Monday, October 20, 2014

A Much-Needed Return

It's been 2 months and here I sit reflecting on the last few years of my life that have brought me to heal on the island of Puerto Rico. I've spent much time frequenting the beach- my confidant, my teacher, my altar. There is so much knowledge hidden deep in the warm, fierce waves of the Atlantic off the northeast coast of Puerto Rico where I now reside.

In the first 2 weeks of being here, during my artist residency at Patio Taller, I contracted a (mosquito-born) virus much like the dengue fever, called chikungunya. I was already beginning to feel lonely and having a hard time getting grounded and BOOM! I started getting these immense headaches, then the next day I threw up over and over and over and then the next day was a rash that started on 2 limbs and spread to all 4 and my face.

I questioned the ancestors..."WHY?!"

Already I was trying to adjust to being so far from my created family and then I get this disease with no cure. Luckily at Patio Taller there were a number of herbs and fruit trees that had anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. (Oregano brujo, Oregano chiquito, menta poleo, and limoncillo). The chikungunya's symptoms are arthritic. So yep! I get a double dose of joint pain with having systemic lupus and this virus. Luckily (?) I am already taking pills for joint pain so with my medications and the copious herbs and fruit and coconut water and medicinal mushroom tea,etc. I've been able to have milder symptoms than some folks that have contracted it.

In reflection, having this illness brought me full circle to my love for herbalism and a few steps further on this path as a medicine maker. I've spent the last year struggling economically and with my health and transitioning- a true dark night of the soul or healing crisis. It has truly been a long journey though I feel in many ways it just began when I stepped foot here on this island.

Pre-chikungunya, while being on the grounds of Patio Taller I began connecting with the plants and making teas right away thanks to Michelle (one of co-founders of the space) introducing me to local herbs. Then, within the first week I met a really awesome group of herbalists and healers (accion camandular) and they invited me to table with them at a festival on Calle Loiza in Santurce. I had a good time speaking with folks about Queering Herbalism and the Herbal Freedom School Zines and even sold a few.

After tabling there I decided that Queering Herbalism 2 definitely needs to be bilingual. It will have both Spanish and English articles. I am excited about the themes for this one. Stay tuned for the preview of either a series or the entire guide.


I hope to meet Maria Benedetti soon! She is an awesome yerbera/herbalist and activist who has been on the island for decades doing amazing things. I'd love to be more involved with botanicultura and learn more about the plants here on the island. I've been studying up...TRUST. And I've even been making some of the folks in Luquillo and Guaynabo remedies for the chikungunya and other ailments. I would have never thought that I'd be making house calls.

Other than my artist residency, the chikungunya, medicine making and ideas for a new Queering Herbalism and Herbal Freedom School, I have been meeting all types of artists, farmers, travelers, healers, visionaries and all around buena gente.

So- here I am in Puerto Rico- piecing together suppressed histories. Healing myself with mango teas, papaya leaves, lemongrass, oregano brujo, cundeamor/cerasee and other herbs that some have lost faith in or have become disconnected from. I am thankful for herbalists like Maria Benedetti and curandera historians like Aurora Levins Morales who have started the conversation again about our non-european herbal traditions.

Healing justice is something we've got to step up and own if we ever want true freedom. Western medicine...the medical industrial complex...Big Pharma....the food corporations...the 'greenwashing" of the so-called sustainability movement, they are all exploiting us and at times working in conjunction. There are a handful of companies profiting from our demise. And it's just the truth. We need to own our healing. We need to own what happens to our bodies.


I struggled for years and years- economically, with my health, etc. And now here I am, in Puerto Rico thankful to be meeting such awesome people and slowing my life down so I can heal and do what I'm here to do on this journey. I began to feel a bit of guilt as I stood knee deep in the Atlantic looking at the crystal blue, see- through waves. I wondered why everyone couldn't feel this. Just stop being on the grind...and feel this. And I became even more committed to co-creating a space where that is possible. A space where people can stop hustling and just BE and heal in all the ways they need to. Whether that be growing food, building their own home, learning about herbal medicine or birth work, or anti-oppression or their own internalized oppression. I've been talking to so many friends who want to co-create this type of community and I know many already exist or have in the past. I don't know how far off it is from now but I'm going to keep working toward seeing this vision manifest slowly as I heal myself from this virus and this autoimmune disorder.

Please send healing energy and good vibes as I continue to transition and walk this path.

If you have benefited from the compilations and information on this page, please consider supporting those authors and healers who have painstakingly written the information by buying their books or attending their workshops,etc. If you are interested in owning a downloadable version of Queering Herbalism and the Herbal Freedom Schools, you can buy the Warrior-Healer Collection here or the individual zines Herbal Freedom School- Freedom Session volume 1 and Herbal Freedom School- Freedom Session volume 2 are available on the Afro-Genderqueer shop.

Please donate HERE to support me continuing this work. As I've mentioned, I am healing myself of a virus and autoimmune disorder and I, like many of you, am struggling to sustain myself and have a stable living situation. I don't have health insurance and I now write full-time, which works best for me as a genderqueer, brown person on this healing path with chronic illness and limited ability. Holistic medicine and treatment can be expensive and there isn't a lot of access to these services for those of us with less capital, especially in the colony of Puerto Rico. So it's important to support your visionary healers, the majority of us have come to this work through our own healing crises.

I look forward to keeping you posted about my research and writings.

Wishing you all healing and a sense of community and belonging,