We Kanos may well laugh, but when the asawa says the kids shouldn’t have a shower after running around in the sun, there is more to this than we may think. Filipinos will avoid wetting their hair before going to bed, even if there is a hair dryer available. The reason for this is pasma, a recognised ‘folk illness’ that has no basis in modern medicine but is very real for many Filipinos.
Init and Lamig (Tugnaw)
Pasma comes from the Spanish root word, espasmo, or spasm, yet the symptoms are very different. Alleged to be a condition brought about by the mixing of heat (init) and cold (lamig, or tugnaw in Cebuano), common symptoms include; hand tremors, sweaty palms, numbness and pains. But no spasms. The thinking is that if the body’s muscles are hot, or heated due to exertion, they should not be suddenly cooled. Taking a shower after a gym class, for example, is not on for Filipinos. My wife was seriously concerned when I jumped in the shower after playing tennis one hot morning in Cebu some years ago. She consulted with her mother and the local quack doctor, curious as to why I emerged from my shower fresh and relaxed and not close to death’s door.
Make no mistake, pasma is very real to Filipinos. It may be a folk illness, but that doesn’t mean people do not suffer actual symptoms and ailments. There is some correlation with symptoms in known diseases such as diabetes mellitus and thyroid dysfunction. These two ailments are quite prolific in the Philippines and while there is so far no proven connection to getting wet when hot, there is no proof there is no connection, either. Filipinos often comment how chickens and other animals will die after heavy rain, children too.
Obviously the easiest way to prevent pasma problems is to avoid cold water, something many Filipinos do without thinking about it. This is not to say their personal hygiene is in question. I think any of us married to a Filipina can attest to their very high standard of personal hygiene, even when living in conditions we would equate with bush camping back home. They do wash regularly, they just wait for their body to cool down first. This could be common sense at work when you think it through. We exercise and then shower straight away, but usually with tepid to even hot water; rarely do we jump in and take a bracing cold water shower at any time. Hot water on tap is not the norm in the Philippines. I recall my CR in Bogo had beautiful hot water after 9 or 10 in the morning, once the exposed metal pipes had heated up in the sun. But at night the water was quite refreshingly chilly. Rapid temperature changes are not advised by western medical professionals except in emergency situations and even then it is always preferable to bring a high temperature down as gradually as possible.
So, perhaps there is something in this folk illness thing we should be taking note of. Just because we don’t understand something doesn’t mean it is not valid. Keep in mind your asawa and her family have lived in that environment for many generations. While they may communicate some things to us in ways that we find amusing or even incredulous, keep the faith. They didn’t make it to the current generation by ignoring very real risk factors.
Perry Gamsby, D.Lit., MA(Writing), Dip. Bus, Dip. Mktg is a writer and lecturer who lives with his Cebuana wife and five Aus-Fil daughters in Western Sydney. The author of a series of best-selling ‘self-help’ books for expats and those married to Filipinas, he is also a Master of Filipino Martial Arts and a former World Stickfighting Champion who has lived, worked and vacationed in the Philippines since 1988. Perry and his family return to the Philippines on a yearly basis. You can read more of his writing on Philippines topics at www.streetwisephilippines.biz