There are no signs directing you to Joao de Deus - you don't need them. You just follow the line of people dressed all in white down a small side street. This street looks pretty affluent by Brasilian country standards with lots of little shops selling white clothes, crystals, organic food etc...it did have a bit of a 'hippy' feel to it.
At the end of this street are large blue metal gates which are the entrance to the compound which consists of a cluster of bright blue and white buildings. It looks a bit like a school with an open courtyard in the centre. There is a crystal shop, a 'Farmacia' a cafe and a few other small buildings which had no sign on them. Matt and I collected our red tickets, which indicated this was our first time, and went and sat in the large open hall with everyone else. The white washed walls were covered in photos of Joao, prayers, and, right next to where we were sitting, a video was playing showing Joao doing 'operations'. It was more than a little disconcerting watching how he (apparently) pushes long forceps (a bit like Spencer Wells) up patients noses or stuck a knife in their eye.
By now it was 8am and the hall was packed with up to 80 people and more standing just outside. A series of 'volunteers' took to the stage and talked about the need for silence, meditation, to close your eyes but not to cross your arms or legs as the spirit doctors were now amongst us. We all stood and said a few prayers - the Our Father and Hail Mary were recognisable to me even in Portuguese - and then Joao himself walked in surrounded by his assistants carrying various covered metal bowls. He is a large man with longish dark hair and a very pale complexion.
He started telling of his childhood and how he discovered he could heal (poor Matt was having to translate all this for me). His voice was quite dull and monotone, not what I was expecting at all. He certainly doesn't possess the energy and charisma of a 'Billy Graham' type preacher. But Joao certainly had everyone's undivided attention - especially when he suddenly turned, and taking taking some forceps and a small piece of cotton wool from one of the metal bowls, inserted them right up a young woman's nose. It was difficult to see exactly what was going on as his hands covered her nose most of the time but when he removed the forceps, after wiggling them around a bit, the cotton wool was red. The young woman showed no signs of pain or distress at all during this procedure but afterwards was carried away in a chair. And Joao left too.
Those others scheduled for surgery that morning were told to line up and they disappeared into one of the many rooms at the back of the hall. After another half an hour or so of inspirational talk by more volunteers at last '1st timers' were called and Matt and I joined the queue leading out of the back of the hall. The first room we passed through was the 'crystal meditation room' with 30 or do people sitting in front of a huge crystal in silence. Off to the right of this was a small room containing what looked like operating trolleys - some of them with patients on apparently asleep. We followed our queue into another large room, again full of people meditating, where Joao was sitting at the end in a large chair. The queue wound slowly down the centre of the room as each person had a short 'consultation' with Joao. For some of them he scribbled something on a piece of paper and gave it to them. Then a volunteer was on hand to direct them to the next room Joao had 'prescribed' for them.
I was getting more and more nervous as we approached the front and when it was my turn my hand was shaking as he took it and held it briefly. He said a few words which Matt interpreted "Come back this afternoon" and that was it. We were ushered outside into the sunshine and given a bread roll and some grape juice. Matt and I were a bit baffled as to what had happened and why were we told to return in the afternoon (Matt had been told to come back too) when a nice friendly volunteer called Diego found us and explained that the right 'spirit doctor' wasn't there for us now - but apparently he would be at 2pm.
We drove back to the ranch a bit deflated, sat around in the sunshine watching Luke chase the chickens and goat, had some lunch and just before 2pm we set off again.
I had been getting increasingly worried about how I would react if Joao decided he wanted to stick some forceps up my nose or a knife in my eye - I was really NOT comfortable with the thought of either. Everyone else there seemed so at ease and relaxed, even the other '1st timers', was I the only one with a sense of disquiet and concern?
At 2pm we were back in the main hall which was again packed to the rafters. No Joao this time - but more preaching from the volunteers about silence and meditation. Another queue of people were called for their 'surgery' and finally, at 3.30pm, the '2 o'clock queue' was called. It was very long yet again and Matt and I were right at the back of it. Through the crystal therapy room again, some people were still there from the morning meditating, past the small operation recovery room which now appeared to be full, and into the main hall. Again familiar faces were still there from the morning. Joao was sitting in his big chair again. The queue was very slow as this time he would spend much longer with certain people - some only a few seconds, some up to 5 minutes. As they reached him a couple of people made loud long speeches on how Joao had cured them. Finally, after what seemed like hours, it was my turn again.
Joao held my right hand for a couple of seconds and said "Crystal therapy one time" as translated by Diego and he then led me into a small room with a few others where we meditated for about 5 minutes. Matt joined me shortly after (he had a MUCH longer session with Joao) and then we were shown outside again.
What an anti climax !
Here I am with terminal cancer and all I am prescribed is a few minutes meditating in front of a big crystal. Joao didn't ask, or seem to be aware of what is wrong with me. I felt, rightly or wrongly, that I had been shrugged off, especially when Matt told me what happened to him. Joao spoke to him for some time, asked his occupation and where he lived and then gave him a prescription (piece of paper with squiggle on it) and said he needed 12-15 special crystal bath sessions - and there is absolutely nothing wrong with Matt ! He was only there to accompany and translate for me ! (Actually Matt does have a sore toe right now but all that treatment seemed a bit excessive for that) We went and collected, and paid for, Matts pills from the Farmacia, which turned out to be Passiflora - a harmless herb - and drove back to the ranch where Ana, Julia and Luke were waiting patiently bless them.
So - my impressions of this experience?
I felt a huge sense of disappointment. I didn't expect some miraculous cure but I did expect a little more than a cursory glance.
Maybe it's unfair of me to judge after just one visit?
Maybe its because, despite Matt's translations, its difficult to fully engage in a process conducted in another language?
Maybe something did indeed happen and only time will tell?
Or maybe the point of it all just passed me by, after all I am a 'gringo'?
All I know is I expected to feel that something 'special' was happening in this place - and I felt absolutely nothing. I left with more questions than I arrived with and absolutely no answers.