jeudi 21 juillet 2016

FRIENDSHIP IN LA HABANA

















HAVANA DIARIES JULY 2016

If you love a country, you would always want to look at the positive aspects of that country, not criticize it. Criticism arising out of discourse is always welcome but complaints or quejando, only deteriorate your mental state.
My flight arrived at 2 20 pm, within one hour I had cleared immigration, customs, and was at my abode. My first call was to my Friend Joaquim whose son David is now running a small café. When the café would close, I asked, in a few minutes but we will keep it open for you if you come now. I quickly walked, heat and humidity and all, and  was in time to enjoy a Mulata, which is condensed milk and expresso!
How warmly I was received by this family! People can be warm all over the world, wrapped in their own cultural garments, I suppose Cubans embrace you with their heart and don’t let anything stand in their way.
Joaquim also helped me get my internet organized so that I can get Wi-Fi on my phone, Wi-Fi is becoming more available, not as common as in South East Asia, but an enormous improvements from just one year ago. It is humorous to see hundreds of Cubans lining up Wi-Fi spots to talk to their dear ones over the phone, almost all living outside Cuba. What would have cost hundreds of dollars can be had for a couple of dollars now.
The Money Exchange was closed but I begged to be let in and she did and I was able to change some money. Until the credit card situation changes, which it would, I am sure, all transactions are cash only and one has to have two types of currency: the official Cuban peso and the artificial tourist dollar, called CUC.
The dinner was at El Burrito Habanero, a cuc-mex cuisine, tacos which were born in Mexico but now have a Cuban appearance. The service was not that warm, which I was surprised, normally the service is much better. The food maintains the usual quality.
Walking back along the La Rampa, the temperature had cooled down quiet a bit and it was good to see Cubans going about their lives. Cinemas were open and showing the recent releases from other countries, there was still a line at the Famous Ice Cream shop Coppelia. Old men and women were selling small amounts of peanuts, the famous MANI, for one peso each and I got one for myself.
As I was entering the house, I saw a man in uniform closing the gate. I initially thought it might be some sort of security but I realized it was the uniform of CUBANA airlines. We had a wonderful conversation, he is a flight engineer with Cubana airlines and we talked about various aircrafts. He knows about 787 and A 350 the latest while Cuba has some of the oldest and also soviet made Antunovs and Ilyushins and Tupulevs. We agreed to meet over the weekend for a drive around the city and a drink somewhere.
It felt good to be back into the simple life, which is defined by emotions rather than what one has or one can acquire. Symbolism in Cuba is affections whereas in other countries, they may be the material goods, which has not yet arrived in Cuba, which may arrive and affect the symbolisms of transactions. But right now Cuba has made itself unique by creating human characteristics as its best front: Solidarity and Friendship. In very countries in the world, you can find these human characteristics given such prominence in everyday interactions.











dimanche 17 juillet 2016

QUIBERON IN FRANCE TO THE OMAHA INDIANS OF NEBRASKA: LIFE IS ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS

Tire-Bouchon is the two carriage train that goes from the popular seaside town of Quiberon to Auray where one can catch major trains to various parts of Brittany as well as France. The farewell was neither tedious nor melancholic, just another event in a long evolving relationship, the strength of which cannot be destroyed by good byes at the railway stations.

Past the fort built by the Nazis where they mercilessly butchered hundreds if not thousands of Breton freedom fighters, the presquile, the peninsula narrows allowing a view of ocean on both sides. Then some non descript northern scenery before one pulls into the Auray station. Hardly any one was waiting for the train to Nantes that I was interested in. The short train ride was pleasant, how is that many countries in Europe manage to run such efficient railway systems to serve its people, perhaps its the desire of governments to serve the people and not the profitable companies. The example of USA whether it is public transport or drug companies or airline services come to mind. None of which is catered for the public that uses them but to generate money for the CEOs who are rewarded stupendous salaries. Absurd, isnt it? Even Doctors are nowadays given monetary incentive to make more money for the companies they work for, rather than the best care of the patients under their tutelage.
Just outside the exit from the railway station, which has strong wi fi signal, there is a navette that would take you to the airport in just twenty minutes, past the river and non- descript urban area. The airport is small but has interesting destinations served by mostly budget airlines.
I was flying Royal Air Maroc to Casablanca.
I was treated well by the staff, far more polite than the Air France agents at Charles de Gaulle, and given a good seat. The meal served was not up to mark and the FAs mostly male moroccans were polite and efficient.






The immigration lines were long and slow but we are arriving in Morocco. When my turn arrived, no questions and within seconds my passport was stamped and i went out into the balmy night, towards the shuttle bus to the Relax Airport hotel. In Morocco at midnight, the sleezy characters appears even sleezier, at the hotel, a bell boy appeared and insisted on carrying on my luggage, when I refused he insisted he was official and then he wanted to disappear with the luggage into another room than the one assigned to me. when i went back to the reception, no one showed any surprise and assigned me an inferior room with less facilities but with a smile.
The next day I wanted to make a note to complain about my demotion but was greeted by a joyous african young lady. we chatted for a while, all very pleasant about her native Senegal and then she informs me that she is in charge of complaints and public relations for the hotels, I felt the frustration and vented it by taking a selfie with her. Let them find yet another sucker the next time.
Life is full of little surprises and it was waiting for me at the Atlas lounge of the Royal Air Maroc. As I sat down at the Lounge, a man approaches and greets me, I recognize his face and he mine, even though i have been in this lounge only 3 times and he sees hundreds of faces.. A relationship has been established and be brought me a nice cup of Moroccan mint tea and was in attendance periodically during my stay at the Lounge. Syed was his name, I gave him a 3 peso Cuban coin and my visiting card, he smiled broadly and said, I will keep in touch with you.







The FAs on QR flight Casablanca to Doha were superb. Atif from Calcutta with a Grandmother who lived in Burma, was more than attentive, Noor was from Johor and of course we had lots in common to talk about, Fatima was Moroccan and the shiest of the lot, she was from Rabat but the prize winner was indeed Charity from Cebu City, who is a traveller and a Foodie. She promised to send me the name of the moroccan resto they ate the night before in Casablanca. I admire these young men and women who leave their families to come to Qatar which is not exactly a pretty place but a spot of desert , so that they can plan a future back home. I had a feeling that Charity would get in touch.



The overnight accomodation in Doha was at the luxurious Marriott Hotel. I was ready to go to bed at 1 am, but had chat on line with someone who needed help with some travel arrangements. Sleep was not easy to come and the luxurious marriott hotel was wasted on just two hours of sleep and soporofic entrance to the best business class lounge in the world.
There were so many young men from South Asia at the various restaurants and toilets as attendants that it is ridiculous to think that this is just an airline, but the CEO of Qatar Airways takes such pride in his airline, a metaphor for his country and the ruling Arab family.

The flight to Boston was 12 hours and 30 minutes long. after Pranayama, i caught a few winks and then had my Arab Breakfast with some mango smoothies and Karak Chai from the Gulf(manufactured in Gujerat I suppose). A second round of , and body regained its equilibrium. The service was ordinary, reminded me much of Jet Airways domestic service in India. It stands to reason, many of the Jet Airways staff move over to Qatar Airways when they get a chance, but carry with them the Jet Airways luggage, pardon the pun.



Arriving at Boston airport after the ultramodern Hamad International at Doha is a revelation, Boston Airport felt as if it belonged to a developing country in Africa. The whole process of boarding the flight was unappealing and the staff were as disgruntled as the passengers. I managed to survive the two hour flight to Chicago, where I could escape into the American Airlines Lounge and enjoy a nice glass of Pinot Grigio.


 Having not drunk much during the 15 hours on flight, the body felt good and it was midnight when I arrived at the usual hotel by the airport, Sleep Inn.
The next day, was greeted warmly by the staff at AVIS, the best rental car agency that I know. they organized me to have a nice comfortable car. On the way to Trader Joe's t buy provisions on my way to the Indian reservation, I stopped at a sleezy petrol station where characters glorified by ISIS hung around. I wanted to buy a used phone, and the man behind the counter was extremely pleasant. If you speak Farsi, I get 10 percent discount. yes I do speak Farsi, but I am not Iranian but a Tajik! Tajiks were under Persian influence for centuries and like many afghans speak Farsi as their mother tongue. My new friend from Dushanabe gave me a 10 dollar discount! While waiting there was a Spanish speaking person and to my surprise turned out to be an economic refugee from Cuba, a guajiro from Ciego de avila province. It seemed so incongruous, that a son of soil from Ciego de avila province would be here in Nebraska.He had left Cuba illegally and border by border had reached the texas border where the Unjust Cuban Immigrant Law gives them all the advantage of a regular immigrant and much much more. It is unkind at a personal level, he may have thousands of reasons to leave Cuba, but I dont want him to be the representative of his people. I told him, I am almost like an Ambassador for Cuba, what you have done is illegal by both Cuban and American standards and let me tell you, at least dont start telling lies about Cuba thinking Americans would love you more. Remember no one likes to hear talk about mother country being denigrated, whether it is Cuba or Tajik. The Tajik was happy and the cuban was not, as his job prospects were menial and minimal. Please talk well about your mother country, I told the guajiro from Ciego de Avila province.
The country side was the greenest I had seen. Quickly I reached, in between sending emails to Cuba, to the Indian reservation to the Blue House which I call WaltHilton. It has all the facilities for me as a Hilton Hotel.


Someone mentioned that there would be a gourd Dance, I waited to recuperate a little, after a journey which had taken me exactly three days, with stays at hotels in Casablanca in Morocco and Doha in Qatar and Sleep Inn in Omaha, to get from the charming seaside resort city of Quiberon in France to this village of Indians which can be aptly described as a Desert in a metaphoric sense, but here is where I have many connections including my sister who would be the head dancer for the ceremony.
I reached the hall where the singing and drumming was going on and i was immediately immersed in a time long before Europeans had arrived here. The story of Gourd dance is one of revival and it is a prayer and celebration and ceremony rather than pleasure. Kiowa Indians claim they learned it from a wolf, as the dance and the howling much resembles a wolf.
I said to myself, here I am, 72 hours of trepsing around the world, among Arabs, Jews and Christians, French, Moroccans and South Asians, salmon-bilcourt champagne and ful arab breakfast and mango shakes.. the only non indian among this gathering of people who were ascertaining their identity and enjoying themselves at this ceremony. It was surreal for me, to watch them, their dance and their singing and drumming. It was another time unchanged for centuries.




I greeted a six year old I had not seen in one year and was greeted by many tribal members. I realized that Life is about relationships and being a good relative is being a good person, like we say in Hebrew/Yiddish, being a good mensch. Of all the places I frequent only here (and to a great extent in Cuba) I am accepted as a human being with a definite place in their world. I am neither doctor or professor or ambassador to them, I am the  person with whom they have had a relationship over the years. They are grateful I am here and the wonder and the amazement even after so many years accompany my time with them.
As the sun was setting I left the ceremony to go back to the Blue House.