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mardi 21 avril 2009

Overweight Atheletes of America

This evening I witnessed a group of young Indians joyously playing a sport they adore.. Basketball. there was much happiness in the air and the efforts were strenuous. One can see that these young men were atheletes. There was one big difference.. If you were at the Gym watching a group of young European American men playing basketball, hardly any one would be overweight. Whereas all the Indian players were overweight. 
What makes American Indians and the people who have Indian admixture like Mexicans, Mestizos of the Americas, become fat so easily. I have visited Cuna Indians in San Blas Islands, Otavalo Indians at their home north of Quito, Ecuador and Tarahuamara amidst the Copper Canyon.. They were all active but lean, in fact when i checked about 100 tarahuamara, there was not a single Indian who would be considered "normal body weight" by western standards, they were all lean. It does not take much imagination to ascertain that at one time, before their freedom was taken away, fully, around 1862, American Indians were also thin and in fact I have several photographs from the 1950s showing them to be extremely fit and lean.
I checked the Obesity/Overweight rate at the tribe with whom I am spending today: 95 per cent are overweight or obese.
Oppression and Stress; Spiritual disruption followed by Physical disruption; bad eating habits, and then just bad food.. Just bad food, since the rest of the North Americans are also becoming Fat.. 66% are either overweight or fat..
45% of the children are overweight or obese, so it has to be something in the environment..
Nutritionists and other mavens talk about ingredients in the food and caloric content, but very seldom i have heard them discuss the chemical content of the food all of which are now shown to be obesogenic.. add to that Plastics and other chemical burdens..
Bread...the expert might discuss its carbohydrate content or its caloric value but may not discuss that it also contains High Fructose Corn syrup which is not a fruit  but a chemical which can increase insulin resistance in the body...
Watching these young Indians play so hard and so earnestly and almost all of them overweight or obese, i realized that the Indigenous people have lost all their freedom, including their choice of food.. now forced to eat what is easily available in their remote locations, beaten to the bottom of the emotional heap with no desire to cultivate the lands which was all theirs once upon a time..

The quality of available everyday food is very poor indeed...Till that is improved on a national basis, no amount of activity and exercise would help remove the chemical burden american indian bodies and increasingly all american bodies are exposed to..

lundi 20 avril 2009

To Myanmar With Love

To Myanmar with Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur
from Things Asian Press in Bangkok will be published this month.. I have two stories in it
The Hat Sellers of Chaungtha Beach.. and you see me pictured with them when they came to visit me in Yangon..
The Watchman of Yangon..

this is Vasu, the Watchman of Yangon..A Tamoul with no memory of Tamilnadou .. completely Burmese.. a fantastic lesson in Integration.. Hope you have a chance to read this book of travelogues by travellers.
On 8th May 2009, I will be on that MH flight from KLIA to Mingaladon Airport, at one time the busiest airport in South East Asia.. now just a few flights a day...I already have my visa issued at the Myanmar Embassy in Paris..
This will be a short visit, just until 11th May 2009. Let us see how this visit turns out to be.. I am just so eager to be there.. I have been there quite a few times.. Burma of my father and Myanmar of my friends...

A Medical Anthropologist at large

Medical Anthropology is not about medicine,  but about Society. It is a tool in which we can divert the gaze of the academics who focus on rituals and symbolism to the more fundamental causes of suffering and violence in our societies, in a predictive manner, so that the information collected from societies and cultures would be useful not only to understand the exotic nature of human thinking but also prevent the all the more prevalent abuse against human beings, usually exotic people, who live marginalized in oppressive societies:  Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia in case of American Indians, and also the seemingly integrated aboriginal populations of Canada, USA, Aotearoa and Australia, who have much in common.  (influenced by Paul Farmer)

Marginalization happens to every one, they don’t have to be exotic. Women who are partners of men with emotional, psychological and addictive problems, even though they may not share a common culture, but become marginalized, especially if the economic situation is unsteady. We always talk about human rights in Colombia, but what is the root cause of that? It is the same root cause of violence in Mexico, Peru, Honduras and other countries in the hemisphere.

No one pays attention to the fact that majority of the Mexican immigrants are paid less than normal, but they emphasize the fact that very few Mexicans graduate from American high schools where they reside, but they don’t make the connection. 

I still remember very clearly, one of my first visits to an Indian Reservation, and discussing the possibilities of Diabetes Prevention. Of course the discourse was strictly on technical terms: low fat food, more exercise, such as is continued to this day. An elderly Lakota man got up and said: Outsiders think Diabetes and Alcoholism are our main problems, but for us, the main problem is lack of employment. Give us jobs and you would see how quickly Diabetes and alcoholism disappears. At that time, I was also working with Alabama-Coushatta tribe of Texas, an anomalous cultural entity in that, they are deeply Presbyterian but they never lost their language. Also they had one of the highest rates of employment among the Indian tribes and one of the lowest rates of alcoholism. The connection did not go unnoticed by me but to this day, the linear thinking of the western mind, look for cause and effect, and expect correction of deficits and deficiencies, with money put into mechanical projects which produces very little result.

It is our desire to help others, it is that characteristic that makes us adopt the other as sister and brother.

If you are selfish, you would be selfish with your feelings as well

Then you would begin to attach material values to that selfish affections: give gifts only to your children or those from whom you could expect something in return.

Others, like those who work for you, or maids and cleaning ladies, become unimportant, their welfare is not a problem to you.

So it is selfishness, a bad characteristic to avoid. I look around, all the people who are close to me, living in various parts of the world, we are connected by a strong thread of desire to be of help, just a kind word, just a little moment to wipe a tear away.


A time of innocence, when each flower in bloom had an open message, a world without cynicism, long afternoons soaked with its humid air from the river that flew swiftly into the equatorial sea... The South China Sea

That period spent with my parents, incidentally the only period in my life that I spent time with both my parents, taught me a lesson.

Wherever in the world you go, do not lose that innocence

Leave cynicism to those others who would rather loose sleep over it.

Always extend a helping hand to those who stretch theirs to meet or even too feeble to stretch their hands, the beauty and the possibilities will be revealed to you...

Many hands, friends and other lovers had entered since then, given gentle hellos and kisses and long gone. Some left a trace and the others vanished in the mist of time.

I sit here, in this night market, surrounded by pale girls with covered heads, flamboyant madams with flowing robes in large prints, obvious in their cheapness, older men looking older by the minute.



One can only look forward, a good lesson learned in Cuba and by reading the tales of that erstwhile neocolonial writer, who happens to write in the language that I adore, English, Sir VSNaipaul. My life has been a project, but who writes the script? On which stage is the theatre? But unlike the King unleashing in Shakespearean Macbeth about life being a metaphor for a play put on by idiots... this story has been a pleasant one, always with new and exciting possibilities, new doors opening. Like right now, my heart rests restlessly in Paris, my soul wanders like Orishas over the island of our dreams, and the love I feel for you, each and every one of my friends. As I write this, at this night market, possibly the only Jew in this entire sultanate, the only foreigner eating here, at this night market surrounded by curious eyes.



I must hurry, there is a patient waiting for me in Siem Reap (brother Jim thought it could be Mitral Valve Prolaps), a Burmese curry is being prepared, my little ones in Baracoa are anxious for my return: Mari 1 and Mari 2, Chinita and Claudia,  dearer to me than a collection of clouds over the mountains of Baracoa, all of them enveloping with their kisses all the love they so give me, my Cuban hearts, without reservations and without questions.

Like Augusto Monterosso (Guatemala, Mexico and friend of Cuba) wrote in his famous one line poem

When I awoke, the Dinosaurs was still there

When I wake up from my sweet dreams and optimistic illusions in Paris, I will say to myself

When I awoke, all friends that I love and adore were still there.


dimanche 19 avril 2009

From UmonHon Country to the Big Brown Land

what is that one is supposed to feel when your good friend, who made your life comfortable while visiting her country is leaving to that huge brown and red continent of yours? MiHu and I went to a wine store first, selected a Valentin Bianchi Malbec and then had a delightful dinner at Raspberry's.. mouth watering Scallops and the owner Paula sent us off with one of her creations of Chocolate Mousse.. she is a disciple of Stephane Glacier (meilleur ovrier de France Patissier 2000)...
Happiness is mingled with a littel sadness. the strong identity of an UmonHon. Eagle Feather and loyalty of relatives. When she goes away, every one in the big circle of friends and relatives mourn, because they cant see her for a little while.. Nuclear Family has very little meaning here in the Indian Country.. I will miss her but we now have at least two things in common, not to mention Argentine Malbec from Mendoza.. the Country of UmonHon and the Big Land Downunder..

samedi 11 avril 2009

Neighbourhood Brasserie

In every neighbourhood there are Brasseries and some of them have long histories in Paris. Many were begun by people who came from very poor parts of France and they began as peddlers selling wood and coals and similar items and then began eating places from the region they had come from.
One such is Le Bougnat d'Asnieres in the area of Asnieres-sur-seine. The restaurant has been in the family for three generations and they cook authentic food from the provinces. I was told that the original owner came from Aveyron, a rather remote area 100 years ago! The atmosphere is what one imagines for Bistro ( a russian word I am told) to be like.. very welcoming ambience.. the food is tasty and presented in a fine fashion and there is no snobbishness or pretensions.
I had a special dish of coquille san jacques on a bed of rice on top of a saumon sauce, and the dessert was Ille flottante dans sauce anglais? which was like a creamy sweets on a very sweet sauce.. The wine list is reasonable and one can have wine in quarts which is about 2 1/2 glasses enough to satisfy ones palate during dinner..

vendredi 10 avril 2009

Pesach in Paris Jour 2

Claude Berger is certainly an interesting man.. Born and raised in Marais, the jewish district, this writer, philospher, marxist, and a dentist to boost and a lover of jewish culture and yiddish and its music.. now runs a yiddische restaurant in the heart of Marais... while writing books, singing and hosting klezmer and gypsy musicians.
Yiddisch is well and alive in Marais... you could say on this second night of Pesach.

He liked the movie La Tren de la Vie 1998 and named his restaurant .. Tren de la Vie

Train of Life (in French Train de Vie) is a 1998 French language tragicomedy film. It tells the story of an eastern EuropeanJewish village's plan to escape the Holocaust. Some of their members pretend to be Nazis in order to ostensibly transport them to a concentration camp, when in actuality, they are going to Israel (Palestine).

The movie starts off with a man, named Schlomo, running crazily through a forest, with his voice playing in the background, saying that he has seen the horror of the Nazis in a nearby town, and he must tell the others. Once he gets into town, he informs the rabbi, and together they run through the town and once they have got enough people together, they hold a town meeting. At first, many of the men do not believe the horrors they are being told, and many criticize Schlomo, for he is the town lunatic, and who could possibly believe him? But the rabbi believes him, and then they try to tackle the problem of the coming terrors. Amidst the pondering and the arguing, Schlomo suggests that they build a train, so they can escape, and so, the Train of Life is born.

In this well appointed restaurant in one of the alleys of the jewish part of Paris, one can hear Klezmer music and also gypsy music sometimes visitors joining in. while eating the typical eastern european jewish meal... matzoball soup, gefillte fish, cholent, latkes, kashe etc etc...

the first day of seder his place was full from the jewish people from the neighbourhood attending the seder, wtih a few visitors. the second night was far more relaxed, the strain of conducted the first night still showed on his face... so this night we hear: French, English, Yiddisch... songs and chants from the shtetl..

a nice experience indeed..

17, rue des écouffes 75004 Tel : 01-42-78-63-12
Ce restaurant est actuellement le seul à proposer de la cuisine yiddish.

La déco rappelle les anciens restaurants art-deco d'europe centrale.  En cave on assiste à des diner-spectacles.  Musique yiddish tzigane et klezmer.

I thought of all the mischpochah scattered all around the world.. and it was nice to celebrate the second night of Pesach at Tren de la Vie in Paris..

mercredi 8 avril 2009

Pesach in Paris

today is 14 Nissan 5769, it is also the birthday of one of our greatest philosophers, Maimonides born in Cordoba and died in Cairo. best known for his treatise: The Guide for the perplexed.
While the Burmese, Cambodians are preparing for their new years, we celebrated or remembered tonight something that happened to our people more than 3300 years ago, when we were  liberated from Slavery from Egypt. It was nice to celebrate this evening in Paris. I went to Bellville to get the ingredients, to Courbevoie to get the chicken (didnt wish to eat lamb), wine and some poireaux...
thought of many Seders.. Rhodos.. multiple ones in Melbourne.. lovely ones in Miami.. in Havana.. in London... in unexpected one in Siem Reap.. two years ago in Cochin..

I am flying in a few days time to Miami, on the flight I would request a Jewish meal and they would give me matzoh instead of Baguette.. i am off to USA for a few days, not eating their bread is not a great loss.. in Havana, happy to get any bread..

The second night will remember my ashkenazi cousins with a visit to Le Tren de la vie.. in Marais

Les Enfants Bretons

There is an increased interest in the suppressed indigenous languages of France. the photo above show two children from the village of Kervallon in Brittany, where their parents farm their ancestral land. Bretons are celtic speaking but the language has faded in the last sixty years or so. Lately la langue Bretonne is being reintroduced in Bretagne schools and these twolearn their ancestral language in their primary school. Hopefully this is the begining of a resurgence like it happened to Welsh in Wales, to which Breton Language is linguistically related. 

mercredi 1 avril 2009

April in Paris

Paris, France 1st April 2009

Dear Friends

The sun is shining brightly outside. It is 5 pm and the temperature is 16 C. (60 F)

I see people walking around in their Tee Shirts; winter seems a memory already, even though just a few days ago, the temperature was below Zero C!

The cafes are busy; people are already sitting out on the pavements.

You feel you are in Paris...clear skies and quiet for a big city.

Leaving Havana to come to live half the time in Paris might have sounded like a dream for any Cuban, but to me it took me a very long time to adjust to the fact that I will not be able to have Cuba as often as I wished. When foreigners come into Miami airport, a strangely accented Spanish welcomes them: Bienvenidos Miami and las playas... welcome to Miami and the beaches... But many a Cuban, who has tried for years to get out, is crying deeply in his heart, for he knows what it is like to immigrate and give up all what is good about Cuba. It must be the same for most immigrants.

I have lived in 8 countries, this being the 9th. I have never emigrated, but this time I have felt sadness of leaving Cuba ( not forever, I do go back, but the sense of joy of just knowing I live in Cuba, is gone and it has taken me two years to adjust to that fact!..In that way I am like an immigrant from Cuba to France..!)

Paris is a wonderful place to be, people are very welcoming, I am yet to have any bad experience, apart from the annoying French regulations about opening a bank account! Food is a central part of living here, which suits me fine.

If you can believe it, this is my lunch today...

Risotto saumon with bean sprouts

Crepe with cream and chocolate

Banana, a bottle of Perrier

Not a fancy restaurant. The lunch was good.

Walked around under the sun a little bit, smiled a few people, stopped at the bakery near home to buy a baguette…

Being aware of the need to communicate, I am always looking for ways to be in touch with my friends. Today I found a way to connect to skype through fring using my ipod touch. So whenever I am near any WI fi spots, I can call you, text you or send you an email... isn’t that nice?

Enjoy the month of April, I shall be here half this month... but I am excited about the month of May, when I will return to my Asian Home, Kuala Lumpur and visit the country of my heart and memory of my father, Burma.

June in Cuba, July will be an exciting time to show MunChing around the Indian Reservations including attending the HoCank Pow Wow, August might be a nice setting to discuss Symbolic Healing with my friend Jorge Luis in Buenos Aires as well as attend the Omaha Pow Wow, September will see back in KL, possibly visit Phnom Penh or Borobudur!

When is my brother Ricardo bringing his son Shmulik to meet me? I will miss my other brother Elliott’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, sorry. To my three mothers, I will see all three of you within the next few months! To my Havana friends, we can spend time talking our hearts out, with the help of some Cuba libre or mojito...  and my first lunch inKL would be at the Hotel Mandarin Oriental, followed by a facial/manicure/pedicure...

In between all these, I do plan to see patients, write a project about Peer to Peer Model (successful in Cambodia, possibly import it into USA and Malaysia?., Burma?), begin the skeleton of a book on Symbolic Healing with my friend Jorge Luis in Buenos Aires..

The Blue House is open to all of you, at any time you wish! My good friends in the Reservation will make sure you are comfortable!