mercredi 7 octobre 2015


Personal thoughts about IRAN INDIA MALAYSIA
The idea to write this blog came when I was on a long distance flight reading FT of October 3. 2015
There was an interview with Daryush Shayegan, the Iranian Intellectual, who speaks six languages including Turkish, Sanskrit and German and has published 17 books mostly in French.

He reminded me very much of his contemporary scholar of the History of Islam, Bernard Lewis, a British Jew.
I thought of India, and especially the only place I know in India is a small town in the southwestern part.  Hindus, Muslims and Christians share the space but only grudgingly. Muslims are the most aggressive and most disliked; the Christians the more sophisticated and the Hindus possibly the more intellectual.
Then there is poor Malaysia, where the majority culture is backtracking fast into the past, the Chinese who are the engines of the society afraid of the Other and the Indians, oh squeezed oranges of Malaysia, waiting for visas to Australia or USA or Canada or any other country that would admit them and recognize their academic qualifications usually gained in India while maintaining a distance from the land of their ancestors.
Of these three countries the most interesting from any point of view is Iran despite a theocratic government but the people have managed to free themselves into a post Islamic situation. 
As Shayegan would say: the young generation has plural identities. But in India and Malaysia, the identities are ethnic as well as Western, but a poor photocopy of the Western civilization. A large proportion of Iranian educated people especially women can assume their places in the west without problem, in contrast to those from India or Malaysia. At a recent International congress of my medical specialty, Endocrinology, there were at least 80 Iranian young scholars, mostly women. They were self-poised and confident and about to take on their path to a greater glory for themselves, their families and perhaps for Iran itself. One of them said to me: I am glad the theocracy forced Islam upon us, making it so easy for us to reject it. The Indians at the congress who numbered a few, had a distinct cultural luggage with them, they acted as if they were in disguise, hiding their culture to which they are tethered. When it comes to intellectuals, Iran is way ahead of India, which has about 20 times its population; Malaysia and Singapore are not even on the screen. As a good Chinese friend of mine in Malaysia said, our ancestors migrated here to survive and they inculcated the survival instinct which is counterproductive to intellectual endeavours. How many of you can name a single Malaysian or Singaporean writer or poet?  India because of its sheer size of humanity has produced a number of excellent writers, my own favourites are Pankaj Mishra and Amitav Ghosh, both of whom live abroad, but who has the depth of Shamloo?

But what strikes you when you meet someone from Iran or Malaysia or Singapore (a wasted Nation) or India is that HOW MUCH WESTERN THEY THINK THEY ARE?
Western dress, frequenting bars with low class Europeans and eating Italian food does not make you WESTERN! Why is this attraction to the WESTERNERS rather than the WESTERN culture and philosophy? Iranians can stand up to Westerners as equals whereas other Asians consider the European a superior beings, sad considering the nature of Europeans in their midst.
I found Sheyagan’s approach to dialogue of civilization very refreshing.  To quote, Shayegan says his idea was not so much an east-west dialogue but for Iran to initiate a dialogue between eastern civilizations, through dedicated centres in Cairo, New Delhi and Tokyo.
Buddhism went to China from India. It was an Indian prince, Dara by name who translated Upanishads from Sanskrit to Persian.
Dara Shikoh (Urduدارا شِكوه‎), (Persianدارا شكوه ‎‎) M 28 October 1615 – 30 August 1659 [Julian]/9 September 1659 [Gregorian]) was the eldest son and the heir-apparent of the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. His name دارا شكوه in Persian means "as magnificent as Dara". He was favoured as a successor by his father and his sister Princess Jahanara Begum Sahib, but was defeated by his younger brother Prince Muhiuddin (later the EmperorAurangzeb) in a bitter struggle for the imperial throne.
Did you know that partition of India and the exodus of 1947 may not have happened if the Moghul Prince Dara who took an enlightened view, rather than sectarian, of Hinduism and Islam. His brother, Aurangazeb defeated him thus chartering another destiny for the country later to be called India, which had known nothing but foreign rule until 1948.
Tolerance is what is necessary, absent in Malaysia, India and Singapore but preached by all intellectuals in Iran.
I have great faith in Iran, great faith in its future, since it has already gone into the future, waiting for the ageing Theocrats to disappear. Living in a country like Cuba, which is already living in the future, without sacrificing the humanity of the individual, I can well understand it.  India may send a rocket to the moon, but it will be a long time before it can catch up with the humanity of a poor little country like Cuba
What I found in my travels in India, Malaysia and Singapore was INTOLERANCE of the other, as if it has been woven into the fabric of the society and a total lack of understanding of the western philosophy, because they were not tutored in their longstanding and magnificent philosophies of India or China. Constructed identities such as Malaysia and Singapore makes it easier to cut your connections or pretend to be something new without connections to the past. A soul with roots is an injustice, said the poet.
It was interesting to learn that the court language of Delhi of Moghuls was Persian and most of what we call “Indian food” manufactured by Bangladeshis from Silhet province is actually Iranian in origin? Modified of course with spices available locally. Any Iranian can walk in to an “Indian” restaurant in the west and identify the dishes.
The word Moghul itself is Persian, denoting a Mongol or a Barbarian, descendants of Tamerlane. (Whose birthplace I visited in Uzbekistan)
So I salute you, Iran without Mullahs, the Iran of Hafiz and Khayyam, the Iran of Makhmalbouf and Panahi, the Iran of Shamloo and Shajarian!
And Soheil Nafisi! And his haunting voice…
(you can watch Soheil Nafisi, Ahmad Shamloo at youtube)

And to quote Shayegan for my friends in the East:
Tolerance is accepting the other and taming your ego.

I am a Jew, I look forward to visiting Iran
And to my father, who spoke Persian.

dimanche 4 octobre 2015


One visionary leader in the year 2000 went against the then enthusiastic endorsement of globalization by eager politicians from the Left and the Right, from the East and the West. He predicted that Globalization will increase the gap between the rich and the poor will create a greater proportion of marginalization among the Youth of the World.
What he did not mention that Globalization would also bring PRE-DIABETES, a condition created and hijacked by the Drug Companies (Pharma) and the Doctors in their employ.
The current mentality prevalent in the medical circles and exported to the developing countries, is that, if a collection of laboratory tests could be given a name (Whatever happened to Metabolic Syndrome?, the current catch words are Pre-Diabetes and Cardiac Risk in Diabetes), then it can be treated with medications, letting the doctors and other care providers off the hook from searching for the reasons and treating the social conditions that gave rise to “Pre-Diabetes”
(Acanthosis Nigricans a skin marker easily seen on the back of the neck has a good correlation with impending glucose dysfunction)
The Prevention programmes of the Omaha and Winnebago Tribes (in an isolated part of Nebraska, thus of USA and the world) were the first ones to point out that the condition that gives rise to Diabetes, can be detected in children and it was purely cultural and social in nature, Wisely they did not assign a name to it, wisely avoiding medicalization of a social condition, which might punish the sufferer with castigation and accusation. The medicalization might lead to drug treatment of a social condition which needs social interventions.
Leticia is a small town at the Amazon region where the borders of Colombia, Peru and Brazil converge. It had changed colonial hands more than once, mind you, the local native population were never consulted and now is the capital of Amazonas province of Colombia. Indians who were Peruvians all of a sudden became Colombian and of course they had relatives in Brazil. I had written about how this fragmentation destroyed their identity and led them to a cultural barrenness. Afraid that the town might maintain its Peruvian identity, much like the Amazonian towns on the Peruvian side, the government of Colombia encouraged people from Antioquia, Bogota and Tolima among others to come and settle or at least influence the character of Leticia. Many came, and most stayed and it is their descendants who own most of the businesses, whether selling handicrafts or imported from Bogota goods or Auto Rickshaws from India or Motorcycles from China. The Indian once again is pushed into the background and the tremendous mixing gave rise to an Indian look without an Indian culture to the town.

I am a Letician, became the cry of Identity, along with Globalization of plastic produces, it also became an identity to be a Pre-Diabetic, as the population quickly put on weight, gathering a taste for the plastic food imported while living in the Amazon basin!
One such entrepreneur is CR, a descendant from the time of mixing in Leticia, which gave him a dark hue skin colour and pretty white wife. He owns LetiColor Leticia where all your photographic needs are attended to. His operation is rather busy, with pregnant women coming to be photographed with their bare bulging bellies while the husband or partner tenderly holds her, clad in nothing but underpants! Intimacy revealed at this special time of their lives, occasionally an older child or children are included in the photo, usually fancily dressed in laces and ribbons and cheap Chinese shoes.

I wanted to get a message printed on a Tee Shirt and another one on a drinking mug.  I asked him the price and he stated them, shouted some orders and I tried fitting the tee shirt on his wife who obliged thus making it possible to choose a size and a style.
While chatting, laughing and watching his coworkers busying themselves with the mixture of clientele that is very representative of Leticia, I noticed a small pill card containing a few Metformin 850 mg tablets. I looked at it and asked him, are you not too young to be taking these?
CR who is not yet 30 began his story. His business is flourishing that means that he is always sitting at his computer and works long hours. There has not been any exercise for the past many years and the food portions had increased as had his body size. His wife chimed in, he does not like to walk, has his little car parked in front of the store. A random blood sugar had been done and a doctor had interpreted the results to be Pre Diabetic in range and ordered these medications, he takes one a day regularly, a habit which is new to him.
Oh Globalization, Pre Diabetes is thy name, I thought to myself. I was genuinely concerned that the attraction of wealth and irregular hours would make this young man with a pretty wife, succumb to the kinds of consequences of high blood sugar that we see in North America. I started talking to him right then and there, about nutrition, what to avoid in this Amazonian backyard and what to increase , told him the difference from Fruit juice freshly made and easily available rather than the ones in the can or a box. Two things you must avoid, if you are not to get Diabetes, one is the excessive desire of the Colombian palate for Bread (many a Colombian might have bread and milk for dinner!) and avoid any drink that comes in a can, and can I avoid Diabetes if I take these medications? He asked eagerly. This is a social disease and the results would come from your changing your lifestyle, he screwed his nose and forehead, but his pretty wife looked at him pleadingly, poor favor, listen to the doctor.

Two days later I came back to the store, I was given the merchandise I had ordered but CR was not in the shop. I told them that I am going around to the Café Barbacoa for a Pintado (small café much similar to Cortadito of Cuba). An Amazonian downpour delayed my return, but there he was. I had the Accu Check device to check the blood sugar. He had eaten two hours before, his breakfast, without bread. He said to me, doctor, I am happy you are interested in me; I will follow your advice as I don’t want to get Diabetes. The machine showed his random blood sugar reading to be 119 mg/dl which is a fairly good value two hours after breakfast. I congratulated him and he looked so pleased. When I come back next time, I want you to be leaner, in all fairness had lost about 7 kg, his pretty wife looking on encouragingly. He sounded genuine, when he thanked me.

I told him, I had received my merchandise, and that I would like him to email me the designs and I wanted to pay.
No, Doctor, you have been kind to me, I cannot accept any payment from you.
The amount involved was not large but I was really touched by this gesture. I handed him my card and said to him, you can write to me with any medical questions you may had.

Gracias y Hasta Luego
As I am returning to the Indians of Nebraska, I cannot begin to reread that great Medical Anthropological text:
Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man
A study in Terrror and Healing
By Michael Taussig, an Australian Jewish Psychiatrist with a PhD degree in Medical Anthropology who teaches at New York.

It would be a good background reading about the Globalization and the disease among a population subdued and terrorized in the Amazonas in the 19th and early 20th Century, when the Peruvian City of San Antonio became the Colombian City of Leticia

vendredi 2 octobre 2015


I have just been to Leticia, in Colombian Amazon, my fourth visit in four months. As Pico Iyer would say, I am amazed how familiar I feel in Leticia, a town 500 miles from the nearest road to the other parts of Colombia, a city most Colombians do not know. If you are interested in the Amazon River and the cultures around it, you would certainly know about Leticia.  Also last night I finished reading an essay by my good friend YMC in Kuala Lumpur, a narrative about her identity as a Chinese Malaysian.
 (this was the first Indian in Leticia who said to me: I dont belong to any tribe)
(On the left, an Ethnic Indian who said, I am Nothing; on the right is a Ticuna woman who still uses the Ticuna language, which has five tones and difficult to learn, at home)
The main indigenous group that inhabits the Forest nearby is Ticuna or Maguta. Their creation story as depicted at the Maguta museum in Benjamin Constant was explained to me by its director, Metacu, whose Portuguese name is Nino Fernandes. The Great Spirit of the Maguta people had four sons who came out of his knees and each one was designated special talents. One of the brothers Yoi wanted to fish and each time he yanked and threw the line back to the land, the fish transformed itself into People. An earlier myth relates a younger brother Ipo grated himself with the thorns of a bush and that was thrown into the River and transformed themselves into Fish. They are a large tribe by Brasilin and Colombian standards and Metacu told me that in the Solimoes region of Western Brazil there are at least 8 villages of more than 1000 Ticuna and there are large territories which belong to the Tikuna/Ticuna.

 (face marking distinguish people and their respective clans)
 (sequestration hut for puberty ceremonies)
 This was the first Indigenous Museum in Brazil

(here with the director of the Museu, Metacu, a Ticuna from a village called Filadelfia, who speaks Ticuna, Portugese and Spanish)
Benjamin Constant and Tabatinga are in Brazil, Leticia is in Colombia, Santa Rosa and Islandia are in Peru, but Ticuna live in all three countries. This artificial division has had some culturally damaging effects on Ticuna for whom these borders are artificial. For example, as Evangelical Christianity has become popular in Brazil, Ticuna living there are also swept along with it. Borders and the wars between Peru and Colombia as well as Brazil with its neighbours all have contributed to the cultural decimation of the Ticuna. But as one of their elders describes: o povo que vai vivir sempre... We are the people who will last forever.
Visiting the museum and chatting with its director, as well as visiting a Ticuna community which strongly clings to their cultural values, I began thinking of the many Indians who live in Leticia. Colombia who describes themselves as: We are nothing; we don’t belong to any tribe!
 (she also said she didnt belong to any tribe)
(wearing a fake Ticuna headgear used at schools)
The grand majority of the Indians in this region are Ticuna, with Huitoto, Yagua and Kokama in small numbers.  It seems that when there is a cross border marriage or alliance between members of various tribes, they seem to lose their cultural identity very fast.
Over the centuries a system of clans had developed and intra clan marriage was and is a taboo. Perhaps these cross border marriages break this taboo which then castigates the person (by family or self-castigated) to a no man’s land. They are racially Indians and gather around other Indians, who are in similar position, and very soon a Ghetto is formed and the original identity is lost. I am a Leticia, is an oft heard refrain.  In rejecting or being castigated for their cultural identiy, they reject their ethnic identity, so they end with nothing. They intermarry among themselves and soon a distinct group of people are born. The best example are the Mestizos of Mexico, who once upon a time had a Spanish ancestor but rejected their cultural identity and ethnic identity and now have a distinct Mexican identity which they share with Mexican citizens of Jewish, Arab, Japanese, Spanish ancestry. I echo my Meskwaki teacher’s words: When you ask a white American, she said, they say they are ¼ English, ¼ French, ¼ German and ¼ Romanian; but they don’t realize that four ¼ do not add up to 1, but add up to zero.
The fact that the child belongs to the tribe and clan of the father also may confuse the issue when they are living in a city and not in their traditional “long houses or round houses”
As a Medical Anthropologist, I have a strong interest in this negation of one’s cultural identity which leads to problems of health. One can cling on to one’s Ethnic identity but reject the cultural identity and this leads to disease and illness and suffering.
The best example of this is the East Indians from Indian Subcontinent (the former British India) who die on an average 15 years earlier when they migrate to USA or Australia or UK. Because they maintain ethnic identity ( as Indians, Pakistanis in the UK, Indians in the USA, Asians in Australia) but are very eager to accept the immigrant country’s culture which is usually damaging, especially when it comes to adopting the new food for the old (good food of their native countries given up for processed food of the new countries)
Mexican-Americans have a high rate of disease burden; their socio economic status is the lowest of all immigrants, educational achievement the lowest.
Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet and writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature and who had lived in Los Angeles in the mid-1940s, had written the following in his introduction to his classic book, The Labyrinth of Solitude: (about Mexican Americans)
They have lived in the city for many years, wearing the same clothes and speaking the same language as the other inhabitants and they feel ashamed of their origin, yet no one will mistake them for authentic North Americans…. What distinguishes them. I think, is their furtive, restless air, they act like those who are wearing disguises, who are afraid of a stranger’s look because it would strip them and leave them stark naked.
I have noticed this furtive, restless air about East Indian migrants to the USA as well who avert looks of strangers, especially other migrants. As an aside, Octavio Paz had served as Mexican Ambassador to India.
It is nice to conclude this lament, quoting my favourite Chilean poet (who belonged to all), who also served as Chilean Ambassador to many countries including Burma, Ceylon and Dutch Indonesia
A slice of his poem EXILIO
Así es de injusta el alma sin raíces:
Rechaza la belleza que le ofrecen:
Busca su desdichado territorio:
Y sólo allí el martirio o el sosiego.
My translation:
A soul without roots is an injustice
It rejects the beauty that is offered to it
Looks for its own desperate country
Only there it finds martyrdom or Tranquility.

How does this impact the health of these "Cultural Nothings"?
To prove their eagerness to integrate into the majority culture they are imitating, they metabolically transform their bodies becoming fat and obese, filling up their ancestral gut metabolism with newly chemicalized food and processed powders, which create inflammation and disease.
(these are the drinks available at Islandia, Peru. Almost all of them are manufactured by Coca Cola Company!)

Once I gave a lecture on the Diseasess among
The Oppressed, The Exiled, The marginalized, The disciminated...
You can imagine the stress of belonging to any of these groups whether you are in the West or the East( Workers in the Gulf Region, Domestic workers in Malaysia and Singapore, Adivasi of India). We can do out little bit to help this helpless majority: Show respect, as the Meskwakia advised me.

Once again I will resort to Pablo
When your cultural identity is lost, you are like a boat without an anchor, it has no direction and goes wherever the wind takes you..

When you are eager to become an American or Australian, the first change which is feasible for you, before your accent become americanized, is to change the food..

As Pablo continues in his poem  Exilio
El destierro es redondo:
un círculo, un anillo:
le dan vuelta tus pies, cruzas la tierra,
no es tu tierra,
te despierta la luz, y no es tu luz,
la noche llega: faltan tus estrellas,
hallas hermanos: pero no es tu sangre.
eres como un fantasma avergonzado
de no amar más que a los que tanto te aman,
y aún es tan extraño que te falten
las hostiles espinas de tu patria,
el ronco desamparo de tu pueblo,
los asuntos amargos que te esperan
y que te ladrarán desde la puerta.
Fishermans Ode to the Sea by Pablo Neruda
It may also apply to the Ticuna who pray to the Amazon Spirits to Abre tu caja verde y dejanos a todos en las manos tu regalo de plata; el pez de cada dia 

Open your green treasure box and leave for all of us in our palms your gift  A FISH FOR EACH DAY

(this is a favourite poem of a Australo French Bretonne Jew in Quiberon, Bretagne, France)


jeudi 1 octobre 2015


This is a question often asked of me, and over the years, representing Cuba, in an unofficial capacity as its roving ambassador, self-described of course, I want to give an answer which makes sense of the reality of Cuba.
On a recent visit to the Amazon, I was asked to join a German couple and local professor of Ecology who was acting as their guide, for a trip to not so often visited places near Leticia, Colombia.

The professor who is a native of a northern province, is looking forward to his retirement in 3 years’ time and move back to his native state, but Colombian bird life is his passion
The German couple was very interested in Cuba and asked good qualitative questions about life in Cuba, praising its Educational and Health Systems. They thanked me for enlightening them about the grand gesture of a poor country like Cuba that sends doctors out to nearly 60 countries (69500 medical doctors, 14 500 in Brazil alone).
The Colombian professional on the other hand, emphatically said, he is interested in traveling through Colombia and does not have any interest in traveling abroad. To each his own, I pondered

Then he asked me, how much money do professionals make in Cuba?
I said to him, before I answer your question, I have to explain a couple of things and ask you some questions.
Do you have children going to school?  Yes
Do you have to pay for their education? Yes
And when they go to University?   Lots of money, he answered.
You see in Cuba that is free and open to everyone. If you are able to complete your studies, you will never be denied a place in an educational institution.
When you are sick, do you have to pay for your doctor? Yes
And are the medications free? No, and sometimes it is difficult to get
If your children are hospitalized do you have to pay for them? Yes I do.
You see in Cuba all that is free. No doctor has a mechanism of charging you and they are obliged to see you.
Like educators who have to go and see why a student is absent more than two days in a row, the doctors have to take extreme care of delicate patients such as those pregnant women with metabolic problems. Patients living far away from hospitals or in the rural or mountainous areas are brought to the nearest town and cared for before their delivery.
His jaws dropped. I cannot believe all these.
You see, I continued being proud of so many things about the island of Cuba, many politicians especially the right wing politicians in the USA use quantitative arguments to project an image of Cuba as a poor suffering country. It may be poor compared to many countries in this hemisphere including Colombia, but in the fields of Health and Education, we are richer than Colombia or many other countries in the hemisphere, perhaps even USA! Where there are millions of people without health care or unable to obtain a higher education.
Do you have a phone at home? Yes
How much do you pay per month for it? He mentioned a sum; I told him that in Cuba the telephone bill is a fraction of that
What about electricity? Same, a fraction of your price.
And do you have to pay a tax to the Government for owning your own home. Yes, but I dislike doing it.
In Cuba, such taxes do not exist.
He was aghast; he had only heard that Cuban professionals make a meager salary but had not had what else each and every Cuban receives.
He was feeling very down, perhaps something he believed in, had been questioned.
I continued, with all that, I do wish Cubans were paid more, they deserve to be paid more and in the not too distant a future, that would come true...
Later on in the conversation, he was surprised that I had a good understanding of the situation with Indians along the Amazon River...

It is nice to pay back my little Island for all the wonderful gifts it has given me, most importantly such good friends!


The amazon conjures up various images in the mind of the European or their descendants in USA. It is painting of a savage on to a landscape that is impenetrable and a group of people who live a very innocent way of life.
Arent they cannibals there, someone had enquired. In trying to explain the situation, one had to mention that the boatman’s name is Hannibal, which emphasizes their belief in the savagery of the Amazonians by thinking about Hannibal Lector.

I was quite impressed with Anibal, the boatman who lives in Leticia and makes a living plying his boat on the river, taking tourists to various destinations along the Amazonian river. He seems to know Amazon well and also all the surrounding villages and the forest. He could spot a baby sloth from at least a mile away, the Iguana had to be pointed out to us, whereas Hannibal see it plainly as it were something normal for him. It is something normal for an Indian living here, for him, the eye sight so acute is an important asset to hunt the animals.

I had to go another Ticuna community, which shuns visitors so the public transport does not stop there. I sought out Anibal once again, and we planned a trip to the Ticuna community and afterwards to the Yavary River passing by the towns of Islandia and Benjamin Constant and going past to an area of pristine sand beaches as such beaches are not found along the Amazon.

Unobtrusive, and stopping the boat when something interesting happening in the river such as a pod of River Dolphins or along the land, he would just carry on in silence.

His full name is Anibal Aspajo-Montes
His cellular phone in Leticia is 3132318678
If you want to go off the beaten track along the Amazon River, you can rely on Anibal

lundi 28 septembre 2015


Or China’s Contribution to the Obesity in Developing Countries, in this case Colombia
It was in Leticia, a small delightful town along the Amazon, I first heard the lament: I bought a motorcycle and soon I became Fat!!

IV, a good Cuban friend of mine, a teacher of Piano Music, ended up in this part of the world, thought as desolate by other Colombians, but where for millennia Indians have lived in harmony and happiness. Many new comers arrived, along with the rubber boom of Putumayo River. When the Peruvian town of San Antonio was transferred to Colombia it was renamed Leticia in 1934. Colombia decided to make the town Colombian by bringing in immigrants from Bogota, Antioquia and Tolima among other provinces, who remained in Leticia.
The town now is inhabited by three more or less distinct groups, even though there is generally no discrimination which is evident. The large presence of Coast Guard, Military and Police add to the mélange (and prostitution and further mixing of the races)
Within the short range of generations, Indians who identify themselves as Indigenous, along with full blooded Indians who do not identify themselves with any particular tribe (Mezclados or Leticianos in general with other descendants of people from the Interior, the history of this being Peruvian for nearly one century might have had an influence on this) and the Colones, brought here or sent here by the Government(mostly white but more recently some brown and black as well) live side by side and work in this river port city of Colombia and became the capital of Colombian Amazon province. Drug barons and large buildings and FARC all moved in during the fifty year civil war in Colombia (FARC and Colombian Government signed a peace treaty in La Habana just this past week). While small and easily navigable by foot, prosperity set in with Federal Help, Military expenditure, Drug cartels and trading. As is evident elsewhere in South America there are traders of Lebanese origin here. Drug barons wanted to build a road to the nearest River to transport their goods but only 11 km were finished and thus city remains more than 500 km further from the nearest road. Things that could be shipped in had longer and chemically altered shelf lives that also influenced the Leticia population. The infrastructure of the city improved including an airport with twice daily flights to the Capital, hotels and restaurants, supermarkets all arrived as part and parcel of civilizing Amazonia.
This period of economic revival in this outpost of Colombia coincided with the economic revolution happening in China and everything of Chinese manufacture flooded the market (with the distinct exception of Bajaj Auto Rickshaws from India!), among them, motorcycles, scooters. Now any one, with a regular salaried job, regardless of his level of income, could afford to own a motorcycle. It was a boon to this sun drenched with occasionally tempestual downpours, with annual temperatures hovering around 30 C (Ninety plus F). Walking in that heat is stressful and the motorcycle shortened that transit. Now young and old could reach home quicker from work or job or siesta. Bicycles have all but disappeared
Two unwanted side effects became prevalent, perhaps related to the ubiquitous presence of Motorcycles
1.     Proliferation of Fast Food places (bad quality, imported from Bogota and usually highly preserved food)
2.   Complete absence of Exercise, as in walking to your destination.
I did a small experiment
Without motorcycle, daily activities may get you walking for around 6 miles per day
Using motorcycle taxis (you ride as a pillion passenger, and it is 1000 cop per ride, less than 30 cents usd) that number goes down to about 3 miles per day of walking
If you own a Motorcycle, your walking goes down close to ZERO miles per day.
A disastrous combination and the result are in... just within ten years of its ubiquity, almost everyone in Leticia is overweight or Obese and needless to say the Indians and Indian descendants are affected disproportionately, for the same reasons as the Indians in North America and First Nations in Canada, Aboriginal Australians as well as Maori of Aotearoa—not beneficial cultural contact affecting alimentation, activity and stress. The descendants of the Colones are not exempt from this “contagious” disease which we in the West know how to prevent but we are indirectly responsible for the Overweight and Obesity in such isolated outposts of our “civilization”
Sadly Obesity has become a symbol of Letician Identity. Soy Leticiano, they would say, a full bodied and full blooded Indian said to me, who does not identifies with no tribe
Soy de ninguna tribu, I don’t belong to any tribe.

(A sudden realization occurred to me, this is what might have happened in Mexico, where the tribal affiliations have disappeared but Indian faces remain etched in their descendants without a particular cultural identity but part of a larger cultural identity. An Identity without power...