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Healing Abroad

In Mexico, tequila is used as a medicine. In the better, traditional clinics, a shot of the finest-grade tequila is given in the afternoon to promote general health and well-being. The civilized class subscribes to this idea and on any afternoon, you can find a salon of ladies taking the treatment and saving the world through gossip.

I am a natural and spiritual healer. Several years ago, I was hired by a private party to go to Guadalajara and set up a clinic for the poor and teach the practitioners my methods. I ended up traveling to Guadalajara three times, selecting buildings and designing two clinics, holding workshops for a larger group of practitioners, and taking private consultations. And I was treated like royalty.

My host was a down-to-earth man from a prominent family which made its fortune in farming. These clinics were subsidized by the family as part of its attempt to make that corner of the world a better place. And to offset taxes.

Armando was a small man with a big voice, a narrow mind, and a generous heart. I worked hard for him ~ long, interesting days ~ was treated to short trips, spa treatments, and lavish meals. I was both an honored guest and a member of the family.

And one day I was to meet his mother.

It was a spring day in paradise the morning we drove from Armando’s new-money suburb to his mother’s old-money suburb. We arrived at what was really a compound ~ a high wall with an electric gate to enter the property, guards at the perimeter with semi-automatic weapons, and lots of activity ~ with me rather unprepared for the experience. I thought we were just going to visit a little old lady. It was more than intimidating.

The house was a small, elegant palace and Armando's mother was definitely the queen. She was warm and gracious and carried herself with the air of old-world royalty. I was wearing jeans and a short-sleeved shirt.

Just as we passed the checkpoints and were meeting his mother, Armando got a phone call. He spoke in Spanish for a couple minutes then spoke to his mother. Her demeanor didn't change.

"I have some business to do for an hour. You will stay here with my mother. She will have some ladies for the afternoon. My sister will be here ~ she speaks English."

"Uh, uh, huh?"

He spoke to his mother again. And then to me: "And don’t let them give you tequila. They think it’s a tonica."

"El hace el trabajo de Dios! He does the work of God. He should have the treatment."

Armando spoke to his mother sharply in Spanish. Then looked at me. Then left.

And a few things happened:

1) Armando was gone for over 3 1/2 hours;
2) No-one who spoke English ever showed up;
3) I got stinking drunk.

But I get ahead of myself.

I was ushered into a comfortable room with a handful of older ladies settling into formal, over-stuffed chairs. A young girl circled with a tray of hors d‘oeuvres. The food wasn’t vegetarian so I passed on it. A lady came up to me with a tall shot glass.

"No gracias," I said but she made me understand it was ok and I took the drink instead of calling more attention to myself. Not eating, not drinking ~ that would be an insult.

I know more than the three words every American in Mexico knows (taco, cerveza, baño) but I am in no way conversational. And when I drink, everything I say has a way of metamorphosing innocently into an obscenity. Tequila and Spanish and me were a lethal combination and the time bomb was ticking: The ladies were curious about me; I knew there were machine guns just outside; and someone handed me another shot glass.

When I tried to tell the ladies I was returning home on Sunday, it came out as a comment on the roundness of their breasts.

When I tried to joke that such a group of women would usually be clucking like chickens, it came out as an instruction regarding oral sex. The women were quiet not from decorum but from being aghast.

It seems, I also told them I had a dynamic erection. I thought I was talking about my work.

When Armando returned, he was furious to find me drunk ~ quite the fallen angel. But when his mother told him of our conversation (in stern but even tones), he could not keep from laughing. He hustled me into the car and laughed all the way home, telling me what I had said, his face wet with tears, almost driving us into a tree. And for the next few days until I left, every time he looked at me, he laughed. He may still be laughing.

On my next trip to Guadalajara, I did not see Armando's mother. Or drink tequila. I had to work with much safer medicine.

Read more by Roy Anthony Shabla

Tequila Tales Anthology