mercredi 22 octobre 2014


Ebola in Sierra Leone: battling sadness, fear and disgust on the frontline
An MSF psychologist reveals the trauma of dealing with the Ebola outbreak for medics, cleaners and the families of the dead

MSF Medecins Sans Frontiers
In the USA  Doctors without Borders

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was founded in 1971 in France by a group of doctors and journalists in the wake of war and famine in Biafra. Their aim was to establish an independent organization that focuses on delivering emergency medicine aid quickly, effectively and impartially.

Dr Bernard Kouchner who was to become Foreign Minister of France was one of the founding members, so was a French Ambassador to Senegal.
They have about 30 000 workers in about 20 countries around the world. They are at places where emergency care is needed and where medical care does not exist and also take on socially responsible projects such as Rape Victims in Honduras, Refugees in the Sea, setting up field hospitals in war zones and saving lives.
It was recently announced that 1000th survivor of Ebola epidemic was released by MSF from their centre in Liberia.
I wanted to follow up on the story and what I found was even more heartbreaking. This increased my esteem for these volunteers, very well qualified in their fields, who leave their comfortable lives and put their lives on line.

No other single country, let alone a poor and small one like CUBA, can hold a candle to the fire of enthusiasm for International Humanitarian Medicine of CUBA. Currently about 79 000 doctors are serving around 69 countries in the developing world, in places so remote that many people have not heard of them: Tuvalu, Timor Leste, Kiribati, CAR. The list is long. Cuba also educates about 18000 students at their different medical schools so that they can go back to the poorer countries they came from, in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Oceania.
CUBA has sent 165 health professionals, all of them volunteers and plan to send another 300 to the front line to combat Ebola epidemic. The notice for volunteers went out and this is a response from a friend of mine, who is a Psychologist in Baracoa, Cuba
aquí es el mensaje: 
Creo Que la Ayuda y Voluntad de los cubanos en Sierra Leona es de Una Verdadera Misión, y Siento Mucho, Mucho, Mucho, sin Tener La Oportunidad de Poder ir, y HACER Lo Que REALMENTE nos humaniza: el Contacto Con Otros Seres necesitados. Yo estaria muy orgullosa, ogullosa REALMENTE, Si Fuera Médico y Pudiera ir, desde el Fondo d emi Corazón. 

La escritora es una mujer, de 29 años, una madre y embarazada, y un psicóloga líder en Baracoa, Cuba.
When her friend, who is also a Psychologist was asked to volunteer, my dear friend counseled her and said: It would be a great honour for any of us Cubans to serve these people who need our help.

I have always worked with Psychologists in my work and research.  After realizing that a degree in medicine alone was not sufficient to look after the Indians, I went back to London to study Anthropology, so that my own humanitarian vision for the Indians could turn away from the biomedical, machine model to a much more culturally sensitive, human model. I am very lucky to have as good friends the staff at the Psychology Unit of the National Institute of Endocrinology in La Habana, Cuba and I have learned so much from them, especially about the Psychological aspects of Suffering from Chronic Illnesses, especially Diabetes and Hypertension and their complications.
Do we need Psychologists and Anthropologists to combat humanitarian crises whether in Africa such as Ebola Epidemic or at home, to deal with the suffering of patients with Cancer and Diabetes and other illnesses?
I will write a longer blog about MSF Psychologist from Trondheim, Norway, Ane Bjøru Fjeldsæter whose blogs can read at The Guardian UK and also about the 1000th Ebola survivor at the MSF treatment Centre in Liberia!
After reading Ane, you would realize how much a human approach rather than a mechanical approach can help the suffering of patients with any sort of illness or disease.

I dedicate this to my friends and colleagues in CUBA
Rosa Maria LG, Loraine L, Adriana A, Madeline M, Baby F, Yanetsy C and Cari G.

lundi 20 octobre 2014


This blog is to break your stereotypic view of what the North American Indians consume.
When I was preparing to write this blog, I thought about the common nature of the philosophies of American Indians and Yogic and Buddhist philosophies. When I saw this quote from Swami Sivananda, I thought what the Black Elk had said on a similar theme.

Prepare the soil of your heart. The Guru will appear before you and sow the spiritual seed.
Sri Swami Sivananda

No other people in recent memory had to adjust to an uninvited group of people into their country as much as the American Indians had to. The food changed, the residence changed, the way of procuring a living changed and other belief systems were imposed.
One hundred years after the loss of freedom of the American Indians, I as a foreigner to their land in every sense of the world am confronted with the problems of their history and collaborate with them to find an answer.
I was recently visiting a Youth Diabetes Prevention Programme among the Lakota Indians. I am always glad to visit them because they are one of the successful programmes and the workers are very enthusiastic about their mission.
Taking a page from the Indian Philosophy about Sharing, Food as Medicine and Relationship, we made the best use of our lunchtimes to take turns to prepare fresh food for us all that we then shared over conversations and other pleasantries. There was a cementing of the relationships between all of us, and food was the symbol.

We are humbled about our work, the social nature of it and the success we have and most of all the relationships we have built with young and old members of the various communities in this vast reservation of Indians.

So Bon Apetite!

dimanche 19 octobre 2014


When I showed a photo of a Breton family get together, taken in a village in Brittany in France, to an American Friend of mine at the UmonHon Indian Reservation, her comment was revealing,
Not a single blonde hair, all of them black hair!
For her, black hair has a great significance since all American Indians have black hair and all the native peoples she had encountered had black hair. Of course when I told her that Breton people are the Native People of what is now France, she was indeed elated.
{DOLMEN at Carnac Prehistoric Site, Brittany. In Breton, Dol means table, Men means stone, so stone table)
If you do not have admixture with European blood, the hair of a native person tend to be black, it is a kind of universal rule.
I was in seat 2 G, busily putting down on paper my wonderful experience with the Cheyenne River Lakota this past week, when I was interrupted by the older man on the other side of the aisle.
(My CRST YDPP Visiting Card in an Unusual Location)

In what language are you writing? Even though I knew the full significance of his question, I answered, in English. I thought so, he said, and his wife, an older blonde lady with very white skin, with a definite Texan accent, wanted to know whether I was writing a book and where she could buy it! I told her I am writing about American Indians and that my writings are of interest to very few people. She replied, and my heart sank: I am an Apache!  I was speechless for various reasons, and her husband reiterated, my wife is an Apache.
I extricated myself from the situation, as gently as possible, by saying, there are about 8 million North Americans with some Indian blood or other but only about 1 million American Indians live in the Reservations.
Even though my Indian teachers ask me to view these people who so desperately want to claim an Indian ancestry, favourably, as they cant claim to be Indian and at the same time harbour anti Indian racist sentiments!
I thought of my Meskwakia teacher who once said: When the white man has one drop of Indian blood, they claim to be Indian; I don't see them rushing to proudly proclaim that they are Black if they have one drop of African Blood!
I was watching the concert by Diego El Cigala on my ipad during the flight and I realized that all gypsies also have dark hair and I don't hear people rushing forward to claim themselves as gypsies!
(A Meskwakia Indian friend of mine in his tribal regalia)
And Mexicans and Mexican Americans, the largest group of people with a significant native blood are happy to denounce their “Indian-ness”, something they perceive as Inferior, like the Ladinos of Guatemala.
In the West, USA or Australia, where the white people are so tout their “native” credentials, it is because of the society’s perception of native people being spiritual and leading harmonious lives with nature. This romantic notion, which is far from reality, makes people who live in Texas or places where there are no Indians to claim to be Apache or Mission Indians. (A Mexican nurse claimed to be a Mission Indian!)
My plea to these people is this. You claiming to be Indian, really distort the picture of what it means to be an Indian in America. Having just come back from the poorest county in the USA, with a mean per capita income of only 6000 dollars, beset with thousands of social and economic problems, most of those Indians do not have the luxury of touting their Indian-ness, aboriginalidad, they are busy being humans, being Indian is not that important to them, when there is no food, no police protection, no heating in the house…
In counties where there are large number of Indians, such as Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia and Peru, the mixed blood population is only too eager to shed their Indian Identity, as they don't want to be associated with the reality of that identity. In countries where there are hardly any Indians or natives, such as Canada, USA, Australia, Argentina, there is a fashion among people to claim a distant Indian or native ancestor. In India and Malaysia, the original inhabitants, called Adivasi in India and Orang Asli in Malaysia are looked down upon.

If you want to know more about Indians, please respect them. If you are truly interested, come and live in a reservation for a few months.
That blonde lady, will no longer claim to be an Apache, if she had lived with the Indians! This concept of wannabee is different from the Going Native concept popular among the Colonial days but that arose out of respect for the native populations.
Just a few minutes before boarding the flight to Miami where I had the encounter with the White Apache (not White Mountain Apache!), an Indian said hello to me, I see you are wearing a Cheyenne River Sioux tribe Jacket. We chatted and within a minute we had established a common world that we both know. He is from Crow Creek Sioux Reservation where his wife is an administrator; they were on their way to a conference in Nashville.
In symbolic healing, one talks about a Mythical World, mundo mitico, which is common for all. I realize that while not being an Indian, I have been given the privilege of entering the mythical world of Indians and able to communicate with them. Interactions with Indians are usually open with no hidden agenda and there is usually some form of exchange, you establish a common world and then you communicate. Within five minutes, we had already mentioned names of individuals or families we both were familiar with!

He knows that I am non-Indian familiar with Indians and that he does not have to proclaim he is Indian, because he is.

Both he and his wife had Black Hair!
El Cigala in Asia with me! He has long dark thick BLACK hair! Listen to him singing, in his inimitable Gypsy style, Dos Gardenias para ti, a Cuban Classic!
This morning, I went to have my Cortadito at my favorite hole in the wall cafe in Miami. How do you like your coffee, with or without sugar, asked a lady, obviously not Cuban by her speech.. I said to her, I beg you, please make me a cortadito like is made in La Habana.. estilo de la Habana!
she smiled and asked me, where are you from?
I had been thinking about it as I walked to the cafe:
My Body is Australian but my heart is Cuban, I smiled and all of us laughed
Cuerpo Australiano, Corazon Cubano!
Celebrating the arrival of Shabbat at the Lounge at the Hilton Double Tree Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Shirt courtesy of my brother Eliyahu who shleps them, Bag with Che's face, gift of a friend in La Habana. It was an evening to remember, Kippah made by Sarah Cohen of Cochin, India

vendredi 17 octobre 2014


Cuban doctors fighting ebola: Heroes, not martyrs

Milena Recio • October 14, 2014
Cuban doctors fighting ebola: Heroes, not martyrs
HAVANA — Several media with worldwide reach have reported on Cuba’s decision to send 165 health professionals to West Africa to fight the ebola epidemic.
Notable among the many media voices that have recognized that gesture was that of columnist Adam Taylor of The Washington Post, to whom the small island with only 11 million people has become “a crucial provider” of the medical participation in that region of the world, struck by a disease that has taken more than 4,000 lives and has begun to knock at the doors of Europe and the United States.
It was Taylor’s analysis that Cuba, although not a rich country, could manage this “exportation” of health care precisely because it has a universal, public and free health-care system, guaranteed by its Constitution.
More than 50,000 Cuban doctors are in 66 countries, supporting their health systems, especially in primary medical attention, often in communities that are hard to reach and have very little medical coverage.
This tradition of solidarity has existed for decades and only very recently has been translated into revenue for the country. For a few years now, an increasingly larger number of those missions have been organized through intergovernment contracts that financially benefit both the Cuban state and the health workers who participate in them.
With or without financial inducement, it is not the first time that Cuban medical workers expose themselves, in truly dangerous missions, to contact not only with highly lethal viruses and bacterias but also to living conditions that are uncomfortable and risky, such as stark poverty, filth, crime, and the post-traumatic stress sydrome that affects individuals after earthquakes, hurricanes and epidemics.
If in those cases there had been no need — much need — for a friendly hand, the intelligence and the heart of a doctor who saves and cures, Cubans of several generations would not have participated for decades in helping so many human lives.
Paraphrasing a well-known saying, the need was the mother of those children.
But what remains of the terrorist media machine against Cuba, already discredited, continues to insist on reducing to mere commerce the participation of this small group of 165 doctors who arrived last week in Sierra Leone.
Worse still, they’re trying to picture those doctors as a threat to the Cuban population (including, by rebound, the population of Miami), trying to convince their public that those doctors would inevitably introduce ebola into the island after being in contact with it.
They morbidly delight in the possibility of their death — touch wood and cross fingers — and try to unleash panic with the “long knives” of suspicion and uncertainty.
They even suggest that most people in Cuba will reject the missionaries or fear them, since allegedly Cubans don’t trust the methods and resources of protection that are used, or the care that the Cuban authorities and the World Health Organization provide to those medics.
However, not only the media on the island but also many others, such as CNN, have reported on the intense process of preparation that the doctors undergo in Cuba before leaving.
Patrick Oppmann, CNN reporter: Cuban health workers suit up to fight ebola. Right now, it’s just practice, but soon they will be facing the real thing. This medical institute in Havana is the island’s ebola boot camp, providing a grueling two-week training course before workers head to the front lines of the epidemic in Africa. 
This is where the Cuban doctors and nurses practice treating patients infected with ebola. They have to repeat those procedures again and again, because a slight mistake on the field could have fatal consequences. 
Already, 165 health workers from the island have been sent to West Africa, with close to another 300 soon to join them. All are volunteers, officials say. For at least six months, they plan to treat people infected with ebola. Before they go, they learn to put on and take off several different pieces of protective equipment, leaving no gaps where ebola could enter. Despite the training, officials say, they will be in constant danger. 
Dr. Jorge Pérez Ávila, director, Pedro Kouri Institute of Tropical Medicine: We’ve instructed them so that they will not get sick, but they are at great risk. It is our hope that none of them do get sick. We have the conviction that perhaps a few of them will fall ill, but the majority will not. 
Oppmann: The peril they face, Osmany Rodríguez says, will force them to stay focused. 
Dr. Osmany Rodríguez, a volunteer: To be afraid is not a big problem. I think that being afraid will help us to protect [ourselves] even more againt that viral disease, because if we feel that we’re so sure about everything that we do every day, it may be more dangerous than being afraid of the ebola disease. 
Oppmann: Cuba is, by its own government’s admission, a poor and small country but it has  taken the lead in fighting ebola. 
Dr. José Luis di Fabio, Pan American Health Organization: And we hope that Cuba’s example will take the scare that’s behind going to work in West Africa. Probably, people will be a little less scared and accept this health challenge to go and provide assistance to the African population. 
Oppmann: Cuban officials say they’re doing what they can, but to stop the epidemic from spreading further, the fight against ebola needs to become a wider effort.
We all fear for the doctors’ lives, of course. To deny that would be foolish or cynical. But we’re not looking at martyrs — we’re looking at heroes.
They have voluntarily entered a situation of risk, but they can come out of it unhurt while giving life to others. To slow down the pace of the infection will depend on ending the lack of care that most patients are suffering today. And to end the media’s lack of interest, of course.
Many people react with admiration to the honorable gesture of these Cubans. The mission will expand because the contingent will grow to more than 400 professionals in the next several weeks. They will remain in place for at least six months. Hopefully, the mission will serve as an example to mobilize those who haven’t mobilized and raise the awareness of those who are not aware.
Last Sunday, the newspaper The Guardian described it thus: “The small medical team on the front line against ebola has been a small island: Cuba.” Meanwhile, the paper said, the great powers remain intent only in stopping the spread of ebola at their own borders and shipping supplies — and troops — to West Africa.
“We need a mobilization 20 times larger,” said Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations. A mobilization of aid, consisting on field laboratories, vehicles, helicopters, protection equipment, capabilities for medical evacuation, and well-trained medical personnel.
Those who know ebola say that it must be stopped and reversed in Africa, along with the brutal poverty of the people, before the crisis becomes too late for an unthinkable number of people worldwide.