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mercredi 6 mai 2009

The Humble Man from Pahang

The Humble Man from Pahang

The reason I came across this wonderful Malaysian Man was that he had been twice to Cuba on behalf of his government and this gave me an opportunity to learn what does a Malaysian think of cuba, its culture and its people, since the majority of those interested have only a second hand experience of the reality of Cuba.

He had grown up in a small town in Pahang and had cherished his childhood days and he is locally educated (didn’t go off to Australia or UK or USA to study). After 28 years of employment, he is a senior member of his department and as he said:  Every day I look forward to going to work. That summed up this gentle man for me.

Foreigners, especially those with some hidden agenda who go to Cuba, often focus on the negative aspects of life as perceived by them. One great example is the fact that Cubans are paid salaries which have local equivalence but do not have international equivalence. In a country where Health, Education and many of the social reforms are FULLY subsidized by the government, the salaries will not be a huge amount like in many of the capitalist countries. And of course,  when it comes to corruption, Cubans can teach a lesson or two to the other developing countries… how to avoid it.

His point was just that.. His translator, as is the policy of the government, is paid in Cuban Pesos while his employer pays into the government funds in Foreign currency. But what impressed this Malaysian gentleman was that at the end of the trip, after the translator had spent three full days with him in Havana, the reaction of the translator, when offered a tip of 100 usd, according to the protocol at that time in the country he was stationed at.

I am sorry, the translator begged him, that is too much of a present for me. I have done only what I was supposed to do. To me the greatest satisfaction is that you are satisfied with my work and that I had a chance to improve my self and get to know a little bit more about your country. But if you wish to still give me a present, 10 usd would be more appropriate.

The humble man from Pahang was very impressed, living in a world of corporate and individual greed, it was welcome relief to his soft heart to hear about the common good.

For a poor country, Cuba does so much more for its people and also the fact that it educates so many students from poor countries. This generosity of spirit which is lacking in countries of this region was impressive to him and also the level of education impressed him and the quality of people he had met, who all spoke well and were very aware of the world. Even a poor country like Cuba had something to offer Malaysia, which in this instance was Biotechnology..

They are without much capitalist luxuries, but they are the happiest people I have seen, he continued. It is amazing how prized is the aspect of relationship and friendship among them.

I am sitting here at the Noodle Bar of the Hilton Hotel in KL and beaming to myself, to hear such favourable explanations about the country that I adore, the country which taught me to express myself with all the decency of a human being.

He touched upon something which is very close to my heart as a Cultural Anthropologist… Cuban solidarity and the value we place on Relationships.

In the west, ( he lived 5 years in London and 10 years in New York, the latter he preferred to the former), in the business and other dealings, the order  of thought is:

1.     Logistics.  How to get things done.

2.     Logic.  The reasons for getting things done

3.     Relationships.  The human factor of the interaction

In the East, in the true tradition he had grown up under, in business dealings, the order is reversed

1.     Relationship is given precedence

2.     Logistics then comes in

3.     Then comes the logics of that transaction

He, a humble man from the backwaters of Pahang, but international in his thinking but Malaysian to the core in his heart, could understand the humble nature of the Cubans in government and otherwise and the importance they placed on relationships between people and governments before the logics of transactions, and the socialist thinking of Fidel and other leaders of not placing money as the sole and the most important aspect of ones life.

Ernesto Altschuler, a Cuban Jew of Polish origin and whose father was one of the original founders of the Cuban Communist Party, on my arrival to teach at the University of Havana, told me..

If you are only interested in yourself, how to get ahead and amass things for yourself, I recommend that you go to the USA where those ideals would be well rewarded for a man with your education.

But if you are interested in the welfare of the other person, if you are interested in the human aspects of every day emotions and in the great Cuban concept of Solidarity, you have come to Paradise, my friend..

He was so correct. My years in Baracoa and Havana, after my years in Melbourne (a city I adore), London( a city I admire) and Miami (close to my heart) turned out to be such a cleansing experience, a moveable feast and paradoxically enough, some of the best years in my life.. May it continue…

For those who may not know, Cuba educates close to 20 000 poor students from every single country in Latin America including Argentina and Bresil, and all parts of Africa. Fidel himself once said.. Cuba is part African and part Spanish and wholly Cuban.. and each of the responsibilities have to be met.. Even after Fidel is long gone, thousands of grateful patients and students all over the world would be grateful to him and the Cuban people for educating their doctors

Even the lunch was just mediocre, I did not mind it this time, wallowing in the praise of the country that I adore, a cut above the usual crap about low salaries, lack of transportation.. but not a comprehensive understanding of the life in the island…. By people who live in countries known for their greed and selfishness..

I rather take Cuba… and be Malaysia whenever I can.. You can have your glamour and glitter..

Despite my objections, this humble man from Pahang, paid the bill and gave me a clear understanding of the changes occurring in this society. A good news indeed for me, to bring some of the Cuban solidarity to the poor people without much medical help in the east coast of this lovely country.

A cup of coffee ( I am sure it will be Cuban) with the Cuban Ambassador to Malaysia tomorrow.. ( an old friend of my Cuban mother..)