dimanche 12 janvier 2020

GOOD BYE, SULTAN QABOOS MAY HIS SOUL REST IN PEACE

There was a time when there were multiple Sultanates in this world, most of which have disappeared or become ornamental, such as Sultan of Ternate or Sultan of Yogyakarta..Only two sultanates remained one a forward looking Sultan who wanted to take his people into the 21st century and the other wanting to take his people into darkness of 15th century
Qaboos of Oman is the enlightened one 
Hassanul Bolkiah of Brunei the other.

The enlightened one passed away last Friday. I consider myself fortunate that I was in Oman on Thursday and could feel the admiration the people had for Sultan Qaboos.


Everybody hailed him as a visionary and he was a true peacemaker taking no sides. He invited both sides to the Yemeni conflicts to his palace and was instrumental in the Barack Obama- Iran reconciliation. Israeli prime ministers have visited him in Muscat and Benjamin Netanyahu will be attending his funeral in Muscat.
What a great Arab statesman! who brought his country out of darkness and made it a modern state. Followed a most tolerant form of Isalm, Abadi, neither Sunni nor Shia and mediated the disputes between the giants on either side. He embraced his former subjects from the island of Zanzibar and the Omani territories in Gwador and Baluchistan.

I have watched how the Sultanate of Brunei slipping back into the medieval darkness under their Sultan and how progressive was the Sultan of Qaboos. I am glad to have known both sultanates, and I will be returning again to Oman under the new Sultan Haitham.
I had a nice visit to Oman this past week
I thank the Omani people and of course pray for the soul of Sultan Qaboos and wish the new sultan good days ahead as a just ruler of the Omani people and continue to the enlightenment of Sultan Qaboos












samedi 11 janvier 2020

WHAT ALL HAS HAPPENED IN ONE WEEK . 4TH JAN IN MALA KERALA TO 11TH JANUARY IN MIAMI USA



Today is a Saturday, 11.1.2020 and the morning is lovely and tender here in Miami.

I arrived here yesterday evening after a long and tedious flight on American Airlines (on USA based airlines do not expect any service or too much of any comfort, they will get you from place to place safely, a lot to be said about that these days of mistaken identities).
The flight to Paris on Oman Air was pleasant. I was happy to have met Abdul Aziz from Muscat who was attending my side of the plane under the supervision of Cabin senior Modesta from Lithuania.
I had three wonderful days of stays in Muscat at the Hilton Garden Inn and it was lovely to talk to the staff from so many countries and of course all of them share my own enthusiasm about Oman being the best Arab country in the region.
I admire the hard working to please mentality of these young men and women from towns and villages from diverse environments: Himachal Pradesh to Northern Philippines to Kumasi in Ghana ...

I had wonderful experiences in Muscat, meeting the taxi driver Kamal who gifted me a scarf that Omanis wear, to the Omanis on the street who were eager to know where I was from, placing me as usual from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India (I like this when that happens!)

I was in my room 629 at Hilton Garden Inn when I listened to President Trump answering the attack on the American Airforce Base in Baghdad and was so relieved that he was not impulsively starting to bomb Iran and start great damage to the area. But that joy was soon taken away when a friend from Teheran wrote to say that an airliner had been downed, now we know unintentionally by Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
It was a pleasure to walk around the area, take a walk to the Mall (nothing special about the mall, except that lots of Omanis work that in contrast to similar malls in Doha or Dubai). There were hundreds of eateries from all nationalities: just in one street close to the hotel, I counted Turkish, Omani, Kuwaiti, Lebanese, Kerala, among other cuisines being offered. Most of the restaurants were empty. The largely working/expatriate population perhaps patronize these places on their days off. I was surprised that the food was relatively inexpensive. I had a rava masala dosai at Aarya vegetarian restaurant at 1.3 OMR very similar to the price I would pay at a restaurant in Fort Cochin in India. I know Oman is a liberal muslim country but I did not see anywhere alcohol being sold or consumed. At the Oman Air Lounges at Muscat Airport, all sorts of food and wine and drinks were on the offer.
at the Oman Air Lounge at Muscat International Airport, a sumptuous feed indeed.
I felt very comfortable knowing that I was only a stone's throw away from Iran and that I could communicate with my friends there who were on similar time zones. How I wish I could invite them over to spend a few days at the Hilton Garden Inn, of course...
I had been in Cochin since 29/12, in the company of my good friends, all workers at the Old Light House Hotel by the Arabian Sea. From the manager down to the housekeeping staff are warm and friendly towards me and they make sure that I am well fed, my wine glasses full and invited to all the celebrations in the hotel during the joyous season. Special thanks to Rajesh Rajan the GM. Like the hotel in Muscat, the hotels in Cochin and Kerala in general are staffed by migrant/expatriate workers from Bihar, Bengal and parts north. I look forward to my visits there.
The highlight of the visit to Fort Cochin exactly one week ago was the participation at the 65th anniversary of the accord between the Jews of Mala near Cochin who en masse emigrated to Israel and the Panchayat to preserve the Jewish monuments and the colossal task of Prof Karmachandran in achieving it. Only in India one finds such religious and personal tolerance, even though the politicians like every where try to fan anti-muslim sentiments. I had the pleasure of seeing my good friend Biju Thomas, an erudite historian of the area and he introduced me to many of the teachers fo the colleges who were in attendance: Swapna, Sarita, Parvathy, Neethu, Sreelima.. it was indeed a pleasure. On my next visit I plan to visit the college where Swapna and Sarita work to give them an introduction to the contemporary history especially about the Cuban presence in the world.

Yesterday after arriving in Miami, I was so saddened to hear about the death of Sultan Qaboos the benevolent sultan of Oman (so different and so much more tolerant than the other Malay sultan of Brunei). He will be missed in the geopolitics of the region. He was open to Israel and just few months ago had Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel visit him in Muscat, as had Shimon Peres and Itzhak Rubin.

So this is the life of a wandering, humanitarian medical doctor and anthropologist. I have difficulty explaining to people about what I do with my life. They all expect you to fall into a very definable lifestyle and preoccupation. Where is your offie? Where is your home? 

One week with the Native people of Florida who have lived here long long before the europeans arrived in search of Fountain of Youth (Ponce de Leon) and then back to an exciting return to La Habana where my heart is always safe..

jeudi 9 janvier 2020

A NEW FAVOURITE HOTEL TO COME BACK TO : HILTON GARDEN INN IN MUSCAT, OMAN

The sultanate of Oman is without doubt my favourite Muslim country, the friendliest Arab country that I have visited. The Omani people are just friendly open humble and very hospitable. It is very easy to hear a Salaam Aleikum or Inshallah or Peace with be with you from strangers in Oman.
so when you are a guest worker here: majority of whom are from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines and India, you cannot be arrogant or unfriendly..
and on my first stay at the Hilton Garden Inn, a property only about one year old, every single person was personification of Oman plus their country of origin.
I was checked in by Christine from Philippines. I had lost my credit card at the security check in at an Indian airport on my way over to Muscat and I had no hopes of retrieving them easily but they understood that my stay has been paid for and i had no further problems.
At the reception I was able to befriend Lily from Indonesia, Idrees from Pakistan, Rana from Himachal Pradesh, Abdul Aziz from Ghana. I was given a nice room.
The next morning arriving for Breakfast, I was greeted with a warm welcome by Palas from Calcutta who had worked in the cruise ship industry out of Miami and his ebullience perhaps embellished by that experience. The breakfast was a slow , 2 hour experience for me, as I was reading a book on Mindulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, the vietnamese monk , being aware of each morsel of food and the surroundings. the mindfulness enhanced my contact with Mikka and Nina from Philippines, Kajal from Bombay and Vivek from Kottayam and other friendly serving staff and chef.. 
Housekeeping was at your beck and call and I had everything I needed: Jedd from Philippines, Mohammed from Bangladesh
All in all, a very pleasant stay. 
For visitors, two pointers:
download OTaxi app, and go outside the hotel and request a taxi with your app. The regular taxis are expensive, even by Omani standards.
Within walking distance of the hotel are a wide variety of restaurants: indian, turkish, kuwaiti, omani, lebanese and the restaurants are reasonably priced.
Muttrah Souq is only a 3 OMR ride away.

I look forward to a return stay at Muscat and hopefully a friend from Iran would join me. 
























OMAN AIR LOUNGE AT MUSCAT AND YET ANOTHER SURPRISE

Lots of nice things have happened to me in Oman during my various visits and this visit (today I leave for Paris on my way to Miami and then Havana) was no exception.
I arrive at the airport well in time to enjoy the lounge and i walk up to the lady at the reception. and I was surprised to hear her say: Are you not the blogger who wrote about the lounge?
I looked at her name tag: Myla and I recognized her immediately even though it was 3 1/2 years ago that I had met her at the old Oman Air Lounge!
hundreds of people would have passed through the lounge, the newer lounge is spacious and one could easily miss one of the many staff at the lounge.
I looked at her face and there was no doubt, it was Myla from the Philippines.










Thank you OMAN, thank you OMAN AIR and staff like Myla at the Lounge and the various people from 
India, Indonesia, Ghana, Pakistan, Bangladesh that I met at the Hilton Garden Inn and not to mention the OMANI people who greeted me and wanted to talk to me as I walked along the corniche at Muttrah.

mercredi 8 janvier 2020

OMAN THE NICEST FRIENDLIEST COUNTRY IN WEST ASIA

I wanted to say that OMAN is the friendliest Muslim country that I have ever visited, but then I realized that the friendly nature of the Omanis have very little to do with their religion. It is deeply rooted in their long history of ocean faring and the incorporation of other nationalities into the national fibre: Baluchi, Gwador, Zanzibari,Yemeni, Jabali to name a few.
Malaysia would be less friendly if you take the Indians out as they are the friendliest people in the country, take the Chinese out of Indonesia and you can see how quickly that country will change. Bangladesh or Pakistan or Iraq or Afghanistan are not in the horizon of people who want to visit friendly countries. I have had very good reports from visitors to Iran but unfortunately their government does not reflect the open mindedness and tolerance of the population. I have visited Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and in none of those countries I could say the natives are as friendly as the Omanis. 
When you meet an Omani in the street, he would smile at you and would want to start a conversation with you. That is what happened to me when I was walking along the Muttrah Souq and corniche yesterday afternoon. 
I bet you are from Sri Lanka said a bulky omani and then we had a lovely conversation. My own admiration for Omanis and their sultan, HE Qaboos is expressed freely and I find great comfort in talking to the Omani people of all persuasion.
Sultan Qaboos is on the path of omanization of the country in which the Omanis despite their oil income would work and contribute at all levels, from bell boys at hotels to pilots at the national airlines. All taxi services are allotted to Omanis, so you wouldnt see a Mohammed from Kerala driving you around here as you would in Dubai or Doha.

Oman has a ride sharing service but it is very strictly controlled. O Taxi app will bring a taxi driver to you at half the price of a regular taxi, but they are forbidden to pick up or let off passengers at the airport or luxury hotels.
Yesterday I walked just a few meters from the Hilton Hotel and requested a ride to the Muttrah Souq in the old part of Muscat and within about 5 minutes Kamal comes with his car and we begin our journey to the centre of town. Kamal is Omani and from a town 100 km from here, near Nizwa. We begin a nice conversation, about Oman, Salalah, Zanzibar etc. Within about 12 minutes we were downtown and he lets me off. I pay him the fare and thanked him. He said, wait a minute and gets out of his car, opens the boot of the car and takes out something.
It is a black embroidered scarf the kind omanis wear on top of their white long dresses. 
I dont' have anything to give you, but please accept this gift from me, said Kamal, the omani driver.
I have had good experiences from drivers all around the world but this time I was just overwhelmed. I put it around my neck and had to find a place to sit down on the steps of a shop.
Why are they so kind? I kept on asking overwhelmed by emotions.

such a refreshing experience. I had not told him that I was a doctor but as we were talking he said, he will not be working tomorrow because his uncle was coming from the countryside to see a physician about his diabetic foot ulcer. I told him that if he wants me to, I am quite willing to go to his house and see his uncle and talk about Diabetes and Ulcers and how to look after them. He said he would call me ..

mardi 7 janvier 2020

ARRIVING IN MUSCAT OMAN A VERY NICE WELCOME FEELING

Oman has always a special place in my heart. I came to Salalah in Southern Oman in search of Cheng Ho/ Zheng He the great navigator and my first visit to Oman was on my way to London from a visit to Zanzibar.. and learn about the interesting history of Zanzibar and Oman and the kind sultans who ruled over both for hundreds of years.

I left India with a mixture of emotions. I am always sad to leave a place, even after short stays which is the case with me, somehow or another, a transition to another place, another mentality and another personality ..
 Leaving INDIA behind..
breakfast on board Oman Airways to Muscat Oman 

 rugged mountain edges and tranquil sea on the approach to Muscat
 the portuguese might have sailed up the african coast to witness these lands as there was a portugese presence in the trucial coast 




 suddenly the city began to appear underneath. concrete amidst the desert with a certain order which seemed not pleasant because of the lack of trees. Deserts present harsh faces of the earth and here it is no different, this land which juts into Rub al Khalil . the empty quarter unknown to mankind until recently 
 The airport is modern and quiet, the main traffic is to India and the gulf states. Nice to see Omani citizens at work at the airport. The arrival process was painless and I was given a visa on arrival and I made my way up to the arrival lounge to have a shower and freshen myself up for the journey into town 
 while at the lounge I did have a little snack and some sparkling water, knowing that soon I will have to search for these things

Oman has always been about protecting the rights and welfare of its citizens under the magnanimity of Sultan Qaboos.
The taxi drivers licence are given only to Omani citizens which is so different from other gulf states where the chance that your driver would be called Mohammed and would be from Kerala.
Omani men wear their traditional dress and within a very short time I was at the Hilton Garden Inn in the suburb within the sight of the ocean.
Welcome to Oman.
the Cuban ambassador to Oman is resident in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and when I talked to him, I expressed my good feelings about Oman and its people and hope that we can have a project similar to the one we have in Qatar..