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.

samedi 11 octobre 2014


I wrote this while I was doing my post graduate studies in Medical Anthropology at the Brunel University of London, England 
photo taken in front of Beth Shalom Synagogue in la Habana, Cuba

mardi 7 octobre 2014


On my way over to the Indians, from Miami to Dallas, I was on American Airlines, and the flight attendants up front were very friendly. When I told them that I was going to see the Indians and described certain aspects of Indian way of thinking, the older of the two attendants, who were both Black said, what a pity, most of us, Americans, know nothing about American Indians!

Majority of the people, in whatever capacity they arrive to serve the Indians, from the Government or from Social or Medical Organizations, also know very little about the Indians. Indians are aware of that and over the years have come to expect very little from the outsiders, to their problems of social confrontation or emotional problems.
Today’s encounter at this remote clinic reinforced that in my mind. And serves as a metaphor for the humanitarian work done all around the world: Knowledge about Medicine alone is not sufficient to alleviate the suffering of an Indian.
Two Indians, Mrs B in her fifties and her daughter I, in her twenties had asked to see me, through the Pubic Health Nurse who keeps an eye on Mrs B who one year ago was diagnosed with Cancer of the Breast and treated with double mastectomy and chemotherapy.

I welcomed them both to the comfortable consulting rooms in the Clinic. They had obviously come to talk; I knew that when they settled on to the sofa.
Did you get a photograph from me, from Miami when the Cancer survivors and their families lit hundreds of candles around a lake? She had not, so I went on to describe the efforts of many volunteers including my sister, herself a multiple cancer survivor and her husband, organize an evening of remembrance around the lake in front of the Baptist hospital to raise money for cancer research. One buys a candle with an already imprinted paper cover with the name of the person you wish to celebrate or remember. I wanted to celebrate my Indian patients who had all survived the rigours of chemotherapy.
She was grateful and we talked about my sister and how I insist her being treated a little more kindly, even during times when she becomes overbearing or highly critical. My rationale is this: How does it feel to have these poisonous fluids going into your body through your veins once every three weeks for about six months, and you suffer interminable nausea, sickness and lethargy and lack of energy for months to come. If you have not experienced that, please be kind to my sister who had to go through it more than once and with medications so powerful that it can make any human sick.

That is when the young lady chirped in. I am finding very difficult to deal with my mother ever since she had her cancer, she has become more forgetful and also less tolerant and not interested in my opinion.
As my friend, Dr W was to tell me later: A very good question with a difficult answer.
This is where the lived in experience of having someone close to you suffering from this disease and you have spent time with them, to see the day to day changes. A doctor may prescribe the medication but it is not there to see the horrible reactions and the daily care that a cancer patient needs, including taking turns at night to wake the patient up to remind them to urinate so that the metabolites in the bladder will not cause cystitis and also reminding them to drink as much as possible.
It was my sister who said to me; truly the chemotherapy has fried my brain. She was referring to something very similar to what the daughter was talking about.
I decided to ease the anxiety and increase the knowledge of the situation of this young lady. It is easy enough to say, your mother has suffered and there is even a medical explanation to her behaviour. But she is interested in knowing, what is that I have to do? So the relationship is not damaged.
Relationship is something very sacred to the Indians. How do I bring the conversation in a medical consultation to a sacred plane and talk about spirituality? At the same time, find a way to help this young lady and her mother to calm down the misunderstanding or what is other wise may lead to a rupture in their good relationship?
The three different philosophical strains that I am familiar with are
American Indian Philosophy
Yogic Philosophy of Patanjali
The Buddhist Philosophy

Even though I am Jewish, well aware of our history and ways of thinking, I have not studied the Talmud or the mystical books of Luria and others. So I cannot resort to the Jewish Philosophy to help my patient, whereas the tribal nature of Jewish thinking does come in handy when you are dealing with American Indians.
I explained to the young lady that she has to learn to curb her ego. Her mother had suffered, including a double mastectomy, and has gotten back her health. The young lady is placing too much importance on herself in their confrontations, and if she would learn to decrease her Ego, the vicious cycle would be broken and a peace and tranquillity established between the two. This is not a competition between personalities; you are not competing who is a better person and who is right. You have to understand that for Indians, the relationship is sacred and Indians view the world much differently from others, even those who inhabit the same community.
Yes, she seemed to be thinking of the time when she lived in Chicago. Yes I was afraid to say I was an Indian, since the people had weird ideas about us and expected us to behave in a pattern to fit into their caricature of us!
Here I could introduce spirituality. Do you look at the trees and the clouds the same way as the White people do? What do you feel when you see an Eagle? And our brothers, the four legged ones.  Indians believe in the totality of things, not hierarchy or incompleteness of the world.
What are the defects in our ways of thinking that prevents us to achieve this completeness? (Here I briefly did think of the Jewish concept of Shekinah and reflection of the broken pieces uniting to becoming whole, as said in the Kabbalah but I did not mention it)

I named the five Kleishas that is enumerated in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra
Fear of Change
I went through each of these as it applies to the situation of her and her mother, the younger woman was taking notes!
How do I practice these? She laughed as she asked the question.

I talked to her about Mindfulness, being aware of the present and enjoy the moment. It is relevant to the cancer survivors as well, to enjoy the moment. My sister very often has tears when she shares a beautiful moment, such as the time when I was her tourist guide in Quiberon in Brittany in France
She would say: I never thought I would live to see this and especially to share it with my husband.
How to decrease the structural defects, the mechanisms are very well known to the Indians, if they are familiar with the Indian way of thinking
Be Grateful
Be Humble
Be compassionate
Be giving of yourself
These are some of the ways of decreasing these fires raging in your head and if you could practise these very human qualities, it would be good all around. It is you, the younger lady who has to make the changes and try to calm down and then you would see and enjoy the beauty of the changes that occur and it would affect your mother as well and she too will change, but don't force her to change, let the good qualities in you, make her change herself!

More than one hour had passed. I am an Endocrinologist to this tribe and neither of them had any medical problems that needed my Endocrine expertise, but you see, I am their friend who happens to be a doctor as well. They did not come for medications or referrals to other professionals, they came to talk and I have the time!

As they walked out of the room, they wanted to know when I would come back again, so that they can come and talk. I promised to send by emails some of the blogs I have written about Kleisha Reduction and Yogic Philosophy and also American Indian ways of thinking.
I had a nice sensation within myself as they left; I felt the strength of a human connection. and I felt grateful
Then, I thanked the people who enabled me to talk like this
My sister in Miami and her husband, my colleague Dr W in Miami for his moral support, MCY in KL who introduced me to Yoga Sutra.

Also souls in Bruselas, Teheran and Bogor.