Caldo De Zopilote

When I was twenty-two and living in Mexico, my boyfriend and I went to Mexico City to visit a friend. The friend’s beautiful brown standard poodle, La China (Curly Girl) was being treated for what we thought at the time was a mysterious infection. It later turned out that when he had taken her to the vet the previous week for a routine checkup and immunizations, she had been given a ‘hot’ vaccine that gave her rabies. The day we visited, La China was docile as ever, never snarling or biting, although she suspiciously refused to drink water. Not yet knowing the actual diagnosis, the doctor had prescribed some medicine, so we took turns holding La China’s mouth open and gently pushing little white tablets down her throat. A couple of days later, she died. 

The grimly comical autopsy report that arrived a few days afterward indicated that she had tested positive for rabies and recommended that the dog be decapitated and then killed. There were over twenty of us who happened to visit La China that weekend. For weeks afterward, we all trooped to our local clinics to get daily rabies vaccine injections – 21 in all. We learned to buy our own disposable syringes or risk being punctured by the dull, much used and much larger needle of the old glass clinic syringe. The injections were given in a circle around our belly buttons. As the days wore on, we sat in the waiting room with our clinic compatriots, lifting our shirts to compare the multiplying discolored welts on our bruised tummies. 

Then one day, we heard the story of a man we knew – my boyfriend’s former baseball coach - who had been bitten by a rabid dog, had actually gotten rabies and was cured by drinking caldo de zopilote - vulture broth. Even then I wondered, How does one capture, kill and cook a vulture? What ingredients does one include in such a brew? I realized that this formidable carrion-eater would make powerful medicine, indeed. I found out later that in addition to curing rabies, Caldo de Zopilote is a well-known folk remedy for cancer and (taken without salt) is said to cure madness. (One should bathe in the leftover broth after drinking). It is even said that drinking the blood of the vulture is sufficient in itself to cure rabies. Whenever I see vultures circling, I wonder what might be the equivalent cure, the caldo de zopilote to heal the rabies of greed that threatens all of life on Earth?

This was a random thought at first. But when I looked it up, the medical description of rabies sounded like an advanced case of consumerism: A viral illness, inflammation (swelling) of the brain that travels there from peripheral nerves (from the outside in, like healing, like war) until it reaches the central nervous system. Malaise, headache and fever progressing to acute pain, violent movements, uncontrolled excitement, depression, hydrophobia, mania and lethargy, coma and, finally, respiratory insufficiency.

Without familial ties among all life, human and non-human, it is difficult to see where human beings fit in the symbiotic Big Picture. Science sees homo sapiens as a natural progression of Nature’s evolutionary reach toward refinement and complexity. Indigenous thinking, and perhaps the indigenous within each of us, recognizes the lived expression of sacred relationship with the natural world as a uniquely human capacity. Gratitude and the myriad forms of making offerings (whether as tangible gifts, silent prayers or simply living with humility, awe and respect) affirm our connection with the sacred, feed the divine, and sustain a relationship of dialogue, beauty and reciprocity. Perhaps this is our ecological niche. Perhaps this is the correct understanding of ‘development’. 

In Mali, Senegal, the Gambia and other parts of West Africa, Griots were originally peacemakers whose job was to chant and sing the deep, historical relationships of conflicted parties back in time through countless generations, reaffirming that their connectedness overshadowed their separateness. Are there any among them that can also recount the relationships between humans and the natural world? If so, we need them now. Perhaps we can make a caldo de cuentos - a broth of stories - to sip on that will nourish the memory and make it strong.

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