How shall I name
The unspeakable, that within me hides
as a bird’s nest in my chest? And in that nest
Not an egg, but a caterpillar. Something beautiful
Will fly away from it one day, but until then
How shall I name
The unimaginable? That which seeks music to hum,
And in that music the rhyme and rhythm of ancient
Cultures, not mine. I am the forgotten
Child in the bush, the one that searched
For meaning in the carvings of woodworms,
Roaming the land as an orphan citizen
But always looking for the forgotten treasure left
By the ones who owned the land
How shall I name
The treasure I never found?
The wisdom I gathered while searching?
The parts of my soul I left behind,
Scattered over several nations?
Ina Vandebroek (12/7/14)
Balen Social Welfare Office
Residential Care Facility Ter Vest
About “our” house
- Remembrance of things past looms larger than the present for most occupants
- The future is “near”
- Sharing remembrance with other occupants helps to carry the burden of ageing
- “The past” was different and many people feel it was also better
- The past is mostly connected to the last place of residence but one
- The capability of finding one’s bearings is vitally important for people who are losing their sense of time and distance
- Finding one’s bearings usually starts with a reliable point: in this case “our house”
- “The street where we used to live” is for many elderly people like us that ultimate point of contact with reality
- The locating of the names on the street plan will be a point of wholesome discussion:
Maria used to live here, and Karel and Jef there…
Is this spot the Langvennen or the Holsterberg?
- The house will also remain a token of remembrance of the former neighbours
- In this way the building will grow more on them as “their” house
- In each unit there will be a map with the names of the inhabitants
- This map will be affixed by Jef Geys at the occupation.
18 November 2010
vertaling; Prof. Dr. Joris Duytschaever
An Ethnobotanist Helps Ralph Gardner Jr. Get to the Root of Things
By Ralph Gardner Jr. in the Wall Street Journal
I feel a raise and a book deal on the way. It has nothing to do with luck or merit. Or the election results. But rather a “money drawing” air freshener I acquired last week at La 21 Division Botanica on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.
To double my odds, I also picked a bottle of cologne called Don Dinero—Mr. Money—with a picture on the front of a cool-looking dude with a wad of cash and a beautiful woman at his side. “A powerful gentleman is Mr. Money,” the bottle says.
Perhaps a bit of explanation is in order. Not about why I felt the need to enlist the supernatural to realize my dreams—don’t we all—but what I was doing at La 21 Division Botanica in the first place.
Our tale begins an hour earlier at the New York Botanical Garden where I met Ina Vandebroek, an ethnobotanist. Indeed, Dr. Vandebroek is the beneficiary of a $100,000 grant the Cigna Foundation just awarded the botanical garden to improve health care in New York’s immigrant Caribbean and Latino communities.
Dr. Vandebroek has done fieldwork in Bolivia, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, learning about medicinal plants and how they’re used as the first line of health-care defense in rural communities—and by many in New York’s immigrant communities, as well.
“People from the Dominican Republic use the leaves to treat asthma, bronchitis, cough, the common cold,” Dr. Vandebroek told me as we strolled through the botanical garden’s Lowland Tropical Rain Forest Gallery, stopping at one of the first trees we encountered, a soursop.
But how well does it work, I wanted to know, before I started munching on a leaf, or turning it into a tea or powder, or however you’re supposed to elicit its medicinal properties?
Eliseo Trinidad with fresh anamu leaves at La 21 Division Botanica in the Bronx. Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal
“That’s a question I often get,” acknowledged the scientist, who is originally from Belgium. “They haven’t been thoroughly studied; it needs the scientific record. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
We passed other trees in the steamy forest (if you can’t afford the Caribbean this winter, you might want to consider the New York Botanical Garden’s tropical rain forest as a backup plan) that Dr. Vandebroek said are used to treat conditions ranging from anxiety and depression, to insomnia, diabetes and infertility.
“You can eat the fruit if you have diarrhea if you go abroad,” Dr. Vandebroek stated cheerfully. She was referring to the guava tree under whose canopy we now loitered.
“Immigrants from the Dominican Republic know more than 250 plant species,” Dr. Vandebroek continued. “We have a database with more than 4,000 different uses, from interviews with people.”
Part of her work is to train medical professionals in “cultural competency”—in the way immigrant communities use plants, often in tandem with conventional medicine. “Often they don’t disclose that information to their health-care provider,” the ethnobotanist explained.
Some of Dr. Vandebroek’s field research has been conducted at La 21 Division Botanica, where we headed next. She attempted to prepare me by explaining that botanical shops address not only their customers physical, but also their spiritual, health.
The place is run by Eliseo Trinidad, who told me in Spanish, with Dr. Vandebroek translating, that he developed his expertise with plants growing up in a rural part of the Dominican Republic where medical care was rare.
“My mother had 18 children and never went to a doctor,” he explained.
He often gives away his wares rather than selling them. “By giving it, it gives a good luck power,” Dr. Vandebroek said.
I was overwhelmed by all the products, and especially the conditions they were meant to encourage or exorcise: gambling luck, romantic success, evil spirits.
Besides the money-attracting air freshener I acquired, I reached for a refreshing looking bottle of merengue soda, but was informed it wasn’t necessarily meant to be consumed.
“It’s often used as an offering to the deities,” it was explained.
Michelle Dominguez, who works at the store, got me excited about a bath they make in-house. “We boil our own mixture of from three to 21 plants,” she said. She also showed me their plant-filled walk-in refrigerator.
I love bubble bath—probably have a half dozen different kinds—and thought I might add La 21 Division Botanica’s version to my collection. So I was slightly disappointed when Ms. Dominguez produced a gallon jug filled with unpleasant-looking brown liquid that came with challenging instructions.
“You can’t just do one,” she explained, meaning one bath, but are meant to douse your body, allowing the potion to dry and remain 24 hours before showering and repeating for three days. “It’s also good for cleaning out the house,” Ms. Dominguez added, meaning of evil spirits.
I asked whether it worked. “I have faith,” she said. “It works with your faith.”
I decided to take a pass, not because I lacked faith, but because I was afraid of spilling it on the subway home.
Dr. Ina Vandebroek, ethnomedical research specialist at the institute of Economic Botany, speaks with Pei-Sze Cheng about the collaboration project between Cigna Foundation and The New York Botanical Garden to improve immigrant health care.
In the News: Dr. Ina Vandebroek Talks about Immigrants, Medicinal Plants, and Health Care – Science Talk
En Tu Comunidad is a public affairs program on the Spanish-language network Unimas that serves the New York City metropolitan area. The show is hosted by Enrique Teuteló.
Enrique invited me on the show to talk about my research in ethnomedicine—specifically, the use of medicinal plants in Latino and Caribbean communities in New York City, especially within the community from the Dominican Republic—and how this research can help physicians establish a better relationship with their Spanish-speaking patients.
Read on for a short English summary of our conversation, plus the full video of the interview in Spanish.
Enrique: How did you get into this intense work in ethnomedicine, or shall I call it “green medicine”? Tell us.
Ina: Ethnomedicine is the science that studies the relationship between cultures (people) and medicinal plants (or home remedies) for self-medication. I studied biology, and after that I was fascinated by green medicine, by plants, and that is why I went to Bolivia.
Enrique: Why did you choose Bolivia? Because of the indigenous cultures that have a close relationship with plants?
Ina: Bolivia is a country where cultural traditions are still very strong and the people still use a lot of medicinal plants. This is true in many countries, not only in Bolivia, but I began my research in ethnomedicine in Bolivia.
Enrique: The medical community is getting more and more interested in this topic of medicinal plants. This is funny because not too long ago, when one spoke about home remedies, it was seen as something backwards, obscure. How did this union between scientific medicine (or biomedicine) and traditional medicine start to form? Today, is there still a separation between both types of medicine, or are they perfectly united?
Ina: There still exists a separation. But physicians are increasingly becoming aware that people continue to use their home remedies because those remedies are a part of their culture. People have faith and confidence in their herbal medicines. It happens that physicians give a prescription to their patients, but they may ignore this and go to a botánica store instead to buy plants that are part of their culture.
Enrique: Is this type of alternative medicine, if I may call it that, used as a complement to mainstream medicine, to biomedicine? How do people decide which kind of medicine they want to use?
Ina: People may choose several things. We did interviews with 175 people from the Dominican Republic who live in New York City. People sometimes would tell us, “I take my herbal teas together with pharmaceuticals, that way I get cured twice as fast.” Someone else would say, “I get tired of taking so many pills; they give me a stomach ache. That is why I drink my herbal teas.”
Enrique: You are offering courses to the medical community so that physicians can familiarize themselves with the topic of medicinal plant use, to make sure this is something that is not overlooked.
Ina: Patients are sometimes scared to talk to their physician about their use of medicinal plants, and they should not be because it is part of their culture, of their traditions. With our training program for physicians, we try to help develop a better dialogue between patient and physician, so that there is more trust and less fear from patients to talk about their herbal remedies.
Enrique: Part of your large study has identified ten illnesses that affect the Dominican community a lot, and for which herbal remedies play an important role in their treatment, such as flu, diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol…
Ina: This shows that ethnomedicine is not something from the past. People use plants to treat modern illnesses, chronic illnesses, illnesses that they suffer here, in New York City.
Enrique: How about the other cultural part, things that can not be cured by physicians nor by herbs, such as culebrilla (herpes zoster), asthma, witchcraft, disipela, cancer, the evil eye, empacho. How can this be related to what you are doing?
Ina: Through our research we try to understand what these health problems are, according to the community. What are the symptoms, perceived causes, and preferred treatments? We bring this information to physicians so that they can improve the dialogue with their patients about these conditions.
Enrique: Interesting! Our community can consult the website of The New York Botanical Garden to learn more about your studies.