Rosita's Story

The Quest for Treasure

Born in Chicago in 1941 to Iranian and Italian immigrants, her first memories are of forays outside the city to collect medicinal plants and wild greens with both grandmothers.

Answering the call of her generation to break down cemented social mores, she joined the hippie movement in the 1960’s. In San Francisco, she joined the Messiah’s World Crusade aka The One World Family to introduce live, fresh and organic food to America at a time when no one even knew what whole wheat bread looked like and the word, “organic” was foreign to most. After leaving the Messiah’s World Crusade, Rosita joined Black Bear Ranch, in Siskyou County, Northern California to live, love and be joyful in a more earth-centered commune. She taught school there in a one-room school house for eight grades. In 1970, to escape the Vietnam War, she moved with her boyfriend, her son and another couple to a remote area of Guerrero, Mexico. Their homestead was an eight-hour walk to the closest small town, Tlacotepec that was an eighteen hour bus ride to Acapulco.

During her time in Mexico, she befriended village healers and crafts people from whom she learned about medicinal plants of Mexico, midwifery, traditional Aztec healing, tortilla making, Mexican cuisine, and gardening.  The family lived as vegetarians from food plants grown in their own organic gardens and a small orchard.

Life intervened. After that little family in Mexico broke up, Rosita took a position at the Villa Vegetariana in Cuerna Vaca where she was assistant health director for clients undergoing water fasts and cleansing diets.

In 1975 Rosita left Mexico to become Assistant Health Director at the Shangri-la Institute of Natural Hygiene in Bonita Springs, Florida, then later as Health Director. Her duties were to supervise water fasts and cleansing diets for up to forty people at one time.

The owner of the institute, R.J. Cheatham, owned a tract of land in Belize to cultivate organic fruits for the health resort. In 1976, when Rosita discovered she was pregnant and intended to hand in her resignation at the Shangri-la, the owner invited her to live in Belize on the two-hundred acre organic fruit orchard. She accepted his offer, left her position at Shangri-la, and headed back to Central America.

Her daughter, Crystal Ray, was born later that year in 1977 in San Ignacio, Belize. It was an uncomplicated home-birth with three friends attending, Mick and Lucy Fleming and Philip Werlein.

Rosita stayed in Belize working the fruit orchard for  Shangri-la until she returned to the US in 1979 to study  Naprapathy in Chicago, a form of bodywork akin to chiropractic focused on the manipulation of the spine and the correction of  connective tissue damage.   

After graduation from The College of Naprapathy in 1982, Rosita returned to Belize with her new husband, fellow graduate naprapath, Greg Shropshire, and her daughter, now five. They bought thirty-two acres of uncleared jungle along the Macal River right next to their friends, Mick and Lucy Fleming who later opened the world-famous resort Chaa Creek Lodge. Greg and Rosita started a clinic in San Ignacio as family physicians of alternative medicine which they ran until 2010.

From several patients, Rosita heard lots of stories about an old Maya bush doctor, Elijio Panti, who had been cured with his simple herbs when they couldn’t be cured by allopathic medicine. One particular patient showed her an enormous scar that ravaged his leg from knee to foot. Only strings of healed scar tissue remained. He explained that years ago he had Leischmaniasis, a terrible flesh-eating jungle sore. Medical doctors recommended amputation as they said there was no cure. He went to see Don Elijio in nearby San Antonio who cured him in three months time. Curious to meet such an accomplished healer, she didn’t have to wait very long. One day he appeared on her clinic doorstep having heard there was an American herbalist in town.

She invited him in and when he saw her herbs in glass jars, he was very interested to hear how they were used. Rosita explained that she had a problem. The herbs she had brought from Chicago were full of mold in their glass jars. “Do you know why?” she asked Don Elijio.

“Oh Yes, mamasita,” he explained. “Dry herbs cannot be stored in glass because the glass perspires, dampens the herbs and then they mold.” Then he introduced himself. Here before her was Don Elijio Panti, the most renowned shaman in Central America, the man she had been searching for. They shared stories about healing with herbs and she gave him a Naprapathic treatment for the stiffness in his joints. He invited her to visit him in his village the following week. That was the beginning of a long and tender relationship between the two healers  who grew to love each other immensely. Don Elijio, nearly 90 years old when he and Rosita met, lived to be 103.

It was important to Rosita to learn the medicinal plants of her new environment and Don Elijio was the most renowned traditional healer in the nation. Rosita crossed the river on foot and walked five miles every week to his little village clinic to help him in whatever way she could with his daily chores, massaging his aching stiff muscles, making amulets, and serving as translator for non-Spanish speaking patients. She gathered firewood for his hearth, swept the dirt floors, chopped his vines, roots and barks and assuaged the loneliness he felt since his wife’s death a few years earlier.

At the end of each visit for that first year in 1982, she would ask if Don Elijio, El Maestro, would teach her about medicinal plants. The answer was always, “no.”  She assisted him in his clinic for a full year before Don Elijio accepted her as his apprentice in 1983. He often told her, “It would do no good to teach a gringa because everything I would teach has no value up there.”

Rosita remembers well the day Don Elijio agreed to take her on as an apprentice. Having arrived unexpected on his doorstep one day at dawn, he gave her a look that seemed to say, “Oh, it’s you again!” Rosita felt that perhaps she was a bother to him, so she vowed this would be her last day in San Antonio as a full year had passed and he would not agree to accept her as a student.

“I don’t have time for you today,” he told her standing on his doorstep with a hand-woven basket strapped to his head. “My corn is dry and I’ve had so many patients that I haven’t had time to harvest it.”

“I can help you harvest corn,” Rosita answered the old man. He shook his head in disbelief, then off they went to his corn field together to harvest his corn crop. Rosita’s years in Mexico had given her a lot of experience harvesting corn. Impressed that a gringa knew how to harvest maize with such skill, he finally agreed to accept her as his disciple with the agreement that she would help his people when he was gone. A lifetime commitment! Thus began her thirteen year apprenticeship to one of the last known, genuine Maya healer/shamans.