Cocooned in exotic tabernacles, MAGGIE FOLLETT sheds her clothes and scepticism for a ritual cleansing with a dilute solution of lion and crocodile blood
A male friend brought me a leaflet, bearing the legend; “FOR MEN ONLY. Bring your penis to me. I will work on your penis and you will leave with surprise. Permanent Size expansion – larger or taller!” Over a few stiff drinks, we chuckled (hard).
The “WOMEN ONLY” section was the clincher. “Come one … come all! 24-hour result, 100% refund if it fails, Women’s Vagina Special” (plus some unrepeatable, but enticing descriptions of its efficacy).
The purveyor was a “woman doctor”. I resolved to make an appointment, but she was “not available.” (As menstruation is taboo, the few women in practice must take periodic leave). I sought out another “CHEAPEST CURES” purveyor with a similarly alluring special.
And so into Cape Town’s urban occult underbelly. Entering the warren below Wynberg station and the unfettered mingling of sights, sounds and smells, I selected Doctor J: “For all people – Coloured, White and Black (citizen or non citizen). Come and experience some miracles”. Also the intriguing: “Short boys ready to bring more money into your house”.
I found him at the back of a Malay-owned Station Road store, selling cut-price clothing, garish duvet covers, and fleecy blankets in plastic bags. Near the exit was a tatty sofa, and next to it a lurid lace curtain, through which issued low murmurs and wafts of incense. Sighing, a huge melancholy woman squeezed in next to me. We waited.
With an insouciant smack of gum, a girl emerged from behind the curtain. “Doctor is busy.”
“Just five minutes?”
“I go ask.”
Big sistah and I were ushered into a tiny space, where another squishy couch with grimy anti-macassars was wedged. On the floor, before a second, secret-looking curtain, lay a pair of expensive, pointy men’s shoes. The receptionist beckoned.
Removing my boots, I lifted the drapes and shuffled into the inner sanctum – a minute lair, illuminated by a single candle. The gloom revealed a few skins, and objects of plant and animal origin. A tiny, plastic skeleton dangled luminously. Crouched on the floor, gilded by the dim, flickering light, Dr J, sported a rakish tiara of leather and shells, and a large-lapelled pink shirt in classic Boogie Nights mode.
With his glistening eyes and gold-flecked grin, he seemed young, ingenuous … fey. Beside him plastic cool-drink bottles contained murky liquids – potent healing herbs from an island off Tanzania. This Kenyan detects ills, both psychic and physical through scrying, or bone-throwing. After a cleansing ritual, he prescribes a regimen of herbal treatments – this for luck, that for love … and so on. His fail-safe “penis special” works via ingestion, topical application and “daily pulling”.
We didn’t discuss the “V” word. The environment was just not conducive to a white, middle-class, pseudo-intellectual “Vagina Special” …
My next intended stop was a female Doctor situated in a two-storey office block, above a local pub ’n grub. After knocking fruitlessly at her door, I popped my head around an opening further down the corridor. Sprawled around a desk, three guys enjoyed a greasy lunch. Doctor K was away (“female issues?”), but the congenial Ghanaian Doctor M provided an excellent service for the same modest fee.
He whisked me through a curtained doorway, having whipped off some sharp shoes, and donned a ragged scrap of brown fabric. His den was a riot of faux leopard skin, curios and dangling ethnic doo-dads. I subsided onto the floor next to a bucket, emblazoned with “Penis Special”. We talked. “Why”, the doctor wondered, with a suggestive flop of his wrist, “do my white clients have problem satisfying women? To us black men, sex is natural.” We concurred that pale males possibly “thought too much”.
Dr M’s herbs are also sourced from an island off Tanzania. He boasts a 100% cure rate for penile problems, and has a letter of personal endorsement from a world-famous local grandfather (who shall remain nameless).
His “Vagina Special”? Likewise, 100% efficacious.
He burped, exuding a wave of meat and onion. Leaning forward confidentially, he asked what I desired. In his crew-neck sweater, the garrulous old roué was the epitome of avuncular charm, but …
I decided to call it a day. In the Main Road, I passed a glass-fronted shop with shelves bearing balms and unguents from cocoa-butter, buchu and rooibos. A sign attested to the owner being a registered vendor of a well-known brand of herbal products. A second indicated that Doctor A was a “Traditional Medical Practitioner”.
I entered the clinical interior. Certificates, and homilies from the Koran were tacked to the walls … but on the spotless counter lay a stack of flyers. There was no mention of penile augmentation, and not a murmur of vaginal enhancement. Topping the list instead was a rather more prosaic; “Can’t pay accounts?”
A delicate bead curtain parted, to reveal a tall, dignified young man sporting an embroidered fez. Could he assist me? I explained my info-gathering mission, adding that I was without funds. “Either too little money or too little love. Sometimes both. It is life.” he asserted philosophically. “I will help you. Pay me later.”
Dr A led me through an uncluttered waiting-area containing a comfy, white couch to a doorway, cordoned off by heavy drapes. Removing his finely-crafted, snake-skin shoes, he bade me enter. Although there was a fleeting familiarity in the skins, hangings, clusters of sacred objects and (clean, neatly stacked) Tupperware containers of East African herbs, I sensed little set-dressing. The room held a heady aura of primal power.
Discarding his cool, businesslike demeanour, he invoked “Baba” (the Great Father) with three echoing shakes of a rattle. The ambience shifted imperceptibly. My focus drifted away from the doctor’s elegant, pinstriped pants and crisp white socks as a sense of otherness entered. “There are problems in your house”, he announced, dispensing from a plastic tub some grit, which he sprinkled into a little paper fold, to be scattered around my home for protection. Just then, his cell-phone chimed, and he repaired to the shop.
Our session over, I searched my pockets for the medicine he had given me … but it had gone. On his return, Dr A reacted with alarm. He searched the room, but the packet had vanished. “The assistants have taken it”, he brooded, referring to his helpers from the spirit realm. “You must be cleaned. Now. Take off your clothes … Everything!”
Then, incongruously naked, bone-white, and trembling, I was ritually cleansed, anointed and purified with a dilute solution of lion and crocodile blood. This done, Dr A took another paper square, onto which he shook a pinch of fine brown powder. Spitting thrice to bless it, he described its intimate application, and thrust it into my hand.
I took my leave (with a sense of foreboding that the ancestors would be displeased if I did not pay soon), and blinking like a troglodyte, staggered into the bright afternoon light, my secret twist of woman’s muti deep within my bag.
Now, I eagerly await more love, more money, and fewer misunderstandings in the course of making both.