mercredi 12 décembre 2007

Chico and Chucho at Hotel Allison Genesis, Kuala Lumpur

An open minded traveler attracts human interactions

The lunch was sumptuous. Sera Nyonya Restaurant at Hotel Equatorial in Malacca. Chef Bong and his assistant Yenny. Ohtak, Lychee Asam Boi, Cili ayam with fragrant beans. Very attentive staff.
Came out to the tropical air. A little humid. Slight drizzle. A beat up taxi pulls up. I want to go to the Bus Station via Hotel Puri to pick up my luggage. I will give you 15 ringgits. He looks at me and nods. I get in.
He is Malay, born in Malacca and lives right in town. The car is truly a beaten up car. Much like one of the taxis of Havana, only slightly better. The door knobs don’t function, dust has collected in spaces. An odour of yesterday hangs in the air. The usual Muslim exultations on the dashboard and the glass, now cloudy with age.
We started talking, in broken English and his good Malay and my good English and broken Malay, we could communicate, so what else. He was surprised to know that Tesco and Courts are all foreign companies... He thought they were Malaysian! Poor guy…but happy...He wanted to know whether I had visited any of the supermarkets, which came as a surprising question, but I suppose he was trying to find something in common..We drove towards the central station. He said, good buses lah, and cheap to KL... that turned out to be true, the buses are very cheap, 2 euros for the ride to KL. As I came out of the car, he asked, when are you coming back? Soon, Lah, I said imitating a local accent which is rather soothing. Take my mobile number, and he gives it to me. Hajji Ismail is his name, so this rotund Malay in an old beat up car had been to the Hajj and how nice of him to give his mobile phone number. I will call him the next time I am in Malaysia; in fact I might call him from USA... and say Hello to surprise him…
I am extremely lucky, and I believe the Good Luck Star of the Taxi drivers follow me everywhere since I have been lucky with taxi drivers in all the continents... from Accra to Zanzibar...
The traffic jam in KL is beyond description. There is decidedly a third world (developing country) look to it, more beat up cars... we are let outside the Pudu Raya terminal, because it will take the driver many more minutes to manoeuvre his vehicle into the terminal just 200 meters away. Taxis are waiting but none of them are interested in short rides so disappointed faces look elsewhere. A driver feigns ignorance when I ask him about Allison Genesis Hotel, but quotes 15 ringgit as his fare which in itself was not bad. I said 10 ringgits, he looks away but a old Chinese with a tuft of hair growing out of a mole in his neck is interested, I will take you for 12, he said, but just for fun, and a throwback to my Mizrahi ancestry I say, ten ringgits, he tries some more but invites me into his car, which is not a taxi but a small car, in better shape than Hajji Ismail. On the way over, the traffic is horrendous, we are unable to move. We talk, this time I can’t even speak broken Chinese and his English is strictly Broken...but communicate we did... By the time he left me off in front of the Allison Genesis Hotel, he has agreed to come and wait for me in front of the hotel at 6 45 am tomorrow to take me directly to the airport, for half the price of a normal taxi..
It is 8 pm. In one hour my friend JC would arrive, in the meantime I am going for a walk if it is not raining outside... I can see the twin towers of the PETRONAS towers from my room. The night is dark outside even in this city clogged with cars whose red brake lights cut through the darkness.
When I was trying to check in at the hotel, a very pleasant young man called Ikhval was trying to help me, couldn’t find my name under reservations, usually happens because of the variations in my name. A well built mulatto with a frail Chinese lady comes in, talks to the clerk.. Tell the people to come and listen to the crazy brasilian drummer.. That caught my ears.. Voce de Brasil? I asked him and we began chatting in Brasilian Portuguese, I was surprised that I could hold a conversation. He is the artist in residence at a place called No Black Tie and will be giving concerts with his band of local artists, but MPB, brasilian music..Eu moro na Cuba.. I said to him, and he said: was listening to Chucho Valdes last night.. in person? No it was recorded music but it was as if chucho was there.. we were laughing and I showed him my collection of Brasilian videos on my ipod.. I mentioned Chico Buarque and a smile appeard on his face.. I began humming que tu sera sera.. the song made famous by Chico Buarque.. So at the lobby of the hotel Allison, in front of puzzled malay clerks and visitors, Valtinho and I began singing Chico Buarque’s song and he being a singer knew the word and I knew the tune well enough to hum along.. I truly got a kick out of it..
That is how, ladies and gentlemen, my evening in KL began. As I was finishing up filling up the hotel form, JC called to say she would be at the hotel around 9 pm…
It is 1 pm in Paris, where I would normally have lunch at la Defense on work days .. it is 7 am in La Habana and Baracoa, where my affections are kept warm by my friends…
La Vida es un sueno..

8 pm in Kuala Lumpur, Ciudad Capitolio de Malasia, 12 de deciembre 2007

jeudi 29 novembre 2007

Friends, Food and Far East

Shuttling between La Habana, Cuba; Miami, Florida and Paris, France, in addition to participating at professional conferences, this year 2007 had been full of travel. But the travel times did not include visits to Friends in far flung places. In these modern times, our friends are scattered around the globe, we maintain contact with them with email and VOIP and video/message/messenger, it brings their voices, and their presence into our lives. Yet it is not the same as breathing the same ambience and sharing a meal together. I am too busy for my friends have never been my excuse, so I planned a short trip, short in time but large in distance, to visit some special friends, leaving Paris and arriving back in Miami ( my two affections and residences, the third is Havana, of course ) in a matter of just 11 days. Little did I realize that all stopovers would be to meet friends brought closer after 2003, friendships made during my other trips to their countries.
I am writing this on 28th November 2007 in Miami, Florida. The first leg of this journey is not part of the Friends tour, since I am going form one home to the other, eventhough special friends wait for me in Paris. And not to mention, special food.
Called the Vietnamese Embassy in Paris, only to be told that the tourist visa takes one week to process ( you wonder why?) and that an express visa could be issued in just three days for 90 Euros. This made me think of the various places and expediency of obtaining Vietnam Visas.
Singapore, same day service, through travel agents (Burmese Chinese who run a travel agency in Singapore). Cost 60 sgd
Over the counter service, done within one hour, in PnomPenh, Cambodia. Cost 20 usd
Embassy of Vietnam in Havana, Cuba. One day service. Cost 25 usd
Embassy of Vietnam in Buenos Aires, Argentina. One day service. Cost 25 usd.
I have on three different occasions received visa on arrival which involves sending your details ahead of time to a travel agent in Vietnam and within a few days you get a letter clearing you to board the plane and when you arrive at HCMC or Danang or Hanoi, you stand in a separate line and get the visa stamped on your passport. The cost of the visa is the same 25 usd but the travel agency may charge 25 usd additional. They demand payment before they would request the visa on your behalf. Friends in Vietnam usually advance the cash and I repay them when I get there.
I contacted this time, my dear friend Pham Thi Nga, as I was going to HCMC just to see her. Received an immediate reply saying that she would wait for my passport details scanned and emailed to her and that a friend of hers would get me visa on arrival at HCMC in four days. Since I do have four working days before I leave Paris to Cennai on my first leg of the journey, I will scan and email her my passport details today. Hopefully I will get the e-visa. Cambodia now issues e-visas on line, so there is no problem. I do not visas for Singapore and I have a five year tourist visa to India in my passport. If I decide to go to Malaysia, I don’t need a visa either.
Why do countries require visas? Cant be security reasons. If it is just financial reasons why not just issue them electronically? In Asia, I need visa now for DPRK, China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Bhutan, India but not Hongkong or Macau. I don’t need a visa for Sri Lanka and I have not travelled to Bangladesh or Pakistan, so I don’t know the current situation.
Sister Jacqueline in Miami has promised Jamaican Curried Chicken for tonight, so it is a promising start of a trip.

dimanche 4 novembre 2007

Where am I?

When you order a coffee at one of the elegant salons in this city, the capital of a country that produces no coffee, a tasty morsel of melted chocolate comes in a glass thimble. Where the pure cacao comes from, I am not sure, could it be from Baracoa, my beloved village in Cuba? Or Ghana?
Tourists by the hundreds mill around ornate edifices of 17th century in this 19th century city. I cannot figure out any words in a popular language here which sounds more like a sore throat. I particularly enjoyed the Exhibition opened today, depicting the culture of the maritime conquest of Muscat, Porto Novo, Hormuz, Cochin, Malacca, Molukku and Macao, by people referred to as Ninbars (the southern barbarians) by the warrior lords of a hermetic archipelago. I thought of Dr Tan, founder of the Zheng He museum of Malacca!
Now the Quiz:
And the prizes are: Dinner at NonYa Restaurant at Hotel Equatorial prepared by my friend Chef Bong, the best Nonya food I have ever tasted. ( airfare and accommodation not included)
In which countries in Africa and South America, something similar to the language I was trying to decipher, spoken?
Consolation Prize: Lunch Buffet at Palms Restaurant at Metropolitan Hotel in Ernakulam, the best Kerala food you would ever taste in your life.(airfare and accommodation not included)
Which are the SIX plus FOUR islands in the western hemisphere where the natives of this country may be understood?
Bonus Questions:
1. Prize is dinner at my favourite restaurant in Buenos Aires, La Bodeguita with a bottle of Rutini Malbec ( airfare and accommodation not included)
Name a poet from the country in South America in question, but he wrote in an Asian Language.
2. Prize is Roti Canai with Teh Tahrek at the place of your choice in Kuala Lumpur.
In which hill will you see tombstones in the language in the quiz or name other places in Asia you may have seen the tombstones in that language?
Special Question:
Cuban Dinner in Miami, with Cortadito either at La Carreta or Versailles in Calle Ocho.
Name a descendant of this language speakers who has made a name for himself, writing well in another language, and he lives in Canada?

Globalization will not eradicate Prejudices
Competence, Efficiency and Education will!
Or Why we need Israel to train security agents worldwide.
Rainy end of October day. 0730 AM. Steady drizzle. Not intense but constant. Air France Cabin Stewards on strike. Do you know how the Airlines are making lots and lots of money? Pay the staff less and offer no services at all. Budget airlines with Budget salaries, Air France in its arrogance ignore their clients..Transatlantic traffic is its highest in years, but try to find a good fare or value for money!
Today by a stroke of luck, I am flying American Airlines AA, just seven days after arriving from Miami on Air France AF.
Radio announcer, while in the taxi: since 6 am, this morning, all flights of AF has been cancelled, since they are not sure who would show up for work. A friend who had a flight to Boston on AF had to take a bus overnight to London, stay at the airport until 5 pm to catch a flight to Boston. Ah Well..
A very competent taxi driver. Middle aged. French. Used his blue tooth telephone to contact the base and then took it off, to concentrate on the road, full of cars heading for Charles de Gaulle Airport CDG
40 minutes through the drizzle to CDG. Unlike younger drivers, no chatting on the phone, trying to save time and be safe, to get me on time for the flight to Miami MIA. Thank You.
Taxi Drivers
The worst ones are of course in MIA, fresh out of the boat immigrants, less conversant with the local geography and language (which is Spanish rather than the star spangled English), more than once I had to give directions to the taxi drivers, to common place addresses such as 107 avenue. Don’t worry, hopefully I would help one of their children to get into medical school, such is the life in the Americas..
Bangladeshis in New York, Eritreans in Washington DC, Togolese in New Haven, Congolese in Bruxelles.. this great metaphor for displacement, and movement, as if they are constantly in motion. But not so in Argentina, where the locals are in a hurry to emigrate, but the taxi drivers are not displaced Bolivians, carton collecting Peruvians but Portenos who know their road well.
Bienvenidos a Miami y las Playas. Good Luck to you, Mate..
CDG is not an user friendly airport. By now I know the layout. AA has, like most other airlines, special security lines for its Elite Frequent Fliers, I stood behind 7 or 8 middle aged to older Europeans and Americans, men and women.
I looked at the two desks where the security checking was taking place.
My heart sank!
Two distinctly Tamil (generic term to describe a native of Southern India or Northern Sri Lanka, their faces etched with the millennial miscegenation with the indigenous tribal people of India) faces- possibly, immigrants from Pondicherry, Sri Lanka or Ile Maurice, they looked much more Sri Lankan to me, certainly not the French locally bred ( don’t mean colour or face, there are plenty of Tamils from Ile Reunion or Pondicherry who are very French)
And they were being Trained!
I overheard the young Tamil girl ask a Spanish couple, she was checking
Where were you last week?
What are your plans from Miami?
And she took a full 20 minutes to check, a well dressed Spanish middle aged businessman with an elegant wife, flying Business Class to the USA!
Where are the Israelis when we need them?
Her pair, the pre diabetic Tamil lady to her right, fared no better, if anything only worse.
She was in the process of interrogating a Japanese Businessman. Asking for papers and other identifications. Humiliating, if you ask me.
Then she interrogated a pink lady, an elderly French lady, whimsically dressed in pink, flying first class nevertheless.
The Line inches forward.
This is incompetency.
Check their frequent flier status. Check their profession. A middle aged Japanese businessman with a Platinum Card from JAL is no threat to George Bush. He is possibly rich enough to buy the entire township of Pondicherry!
I was behind a gay American, young with a musical instrument in case, we could only guess what it might be, stylishly dressed. He went to the young Tamil girl on the left, while the prediabetic one was still asking stupid questions of an American couple.
This line is a special line for people who are Frequent Fliers, not your once in a while fliers, and certainly no one has a name vaguely resembling Ahamed or Mohammed.
While I mentally prepared myself to be interviewed by the prediabetic Tamil faced lady, a third security desk arrived
I was next in line
Viola, she nods in my direction
A middle aged, French Lady, who looked as if she knew what is supposed to do
My heart felt light at her sight
Elated as I walked towards her, full of cheer and in a good mood.
Having escaped the constructed curiosity of people without curiosity.
Seven or eight relevant questions from the French lady
No more than five minutes
And I was through the security
I am a Platinum Elite FF on AA ( and also on Skyteam)
What does it mean to tell a recent immigrant from Ile Maurice about the dinner I had the previous night?
Is this an arrogant attitude? Is it victimization of helplessness? Is it racial profiling?
I have always had dark skin, the people I belong to call Israel home, my passport is from Australia and I serve the underserved and marginalized of the populations in the richer countries
I have never felt discriminated or marginalized, eventhough I could make a case for it..
For people grown up under gentler societies, a difference is understood of class, culture and poverty. American Indians do not identify themselves as Poor, nor with other “minorities” who are poor, because they do not consider themselves poor, materially may be, certainly not spiritually.
Of the many countries I have lived in or have had intimate associations, I would say the most racist has been Jamaica (the majority population of Blacks), and the legislated racist state of Malaysia.
All of us are only two to five generations removed from poverty and lower class upbringing, unless of course, you belong to one of the other ancient civilizations: Arab, Ottoman, Persian or Moghul….(all paradoxically Moslem)
A little lesson in European Civilization, with Food as an example.
Cutlery is considered a metaphor for superior dining in the west. It is a recent import there. Knife was necessary but not used for eating. Fork was the main instrument of eating in the west, it seems to have been a Byzantine innovation, was introduced to England in the 17th century via Italy. ( did you know that Italian was the language Ottoman and Arabs used to communicate to the Infidels of the West, not French and certainly not English)The English word Fork comes from the Italian “forchetta”. No mention of “fork” in the plays of Shakespeare even though Ben Johnson mentions it in one of his plays, this new device to eat with. ( he died in 1637)
Compare this to the cultural wealth of Persia. Abu Ishaq or Bushaq, known as Bushaq i-at’ima, Bushaq of Foodstuffs (late 14th century or early 15th century Shiraz, Iran), a poet, dedicated most of his literary output to writing poems about food. Among his major works, Kanz-al-ishtiha or Treasure of apetite.
There you are..
So the sigh of relief of seeing a middle aged, competent, French security agent at CDG line for Platinum Frequent Fliers cant be a blind adoration of the culture she belongs to, symbolically or metaphorically,
A sense that her efficiency would be helped by her relevance of her life to the career she has chosen.
Comparing to the professionalism of Israeli security agents, on a recent flight to Tel Aviv, all of them young Israelis, men and women, post military service obviously educated. And this was not at TLV airport but at the El Al check in counter at CDG. Cultural Congruence and cultural relevance.
Globalization is giving rise to a Fraud, seeping into our lives, poisoning us slowly.
Made in China has more meaning now, Thai, Japanese, cuisines offered by Chinese immigrants ( also Korean immigrants) in Paris.
(I am writing this as this AA flight is taking off, most of the AF planes are on the ground, it is still drizzling)
Hotel receptionists at fashionable chains, unaware of the local geography much like the Haitian taxi drivers in Miami, in Bruxelles, in answer to a general enquiry, I was told: Sorry, I am not from here. Honest but not helpful.
Then there is wholesale Mimicry, young IT men and women, becoming rounder as they abandon saris for Jeans, marching towards their early deaths, eating with forks and knife , wasting their newly found buying power at KFC’s, McDOs!
I met a Bengali recently, mentioned to him, some well known writers in English from his subcontinent: Ghosh, Mishra, Tejpal. He was unaware of any of them, but strangely enough he has heard of Indian writers who have made a name for themselves in the west, like the Bengali Indian, Jhumpa Lahiri.
Girls/Boys, immature beyond their years, in Malaysia and Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam in the Far East (the Japanese like to have flings with foreigners but prefer Japanese partners for themselves when they choose one), looking at laisons with westerners as an escape from their intellectual and emotional poverty
1104am Paris Time. AA 63 takes off . 6 04 am in Miami (yet to change the time). Constant Drizzle accompanying as the ageing aircraft 767-200 lifts orr
Every single seat is taken.
I would like to see the English being English ( there are no Black English, only Black British). This does not negate the benefits of a million poles coming into England in the last few years. Europe needs 20 million educated people, as immigrants- from within and outside the European Union.
Every one is envious of Australia’s record of attracting quality immigrants, it is because Austalia since 1966 has had an immigration policy based on what is needed in Austalia rather than the dicatates of whimpy politicians or right of the spoon politicians pandering to the agricultural and political interests. Australia has the highest rate of qualified immigrants. Europe and America, for the sake of political correctedness, has attracted immigrants, perhaps not all of them well suited for the economy of their present day industrialization.
Despite the fact that I have lived in 8 different countries, I have never migrated anywhere. I have chosen well: Israel for emotions, Australia for legality, as far as my nationalities are concerned.
Now learning to liven France!
Another Decade, Another language…
Perhaps that is why I have strong attractions to the countries which have strong native identities: Cuba, a strong political and cultural identity and Myanmar, a stong religious identity.
No McDOs, No KFCs, Best Buy, Quick etc etc in either country.
Is it a mere coincidence that both countries are subjected to Sanctions and Embargo by the USA?
Is it a good thing after all, being boycotted by USA
Visit them, before they visit you..
We have to stop thinking in terms from the past: skin colour, cultural origins are no longer handicaps if you don’t want them to be, or give the other a chance to do so.
My Father, Olah Ha Shalom, once said to me, quoting Chou En Lai: for us to get ahead, all of us must get ahead together.
South Africa rencently gained the Rugby 2007 title. Not a single player was Black. Everyone rejoiced except the Politicians, Mbeki, and the Sports Minister who said: this is a country of blacks, 80 %, so there should be positive racial quotas in sport..
This is al-Qaida kind of militancy. We cannot regain the Moslem grandeur of the Past, but the future is before us to plan and bring into being our dreams of what was lost and what is possible. All of us are capable, in culturally superior ways of each of us, to achieve but it is up to us, as individuals to find strength in that culture, by first of realizing what is the true culture, rather than cultivating on e in some one elses image. Build more ovals at Black schools, Mr Black Mbeki, bring education to the Black children, along with sports, so that they can excel in computer as well as Cricket. So that in the 2020 Rugby games, an all black S A team can hope to defeat the allblacks of Aotearoa..
Where did I begin?
Where have I ended up?
10 minutes into this 9h30 minutes flight to MIA. AA Lounge at CDG is a sham, compared to the Virgin Lounge at LHR (the best I have seen) or the AF lounges at CDG( the French do it in style)
The Virgin Lounge had full service breakfast, a bistro, where you could have salmon fume.
AF lounges at CDG have multiple magazines on all subjects, champagne flowing freely
AA Lounge at CDG had Frito Lay chips and USA Today.
Ah! Well!
But the boarding process was smooth and I look forward to the company of my sister in Miami. I might even get something nice to eat which I am not expecting on this flight, AA 63.. Alors!
Today is 29th October 2007
Tomorrow fly into Omaha and then on to South Dakota
Miami, Denver and La Habana
I would have the pleasure of other “tamil” security agents in Miami, Houston and Paris and elsewhere..
I have always welcomed the security inspections at La Habana. They are much better at it … Experience I suppose. Not as good as Israelis. For whom security is life, rather than a career..
Mazeltov to my Brother Ricardo
Mazeltov to Shimon and Avital..
Arrived MIAMI 3 20 pm. Got out of the plane at 3 25 pm. Cleared immigration 330. 340 was already on the AVIS bus taking me to pick up my Rental Car..
As suspected, sister Jackie furnished Jamaican Curry, Chicken and Rice, Peas and Pappadams and fresh Lemonade.
It is 2 35 am in Paris, 8 35 pm in Miami, 7 35 pm in Winnebago and 5 35 pm in Yakima.
The night of 21st/22nd October 2007.
I have just finished my dinner. Not just any dinner. Alone.
Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve Champagne
Foie gras de pato con chutney de fruta seca
Provencale style braised Chicken
Cotes du Rhone Villaes Vinsobres Les Cornuds 2005 Perrin et fils
La selection du maitre fromager; three different types of cheese
Mango Sorbet, Cookies, Royal Ceylon Tea
What is this occasion?
I can think of two reasons for celebrations.
I am looking forward to seeing the person around whom my world moves.
In Paris.
I have just left the Indians, after a very very fruitful week with them.
I have to be thankful, to the spirits, said I to Georgia Gomez, my Hocank Indian Sister.
The only thing you have is your body, everything else is borrowed, what sacrifice you do with that body would demonstrate how much you would like to do for the people.
Might put you up the hill for four days, do you think you are ready?
Am I ready?, I asked, frightened at the thought of being left all alone, without food and drink, and a blanket to ward off the cold nights under the clear skies.
Wehnona St Cyr was selected as one of the outstanding community health leaders, I felt all of us was part of that celebration. She is the CEO of the UmonHon tribe Health Clinic. I am the Endocrinologist to that Clinic.
Michele Smith, I think every nurse should model themselves after her, visionary, innovative and totally committed to the welfare of the Indians. I had lunch with her twice, once at her favourite Chinese restaurant in Sioux City, the Hunan Palace and the second time in Decatur, Nebraska. As I entered the lady there said, where have you been, have not seen you in a while, and before you open your mouth, there is nothing healthy here to eat..
So in effect, shut up and eat what we give you. Two large pieces of fresh river fish braided in batter..
All for the price of a cup of café in Paris!
People had come from Indianopolis and San Antonio to speak to me and Georgia and Tina De Cora, the administrative assistant of the Diabetes Programme of the Hocank Indians.
They are impressed. And appreciative of our efforts and more over supportive. More human an interaction than commercial one.
I tell them, we can do things community wide, because we don’t have to construct a community, we live in a community
Would you be able to go to Denver on November 12th and present your work to the Health Committee of the American Indian Congress, the oldest organization of the Native People of this country?
It would be an honour!
Calculating in my mind. I have to give a talk to the association of latin American diabetes societies at la Habana, Cuba on Friday 16th.
There is a chance that the Robert Wood Johnson work group of the four tribes of Nebraska, who are getting together to put together a grant application for prevention of childhood obesity might be meeting on the 13th in Omaha, Nebraska. Wehnona wanted me to go to that meeting.
There is a flight from Nassau to la Habana on Thursday 15th.
It was good to meet with our visitors, who had travelled far to come and see us, in that corner of northeastern Nebraska. The day before, faculty from the Creighton University School of medicine were there to witness the honouring of Wehnona at the UmonHon Clinic.
Two things I had to explain to our white American friends.
It is quite common among Indians for those who are being honoured to give away presents, a custom quite contrary to the one in the majority culture
Secondly, I tried to explain to them, Europeans have long forgotten the concept of social responsibility in which you take responsibility for others, this concept of a relative, Mitakuye Oyasin, that we are all related. A major portion of the life of the Indian and his time is consumed by this desire and the need and the effort to do something for the relatives.
Right now I am 3000 miles away from Paris, have been flying for 2 hours 45 minutes. Five more hours to go. It would be good to sleep a little.
This week with the Indians was extremely satisfying. A drop in the ocean of their misery, but some relief. As Delacroix had said somewhere, relief of pain and misery is what people remember you by.
Everyone who had appointments to see me at the clinic showed up and more. Deb Parker does an extraordinary job as Diabetes Coordinator at Umonhon, herself married to an Umonhon Indian. The days at the Hocank Clinic was very pleasant thanks to Teri Eckerman who makes sure that the patients who need to see me come in time.
It was time to reflect
The person I am going to see in Paris is the gift of the Spirits to me. A humble, sacrifysing self, ethical and giving; she envelopes me like the big sky. I feel secure knowing that she will take care of me while I take care of the Indians.
Who else takes care of me.. the list is long and dear to my heart..
My sister Jackie, with whom I spend delightful time in between my trips
That is why I always begin and end my USA trips in Miami. I arrive, there is English tea, chicken breast marinated in a sandwich with fromage chevre last night when I got to her house, hours of laughter and always eating and spending time together, whatever time she can spare, in between giving of herself to so many people, including her mother who now stays with her.
I have gathered affections
In my sister friends
Georgia Gomez of Hocank
Michele Smith who works with the UmonHon
Dar who works with the Yakama Indians
Geri Martinez whom I met while I was working with the Kickapoo in Texas/Mexico

This is my family. I have a daughter, Claudia Prieto Noa in Baracoa who is in her first year of Medical studies.
Some close friends in Cuba: Castro and Beatiz and Yamina in Baracoa; Mother Lucia, Cari and Amparo in La Habana.
I am not close to the people who are related to me by blood. I don’t blame them, time and circumstances separated us for decades at a time. I admire sister Sudha for her devotion to her mother in India. I have completely forgotten those who were left behind in Australia.
I realized one thing today.
If you loose someones friendship, you never deserved them in the first place.
I had a delightful time during lunch with a friend of mine that I had met in Baracoa, El Capitan Pablo. Humble, human and gentle, I am so glad to be his friend, and each time I am in Miami for more than one day, I will make an attempt to see him.
I am slowly loosing my interest in Cuba, I did my best, with the greatest of intentions and without any interest, for years on end, what I could and I know I made the difference in the lives of some people. But I no longer have energy for their continued struggle, the relationships are becoming just one sided ( except those mentioned above in Cuba), it is a matter of diminishing returns. With lessening interest in Cuba, friendships that germinated in Cuba are also withering.
That which needs to blossom will blossom, if the intentions are pure enough. Hidden agendas, passive behaviours can all go out of the window. Adios!
I feel closer to Sam and Nava in Israel thus to Shimon and Avital , to Ko Maung Maung in Siem Reap in Cambodia. I saw Sam and Nava a couple of weeks ago at the wedding of their son, Shimon in Haifa, hope to see Ko Maung maung in Siem Reap in December.
I think very fondly of my two brothers, there has been some estrangement from them this past year. I used to look forward to going to see them, but the eagerness is somewhat dampened. I only want loves without strings, even if there are borders, like the borders I have put on my friendships with Nga in Saigon, Ming in Singapore and Jen in Kuala Lumpur. If we define the borders, we must be careful not to cross them. I miss Elliott and Richard, tremendously, but I am afraid, they will have to come and see me! Mazeltov to you, Brother Ricardo!
You are welcome to all the places that I call HOME
Hocank and UmonHon Indian Reservations
La Habana
Cochin in India
Yangon in Burma
So I thank you, my sister Jackie, my brothers Elliott and Richard and my sister friends: Georgia, Michele, Dar, Geri.
Thank you for listening to the sounds of my heart. I shall try and sleep a little so that when I arrive in Paris in five hours time, I wont feel very very tired. I have nothing planned for tomorrow but I do look forward to a pleasant weekend in Bruxelles.
I thank the spirits that each of the weekends have been spent in different places, and will be so until the end of this year:
San Antonio
And I look forward to
La Habana, Madras, Siem Reap and Saigon.

Finished writing this note
Sitting in seat 1 D, 747-400 of Air France
Miami to Paris 21/22 October 2007
3 15 am in Paris. 9 15 pm in Miami. 8 15 pm in San Antonio and Winnebago 6 15 pm in Yakima

The flight arrived at CDG at 7 50 am. There were not enough ground staff, because of the transportation strike in Paris. We waited for twenty minutes before someone could be found to open the door. Then we were whisked off to the Immigration and the officer looked at my passport for less than five seconds and that was that formality. We waited nearly half an hour for the luggage to arrive so by the time I left the hall, we had touched down two hours earlier.
Walking along the long corridors of the Paris Airport, I spied the Arrivals lounge and entered and was welcomed.
Would you like a shower, enquired the lady.
Yes Please
The shower facilities belonged rather to a five star hotel rather than an airport Lounge. Thick towels, all sorts of shower speeds and temperatures and positions. Occitane accessories. Ah well, they know how to do it, the French..
Capuccino. Fruit Juice. Pain au Chocolat. Internet.
Now I am ready to face the traffic to Porte Maillot and then HOME..

mardi 18 septembre 2007

Meals to Miami

I have been fortunate enough to travel a little bit, more by design than by choice and over the years, one picks up certain whims and fancies. Travelling by Business Class being one of them, not for its elitist value, but for its comfort especially on flights longer than four hours.

Just this past week, I had the chance to fly Virgin Upper Class from London Heathrow to Miami and it was a very pleasant experience.

Unlike the USA based airlines where the flight attendants on long haul flights are senior stewards who has seen them all, the young, energetic and enthusiastic virginn crowd was welcome. the seats were well designed and each had its own private cubicle, so that the entire flight could be immersed in privacy, another of the qualities one desires on long haul flights. Not this, Hi.. where you from? what you do? kind of superficial must say something about my reluctance to engage in conversations on long haul flights, that in the hudnreds of long haul flights i have taken, i cant remember meeting any one that interesting...the disadvantage of flying business class or first class is that the company usually is dull.. businessmen with numbers on their heads and dollar signs for eyes..

this flight was exceptionally smooth, arriving early in Miami with a few bumps on the way down. the cuisine could have been better, but good champagne and a nice white from Mendoza. the variety of entertainment was truly staggering and I enjoyed watching a movie, which i normally dont do on long flights. all in all a very pleasant experience..

Living in more than two places

trying to live in more than one place, takes a little bit of planning..what shall I travel with? where shall I leave my toiletries? you begin to accumulate more than one of everything, so that you dont have to travel with clothes or accessories. just get on the plane, get off and at your destination, clothes and your own goods are waiting for you.
I have dispersed my clothes and books among other places: Baracoa, la Habana, Miami, Walthill, Paris, Yangon and Bangalore. so it was good to arrive in Yangon from a long trip from Paris, with just hand luggage.. of course in the Fast Eastern Countries, if something is missing, you can easily replenish them.. thank god no need to carry films and other acoutrements for photography.. nowadays carry on luggage is computer and some accessories, a multichannel plug, one change of clothes.. viola..

jeudi 14 juin 2007

Gracias Hermanos Mexicanos

Today I had spent a considerable time discussing spiritedly how to improve the care of chronic illnesses such as Diabetes among the Indians who live in these desolate plains in the middle of this country, USA. Very lucky to have colleagues with whom I can bounce off culturally specific ideas of health care. A nice sensation of being able to contribute to the welfare of other people.
The Reservation is at a distance from any town of any size, so i was quite surprised that a new mexican restaurant had opened just this past week at this small village of the Indians. We decided to have lunch there.
Immigration reform makes no sense here. In these parts of USA, the whites have left their responsibility and gathered up their decaying moralities and moved on elsewhere, leaving the large unproductive fields and buildings from the last century. This village is a hundred years old and most of the buildings are from the first part of the 20th century.
The majority of the inhabitants are Indians, almost all of them belonging to one particular tribe.
So, it was heartening to see an enterprising Mexican had the courage and vision to open a restaurant in this village, to be of service to the Indians living here. Mexican food is popular among the Indians, so are the mexicans even though there may be some unresolved issues between them. mexicans were all indians once upon a time and once upon a time they were looked down upon and discriminated and that pain is carried over to their present contact with the Indians. In general there is a good enough mixing between the two races, and a majority of inter racial marriages of Indians are with Mexicans.
When you travel through the decaying centre of this country, you will come upon villages after villages revived by the mexicans, who come here to work in jobs that the whites do not want, contrary to popular belief, they dont take any jobs away from any one.
So hermanos mexicanos, thanks for the meal this afternoon. I am not fond of american food of mexican origin for other reasons, since i am a fan of the unpolluted food of mexico, the kind I am used to in merida mexico or coahuila in the northen part of that neighbouring country.
And buena suerte para ti, mi amigo mexicano..

jeudi 7 juin 2007

A Dream Dreaming of Itself..Musings from Paris

Friday, 1 June 2007

A young Arab French girl with a visible bulging belly and her hair dyed blonde serves me a glass of house wine. As happens in the evenings, a pianist is belting romantic, moody melodies on his piano in the hallway surrounded by restaurants of these very modern office complexes, La Defense. Friday evening. 7 pm. I have my baguette ready, so what if I am not home yet, I can wish you all a Shabbat shalom. Next Friday night, 8 June, I hope to be lighting the candles at the home of Sister Jackie in Miami, on 16th June, I will be with sister friend Dar in Yakima, Washington and on the 23rd, as the sun goes down with the Havdalah Service, I will be flying from Houston to Paris, and by the next Shabbat or thereabouts I should be on my way to the most Buddhist of the countries, Myanmar. Such is the life of this modern day wandering Jew!
Paris is a delight to the eyes. I am not talking about the classic and modern architecture. While my little island of Cuba offers, along with Brasil, the most sensuous of human beings, Paris has an elegance I have not seen elsewhere, not even in my beloved Buenos Aires! This city has the best dressed black people on earth, lithe and dignified; eat your hearts out, Cape Town, London and New York!! People are more overweight than before, but the French are the least overweight of all Europeans (20% compared to 45% in the UK and around 65 % in Australia and USA), but it cannot be Calories, Fat content or the extra alcohol. Lunch today was two pieces of steamed fish, Merluza, with a citron sauce on a bed of steamed vegetables, a salad of Leek in cheese, rice with thick sauce, some haricots, and then a healthy chunk of Roquefort cheese, to be consumed BEFORE, mind you, eating the fruit salad. Minimum time for lunch is one hour, but it usually stretches into two, perhaps there lies the myth of calories and overweight, the French take time over their lunches, in the USA, at some of the clinics where I work, they allot a mere 30 minutes for lunch, enough time to gulp down some preserved food, fatty and highly toxic!! I believe, it is not what you eat that matter, how you eat it, with whom you eat with, how slowly you eat your food and the relaxation at the table. If you don’t have time to eat, don’t eat, but don’t use it as an excuse to gulp down poorly prepared food! In fact, for one of my patients, I wrote down a prescription, One hour for Lunch to be permitted, if she wishes her to remain healthy. I think of the many delightful meals prepared by my younger brother friend Shimon... Always a pleasure, schmooze, endless chatter, glasses of wine, conversation and a good coffee to follow. Always a pleasure, Shimon… I look for ward to the Chupah, you and Avital in Haifa, with your parents Shmulik and Nava, in October...
I am thinking of the person that I have continuously known for the longest period of time, my younger brother Ricardo. How I wish I was sharing this Shabbat with him in Sde Bkr, in Eretz Israel. Soon enough, Brother. My brother Eliyahu’s eldest daughter, a classic mizrachi American beauty, 11 years old, is counting the days she can set off for her first international trip without her parents, to Paris, nevertheless, arranged by the French School she attends in Portland. My brother and his wife would pick her up at the end of her stay, at the end of this month, my Asian brother who is far more comfortable in Kobe or Cambodia will have to be finding out for himself the beauties of this city...
Reading a wonderful book at the moment, currently devouring Indian literature in English, Pankaj Mishra, Amitav ghosh, Terun Tejpal and this author, Shashi Tharoor, a former UN undersecretary, of Cochin origin, born in London, now lives in New York. This book is a positive analysis of he character of his country INDIA (the title of the book as well) of which he is so proud of. (He speaks perfect French, I saw him on French TV when he was in Paris to celebrate, the Indian Book week). I highly recommend this book as it explains, from a very liberal point of view, what it means to be an Indian, not the hollow bombastic, narrow minded hollers you hear in the writings intended for the west. The other books by Indian writers in English, recently read include
Pankaj Mishra The temptations of the West Excellent chapter on Indira Gandhi and her mishandling of the corrupt political establishment of India.
Terun Tejpal The Alchemy of Desire. This has to be one of the more exquisite romances from India, human and passionate
Amitav Ghosh The hungry Tide. Exciting story set in the Sunderbans region of Bengal. Having a doctorate in Anthropology, Ghosh weaves into his tale, bits of information, lying deep in the archives. Typically, how did the Irrawaddy Dolphin get its name?
Reading shashi Tharoor’s explanation of cultural identity, following that, I have claim to Malaysian and Australian Nationalities (but only hold Australian nationality), I could define myself thus for others (sine they an Indian when they look at me!)
An Australian Jew of Malaysian Malayalee Origin who calls Baracoa, Cuba home but lives in Paris, France, works with the Indigenous people of America.
To that I add,
The above person cares about you, who will be reading these notes of a wanderer, as this quiet Shabbat begins, sitting at Paradis du Fruit, a post modern café in Paris, where the waiters are remnants of Algeria, Pondicherry and Jaffna and Saigon..
I miss my little island, Cuba, very much, and the untold genuine affections there, can’t call them or chat with them on line or enter into regular communications with them by post, but the tenderness is there.
On this Shabbat, welcome to some new friends from Ljubljana and Warszawa, hello to my friends from the Malay peninsula and the islands, my Kickapoo and hocank sisters, an old friend LMS, other friends in Miami, San Antonio, BA, SP, La Habana and elsewhere, our circle of love grows bigger and bigger…
So, dear friends, brothers, teachers, sisters, lovers and others…
Welcome to this world within a world, we are living a Dream, dreaming of itself (said the Jhu!huasi from !tsumkwe in the Kalahari)…

mercredi 6 juin 2007

The Nightingale of Zanzibar

On my first visit to Zanzibar, I had journeyed there from South Africa. At the end of a long flight from Atlanta to Cape Town, my good friend was waiting at the airport, who had arrived a few days earlier.
We both had read in the inflight magazine of South African Airways about a nearly forgotten relic of Taarab music, the native music of the Swahili speakers of the coast. We made a mental note about Bi Ki Dude.
After the initial excitement of Stone Town and staying an extremely cosy hotel in old town and savouring the arab atmosphere of the unique island of Zanzibar, we asked around for Bi Ki Dude. Every one has heard about her, but no one could give us the exact location where we could find her.
It was good to visit the art gallery and meet the photographer Jaffri, well known locally and with some international following. He suggested an itinerary of the other coast of the island, Unguja as it is known in Swahili, also to take in a taarab show at the hotel, built with the aesthetics of the former east germany..
The music, Taarab, is infectious and we were swaying to the beat and trying to understand various nuances of singers and dancers on stage.
Mohammed was the name of our driver, smoking thin cigarettes, with a cap on his head, he walked in crooked steps , scissor steps in medical parlance because of a congenital anomaly. He gave us a tour of the island and were quite happy with his directions and descriptions. We thought Mohammed might have heard of Bi Ki Dude, he was delighted at our question. If you want, I will take you to her house. We jumped at this opportunity, soon we were going through narrow alleyways of a township. We came to a small concrete house and from it emerged, a frail lady with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. We entered the house with her, and sat down amongst memorabilia of her life, including a plastic suitcase with a luggage tag still attached of her last trip to Europe many many years ago.
What a lovely afternoon it turned out to be. Bi Ki Dude regaling us with her hilarious past, rather savoury considering the Moslem nature of her community and country. The presence of alcohol was betrayed by the various cheap bottles. All in all it looked liked a place, a souvenir of a glorious past but as the conversation proceeded, Bi Ki Dude was anything but of the past. Close to 80 years old, she was vigorous in her energy, remembered clearly her many lovers including some well placed officials in Oman and also her travels. There was a small tape recorder which could play some of the tapes of her music, which we devoured with love and respect.
Today is 17th May 2007. I am sitting in front of the computer at the residence in the UmonHon Indian Reservation, and listening to BBC Radio over the Internet when a news item about Bi Ki Dude came over the waves. A documentary has been made and it would be soon released.
That bit of news item, took me back to the summer days of a year past, the stone town, gujerati stores, walk along the beach and the omnipresence of dhows and their demand on our memories and nostalgia.
On an impulse I opened the iTunes web site and looked under Bi Kidude, sure enough they had three CDs of her songs and I downloaded a few of them and listened to them. Her nightingale like voice,was the same I remembered, in that stone cottage ..
A little pleasure in this gift of a life…
Bi Kidude
Bi Kidude is an institution on Zanzibar, and remains East Africa’s greatest living musical legend. The doyenne of Zanzibar taarab, she also plays other musical styles including more ngoma-based unyago and msondo. Kidude started out her musical career in the 1920s, and learnt many of her songs with Siti bint Saad. As Bi Fatuma binti Baraka (Bi Kidude) herself says, “How can I stop singing? When I sing I feel like a 14-year old girl again.”
This intriguing and inspiring woman is a repository and leading exponent of Swahili culture. Bi Kidude’s shows last year at the Swiss EXPO were a national sensation. Her artistic talents were acknowledged by ZIFF at the second festival in 1999, when she was awarded “Lifetime Achievement Award for Contribution to the Arts.”
Recordings: ‘Zanzibar’ (Retro Afric), ‘Machozi ya Huba’ (Heartbeat Records)Contact: Tel: 0747 475001

Maqroll El Gaviero Judio

A tale of a wandering Jew. Dedicated to Maqroll the Gaviero, an imagination of Alvaro Mutis.
Though his life was devoid of danger, unless you call fifteen foot waves in the open seas off the coast of Funafuti smooth sailing, his desire to accept only his longings as his home made him dangerous to women who were always dreaming of becoming someone else’s wives. Once he casually asked an Ecuadorian who had relentlessly pursued him what her plans were for the morning, the suppressed fury of rejection in this Andean from a port full of black sands was to destroy his social standing all along the rugged pacific coast. He dined with the diligent bourgeoisie who carefully nurture the deliberate, mean spirited hypocrisies of their convictions. In reply to a question of a customs agent in the island of Hispaniola , he could not codify for them his imprecise profession and was suspected of running drugs while the actual purpose of his visit to the island was ignored. Abandoned by a mother who specialized in making others loose their power of speech, thus made a vagrant at birth at a distant corner of the Portuguese empire, he had traveled by trains along so many rivers as an adolescent. The forces of water pushed him into a period of wanderings among the small islands that dot the pacific ocean. He quoted about the frivolity of life, the morning after reading his favourite Norwegian author, the village was gulped in a wave that caused the island nation he was visiting to declare itself homeless. Attraction to the seas continued, now to different islands where steep mountains touched gently the fervent oceans. He toyed with the idea of becoming decent in one of them but by then he had become addicted to business class travel. Serrated mountains, irregular lands, angry seas, late model aircrafts, long discussions on most obscure topics became his passion. He tried in vain to master the dialect of St. Cristobal where ear shattering din is confused for happiness. After contracting illness along desolate road near Andhra Pradesh he was thrown out by some vague, somnambulistic protodravidian official who could not pronounce his Hebrew name, into the comfort of the lounge of the Airlines of the island of Singapore at an airport so modern that he thought he had settled down for good, samosas and curry puffs with freshly squeezed orange juice will be served everyday for the rest of his life by illiterate Indonesian maids brought over with false promises. During the moments of fever, a sense of siege overtook his body and he shared the pain, paralysis and potentially dangerous impotence of the island of his little girl. On receiving a note from the Malabar coast that home of an aging Jew was about to be passed on to him, he imagined himself ensconced there, waited on by thin Malabari Moslems who questioned their faith, with his traveling companion, the Prince of Palms and the little girl who loved him so much that she continually adoringly attached herself to other lovers in faraway lands she dreamt of visiting with him. Making vagrancy a profession young people all over the world could aspire to, he plans to convert the 700 year old synagogue, when it is not in use, of course, into a Museum of Vagrant Peoples where others may find refuge from the restriction imposed upon them by their fear of being alive