A friend I know from Port Townsend now living in Maine visited last week. Like myself, Lee has traveled many countries, unlike myself he has sailed around the world in a steel boat that he constructed himself. Conversation subjects bounced from people we once knew to favorite places and included weird experiences, some good and some not so good and a few that we would have just as soon not had. Lee’s current focus is on alternative healthcare and is on his fourth book on modalities of bodywork. We talked about other cultures and how unaffordable western medicine is in most countries forcing the people to find other methods and cures to remain healthy. I shared the following story with Lee about an out of ordinary doctor visit I had on the road which made my knees knock.

Six days after snorkeling in Hikkaduwa, a small beach town on the Indian Ocean southwest of Colombo, Sri Lanka, I still heard water sloshing in my right ear and sounds muddling just as if I had never come up for air. I took a bus from Hikkaduwa to Colombo which was a piece of cake compared to the packed one I rode in for four hours onward to Kandy in the hill country. After 3 nights at Priyasha’s Guesthouse, better known through the grapevine of single traveling women as “Ama’s—a safe nest away from home”, I decided to head further north into the hills in hopes of finding that perfect adventure story for the cover of a new Sri Lanka tourist publication. Not being able to sardine it again on public bus I hired a car and driver to schlep me the 72 kilometers north to Dambulla.

My memories of Dambulla the town are linear—cave temples and cave temples—all towering and all in rows. Although the history of Dambulla dates back long before Buddha and as early as 7th century BC, I found myself much in need of quick escape to Namal Uyana, the Iron wood forest which leads to the city’s “largest rose quartz mountain range in South Asia”. Once away from the temple complexes I strolled and I strolled through jungle like underbrush until I met an old woman sweeping the steps of what appeared to be a small temple with a living area attached. Surprisingly she said hello and spoke perfect English which I attributed to a Christian school education making her one of the “lucky” offspring whose mother or father or both most likely worked home help for a well to do family. Her name was Dilipa.

I explained to Dilipa that I had to move to her other side to hear her better as my right ear was clogged since snorkeling in Hikkaduwa. Dilipa was most concerned and repeatedly told me that I must see the Yakku. She instructed me to come back to this temple at dusk tonight and meet with him. The ceremony was to start around 8ish and I was not to be late!

I planned to see what all the hoopla was about and since I had tried everything I knew to unclog my ear I truly felt I had nothing to lose. At 7:30PM I began making my way through the jungle like terrain back to the temple. A large assembly of people from every age group had formed and was anxiously awaiting the Yakku’s arrival. Most were dressed in traditional white suiting the day for it was full moon day or Poya which made perfect sense since Poya was always considered auspicious. Many people did not speak English but one woman approached me with her small son who did and began telling me her reason for seeing Yakku.

Atul, her 8 year-old child, had been diagnosed with a blood cancer. She had tried every treatment she was offered in western medicine which had not cured the boy and now sought the Yakku’s power. The mother had every reason to believe that Yakku would cure him and told me about several friends who had believed and been blessed with cures. I could not dispute the hope of a mother. “Yakku! Yakku!” could expel evil forces and produce miracles.

Drumming began and an old skinny, brown man, Yakku, appeared wearing only a white doti and a clunky sandalwood beaded mala (rosary) which hung around his neck covering his chest looking as if it outweighed him due to the misappropriation of its size to his body. Yakku began chanting until a live chicken was presented to him on a silver platter. Taking the chicken in both hands and holding it up to the sky he blessed the fowl before placing it on a small alter like table. With one jerk of his right hand he then broke the chicken’s neck and made a small slit in the side of the chicken’s throat allowing blood to drain. Yakku then lifted the chicken upside down and drank the chicken’s blood while dancing in circles and spinning the drained fowl over his head. When done we were instructed to wait in a long line beside the temple to meet with Yakku one on one.

Hours passed and people went in the temple but left the temple though a backside door leaving me unable to detect the effectiveness of Yakku’s treatments. Then my turn came. I was ushered into a white sterile room with a large round clock, like the one that you would find in a hospital’s surgery department, hung center on the main wall. To the left was a long flat canoe style boat which looked almost native American Indian and to the right sat the same man with tablas who had drummed the chicken’s fate.

When the drumming began all I could think about was the chicken! Until minutes later when Yakku jumped out from behind the boat, dancing to the beat with a 4 foot long sword which he placed along my right ear, the ear which I had come to cure. Startled I leapt straight up in the air, careful as to not severe the ear (that would fix it for sure!) and ran to the opposite boat’s side followed by Yakku who began hopping from right to left directly in front of me all the time repositioning the sword from ear to ear. Perhaps he was used to placid people or I had seen Raiders of the Lost Ark too many times but in either case I ran for my life down the hill all the way back to my hotel.

Sleep was a miracle as I was in such shock upon return that I could do nothing else but shut my eyes. I awoke to streams of golden sunshine across my room awakening from what I’d prefer to think of as a bad dream. Then it hit me. I could hear again! My right ear had unclogged overnight or the Yakku’s ceremony had worked. Whatever charms, offerings, dances or bargaining the Yakku had done to remove the misfortune and illness had worked. Whether it was mind over matter or Yakku’s force would remain a mystery. I caught the first early bus out of Dambulla!