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samedi 19 avril 2008

Guanabacoa in the Far North of Australia
You were here a couple of years ago, I asked the Peruvian lady selling trinkets in the shade of a gorgeous banyan tree in the middle of the city of Cairns, in the far north of the State of Queensland, Australia. She peers at me, silence broken at the recognition, you are the doctor from Cuba, her tone changes into a warm one, and her first question was, How is Fidel?
He is sick, and let us hope for the best.
Two old men, obviously retired, whiling this Friday morning at the trinket stand, looked at me at the mention of our Comandante, Querido Fidel Castro.
They are from Cuba, said the lady, with a slight laugh.
I cannot but sing praises for my little island, the value of goodness in the individuals of that distant island which makes up for the happiness, in that non materialistic setting. Knowing that Cairns has a large group of refugees from Timor Leste, the former Portuguese colony brutalized by the Indonesian Military, I said to her, Cuba invites a fair number of students from Timor Leste to come and study in Cuba to become doctors and teachers..
How nice, she said.
I should have noticed the faces of men. They looked out of place here, in this friendly northern town, felt he would be more at home wearing his startched guyaberas in Café Versailles in SouthWest Eight Street in Miami..drinking a cafecito.
Where are you from? I asked the other man. I was from Camaguey but spent more time in Vedado. Neither of them were interested in talking about Cuba. No questions asked. The usual immigrant dilemma. Do I miss my city? Shall I feel it? Or feel the bitterness of exile from an island which has defied all odds for the past forty nine years, Did my country chase me away? Am I a misfit here among many other misfits and marginalized people? Should I miss my country?
Refugees among other refugees, external ones such as those from Timor Leste, Zimbabwe nurses at the local public hotel, two ageing Cuban exiles, not refugees, too far from Cuba, and from another time, to be refugees.
My exuberance is an insult to them. I try not to overflow with my emotions for Cuba, but cannot hide my love for Cuba, even if it is inappropriate under these hot humid breeze and clouds less sculpted than the ones in my Isla Rica.
Where are you from, I now direct my attention to the grey haired man sitting fidgeting at nothing in particular.
Guanabacoa, his sentences are one word long, unusual for a Hablanero!
The jewish cemetery and Rita Montaner, I tried to bring a little enthusiasm into the conversation.
Ice cold silence
Time has not healed the wound of departure in these people. Perhaps the wound has bled them of their soul. Love for ones own country. It is a selfish act to condemn ones country based on political or social changes that affect all but put emphasis on the individual suffering and defect from the idealism of a better world. Cuba is for people who care about others, Cuba is for people with a sense of solidarity. The old communist had told me in 1996, if you think more about yourself than others, go to USA, you will be rewarded .. but if you can think of others, put yourself in the situation of those who are also suffering, welcome to Cuba, you will have a great time..
I don’t have to reiterate my wonderful association with Cuba for the last 10 years.
There is a Puerto Rican Girl here , Diva Melendez. She is off soon to Timor Leste to do some voluntary work. To give to others, building her good worth by sharing her human values
Said the lady from Peru.
Please give her my email, who knows she might find a deserving student in Timor Leste who could come to Cuba to study Medicine. Then one more village in Timor will have a doctor in five years..
I have your card from the last time, said the lady from Peru. Ceviche and Andes, like Rita Montaner and the decaying jewish cemetery in Guanabacoa may be inappropriate under these humid skies.
It is the tragedy of time, the earth opens up, sucks you in, along with the dusty streets where you played your innocent games. The reality remains the snow of the Andes is far away and you may never again feel the biting wind of the altiplano, ensconced amidst misfits and marginalized and ordinary and all the extraordinariness of this wonderful country somehow or other barred to you, not to your children, grandchildren, here in the humid tropics of Australia, a dream and a century away.
Here is a little souvenir for you, I said to her, and pulled out the red three peso note from Cuba
Che Guevara de la Sarna Lynch once rode through the heart of her country commiserating with miners and lepers and the poor of the andes
Mira, Look, Che, she said in an excited voice, the old man from Guanabacoa still looked on coldly.
Certainly the earth of mankind has formed itself into a dust as thick as the tropical mist for him, Cuba is far away indeed.
For him, may be
Not for me, in my heart I carry the voices of my friends and their affections bridge the apparent distance
How can I be far away from Cuba, when they are with me and wherever they go they take me along?

Written on the flight from Cairns to Darwin 4 4 08
Transcribed at Changi Airport in Singapore 5.4.08

Dedicated to Adriana and Loraine and Yanetsy, young psychologists in cuba

mercredi 2 avril 2008

Miami to Houston on a Continental Airlines Flight

I firmly believe that things are meant to happen; you must stop expecting them to happen and of course, accept it with grace when it does happen. Casualidad no es tan casual, Coincidence are not what they appear to be, we chide each other in Baracoa, a coastal town in Cuba, nearly carried away to the sea recently by a wave so huge it had begun somewhere else. Few days earlier, Whales were seen visiting the Bay, something that has not happened to those with recent memory. It always brings bad luck, said the white haired Negro, who fifty years ago remembered the arrival of whales just a few days before the hurricane that was to level Baracoa to its foundations. But that is another story.

Casualidad no es tan casual, my dear friend, the Little poet of Baracoa would say, echoing what American Indians have repeatedly told me, Nothing happens without a reason, it is just that we are not smart enough to understand them when they are happening.

I am writing this to you, ensconced in the First Class lounge of the Qantas Airways, the national airways of Australia. (Do you know what Qantas stands for?). This is their lounge in Los Angeles Airport where the security details were much less neurotic than the melodramatic Latinos in Miami.

Some Sushi, a cappuccino and now to recollect the story.

Flight from Miami to Houston, this morning, on Continental Airlines. A nice seat on the Exit row, no one sitting next to me, I was making myself comfortable, when I heard my name paged on the PA system of the aircraft. I had an inkling of what it might be.

Checking in at Continental Airlines counters in Miami is a sheer pleasure for me. I have been friends with the same agents, for many years, through their marriages and children, and my own travel exploits in various parts of the Caribbean. One of the Jamaicans is married to a Cuban, so the relationship is even more meaningful.

After looking at my ticket, Anne another Jamaican with a touch of Chinese to her face, said, you are not upgraded because all the seats are taken but I would put you on Priority Waiting List in case someone does not show up. A small chance, but why not?

Why not?

And now I hear my name paged, and a gracious flight attendant with many years of flying under her belt, kindly points me towards the front cabin.

Seat 2 F

A young man, Latin looking, with no Indian or Negro admixture, was occupying the seat next to me. Sweat rolled down his forehead, and he held a scotch in his right hand.

I sat down and busied myself with organizing my notebook and the reading materials to occupy me for the next two hours.

The young man looked in my direction and said:

I am a little nervous and don’t like to fly. But I have to fly a lot. This fear is since the dreadful experience I had flying into Guatemala City after the eruption of the volcano in that Central American country, from where his catholic father had emigrated to marry a Mormon mother in Houston where he was raised, to enjoy the American dream.

I noticed that the shades were pulled down and I opened them slightly.

If you don’t mind, if you open the blinds, it would remind me that I am not in control of the situation and I would panic. It has been worse since the episode.

I may as well tell you, without waiting for an answer.

Was flying into the dust storm created by the volcanic eruption. Everything was going well, a little bumpy, and then the pilot comes on the PA system to say that the dust is so thick that he cannot see where he is going. And soon after, with a thud the plane dropped a few hundred feet down, as happens when they hit an air pocket or a change in consistency of air, such as the rare volcanic ash spawn across the sky.

The oxygen masks came down, the hand luggage flew everywhere, and I started to pray

Soon enough we landed safely, but since then I have this great fear of flying. I visited several psychologists and they helped me a little and I took courses on the workings of an aircraft and I was told that 737-900 are safer and that their wingtips will help stabilize the plane. Alas, I was on a 737-400 aircraft. Also I learned that it is in the first fourteen minutes of the flight and the last fifteen minutes of the flight that most of the problems occur. So I need a scotch to calm myself down when the plane takes off and another when the plane lands and also I have this BOSE noise cancelling earphones that calms me down ..

Have you tried Yoga and meditation, I asked him.

Now that you ask me, I have never tried it. I thought you have to be supple to do that. I am only 27; I suppose I could try it.

I told him about the calming effects of Yoga and Meditation and also as an added booster, I told him to eat 70 per cent cacao chocolate to calm his inflammation in the body.

He seemed grateful.

In bits and pieces, he had said that he was an entrepreneur, had six offices, including Miami and Houston and Cancun. We talked about Mexico, and then Guatemala, the country of his origin.

I really did not want to ask him what his business is all about. but out of politeness I asked, what is the nature of your business?

Web design and hosting...

He outsources his work to Mexico and would like to outsource to Asia but he lacks contacts there.

I told him of another chance meeting at the airport in Siem Reap in Cambodia when a driver was holding a placard with the name Aung Khant written on it (which is my Burmese name) and the other passenger was quite intrigued about the name and the face which was soon to appear. This meeting had led to investigation and probably birth of the website for the Cambodian Diabetes Association and the Born Lucky Diabetes Foundation of Dr Lim Keuky, a Cambodian resident in France.

I asked him what would be the cost of a website, design of about 15 to 20 pages with links and services, including the facility for me to answer medical questions posed by the readers of the website..

Give me an idea, he said, I happened to have the outline of the web content with me which had been forwarded to Kuala Lumpur and Siem Reap. He studies for a moment.

The set up would be 400 usd and about 20 usd per month to maintain the site. Of course, I would charge less, if I did it myself, since my clients are usually large corporations and they pay lot more, he mentioned Fiesta Tropical Supermarket in Houston as one of his clients.

This meeting could not be coincidental. I was upgraded only at the last minute because his business partner had cancelled the trip in the last half hour and decided to stay on in Miami. My friend had put me on the Priority list; otherwise the agent at the gate could have given it other people who may have been waiting for an upgrade as well.

The Marketing Managers of the companies contacted by the Malaysian astonished at the Burmese name, had all been kind and accommodating. I thought, perhaps they could write directly to him, and start some form of association, in which his company could outsource the work to them to some degree.

They are Chinese, I told him to reassure himself.

Indians are very good at Web Design and Hosting and all that, but in my experience they are not good at anything else, like building up relationship and punctuality and business attitudes. Individuals are, but my experiences have been on the contrary.

Asking him to help with the website of the Cambodian Diabetes Association was the furthest in my mind. The website execution was coming along fine in Kuala Lumpur and I was very satisfied with the progress. But I did tell him that my friends are trying to create a website for a charity in Cambodia.

He was relatively calm when the plane descended to land. It was a bit cloudy and he repeatedly asked me, can you see the land yet?

I tried to calm him down and talking about things he wanted to learn, a variety of subjects, such as cuisine of Israel which he had tasted at the Israeli Falafel place in Miami Beach, he was amazed at learning that there is a difference between religion and culture, and of course, he was totally unaware of Guatemalan literature. I recommended that he read, Guatemalan Childhood by Victor Pereira, to remind himself of the childhood he had in Guatemala City.

He was pleased, as the plane landed. The beads of sweat had disappeared and the scotch was half drunk when the flight attendant took it away from him.

Don’t forget to eat 70 per cent cacao chocolate, I reminded him as we got up to leave. I will get it from the internet, as I would the book, he said, as he started meddling with Blueberry.

Also, the meditation.  Mmm, he concurred.

Then he looks at me, and says

If it is a tax break, I might think of doing the website for you, on the side.

I am not going to ask him, not this time, a chance for some other charity might occur in the future. I am more interested in some entrepreneurial Chinese marketing manager get hold of some of his outsourcing.

The coincidence of upgrade, his profession, his geographical origin, his fear of flying, my current desire to help Cambodian Diabetes Association and the good people behind it, gave me much satisfaction.

It made me realize why the Indians call the Superior Forces, the Great Mystery. There are mysteries in life, beyond solving and capable of providing awe and wonder, these cannot be deciphered by us humans and also no scientific explanation would be satisfactory or sought for.

Just make sure that you deserve to appreciate these mysteries...

Chance favours a prepared mind; I remember reading it on the back of a bus ticket in Adelaide, during my Australian adolescence...


Ah, well, dear friends, time for a nice glass of wine from the country that taught me the appreciation of wine

I still call Australia HOME..