dimanche 28 novembre 2010

To Live Longer, Eat Less: Less Quantity and More Quality

When asked to examine a Monk in the Upper Irrawady Region, I had to use all my prowess as an Anthropologist. What does a Monk Eat? When are his eating times? Most Buddhist monks dont eat after 12 noon so you have to find ways of prescribing medications or diet as medication. I have also noticed that more than 95 per cent of the Burmese Monks are thin, even though I did come across some overweight cambodian buddhist monks, i am sure due to some other reason.
I remember reading a very long time ago that rats fed restrictive calorie diet compared to their litter mates who were given free access to food lived much longer and had greater energy to enjoy their caged lives. Ha, you might say, what applies to the rat does not apply to us..Then, what about our brothren the Monkeys? In the above study published in 2006, I think from the National Centre for Primate Research at the University of Wisconsin, the same results bore out, while following two macaque monkeys for over 20 years. Cantu a 25 year old had the human equivalent of 2000 calories per day while his compatriot Owen ate 3000 calories per day.
I thought of the subtle irony of what was presented. (there is an anthropologist who loves Derrida for you). Owen is a very american name even though it is of scottish and celtic origin, it also means Youth (paradoxical here). Cantu as a name continental flair to it. Subtly we can say that they were comparing an American Diet to an European one?
While Cantu had good skin and good hair, the glutton Owen had wrinkles and slack skin and his hair was brittle. Cantu stood erect and had as much energy as he had when he was a little monkey but Owen the Overeater could hardly stand up because of arthritis. Blood tests showed Owen the American had high blood sugar and high triglyceride levels.
Lesson is clear here for the rest of the world.. If you want to live like Americans, you will begin to look like Americans.. But be like Cantu, while enjoying all that America has to offer, live longer and healthier by avoiding the superficial culture of America..
this is a message to my Wannabee Western friends in Asia..

Affection to Affection, carrying a Net of Friendships.. Paris to KL Fourth time this year

I was made aware of the value of friendships very early in life, when for various reasons, my own family couldnt be with me (then or later in my life) but strong friendships have successfully filled that void. I think of my friends (not social friends but the ones I consider friends and who consider me their friend.
Of the many things I am grateful for in my life, one is that I have never needed the professional services of a Psychoanalyst. There are qualified psychologists and psychoanalysts and there are many New Age Self Realization Gurus who cannot truly help you but can cover your pain for a moment with incense wafting from their shallow words. I have great respect for the ones who truly help other people, like my colleagues, I call them Minas Psicologas at the University of Havana, Cuba who genuinely extend a hand of friendship and professional counsel to those who come across their consulting rooms. I have always wondered what it would be like to go to a Psychiatrist or Psychoanalyst. My encounters with the Western medical men when i did not have any acute medical condition all ended up disastrously disappointing since they were not trained to counsel but only to mend something that was broken and not strengthen something that is not broken. I take care of a lot of people, take care in the truest sense of healing and not just numbers passing through the Consultation rooms. The luxury here is one of time and many of my patients are on anti depressant pills, not given by me to them, but they had acquired it somewhere along the chain of doctors in the system that have seen them as patients.
So when one is battling Depression and in cases where they succeed in overcoming it, I have nothing but the greatest of respects. Here also i maintain my circle of healing philosophy: 25 % medications and western medical men including psychiatrists, 25 % family and other relationships, 25% social responsibility and the rest 25% help from spiritual sources.
I have been very lucky to have extraordinary mentors during my medical career in formation: Dr David K of Albany Medical College, Dr Howard L of University of Miami, Dr Philip G, Dept of Pediatrics; Drs Norman S and Joel G, Opthalmology and Dr Jack M and Dr Dick G, Endocrinologists in Australia..
Dr David K a Psychiatrist told me, after all Psychiatry is a form of paid friendship, insisting that those who have truly good friends do not need the services of the analysts. At a dinner in San Francisco some years ago, I was the only one in the table who did not have an analyst and during my enamoured days in Buenos Aires, every one I had met, professionally and socially had their own analysts..
What has this to do with my upcoming trip to the Far East? Friendships of course. MC has become one of the strongest and most supportive friends I have had, she is about to disappear into the La La Land of Yoga in India for a few months to be trained as a Yoga Teacher, she has all but given up her profession as an Accountant and Finance Officer, CPA and all that. Paris to KL by direct route, Malaysian Airlines fly that route and soon Air Asia would too, is only a 10 hour flight but my flight would take me more than three days!
Today in discussion over Lunch in Paris, I wanted to see who would be the persons I would seek out to clear emotional problems in lieu of a psychoanalyst. Obviously I have someone in Paris, MC in KL of course, my sister in Miami, my brother Yitzhak in Portland, my colleagues in La Habana. (I can think of at least four of them).. So I am stopping albeit briefly to say Hello to some of my friends, not that I need their analytic help at the moment, but letting them know that I have faith in them should that necessity arise...
The greatest gift a friend can give me is their time and thus i go out of my way to give that gift of time to them. I am lucky to be able to travel, so i travel to all parts of the world to be with my friends.
This journey will take me from Paris to Miami, to San Francisco then on to Tokyo and Singapour and finally to KL. The Yong sistes are waiting for me with vegetable soup and Perrier water, Breathing Exercises (Pranayama) and Asanas, 10 days of de toxification from the dust accumulated from this peripatetic life. Before I leave KL I hope to spend one day in Malacca, a connection which gave me the love of the Portugese language and a visit to a tribal village one hour and half from KL.
This is a good month to remember that greatest of Americans, JFK, at least for those of us who live outside the USA..Ask not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for the country..
We could say the same thing about Friendships:
Ask not a Friend what they can do for you, but tell a Friend what you can do for them.
Like we say in Baracoa, Los novios se pasan, los amigos son para siempre ...

vendredi 26 novembre 2010

First Snowflakes of the Season in Paris...Cambodian Food at the Japanese Quartier of Paris

While the Americans were celebrating Thanksgiving Day, an important holiday for them, there was nothing in Paris to remind one that such an important holiday of eating and celebrating and family union and shopping was happening across the pond. Then again, most americans won't be even remotely interested or aware of Bastille Day and one such day I happened to be at South Beach and there were no tricolor flying about or champagne corks popping!
Today it was very cold, 0 C and the snow flakes were coming down gently. I was walking along the Quartier Opera, the imposing building of the opera looking down on the avenue and off the avenue near the Metro station Les Quatres Temps is avenue St anne, where one is transported into a street in Japan. Almost all the establishments are Japanese of wannabee Japanese (usually new immigrant chinese or Koreans). All over the world there has been a cry about the mushrooming of Sushi places which disguise themselves as Japanese Restaurants. The ones on this street reminded me of the many small restos i have eaten in Toyama or Takaoka or even remoter villages in Honshu or Hokkaido.
I enjoyed the ambience, went into the marche which was set up as a 7-11 in Japan and the clienele and staff were japanese.
But my destination today was nothing to do with Japan, I was heading to a Cambodian Restaurant in the very same street. When I arrived at 2 30, there were just a few people in the restaurant finishing up their lunch. There were two people and I am sure one of them is the owner, i didnt see a cook unless the two women acted as cooks in between taking orders and mainting order. They had lunch set menus or various dishes one can order up. By looking at the menu one can easily mistake it for a Vietnamese restaurant, I can see why, any restaurant even if it is in Paris, if it just offers Cambodian food, may not survive for too long, so the Lao or Cambodian restaurants offer plenty of Vietnamese cuisine. Today was the first time I saw Pho Phnom Penh, made with Shrimp or Fish and there were some genuine cambodian dishes like the fish soup, amok etc.
I liked the atmosphere, no sales pressure but everything was flowing smoothly along. The older woman, who looked chinese and the other women also looked more chinese than Khmer, were busy attending to the coterie of clients now finishing their lunch. I wanted to eat Amok Fish in Coconut Sauce and in banana leaves with rice. No pressure to buy high priced carbonated water or green tea but they are available. I ate slowly, I saw the workers/owners also eating, a Pho each, or fish soup I couldnt tell. When I was paying the bill, I asked in French, are you Cambodian. Yes and where are you from? Australia, said I. she lights up, many many cambodians go there, she said in her broken english. she was from Kip on the south coast and didnt want to ask questions to bring up bad memories. Last year I went back and the roads and everything is coming back to normal she said.
I thought about my friends in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh... and secretly wished I could return to my brother, Ko Maung Maung's hotel and restaurant, The Mandalay Inn in Siem Reap... When I said good bye to him in October 2008, I told him to guard a bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne that Qantas had given me for something or other on my flight over from USA to Australia before traveling on to Malaysia and Cambodia..
The Dom Perignon is still unclaimed....ah well..

jeudi 25 novembre 2010

Plus Ca Change, Plus C'est al meme chose: THE MORE THINGS CHANGE THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME

Jean Baptiste Alphons Karr: His epigrams are frequently quoted, for example "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"—"the more it changes, the more it's the same thing", usually translated as "the more things change, the more they stay the same," (Les Guêpes, January 1849) prompting Michel Foucault to later write "Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same" in The Archaeology of Knowledge (1972).
There are many examples of it in the world of politics today, from Barack Obama's Hope which has resulted in almost nothing of a change to Malaysian Politics of Change(want to be a developed country by 2020) and the granddaddy of them all, the Myanmar Junta: who pushed through a Democratic Change.
One example of such a change is the above headline in one of the more popular Sports Journals in Myanmar. It was banned for two weeks, for the above headline. It appears innocent but it is a cleverly hidden message: if you just read the highlighted parts of the sentence below the picture, it expresses joy and hope of the release of the most famous Burmese at the moment Aung Sang Suu Kyi.
In the west, we have such a luxury of self and as Michel Foucault, above, stated: Dont Ask me to remain the same..

mercredi 24 novembre 2010

Malaysia in Cuba.. Malaysians need to polish their Image abroad

Malaysia in Cuba

I have had no desire to get in touch with Malaysian Embassy in the past but with my increasing connection to Malaysia, on a whim, I decided to call the embassy offices this morning.

A sweet voice answered, after the usual recorded message. I was surprised at the youthful exuberance of her voice. How is one to explain the motive for this call.

The motive for this call was the involvement of Carlos Amores. Cuban Ambassador in Malaysia in promoting Cuba; the desire of my friend MunChing to assist Cuba in any fashion in her land and my desire to know the students who are here to study Medicine from Malaysia.

As is normal in such a case, she took some details about me and transmitted to either the ambassador or the person in charge of making appointments for the ambassador. I explained that I am an Australian, born in Malacca and that I am involved deeply in Cuba in matters of Health and Anthropology. I am also a friend of Carlos in KL and that I would like to know more about the Cuba Malaysia friendship. Carlos had recently formed a Malaysian Cuba Friendship society and it would be nice to have a reciprocal sentiment from San Cristobal de la Habana.

Her name is Lizbet and she studied English at the Abraham Lincoln Institute which is on the street where I live in Vedado. I was not expecting to meet the ambassador, perhaps on a future visit, this being Friday and the last day of this stay in Cuba.

We had a nice chat, and I thought it would be good to keep in touch with Lizbet since I had an intuitive feeling that I would be more involved with causes of Malaysia in Cuba, even though the nature of which was not clear to me. I gave her my email and told her to write to me. As we said good bye, she asked me for the telephone number in Havana. Within an hour or two, she called to say the Ambassador will see me at 4 pm today at their embassy in Miramar. I thought to myself, what a privilege!

LOCALS now can enjoy a „taste of Cuba with the launch of Friends of Cuba Association Malaysia.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parilla, who was in Kuala Lumpur to call on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, said the association was „well-deserved by Cuba.

„I believe the setting up of the association will contribute to the strengthening of bonds between Malaysians and Cubans

„Cuba places a very high priority in its relations with Malaysia and I am sure that all of this is for the better.

„We deeply rejoice over the achievements of Malaysia and admire your leadership which is in favour of a more democratic world,‚‚ he added.

The other special guest as the launch was Malacca Governor Tun Mohd Khalil Yaacob.

Cuban Ambassador to Malaysia Carlos A. Amores said a membership drive was under way to strengthen the association.

„All those who are our friends, please come together and make our historic friendship stronger.

„Friends of Cuba has already been registered, the pro-tem committee has had a meeting and we are calling upon all our friends to sign up,‚‚ he said at a special presentation of the committee at the La Bomba Latin Restaurant at Starhill Gallery, Bukit Bintang recently.

Amores said Cuba and Malaysia had enjoyed 35 years of diplomatic relations with their leaders travelling in both directions many times.

„All these years, we have built up a close friendship. We are today allies in the Non-Aligned Movement and in the defence of the principles of International Law and the Charter of the United Nations. Malaysia and Cuba support each other in the international fora and share common views in most issues of the international agenda,‚‚ he added.

Pro-tem committee president Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir, who is Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister, said the launch of the association would enhance bilateral cooperation.

„It will be a platform to foster closer people-to-people ties.

It wouldn‚t surprise me if we came up with a few great ideas to share with the rest of the world,‚‚ he said in his speech.

The other office bearers of the association are Datuk Dr Halim Hamat (vice-president), Nazrin Abdul Wahab (treasurer) and Sharon Faung (secretary), with Prof Tan Sri Dzukifli Abdul Razak, Muthanna Abdullah, Naresh Mohan, Johan Indot, Hazmat Khan, Lim Wei Ling and Herbert Wong as committee members.

The event was also attended by diplomatic heads of mission and personalities from the private sector.

this was a news item in the local Malaysian newspaper published in KL

I had gone to the embassy of Malaysia with great expectations but I remembered what MunChing had once said about the people who represent Malaysia, they are truly not interested in other people.

After comparing the Cuban Embasy in KL and its warm welcome and the Malaysian Embassy in Havana with its frigid reception, I can say this:

The Malaysians and perhaps Asians in general are interested in what Others can do for them, and they are friendly if they can use you in some fashion, there is no genuine interest in the person or the ideas. I didn't particularly want to meet the ambassador, it would have been all right, but I got the telephone call to say the ambassador wanted to see me. And then at the reception I was met by the Third Secretary of the Embasy, a Kampung Malay with obviously little education with a heavy accent with street English, this one and that one, that sort of English talk. He himself said to me: you seem to know so much more Malaysia! They were not really interested in what I had to say. The ambassador, an elderly Chinese with his teenage daughter, rather plump was there, but saw fit to send this Malay representative, a poor example to show off Malaysia to the world. He had genuinely no interest in Cuban Malaysian friendship. After about twenty minutes, I left, disappointed with the only interaction which was not full of energy and enthusiasm during this week in Cuba, the only interaction with a foreigners. Avoid Foreigners in Cuba if possible and especially the Embassy types.

Compare it to the reception at the Cuban Embassy in KL. I am technically more Malaysian than Cuban as my attachment to Cuba is emotional and my attachment to Malaysia, apart from my recent affections are based on being born there.

I have come to the conclusion which I have many times before

Cubans are interested in what they can do for others, Asians and Malaysians are interested in what others can do for them. There are exceptions of course. Cubans who are not generous are not my friends and the Malaysians who are generous are my friends, the best example of which is MunChing.

This is the first time I have made an attempt to go to a foreign embassy in Havana for more than a visa and the disappointment would reinforce my desire to avoid them like a plague, especially the representatives of Asian Countries. This is what I saw when I saw the flag of Cambodia fluttering at the corner opposite when I left the gates of the Malaysian Embassy.

mercredi 17 novembre 2010


Western Medicine is practiced without empathy and understanding of the person, in a totally un-holistic way in all the five countries mentioned.

The Cardiologist in Miami was friendly, the Cardiologist in France was efficient, the Neurologist in Bangalore did a brief exam and the ENT doctor in KL was humourous but dismissed my queries as being not important. No body could help me with information about how to remain healthy, but all of them had a tendency to convey the information that one can expect wear and tear, as one gets older. All of them had cursory advice like: Take care of the nutrition.

Thus the experience with Western Medicine has been a robotic one. It is as if I was a car needing some replacement for worn out parts and the mechanic could take care of it: a CT of the lower back, Stress test, Echocardiogram, MRI of the sinuses.

Objectification of symptoms, mechanization of thought, dismissal of the patient’s explanatory models, and in general a disregard for the knowledge of the patient.

My respect for western medicine is at its lowest level at the moment after the encounter with the Cuban Doctor. Secretly I had hoped that the Cubans with a formation within the society which is far more egalitarian and socialist would have a point of view slightly different from the money driven medical practice of Miami, or the Meat Market Shopping of Manipal Medical Center in Bangalore or controlled National Health Service of France. No, it was not to be. He was overbearing, middle aged and obese, with no bedside manners, and his examination of my limbs took him less than one minute. There was no comforting words but only some paternalistic advice (I did tell him that I knew a fair bit about nutrition and that the advice to take care of my nutrition was a little superficial).

The consultation fees differed by the country regardless of the service or the results.

USA 235 usd France 75 Euros Bangalore 300 INR Cuba 25 cuc and the doctor in KL did not charge me as I was a friend of his faithful patient and the normal charge would have been about 30 usd.

Dissatisfaction at any price!

My connection with Cuba has been in the fields of Psychology and Anthropology and I have been impressed with the quality of their thinking and caring. Cira Garcia is a fee for service system set up in Cuba to serve foreigners and many Caribbean islanders come here since the services are cheap compared to the other alternative, which is Miami. I wish the clinic financial success as there is a need for tertiary advice but my advice to you is:

Doctors are not helpful when your problem is not acute or simple that they need to think about it. They are good at acute situations and vague when it comes to prevention with no interest at all in Health but with all the interest in the world in Disease. Cuban doctors have the same mentality as the western doctors trained in the Cartesian model of division of body and mind.

My friend is a professor of Psychology, can with her comprehension about human feelings; take care of a lot of medical problems even though she is not a medical doctor. When my blood pressure was fluctuating, the cardiologist in Miami suggested that I take medications, while the cardiologist in France did not see the need for medication. The neurologist in Bangalore after seeing that my CT of lower back and Nerve Conduction studies were normal, said in a plain voice, I am not quite sure what to advice you. The humourous ENT physician suggested that my decreased hearing might indicate my decreased desire to hear! The psychologist in Cuba was the first one to alert me, her first question to me was: what has happened in your life in the past year? And then suggested a way to go around the stress of the times and take care of my body thus.

2009 had been an eventful year for me; I had traveled 13 times from Paris to Miami to oversee the medical treatment and the surgical removal of the cancer in the lung of my sister. I was her counselor and translator of the medical world. For those of you who have watched a dear one undergoing chemotherapy with the likes of Taxol or Neulasta (to increase the white cells), and the excruciating pain as well as the general sense of being totally unwell, can understand the stress of being a care provider. In addition, I had to think in terms of prevention of any complications. Since her medications could give her hemorrhagic cystitis, we had to set up alarm to make sure that she emptied her bladder once every three to four hours at night and was well hydrated.

So the psychologist’s advice to me was not to take any medications, but to cut the frequency of my visits to my sister now that she was free of the disease.

I am a Medical Anthropologist and take the doctor-patient relationship seriously and see it much more than just a mechanical transaction the kind a car mechanic has with your car. Every person lives in the context of their lives and no two lives are the same, so this idea that a general consensus exists about the treatment or an algorithm of treatment exists is sheer nonsense. I had written earlier how one has to navigate very carefully through clinical studies done since up to 90 per cent of them are without value outside their contexts.

I am concluding my anthropological study of the observation of doctors practicing western medicine in five different countries: two in the Americas, one in Europe and two in Asia, with the following warnings.

Doctors and Western Medicine, to reiterate what Ivan Illich has said thirty or forty years ago, is dangerous to your health.

Western Medicine is excellent when you are having an acute problem such as multiple fractures after an accident or a myocardial infarction. It is not helpful and actually may harm you if you have a chronic problem such as Hypertension or Diabetes.

Western medicine is incapable of prevention of diseases since the thinking behind the treatment if detrimental to the process of prevention. None of the doctors I talked to were in a position to give advice to prevent diseases whereas they were able to suggest various mechanical resolutions such as CT, Gastroscopy, Sinus Surgery, all invasion of the body. None of the doctors I interviewed were capable of giving any sort of psychological or socially related counseling or advice.

But this is the world we live in, whether it is Cambodia or Cuba. At least in most societies you are not paying for your medical care so you can be a little bit more expansive in your choices. It is in the societies where the medical care is fee for service that the dominance of the western medicine usually quashes the appearance of alternative or complementary medicine. Even the nomenclature Alternative Medicine assumes the supremacy of Western Medicine. I am sure they don't consider Chinese Medicine in China, Alternative?

But great diversity exists in the healing systems all over the world. After the brisk encounter with the mechanistic world of Western Medicine in Cuba, I drove to the house of the longest practicing Yoga teacher in Cuba! Western Medicine is just one part of the spectrum of what is available and I believe that in the care of patients, western medicine including their lackeys Doctors, Nutritionists, Exercise Persons, Pharmaceuticals consist no more than 25 per cent of the efforts necessary to heal the suffering person.

American Indians have taught me that, to achieve a balanced life, there has to be equal attention to many parts in ones life. Using the model I have come to following conclusion:

For a person who is suffering from a chronic condition or illness:

25 % western medicine, including the clinic and Physiotherapy etc, all the western accoutrements

25% has to be family oriented counseling

25% spiritually oriented counseling

25% is the changes in the lives of the patients in understanding the social responsibility of their lives.

Western Medical trained people can take care of you; they are the complimentary medicine to the 75% of the caring. Healing comes from counselors and persons who can educate you about the context in your lives and that is the major part. Western medicine interested in curing plays a minor part.

The Sage of Sioux City, Iowa in the United States

Was it fifteen years ago? That I walked into a Coffee shop in the Midwestern town of Sioux City, a nondescript place with no great intellectual fountains to speak of… and saw a man reading The Sunday Edition of New York Times! It would be as amazing as finding a local n a Singapore mall wanting to discuss Heidegger with you! New York Times was just not available in the middle part of the country, isolated in every way from the exciting regions of the both coasts.

I went up to him, triggered by the advice a Meskwaki elder had recently given me: Stop looking for people, those who you need to meet will come your way.

Where did you find The Sunday Edition of New York Times, which in my opinion is the best newspaper in the world?

He looked up; a handsome man, made me think of the celluloid hero of that time, Michael Douglas, and said, four examples arrive and if you are early enough you can snatch a copy of it.

Thus began my long-term friendship with Steve A of Sioux City, Iowa on the banks of River Missouri in the middle of the country the Indians call The Turtle Island.

It was for Steve that I was waiting at 10 45 am on this clear day with a fresh, cold breeze blowing, in front of Stony Creek Inn in downtown Sioux City.

I live in a house just four miles from where I was born, this erudite, intellectual and spiritual man told me among the many enlightened tidbits we transfer to each others brain in our intense hour conversations, the last one being in July 2009!

He took me a new Café; we both are aficionados of the cacao drink, Victoria’s, which was welcoming and colourful with good coffee to boot.

I don't know of a single American friend who reads as voraciously as does Steve. He wants to up his yearly pages from 6000 to an ambitious 12000 pages, about one book a week. Also he reads and concentrates on American Literature and thus I am privy to a knowledge denied to a person living abroad and not in contact with American academia in arts. Ann Michaels’ Winter Vault was in the back seat of his car. Excellent writer he said her previous novel the Fugitive pieces was a hard read but this one is Excellent. I made a mental note to go and buy it, as it always happens after a meeting with Steve. As an aside he was the first one to mention to me about Alain de Botton’s book How Proust can change your life and also A sideways Look at Time by Jay Griffiths. Since then I have gone on to read all the books published by Alain de Botton on work, philosophy, travel and love …

Once again, surrounded by so much decay on an intellectual level with no future rescue possible, in this city, so unattractive physically except for the river, here is a vine with a flower growing to feel the sunshine of the entire world. I have to admire him for it, how he has grown to encompass the world. He is as universal as any one. It is a great pleasure for me to listen to him, learn from him and compare notes on our experiences in the common world we share.

Today we briefly touched on Civility and what Stephan Carter a Black University Professor condescendingly talked to a Sioux City audience who had come to listen to him. Steve was critical, exposing the arrogance of the Yale University Professor. A kind of attitude of what do these yokels know, and throw in Hofstadter’s name but the Yale University professor was no match for the homegrown intellect of Steve with a universal view. The inherent acceptance of inferiority by the Sioux city intelligentsia fro their second rate institutions of higher learning was an affront to this bold man with a courage to match his intellectual and spiritual strength.

I told him about respecting the audience you are addressing. I told him of my humbling experience as an anthropologist (I qualified as an Anthropologist in 1994) on a visit to the Kalahari in 1994. I made a remark that reflected my arrogance: looking around the desert and the lone trees made lonelier by the wind and sun, I mumbled. There is nothing here. The Kalahari Bushman/San elder said to me: We have everything we need here. Such a good lesson for me, that years later I clearly remember it and follow it. Don't expect others to come up to meet you, if you are interested in transferring your knowledge you have to meet people half way or go where they are. As Ronnie Frankenberg my Medical Anthropology teacher had reiterated in his classes: Knowledge to be Knowledge it has to be communicated. If you cannot communicate clearly to the audience or the other person, your knowledge is a selfish one. This reminds me of the trend in America to sequester knowledge away from the common man to the ivory towers of the universities.

We talked about Happiness and what is the concept or desire for Happiness among people living their lives in a place like Sioux City, whether or not they contemplate about it or whether they numb their thought processes with the trappings of a bourgeoisie lifestyle.

He was saying hello to every one who entered the café and he seems to know every one by their name and a brief conversation.

If I were a doctor here in Sioux City, I would be so unhappy that I would think that Suicide would be a better alternative, I stressed the difference in men and I am sure many doctors from Sioux City would not be prepared to fly 6000 miles once a month to come and see a group of underprivileged, medically deserving communities. To each his own, I thought to myself but if there are people who have the time or energy or ability to contemplate what is happening around them, I wonder what would they make of the city they are living in or the life they are leading. As Dalai Lama has repeatedly said material things wont bring happiness to you whereas serving others and helping others would. Perhaps they can start thinking in that direction. I have no respect at all for people who work inordinately long hours to accumulate wealth for their consumption for which they don't have time and have no desire to be help to others and neglect their own spiritual lives.

He began talking about the books he had read recently, including Orhan Pamuk’s recent book. I injected a little bit of tangent to the conversation by telling that Orhan Pamuk is living with his Indian girlfriend, award winning writer Kiran Desai who wrote The Inheritance of Loss.

From Times of India

During a chat in Mumbai, he charmingly admitted, “it’s no secret Kiran is my girlfriend. So let’s get that out of the way before we begin our discussion”. He went on to preempt any further probing of their relationship, saying, “She is a very intelligent and beautiful person and a great writer. India should be proud of her.”

The hour together went so quickly, a lightening of a time, so powerful so intense. When he dropped me off in front of the hotel where I was attending a conference…

What I could say to myself was.

Steve, I am proud to be one of your many friends…. However my flamboyant long overcoat from Turkey may deter your other friends from talking to me in Sioux City, Iowa…where the only friend I have made, the only friend I need to make, is Steve A.

PS My best friend in Asia, an ex Chartered Accountant now about to leave for India from KL to study to become a Yoga Therapist, wrote to me quite recently: Please make an attempt to see Steve A this time you are in Sioux City, Iowa. She had been impressed with him when I introduced Steve to her when she was visiting the Winnebago Reservation for their annual Pow Wow in July 2009

La Habana, Cuba.. The Moveable Feast


Three large avacados, two Kg of Bananas, two kilograms of Guava, half a Papaya, a bag of Okra, a large slice of Pumpkin, a bar of Cuban peanut turron…

Lunch was this:

Le Roux chocolates in between for a visiting friend celebrating the birthday. Dinner was prepared by a friend with whom I recently had a Lebanese lunch at Samaya near Tour Eiffel in Paris.

La Havana where once food was somewhat difficult to procure, is becoming like other cities with dinner parties with abundance and that adds to the already available warmth of friendships.

Still, it was too much food for one day!

There was a time when It was absolutely difficult to buy wine in La Habana. Yesterday I went to the Wine and Liquor store at Hotel Habana LIbre (the old Havana Hilton) and spent a little time looking through their selection. Obviously the wines were not selected for their quality but for their availability through the distributors. Most of the wines were in the $10 range but you had to spend a little bit more to get a good drop. Was happy to see a bottle or two from Australia as well.

As always good conversation, touching on a variety of subjects. I was glad Baracoa was featured in them, a newly found love for our hostess.

We have a very loyal friend here, who at a moment’s notice will come and give you a lift. As the night was brisk and getting on its age, we called him and he was there within minutes to give us lift home.

All in all, a very affectionate day. Still unable to get hold of or talk to all the people I wish to talk to. I expect to devote the remaining few days here to do the work I came to do. Not making any plans for any dinners but just time for reading and writing.

Welcome to Havana, the moveable feast of the Americas!

lundi 15 novembre 2010

Yoga in Cuba

Meeting with a Remakable Yogi in Havana, Cuba

A line from Pablo Neruda’s poem always sticks in my mind when I am in La Habana, Cuba. In it the poet points out to the tenacity of the growth of a vine in the midst of destruction of the wall from which it sprung. To see the beauty of such perseverance in front of such difficulties of growth, and I always feel good reading that line.

In Cuba, I am given the chance to enjoy such beauty in many of the unexpected encounters. When I arrive in Havana, my agenda is open since I know that many unexpected pleasures await me, usually in the form of persons who are connected to the same universe that I am connected to, even though my Passport has a different colour.

That line from the poet reminds me that in Havana, there exists a humanity which like a vapour is present but evades vision and inspection but requires much deeper involvement.

Yoga was introduced to Cuba, soon after the independence of Cuba at Santiago de Cuba where there is a suburb named after the Yoga centre which used to exist there. There is branch of the Theosophical Society and Self Realization Society as well as a branch of the Yogananda Society.

Unlike the recent increase worldwide in Yoga, Cuba had maintained an interest in Yoga and once again that interest existed almost in a subterranean sense, you really had to search for it. Currently there are at least three places to learn Yoga in Cuba and the most popular (currently with 108 students) and the longstanding one is the one run by Maestro Eduardo Pimental.

A practitioner for more than 40 years, MEP, has had the chance to visit India twice and take a teachers training course at the oldest Yoga Institute in India at Santa Cruz, Bombay, he had chances to visit various Ashrams and Sivananda Swamis disciples and the places of Yoga therapy throughout India. He had received intense training in various forms of Yoga: Iyeangar for example but it is Hatha Yoga that he prefers and practises.

How I met MEP is itself is rather curious. I am reminded what my Meskwaki teacher once told me: Stop looking for people, those who you need to meet will come your way. Without doubt, Maestro Eduardo Pimental is among them.

My colleague at the University of Havana, with whom I have long standing collaborative efforts in the field of Medical Anthropology was waiting for me at the front of the building that houses the dept of Philosophy the other day. The first thing I noticed about her was that her face had a rejuvenated look as if one had gone to a Spa or to a Cosmetic Surgeon in Rio de Janeiro (both of which is beyond conception in Cuba). I kept on asking her, tell me what has happened in your life, your face tells me a story. After a little hesitation, she said, I have been attending Yoga classes for the last two months. She mentioned the name of Maestro, and I immediately recognized the name as his name is prominently displayed in the website of Embassy of India in Cuba. I wanted to meet him and sent my card with my colleague to present to him on her next visit. He was very interested after seeing that I was an Anthropologist since he had longed for a long time to learn the tools of anthropology which would help him understand the society a little bit more and of course help him put Yoga in context of the society. As Merleau-Ponty had put it: without context things have no meaning.

I called him and accorded him the respect of a person well travelled and who had dedicated his life to the service of Yoga and humanity. Our conversation over the telephone went off on a good note and we had a good conversation and made plans to visit the next day.

I had already a copy of his book Prana, Mantra and Kundalini Yoga published in 2009. Before I left to see him at his home, I was looking through his Yoga experiences and was quite impressed with the range of them: From Rodney Yee in California to Sivananda Ashram in Pune and Ramakrishna Mission. Thus prepared well to meet this person already a remarkable Cuban in my esteem, we knocked at the door of his house and a man with wavy white hair with a joyous face opened and smiled with a perfect welcome.

For the next hour and half we talked about a variety of subjects which spanned the globe and themes were all universal in nature. His genuine nature let alone his expertise in Yoga was evident and in fact was radiant in his joyous face. He is a walking testament to the goodness of Yoga.

He has finished the manuscript of his book on the Matrix of Yoga brining in Baghvad Gita as well as writing an extensive history of Yoga in Cuba. I hope to read it when it is published.

His erudition shows in the book of his I have with me. This book is not a cook book on Asanas or glossy interpretation, usually superficial, of the new age gurus that are are sprouting like Experts in Diabetes all over the world.. (mm ..nice to call the charlatans of the world of Diabetes as the glossy superficial new age interpretors of an ancient disease! That thought just occurred to me as I was writing this). The book is not an easy read and needs your concentration as he was correlating the science of the likes of Einstein with pronouncements in Rig Veda about the unity of creation and energy that exists in the universe as the result of the Big Bang of creation.

I was genuinely happy to have this friendship. He attests to the fact that there are remarkable people all over the world. I was reminded of what Rabindranath Tagore once said: What a Blessing to have been born in this land!

What a blessing is Cuba for me, how much good wishes go with me, to fuel my desires for the people I am able to assist, whether in Malaysia or Vietnam or among the Indigenous peoples of the world. Thank you Maestro EP, for transmitting such a fire to me. I am grateful that there are people like you in this world..

Contact information for Hatha Yoga in Havana

Telephone: 53 7 8709237

Email: epvyoga@infomed.sld.cu


Bienvenidos a Cuba Welcome to Cuba...La Calor Humana

Bienvenidos a Cuba

Cuban Hospitality and Cuban sense of Social Responsibility

Exactly one month ago, the curator of the National Museum was in Paris and I was proud to show her around the Quai Branley Museum of Anthropology in Paris. She spoke fluent French and was more at home in Paris than I was, remembering every street and metro station from the days when she studied Museology at Louvre. We had a lovely lunch at Samiya Lebanese resto when her daughter joined us.

She had sent a very large bottle of rum and a Litre Cola, so that my days in Cuba can be slowly begin in the mellow mood. Soon she herself appeared in person and I began to realize that friendships have a depth which is not found in many countries.

Social Responsibility is not a Gift..

I had no more than about 24 hours in Miami on my way from Paris to Havana. I received an email:

A mutual friend, a professor of medicine, had taken ill with cancer and needs nutritional supplements, which are not easily available in Cuba. Could you see what is good and try to bring it with you?

At the same time a little incense also please..

The Cuban incense is the fragrance of percolating Coffee .. but it is good to have a variety..

My sister and I set out to buy these things. At Serrano’s a Cuban American supermarket, I did not hide the fact that I was looking for things for Cuba, and a passerby overheard me and remarked, They have nothing there.. I briskly turned around and said, I don't believe what you say, and I have been back to the island much more recently than you. The remark attracted the attention of some shoppers. Miami and the Cuban economic refugees there thrive on the hatred they have created for their land of birth and to maintain that hatred they create scenarios which suits them and there is a symphonic following to their pronouncements, either on radio or in common discourse.

Questions asked frequently in Miami.

Are you not scared to go to Havana?

I have stock answers: I rather go to Havana than Overtown, a neighbourhood avoided by these very same virtous people. When was the last time you went to Overtown?

They have nothing to eat there?

I would say: there are no homeless people either, by the way no drive by shooting either.

People who look at the world from the limited perspective of their own hatred will see hatred everywhere. Cubans harbour no animosity towards Americans and in fact most of the island Cubans are smart enough to understand that it is the Cuban economic refugees in Miami who are brain washed.

My own feeling is that when the situation normalizes, whenever that may be, between these two neighbours, the boiling anger in the minds of so many of the Cuban migrants to Miami would require an army of psychologists to heal.

In the end we manage to locate at Costco:

6 lb bag of Protein which the doctor could make into drinks twice a day for nearly two months.

Multivitamins, Calcium with Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Chondroitin Sulfare, Vitamin D

Because of the added weight of these, I had to take out some of the gifts I was bringing for my friends.

But I felt genuinely good about being able to do that, I never realized how much it would be appreciated in Cuba. Bringing something special like this nutritional supplement or the best chocolate from Le Roux in Quiberon, symbolically has an effect of healing as well as cementing further these good friendships.

In her email my friend wrote to me, please try to bring the nutritional supplement, I will pay you back when you get here.

Here is one point I wish to make. I am sick and tired of hearing, Cubans make so little money every month, and they convert it into Dollars … and of course it looks pitiable.

But what you do with that money?

Are you willing to do, donate that money, hard earned for the welfare of another?

This is comparable to someone who makes $1000 a month wanting to help a colleague with a medication that is worth $1000 or an office worker in Europe giving the entire months salary so that one of their colleagues can get nourishment.

As Dalai Lama has said, it is what you do for others that brings happiness to you. I am never impressed with the rags to riches stories of the western world but I am very impressed when they donate that money hard earned to good causes.

Cubans in the Island do that all the time, believe you me. Ask the 10 medical students from Solomon Islands studying Medicine free of charge in Cuba, they are among the 18 000 students studying Medicine free of charge in Cuba..

Let me see if any of the Economic Migrants to Miami can top that? Whenever you hear the name of Alvarez or Fernandez or Dominguez in Miami it is always in relation to the money embezzled from the Government. It is well known that nearly 50 % of the Medicare Fraud with regard to Type 2 Diabetes in Miami is carried out by these Economic Migrants from Cuba

dimanche 14 novembre 2010

There are Seven Direct Flights a Day Miami to Havana

The Ambassdor from Egypt and an Upgrade to First Class

Journeys to Cuba almost border on the surrealistic. The flight was supposed to leave Miami for Havana at 0300 pm and it said on the ticket, one has to present at the counter at 1100 am.. crazy.. but inexperienced travelers might do that. I arrived there at 1 pm, to find that the line at check in was still very long that I can expect 90 minute wait. Psychologically I had prepared for all delays for this short flight that separates two countries and most importantly two psychologies as different Pluto is to Mars…

First check in is to check your documents. Obviously there is a relaxation of the restrictions. The man behind the counter looked my passport and casually asked, you have the licence, right? I was a little surprised and responded, no I am an Academic . the answer was, that is enough. No further check. And back to the last of the line.

Fortunately the gentleman who actually weights the luggage, since the charter company makes a lot of money on the weight of the luggage. No Cuban will go home with just 44 pounds of free luggage and shell out hundreds of dollars to take extra goods for friends and relatives and wait patiently at both ends to reach the arms of their waiting friends. He saw me and motioned to me, putting up just a finger , meaning do you have only one piece of luggage. It is so very important to know the tricks of this direct flight to Cuba which is forbidden to all Americans who are not Cuban amercans…

My friend motioned me to come forward to the front of the line a full 90 minutes away. There were protests from those who were standing in line.

So he announces in a loud voice, This gentleman is the Ambassador from Egypt to Cuba, and quickly checked me in and passed me over to the lady sitting next to him who was assigning seats.

I had replied to this compliment by saying, yes ambassador plenipotentiary.. The lady next door might have heard it and not understood the joke of it, in any case, when I was handed the boarding pass, she had put me in seat 1B, which happens to be one of the eight first class seats in this aircraft, with the greatest advantage of no one sitting next to you and also no one with their heavy handbags nudging against your stomach. I noticed that three other seats were occupied by a diplomatic type (the real ones) from Brasil.

Welcome to Cairo

I said as I was leaving the ABC charters check in area..

I was thinking not of Mubarak but of the greatest jewish philosopher doctor, Maimonides who made El Kahira his home in the 13th century.

La Habana, Cuba... Coincidences are not Casual

Casualidad es no tan Casual

It is just you are not intelligent enough to understand it, said my Meskwaki teacher..

We tend to believe that things happen in a random fashion and when it does happen, we exclaim

Oh My What a chance in a million! It is such a coincidence.

I don't believe in coincidences and these million to one things happens too often in my life to be a coincidence.

On my first morning of returning to Cuba, my colleague from the Department of Philosophy called me to say, she will be free after her classes at 10 30 am and we could have our reunion there in front of the faculty where trees offer a fine shade and a nice ambience of academia.

By the way, there is a student in my class who wish to meet you. When the course began I was explaining about Anthropology and Medicine, actually the course was one of Philosophy. After the class the student came over to say, Profesora, how did it happen, this knowledge about anthropological influences in Medicine in Cuba? The professor being a very good friend of mine, told her the story how she and I began the first ever course in Medical Anthropology more than ten years ago and has had various classes and students interested in the subject. In fact we can think of few of the alumni, doing anthropological work in Bolivia, Spain and Argentina.

After listening to her carefully, the student asked, is there a chance for me to meet this doctor anthropologist?

He would be here any day now, and I am sure he would love to talk to you.

Today was that day. Just as they were waiting, the student asked: Has this professor been to Cuba before. My friend let out a little laugh, Oh, he used to live in Baracoa for many years.

This surprised the student who gasped, My family is also from Baracoa.

So we already had a common ground when we met under the trees in front of the Museo Montane at the central part of University of Havana.

I said to her, tell me what is worrying you and how can we be of help. This after, giving a little bit of discussion on what I have learned more about the Symbolism of Healing with my professor friend.

I have a friend, who is very depressed with the thoughts of her illness. She was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease less than two years ago. Now she feels that she is doomed and thinking about death.

A shiver ran through me.

What is the chance of a visiting Professor at the University in the Department of Philosophy, knowing some thing about the illness of a close friend of yours who lives in an altogether different province at the end of Cuba.

Is her name G? I asked her. Her father is W. I know them when the student now her eyes filled with tears nodded.

I thanked the Spirits for brining this young student on to my path. I would get to see my friend W and his daughter and once again offer counsel and help them not only from the point of view of medicine but more importantly to get the girl out of the dark thoughts she is having. I even thought I will bring my sister who has survived from three different cancers into the picture.

All the three of us sat there overcoming emotions, then I said, I no longer believe that this is a coincidence, but I do believe that I am in places I need to be in.

Reminded me of my Meskwaki teacher, she once said to me: Stop looking for friends, those who you need to meet would come along your way.

We may call this by whatever name, but I know that it is the harmony of ones living that brings the stars in alignment to such encounters which brighten up the lives. Try to live in harmony, the American Indians have told me, don't immerse yourself into work but work efficiently and be a contributing citizen, 25 % of your life and the other 75% of your time should be divided between, not in particular order but more or less in similar proportions: Family and the people you belong to; the Social Responsibility and Spiritual life.

This has nothing to do with religion but a harmony with nature. Social Responsibility which I learned as a concept from Native Indians, I have seen it in action only among themselves in their Reservations and with the Cubans who live in the island of Cuba.

I feel it is fulfillment of this social responsibility that brings encounters like this onto your way. Also Native Indians reminded me once, you are enjoying the fruits of the social consciouness of your father, who fought all his life for the betternment of the poor people.

As the poet Neruda had written

So much happens in the course of the day..

dimanche 7 novembre 2010

Welcome Abstinence from Internet ....CUBA mi isla Rica

I am going into Exile, to use the abused word in MIami among Cuban Immigrants, most of whom since about 1962 have been economic migrants, from Internet. An extremely welcome relief when you dont have to check your email or just browse or read newspapers from around the globe.
A good friend of mine from USA once said to me: Cuba is the only country I feel totally free. He meant to say that he is free of things that he feels chains him down physically, emotionally and intellectually, one such thing was the inbred dislike of African Americans from his Southern Childhood.
My Life in Cuba has always been a wonderful respite from the outside world which I interact on more than usual frequency. Even before the end of the year, just seven weeks away, I have one trans atlantic and one trans pacific flight left, making it about 15 long haul flights for the year. So being in Cuba, where there is no urge to log on to Internet (for more than one reason, one of which is the cost, about 10 centimes a minute) but instead of sitting down in front of the computer (my laptop would be with me) I would be exploring once again my neighbourhood of Vedado, observing every day life which is etched in my mind: the bakery, neighbours playing Domino, the little fruit market, the imposing american embassy with a chain of guards, the malecon with amorous couples, take photographs of architectural gems, talk to anyone and every one, say hello to old and new friends and most important talk late into the nights: no computer, no internet, no television, no cellular phone (my France based phone works in Cuba, that will be switched off). It is the kind of vacation that i like: intellectually very active but not tethered to the chains of modern slavery. As there is no McDo in Cuba, there is no twitter or facebook either...
I am always richer by this contact, with my precious island of Cuba, where unexpected pleasures always await you, which gives you back in multiples of what you give to it...
Bienvenidos a mi isla Rica....

jeudi 4 novembre 2010

Where is Quiberon? Kiberen?

Yet another Journey is about to begin: this one a very pleasant one to look forward to, to two places that I love, one day in Miami which would include a dinner (with champagne of course) at Lan Pan Asian Resto in Kendall with my sister and her husband and then the direct short flight to La Habana where one can expect unexpected pleasures!
when does work stop and holidays begin? I have no idea .. but there is one place, I do feel that I am on a vacation, because there is no connection Anthropologically or Medically to this place.. It is the seaside village of Kiberen, frenchified to Quiberon in Brittany, an island in prehistoric times now joined by a sliver of a land bridge to the mainland Morbihan.
I spent this past week there. The weather is always warmer and on the 1st of November it was 26 C, something unheard of in similar latitudes of France!
There is a relaxed atmosphere, the wild sea doing its best to calm you. The outline of Belle Isle is on the horizon to remind you day and with it lights at night... fresh seafood that melts in your mouth, no commercialization of food, not yet anyway. Good Quality Air, Good Quality Food..
There is a Thalasso which done for a few days in a row (a bit expensive even by French Standards) has therapeutic effects on your body.
It was wonderful to sit in the heated sea water jacuzzi and watching the waves just meters away.
Today, in Paris, I am packing with La Habana in mind. I have received such affectionate letters of welcome from my colleagues .(others would easily mistake these letters for love letters because Cubans are extremely affectionate, more than any one I know).
I am happy because I am going home..
Long Chats with my colleagues from the University, both Anthropology of Every Day Life and Psychology of Diabetes.. Cafe Cafe Cafe..
and I am looking forward to a home cooked Fish Dinner..
I am taking a box of Le Roux Chocolates from Quiberon..to say thanks to my friends who would fill my heart for the next few days and make me forget about everything else in the world.. not quite everything but almost everything except a couple of people in Paris and KL...