It was by the sea, right on Duaba Beach, where Maceo came ashore more than a century ago, that I encountered this interesting woman, who has many stories to tell and many aromas in her kitchen. It is true that I had gone there in search of her coconut candy “cucuruchus,” made with honey and almonds, but I also found a story of faith and healing.
Carmen is 82 years old. She was born in Baracoa, Guantánamo, on the bank of the River Toa, and she was 22 when she went to live with her husband on the bank of the River Duaba. She has been married for 58 years, and has five children—three girls and two boys, 11 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.
When I was 9 years old, my mom sent me to the store to do some shopping. On the way, I passed a house where a little girl was screaming. I am a very curious person, and so I went to see what was going on. The girl would not eat or sleep and her mother was desperate. As I headed home, I heard a voice in my ear saying “Free her of the presence! Free her of the presence!” I looked around but I didn’t see anyone. I didn’t know how to exorcise a person, but I had learned how to pray from a catechism book that I had. I knew the Our Father, the Haily Mary, Grace…. So the idea came to me to grab a cutting of sage, and I asked the girl’s mother for some perfume to wet the cutting.
And so I began to exorcise the girl; I prayed and asked God: “Great Power of God, You who can do all things, I ask you to heal this girl and give her health.” The girl became calmer and calmer and then fell asleep. I heard the voice in my ear again, telling me to tell the mother that the girl was going to sleep a lot, and that she shouldn’t be worried. When I left the house, I broke the cutting and threw it away. When I got home, I told my mom what had happened and she told me that it was a “grace” that I had been given.
After that, I was the one at home who healed my brothers and sisters. I would make them tea and remedies. I have healed many ailments. People with aches in their heads, arms, or legs, or children who are victim of the “evil eye.”
When they come to me to be healed, I don’t know what ails them, but there is somebody tells me: “you have to make such-and-such a remedy…” and explains it to me. This someone does not explain to me what the sick have, but rather what I have to do to heal them, telling me what herbs to use and how to use them, in dressings, juices, teas, preparations, whatever…. This someone tells me everything in my ear, and I think it is the voice of a woman, because it is a very high-pitched voice. I also don’t know the name of the voice’s owner.
I’m intrigued by what Carmen calls herself. Witch? Santeria practitioner? Spiritist?
No! I’m not a witch! She is almost insulted. I’m not a spiritist either, because I’m not a medium. I am, we could say, like a person who has a gift for doing good things for everybody that I can. I just had an eye operation, and I can hardly see, but I don’t refuse my services to anybody. My daughter and my husband help me to find what I need when I’m healing people.
Why haven’t you healed yourself?
Haven’t you ever heard the saying that a doctor can’t cure himself? I wasn’t given the gift of healing myself.
I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve healed. Mostly it’s older people who come. They come to me before they go to the doctor. I say to them, ‘But for goodness’ sake, go to the doctor, it’s free!’ And they tell me that they have more faith in me.