, studied, taught, used, absorbed and loved homeopathy for about 30 years and was about to offer what I could to Spero’s Research Institute in the Tibetan Colony in Bir. The village is full of temples and the accompanying gongs, deep voices and chanting that can go on until midnight, and get you up at a sprightly 4a.m. There are dogs that also join the cacophony, and leave their calling card on the doorsteps. The streets are uneven, smelly, and vibrant. The shiny eyes of curious children and monklets follow your every move, and the adults call “Tashi Delek” as I walked by each morning. My first and long-lasting impression is one of joy – how can one not feel joyful when there are thousands of prayer flags fluttering, draping every tree and building? A prayer on every breeze. Wonderful.
The clinic is small, clean and organized – a waiting area; a consultation room; remedy room and emergency treatment room. A translator is employed – she speaks Tibetan, Hindi, English and probably Nepali and Bhutanese among other languages. However there seems to be only one word for pain -chun chun- so one’s powers of observation come in very handy when watching the case taking: did they wince when saying chun-chun, or rub the spot using hard pressure? Can I evince that it might be neural rather than muscular pain? We worked a regular day of morning and afternoon clinics, seeing as many patients as arrived and working through a great range of diseases. I felt tempted to write a paper on the state of ‘displaced peoples’ as so many of the Tibetans had suffered terribly both living in and leaving Tibet. Their stories were often heartbreaking, and indeed while I was there, two young monks self-immolated in protest against the Chinese occupation. We treated many monks; they generally have great humor and are kept under strict control by various notices around the town, one of which read: No body of Gyurmeling monastery monks has allowed hangout town after 6pm. if any of monks has seen after 6pm please, inform to seniour monk or monestary office. (sic)
At weekends we trekked or drove out to distant villages and set up traveling clinics, where we might treat 40 patients in a day, with Robin laying out an immaculate pharmacy while Spero and I struggled with case taking, where the whole village had a say in each case. I was struck by the ineffable sadness in the eyes of a graceful young woman. The village elders had said that ‘She drinks,’ (presumably alcohol, and very much frowned upon.) When I ignored them and asked her to tell me about her family, hoping to find the reason for her sadness, she revealed that her husband and a child had died and she had two other children to support but suffered debilitating migraines, worse in the sun. Many prescriptions were simple like this one for Natrum mur, but none the less effective for their simplicity. Many cases were very short: we treated worms, appalling burns, warts, rheumatism, headaches, back pain, menopausal hot flushes, vertigo, swollen suppurating glands; emaciation; swollen, stiff and painful joints; kidney pathology; heart pathology; alcohol abuse; liver pathology – it looked as if there were a high level of fetal alcohol syndrome in the young children; asthma; necrotizing fasciitis; fevers. An endless list of the disease that comes in a community whose lives are extremely harsh physically and emotionally and whose diet is compromised by the overuse of chemicals on the land. The people themselves were, of course, beautiful, proud and spiritual with the usual sprinkling of Jealousy and gossip that is endemic in close-knit claustrophobic villages.
From a homeopathic point of view, I loved working with Spero who has an open and enquiring mind and tries always to work to the deepest and broadest totality relevant and available in the case. Between us we have a lot of experience, and neither of us is afraid of disagreement or learning from the other. We used all methods of case taking and analysis from First Aid to Kent, to Scholten, Sankaran and Sherr. It helps to have studied widely rather than to adhere to one method. The volunteering experience fed me totally: I saw a lot of patients, which I love to do; I spent many hours in the temples; Bir is surrounded by snow-capped mountains that greet you with an inclination of their peaks every morning; in the nearby Buddhist teaching centre I was overjoyed to attend two days of teachings from Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo; I met Janet Thomas who was teaching a memoir-writing workshop and impressed me deeply; I ate at the great 4Tables Restaurant and met Frank and his bright little son Alok. So the food, spirit, landscape, temples, Buddhism, and homeopathy all enriched me. The solid backdrop to this is the welcome and unwavering friendship of Robin and Spero. They made possible for me one of the greatest experiences of my life – which I hope to repeat in the next few years. Thank you both. With all best wishes for the continuing success of the Shantideva Homeopathic Research Institute.
Jenni Tree, MA, BEd, DHom, FRSA.
Churchill Fellow 1983.
Editor, Similia, Australian Homeopathic Association.
Sub editor, Homeopathic Links