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lundi 20 avril 2009

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.