This final chapter describes a healing ceremony for Lia. The shaman arrived with his tools: saber, gong, rattle, finger bells. He also brought his own flying horse in imitation of Shee Yee, the greatest shaman. It was aboard about ten feet long and ten inches wide attached to a pair of sawhorse-like supports. To the Hmong, it was truly a flying horse, just like the bread and the wine in the Catholic mass are not symbols of the blood and body of Christ, but are the actual things.
The Lees had risen at dawn for the ceremony, because they believed that is when the soul can come back better.
They had purchased two pigs – a small female one for the family and a large male one for Lia. They had three aluminum pots boiling to singe the pig’s bristles and bags of fresh vegetable and herbs to be ground up for the traditional festive dishes. There would be a feast following the neeb ceremony that would last far into the night. Nao Kao had prepared a large stack of spirit-money which would pay the pig for its soul and settle other spiritual accounts. The shaman spread his tools around him and the author, watching the ceremony, was reminded of some articles she had read that discussed the power and influence of the shaman, but she was taken aback to see him watching a Winnie-the-Pooh cartoon. He was very skinny, because like all shaman, he expended so much energy in his shaking trance. It was against his code of honor to accept any money for his services, but he would receive the heads and right front legs of the pigs. After eating the meat, he would allow the bones to dry outside his house and then ritually burn them at the end of the Hmong year. This would release the pigs’ souls from their duties as proxies for Lia’s soul and would allow them to be reborn.
The first step of the ceremony was to safeguard the health and well-being of the family. The shaman would tie a cord around the pig and then around the Lee family to bond their souls. Then, the pig would be killed with the hope that the spirits were present in the apartment. This was an uphill battle on the mere fact that the apartment had no similarity to their hut in Laos. The male relatives would carry the pig to the parking lot to examine the entrails. When they returned, the entire atmosphere of the apartment would have changed – everything would be candle-lit and much more serious. The shaman would be dressed in a special costume and his whole demeanor would have changed. Now it was Lia’s turn. Her parents believed that her condition was probably beyond the help of the shaman, but they hoped by having the ceremony, she would be happier and stop crying at night. Of course, they never gave up that faintest flicker of hope that her soul would be found after all.
The shaman placed spirit-money on Lia’s shoulder hoping to buy back her life-visa. A chicken was sacrificed and examined to see if Lia’s soul had returned. She was surrounded by her entire family and more than twenty of her relatives. Their solicitude converged on her motionless form like sunlight focused by a magnifying glass until it burns. Dee Korda once said that Lia knew how to love and how to let people love her. This solicitude showed that whatever else she had lost, Lia still knew how to be loved. Then, Lia’s pig was brought into the room and a cord was tied around it and Foua holding Lia. This linked Lia’s soul to her mother’s as well as to the pig’s soul. Spirit-money was placed next to the pig, and the shaman brandished his saber to cut away Lia’s sickness. He said, “There were waters of gold and silver. They will wash away the sickness clean.” Then, they cut the pig’s throat and held the spirit-money in the torrent of blood. Lia’s back was touched with a finger bell dipped in the blood. She was now marked against any evil spirits touching her. Then, the shaman took the spirit-money from Lia’s shoulder and placed in on the back of the dead pig. With the blood of the pig on her back, Lia could go anywhere in the world and still be recognized as a child who needed healing.
Now the shaman was ready for the most dangerous part of the ceremony. He placed a headdress on his head which kept him from seeing because a veil blocked his sight. This was meant to help him enter his ecstatic trance. Then, he sat on the winged horse. His assistant beat the gong to indicate that the journey was beginning. The shaman jumped backwards on the bench, and at this point, he was risking his life. He began to gallop on the narrow board and speak in a language that even the Hmong could not understand. They knew he was speaking to his familiar spirits and negotiating with evil spirits for the release of Lia’s captive soul. The chicken was brought back in while the shaman continued his journey. The spirit-money was burned and sent to the realm of the unseen. The gong sounded and the shaman galloped faster and faster. The soul-caller began to chant, “Where are you? Where have you gone? . . . Come home to your house. Come home to your mother . . . Come home. Come home. Come home.”
This final examination of Lia’s life shows the Lees as a family that never loses hope that their little girl will come home someday. The irony is that Lia is forever lost.