Volcano Child - A YA Novel in Progress by Candy Gourlay
Two weeks ago, Mouse decided to dig his way to London.

16 September 2006

Going on a Witch Hunt! Psychic Surgery

“It’s only a story, Magic Auntie,” I said crossly. “And I was talking about witches in England, not witches in Santa Rosa.”

Magic Auntie stuck her bottom out and slapped it with a loud smack. “How is a fat bottom like this supposed to balance on a broomstick?” Mouse giggled and Bowow whimpered, as if suddenly afraid.

I scowled, but I knew that I could argue till kingdom come and the plain truth would be that Magic Auntie knew more about witches than I ever would. She was the real thing, a pro. Magic Auntie was a witch.

Excerpt from Volcano Child

Witch Child by Celia ReeseI once went on a witch hunt. No, not the accusatory, flesh-burning, blood-curdling sort of witch hunt described in that wonderful book Witch Child by Celia Reese.

It was the eighties, and I was a young, starving journalist on the look-out for pocket money and adventure. Mandy Navasero My great friend, photographer Mandy Navasero (pictured left in typical wacky mode), proposed we do a coffee table book about witches in the Philippines. She would do the photographs and I would do the text. So I hopped into her clapped out Volkswagen Brasilia and off we went.

Those were pre-Harry Potter days but I’d read quite a few stories about witches, usually to do with Halloween, brooms and screeching black cats. Nothing like the witches we met on our tour.

Witchcraft, in various historical, religious and mythical contexts, is the use of certain kinds of alleged supernatural or magical powers. A witch is a person who practices witchcraft, and may be male or female.

That’s what Wickipedia says about witches. Our first subject would not have liked the word – but what else would you call person who performs surgery with his bare hands?

Alex Orbito, psychic surgeonMandy and I were ushered into a hall filled with very ill but hopeful looking people. They sat in rows of plastic chairs peering through the glass wall that separated them from the brightly lit room where the 'surgeon' was operating on patients.

The surgeon invited us into the room. His assistants positioned me in one corner, at the foot of the operating table and put Mandy at the other end, at the head. A young woman wrapped in a sheet climbed onto the table.

The surgeon explained that the young woman had breast cancer and need to have the tumour removed. She bared her chest and he proceeded to knead the skin above her bosom. There was a loud pop and blood started to trickle from under his fingers. He began to pull little lumps of red fleshy stuff from her chest. The surgeon wore a short-sleeved shirt and, from where I stood I could see the area between his torso and the operating table – but no, nothing suspicious to report.

The whole time he was pulling blood and guts out of the woman’s chest, his assistants kept spraying the air with room freshener because, they said, he couldn’t stand the stink of blood.

Here’s a video I found of a female psychic surgeon performing an operation, all the while singing the Lord's Prayer. It’s pretty much similar to what we saw.

Now my friend Mandy is given to unexpected whims. When the surgeon finished and dismissed his grateful patient, Mandy wondered aloud if psychic surgery could help improve her eyesight, which was getting a bit blurry.

"Certainly," the psychic surgeon replied.

Mandy tossed her camera into my hands and climbed onto the operating table.

Without further ado, the surgeon shoved his finger into her eye socket. The eyeball popped out, or seemed to. He held it up to the light.

"Hmm, it’s just a little bit dirty. Needs a little wash," he said. His assistant rushed forward with a pan of water and he carefully rinsed the eyeball. He held it up to the light again, "Perfect!" And then he popped it back into Mandy’s eyesocket. Or seemed to.

Afterwards, Mandy’s eyesight didn’t improve but we came away with a good story to tell.

Later, I discovered that the psychic surgeon we met was quite famous. His name was Alex Orbito.

Here's an anti-quackery blog debunking Orbito's psychic skills:

… it's all an illusion by hiding animal organs and a balloon filled with fake blood in their hands, that’s that.

Even an amazing skeptic will be able to perform a "psychic surgery".

And here is a video of amazing sceptic James Randi doing just that:

In 2005, Mr Orbito was arrested for fraud in Canada.

Stay tuned for more true witch stories.


04 September 2006

In the Shadow of Danger: Living With Volcanoes

A boy marches to school on the paddy fields below Mayon Volcano. Photograph by Tommy Bonbom

When Father was a small boy, the volcano spat out some yellow clouds of smoke and all of Santa Rosa had to move miles away to another town. For weeks, they lived in tents and church halls, the farmers frantic to return and stop their fields going to seed and the mothers despairing as water supplies dwindled and their children ran wild. After a few tiny puffs, the volcano returned to its slumber and the people of Santa Rosa returned to their homes, angry and annoyed.

Old Maria had made fools of them.

So now, when the monsoon blew too hard and wet and the paddy fields vanished under flood waters, they blamed Old Maria. When the sun burned too hot and the rice browned on their stalks, the farmers all sighed,
ay, Maria. When the skies refused to let go of the rain and the paddy mud dried into a barren crust, it was the volcano’s fault.

Excerpt from Volcano Child

Who would live next to a volcano?

Surprisingly, quite a lot of people. And for some, the volcano is part of the atttraction. Check out this housing development a stone’s throw from Taal Volcano, south of Manila, promising "a life of luxury and serenity" (Taal is a live volcano that sits in the crater lake of a larger, said to be extinct, volcano).

For others however, it’s not a matter of choice and the volcano is like an irritating old maid aunt whose occasional outbursts can result in exasperation and inconvenience.

Photograph by Robert GardnerThe image at the top of this post is by Tommy Bonbom, a photographer from California, who chanced on an eruption while visiting his late father’s hometown in Bicol. Tommy also posts cool video clips of Mayon’s recent rumblings. Robert Gardner took the photograph of children in a rice field on the left. View more images of Mayon by Robert Gardner.

But before I tell you any more stories about eruptions and volcanoes, I’ve got to tell you this story: The Legend of Old Maria.

Photographs © Tommy Bombon and Robert Gardner.

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