Monday, March 03, 2008

Watch out for the tala!

I was in my supervisor’s office this afternoon, and he received a phone call from his daughter. I didn’t want to eavesdrop, but it was a little hard. “It already burst? But now it’s growing back? Okay, but put the antibiotic on.” Sounded a little gross. He sighed and said, “Oh, Leslie. We Africans, we have such crazy ideas. Have you heard about the tala?” And then he proceeded to tell me about the tala.

The tala is some sort of witchcraft or curse that affects your foot. It will swell your foot and leg so much that you will not be able to put on shoes, walk. Even worse, you will eventually have to have it amputated! But how do you get the tala? The person who curses you with the tala will put it on a keyhole or something s/he knows you will touch. Not to worry, though, if you share a house with anyone- talas know their destination, and even if you tough the tainted object, it is not meant for you and it will ignore you.

Why would anyone put a tala on you? There’s your usual revenge- you are dating a jealous lover’s ex or you are suspected of hurting someone. But it can also be to show you your place- if you get a raise at work too soon after starting the job, or the boss openly compliments your work, then you are a target.

My supervisor said that his daughter was calling on behalf of her cousin. He woke up one morning with the tala, so he put aloe vera on it. It helped quite a bit, but then the blistered popped open, so they were concerned. My supervisor didn’t seem concerned for the cousin’s future.

I asked if the tala had a cure, either through traditional or modern medicine. “Leslie, this cannot be cured in any hospital!” He then proceeded to tell me the story of the wife of a mayor of one of the municipalities where my organization used to work. One day the woman woke up with the tala, although she didn’t know it was the tala. Over the course of two years, her foot swelled to such a size that she couldn’t wear any shoes and had great difficulty walking. She went to several doctors and hospitals, and no one could cure her. Finally a doctor in Benguela told her he would have to amputate her foot. She went to Luanda to get a second opinion, but the doctor told her the same thing.

She scheduled the surgery and bought the medicine (here you have to buy the medicine in advance), but the doctor cancelled at the last minute. After rescheduling the surgery for a few weeks in advance, she went back home to wait. Her maid begged her to go see her aunt, who was a traditional healer. She conceded, and visited the aunt. The aunt took one look and said, “This is very serious. You must go see this other healer.” So she went to see another, more elderly woman, an established healer.

The healer suspected that it was tala. She got a bottle of comproto, a locally produced alcohol, and rubbed it all over the foot. She then made a cut at the bottom of the foot, sucked some blood out and then spit it out on the wall. Looking at the results, she said, “You have tala. You will go home and be able to put on shoes and walk again. Tomorrow the person who put the tala on you will come and act happy for you, but secretly they will be angry.”

The woman went home and went for her shoes. Sure enough, she put them on without problems and began to walk. The next day, a neighbor with whom she had a minor squabble came by and said, “Oh, mana! How wonderful that you are cured!”


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