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A glimpse of Chinese medecine

Exhausted from the heat and our hunt for the perfect "boulette chouchou" –steamed chayote dumplings—we stop by Dazzling star, a "boutik" and pharmacy, to say hello to the owner.

We arrive just as the pharmacist is gathering the ingredients prescribed by a traditional Chinese medicine doctor for an herbal tea. We are so lucky to have stumbled upon this moment. It is about being at the right place at the right time, right?

Inside the shop the air is cool. In the background, some tourists from Réunion are buying oils and balms, the smells of which are intoxicating. Piercing Bollywood music emanates from the radio. It seems as though radios are always switched on. Everywhere we go there is a radio. Like in a film, there is a constant background hum, a soundtrack to our lives.

The doctor’s prescription is written in Chinese characters. I wonder if the handwriting is as indecipherable as that of an allopath.

In a corner of the pharmacy is a medicine cabinet. The real thing. Not like those small plastic white boxes we have in our homes (the ones you open only to find some old Band-Aids, Advil and neon red cough syrup.) No, this one is made of solid wood (2 meters long and 1.50 meters wide). There are rows of drawers filled with dried mushrooms, twigs, bark, plants, and powders… There are jars with faded yellow labels. The smell is unidentifiable; something like a blend of spices and pine trees.

The pharmacist’s frail fingers underline the characters as she reads the prescription. Her hand is delicate, her skin, speckled with age. She opens a drawer fiercely, pulls it out with both hands. It is heavy.

She grabs a pile of twigs, which she places on a scale. The units of measurement are tiny dots, tattooed on a stick. To the right is a lead weight; to the left, a small dish. She moves with grace; it is like a silent ballet. She returns to the prescription, left on the counter. She knows the ingredients but cannot say what the patient is suffering of.

There are three piles in front of her. She will boil them to make tea (the patient will have to drink the tea three times). The doctor prescribed eighteen ingredients. Eighteen little piles. Eighteen times that she weights and measures the elements. She runs her finger across the slip of paper eighteen times. I smell an odor that is familiar. It is cinnamon.

Unveiling the mysteries of Chinese medecine in Mauritius from my Moris on Vimeo.