mercredi 19 août 2015

CUBAN HUMANITARIAN MEDICINE IN ACTION


HOW TO BE A PROUD CUBAN
LIVE A DAY LIKE TODAY IN THE AMAZONAS
I was supposed to go to Nazareth, along the Amazon River, to visit a TICUNA Indian family, but couldn’t get in touch with them.
What a day it turned out to be!
A day to feel like a human being. A day to feel proud of mi Isla Rica, CUBA

The river had lowered itself, so that the streets of Leticia, this small town in Colombian Amazonas were no longer flooded. There was a boat leaving at 10 AM for Puerto Nariño at the end of Colombian Amazon coast. I procured a seat but the boat seemed to be a small motorboat with homemade seats that had no specific order. I was expecting a bigger boat; after all we were going down the Amazon River!
A queer mixture of travelers, two young German girls obviously trying to find themselves (by tattoo and pins), Indians going home to their settlements along the river, a French mother of an infant who lives in Leticia, acting as a guide to two French couples on holiday. She is from Avignon and her baby was well behaved.

The boat was loaded to the hilt; we had to stop at Peruvian and Colombian Military inspection stations before we could speed down the Amazon River, with Peru on one side and Colombia on the other, with Brasil receding away in the distance.
We passed by many small settlements of few huts, stopped at one or two of them before proceeding to our destination, Puerto Nariño. The town was founded on 1961 August 18 by a doctor named Jose Humberto Espejo Hernandez, it is an ecological town with no motorcycles or cars and it is entirely pedestrian. Marine, the young French mother turned out to be a very natural person. She was very much interested in Herbal and Spiritual healing and asked a slew of questions. With everyone I met today I talked about LBGS, the proud student!
As befits an unofficial Cuban Ambassador, I told her about the great humanitarian contribution of Cuba to the sister developing countries, such as the 14500 doctors working in all municipalities throughout Brasil (all of whom are proficient in Portuguese), working as General Medical and Integrative Practitioners. I was to meet some of them, much later in the day.
She mentioned in passing that there is a Cuban teacher of Music who has a little hostel in Puerto Nariño which she shares with her Colombian artist husband and maintains a residence in Leticia where she gives private lessons in Piano. Her lodgings are called Ayahuasco just up the road from the jetty.

Puerto Nariño is a recent outgrowth of a purpose built village, the second Colombian town of any size (has a population of about 6000), with mostly Ticuna Indians but some mestizos as well, along with administrative officers from elsewhere in Colombia



I found the Hostel Paraiso Amazonico Ayahuasca, with its rooms for rent and a small gallery of paintings by the Cuban music teacher’s architect turned artist. He is very content to be living in the Amazonas but teaches classes at Macedonia up the river, he commutes each day there by small boat called pique pique. Ileana is from Vedado, a proud Cuban, came to Colombia 20 years ago, married and stayed and is well integrated into the Amazonian life. We had a wonderful conversation, reminiscing about Cuba. I could see that she loves the Cuba that is, rather than a Cuba of imagination or fantasy, like most Cuban Americans. Cuba has only one enemy, I have mentioned earlier, it is the Cuban-Americans in Miami. They have no interest in Cuba or its people, grudge their failure to make changes there or have the patience or courage to do anything about their feelings except to pay loud mouthed radio hosts or politicians to say what they would like to say, who can brainwash them vague concepts they do not understand such as “Freedom” or “Democracy”. (Miami Cubans are the most racist of all Americans, just look at the census tract information; they don’t like to have Blacks as neighbours)

(Alejo a Colombian crafsman, spends months at various towns along the Amazon, selling his wares and enjoying the time, he would leave in a month to Belem and work his way down the Amazon back to Colombia. He explained to me the natural fibres and wood he uses and the fibre comes from the palm tree he has tatooed in his calf!)
So meeting a person such as Ileana, content with her life and proud of her culture was a breath of fresh air after Miami.
Walked around this isolated village in the Amazon.  Many tourists are brought here by tour companies for a day trips, to see the round headed river dolphins, Delfinos Rosados. People do question the eco sustainability of such quantity tourism. There are individual tourists who come here independently and utilize the facilities responsibly and contribute to the local economy. As the Indian Community at Nazareth explained while banning tour groups, in the end who gains, just the tour companies who bring them, we get a lot of empty bottles and get stared at a lot! Individual tourists are welcomed by the communities along the Amazon but only Macedonia and Puerto Nariño have any facilities for the tourists to stay overnight, Hotel Ayahuasca operated by our Cuban friend Ileana being one of them.
It was so happened that Ileana was returning to Leticia on the very same boat I was returning to Leticia and promised to find the residences of the Cuban doctors even though she did not know the address. When we got to the wharf, we engaged an auto-rickshaw to take us to the Brazilian side, the town of Tabatinga. She found the apartments very easily and very soon we were being welcomed warmly by the Cuban doctors stationed at this very end of Brasil!
Yanitza from Baracoa/Camaguey opened the door and very soon we were reminiscing about the many many people we knew in common.
What a reunion it was? It made me proud of being a Cuban and the land I love. Contrary to the propaganda, these young Cuban men and women have a different conscience they profess.

Unlike the foreign medical graduates who come to USA to further their studies and almost all of them stay to enter Private Practice where it is all about money and never about humanity. Jorge from Bayamo spent two years in a small town in Ghana on the border with Burkina Faso, worked in Venezuela for 3 years and is now here for two years. He is very content to be a general integral Medical doctor ( much like a well-trained Family Practitioner who can look after Adults, Children and pregnant women), looks forward to returning after his missions abroad to settle down to his work in the Policlinic at his hometown. 


Yanitza, whose husband lives in Camaguey, spent two years inn KIRIBATI a small atoll-nation in the Pacific and now will work in a Public Clinic in Tabatinga in Brasil for two years. When you talk to these Cuban doctors, you realize they are dedicated professionals, who put their patients first, emphasize preventive medicine and contribute to humanity. And they have no desire to desert their posts and go to the USA, even though a portion of the Cuban American Community would do anything to get them a visa, mainly for propaganda purposes. Not all Cuban professionals want to leave Cuba. Many want to leave Cuba for similar reasons why Jamaicans or Guatemalans want to leave their countries, it has nothing to do with the political system or the newspapers or the TV. The Cuban Americans forget that the majority of them are economic migrants and not political “refugees”.
Of the 70 000 Cuban doctors who have gone on missions recently only 4 per cent ( four in a hundred) had chosen to leave their missions and go to the USA (where they can work as Nurses, porters or technicians, validating medical licenses have become extremely difficult for any foreign medical graduate in the USA). And of course, the Miami Herald, that rag of yellow journalism, would highlight the small group that leave and talk about their “escape” to the free world. Welcome, now you can flip hamburgers, and don’t worry about the poor people who are now left without a doctor in remote areas of Venezuela, (most of the doctors who betray their missions do so from Venezuela), You were a doctor in Venezuela but you can flip a hamburger here and of course taste the bitterness of that freedom and not to mention the bad quality of food!
I was so elated by meeting these unselfish practitioners of medicine from Cuba. In this remote part of Brasil, there are 14 Cuban doctors, four of them working in Public Health Clinics and the other ten working in isolated indigenous communities. I was told of a doctor from Guantanamo whose post is nine hours by boat from this remote port city. And the first indigenous graduate from ELAM, the school of Medicine set up specially to educate doctors for Latin America has returned, he is a TICUNA and he would be plying the villages and his profession along his ancestral territory.
Hurrah for Cuba
Hurrah for Brasil
Hurrah for Humanity
The world is a better place because of the sacrifices of these thousands of Cuban doctors. How many European or American doctors would volunteer to come and work in a Family Practice Clinic in remote parts of the developing world?  I have visited Cuban doctors working at the most remote Indian villages along the Orinoco River, Curiapo, San Francisco... these towns never in their history has had doctors, but now they have at least two of them in each Indian village!
As I mentioned earlier there are about 70 000 Cuban Medical Doctors working in various developing countries, Kiribati in the Pacific to Pemba in Zanzibar to the Brazilian Amazon. The number of doctors from Europe or America doing this sort of humanitarian work (let us omit the Missionaries here), would be closer to Zero and MSF Medicins san Frontiers does a wonderful job in places where there are emergencies or disasters.  Cuba and Israel are also countries which have contingent plans when Natural disasters strike such as in Haiti, Pakistan or Nepal.
(the sun is setting over the Amazon River)
While we walked the few blocks to the Colombian Border from Ileana and I took an auto-rickshaw to take us to our different homes, I felt so happy and content. I know I will continue to be friends with many of these people. During my next visit, I will visit some of the outlying Indian communities and visit the Cuban Doctors working there. It is a moral responsibility for me and a show of solidarity and moral support for fellow Cubans, something Cubans are famous for.
Also thought that I would compile an anthropological introduction to the places they are posted to, so that they don’t arrive here, with ignorance about the various cultures they face whether in Kiribati or Tabatinga. They cope alright but an introduction before arriving here would make that transition easier. A Cuban medical education is helpful in this matter.
When I got back to Leticia, my Cabana at the Hotel was ready. I was met with such broad smiles and I met Blanca, a local accounting graduate and Erika from the tribe of Yucuna from the Interior near Pedrera by the river Caqueta, 15 days by launch to Leticia but only 40 minutes by the occasional propeller aircraft. The long journey is due to the fact that the river first flows into Brasil and after a long distance join the Amazon, and then you have to backtrack to Colombia.

I want to have dinner at the best restaurant in Leticia, El Cielo. Blanca offered to take me there on her motorcycle. The meal was just delicious and wouldn’t be out of place in many capitals of the world. All ingredients used are natural and needless to say locally sourced, since the nearest road is 800 km away.
A wonderful, wonderful day.
A day of travels
A day of new friends
A day without stress
A day full of spirituality
I am grateful
I enjoyed every moment of the day
May the Spirits bless LBGS to whom this blog is dedicated.
(a visiting Inca medicine man was walking by the hotel and he called me over... we talked , I told I am also a doctor to the Indians. He took my hands in his and chanted in Inca language and then said in Spanish, we leave it all to the spirits)

PS The Omaha Indians have taught me that Nothing is Casual, everything is related. Missing the visit to Nazareth Indigenous community led me to this great adventure. The next morning, by yet another coincidence (does it exist?)or as if it was planned that way, the administrator of the community came to visit me and we made plans for a longer visit to his community the next time I am here!