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lundi 28 septembre 2015


Or China’s Contribution to the Obesity in Developing Countries, in this case Colombia
It was in Leticia, a small delightful town along the Amazon, I first heard the lament: I bought a motorcycle and soon I became Fat!!

IV, a good Cuban friend of mine, a teacher of Piano Music, ended up in this part of the world, thought as desolate by other Colombians, but where for millennia Indians have lived in harmony and happiness. Many new comers arrived, along with the rubber boom of Putumayo River. When the Peruvian town of San Antonio was transferred to Colombia it was renamed Leticia in 1934. Colombia decided to make the town Colombian by bringing in immigrants from Bogota, Antioquia and Tolima among other provinces, who remained in Leticia.
The town now is inhabited by three more or less distinct groups, even though there is generally no discrimination which is evident. The large presence of Coast Guard, Military and Police add to the mélange (and prostitution and further mixing of the races)
Within the short range of generations, Indians who identify themselves as Indigenous, along with full blooded Indians who do not identify themselves with any particular tribe (Mezclados or Leticianos in general with other descendants of people from the Interior, the history of this being Peruvian for nearly one century might have had an influence on this) and the Colones, brought here or sent here by the Government(mostly white but more recently some brown and black as well) live side by side and work in this river port city of Colombia and became the capital of Colombian Amazon province. Drug barons and large buildings and FARC all moved in during the fifty year civil war in Colombia (FARC and Colombian Government signed a peace treaty in La Habana just this past week). While small and easily navigable by foot, prosperity set in with Federal Help, Military expenditure, Drug cartels and trading. As is evident elsewhere in South America there are traders of Lebanese origin here. Drug barons wanted to build a road to the nearest River to transport their goods but only 11 km were finished and thus city remains more than 500 km further from the nearest road. Things that could be shipped in had longer and chemically altered shelf lives that also influenced the Leticia population. The infrastructure of the city improved including an airport with twice daily flights to the Capital, hotels and restaurants, supermarkets all arrived as part and parcel of civilizing Amazonia.
This period of economic revival in this outpost of Colombia coincided with the economic revolution happening in China and everything of Chinese manufacture flooded the market (with the distinct exception of Bajaj Auto Rickshaws from India!), among them, motorcycles, scooters. Now any one, with a regular salaried job, regardless of his level of income, could afford to own a motorcycle. It was a boon to this sun drenched with occasionally tempestual downpours, with annual temperatures hovering around 30 C (Ninety plus F). Walking in that heat is stressful and the motorcycle shortened that transit. Now young and old could reach home quicker from work or job or siesta. Bicycles have all but disappeared
Two unwanted side effects became prevalent, perhaps related to the ubiquitous presence of Motorcycles
1.     Proliferation of Fast Food places (bad quality, imported from Bogota and usually highly preserved food)
2.   Complete absence of Exercise, as in walking to your destination.
I did a small experiment
Without motorcycle, daily activities may get you walking for around 6 miles per day
Using motorcycle taxis (you ride as a pillion passenger, and it is 1000 cop per ride, less than 30 cents usd) that number goes down to about 3 miles per day of walking
If you own a Motorcycle, your walking goes down close to ZERO miles per day.
A disastrous combination and the result are in... just within ten years of its ubiquity, almost everyone in Leticia is overweight or Obese and needless to say the Indians and Indian descendants are affected disproportionately, for the same reasons as the Indians in North America and First Nations in Canada, Aboriginal Australians as well as Maori of Aotearoa—not beneficial cultural contact affecting alimentation, activity and stress. The descendants of the Colones are not exempt from this “contagious” disease which we in the West know how to prevent but we are indirectly responsible for the Overweight and Obesity in such isolated outposts of our “civilization”
Sadly Obesity has become a symbol of Letician Identity. Soy Leticiano, they would say, a full bodied and full blooded Indian said to me, who does not identifies with no tribe
Soy de ninguna tribu, I don’t belong to any tribe.

(A sudden realization occurred to me, this is what might have happened in Mexico, where the tribal affiliations have disappeared but Indian faces remain etched in their descendants without a particular cultural identity but part of a larger cultural identity. An Identity without power...

mercredi 23 septembre 2015


Why are people so nice to me? I asked Alejandra, the lady in charge of the Amazonas BnB where I am staying in Leticia, in Colombian Amazon, just across from Santa Rosa in Peru and alongside of Tabatinga in Brazil.
Occasionally when I am travelling I have compelling desire to say Hello to someone, which is not always the case, especially if the other is a foreigner or a tourist. As I was leaving towards the Brazilian Consulate, I saw a gentleman; in Cuba we would say he was Moreno, with no distinct nationality features. I greeted him in Spanish, only to know that he was a Kenyan Indian of Goan ancestry living in London, in charge of a NGO. Many things stood out, when was the last time, you saw an Indian migrant, who are well known for their penchant for capitalism, in charge of an NGO? Plus we were speaking in Spanish, a language he taught himself while back packed as a youth for two years all through Latin America! I knew my intuition was right to say Hello to him. We chatted for a while; I told him of the great humanitarian efforts by the Cuban Government towards other developing countries, we were both Lusophones, him having lived two years in Lisboa. He had to catch a flight to Bogota the same day, we said good bye after exchanging business cards.
When I got back from the Brazilian Consulate there was a little package waiting for me and the Manager handed it over to me, It said from Krishna Maharaj to Dr Yehuda and it was a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, I was not only touched by his gesture but the incredible coincidence of the gift, if coincidences do exist, on this evening of Yom Kippur, the day of Enlightenment where a sip of wine is not out of the holy routine. Being in the Amazonas and its very hot climate, today at 4 pm it was 34 C, 95 F and humid, wine is not the favoured or available drink. It is most welcome, Mr. Krishna Fernandes Maharaj of London, born in Nairobi of Goan parents. He told me that in his ancestral villages there are so many people, now acculturated into the Konkan way of life, who are descendants of the Portuguese conversos who escaped the Inquisition in Portugal and came to its Indian possessions. It might be interesting to study their culture, I told Mr. Krishna. I told him of Prof Eduardo Goes at USP in Sao Paolo, who gets his name from his ancestry from Portuguese Goa, even though no trace of Goa remains in his family who has lived in Brazil for generations, Mr. K responded that many dishes that they call Goan has a Brazilian origin as he was to find out when he visited various parts of the North Eastern Brazil.
It was one of the gifts of this day, Erev Yom Kippur, which I normally spend with my goods friends Dr and Mrs. W in Miami.  I would miss them and the service at Temple Israel in Miami but somehow I feel that my mission here in the Amazonas to help the Ticuna Indians, forms a part of the Cleansing on this day of repentance and reflection. Don’t worry I will have a nice dinner at El Cielo which has Amazon Fusion Cuisine and now I have a bottle to say the Bracha and I will request two candles and I carry my Cochin Kippah with me,
The other gifts were waiting in line so to speak. The people at the Brasilian Consulate including the Vice Consul were extremely friendly I wanted a ten year tourist visa to Brasil which takes two visits to the Brasilian consulate in Miami and have to wait at least 21 days. But as I was about to leave at 1230 am after completing all the formal applications on line and a photo which was slightly larger than the required 3 cm by 4 cm, they asked me sit and down and wait and few minutes later I was handed my passport. I thought they were going to ask me to come back in three days’ time, as it was written it takes that long a time, but he showed me a brand new brasilian visa stamped on to my passport valid for ten years...
A traveler would understand the significance of this occurrence which is more than ordinary.
My good Cuban friend, Ileana who is a teacher of Piano here in Leticia was waiting and we had a nice lunch together (Fish soup, fish cutlet, patacones, rice and coleslaw with orange juice). Such were our discussion about our beloved country we didn’t realize two hours had passed by.
The heat outside was unbearable still we managed to visit a few places and sit down and have some iced tea to fight against the heat.
When I arrived back at Amazon BnB, I was happy to see that I had been upgraded to a Cabana with good air conditioning, larger rooms overlooking the garden with a little lanai like the Hawaiians say with a hammock
So the New Year has begun well for me, with an excellent week with the UmonHon Indians, now a few days in this Amazonian outpost, I plan to visit some villages along the Amazon river where Cuban doctors work to give them emotional and moral support, after all I am an Unofficial Ambassador of the Cuban Republic and its people.

This blog dedicated to LBGS in Bruselas, Shmulik, Nechama, Arielle, Avital, Benjamin in USA, Leya, Rachael and Ana in Cochin

addendum 26/9/2015
Because I was in the Amazon, I might even have celebrated Yom Kippur on the wrong day. Does it truly matter? 
What matters is what you feel in your heart..
The good tidings were to continue:
An older german couple had organized a nature oriented tour of the Brasilian side of the Amazon and the Manger of the Hotel wanted to know whether I wanted to go! It was her gift to me.. We would be having lunch at Benjamin Constant, a town I had remembered from my adolescent days.. OK, I said..
The couple, especially the woman was very pleasant and they were well travelled always interested in the natural aspects rather than the cultural aspects of the places they visited, so there were no "Indian viewing" which the regular tourists insists on.. Enjoyed very much the sand beach along the Yavary river
and also had a nice visit to Benjamin Constant and made friends with an excellent Indian boatman, named Anibal.
addendum 30/09/2015
was able to catch up with my Ticuna Indian friend who made my entry into their lives easier

dimanche 13 septembre 2015


While I was a post graduate student at Jackson Memorial Hospital of the University of Miami,  the southern cone of the Americas was always within my world  vision. Pablo Neruda represented Chile; Jorge Luis Borges his favourite Palermo was Argentina for me. Brasil had occupied a magical space ever since that distant afternoon, when I first watched Orfeu Negro, and Brasilian music has been part of me.
My adventures into Brasil at first was limited to touch the Border town of Puerto Iguazu/Porto Iguassu, with its magnificent water falls. Sao Paolo and Paraty followed on another trip. With Brother Eliyahu, explored Rio de Janeiro and Salvador do Bahia.
The Jewish connection to Brasil was never forgotten. Had the pleasure and luck of meeting Moacyr Scliar who had written many novels, including one about a Jewish doctor working among the Indians?, while working in the Public Health Sector of Porto Alegre. The oldest synagogue in Brasil was in Recife, now abandoned. Many of the merchants along the vast Amazonia and other port towns were Jews from Morocco. And one of the two people on the expedition of Pedro Alvares Cabral who claimed Brasil for Portugal , was a Jew with connections to Goa and Cochin, he was known was Gaspar da Gama.
The magical realism of Jorge Amado was well present in my heart, having devoured his Bahia novels, during our visit to Salvador do Bahia. Anyone who has seen the film Fitzcarraldo, would remember the magnificent Opera House at Manaos which I was to see later as well as the ship used in the filming of Fitzcarraldo, now moored at the wharf at Iquitos, Peru not far from the shop, once famous, Cohen Brothers .

On one such trip I met Lygia in Sao Paolo. University of Sao Paolo was what we had in common, at that I was very interested in the Japanese culture of Brasil, and she introduced me to Libertade, and also I met brasilians of Japanese ancestry including a memorable elderly lady who was a magnificent potter.
(faculty of Law, University of Sao Paolo)
Lygia was an architect, artist with special interest in Islamic architecture. She had presented me a sketch of the mosque of Isfahan, which decorates the Blue House of the Omaha in Walthill, Nebraska.
When I met Lygia, a documentary film festival was on and I remember seeing a documentary about the notorious prison (carranduru?) and also one about Jacques Derrida. At that time, DeLeuze and Foucault had not entered my life. She also talked a lot about Iranian film makers, such as Makhmalbouf. All these information were to come in handy when I began teaching at the University of Havana about Disease being a Metaphor for Society.
I stopped going to Brasil in 2005 ( even though I had two delightful trips with lovely friends, one to the North, to Boa Vista where I crossed into Guyana and another to the Magnificent Iguazu falls, crossing from Buenos Aires and Argentina.)

10 year absence from Sao Paolo. In 2015, I had visited border towns of Tabatinga and Manaos in Brasilian Amazon.  I had a procured a good ticket on Etihad Airways from Sao Paolo to Johannesburg via Abu Dhabi and I decided to get in touch with her.
I found the email address of Lygia from the entrails of the computer. She now had a 7 year old son, and continued to lead, after the completion of her P.hD, an artistic, intellectual and academic life.
We met at Avenida Paulista and went together to USP, very emotional for me, since it was where Claude Levi-Strauss had arrived in 1934 to open the first department of Sociology at USP. France ( Emile Durkheim, considered the father of French Sociology was a son of a Rabbi and his nephew Marcel Mauss had written a book which influenced my ways of behavior with the indigenous people, and of course Claude Levi-Strauss and Musee de Branley) had entered my life  with all its glitter and lights and intellectual glamour and my vision had altered a bit.
At USP, I had a wonderful conversation with Eduardo Goes Neves, a professor of Archeology interested in Amazonia, afterwards we went to see two exhibitions at USP.
As I left Lygia at Butanta metro station, to get back to Maksoud Plaza, to catch the bus to the airport, she said:  Now that you have more friends here at USP, you will have to come back. I had a feeling I might be coming back.
As an aside, while I was at the Colombian Amazonian town of Leticia, I talked to the Brasilian Consul general who said he could arrange to get me a ten year tourist visa to Brasil! In Miami or elsewhere the process may take up to 21 days, but he promised it wont take more than three days! Isnt it worth that extra trip to Leticia, Colombia?
There is an epilogue to all these:
Lygia asked me, would you like to read my thesis, it is in Portugese and I am sure you would find it most interesting.
The title was:
Diálogos da arquitetura no Cairo entre os séculos X e XIII: a sinagoga de Ben Ezrá e o contexto da cidade islâmica
Dialogues of architecture in Cairo between the X-XIII centuries: the Ben Ezra Synagogue and the context of the Islamic city
I couldn’t believe the coincidence. It was at Ben Ezra synagogue that jewish traders deposited their papers of travels and histories and jewish connections in the Malabar coast, at the Geniza of Cairo. I had written somewhere else about Abraham ben Yiju who prayed at Ben Ezra synagogue before he left for Malabar and after he came back, nearly two decades later. Our Illustrious philosopher Moses ben Maimon or Maimonides was a regular there, while writing the Guide for the Perplexed.
 inside Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo
 childrens book from 10th century to practice Hebrew alphabet! in the 10th century of the common era most people in the world were illiterate including the Pilgrims and the Conquistadores and Immigrants to the New world (all came later) and the colonialists and traders
(door of the ark where torah is kept, from Ben Ezra synagogue, 11th century}
Summary of Lygia's PhD thesis, first in English and then in Portugese.
In studies of Islamic cities, there are few that deal with buildings that belong to other faith groups other than Muslims, in the sense of analyzing them as agents in the evolution of the urban configuration of the cities that were under Islamic government. The existing studies about these buildings always follows the line of analyzing them inside their own elements, in other words, a Christian or Jewish building within their own context, which is to serve its own confessional community. The thesis shows that the synagogue is an element that also builds and participates in the dynamics of the city, and its study helps both in the comprehension of the Arab-Islamic metropolis, but also in understanding the dynamics of society between the X-XIII centuries. By analyzing the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, located just in the context of the Islamic city, not only in its aesthetics or stylistic aspects, aims to understand how the building dialogues with the city in the sense of the construction of its territorialities. And also, in reverse: how the city and a kind of Islamic language dialogue with the Jewish building. The big geographic extension conquered by the Islam produced a multiplicity of forms and loans and, at the same time, due to the facility of coming and going of the people and the new conquests forged a certain unification in the language. The exchanges and the assimilations not only were and are inevitable, as they are part of the relations and living together among the groups at any time. The Ben Ezrá Synagogue was since its foundation, an organizing element of the urban space around, organizer of the distribution of the inhabitants linked to the jewish community not only the rabbinic of Palestine but for others jewish communities babylonic and Karaite, between the X-XIII centuries. And it played a role of articulator of multiterritorialities. This analysis comes to enlarge the knowledge about this building, and mainly, of the relations among the communities Judaic, Islamic and Christian - between the Fatimid conquest of the Egypt (969 e.C.) and the end of the Ayyubid dynasty (1254 E.C)

Nos estudos sobre as cidades islâmicas, poucos são os que tratam dos edifícios que pertencem a outros grupos confessionais que não o dos muçulmanos, no sentido de analisá-los como agentes na evolução da configuração urbana das cidades que estiveram sob governo islâmico. Os estudos existentes sobre esses edifícios seguem sempre uma orientação em analisá-los dentro de seus próprios elementos, ou seja, um edifício cristão ou judaico dentro do seu próprio contexto que é o de servir a sua própria comunidade confessional. A tese mostra que a sinagoga é um elemento que também constrói e participa da dinâmica da cidade, e seu estudo auxilia tanto na compreensão da urbe árabe-islâmica, como também no entendimento da dinâmica da sociedade entre os séculos X-XIII. Ao analisar a Sinagoga de Ben Ezrá localizada no Cairo portanto no contexto da cidade islâmica e não apenas sob seus aspectos estéticos ou estilísticos, busca entender como o edifício dialoga com a cidade no sentido da construção de suas territorialidades. E também, no sentido inverso: como a cidade e um tipo de linguagem islâmica dialogam com o edifício judaico. A grande extensão geográfica conquistada pelo Islã produziu uma multiplicidade de formas e empréstimos e, ao mesmo tempo, devido à facilidade de ir e vir das pessoas e as novas conquistas, forjou-se uma certa unificação na linguagem. As trocas e as assimilações não só foram e são inevitáveis, como fazem parte das relações e convívio entre os grupos em qualquer momento. A Sinagoga de Ben Ezrá foi desde a sua fundação, um elemento organizador do espaço urbano ao seu redor, organizador da distribuição dos habitantes ligados à comunidade judaica, não apenas da comunidade rabínica da palestina mas das outras comunidades judaicas babilônica e caraíta, entre os séculos X ao XIII. E desempenhou um papel de articulador de multiterritorialidades. Esta análise vem ampliar o conhecimento acerca desse edifício, e principalmente, das relações entre as comunidades judaica, islâmica e cristã entre a conquista fatímida do Egito (969 E.C.) e o fim da dinastia aiúbida (1254 E.C.)


Refugee Situation in Europe and the chance to cleanse our minds about FEAR of the OTHER
Unprecedented numbers of people seeking refuge from war torn nations such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, along with those fleeing poverty and lawlessness in Somalia, Eritrea, Mali, Pakistan and Bangladesh, along with Serbians and Kosovans are flooding through the reluctantly open European Gates at Hungarian Border.
Angela Merkel made an unprecedented humanitarian gesture, because it was the right thing to do, to admit as many as 800 000 refugees to Germany. Thus she became one of the shining stars of the European world and gave the world the first German leader who could be respected.  Unfortunately, the last German leader to be odiously remembered was Hitler and his predecessors were not that glorious.
(Germans showing their sentiments during a sports event)
Angela Merkel, grew up under communism, more like Stalinism of the Hoenecker era  and has been an exemplary leader among the wimpy European leaders, such as Hollande, Sarkozy in France or out of touch and nationalistic like Cameron in the UK. Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, as always stands out as a beacon.
The OTHER is here at our doors. Australia is taking more than its share. The number to be admitted by France, UK and USA or Canada seems very meager. Because in all these countries there is a pervasive fear of the OTHER...
Now here is a chance to get rid of the fear of the OTHER, the need for OTHER to be present to be hated, by embracing these desperate people and giving them a chance.
As Pope Francisco admonished: Each Catholic family should give refugee to one family or one refugee!
Participant Observation, like we Anthropologists do, by living with the people we want to understand, is a good way to get rid of this fear. Sending money, like Qatar or UAE is doing without giving residence to a Single Syrian Refugee, is no longer sufficient. Poorer countries like Lebanon and Jordan and to a great extent Turkey are bearing the brunt of the crisis of huge population movements from Syria and Iraq.
Being a Jew, I know what it is to be the OTHER, historically it has been our fate and our burden and lately even in an ordinary Metro ride through Paris, and the Otherness of Jews is emphasized.
(think of them as the NEW EUROPEANS)
Tonight begins Rosh Hashanah, our New Year 5776 and I welcome the new year with a great applause for the Europeans who are welcoming the refugees and migrants and especially  to the  little girl from Communist East Germany who has grown up to be the  shining example of leadership in the Western World.
This fear of the other now coined with TERROR, because of the national origin of the refugees, has to be understood.  A book about TERROR of another sort in Argentina, during its bloody days, that made an impression upon me was Jacobo Timmerman’s Prisoner without Name, Cell without Number.
As a young boy, Jacobo Timmerman asks his Jewish mother, “Why do they hate us?” and she replied: “because they do not understand.”
Studying the history of antisemitism, and the current abhorrent pronouncements of their leaders and preachers, one can understand what Michael Taussig wrote in his book: Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A study in Terror and Healing
He says,
Hated and feared, objects to be despised yet also of awe with evil understood as the physical essence of their bodies, they are just as clearly objects of cultural creation, the leaden keel of evil and mystery stabilizing the ship and the course that is Western History.
After Jews, they added the fear of the Communist and now it is Moslems.
All of them were imputed with savagery, wildness and evil and the powers to be, like the Nazis in Germany, mimicked the savagery they had attributed to the OTHER.
Let us learn from these lessons of Nazi Brutality, a brutality without a parallel in the history of the world; what happened in Argentina, what is now happening in Syria , and look at ourselves and try and understand the OTHER. We have a chance and I was so proud to see so many Europeans marching with placards, You are Welcome. These white, blond blue eyed people welcoming thin hungry desperate men with a different religion and belief, women clad head to toe, while their children hugged the toys that had been donated.
Let us not project our fear and our hatred on to them, but try and understand their plight.
If you live in a Communist Country like Cuba, you would understand the Hatred that has been showered upon it, while nothing is mentioned of the Great Humanitarian Aid that Cuba gives in the field of Health to the developing world.
If you work with oppressed group of people, like the Native Americans in North America, you would understand the fear rising out of guilt of the population, hatred because of the Indians understanding of the world we live in, and his closeness to the Great Spirit.
It is time to shed that FEAR and HATRED.
There is a line in a novel by Marcel Ayme from France
I, said the man, am a JEW
this arrived from my good friend Biju , Historian of Fort Cochin

(dont forget the apple and honey for the begining of the Jewish New Year begining tonight 13 september 2015)

Marcel Aymé (1902-67) was one of the great French writers of the twentieth century. Born in the Franche-Comté of Eastern France, he never lost touch with his rural origins, which influenced much of his work. Initially perceived as a man of the left, throughout his life Aymé espoused causes from across the political spectrum, for example apparently supporting Mussolini's colonialism in Africa whilst also campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty. He attracted much controversy for his writings for collaborationist magazines during the Second World War, and his defence of Nazi-sympathising friends including Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Robert Brasillach in the post-war years. Nevertheless Aymé has remained hugely popular in France - this collection is particularly famous, and a dozen of his novels have been turned into films, among them the classics of French cinema La Traversée de Paris, La Vouivre and Uranus.

vendredi 11 septembre 2015


The sun was setting as I drove into the village where the Blue House
is located. One main road and at the end of the main road is the
school and the blue house is located next to the school.
i had just driven over 50 miles to the nearest town so that I could
get some thing to eat (organic package foods and a bottle of Sauvignon
Blanc Brancott from NZ) and was eager to get home.
In the Indian reservations everything is quiet, they are busy with
their social and cultural life
Fortunately there is weak WIFI and and a so so signal from ATT, which 
is something new.

The sunsets here have such a tender quality to them, it is as if something divine was hugging the rolling hills and the green meadows which would soon be under snow. the earth is awake, as the Indians would say 

One of the patients
I saw today at the clinic is pictured below

In the Indian ways of thinking, every body is equal so they make no
distinction between doctors nurses pharmacists psychologists all they
want to know is whether or not this person cares for them.
I have lots and lots of help, all my patients (8 or 9 of them per day)
have access to a psychologist, a nutritionist who have offices near
mine. But days are filled with sorrow because of the extreme poverty
they face, lack of hope in their lives, teenage pregnancies and drug
abuse .. all problems faced by a segment of the population in this
country. I am proud to be involved in their health care.
So I was happy to see  this patient. I had been wondering what had happened to
him and a Public Health Nurse arranged for him to come to the clinic
and we had a nice encounter.and he promised to take his medication and
report to me when i am back here again in one month
I told him of the advances in trans gender and its treatment in Cuba
and he was very happy. I told him about transvestite clubs in La
Habana I visited with a good friend of mine who later turned out to be
gay ( i was either too stupid or innocent to realize).
My patient was very proud of who he was, no longer shy to be the
person he wants to be. He has absolutely no complexes about the way he
Many of the drugstores send us cosmetics and other things to give as
presents to our patients, so it is not unusual for me to give toilet
paper, shampoo or canned food to my patients when they leave. I was
happy to give him some nail polish, a face cleanser and some brushes
to apply make up....

I always take a bag of these with me (thank you Walgrens or Walmart or
whoever send us these things, may IRS bless you ), when I return to
Cuba and lately to Colombian Amazon. In that way I feel a little bit
like Melquiades in Gabo's novel Cien Anos de Solidad
On Monday I am going to a new clinic, and as part of my agreement to
go there I told them that I would like cooked meals at lunch. The
nurse texted me today and asked me: what sort of tea would I like to
drink? Just good tea with no flavours , with milk and sugar
please..just like my sisters tea in Miami!
This is the magical world I live in. where I am able to enter the
lives of so many Indians
Each day they teach me something new.
and I know they bless my  mezhinga, in their language,
as far as they are concerned this french speaking mezhinga is one of

from WikiPedia
Two-Spirit (also two spirit or twospirit) is a modern umbrella term used by some indigenous North Americans to describe gender-variant individuals in their communities, specifically people within indigenous communities who are seen as having both male and female spirits within them. It is a spiritual role that is recognized and confirmed by the Two-Spirit's indigenous community.
Third and fourth gender roles traditionally embodied by two-spirit people include performing work and wearing clothingassociated with both men and women. Not all tribes have rigid gender roles, but, among those that do, some consider there to be at least four genders: masculine man, feminine man, masculine woman, feminine woman.
Historically, non-Native (i.e. non-Native Americananthropologists have used the term berdache /bərˈdæʃɨz/ to identify an Indigenous individual fulfilling one of many mixed gender roles in their tribe, but that term has now fallen out of favor. The presence of male-bodied two-spirits "was a fundamental institution among most tribal peoples" and, according to Will Roscoe, both male- and female-bodied two-spirits have been documented "in over 130 North American tribes, in every region of the continent."


I had a wonderful day at USP- University of Sao Paolo. The visit was a sort of homage to Claude Levi-Strauss, the illustrious French Jewish Anthropologist who came here in 1934 to begin Social Sciences courses at the fledgling USP, when Sao Paolo was just a small city. And at the end of Avenida Paulista there were agricultural fields!
 Now it is the third biggest city on the planet (after Tokyo and New York) and certainly a highly charged intellectual life, much like Buenos Aires or La Habana, but more than Mexico City or Bogota, the other intellectual contenders.
I have a book of photographic memoirs of Claude Levi Strauss, Saudades do Brasil and of course in France, he is still a household name, six years after his death at age 100.
Today is 21 August 2015. Just three days ago, on 18th August 2015, I was sitting next to a French lady with an infant on her lap, on a small boat speeding up the Colombian Amazon coast towards Puerto Nariño.

Everything has a connection, the Indians had taught me.
On arrival in Sao Paolo (Tabatinga to Manaus, change planes to Sao Paolo and long bus ride into the city), I reconnected with Lygia F R whom I had met in 2002 or 2003 and we strode off in the metro towards USP, in the company of her 7 year old son who goes to school nearby.
Lygia is one of those women who are interested in all matters of knowledge. An architect by profession, she specialized as a post graduate student on Islamic Architecture. At the Blue House, among the UmonHon Indians, there hangs a painting of hers, of a mosque in Isfahan. (Needless to say she is interested in Iranian movies, and each year Sao Paolo has a week of Iranian Movies!)
We communicate in a mixture of languages: Portugese, Spanish and English as we walked towards the Division of Arqueologia e Etnologia of the Department of History at USP. As we were discussing the Amazonas, I casually mentioned that a professor from USP had given a talk recently in Leticia in Colombia. She was delighted to hear that, and asked, would you like to meet him, if he is in his office?
I was quite excited. A Meskwakia elder had one said to me: Do not go seeking people; those who you need to meet would appear.
Certainly Eduardo is one of them.

He had taken the night flight from Manoas, arriving that morning and had come directly to work looking disheveled after the 3 ½ hour flight that leaves Manaos at 1 30 am, I had taken that flight just the day before.
We immediately hit it off. We looked like brothers meeting after a long absence. We had so many things in common. He speaks both English and Spanish fluently in addition to his native Portugese. First of all, the origin of his name, GOES, means someone from GOA, and immediately we knew that somehow or other we were historically connected! I told him about Gaspar da Gama, the Jew from Goa and Cochin, who was with Pedro Alvares Cabral when he was blown off course, and “discovered’ Brasil!
And of course, we have Amazon Indians in common. He has theories as to why the Indians chose to live in certain areas, did not produce great structures like the Inca or Maya or Olmec or Aztec. The same had been puzzling the North American Archeologists why there are no great remnants of monuments in North America, where they had lived for millennia.
We both agreed that the ecology did not permit the North American or Amazon Indians to build, both groups were nomadic and that involves movement whereas the carvers and stone masons were stationary (but not sedentary).
We had such a warm conversation that I was reluctant to leave. I wanted to see two anthropological exhibitions on campus: Arte Rupestre (25 000 year old rock paintings from Mato Grosso) and another on the 19th century French explorers of the Amazon, especially Monsieur Hercule (Antoine Hercule Romuald Florence, whose name is associated with photographie, a word he coined).

We quietly waked through the exhibition and Lygia took me by bus to the Metro Station Botante and I was back at Maksoud Plaza hotel in time to catch the bus to the airport via Praca Republica...
Another adventure was just beginning... Abu Dhabi, Johannesburg and Cochin...


When people ask me about my profession, I joyously answer: I am an Anthropologist. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a Medical Doctor, the challenges of diagnoses and the strong personal bonds you build with patients and in my case communities since I have never practiced Medicine on a commercial basis (also called Private Practice)

A young lady from France with an infant in her arms sits next to me, she was very excited. Transplanted to this corner of Amazonia, she is learning about the Indians who live along the Amazon River. We discussed about our moral responsibilities towards Indigenous people whether along the Amazon River or in the Reservations in North America (I am a Consultant to some of them).
She casually mentioned that a few days earlier she had attended a lecture by an Archeology Professor from USP (ah USP in Sao Paolo and fond memories of my previous visits!). She had the brochure still with her, and the name of the Professor was Eduardo Goes Neves and the topic had been: Arqueologia como Ciencia Politica de la Amazona Antigua. I immediately noted down the name (a habit imbued in me by Dr David Kennard). When she heard that I was from Cuba she mentioned a Music teacher in Puerto Narino
We were in a small boat speeding up the river to Puerto Nariño along the Colombian Amazon.
In Puerto Narino, I knocked at the door of Hostel Ayahuasco and a Cuban professor of Music opened the door, soon became friends as only Cubans can become!

Few days later I met Eduardo Goes as well! At USP in Sao Paolo!

mercredi 9 septembre 2015


It is way past 7pm, and I have just returned to the Blue House after a day at a Medical Clinic, in an isolated part of this country, For the entire day, while feeling elated at the work we are doing, one becomes aware of the stress that Poverty alone can put one through.
By the forward vision of some of their ancestors, the clinic services are one of the few bright spots in their life. First of all, they are treated with respect, plus all the services are offered free, including all the medications and investigations.
Is there a big line outside my door in the clinic? No.
The priority of my patients is the Poverty they face rather than the sociocultural, patient oriented specialist service that I can offer in conjunction with some dedicated nurses.
A woman, who is barely in her forties, says I am going to be a Grandmother for the fifth time! Her son, who is sixteen, has made a girl pregnant, third in a series! Near my office is a big open jar of condoms any one can pick and choose and all the family planning services are offered free of charge!
Why then a sixteen year old, going around getting girls pregnant? How old are these girls, fourteen in this case!
She is a pleasant looking woman; I have known her for most of my time here in this isolated village. I was in the hospital recently, she says calmly, I was shooting up a drug and something went wrong and my whole arm was infected! She does not flinch as she gives me details of her life. She was thrown out of the temporary shelter of her own daughter’s house, before that she was thrown out by her own mother. She cannot remember the last time she was gainfully employed.
Please don’t judge this woman, she could be your sister or mother of your children, but the circumstances are different, she lives in poverty and in an isolated village where there is no access to almost anything except a clinic where she is welcomed by a doctor and a nurse she has known for a while. By the laws of this country I cannot prescribe narcotic medications, so that is not why she is coming to see us.
A little respite from the problems of the day, and night.  A place she knows she has friends, someone who would receive her with a smile, would not judge her, treat her as a human being, medically help her, before she disappears into the dark hole of desperation and suffering with no end.
I spend as much time as she wants; get her the medications, the e nurse making all the necessary arrangements for further treatment for her failing kidneys.
I don’t wish to discuss nutrition with you, I tell another patient, because I would cry at the end. They have no fresh food available and donations arrive in cans and all their attempts at being self-sufficient have been squashed by many government programs of help.
A school teacher arrives, at least she has a job, and the majority of my patients does not or cannot get jobs. Stress at work is driving up her blood pressure and we spend time talking about how to deal with stress. She is actually worse off than people who do not work, since her income precludes her getting assistance with food.
A pharmacist comes to reconcile the medications and we find that most of them are on medications prescribed by different providers, majority of the patients deny taking any of the medications on any regular basis. A great help indeed since we see the influence of much peddled drugs on the providers they had seen elsewhere.
Two nursing students arrive and they cheer me up a bit, as I tell them about the importance of a Nurse in such a situation and the socio cultural aspects of suffering and ill health.  The students are from middle class white families and for them these patients could as well be from Mars!
Another drives 90 miles having failed to get much attention at the nearby veterans facility and the entire hour is spent on convincing him the necessity to coordinate his medical care. After many a telephone calls we are able to get him a regular supply of his medications, but it may be already too late, as his kidneys were failing. He says to me proudly, if I live another 15 years, I would become the longest living member in my family, Poor people live way less years than the middle class white people in this country, in the case of my patients, the difference is close to 20 years!
Because of the nature of our patients, we can accommodate only about 8 or 9 patients in the course of a long day. Towards the evening I was getting emotionally drained. I had just travelled 4500 miles by air and 100 miles by car to get to this isolated spot.
I was happy to be here.
And I told the pharmacist who had come to help, as you have seen, these people need more than just medications, they need counselling, they need respect, they need comfort, they need friendship , the old fashioned friendship with tenderness, a non-judgmental look at their face and try to make them smile.
The highlight of the day was telling a young man that the Testosterone injections he has been receiving are not medically necessary. His face just brightened up as he thought he was suffering from some incurable illness. I had requested that the laboratory tests be sent to a reputable laboratory in California which returned normal values for this young man who had been given testosterone injections because he had complained of tiredness, and a laboratory value showed him to have low testosterone values.
The smile on his face was priceless!
I did enjoy my Cuba Libre…now to catch up on some medical literature while the silence of this village is so conducive.
Soon I would leave to join my Cuban Colleagues who work tirelessly along the Amazon River to bring preventive medical care to isolated communities, but these people, with whom I was today, whom I have known for a while now, would be in my heart.
You may wish to guess which country this clinic is located?
It is in the richest country on earth, The United States of America.

lundi 7 septembre 2015


Pablo Neruda had written that if you do not know or have a cultural identity, you are like a boat without an anchor, moving where the wind takes you, without direction.
There are countries where you could mould your cultural identity, the best example being USA, and also to a high degree in Australia or Aotearoa or Canada. These countries encourage you to adopt their cultural identity without giving up your own private identity.
With the current Refugee crisis in Europe where they are expecting close to One million migrants, half of them could be refugees (Interesting to hear that if a refugee is resettled in a country not of his choice, he either chooses another country or goes back to his own. Migration is a personal thing and the current refugee problem from Syria is real, but I think it is difficult to classify Bangladeshis as refugees!)
What about their cultural identity? How long before they can become Germans? since Germany is the country of choice for refugees? or can they become Germans? Look at the non integration of children of Arab migrants to France, with the best intentions of French government to make them French! As an anthropologist I find it difficult a path lies ahead of a migrant from Congo to become Belgian Flemish?
The following pictures are interesting from the point of cultural identity
 Here I am lighting Shabbat candles in a country which does not welcome Jews, Malaysia.
The Kippah is from Cochin in India. I am holding a bag from Cuba, with the picture of CHE, which is not welcome in most conservative Asian countries except Vietnam and Kerala. I am drinking wine, which is prohibited to half the population of that country. The person sitting across me, would not be permitted to do so in her own country by the religious authorities.
I said my prayers in Hebrew.
The shirt is a gift of my brother who lives in Portland married to a Canadian of Egyptian Jewish descent and he was born in Bombay and grew up in Kobe, Japan.
Cultural Identity is the choice in this new world of ours.
I wear my cultural identity around my neck
Dream catcher made by Indians living along the Amazon River
Shesh or Hamsa to keep away evil eye with Star of David, bought in Buenos Aires
Che Guevara's face on a Cuban Coin.. mi isla Rica..

samedi 5 septembre 2015


Vikas is a Nepali whose family lives in Darjeeling in Northern India at the foot of the Himalayas. He works long hours as a waiter at Elite Restaurant at Princess Street, the tourist hang out in Fort Cochin in Kerala India. He gets to go home once a year to visit his family. The train journey alone takes three days.
He told me about his daughter, and showed me her pictures, born in september 2009.
When I was in school, I remember reading and being touched by a short story by Rabindranath Tagore called Kabuliwala, about a trader from faraway Kabul in Afghanistan, each year, bringing goods and going home with the money he had saved . He had a daughter waiting for him at home. He befriends a Bengali family who has a daughter of same age.
It always saddens me to think of the story.
(During my stay at Fort Cochin, at Niyati Boutique Home Stay just around the corner, I drop by to say hello to the two people above. Vikas is on the left)
I was leaving Fort Cochin to go to Brussels to see LBGS who was born just one month after Vikas' daughter. I went into the resto, he was resting but soon appeared to greet me.
I pressed a note on to his palm and said to him, this is from LBGS to your daughter, and please tell your daughter that she has a sister in Brussels.
Both of us could hardly hold back our tears..
We are both the New Kabuliwallas!
A Hindu girl in Darjeeling and a Jewish girl in Bruxelles.