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vendredi 13 septembre 2013


On a flight from Madrid to New York City sometimes ago, I sat next to a corporate type gentleman who began pounding away at his computer as soon as it was permitted after takeoff. I was slowly sinking into a novel about Maqroll by Alvaro Mutis. Where do you get time to read books?, he asked me, not making any attempt to hide his contempt, and proudly proclaiming his credentials, “ I have not read a book in five years!”. He was an accountant on the rise at PriceWaterHouseCooper in New York City, “I have been in Madrid for five days for a conference, I didn’t even get to see the city”.
I looked at him, not returning his look of contempt, and said: I make time, for my self and my friends, I read because I want to be a good spectator of this life. And I added, with a little glint of mischief in my eyes, Have you ever thought of going to a cemetery and lying down? Death will arrive soon enough. I didn’t wish to insult him by adding he was already dead anyway.
He didn’t talk to me for the rest of the trip. I am sure we both were happier for that.
According to some social scientists, these modern day corporate ladder climbers are very similar to the poor roadside vegetable sellers in impoverished nations of Asia or to the American or the British or Australian who lives from pay cheque to pay cheque who are poor for lack of money.  What my seatmate lacked was Time, a mismanagement of time in quest for further lack of time.
The social researchers further go on to define those who “lack of time” into a category of “scarcity-mindset”, a way of behaving brought on by the lack of something-whether it is money in the case of the roadside vendor, security in case of the American worker, calories in case of a person battling with overweight, friends for those who are lonely or rejected by their families, time for the corporate types who want to go  quicker up the ladder of financial security. The benefits of such a mindset are not to the sufferer but to the social forces- PWC in case of the accountant, the moneylender in case of the vegetable seller in Asia. But this gives the sufferer a sense of worth of  a minute, an hour, 100 calories, few cents, smiles/hugs/kisses.  Just ask a lonely person, an elderly couple neglected by their children, about the value of love and hugs!
The danger is further narrowing of the world view of the average person, already reached by the plethora of holders of MBA and other degrees that begin with M, where their worlds consist only of things they studied at the university- not Literature, not Philosophy, not travel, not compassion for the other..all that which we call Life.  Perhaps that is what prompted me to think that the busy accountant with no time was already dead. And prompted me to advice: Go buy yourself a plot in the cemetery, and lie down, Death will arrive soon enough.
Feeling poor, either because you lack money or feel a sensation of lack of money because you fear the lack of security, can lower ones IQ. Anxieties about friendless-ness,  love/hugs/kisses, lacking or perceived as lacking, can affect your performance, whether at work or at the dining table.
Does Loneliness contribute to overweight or Obesity?  Do people who lack “time” also have problems dealing with their weight?
Does the sense of not having “time” make you neglect your nutrition, you have money but no time for “Zumba” classes?, leading to overweight, obesity and pre-diabetes and become a burden on the society and the health care system?
When I am requested to give career advice to young people, I try to make sure that they are not headed in the direction of scarcity mindset but a sensation of Plenty MindSet. Happiness and Money are not necessarily related, over and above your immediate needs,  as my good friend, the poor but the best Family Physician in South Dakota once said: you can chase happiness or money, but never both!  This principle is well lived by my good friend, the humble man of Bogor, Hendra Pranoto.
He has a thriving business, various branches of which are handled by selected men in their fifties. He tells them to train younger people to take over their jobs, so that they will have time. He gives them the security of the job, but also time to enjoy that security, time to do more exercise, time to travel together, time to eat together on a regular basis. On an average day of work, up to three hours, he and his managers spend time together, exercising in the early morning by the lake, partaking in delicious Indonesian home cooked breakfasts, in general sharing time together. He deliberately plans his overseas business trips so that the business dealings are short but he and his managers get to spend time in the location and enjoy the local culture and food.  Curiously enough, this has freed him to give plenty of time to his family (so far this year, they have been to Europe twice, once to the USA, twice to Bali, once to Phuket) but allows him to spend time with his friends from various countries. In San Francisco, KL, Brussels, Barcelona, Milan, Copenhagen, Phnom Penh, Bangkok or Singapore.., you would see him often enjoying the company of his friends.
In the last six months, I have seen him in Paris, Brussels on two different occasions, once n Bali, Bogor, Singapore, Amsterdam. It is incredible indeed and now we are making plans to go to Cuba together.
I have felt always and have insisted this to my friends and lovers.. The greatest gift you can give me is TIME, in this I am Cuba, in Miami, in South East Asia..
In our Plenty Mindset, we also become less selfish, you have time to do humanitarian projects, simple ones involving one individual near home or groups of people living far away from your home.
My good friend MC who lives in KL used to say, You live 12 000 miles away but I see you more often than some of my friends who live in KL, just ten miles away! Her devotion to friends and the great gift of time to them, adds a lustre to the meaning of the world Friendship.
As I was writing this, I realized birds of a feather flock together.  None of my close friends have this Scarcity Mindset! HP in Bogor, MC in KL, Dr W and Brother J in Miami, my sister friends DBSG in Yakama, SL among Kikapu, many others in the Indian country like sister WLS in Standing Rock and who can forget the sage of Sioux city, who always makes time for me when I appear in Sioux City, Iowa!
I truly dislike, when someone says, I don’t have time.
Written on an Air Berlin Flight
12 September 2013, from Dusseldorf to Miami,
Listening to Arab music , Shoreen and Amr Diab, on the IFE system
The wine was 2012 Silvaner-Chardonnay, only sansibar, Dreissigacker.
The seat next to me was empty. In this cabin, not a single person had their computer or tablet on, looking for that feeling of not having time. The 9 hour 30 minute flight was very enjoyable and went smoothly.
Scarcity: Why having too little means so much
Sendhill Mulainathan and Eldar Shafir
Published 2013

mardi 10 septembre 2013

Medicoanthropologist Blog has crossed 100,000 page views!!

As if to celebrate the Jewish New Year 5774, I noticed that the counter of page views on this blog has passed 100,000! When you think there are millions and millions of blogs out there, it just shows you the power of Internet and the gargantuan audience out there...On the average between 150-200 people arrive at my blog per day! I am happy about that.
I write this blog for my own curiosity and to put down what I am feeling a that particular moment, since it has a lot to do with the traveling that I do. 
Most of the people arrive through Google and it is interesting to see what search terms attract the most viewers.
1. Any thing to do with natural remedies or self help attracts a huge audience
My blog on Natural Healing of Chronic Rhinitis attracts  many readers from Asia as well as Europe
2. Anything to do with Israel, Jewish-Arab relationship, Moslems attract attention. My two blogs about Bernard Lewis, the octogenarian Jewish Historian of the Middle East, thought to be the most erudite historian of Islam, gets hit very often.
3. For reasons I cannot fathom, since very few of my readers are from China, my blogs on Zheng He the greatest navigator ever lived, gets more than its share of attention. 
4. I can understand why my blogs on American Indians get attention since there is a lot of interest in American Indians.
5. By the way people are curious about what a Medical Anthropologist is.

Thank you for reading my blog!

samedi 7 septembre 2013


There have been Prophets and False Prophets. None of our ancestors caught on to the false prophets but some prophets went on to found religions which are now major ones: Buddhism, Jainism, both of which had their origin in Hinduism; Christianity with its origin in Judaism; Islam with its origins in Judaism and Christianity.
I am not interested in Prophets who attribute their words to God. The biographies of all the prophets were written centuries after their death, so we are not sure of who they were, what they really thought, and their lifestyles.
One thing does interest me, that is the philosophy of some of these prophets and for that no one can equal BUDDHA. He is also different from other prophets in that he did not ascribe his words to a higher power but proclaimed his own interpretation of the reality around him.
I am re reading a book by Pankaj Mishra: An End to Suffering:
The Buddha in the world.
Mr Mishra has done his research and has written down a life story of Buddha from the narrative of his formation of philosophy, not a chronographic depiction of what Buddha did, but how ecologically he developed into a Buddha, and also the revelations did not arrive overnight but only after years and years of meditation and reflexion.
He had questioned the supremacy of the keepers of the word of God and it is a testimony to the institutionalized power of these keepers of Gods words that Buddhism barely exists in India, where Buddhism was born. The organized group were the Brahmins and you can find similar groups in any country and in any religion where their supremacy is under threat by thinking human beings with minds that have evolved progressively to adapt to the contemporary society for the past two thousand years.
Buddha assumed that Mind alone could know and analyse the mind. Mind alone can observe the movement and nature of thoughts passing through it. To contemplate, you need a still mind. How to achieve this stillness, when the mind is so active one thought after another, like the fast flowing brook from the mountains always the gurgling but not the same water fast moving thoughts, but not the same thoughts
Modern day scientists and psychologists denied it was possible to control the mind and thus delayed the emancipation of the mind for decades, and now continue to do so.

What is attractive in Buddhist approach is the negation of Meditation as presently taught to wide-eyed westerners by charlatan Yogis in India. Temporary states which does not lead to or form a permanent understanding. It is like trying to abolish the darkness completely by striking one match after another. It is better to understand the darkness rather than the ability of the lit match to abolish it for a moment. To quote from Pankaj Mishras book:
As the Buddha saw it, teachers preaching the so-called eternal, independent and unanalysable Self had not realized it from within. Kalama and Ramaputra, early teachers of Buddha, upon questioning by the Buddha, had admitted to having no direct knowledge of their doctrine, they assumed it must be true

The practical value of such a philosophy, for our daily life and betterment of our relationships with friends and lovers, is evident to me.  If you, like the Buddha come to your own conclusion after analysing it by yourself and also reading some contemporary philosophers.
Once again the inspiration had arrived from India, in the form of Jiddu Krishnamurty.
He says the following in his book, The First and The Last Freedom.
What is the relationship between yourself and the misery, the confusion, in and around you? Surely this confusion, this misery, did not come into being by itself. You and I have created it, not a capitalist or a communist or a fascist society, but you and I have created it in our relationship with each other. What you are within are projected without, on to the world, what you are, what you think and what you feel, what you do in your every day existence is projected outwardly, and that constitutes the world. If we are miserable, confused, chaotic within, that projection becomes the world, that becomes society, because the relationship between yourself and myself, between myself and another is society-society is the product of our relationship-and if our relationship is confused, egocentric, narrow, limited, national, we project that and bring chaos into the world.
My own teachers, the Indians of North America, have a concept of Self and Society, which is much more congruous with each other than found in the Non Indian societies.
For Native Americans, the self is seen as an integral part of the universe and total workings of the world. Valued attributes of self include bravery, endurance of pain and suffering with patience and silence, controlled emotions, honesty and strength, self-respect and self-worth, respect for others, and individual freedom -- meaning to do what one wants as long as it is in harmony with nature (Deloria, 1973). I would add to this illustrious list, Gratitude as well as Sacrifice for Others.

How to use this knowledge in every day life:
Last night, sitting at the dinner table after having done the rituals of welcoming the Jewish New Year 5774, I noticed my mind becoming a little irritable. The dinner offered was delicious, a bottle of award winning French Wine and a Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa. It was not the food. The ambience, the smell of lavender wafting through the dinner table was soothing.
(I thought of my good friend, the Sage of Sioux City, who told me, quoting from Buddhas Brain: there are 10 000 reasons for people to feel and act the way they do, so don't get annoyed, but try to understand)
I pinpointed the problem for my anxiety. Growing up in Australia and around Jewish Dining tables, and later on at elegant tables with starched table clothes in Jamaica, it was important that every one is supposed to take their places, and dinner is to be complimented by good conversation and shared time and good feelings. I noticed that there were constant interruptions of people getting up and leaving and coming back, the technological noise of the modern era, when we are dining with people at home. At restaurants there are less interruptions.
Once you find where your anxiety is coming from, can the mind find exacerbating factors? In Jamaica, you are seated and you are served dinner and neither the host nor the guests need to get up, there are always helpers to assist you. Obviously such life is not possible in western societies. It is a point for the mind to understand.
Once I understood the source of the anxiety and why it surfaced now, I stopped blaming others or projecting the source of anxiety to the society or the socio economical situation in Europe!
The guests taking their seats would not have alleviated my anxiety; only my own mind could alleviate it.
My teacher, zayama, who was teaching me how to read Burmese scripts in Rangoon, said to me: when you wish to meditate, you can do it anywhere and in any position. It is the wholesome mental climate in which you are constantly aware. Buddha prescribed a posture for meditation only when concentrating on ones breath, the rest of the exercises which involved the study of desire, anger, hatred, torpor and anxiety as they arose in ones mind, were considered part of the accompaniment to daily routines of life.

The ill feeling disappeared, and when I woke up this morning, I had a very comforting calm feeling in my heart. I felt so good towards the world and the people.
I said to myself. Instead of being a ritualistic Jew attending the synagogue, I will do random acts of unsolicited help this morning.
I happened to be at the Brussels airport waiting for my good friend and his family to arrive from Indonesia. But did find time to organize a shared taxi ride for a lady who had just arrived from Toronto who did not wish to spend 35 euros for the taxi. Saw an Otavalo Indian looking a little bewildered, I went up to him, Hello Brother from the Ecuadorian Andes, what are you looking for? In Spanish of course! He said, my brother arrived from Atlanta this morning and I am looking for him. Sure enough within minutes we located yet another Otavalo Indian. They are easy to spot even at the busy arrival lounge of the Brussels airport
(the future: I was welcoming the family of this 16 year old from Indonesia who arrived to represent her country in the International Youth Conference on Human Rights)

It is a good beginning of the Jewish Year 5774.

Long ago, sitting in the Moderno Restaurant (since closed) at Piedras Negras, Coahuila, I was asked by a visiting Professor of Psychology: What is your advice for achieving happiness, if you could summarize it in one sentence.
I thought for a while, the slow music of the orchestra in the background and said:
Decrease your Desires.

I will never forget what Dr. Chia, the historian of Zheng He from Singapore said to me, when I questioned him why there were so many expensive shops along Orchard Road. They are not expensive at all; I have no desire for them.
To which I would add two more stages.
The second stage would be to understand some philosophies and philosophers, such as Jiddu Krishnamurty for example. The influential French philosopher, Gilles de Leuze also discussed the importance of Desire. Tell me your desires, I will tell you who you are. It is important to seek philosophers in context, I advice Yogi seeking westerners in India and the Orient to look at their own backyards first, Yoga without its philosophy is just a stretching exercise.
The third would be: Do more for others than you would do for yourself or your family.
Here the American Indians are the masters, sacrificing for others, praying for others, suffering for others.
My two good friends, in KL and Bogor, are unusual examples from that part of the world who bring happiness to others, with their compassion.

dimanche 1 septembre 2013


Today is the First Day of September 2013 and in a few days time we would welcome the Jewish New Year. I hope to be in Brussels on Rosh Hashanah and in Miami for Yom Kippur.
Just arrived back from the French Alps where we met some Jewish people from Lyon. The ever-expanding Jewish world is incredibly warm.
Once I was sitting with a newly found acquaintance at a coffee shop at a fashionable shopping area in Buenos Aires. I felt that the lady in the next table was paying a lot of attention, I thought perhaps at my beautiful companion, who was argentine born but did not look anything like an Argentine!
Is your friend from India? she eventually ventured. Then she continued: I am a devotee of Sai Baba, does he know about him?
To make a long story short, the lady in question was from Montevideo, Uruguay and had the surname of Hallegua: I have met Jews with that surname in Holland, Miami, Cochin and Havana. The photographer from Holland, a Hallegua wanted me to say hello to mr Hallegua in Havana…
Would you believe me, if I say to you that this Uruguayan lady follower of Sai Baba sipping café in Buenos Aires was a cousin of the Halllegua, the photographer who lives in Holland?

When I told the Rabbi at the Buenos Aires Synagogue that I had a collection of Nats, they are pre Buddhist spirits prominent in the Buddhist syncretism in Burma.
He said to me.. We don't worship Idols. I did not want to show him this photo at the 
Blue House among the Indians where I stay when I visit the UmonHon Indians:

You see the two menorahs from Cochin in India along with a Nat, to whom I say thanks each time I arrive at the Blue House after long journeys to reach there.

Welcoming the Shabbat in the French Alps in the company of our friends from Lyon, I recited the prayers in the orders as it was done at the Shaare Shalom Synagogue in Kingston, Jamaica.
It was my brother Joseph and his wife my sister Jackie, who introduced me to the Jewish Life in Jamaica and I still remember meeting Meyer M (whose grandfather had been born in Damascus) and his Panamanian born wife S who had presented me with the newly published Prayer Book of the Community.
My good friends M and his South African born wife G have visited the Synagogue.

Rudolph Cohen Henriques, a Jamaican Jew, designed the synagogue.
This synagogue was built in the early 20th century, but Jews have been present in Jamaica longer than its predominantly African population. . Jews have been present in Jamaica since mid 1500s. The Mallorca mapmaker who accompanied 
Columbus and landed in Jamaica (Luis Torres) may have been the first ever Jew to have landed in Jamaica. 

 As is customary among the Jews who suffered under
The Inquisition, the floor of the synagogue is covered with sand, as it is said that it will silence the sound of their steps as they prayed 
In secret. In the Jamaican liturgy there is still a prayer, in Portuguese, remembering our brothers who were tortured by the Inquisition.
 I have seen the sand on the floor in the synagogues in Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles, the Sephardi synagogue in Rhodes, 
Many years later while discussing a paper written about a special kind of eye disease that affected Cubans in the western provinces, it was very warm to discover that the Neuro Ophthalmology professor not only knew my good friends and professors Glaser and Shatz in Miami but also was descended from Jews of Rhodes.

Toledano is a name familiar to Rhodos Jews and you can find that name in the isolated town of Iquitos (no roads, only by river or air you can reach there) where in the main street, the supermarket proudly bears the name of its founder: COHEN

The current synagogue in Cochin in Kerala India has stood there since 1568, on the site of a synagogue, which had been there since 
1344 of the Common Era. While the local Jewish community emigrated en mass to Israel on its establishment, there is a current interest
in the synagogue by the Chabad, which has established locally to cater for the thousands of Israelis who visit this beautiful part of 

Currently Shabbat and holiday celebrations are held at which time no tourists are allowed but on other times, it is one of the most visited tourist sites for Indians and foreigners.
There are many other synagogues (currently not in use), Jewish cemeteries and buildings of Jewish interest in and around Cochin. There is only one Jewish family left, Elias and his wife 
Ofra and their two daughters, Avital and Lea. There are 25 other local Jews and many transient Jews including the Israeli Naval contingent. The tiles were brought from China and no two are alike, and there is an interesting story how the Jews got it cheap from the ruling Raja.
Outside of Cochin, India most of the Jewish communities have strong trade connections with Iraqi Jews: Calcultta, Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong.
It was poignant for me, a reminder of the modern day anti Jewish feeling in the developing world, such as Malaysia that there are no longer any Jews in Malaysia and Israelis are not allowed to enter… to visit the Cemetery in Penang which is now part of Malaysia.

The last picture I want to show you is the one I have visited with my brother Bombay Born, Kobe brought up, American brother with a Canadian Egyptian wife and their three Mizrahi American children.

It is in Rangoon, the capital of Burma. The last time I was there just two years ago, there were only 8 Jews left. Because of the opening of the country to foreigners and businesses I expect 
Chabad to move in and regular services to be held in the future. 

The Iraqi Jewish merchants built the synagogue in 1854. An earlier wooden synagogue had burned down. Mr. Moshe Samuels is the gabbai and 
Caretaker of this synagogue and he can be easily localized. His son, Samuel, graduated from Yeshiva University and I think Hebrew University is probably the only Hebrew 
Speaking Burmese Jew even though Israel has an embassy in Rangoon.
(here is a historic photograph of Ben Gurion visiting Rangoon and dressed in traditional Burmese dress including longyi)

So my dear friends, wherever you are (one Erev Yom Kippur I was with Ron Raab from Melbourne, Australia, the founder of the charity Insulin for Life which provides
Insulin for many hundreds of patients with Diabetes all around the Developing world. We were in Kratie in Cambodia by the Mekong River, but did our prayers and I had a small
bottle of red wine handy) 
may you be blessed for another good year to come. 

 will be thinking of all of you : especially my jewish friends in Cochin, Rangoon and Kingston as well as La Habana, Cuba
Adela Zworin, the president of the Jewish Community of Havana, Cuba with a well known visitor on a recent Hanukkah celebration. 

La Shanah Tova Tikketevu