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Samai and the Cambodian Tradition of Cupping

September 6, 2016

 

During the recent Olympics, these perfectly round spots began to show up on athletes. You probably heard them referred to as "cupping," a way of stimulating muscle and blood flow. "The therapy consists of having round glass suction cups that are warmed, then placed on sore parts of the body. The placement of the glass cup creates a partial vacuum, which is believed to stimulate muscles and blood flow, while relieving pain, " according to a CNN article.  When they showed up in the news, I was immediately reminded of my first exposure to "cupping." 

In the late 70's in Charlotte, North Carolina, there was a large influx of Southeast Asian refugees. As a teacher in the Bilingual program in the Charlotte Mecklenburg schools, I had the privilege of working with these children. They were war torn elementary school children who had grown up with hatred and death, having watched, heard, and experienced the atrocities of war. They were scared and confused, did not speak any English, and came from very, very poor families, if they had families at all. 

One day one of the little girls, Samai, came to school with a perfectly round burn mark on her forehead. Samai was neglected, had rotten teeth and was malnourished. As her teacher, it was my responsibility to protect her and nourish her back to wholeness. This mark on her forehead shocked me, and I immediately assumed she was being abused. I took her to my supervisor and with care and caution, we tried to determine if she had any other signs of abuse. When we lifted up her shirt, we discovered a whole line of the same perfectly circular burn marks down her backbone. We were all very concerned. 

Of course, you know the rest of the story. Cupping is an ancient therapy used in Asian countries to relieve pain. After much research and conversation (very halting) with her parents, we discovered that Samai was having terrible headaches and cupping was the technique her family used to relieve her pain. They placed a lit match underneath a shot glass and pressed it on the places on the body where there was pain...yes they really did!

This incident was just one of many many culture clashes that came out of my years with these fragile children. 

One of the most important learnings for me from those years  was the understanding of that great line from Paul's letter to the Hebrews

"...do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

Samai and her friends were certainly some of those angels!

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