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THE CHIAPAS REPORT VI: SERGIO CASTRO

Added: Friday, April 17th 2015 at 9:30am by JohnScherber
Related Tags: mayans, mexico, jungle
 
 
 

JOHN SCHERBER

AN AMERICAN VOICE IN MEXICO

 

 

THE CHIAPAS REPORT VI:

SERGIO CASTRO

 

 

         On a quiet street at the edge of the centro district in San Cristobal de las Casas stands the house of Sergio Castro. It is a single story with the traditional Chiapas floor plan; an overgrown central courtyard surrounded by a quadrangle of rooms. As if the owner had other priorities, it is not in the best of condition, and the transition from one room to the next is often fronted by a slight step that needs to be noticed as you move through.

         Señor Castro is not a native of Chiapas; he came originally from Chihuahua in the north, bordering New Mexico and Texas, a much different sort of country. Although he is a healer, he is neither a shaman nor a curandero. He practices a specialized kind of medicine. Anywhere in the United States, his activities would be indignantly shut down and he would probably be jailed. Not only is he “merely” a veterinarian, but his profound burn treatment skills are self-taught. He possesses no license to do any single thing with humans beyond greeting them on the street. Worse, he charges exactly nothing for his services, which makes him a threat to health care practitioners everywhere.



         He lives with his wife of many years, and has grown children. He is an older man possessed by his mission, wearing a plaid shirt, jeans and what we call in the U.S. a do-rag as he goes about his craft with total dedication. At the same time he operates beyond any boundaries of medical practice. In the States we require licenses and extensive university training to protect people from men like him, usually with good reason. Why is he operating like this, in defiance of universally recognized standards? I will suggest that it is because the system has failed around him, and he is surrounded by needs that go unaddressed by more conventional medical practice.

         But let’s take a look at his patients. Away from big cities, of which there are few in Chiapas, this is mostly Zapatista land, where the state and federal governments have left most of the often militant indigenous people to their own resources in semi-autonomous zones. In health care and education, it’s as if they have said, “All right, if that’s the way you want to be…Go make it happen for yourselves.” So we ought not to be surprised if a certain degree of informality has taken over in the delivery of these services. And without people like Sergio Castro, there would often be none at all other than the shaman, the egg, and the Coke bottle. (See the third post in this series.)

         He speaks several of the Maya languages, including Ch’ol, Tzeltal, and Tzotzil, and his travels throughout the state even take him into the territory of the secretive Lacandon, on the Guatemala border. The Lacandon are the only Maya group that was never subdued by the Spanish. Watching the subjugation of community after community, they concealed themselves in the rainforest, always scattering and retrenching at a greater distance from the advancing conquistadores. Castro knows where they are and they welcome him today.

         He is a collector too. I stood in the largest room of his house and studied all four walls crowded with the paired local costumes of many of the Maya towns and villages. The traditional costumes of the Lacandon that Castro displays are made from bark.



        In another room he displays idiosyncratic collections, including cigarette packages and carved slingshots. Yet another room offers photos of his patients. Mostly children, often toddlers, they exhibit the entire range of burns and scalds sustained from stumbling into the kind of open cooking arrangement I saw first hand in Zinacantán two posts back. In one corner a box awaits cash contributions. He does not mention it; there is no pressure.



         Out near the courtyard are two crude pine tables showing the kinds of medical supplies Castro desperately needs for his work. The entire effort is financed by donations. His home is open for visits from small groups by appointment. He gives tours of the displays and visits are frequent when he is not in the field.



         I left feeling that this was an aspect of the Maya world that but for his efforts, would have totally fallen through the cracks. This was simple humanity at a personal level; no big charities, no top-heavy organizations, no fanfare or big benefits––just one man doing what he can with the resources he can summon. He is seventy-four years old.

         Here is a URL maintained by others for a blog about his work:

http://sergiocastrosc.blogspot.mx

        

         This concludes the six-part series on the State of Chiapas. It’s not the most well traveled part of México, but no survey of the country is complete without a visit. I was actually touring the state for locations and first hand observations for a Paul Zacher mystery, probably number fourteen in the series (thirteen is more than half finished), to be titled Lost in Chiapas. It’s about a young blond woman from Minnesota who comes down to the highlands to work among the mountain Maya with a missionary group there. When she suddenly stops communicating with her parents, they hire the Zacher Agency to go down and find her, fearing the worst. But what is the worst? That’s always the question that awaits our discovery.

 

Please use this URL to visit my website:

www.sanmiguelallendebooks.com



User Comments

Looking forward to your next book. I lived in Huehuetenango Guatemala in 1990-1992. I was in and out of Chiapas . Visit San Miguel once a year now. Both the good and evil in your books remind me of many past Mecican and Guatemalan experiences. It was one hell of a ride.thanks- Gus

Gus, I appreciate your comments and your support!

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