In Remote Mosuo Village: Learning About Mosuo Culture Through Food Poisoning and Cures

I won’t go into too much detail about how sick I was…but it was a tireless night of food poisoning, primarily with my body retching everything out of my stomach. After 4a.m., my body finally felt complacent enough to give me some shut eye. The next morning, I could barely move from how tired I was. Molly took care of me (somehow she didn’t get sick…yet!) and helped out in the fields with the family. I, on the other hand, shriveled up in my bed and felt like dying.

Later in the morning, I was suddenly woken up by PM. She was holding bark in her hand. The family had told her that this bark was gifted to them from the living Buddha and that it had medicinal, spiritual powers. She asked if I would eat it. I nearly vomited just thinking about it. She understood and broke a chunk off and put it in my pocket, pretending that I ate some of it. She then left. I closed my eyes just to be disturbed again from my slumber by her. She brought a fireplace tool which was holding burning coals that smelt of something awful. The family told her that a powder was also gifted to them from the living Buddha and that smelling it in burning coals would make me feel better. PM did not fully believe in the powers of these gifts, but she was doing this to respect the host family’s wishes. I smelt it…it was a combination of smoke, ginger, and something that I could not tell. She then gave me the spiritual bark, which the family gifted to me. I guess this is one way of experiencing local culture: getting sick! When she left, I finally got some shut eye.

I slept for the entire morning and most of the afternoon. I finally found some strength to get up. I walked out of the door and looked down to the courtyard to find the family, PM, Molly, and Lidy in the courtyard trying on traditional Mosuo garb. When I came down, they asked if I wanted to try it on. I agreed and weakly put it on. When taking pictures, I smiled the best I could…it was hard.

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Traditional Mosuo Garb

How do I look? The dress was quite heavy.  I went back to my bed and slept some more. The family members kept visiting me during my naps, asking if I wanted to eat anything. I had to reject all their requests. My body was cleansing its entire system and did not want to eat anything. I woke up in the late afternoon to go to the bathroom. When I came back from the backyard (which was our toilet, no walls, no stalls, just the grass and dirt in the backyard), the grandma was weaving rope in the corner. When she saw me, she beckoned me over in Mosuo language. I walked over to find a pile of wedding candy next to her. She handed me one. It was the first thing that looked appetizing. I immediately put the sugary goodness in my mouth. It really hit the spot. I motioned with my hands that I really liked it (she doesn’t speak Mandarin and I don’t speak Mosuo). She smiled and I went on my way back to my room.

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A-mi–The Grandmother

The next time I woke up, I found a pile of candy next to me. I knew exactly who gave it to me…She was so sweet! Before it got dark, I found PM, Lidy, and Molly watching a family and their neighbors building a house. They asked if we wanted to help them. PM and Lidy jumped to the occasion, whereas Molly and I stayed back. Molly was starting to get sick too. I watched for a bit longer. I noticed that the older Mosuo men and women were congenial with each other, as they talked and laughed. However, the younger men (I did not see any younger women) were shy and did not speak. They would once and a while glance over at us, the foreigners.

There are many taboos in this society that I am only starting to become conscious of: 1) young men don’t talk to young women in the day, 2) women wear long sleeves and long pants, don’t show skin, 3) men don’t sing unless for occasion, 4) discussion of sexual relations/sex is hidden and not spoken of (unless with close friends of the same gender). These are the ones that have come to my attention. When I was in the village, it seemed like everything I did went against social norms. PM would have to approach me and laugh at how I’m being so different (taking off my sweatshirt to only wearing a T-shirt, etc.). If I want to do research here, I will have to change a lot about my behavior. I have to sit like a girl, dress appropriately (long pants and long sleeves), follow customs for women (eat on the lower hearth or eat after the men have eaten, etc.).

Molly and I went back to the house to rest before dinner. I decided that though I still did not want to eat, that I should spend time with the family. They were very worried about me the entire day. For them, when someone is sick, it is a serious matter. Many people die from sickness here. They were so worried that they almost beckoned a local Daba priest to pray for me…that would have been interesting, but I’m glad s/he didn’t come. That would have been a bit embarrassing! Praying for my diarrhea to go away? Is that how it works?

When dinner time came, Molly decided to instead rest in our room. I went down and sat on the lower hearth with Lidy and PM, while the three sisters and the children sat on the upper hearth. The grandmother was behind the lower hearth on a bed resting. The upper and lower hearth both have fire pits with pots, the upper pot was for food, while the lower pot was for boiling water. They handed us bowls of rice and gave us a selection of meats and soup. I swallowed down a little soup broth, but that was all I could muster. I listened to PM and Lidy speak in Mosuo to the sisters (they do not speak Mandarin). My primary form of communication was with the children, who spoke a little Mandarin. At one point in the night, I showed the children my drawings. They were so excited and for the rest of dinner, they were asking me to draw about everything (cow, pig, grandmother, cat, dog, etc.). They were telling me to draw things that are a part of their everyday lives. It was cool to see what comes to their mind…how far do their imaginations go? The children included two girls and a boy. The boy is such a rascal!

After dinner, we all headed back to our rooms. Before entering mine, PM mentioned that we may have “visitors” tonight. I thought she was joking and laughed it off. I went to sleep to only be woken up at around 12am by our door opening (the brick that was holding our door closed was knocked over). I groggily got up and turned on my headlamp to find four young Mosuo men in our room. They sheepishly said “hello” and asked if they could sit down and chat. Molly and I were both sick, so I had to politely ask them to leave due to our illness. In the end, I said “come another day.” They were very understanding and left. Before falling back to sleep, I thought how if four men entered my room without my consent in the U.S., I would have screamed and called the police, but here I told them to come back another day. This form of relationships is very different from what I’m accustomed to on the Western hemisphere! I really hoped they would come back. In the day, I have no way of talking to them, but at night…that taboo is lifted.

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2 thoughts on “In Remote Mosuo Village: Learning About Mosuo Culture Through Food Poisoning and Cures

  1. I’m very glad you did not go into detail how sick we were. It feels good to have an appetite again!!!! So much delicious Japanese food, Nom Nom Nom!
    ❤ you twin sista.
    Watashi no futago emoto utsukshii desu. 😉

  2. I’m glad you didn’t go into much detail about how sick we both were. It feels great to have an appetite! Eat all the Japanese food, Nom Nom Nom!
    Watashi no futago utsukshii desu. ❤

    Love love love your twin sista!!!

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