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mardi 19 février 2008

Homenaje a Fidel, El Jefe Comandante

This morning the news arrives, a long awaited news. Fidel will not seek or insist on being elected leader of the incoming Cuban Government.
After 50 years, thank God, he deserves a little rest, said a resident of Havana, as quoted in the newspapers.
The news filled me with an emotion, neither sadness nor longing, but saudade, as if a summary of my zeal for Cuba was painted on the canvas and presented to me.
I thought of those distant days my innocent Australian life, full of revolutionary fervor of the frivolous youth. Did Fidel had anything to do to preserve that youthful revolutionary zeal in its freshness to this day?
I wonder.
I was in Sweden, a teenager, wondering at the world that had been presented to me, without understanding, missing my home in Australia.
A very big black man comes into our hostel. Says he is a student in Moscow. And that he is from Cuba.
In our International Hostel we were celebrating the anniversary of the October revolution!
Sweden was where I became aware of Fidel, Che and the Cuban Revolution. Soon after that I had a chance to visit Miami, a city I fell in love with at first sight, and wanted to return one day.
Which I did
As a medical student. The contact with Cubans began in the earnest, once again with the poor Cuban patients who had come from Cuba.
The reality of cuba on either side of the Straits was not there. Our life as medical students and later when I returned to do my postgraduate training, Cuba was an image, Fidel and Che, icons, a place I could only imagine in my head, remembering trivialities like various flavours of icecream in Coppelia and the romance behind Che’s disappearance in Bolivia.
There was another love that entered my life at the same time, which fueled my love for Cuba and Fidel.
As a person coming from a very “socialist” background (father having fought for the liberation of Burma), the entry of Fidel and Che was made easier by the words of that eternal humanistic poet, Pablo Neruda.
I began reading him, in English and trying to pronounce the Spanish words on the other side of the bilingual edition.
I remember the music of the Spanish words
Sonrisa Corazon crepusculo madrugada… they still resonate within my heart..
I also remember Pablo writing about the Indians in his Machu Pichu epic and also …
Only the rich people think that Poverty will breed character… ha, an introduction into Fidelismo..
Who in the wide world of letters not know
Puedo escribir los versos mas trsite este noche? In Tegucigalpa, I recited the poem to the best of my ability under the influence of their second rate rum… soon realized that every educated person in Latin America knew the poem.. also other poems such as
United Fruit Company
that fly Ubico, another fly samoza… and the ultimate fly Batista…moscos..
Love for Cuba increased little by little despite being surrounded by Cubans of another shade stuck in their vivid recollections of partial prosperity of the 1950s..
In Jamaica, I came across Internationalistas, the idea attracted me very much. I, an Australian Jew, was also being an Internationalista in Jamaica… and the Cuban Ambassador was un negro calvo, Ulisses Estrada..
I remember reading, in a paper interview, the Ambassador said..I like Bob marley and Beethoven..
The magic of Cuba increased slowly in my mind..Miami and the Cortaditos, Cubans in Guyaberas heatedly arguing something or other that I couldn’t understand in front of the Versailles Restaurant…
I t was the Palm Trees that brought me to Cuba..
11 July 1994
Flight from Nassau to Havana. Antunov 24. Large windows. Soviet style seats, and airhostesses and absolutely no service..
Within minutes of arriving, my travelling companion, a doctor like myself, was accosted by a prostitute as he walked out of the immigration and customs at the Jose Marti Terminal 1, that was the only terminal at that time.
I knew within days that I have come across a pot of gold here in this Isla Rica..Humanity tattoed into your heart. Open, generous, caressing us with their affections, the Cubans won us over, completely..
So did Baracoa, looking at the Bahia form the Balcony of the Hotel Castillo, I was reminded of the lagoons of the various islets I had visited in my part of the world, in the Pacific.
Baracoa, La Habana, Amparo, Rosa Maria, Mother Lucia, Cari all slowly waltzed into my life.
Never through this period of absolute euphoria and non comprehension of what was happening to my mind, sheltered as I was by my magical imagination, not for a minute, did I loose my respect for the person responsible for all this
Fidel Castro Ruz
Intellectuals after Intellectuals in La Habana, made me realize, the unique qualities of life in Cuba, the non materialistic side and the artistic side and the humanistic side, the futuristic side, the global side of the Cuban magnanimity…
I met the son of a Polish jewish Immigrant who was one of the founders of the original Cuban communist party ( he , his son, their families did not migrate out of Cuba even though they had chances)..
One after noon in his walk up apartment in Vedado, looking at the malecon, sipping a strong cup of Cuban coffee he said to me:
If you are concerned about yourself more than others, please go to united states, that country would reward you very well.
But if you are inclined to think about the welfare of others, if the plight of others touch you, here or in Africa, stay here, Cuba will have many gifts for you..
Thank You.
For teaching the meaning of the word Solidaridad..
Seven Consecutive New Years Eves and Mornings in Baracoa
Tender hands which have touched my heart, the immensity of the loves, affections of the little ones who are no longer little, songs and dances, and our Club Sultan de Baracoa where on an average night we would empty 10 bottles of Rum and food and music and movies..
Cuba has been a moveable feast for me..
Defending Cuba during my travels and standing up for what Fidel believes in the sphere of medical help, has not been difficult..
Recently, at the airport in Siem Reap, Cambodia, someone asked, where are you from?
Tourists, like all of us, milling around this ancient site of Angkor Wat, the memory of Hindu Kings from TamilNadu, Vijaya Varman II
I live in Cuba and the next question was about Fidel..
Many Indians have enquired about his health and in on e ceremony we all did pray for Fidel.. Warao Indians and Penan Indians all have asked me about the health of Fidel Castro..
This new friend asked me, how is Fidel?
To which I answered. Before I discuss anything about Cuba with you, I have to tell you something. I am an unashamedly strong supporter of Fidel Castro, and whatever propaganda you might have heard in your country or in the internet, I am a strong supporter and lover of Cuba.. so I must warn you, you will hear nothing bad about Fidel or Cuba from me..
Fourteen years of Love worth a century. Admiration that moulded my compassion for people s suffering.
Such Close Friends.
So much affection has passed between us, setting the sail of this journey, become smoother..
When my dearst Friend, Miguel Angel’s son in Baracoa, asked me, when he was a high school student..
Doctor, Quien Tu eres?
Soy Fidelista
Soy Internationalista
Soy Cubano de Corazon, naci en la memoria de todos baracoese..

At the Healing Ceremony of Hocank Indians, a participant prayed: The leader of the country where our doctor travels to is sick, may the spirits look kindly upon him and heal him.
I can only humbly repeat those words..

PHOTO taken at the living room of the Blue House where I stay when I come to visit the Indians in the UmonHon Country.
The large pillow was a gift from the family of Marcia Tyndall, an UmonHon
The pillows were made by and given to me years ago by Louis la rose’s mother. She was a HoCank
An original photo of Fidel taken in the mountains, gift of a gallery owner in Obispo street in Havana.
An original 26 julio banner, a gift of a Santiaguera.
The fading painting is a gift from a then 12 year old Baracoan girl.
The Book 100 horas con Fidel, gift of Madre Lucia.

I am grateful to so many people in La Habana and Baracoa, for making my life in Cuba, a veritable feast..Sandra for introducing me to Ibrahim Ferrer and another world of magic and beauty..Miguel Angel for weaving fantasies with the language of dearest friends and members of Club Sultan de Baracoa.. my magical little ones Mari 1 Mari 2 Chinita and Claudia. And a not so little Yanetsy.

vendredi 1 février 2008

Cultural Identity: Tale of a Traveller

Who are you, anyway?
In the New World, especially the Anglo-Saxon, English speaking conglomeration of USA/CANADA/AUSTRALIA/NEW ZEALAND, the superficial identities are clear enough. The deep identities are less clear. “ I am half English, half German with a touch of American Indian thrown in “, is a common saying in the USA. A half of this and a quarter of this another quarter of that, does not add up to one instead it adds up to zero, American Indians would say.These peregrinations would apply to all who in the live in the new world, but especially those who have not acquired their nationality “naturally” as the Australian government officials would say, meaning a Malaysian Chinese living in Australia, a Fijian Indian living in Aotearoa, a Pakistani in Britain ( Black British, they say, but why isn’t he a Black English?), a guyanese living in Canada, among others.In Australia, post 1972 Whitlam Government and the aftermath of Colombo Plan students, a new hybrid began taking shape. Parents from Asia or remote areas such as Seychelles, trying to forge an Identity; Aotearoa ( the land of the long white cloud: New Zealand ) with its multifocal south pacific populations, all trying to be or rejecting to be a Kiwi.Nationality in the new world, in the legal sense, Passport Holding, is a creation with the Political Body dictating a uniform Social Body, doing so to avoid social problems, thus acting upon the Individual Bodies. But cultural identities are not Just or just only Bodily manifestations. How often have I heard in my travels, “ I thought all Australians are white?”At times it is difficult to melt into the Australian cultural identity, one must not only change bodies ( from Saree to a dress, out of turban to an uniform way of dressing) but try to change a way of thinking as well ( to me, a difficult thing to do). When I was a Junior Doctor at University of Melbourne hospitals, what mattered most was the school you attended ( high school mind you, not university), there was instantaneous acceptance if you were from a private school as most medical students were in those days.Australia is a good example of a place which is Multi Ethnic but not Multicultural. One particular high school in Melbourne has produced more Prime Ministers than you can count, the upper class is heavily loaded with connections to Scotland ( as is the case in the southern island of Aotearoa). I realized very early on that, it is an identification with the European way of thinking that is being demanded of all- regardless of where your parents came from Yugoslavia or Burma. Post-renaissance western European that is, not Slavic or Oriental.Most immigrants to these four countries try to fit in, after all they had gone there voluntarily from India or Egypt to better their lives. While in the host countries there may be ghetto communities from the old countries, there are no appropriate cultural receptacles in the host countries for the new comers and their children. Of course, a white immigrant from former Rhodesia has no problem assimilating into Australian society as they have demonstrated in Western Australia and Queensland. Rejected or unable to assimilate, in Australia, for example to the predominantly Scottish protestant way of thinking and in USA to the stoicism of the german and English, these foreign bodies and their descendants look for Communities.I shall describe, by personal example, this search for community. I have felt comfortable in only three communities in the world: even though I have lived in 18 different locations in 10 different countries. The three communities are or were: The Jewish Community of Melbourne, Australia; the Medical Community of the Jackson Memorial Hospital at the University of Miami and the general community of Miami and the final one being where I am currently: the small city of Baracoa in the eastern part of the island of Cuba.Within the jewish community of Melbourne, almost all of us were children of jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe with a sprinkling of other geographic entities. Once I lost that connection with the Jewish Community in Melourne, I lost my cultural identity as an Australian as well. No, I still feel “Australian” but the sense of belonging, especially to what used to be our little world of : st kilda, elwood and caulfied and Kew has disappeared.If Australian ambience has failed to integrate you, there is no point in looking in other new world countries. So my search began for a community where my Body (Jewish) and my mind ( by now distinctly post renaissance European influenced ) would fit in.Easy to search for, in places where your parents were born or had come from- Belorus is not the answer, though. The jewish communities of most of eastern Europe has all but disappeared. In my case, I searched in Malaysia ( where I was born and lived until the ripe age of 2!) and Borneo ( especially Kuching, which had incited Somerset Maugham type of memories of childhood spent in Borneo ). But in these places the Mind-Body conflict was much more severe in Australia, which is always ready to welcome you back. Asians have difficulty accepting European minds in Asian Bodies. Europeans on the other hand, understand this conflict easily and even come to respect your mind.I went to study in England. England, ah England, where so many roots sprouted towards its European colonies and giving them their distinct shade. But non European colonies were exempt, Jamaicans who now have lived for three generations in England are referred to as Black British, they cannot become Black English ( because English is a cultural term and British is a changing political term, such as Falklanders are British, Ascension Islanders are trying to get their Britishness back, most non Europeans holding British passports are not considered British and most of them are denied entry into Britain). Of course an Aussie or Kiwi with immediate family connections would certainly would find “home” there, judging by the number of Aussies and Kiwis who live and have integrated well into the life of London, for example. But what about the rest of us? We hold blue Australian passports and now stand in line at the Non European Passport Lines at London Heathrow, whereas before we had our own lines at Immigration: Commonwealth Citizens!After the established communities- in the East and West- found you ineligible for membership and you had rejected them, whatever the case may be, the next choice is to look for a small community, a small town somewhere else. Quaint places had always attracted, such as Noel Coward to Firefly in the northern coast of Jamaica, intellectuals, foreigners and others marginalized in their own countries for reasons of their way of thinking.In my case, I looked for such a small community to make my home: Cochin in the state of Kerala in India, the island of Zanzibar and the English speaking countries in the Caribbean such as Jamaica. It is not a matter of black and white, African, Asian or European. During my years of search, I thanked Australia, for in comparison to the other countries, “ I still called Austrlia home”. Then you realize your unease with cultural identity in Australia or USA, is not just limited to Australia or USA, it is a underlying desire to find a community of like minded souls. Life in Australia or USA would always be better than Cochin or Zanzibar ( in a material sense ), and more importantly, in our countries ( A U C N ) there is a chance that you might run into individual intellectuals and people with broad views of the world ( Individuality is much prized in these countries ). I am perfectly compatible with intellectuals of similar latitudes in matters of mutual interest.I realized that search for a community is also search for yourself, to find out who you are and find compatibility with the outer world for your inner world.In searching for a community, what is important is the level you have attained in the sensibility of emotions. ( There is a good story about the writer/poet Larkin and the psychoanalyst Freud about ones ability to enjoy the beauty that is presented to them )Secondly, there has to be a certain congruity between your social ideas and the social ideas of the community you wish to integrate into.In the end, it comes down to this. Are you interested in just yourself or in the welfare of others as well? And their well being and more importantly are you wiling to contribute to that?An old jewish communist in Havana one day explained this to me, after that I was able to enjoy Cuba even more, because of your genuine desire to help Cubans and to understand that Cuba helps more than anyone else the poor and destitute of the poor countries especially in Africa.There is very little migration out of USA, upto a million and half migrate to it each year! Australians tend to travel a lot, but permanent migration is much smaller, since most Australians tend to return home, even after 20 years away, surveys show.If you are interested in the welfare of others much more than yours, the whole world opens up, when making money is not the only objective, the horizons widen dramatically. It is unrealistic to expect external things to make you happy, says Dalai Lama. American Indians say that you should be thankful for what you have and enjoy that which is around you.A combination of an inner desire to be of help and able to do so, would eventually drive you into the arms of a waiting community which would adopt you as it gets to know you. Going somewhere ( with Peace Corps or Volunteers Abroad) alone, having the desire to help would lead you to a country or more; a wide variety of places could be visited. But only the intellectual bent of the person and his sensibility, and that alone will lock him into an appropriate community and country, which would remove from him or her all the conflicts of a cultural identity.You do not dramatically change, your body remains as before, your legal identity does not change, but your place in the universe is better defined, your purpose is clearer to you, happiness comes easily, rather just contentment.I live in Baracoa, Cuba but half of each month, I am out of the community physically ( to continue my professional endeavours which started in Australia and matured in the USA, that of an Endocrinologist and Medical Anthropologist). While away, as right now, I am among the UmonHon Indians in Nebraska, my emotional attachment to the community and friends in Baracoa is reminded of by indirect and direct symbolism that I see everywhere
but I am present there in the minds of my friends as they are in mine.