dimanche 13 avril 2014


One of the earliest lines of Spanish Poetry that made me want to learn the tongue of Cervantes, was, read on my way from school in Sweden to home in Melbourne:
Puedo escribir los versos mas triste este noche.
I can write the saddest lines tonight.

I have the same feeling tonight. Whereas Pablo Neruda was expressing his adolescent longings for his lover, my sadness comes from the fact that I want to be with my mischpochah

Why is this night different from all other nights?
(New Indonesian friends from Bogor)

On my first European adventure, many moons ago, I was going to be in Rhodos during Pesach. I found out from research in printed matter of that time that there was a family Toledano of Turkish ancestry living in that island, I got in touch with them and requested to be present at the Seder. That was the time I realized that Sefardim can eat rice during the Pesach, whereas that pleasure is denied to the Ashkenazim.
(my sentiments are reflected in this photograph)

So many Sederim, in so many countries, memorable ones with my dear friend Irena and her husband at their Coconut Grove house, each year the table graced by Jewish souls from various continents. Regardless of where I was in this planet, I made a point of being there.
(a bakery in Teheran to remind my exiled Iranian Jewish friends of the delicacies of their country)

A South African one with good friend Cecil, an Israeli one with Shimon, Australian ones and listening to the melodious Malayalam songs in Cochin during one Pesach.
Never have I forgotten the significance of this ritual and always marked my calendar.
(a young girl dressed in Kayin traditional dress at Thaton, Myanmar)

One such morning in Baracoa, on the first day of Pesach, I was wondering where to get red wine and other things to celebrate the Pesach and I ended up with a lifelong friendship with Dr. Jesus Menendez, the cigar chomping revolutionary, who arranged all the necessary ingredients and I surrounded by a group of atheist Cubans, conducted a Seder in Baracoa, chanting the Sephardic melodies.

Another time, in Siem Reap. a good friend organized wine and chicken and rice while they sat around in a circle in wonder listening the stories of Pesach

I have spent this holiday with good friends and family all around the world, Portland with an exiled Iranian family, in La Havana where at the communal seder I met a certain Hallegua reminding him of the Hallegua families of Cochin, Corpus Christi with my dearest friends.. the list goes on and on.
(Bear Butte, sacred to the Indians. I was here yesterday)

Early this year, I noted the date for Pesach for this year and for the first time in my life it seems, I made the error of the dates. I put down Pesach 15 April. Last year I did a Seder for the first time in Bruselas and had to go to the Sephardi store to get the necessary things.

The last two months have been in places with hardly any Jewish presence. Kachin and Kayin, Khmer and Malay, Sundanese and Jawanese.. all the time keeping in mind that I have to be in Bruselas on the first night of the Pesach on the 15th of April, woe is me for not checking the date!

After a most delightful week with the Lakota I arrived at the house of my sister in Miami, who by the way is a devout Catholic but is very respectful of my leanings.
Earlier I had called the American Airlines, during this busiest time of travel in this part of this world, and organized to leave on the 14th April to arrive in time, before the sunset in Bruselas! My sister had already bought the necessary Matzoh for me to take to Bruselas...

Isnt Passover tomorrow night? my sister queried to my horror!
No, I insisted, Pesach starts on Tuesday.
You better check she said, then quoting that irrevocable authority, I heard it on CNN!
rushed to check the dates, Google of course puts other articles and useless information before giving you the dates and sure enough my sister was right, this year Pesach starts at the night fall of April 14th!
My brother in Portland confirms..

then it suddenly dawns upon me, unlike any other night, tomorrow night, I would be flying from Miami towards Madrid!
Just this time I am not enchanted about it!

I just want to be with my mishpochah, the Jewish world where I know who I am ..

While the entire world would be celebrating tomorrow and day after tomorrow evenings, I will sing the very same songs the night after that, so that the continuity is not lost, of this millennial tradition of Seder..

My brother would be listening to the Moroccan Melodies while the other one would be at the home of an Iranian Jewish family, I will think of the prayers at homes of friends in Melbourne, Cape Town and Buenos Aires..

Now a practical question, Do the serve Matzoh on American Airlines?

vendredi 4 avril 2014


Most medical students would swear that it is the humanitarian interest that brought them to the study of Medicine. In my years of studying and teaching Medicine in Asia, Australia, Europe and the Americas, I have observed that these good intentions disappear by the time they become doctors, overcome by the distress of the society and their position in it, except a few diehards who cling on their dreams.
I once met a classmate of mine from Guyaquil, Ecuador who now enjoys capitalist accoutrements of his predatory medicine while complaining about everything including his patients, he asked me"
What happened to our dreams?
Excuse, I said to him, I still live my dreams.
So meeting a doctor, who has had a parallel life but still keeping and living that dream is an occasion for celebration in my heart.
I met one such doctor today in Kuala Trengganu in Malaysia. The location is significant in that during my travels around the world it is rare that I meet doctors of this caliber. A couple of years ago, the ageless man of Thursday Island (see my blog under that title) told me about the doctor attending to him, and during my short stay at KT, I couldn't meet him face to face because of his busy schedule.
Talking in an excited voice, Dr M, whose ancestors came to this country from the land of the western ghats, revealed his analytic thoughts about what lies underneath the physiology of Medicine, now hijacked by drug companies, much to the delight of their stockholders.



This Malaysian doctor had been born with a kind heart and a sharp intellect and nurtured both as a student in the UK as well as a junior doctor in the rural areas of Malaysia. He chose to live in this medically underserved eastern seaboard, but never abandoned his fiery enthusiasm and curiosity of human physiology, in the academic isolation of the early days of being a doctor. A lifelong interest has been the human physiology, his curious mind kept alive by asking not HOW but WHY (anthropologists ask WHY, medical doctors ask HOW). He refused to accept the drug company gospel about how drugs worked and this Bumiputra, son of the soil (even though the soil may not be only Malaysia) has through observation, incorporated his experience into his medical practice, ignoring the collected but influenced wisdom of paid peons of the drug industry and their Administrative and Medical Association colleagues.

This over a lunch of local dish of Fried Rice  at a restaurant facing the calm ocean. We talked about our own interpretations of how human body works in Illness, Health and Disease and how we can alleviate the suffering of the patient.
His main concern was the welfare of his patients, no greed, no commercial interest, I never heard him say any single bad thing about his patients, but only his strong desire to make their lives better.
I have noticed that erudite, curious, intellectually oriented doctors are attracted to Neurology, Endocrinology and Renal Physiology (not nephrology, dialyzing for dollars) and Dr. M was no exception. We reminisced about our student days in London, with afternoon lectures at Queen Square with impeccably dressed Prof Sir Roger Bannister and Prof Zilkha, giving orations on history and physiology of neurological illnesses.

The conversation led us to discuss another mutual passion and dream-DIABETES, prevention, treatment and attenuation of suffering.
I had always wanted to be of service to the rural Malays of Malaysia, the neglected in more than one ways of this emerging nation of divided racial and religious loyalties. Malays are gentle souls, they are being burdened disproportionately with Pre-Diabetes and Diabetes. Dr.M has already a plan in mind, to devote his talents to the holistic service of this population, to prevent and treat and alleviate the suffering in the field of Diabetes. He paraphrased the ancient dictum, if you know Diabetes, you know Clinical Medicine. Having been involved in such work among American Indians, I was happy when he invited me to join the ranks to educate and treat Diabetes in his region and for patients under his care.
Two hours went by swiftly. His phone was ringing constantly and he was wanted back in the hospital. We parted with the promise that we shall see each other soon.
I felt a tremendous satisfaction of meeting a good human being in this country, Malaysia, a country that I am fond of.
I know I will be returning to KT soon enough.

jeudi 3 avril 2014

IRAN IN MALACCA. JADE in Malaysia tinged with Nostalgia

Almost two years to this day. I had arrived at KLIA after a memorable journey, which made this arrival even more memorable.
Omaha-Denver-Los Angeles-Honolulu-Guam-Hong Kong with a long layover-Kuala Lumpur, indeed a circuitous route to reach the Far East. I had been working with the Winnebago Indians and on that chilly early morning, I met HP from Bogor who was to become a very close friend. My mind was already at KLIA, where just a few hours earlier an Iranian air flight would have deposited the teacher of my re-entry into the Iranian culture.
It was a memorable trip. Included was a visit to Malacca, Hotel Puri and my good friends IH/AG. They treated us to a nice nyonya meal, the breeze at the Malacca Club. IH is an aficionado of Chinese culture and history and was surprised to learn that Iran also produced Jade.

Few months later IH received a package from Iran, sent through an Iranian resident of KL. Fortunately IH's daughter lived nearby and she was able to take delivery of the lovely jades from Iran. Since then she had made a pendant and a ring jewelry featuring those jades. When IH/AG came to pick me up at the Hotel Puri, she gave me the little gift which had been sent along with jade and books on Iran to her. It was in a small lacquer box with Iranian motives on them, on opening a nice clear Jade shone out.
I felt grateful for the ingenuity of the oppressed people of Iran and their hearts as big as a bakery in the sky, but also felt immensely sad. After I lost contact with our friend in Iran, I also lost touch with the quotidian culture of Iran, the great literature and movies from that ancient country.
Thank you, NM
So it was only fitting that on my CX flight over to Asia, the movie I chose to watch was by Ashgar Farhadi, symbolically set in a suburb of Paris, about an Iranian man and  a French woman separating their lives.
And the title was, once again appropriately,
Yes, Iran is in the past. It appeared when my father lived there, it lay submerged while I wandered around the world, it made an appearance in 2012 and now in Malacca, in 2014.
I looked at the laquerbox with its shiny green content I realized that once again Iran had disappeared into the oblivion..
CHASM, while it lasted..
a vegie meal in Malacca with IH/AG

While I was writing this I made a mental note that whilst being in Asia less than one week, I had already been in Kuala Lumpur and Malacca in Malaysia, Rangoon and Thaton in Burma, Siem Reap in Cambodia and my next destination was Kuala Trengganu!

mardi 25 mars 2014


Burma, or its modern name, Myanmar, had offered welcome to Iraqi Jewish merchants. At that time, much of the British administration of “India” (later to become India, Burma, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, as well as Penang, Malacca and Singapore) was based in Calcutta. It was only natural that Iraqi Jews who had settled in Calcutta were attracted to this beautiful, bountiful, golden land. The number of Jewish souls had always been small but the dramatic turn in the politics of this once fertile country post independence from Britain guaranteed an exodus of freedom loving, entrepreneurial subjects among them Jews.
I visited the synagogue for the first time in 2003 and made the acquaintance of Mr Moshe Samuels whose son Sammy was studying at Yeshiva University in New York at that time. The father was the gabbai, the caretaker and de facto leader of the dwindling number of souls.

It was 10 am, I was supposed to be at the airport by 11 30 am to check in for a flight to Bangkok on my way to Siem Reap. My heart told me that I must visit the synagogue, at least to say a prayer for those close to me, and say Kaddish for Cecil Hellman and Joel Glaser.
The taxi parked on the 23rd street and I made my way through the crowded pavements towards 25th street, along Mahabandoola street which remains unchanged ever since my first visit, one could buy anything and everything, camphor balls, locks, screwdrivers to tighten your spectacles, to give some examples, this is one of the last streets selling merchandise like this in this part of the world or anywhere else for that matter. As I managed my way past teeming bodies, the chanting from the nearby pagoda was soothing.
Visiting a Jewish community in the throes of becoming a memory is never easy for me, even though it has my life long interest. I am sure in the years to come, some Burmese would begin claiming to be Jewish or of Jewish descent , such as we see in Kaifeng in China or Iquitos in Peru among other places. It is a phenomenon of modern times, claiming identity from vanished or vanishing groups of people, by those who have more than spiritual reasons to do so. Along with the Research Dean of the School of International Affairs in Havana, we have published a long article on the False Tainos of Cuba, people who claim to be Taino Indians, insulting the memory of the Tainos who all but disappeared few years after the arrival of the Spaniards in their land.
When it takes courage to declare ones identity publicly (Inquision and the Nazi era for us), that is when your identity becomes culturally associated. No outsider claims to be Quiche in Guatemala or Quechua in Peru, there is no selfish cultural advantage in such claims as both Quiche and Quechua are marginalized groups. But it is not the case with Ayamaras (Evo Morales of Bolivia is an Ayamara) or Mapuche of southern Chile, and of course many, in Easter Island,  would like to identity themselves as Rapa Nui even if they have no claims to do so.  Hawaii is full of people claiming to be native heritage, as Native Hawaiians are a disappearing race and culture. This only emphasizes my claim that Cultural Identity and its quest is a strong one, and as my favourite poet Pablo Neruda would say:
Un alma sin raices es una injusticia
A soul without roots is an injustice.
I was glad to see Moshe Samuels, a warm greeting was exchanged. I disappeared in to the synagogue wearing my kippah made by Sarah Cohen of Cochin. I noticed there were a group of tourists, but this group was showing more than a cursory interest. I said my rememberances, and decided to take photographs of the synagogue which is a good example of Asian jewish architecture, in the sefardic tradition. The ark was open and I prayed for the Little ones and the weak ones who need protection.
An asian lady approaches me , asks me my favourite complimentary question:
Are you from here? are you from Myanmar?

I am very happy when people ask me that question: are you from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia or Singapore and it is always good to be mistaken for a local in so many different countries! In Latin America, I am mistaken for a Brasilian, because of my Portuguese tinged accent when I speak Spanish!! I love it.
No, I am from Cuba. But I am a Jew.  (remembering that line from Marcel Aymee: I, said the man, am a Jew)
The question came from a lady, a certain curiosity etched into her face, was from Malaysia. She is interested in raising general awareness about minorities living in South East Asia. Of course an average Malaysian is ignorant about the Jews because of the government sponsored propaganda, including vitriolic statements from the former Prime Minister Mahathir (about blood drinking Jews) and a politics dictated more by frivolity than knowledge. Malaysian citizens are not allowed to travel to Israel, Moslems under no conditions but Christians under group travel for religious pilgrimage are allowed to visit the Holy Places. It would be nice for these descendants of comverted moslems in south east asia to know that the only in Israel, dissent is right of the arab speaking populations and also that the freest Arabic press in the world is in Israel. Moslems living in Israel are welcome to criticize the government , publish their opinions whereas Malaysia was recently enacting rules about Sedition, Sodomy and exclusive rights to the word Allah! Malaysian Moslem politicians are well known to avoid answering questions, the Malaysian citizen especially those who are erudite among the Chinese and Indians have resigned themselves to not getting any answers to their questions.
For the next few minutes, this curious and knowledgeable lady, in conversation, we covered a whole array of subjects, Jewish and Minority history in south east Asia , including the Hindu Cham in Mae Son in Vietnam, the Moslem Cham in Cambodia and its resurgence as a strong religious community and their identification with Malays of Malaysia! and the turbulent Muslim population of Burma.
The entire group now had gathered, a Burmese man, possibly a guide; two very sweet Filipinas, a northern European who reminded me of the Hospitality Interns at Double Tree Hotel in KL (of Dutch nationality)

I was genuinely exhilarated by talking to them, especially to NAT. In Asia, discourses are not encouraged (It is a pleasure in Europe, USA, Cuba or Argentina) and when you meet curious people, one is indeed excited. Curiosity is the sign of intelligence , I remember a Rabbi telling me years ago.
So it was a great moment for me, the synagogue, Moshe Samuels, a new friend NAT, from Malaysia a country that I am fond of, two sweet Filipinas. The patient taxi driver, U Zaw Zaw, waiting for me at the 23rd street !
I thought of all other encounters at this very same synagogue, the American lady who wrote the book on Burmese Jews, NO from Takoaka, my brother Eliyahu, my then good friend MC from Seri Kembangan and how can I forget the sweet giggling faces of the hat selles of Chaungtha beach when they visited the synagogue with me, they were intrigued that this was the pagoda of their Dr Aung Khant.
I will write to Sammy Samuels , to ask about his father and offer any help he may need.
Are you socialists, asked NAT
In Cuba, we are socialists but we are dancing socialists, said I..

jeudi 13 mars 2014



When discussing Exercise habits, many would confess that they walk for a few minutes each day or jog or go on the treadmill.
Any form of exercise is good for you and most importantly it has to be done on a daily basis.

Why do the Americans find it so hard to loose weight or maintain their lost weight?
Those who are familiar with this country and its eating habits, you become aware of the high calorie foods that are everywhere, the poor quality of their snacks which cause more damage than calories and the slight dent on the total caloric picture caused by the exercise.

Before discussing this further, I would say: Do 500 calories worth of exercise per day, you would have no problem with weight maintenance.
That is easy, you might say but in practice it is difficult ..

I decided to prove it
Using the podometer, i was able to calculate the time, steps, miles and calories spent on one wonderfully balmy morning in Miami.
After 50 minutes of brisk walking, I had covered slightly over 3 miles, more like 5 kilometers, or about 6000 steps and had spent 250 calories.

There are couple of things in my favour.
BMI ie Kg in weight divided by height in meter squared, is 22 which is the maximum normal for a person of Asian Origin. 23 would be considered overweight and 27 considered Obese. Of course if you are european it would be 25 for overweight and 30 for obese.
Secondly, becoming aware of my body as an adolescent in Australia, I discovered that cuisine from Lebanon and Greece suited me the best, years later I myself formulated for my friends and family, in health and disease, the concept of Genetic Food, ie food eaten by your ancestors. If you cannot eat your ancestors food, you should at least imitate it. For all racial persuasions, Meditarranean food or Vietnamese or Thai food would be a suitable alternative.
If you are not a descendant of the Moghuls, Rogan Josh and Chicken Karahi may not be for you, except occasionally as a
treat. One can select certain foods from various cuisines, such as the Doorg from Iran or similar yogurt from India or elsewhere.
I am also fortunate enough to have  a sister who is an excellent cook of Lebanese food. In just a few days, I have feasted on home made Babaganoush, Hummus, zattar pita, Lubi, chanclish, with slight additions of Kibbeh, Mujaddar and Labneh, just in the last couple of days.
My stomach thanks you, Sister.

 Looking around, I see how easy I can falter on this road to good health. A bag of Pita Chips whether it says natural or nothing added to it, has over 1200 calories, you can walk those calories away, in nearly five hours but you will never can walk away from the harm done to your heart by the Palm Fruit Oil in them. Also think about Homeless Orang Utans!
Fresh food, organic when you can, a nice glass or two of wine (Life is too short to drink bad wine! Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough is excellent with Cuisine Libanaise!)..and most importantly,
eat with friends and schmooze a beezle and thus less stressed is your metabolism and able to digest food well.

I would guess that if you do strenous exercise such as Zumba rather than my brisk walking, you can burn twice as much calories. So one hour of Zumba will burn about 500 calories which is what you need, if you want to add that to your weight loss regimen.

Whatever exercise you do, do it regularly
Be truthful to yourself when it comes to food
As a rule, dont eat that which is not food, that which comes wrapped in plastic, that which contains preservatives, that which comes through your car window, it is not the calories in them that cause damage but the chemicals.
Eat with friends and family whenever you can. Eating alone or eating in moving vehicless are not good for your health, regardless of its caloric content.

Bon Apetit
Buen Provecho

lundi 10 mars 2014



if you are a resident of a vacation spot, you tend to get a lot of visitors, which was the case when I was a resident of Miami. Currently I proudly call Miami my American home but unless we coincide, or organize before hand, there is no way I could promise to be here. The same goes for my other home, in Cuba as well as my other temporary homes.
Many people had over the years promised to come and visit me in Miami but except for a Japanese visitor from Takoaka, I cannot remember any visitors and that was ten years ago. I must say that I have had visitors from Paris.

So it was with great pleasure to welcome my good friend HP and his family from Bogor, Indonesia. On 22nd of this month we will be celebrating the second year anniversary of our friendship and it is more than coincidence that I would be repeating in 2014, the journey to KL via Hong Kong, almost to the date.

I had recommended various hotels, but this being the high season for Miami, it was not easy to get accommodation for 4 people. In the end one was arranged so that it would be convenient for me as well, since I expected to shepherd them around Miami.

Look, Talk and Gastronomy is the motto of my good friend, the humble man of Bogor. With that in mind, I organized a visit, in which the beauty of water around Miami could be appreciated, for the girls to meet someone their age and of course gastronomy!

Sawa fusion cuisine Middle Eastern, A Food Court Egyptian food at a Mall, a Pan Asian restaurant owned by a Filipino Chinese and a walk along Lincoln Road mall with a taste of the "best pizza" at Spris were all on the able.

The highlight courtesy of my friend from Medical School days, Dr W, was a tour of inland waterways between Miami and Miami Beach to look at the Bay from an unique perspective.  It was good to be in the water, in the middle of winter, when the rest of the country is freezing and Miami had a non humid, caressing 28 C!

When I said Good bye to them at the airport, when they departed for the next point of their North American Adventure, arranged mainly for the two girls to be exposed to this part of North America, I did not feel sad at all. My good friend HP had already outlined a few days for all of us in Bali, which he knows like the palm of his hand.

I was glad to be able to share with him, my love for Miami and its history, my affection for the Cuban and Haitian immigrants to this country.

When he left, I said, bring the girls again back to Miami, we will go to Mexico and Cuba!

The teenagers and their father coldnt get over how friendly the Miami people were, as we were constantly accosted by smiling strangers, after their morose encounters with Parisians with their non humourous attitude towards tourists.

I was happy to chat away in Spanish with one and all, and the girls exclaimed: There are no white people here!

I was happy to chat with the bartender or is he a part owner of Spris , the pizza place, who was from Matanzas and we joked about many things.
Dr W sent me this message last night:
Enjoyed meeting your friends, the girls are lovely, self confident and spoke English so well! in fact better than some of the locals here!
I am sure that I will be welcoming Drs and Mrs W to Bali in the company of my friend from Bogor in the not too distant a future!

samedi 8 mars 2014


It is morning in Miami, Florida, USA, nearly half the world away from a tragedy unfolding over South East Asia.
MH 370 has disappeared over the ocean, piloted by a veteran MH pilot, but without much clue about what happened. The plane is presumed crashed into the sea.

Frequent Fliers are a close knit community and many of us spent the last night glued to our FlyerTalk Forum hoping for some form of miracle and relief from grief. All our hearts go out to the relatives, the parents and children of Chinese tourists who may have been visiting SE Asia, Malaysians going on holiday or family reunions. Families of pilots and flight attendants. They have a deep personal loss but we also feel a loss, as if all the people flying on MH 370 were our brothers and sisters and children.

A tragedy like this touches our primitive emotions, you can feel it in your body. I am 12000 miles away but it is as if I am nearby Kuala Lumpur and being with the bereaved ones, sharing their tears and deep hurt.

I was supposed to leave for KL in three days time, part of the journey was going to be on MH, NRT-KUL but I have postponed it to a week later, long before this incident. Something everything feels too close to the heart, about a country I care about, a region to which I am umbilically connected.

I pray to the Great Spirit to bring solace of whatever sort to those who are grieving. At times like these, the philosophy of the Indians are soothing to the soul: Be Happy with what you have, said one. Yes, I feel closer to my loved ones, hug them and call them and think nice thoughts about the friends scattered around the globe. As the great UmonHon orator Ompatonga once said: Misfortunes can happen anytime, out of season or reason.

It is a sad day for me here in Miami. The sun is shining outside, the ocean breeze soothes but something is missing in the heart.

Let me continue to follow the unfolding of this tragic event. My deep condolences to the families of all, 7 Australians, 2 Kiwis, 3 Americans, 3 French, 12 Indonesians and others, in addition to all the above mentioned.