I never believed in sage burning, gem mooning, or shamans until I met Leah. She was always happy and cheerful, and it wasn't an act. She was wise beyond her thirty-something years and became my best friend.
We worked in the medical lab of a major hospital in Ohio. I enjoyed my work, but it brought me little joy. I verified testing results, such as blood counts, checking pee for illegal substances, etc. You wouldn't believe the stuff people put into their bodies, like too many blue pills or poppy seed muffins.
Leah worked in the genetics lab, and we shared an office for two months during renovations of her section of the tombs (the basement). We got along well, maybe too well, because we'd end up chatting instead of working. Her Afrikaans accent and my Alabama drawl made for hilarious miscommunications.
The hospital gave us a twenty-minute break, aside from lunch, each day. We began taking walks on our breaks; it was Leah's idea and was a great routine, we got exercise and fresh air, and I lost ten of my thirty extra pounds.
Leah is so beautiful; I loved her smile and would tell her jokes just to see it. She loved my Grampa's lame ones; "Why do they put fences around cemeteries? Because people are dying to get in." Her laugh could heal depressed people.
We continued our friendship after the building renovations were completed. We were both single, and she was crazy about County Line Dancing. I wasn't, but she begged me to take lessons with her. She finally confessed that you didn't find many people of color in Country Western venues and didn't want to go alone. Leah was six feet tall, very slender, and learned the steps quickly. I was short, chubby, pale, and a slow learner. We went dancing most Saturday nights and had a rule of never going home with anyone, no matter how charming or sexy the cowboy was, because we had a good thing going and didn't want to spoil it.
One Monday morning, Leah came into my office wearing one of her signature mischievous smiles. "Amy, guess what?"
Before she could answer, a man so tall that he ducked under the doorway stepped in behind her. "This is Mikha! My fiance!
"We were sweethearts in college but so focused on our careers and lost touch when Micah went to medical school here and I studied in Michigan. He works here now!"
"I decided I couldn't live without her." Micah's voice was deep, and what I imagined God's voice sounded like.
"Oh my goodness!"
"Amy, we're getting married in a small ceremony, just you and a few others. Will you come?"
"Of course I will, Leah; this is amazing! I'm so happy for you both." I felt a twinge of regret because she was almost like my sister, and people tend to focus on their partner after marriage, as they should.
Micah seemed to notice my feelings and promised that we would still have our nights out or he would have to go Line Dancing.
Six months after the wedding, Leah asked me to drive her to visit a friend. She loved driving, so this was an odd request.
"This visit is significant, and I might not keep my mind on driving afterward. The house is three hours from here, so I've booked us accommodations at Bed and Breakfast nearby."
"Sounds like fun, but it also sounds like a nice getaway for you and Mikha."
"It would, Amy, but no men are allowed on this visit ."
"I'll explain it later."
The house was a few miles outside a tiny town in Kentucky, and we drove past it once despite the GPS insisting that we 'turn right.' We found the driveway when I saw an old rusty mailbox at the entrance. The tiny house was set far back from the road and looked rather crumbling from the outside. Several cats scampered off the porch as we climbed the creaky wooden steps.
A tiny, elderly black woman opened the door. Her smile was a symphony of wrinkles, and I thought she had cataracts, then realized she had blue eyes! She wore a red, green, and yellow dress with a matching turban.
"Miss Nobantu, this is my friend Amy."
"Welcome, Amy," then she motioned for us to follow her. We walked through a tidy kitchen with a red and chrome vintage table and chairs, a fifties fridge hummed away, and plants everywhere. I loved it!
The next room was her "sitting room," with a fireplace and book-lined shelves. Many small books were most likely printed in the early 1900s. She pointed to a green overstuffed chair and told me to help myself to tea in teapot sporting a red and yellow quilted cozy, then to a plate of cookies. She handed me two books, one filled with delicate botanical art and another titled Arts & Crafts by Peter Magubane. I guessed Leah told her I loved plants, art, and chocolate chip cookies.
I sat in the comfy chair, and Leah followed her into another room and closed the door. I was soon lost in a world of plants, African art, and the best cookies ever.
Leah came out an hour later and closed the door. "She apologizes for not saying goodbye; she had to lie down and rest. She is ninety-eight years old!" Then she smiled and said, "I was so worried, but I'm free of it now. It went well, and I'm delighted to announce that I'm pregnant with a boy!"
We signed in at the B&B, a large three-story white house with a wrap-around porch festooned with hanging ferns. The restaurant was on the first floor.
After we ordered dinner and a bottle of sparkling non-alcoholic wine, Leah said, "Now, Amy, I'll tell you what these sessions are about. Sometimes they contain distressing news, so I didn't want to drive. But it is all fine now. Miss Nobantu told me I am pregnant, which I knew from the test I had taken twice. I'm sorry, but I may not share any more of what she told me. It's a rule similar to the Catholic of confession blended with medical confidentiality."
"She is what some people call a shaman or priestess. We recognize these women as special almost at birth, and they are taught to perform ceremonies or rituals and how to make herbal medicines; some see into the future."
"Oh my goodness! That's so cool!"
"In our culture, when a woman becomes pregnant, she goes to her shaman for a consultation. Their skills and knowledge pass from generation to generation, and I know our beliefs are considered strange to people who don't know our culture. The shaman touches the mother's tummy and learns certain things that will help her gently guide her child to their life's path. For instance, my mother was told many things; among them were the two lives I would enjoy and excel in."
"Really? I wish I'd had a shaman. "
"My mother was told I have unique talents, or gifts, in healing and music. So, Mama provided knowledge and items to find them by supplying me with opportunities and letting me learn to find my way in life. She gave me books and lessons, and I discovered I loved healing and music. I get much joy from listening to music but have no ambition to learn to play an instrument. I do, however, crave exploring science and medicine. Do you see?"
"So your mother exposed you to the lives that were most powerful and best for you and provided the tools to help you choose."
"Exactly! And I knew Mikha would be my life partner one day, so when we drifted apart, I wondered if I was wrong. Then he reappeared!"
"And that's why you are always so happy and confident! "
"Yes!"It's much more complex, but that's the basics. Finding one's purpose is a true blessing!"
"Leah, it was so sweet of you to tell Miss Nobantu how much I enjoy plants and art, and especially chocolate chip cookies! I'm embarrassed because I ate all of them!"
She chuckled and said, "She told me she bakes them herself, but only for certain occasions."
"Well, it was wonderful. I enjoyed myself so much that I felt a little disappointed when you came out. I should write her a thank you note."
"She would like that. But, Amy, I told her nothing about you other than I was bringing a friend."