(Read the previous part here
The Dukha, or reindeer people, are nomads, moving between fixed points of summer pasture and winter forage. So assuming you're going to find them just like that is, well, an assumption. And assuming you do find them, then you have to hope the shaman feels that he or she can help you. And agrees to.
We were lucky: the Dukha were about to move to another site, but we had hit them before they moved their tipis (if you ever wondered whether it was true that Amerindians moved across the Bering Strait from Siberia, then one quick look at the tipis of the Dukha and other cultures like them and, well, it all looks pretty familiar).
Ghoste, the shaman, asked us to visit him in his tipi that night. We were all exhuasted from two ten-hour days in the saddle (it had taken that long to make the ascent), but Rowan seemed to love being in Ghoste's tipi. The shaman, who was perhaps 70 years old, and still fit and lean, with a face crossed by weather, experience, and humour, took dried herbs and singed them on the stove that sat in the middle of the tipi. He then began to brush Rowan with them, as if feeling him out. As he did so, Kristin (who held Rowan in her arms) leaned over to me and whispered, "Can you feel it?"
"No," I answered. "What?"
"It's like pins and needles. Really, string pins and needles."
I couldn't feel a thing, but then Kristin was the one holding Rowan. Could he feel it, too? He did seem strangely calm.
That night, after dismissing us, Ghoste said he had to take a night to commune with the spirits to see what he could do for Rowan. Specifically, he needed to take a spirit journey to talk to Betsy's spirit, as she — he felt — was still Rowan's principal protector and guide.
OK, we said — not really knowing what else to say, and off we went to our tent to sleep. Rowan slept 14 hours that night — unheard of for him, usually so hyperactive.
The follwoing day was peaceful — Rowan playing with the baby reindeer, riding reindeer, playing with Tomoo. We waited to hear from Ghoste what he thought could be done. Finally, at 9pm, with the sky still light, the latitude being so northern, we were ushered into his tipi once more.
The ceremony was so low key, so gentle, compared to the high drama of the ceremony outside Ulanbataar. Rowan loved being in the tipi, crawling around saying, "I'm a baby elephant!" and, "There's an eagle, a hawk in the house!" when he looked up at Ghoste, standing in the half-light, drumming, the feathered headdress hiding his face, prayers up to the Lords of the Mountain.
And then, quietly, without fuss, it was done. "Go sleep now," said Ghoste, doffing his shaman's coat and sitting down to light a casual cigarette. "There's too much spirit activity here right now. Go back to your side of the river. Tomorrow before you go, I'll come and say goodbye."
Rowan burst into tears at having to leave Ghoste's tipi. Real tears of loss. Heartbreak, even.
Next morning, Ghoste came as promised to say goodbye and worked on Rowan a third time, running his fingers lightly over his spine and skull, up and down, as if pulling something, or things, out.
Finally, when he was done, Ghoste said something that surprised even me, with all my years of having worked with Bushman healers in Southern Africa. He said that Rowan would get gradually less and less autistic 'til the age of nine. But he also said that the stuff that really drove us crazy, the incontinence, the tantrums: these would start to leave now, like today.
I was guarding my heart. I didn't want to allow myself to be disappointed.
But as we rode away and down the mountain, just as Ghoste had said — that, indeed, was when everything began to change.