I have been very lucky to meet some excellent people in Malaysia, the best among them being MCY whom I had met serendipitously in 2008. She introduced me to some fine people: The Humble Man of Pahang who works at MIDA, the SpiderMan of Kajang with his full collection of Spiders of the Malay Peninsula, the erudite youngest ever president of the Mahler Society of Malaysia, brilliant and artistic expatriate Indians (the best Indians I have known), especially A and S H, and the interminably curious BT!
and who can forget Mr I of Consumer Association of Penang and his tireless efforts to educate the Malaysian Middle Class about their burgeoning midriffs? It was he, whose "little books of wisdom" are found everywhere, who alerted me to the dangers of Plastics! way back before any one in the west became aware of that!
But my experiences with the overseas representatives of this delightful south eastern nation have been less than palatable, whether in diplomatic capacity or in some other representative position. All this changed, when I met, HE Jojie Samuel, the Malaysian Ambassador to Cuba.
I had a special request. My friend, Carlos A, the erstwhile Cuban ambassador to KL, had told me about the Malaysian students studying Medicine in Cuba, nearly 50 of them. I am aware of the less than humanistic, commercial orientation of the Malaysian Doctors in Private practice (in this, they imitate America!). I wrote to Mr S and wondered whether I would have the privilege to talk to these students about the influence of culture and disease and the effects the society has upon the health of the individual in a multiracial society.
I received a short email to say that he will meet me at 11 AM. I arrived at the Embassy situated at the leafy suburb of Miramar, at the end of a wide street lined with Embassies, guessing the names of the Nations as we drove past the fluttering flags under the brilliant Cuban sky: Ghana, Laos, Gabon, Cambodia, Iran, Hungary....
Cuba has no equal in this world, when it comes to education of Doctors from other parts of the world. It educates poor, disenfranchised, marginalized students from almost all developing countries with specific attention to countries without medical schools,(Tuvalu, Kiribati, Nauru, Timor Leste among them), or cannot study Medicine because of poverty(many countries in Latin America). It has the largest number of Indigenous Medical students in the world, for example there are more Mapuche from Chile studying Medicine in Cuba than in Chile! I have seen Pemon, Warao from Venezuela; Mapuche, Ayamara, Quiche, Inca at the Medical School in La Habana! hundreds of them! Cuba also helps the poorest of the poor, such as Haiti, most of whose emerging physicians are educated in Cuba.
Malaysia and Cuba have maintained excellent fraternal relations. During his time at KL, Mr CA, the ambassador there, did a lot to propagate Cuban culture , including a gallery of Cuban art in Malacca, furthering the Cuban Malaysian Friendship society, among others. I had been eager to meet the Malaysian representative in La Habana, as I had heard good things about him from my Cuban friends.
We had a wonderful conversation together. I have had a liminal association with Malaysia. I was born in Malacca but have never been a Malaysian; my parents married in Malaysia but neither of them were Malaysian, they had for a time lived in Brunei which was never a part of Malaysia (unlike Singapour). Since meeting MCY, I have been to Malaysia at least 20 times, have strong relationship with the Zheng He Museum in Malacca, have been treated to excellent food in various cities of the Peninsula and beyond.
Mr S is homegrown, from his childhood in Johor State to university education, hardened by an assignment to Iraq, he enjoys being in Cuba and I am sure under him, the friendship between the two nations would grow.
We touched on so many topics, none of them controversial, but educational for me from the point of view of an observer of Malaysia. As the conversation wore on, I began feeling more and more like a Malaysian since Mr S and I had shared some historic connections. He had visited the synagogue in Cochin and I had visited areas where his ancestors had come from in Kerala. The conversation with this ambassador was at much more a personal level, with memories of past experiences to share, than the formal exchanges I have had in the past with the official representations of the Malaysian State.
It was way past the lunch time for both of us, but we still had a lot to discuss. I talked about the reasons for my multiple visits and my excellent friends in Malaysia.
We left his office, full of memorabilia of a land that has become familiar to me, he walked down to the gates of the embassy. I knew that I had met a nice human being, who happens to officially represent a country I am fond of.
He invited me to meet the students, those studying in La Habana as well as in the nearby province of Matanzas, when I am back in Havana, he would invite them to the embassy, so that I can talk to them a bit about my experiences as an International Doctor and the necessity for Humanitarianism in Health Care. I know that by the time the initial batch graduates in 2014, they would have seen for themselves the humanistic way the Cuban doctors practice and if other graduates from Asian Nations who studied in Cuba, I am thinking of my Bhutanese friends, are an example, they would be much more people, society, culture oriented than the ones educated in Australia or UK or their branches..
I truly enjoyed meeting Mr S, buoyed on top of my multiple interactions in my beloved city, Welcome to the bright lights of Consciousness that is our city, San Cristobal de la Habana, Cuba, Sr. Embajador!
I truly enjoyed meeting Mr S and already look forward to my return to the Malaysian Embassy in La Habana, Cuba.