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mercredi 25 décembre 2013


Miami holds the distinction, unique in this planet, of having the largest number of inhabitants born outside the USA! So unless one is fairly young, you can assume that the average Miamian was born outside the country, with a high predominance of Spanish Speaking south Americans and Caribbean islanders, of which Cubans dominate.

Normally during the Christmas season I am not in Miami, the last time I was here was in 2007 but this time I was in Miami, the day before I was leaving the country once again.

The dinner which was actually Lunch started at 2 pm and ended towards 7 pm.

The menu was varied, with some reference to tradition as well to the taste of some of the guests.

Grilled Lobster

Roast beef


Smoked Turkey


Rice and Peas

Candied sweet potato

Cauliflower plus broccoli and cheese

Yorkshire pudding


Cranberry jelly

Gravy Beef



Christmas pudding /Cake

Brandy Butter

Whipped Cream

Lemon Torte

With some small exceptions, all the food was prepared at the home of my sister, who toiled nearly two days over this menu.

People here do not drink much so one bottle of Moet and Chandon as well as a bottle of Tangley oaks merlot from California were sufficient. There was no Beer or carbonated beverages such as coca cola or other fizzy drinks, even for children.

Around the table were 10 adults, four children and one infant. What was interesting was the cultural composition around the table; England, Jamaica, Cayman island, Australia, Cuba. The conversation was on a friendly tone, no confrontations and no arguments.

People delved into the food and none was left behind. Laughter made people feel lighter and all of us agreed that this is one of the nicest evenings we had spent in a long time!

It is nice to be in Miami

mardi 24 décembre 2013


Thinking of MM in BE, MC in KL, CL in CWB
Do you have a mother, doctor?
Yes, I do
When was the last time you saw her?
I hesitated.
Be grateful, doctor, that you have a mother. Go and see her. I cant see my mother even if I wish to, she has gone to the other side.
The very same HoCank Indian also taught me about sacrifice to achieve your goals, then gratitude to show your joy of achieving it.
Most people fail to offer gratitude, she said ruefully.
My close friend in KL, an accountant by profession, but a life-coach by avocation, talked about Gratitude List. She had heard about it while being a student of Yogic Philosophy in India.
Each morning make up a list of five people you wish to say thank you. For the first few days, I deliberately thought of the five, the ones close to my heart, but later on the list began filing with people from the subconscious: the cook in the house in Jamaica who lovingly made my morning coffee, for instance. It was good to be reminded of them, it gave me an opportunity to thank them for the pleasures their actions had brought me. The very thought of remembering brought a sense of peace to my mind as well.
Simple actions can evoke strong emotions, in you and in others. A smile can elicit powerful emotions, and who knows where it would lead to? One thing for sure, you would feel better. Just observe how few people smile, how often they return your smile, and what lengths they would go to avoid any sort of emotional contact with you. Who loses? We both gain if the connection is made.
Two of my strongest friendships started with a smile or a returned smile! Recently in Isla de Pascua, a smile led to an invitation to stay at their home on my return visit! In Honolulu, a smile at the front desk manager  led to him giving his personal email so that he can make sure I have the best room at the best price on the next visit! I did smile at the Filipina at Hotel Hilton Salalah expecting nothing but a smile back, but so much more pleasant emotions have been transmitted since then!
We all need each other, and what better than do something for the other? The Jewish philosophers, in Sayings of Our Fathers, explain, If I am only for myself, what am I ? and if not now, when?
Is there a better time than now?
Sitting under balmy skies, at an open air restaurant, enjoying my breakfast, I was delighted to see that the local newspaper had an article,
Gratitude Gratifies, enhances Well Being.
Can we use this “tool” to deal with everyday problems of modern day living such as stress, anxiety, feelings of insecurity etc?
In the ancient philosophies, gratitude was part of their life, but in our western world and its hectic life, we have forgotten, even to say a simple Thank You to people who do constantly favours to us, at restaurants, at shops, at work. So the psychologists, in their book, “Gratitude Works!” suggest keeping a journal (presumably written by hand?), writing letters to kind people and showing the letters on face to face meetings. In 21 days they report they felt more optimistic, felt better and felt more connected!
What was amazing was a study that was quoted. Writing down three acts of kindness that made the writer felt grateful for, was as effective at increasing well being, equal to spending one hour with a therapist! Wow! The power of our connection to the mind!!
We teach our children to be grateful, not for the sake of being polite, but also for them to understand gratefulness. Studies have shown that children who understand gratefulness tend to be better at academic performance! Seeing the recent results from an International study of performance of children from various countries, most of the top spots were taken by Asians, the USA was way down the ladder, and perhaps there is a connection? Perhaps not understanding gratefulness be one of the reasons?
So my advice to those struggling with everyday problems exaggerated by the social traps they are in, is as follows.
Set a goal for yourself with regard to what ails you. Keeping a gratitude journal would help you reach it.

vendredi 6 décembre 2013


Things happen for a reason.
Who would have thought that a smile that was returned on a cold morning in March 2012 at Omaha Airport would have led to so much contentment and help to others in various parts of the world?
From that day onwards Hendra (Joe)  P and I have become very good friends and being travellers, we were able to meet each other at interesting spots, for leisure and pleasure as well as for exercise and discussions about health in Indonesia.

Our last meeting was in Singapore where he was participating in the Duothlon and we were to meet each other at the end of January 2014 in Bogor.

As you could see in some of my previous posts, I had always been in interested in Oman and its people. A couple of weeks ago I was in Oman, having manipulated my ticket from USA to Europe and routed it through Muscat. On my return journey I had a long lay over at Muscat Airport and was able to spend the time at the Premier Lounge. I was at their computer and doing some work and correspondence and I forgot my little book in which I make observations and make notes. I was already on the plane when I realized that I had lost it, but never lost hope that I would be reunited with my little notebook which I had bought in Miami for about 4 dollars but had jotted down my feelings about Oman and my stay there.
 (New friends at Hilton Salalah, Oman)
 (Hilton Salalah Lobby, Salalah, Oman)
(wide sandy beaches for long walks, Salalah, Oman)
(midnight snack at Plaza Premium Lounge)
I tried to email the Plaza Premium Lounge but my emails were returned undeliverable. When I travel I use VOIP communication systems such as Skype, all of which are not available for voice calls in Oman! So I decided I will wait until my return to the USA tomorrow to call Premium Lounge at Muscat Airport and ask them where they had found a notebook (not to be confused with a  small computer) with my name and address written on the inside page.
A couple of days ago, I had received a call from Hendra P who was in, of all the places, Oman! He had met an Omani businessman on a flight from Bangkok to Jakarta few months ago and that meeting culminated in his wanting to visit this country. I was able to give a background.
He was effusive about the welcome he received from the Omanis as well as the workers from Asia at the hotels and other places. He was happy to have made the decision to visit Oman. We also talked about the Overweight and Obesity problem in Oman and he was going to discuss it with his Omani friends.

He continued: the commercial companies like VLCC in the middle east want people to pay lots of money to come and exercise and get their services but they are not interested in talking to the clients about changing their minds. If the mind-set persists the weight loss will be only temporary. Hendra P encourages his staff to participate in regular physical activity and then follows up with camaraderie and good emotional support and once I counted seven of his workers who had together lost 90 kg!

No gymnasium, no payments up front, no memberships. Especially in a country like Indonesia blessed with such natural scenery and plentiful sunshine!
I was thrilled at the possibility of us visiting Oman in the future together; we are both fans of Qatar Airways and also the possibility of visiting Zanzibar once again for me!  And there is a slight chance that we might be able to do something for the delightful, pleasant and friendly Omanis, the best of the region!

As I was packing for my morning departure for Chicago and beyond (where I am told the temperature would be plunging and snow expected!), I received a call from Hendra P while he was waiting at the Lounge at Muscat airport, waiting for the flight to go back to Jakarta. We had a long conversation, his absolute amazement at Oman as a liberal and tolerant country and the availability of everything including pork and alcohol forbidden in many other places where Islam is fanatically observed. Mostly the friendliness of the Omanis, as reflected on their kindness to the thousands of workers who are there temporarily while the full Omanization programme is going on.
Where do you speaking from, I asked my friend, know that there is no Wi-Fi freely available at Muscat airport unless you have a subscription to Omantel telephone system.
I am at the Lounge at MCT
Are you at Premium Lounge, I asked him?
Yes, he sounded surprised. Then I explained to him about my recent stay there and the fact that I may have left my little notebook there.
Wait a minute, doc, I will walk towards the reception and let you speak to the receptionist.
A sweet voice came over
How are you, sir?
I am fine, I replied, I may have left my notebook at the computer room when I was waiting for my Turkish flight
Do you remember the date so that I can check? Normally we keep them here for a few days and then turn them over to the Police.
Are you Dr S, she asked me, surprising me?
Yes I am.
It is written inside this notebook that I have at the reception!
Dear friends, what is the chance of this happening!
Especially in an airport not quite in the international circuit of travellers.
Please, give the notebook to my friend, thank you.
I will be happy to.
I asked Hendra P to get the name of the receptionist
Suzie, she is from Taiwan.
Please tell Hendra P, that we would stop by on our next trip together to say Hello to Suzie!
As we close our conversation, Hendra P said, at last you got your book back and now what all you have to do, is to come and get it at Bogor!

Which I plan to do in January/February 2014

I know what awaits me at Bogor, in Indonesia!

jeudi 5 décembre 2013


There is no greater sorrow than recalling happy times when we are sad

Thinking about Cuba, for me is never sad, but the powerful forces that draw me to mi Isla rica are all due to the special friendships I have been surrounded with over the years.
I was still amazed when a Cuban friend said: You are not a friend, but you are a tattoo in my heart!
And in Baracoa, the little poet said looking at the stars falling into the net the tranquil sea lays out for them, the seas are there just to remind us that you are near us, so it is never Good Bye from us.

Have always valued the philosophy of MINDFULNESS, to live and enjoy the present moment to the fullest, but this feeling for Cuba is like a wound that bleeds slowly. When I am in Cuba the rest of the world disappears for me. I have been very lucky to have good friends around the world, such as you and many others, but friendship in Cuba has an urgent feeling and one thing they have abundantly that the westerners do not have TIME. The director of National Gallery stops on her way to work to say good-bye and have a cup of coffee, Cuban Ambassador to Malaysia drops in between meetings to say hello. I am not that important a person in Cuba but I realize that my friends have taught me the importance of Friendship. Make yourself available to your friends. You have heard me say: I am never too busy for my friends, and this remains true to this day.
In Cuba, whether in La Habana or Baracoa I can count on 10 or 20 people dropping by the house each day to say hello and share strong coffee or rum. We may have no biscuits or any snacks to share but we shared all that we have and improvised. What was important was that each of us had made that special effort to be with each other.

Here are some friends, young and old, holding high social positions or not, visiting the house, sharing the humble offerings and drinks. (A bottle of Havana Club White Rum is only 4 dollars, the same price as a 2 Litre bottle of Coca Cola to make Cuba Libre, ice when we have conserved electricity and lemon when it is available!) Coca Cola in Cuba is a treat, much like Champagne in France! All these people remain my friends and write to me when they can and when they know I am in town, would be knocking on the door, always something "precious" in their hands. You also see me with my Cuban mother who is standing in front of original paintings by very famous artists, Cuban and Foreign. (My financial problems would be over if she donated just one painting to me, such as a Guyasamin!)

Why such a gush of emotions? What is this connection?
Just after making this collage this morning, I received a nice video of young students from a Music/Dance academy in Jerusalem doing an impromptu concert in the waiting room of the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
Watching them, I couldn't help crying.
The connection to each and every one of them was there, like elongated notes that refuse to disappear to the ether. I could recognize in their faces the hundreds of Jews I have known in all parts of the world, I thought I saw my mother, my sister, my friends and even thought that it was LB executing the dance.
I had written a blog on Spirituality and the origins of it for us, the Jewish people. It is this inexplicable connection, as if the central themes of our lives are all shared in broken bits of mirror reflecting it as a whole by all of us.
I no longer felt the pain of nostalgia for Cuba, I once again became aware of its presence, a mindfulness as I am everyday aware of the presence of all of you in my life, and also of the Jewish People and Eretz Israel.

this is the link to the video from Hadassah Hospital 

mercredi 4 décembre 2013



When I sent emails from Salalah, Oman on a recent stopover there, a good friend of mine asked: Why do you visit Arab Countries like Oman?
My own brother, Eliyahu, will not come with me to Malaysia, why visit a country that wouldn't let our relatives (in this case Israelis) visit?
(Malaysia has no resident Jewish population; a retired Tamil labourer and his family are caring for the Iraqi Jewish cemetery in Penang!)

First of all, I am very sensitive to the insults heaped upon Jews by Moslems, directly and indirectly in various parts of the world. There is a video circulating, in which on a Public Transport Bus in Paris, a group of young Arab men are shouting Allahu Akbar, and Death to the Jews!
I want to remind you that it did not happen in Iran but in Paris, France in 2013! I would be afraid to walk to the lovely synagogue in Malmo, Sweden because of the threat of young moslems and their collaborators against the Jewish worshippers!

But at the same time, we cannot put the entire Moslem population of the world, the benign nounou from Mali who likes her bacon or the Bangladeshi slave in Malaysia or Qatar. For these people it is us Jewish people who should feel the greatest of sympathy and work towards their liberation  since it was not that long time we were treated, herded, murdered for just being Jewish.
(almost the entire jewish community of Thessaloniki or Salonica were murdered by Nazis. They had escaped the Inquisition in Spain 440 years earlier)
I am reminded of a quip from the Professor of Kidney Transplantation at Medical School. When asked where he as born, he replied
I was born in Saudi Arabia, but had had the sense to escape very early. I also occasionally feel about the place where I was born which was not Moslem at the time of my birth but later came under Moslem Semi-Dictatorship which would never allow me citizenship, not that I want it, of that particular country. I can also say: I saw the light very early in my life and left at the age of 2 ½ for a better upbringing!
I always want to keep an open mind, however difficult it is becoming in Europe now crowded with anti Semitic chants and the gullible Asians imitating their Sunni Brothers from the desert. I want to pray tribute to my friends from school in Sweden, Hadi al-khalaf from Bahrain in particular who taught me that friendship can transcend the vitriolic of the day!
So it is a pleasure for me to write about Oman, an Arab country in the volatile Middle East where greater peace and tranquillity exists than many countries in Asia!

Oman had been in my mental horizon ever since I can remember, since it is the only one of two legitimate Sultanates in the World. I was on holiday with my parents in the other one, Brunei, when my father, olav ha shalom, may have alerted me to this fact. Sultan of Ternate or Sultan of Jogjakarta do not count, because Sultans of Brunei and Oman are hereditary rulers and both have oil reserves and both are moderate even though Oman is less conservative in its approach to Islam than the converted Malays of Brunei.

I arrived at Oman from Zanzibar, literally and figuratively. The Sultanate was one of the poorest in the region and the riches of Zanzibar which attracted them, moved their capital to that lush island in the Indian Ocean. To this day, the cultural and genetic exchange between Zanzibaris and Omanis are apparent everywhere. The Stone Town of Zanzibar is full of ornate doors which will not be out of place in Nizwa in Oman and Omanis accept without problems the miscegenation with non Arabs that happened for decades in the island and most of the Omani-Zanzibaris and their descendants now make Oman their home, while maintaining a strong link to their ancestral past.

This also must have set the foundation for tolerance of the other that is not usually found in any of the Arab countries and most Moslem countries of the world.
The other factor for the tolerance and acceptance of the Other might lie in the fact that Omanis follow Ibadi Islam rejected by other Arabs are heretic and shunned by Shias. So for centuries they had known isolation and oppression, the common fate of Asian immigrant workers in the other Gulf States.
There is no doubt the open mindedness of British educated Sultan Qaboos is evident everywhere, He took over the Country, at that time one of the least developed countries in the region from his father who was under the influence of his advisors and deemed incompetent. Today he is universally revered and has brought Oman a general prosperity and modernity without loosing its cultural links with the past and history.
The improvements in Oman since the ascension of Sultan Qaboos is impressive indeed!

"I promise you to proceed forthwith in the process of creating a modern government. My first act will be the immediate abolition of all the unnecessary restrictions on your lives and activities.
"My people, I will proceed as quickly as possible to transform your life into a prosperous one with a bright future. Every one of you must play his part towards this goal. Our country in the past was famous and strong. If we work in unity and cooperation we will regenerate that glorious past and we will take a respectable place in the world.
"I call upon you to continue living as usual. I will be arriving in Muscat in the coming days and then I will let you know of my future plans.
"My people, I and my new government will work to achieve our general objective.
"My people, my brothers, yesterday it was complete darkness and with the help of God, tomorrow will be a new dawn on Muscat, Oman and its people.
"God bless us all and may He grant our efforts
And so began the reign of Sultan Qaboos on 23 July 1970.
The gains made in the country are impressive, from no roads to paved highways that connect various towns in the Sultanate. Modern airports of which the new Salalah airport would be up to International Standards connecting Dhofar directly to the world.
I have visited Oman three times, twice in the last two years. 

On my first visit, which was not that long ago, I had to get a visa from the Omani Embassy in Washington DC and when the flight arrived from Zanzibar at 3 AM, the immigration officer was quite puzzled.
Purpose of your visit?
I said, Tourism
How can it be, we don't have tourists here!
A poor doctor attached to the airport had to be woken up and brought to the airport so that he could verify that I was a doctor!
Now it is visa on arrival for Australian citizens, 5 OMR (1 omr is about 2.6 usd).
It is also common to see Omanis working along side the contract workers from Asia! A sight not often seen in other Gulf countries.
I saw Omani drivers, bus boys at the hotels, shop assistants, and airline agents.
(Bellboys at Marriott Beach Resort at Mirbat,two Bangladeshis and one Omani)
Without exception they were friendly. On my recent visit I was in Muscat, Salalah and Mirbat and at each place I was greeted with great enthusiasm.
Omani government wish to decrease their reliance on expatriate workers and has an active programme to do so.
Unlike Qatar, Abu Dhabi or Dubai where western expatriates are differentially treated in professions, I could sense that the professionals from non-European countries such as Doctors from India or Pakistan were not subordinated. Unlike the other Gulf States, where the majority of the residents are expatriates from Europe or workers from Asia; only ¼ of Omani population is from other countries. Plus the plurality of Oman is seen in its languages: Arab, Baloochi, languages unrelated to Arabic such as Jibali still spoken in the Dhofar region in addition to various ancient tongues such as Bedu.

To this pleasant mixture is added the smiles of Bangladeshis, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Indians, Burmese, Philippines and Indonesians.
It was no surprise to me when I received a call from Muscat this morning from my good friend HP of Bogor. He was visiting Muscat for a few days.
Without doubt, Oman has exceeded all expectations, he exuded. Both Malaysia and Indonesia has lessons to be learned here, he added
This morning, he continued, at the Shangri La hotel the receptionist was from Myanmar who told me: I was a worker in Malaysia and I couldn't take it, so I left early and I came here and I am so happy here!
 (the great Chinese Navigator and Admiral of the Seas, Zheng He/Cheng Ho visited a spot not far from the beach above)

On a recent stay at Hilton Hotel in Salalah, I could sense the happiness of the staff. They were happy to be there, because they were being treated well by the Omanis and the guests. The GM was from Egypt and there were all other nationalities and I talked to many of them and not a single one complained. How unusual, I thought having seen the misery of the domestic workers in Singapore and Malaysia. Yes citizens of those countries could take a lesson in tolerance and friendliness from the Omanis! Instead of complaining about Immigrants taking jobs away as they are doing in Singapore, be grateful for the presence of the workers who are helping you live a better life, so share your good fortune with them a little bit.

It is this aspect of the general welfare of the contract workers that makes me want to go back to Oman more often since it says volumes about the generosity and kindness of the hosts, the Omani people.
Hospitality is a key characteristic of Omani culture and my friend Joe recounted the enormous feast of a dinner his Omani friend had laid out for him in his home in Muscat: Zanzibari and Omani dishes

Now you know I am already looking forward to my next trip to Oman!
The gentle and friendly nature of the Omani people that is manifested in general friendliness including the friendliest contract workers in the Gulf (or Malaysia or Singapore)!
One other thing I am looking forward is to welcome Omani students coming to Cuba to study Medicine as well as Cuban doctors coming to Oman to work as Specialists in their hospital for shorter and longer terms. Cuba has already such an agreement with Saudi Arabia.

As I was leaving Muscat airport, I stopped by to chat a south East Asian looking shop assistant who was wearing a hijab, naturally assuming her to be from Indonesia. I recognized her name to be Filipina and during our conversation, she told me that, she converted to Islam after she came to Oman, because she felt respected as a woman and treated well! Is there a better recommendation!
I also noticed that all workers at the Hilton Salalah Hotel Front Desk used the expression, Inshallah, whether they were Moslems or not! Of course, in Malaysia that would constitute a crime against the religion by the infidels!