lundi 20 novembre 2017

THE TWO MUST DO THINGS IN LETICIA, COLOMBIAN AMAZONIA

Leticia in the Colombian bit of the Amazon River was left out of the riches of the Rubber Boom that made Iquitos in Peru and Manaus and Belem in Brasil world class cities in their time. Now one can marvel at the extensive baroque architecture borrowed from France and Europe and the magnificent buildings in Manaus especially and also to a lesser degree in Iquitos in Peru.
Leticia was a backwater then, a residence of the Ticuna Indians who still live nearby. Peru which lies just across the river, occupied this village which to this day is not connected to the Interior of Colombia (Leticians call the rest of Colombia, Interior as Rapa Nui refer to Chile as the Continent). One of the many skirmishes for which Colombia was famous for, one can read it with joy in the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, they established this slice of Amazon as their southern border and Leticia was born, possibly named after some newly born child of an illustrious family who had moved here?
Of the three Amazonian cities that I know, Leticians are certainly the friendliest, I was taken aback when a young policeman greeted me as I was walking away from the Parque Santander where a statue of the National Hero graces the entrance and millions of querulous birds descend on the tree tops to spend the night before flying off at sunrise into the Amazon Rain Forest.
I am always surprised when people recognize me in these outposts, the father owner of a shop,I am friendly with his daughter and her young daughter, greeted me asking whether I was still in the region, to which I had to reply: I just arrived today, and the fact that I have not been here in more than one year seems not to bother him.
The owner of Amazon Bed and Breakfast, without doubt the best place to stay in Leticia drove over the border and picked me up at Tabatinga airport in Brasil and when I arrived a new recruit, Esmeralda looking very Ticuna Indian, was more than friendly. They had upgraded me to a nicer room and soon enough I was settled down to my two days of stay in Leticia. I had to do some chores but mostly I want to rest in between these hectic days of travel as well as a surprise visit to my Cuban colleagues up north in Colombia.
The second best thing about Leticia is the Amazon Fusion Restaurant called EL CIELO. It had moved its quarters and changed hands, I could tell from the music being played, rather than the world fusion music, there was a distinct touch of Colombiana but the new owner and his family welcomed me, they are from San Augustin near the Capital. Both the chef,both Indians, greeted me with joy and exclaimed: we have not seen you in a while. Can you expect a better welcome than that? by Indians? in this corner of the Amazonian rain forest.
I sat down to order CANAJOIS which is much like the wichety Grub
Mojojoy is a grub that is found all along the Amazon and i had them swim in containers waiting to be eaten at Iquitos. These indian chefs have stuffed these grubs with fish ( i did not want meat or chicken). The stuffing tasted good and I followed it up with Rollitos Numakee: Casabe rolls stuffed with vegetables, a touch of olive oil and i tasted some cheese as well. Delicious.
One could choose a Caipirinha but the hot weather was conducive to a colombian beer, Poker, as I will not trust to drink wine in these climes. It went well with the meal. 
After paying for my meal, it came to less than 10 dollars. I thought of my Miamian eating Buddies M and G and I know that they would approve of this fusion Amazonian cuisine. I was invited into the kitchen where I took the pictures and I asked the younger of the two Indians: what will you prepare me tomorrow, they looked at each other conspiratorially and said: we will prepare a seafood feast for you!
I got on as a pillion passenger and the breeze was welcome as the driver guided his motorcycle around the potholes of this city by the River. 
I thought to myself
I am grateful to be enjoying the two best things about Leticia
Amazon Bed and Breakfast under the kind guidance of Ana Yudit and the El Cielo restaurant, Amazonian fusion restaurant!
Tomorrow I will look for Ileana Vega,a  Cuban music teacher and also visit the market area where I could talk to some Ticuna from the village of Nazaret, perhaps go across the border to Tabatinga and look for the new batch of Cuban doctors on their humanitarian mission there.
I will end the day with a nice meal at El Cielo.
(when I have faster Internet, I will upload pictures from today)

TRAVEL IS AN ENDLESS PLEASURE

Arriving in a city after midnight brings with it exhilaration as well as trepidation, especially if it is Manaus in the Brasilian Amazonia.
Brasil does not have a reputation for being a safe destination and Manaus has its own problems.
I arrived from Miami just past midnight. The Immigration Officer had a cursory look at my Brasilian visa which I had obtained two years earlier in Leticia, Colombia. In 2018, Brasil is doing away with Visas, but I will cherish the 10 year visa I have in my passport (I also have a ten year visa to India, despite their abolition of visas).
Why do ATMs charge so much to change money? At Manaus Airport it was nearly 8 dollars to withdraw regardless of the amount, ah well, one pays for the convenience.
I opened my Uber App, my Miami Based T Mobile number gives me access to telephone services in more than 100 countries, within minutes Marcelo, a local Manaus Uber driver arrives and we try to speak in the mixture of languages. He had given over 600 rides, and was a good driver and of course with Uber you feel a little bit more confident as we cruise along the empty streets of Manaus, past the purpose built football stadium for the recent world cup. 
When one begins to feel comfortable in cities so isolated as this one, Manaus, is in the middle of Amazon, even though they have recently constructed a road to Boa Vista which has connection to Santa Elena de Uiren in Venezuela (I remember a visit with my Japanese friend some years ago). But the small neat airport has many flights to other parts of Brasil: direct flights to both Sao Paolo and Rio as well as Brasilia and Belem and then with the Brasilian airline AZUL one can get connected to all parts of this vast country.
Marcelo said that he had been accepted to study Medicine in Cuba under a plan in which he had to pay money, and he decided not to pursue it. I told him of the various Cuban doctors working in all the isolated parts of Brasil including along the Amazon and that I might run into some of them in Tabatinga on the border with Colombia.
It is nice to arrive in Manaus, to take in its late 19th century grandeur as we drive past the famed Opera House. I arrive at Seringal Hotel where I had stayed on my previous visit and I was welcomed by Indio, who was as Portugese looking as any but he smiled at his nickname. It is nice to be loyal, come back to the same places, as I could have chosen one of the many other hotels, but the anxiety of arriving in Manaus at midnight is mitigated by the fact that I had once stayed at the very same hotel and that as we approached it along Rua Monsenhor Coutinho, I recognized the building and the area and looked forward to the rest, and cafe de manha.
Isnt it amazing, a short 5 hour flight from Miami and here you are, in the middle of the Amazon,in a large portugese speaking city!
If the Rabbi Reichman doesnot look for me in the morning, I shall visit the Opera House once again and marvel at the confluence of Rio Negro and the Mighty Amazon..

dimanche 19 novembre 2017

GOOD DEEDS HAVE A LONG MEMORY: THINGS ALWAYS HAPPEN FOR A REASON

It is a Sunday afternoon, I arrived at Miami airport as usual a little earlier to enjoy the ambience of being in the liminal world of travel and enjoy the thought of movement from culture to culture.
Things almost sound a routine, Uber from Kendall area, this time Nestor from Santiago de Chile married to a Cubana from Havana he met in Caracas, we had such a pleasant talk and the ride seemed so short. Priority line and a pleasant agent issued me a Boarding Pass and an effortless Security line at TSA Pre Check and here I was on airside!
It has also become a custom for me to stop and smell the parfumes at the Duty Free, to sprinkle a few drops on to my scarf that I can carry the fragrance for the trip of 5 hours 30 minutes awaiting me.
Hermes had the best, as women's perfumes are much more enchanting, and so many others with slight varietal change. I looked up from the spot and I noticed that a young woman, manning the area where I was savouring the perfumes. She had a badge which said Yarelys, Never to miss a chance to strike up a conversation, I told her, I have a friend in Havana with that name. She kept on looking at me and she said: My uncle has a friend who looks like you! Is he from the Orient? meaning Eastern Cuba where my looks are common, No, she said, he now lives in USA. How long have you been here, 7 years, have you finished your studies, yes, I have completed my accountancy qualifications while working at this duty free store for the last five years but I am leaving to take an accounting job next Monday. So the pleasant conversation went on. 
Then she asked me a surprising question, is your name Sudah? I looked at her carefully and I remembered the 15 year old girl from San Nicolas de Bari in the countryside whose Quincenera celebrations I had missed 11 years earlier. It is true I was a friend of her uncle and her grandmother, who is here now, worked as a nurse at the Polyclinic.
Pedro had already been in the USA when I met him casually in Miami at a store where he was the clerk and we had become friends and I had made special efforts to visit his family on more than one occasion in San Nicolas de Bari. In those days it was no mean feat to go from Vedado in Havana to San Nicolas even though there was a dilapidated Hershey train service that passed through San Nicolas at irrelevant hours.
In a strange twist, more like fiction, my sisters son had fallen in love with a girl from San Nicolas and I was involved in getting her a Jamaican visa many years earlier. 
Our lives are stranger than the novels we can read in the trade. That 15 year old now lives in Miami, holds no grudges against the village and the country she left behind, is nostalgic about the humane nature of the society she left behind. Your life and future is here I reassured here but do come and see us now and then and always give us your moral support, and stand up to the people in Miami, ignorant in most cases, who talk badly about the beautiful island we all love CUBA..

vendredi 10 novembre 2017

SHABBAT SHALOM FROM A PARQUE NEAR MY HOUSE IN VEDADO, LA HABANA, CUBA

It is 5 pm on this Friday evening, 10 November 2017. The sun has eased its strength and squalls and the rain seemed to have left for elsewhere.
I am sitting in my comfortable abode just one block away from the Sea, protected by the wall, Malecon, from the fury of its waves, which often come walkabout across the road.
I have been staying at this apartment for about one year now and I have always felt very comfortable here. I attributed it to the Feng Shui of the place, till Adela Dworin, the President of the Jewish Community of Havana told me the story.
Patronato or the Jewish centre is a short walk away from this area, and the houses are in good shape and kempt in rather good order.
Before they left for Miami or elsewhere, this used to be the Jewish Quarter of the people from the synagogue who lived here so that they could walk to the Synagogue on Shabbat. Adela Dworin was born and has lived all her life in this neighbourhood, where the Jewish presence is now reduced to her. (And of course myself, when I am in town that does not make a crowd)
She knew the building where I lived and she said: the landlord was a Jew by the name of Isaac Gurevich. Now I could make the connection. I am living in a house where Jews had lived before, perhaps for 50-75 years! So it was not Feng Shui but the presence of Jewish Spirits.
I asked Adela for two candles so when I light the candles tonight, there would be an added significance.

The Jewish presence continues!
 Entrance to the synagogue
 Adela Dworin is the president of the Jewish Community, Patronato
 They were expecting a large group of Americans for the Shabbat celebrations
 Pointing out to my name at the entrance 
I remembered the time when they were hardly any one after the Shabbat Services.
American Jews have always been very supportive of the Jewish Community of Havana.
There is a Sephardic Synagogue as well as a Orthodox one, where there is a Chabad presence.

Shabbat Shalom..

mercredi 18 octobre 2017

MEDITATING ON THE MEANING OF DESIRE

A young medical student from Cuba asked me:
I explain, I understand that the more we want something, the more likely it is to happen, so tell me, I must not desire anything intensely that prevents me from seeing the other things around me.

You asked:/Me preguntaste
Te explico,tengo entendido que en cuanto mas deseamos algo,hay mayor probabilidad de que suceda,entonces dime,no debo desear nada intensamente que me impida ver las otras cosas que me rodean.?

First of all, what is desire? One thing is for sure; desire for material things will never make you happy, perhaps comfortable, such as a nice house or a car. But the desire for them will make you unhappy, as you may not achieve it or you may want more.
Desire for Love? We are not sure why we are attracted to people like we are. But generally, we are attracted to someone because of something that we lack in ourselves. So that desire is for the defect in yourself rather than the person. If that happens, a couple is not happy since each person looks for some thing different. Desire for something or someone, will blind you to the real things around you.
Do not confuse desire with Goal. Say that you want to be a compassionate doctor that is a goal rather than a desire. Desire involves attachment, when you become attached to anything, your mind does not allow you to see everything clearly.
I became aware of it very early in my life and one by one I gave up my attachment: I am not attached to being a Doctor but I love my work and my work is appreciated and respected, but I am not attached to the role of the doctor. Then to give my attachment to Australia, I never thought I would leave Australia but here I am. My love for Cuba on the other hand is not an attachment but much purer a love. Desire makes things less pure, desire takes away the true meaning of love and friendship and companionship.
There are five things, which we can call Structural Defects in our ways of thinking, all of which bring unhappiness in our lives.
EGO
Attachment
Aversion, which is the opposite of Attachment
Fear of Change and governing all four is Ignorance.
Ignorance of the world makes us nationalistic.
Ignorance of our desires makes us choose bad lovers, bad husbands and bad friends
Ignorance leads to attachment and its opposite aversion.
It is ignorance that makes us want to hold on to something that we feel comfortable, rather than welcoming a change.
None of the above is easy to achieve but the results of achieving of them or decreasing these defects is a blissful state of mind, a state of mind in which you become brother to many people, you gain respect, you are genuinely happy and feel a sensation of fullness.
When Indians have ceremonies, we sacrifice our bodies by subjecting it to extreme heat and then we pray for others. No Indian would pray for LOVE of another person (like, please make so and so fall in love with me), but only for the welfare of the other persons in their lives.
Wanting another person is a very low level physical attraction but wanting that person to be the person she can be, is a true prayer and a way to decrease desires.
I never wish hard for anything, but everything comes my way. I don’t really think that if you want something very badly, you will get it. My opinion is that if you want something badly, it reflects some deep defect in you, looking something to fill that defect.
We can talk about it if you wish when we meet.

Antes que nada, ¿qué es el deseo? Una cosa es segura, el deseo de cosas materiales nunca te hará feliz, tal vez cómodo, como una casa bonita o un automóvil. Pero el deseo por ellos te hará infeliz, ya que es posible que no lo consigas o desees más.
Deseo de amor? No estamos seguros de por qué nos atraen las personas que nos atraen.
. Pero en general, nos sentimos atraídos por alguien por algo que nos hace falta. Entonces ese deseo es por el defecto en ti mismo en vez de las buenas cualidades percibidas de la persona. Si eso sucede, una pareja no está feliz ya que cada persona busca algo diferente. El deseo de algo o alguien te cegará a las cosas reales que te rodean.
No confundas deseo con objetivo. Diga que quiere ser un médico compasivo que es un objetivo en lugar de un deseo. El deseo implica apego, cuando te apegas a algo, tu mente no te permite ver todo claramente.
Me di cuenta de ello muy temprano en mi vida y uno por uno renuncié a mi apego: no estoy apegado a ser médico, pero amo mi trabajo y mi trabajo es apreciado y respetado, pero no estoy apegado al papel de el doctor Entonces, para dar mi apego a Australia, nunca pensé que me iría de Australia, pero aquí estoy. Mi amor por Cuba, por otro lado, no es un apego sino un amor mucho más puro. El deseo hace las cosas menos puras, el deseo quita el verdadero significado del amor, la amistad y el compañerismo.
Hay cinco cosas que podemos llamar Defectos Estructurales en nuestras formas de pensar, todo lo cual trae infelicidad en nuestras vidas.
EGO
apego
Aversión que es lo opuesto a Apego
Miedo al cambio y
causando los cuatro defectos estructurales es Ignorancia.
La ignorancia del mundo nos hace nacionalistas.
La ignorancia de nuestros deseos nos hace elegir malos amantes, malos maridos y malos amigos
La ignorancia conduce al apego y su aversión opuesta.
Es la ignorancia lo que nos hace desear aferrarnos a algo en lo que nos sentimos cómodos, en lugar de dar la bienvenida a un cambio.
Ninguno de los anteriores es fácil de lograr, pero los resultados de lograrlos o disminuir estos defectos es un estado de ánimo feliz, un estado mental en el que te conviertes en hermano de muchas personas, ganas respeto, eres genuinamente feliz y sientes sensación de plenitud
Cuando los indios tienen ceremonias, sacrificamos nuestros cuerpos sometiéndolo a un calor extremo y luego rezamos por los demás. Ningún indio rezaría por el AMOR de otra persona (como, por favor haga eso y así se enamore de mí), pero solo por el bienestar de las otras personas en sus vidas.
Querer a otra persona, es una atracción física de muy bajo nivel, pero querer que esa persona sea la persona que ella puede ser, es una verdadera oración y una forma de disminuir los deseos.
Nunca deseo nada difícil, pero todo se me viene encima. Realmente no creo que si quieres algo muy mal, lo obtendrás. Mi opinión es que si quieres algo mal, refleja algún defecto profundo en ti, buscando algo para llenar ese defecto.

Podemos hablar de eso si lo deseas cuando nos encontremos.

mardi 17 octobre 2017

OFFERING TOBACCO TO MOAI IN TAHAI IN RAPA NUI: A GIFT FROM MY BROTHER ARNE VAINIO OF MILLE LACS OJIBWAY

ARNE VAINIO, my Ojibway brother, was being honoured as the American Indian Physician of the Year 2017 at a meeting where I was one of the speakers. Our meeting and the deep feeling we felt for each other was instantaneous.
Is this a Bromance? joked his wife. They live in Duluth, Minnesota and he is a Family Physician to the Fon du Lac band of Ojibway.
When we said good bye to each other we knew we will meet each other again soon.
Not even a week had passed when I was asked whether I would be interested in going to Minnesota to give some lectures, I was eager to go and imagine my happiness when I found out that one of the places I would be talking was Duluth!
He was one of the first people to RSVP to the invitation, said the local contact person and he arrived and we just felt so happy to see each other.
I felt his presence soothing and comforting to me, it is as if we had known each other for generations.
He gave me two things: native tobacco which was his own and also wild rice that he had harvested by the lakeside from a secret place. I was grateful.
Soon after the meeting I went to Rapa Nui and I had the tobacco he had given me in my pocket. At the very first chance I got, I walked down to Tahai area where the lone Moai stood at the original palace area of the first king of Rapa Nui.
There were only a couple of visitors to the area. I offered the Moai tobacco before I prayed in no specific order:
my family in Belgium, my sister and her family in Miami, my mischpochah in Portland, my Cuban friends, my Omaha friends. I prayed in the Native American fashion without asking for any favours but asking the spirits to accept the tobacco given to me my Ojibway brother. 
Moai usually have a vision that look straight ahead of them, I was surprised to see when this photo was taken and you can observe it, it was as if the Moai was looking at me, full of pity for my humble self but pleased at the tobacco.
Tobacco has great symbolic value in the Native American tradition
I know that I will be seeing my brother Arne Vainio sometime soon, and also the Moai will draw me back to Rapa Nui, of this I am certain.
I felt immensely happy and that happiness continues as I write this at the Blue House where I stay among the Omaha Indians.

lundi 16 octobre 2017

MY RAPA NUI FRIENDS : MEMORIES AND ANTICIPATION





I renewed some old friendships and made some new friends in Rapa Nui














It was lovely to celebrate a shabbat, inviting some Rapa Nui friends.

mardi 10 octobre 2017

GRATITUDE, HUMILITY AND SACRIFICE FROM OMAHA COUNTRY TO SOUTH AMERICA

I am grateful for the kindness shown to me by the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska; especially Ashleen BB, Wehnona S, Lorna S, Taylor H among the many others.
Lately I have had a chance to show my appreciation of the tribe, by promoting in Northern Minnesota and Marquette, Michigan the Omaha Model of Diabetes Care, which I think would be THE model to follow in the Indian Country.

 The Moon slowly rising over a silent landscape in Northern Minnesota, near Brainerd.
When I woke up at Craiguns Inn by the lake, this is what was waiting for me 



The many good friends that I made during my jaunt brought the lesson in Humility, yet another Omaha Indian characteristic, to me. Mindy, Joe, Sara M, Troy, Rich, Dr. G and then again the wonderful Providers at the Cass Lake, Mille Lacs and Fon du Lac bands of Ojibway. It was a pleasure for me to see my new brother Arne of the Ojibway. I was given hand collected wild rice and also the Ojibway tobacco, both of which I will put to good use. Was also given a handmade bag from Duluth, Minnesota.
When goodness is shown to me, I would like to return it hundredfold to people who know, and complete strangers to me.
Those of us who are familiar with the Indians have become richer in life’s context by observing the fundamental qualities of Indian perception of the world: Humility, Gratitude, Sacrifice, and Mindfulness.

I left feeling well, with my head in the Clouds, (the Traditional Kickapoo of Mexico call me Ke Se Kui Te Pa, or Head in the Clouds) and headed towards the Amazon, via Miami and Lima.
My first day in Iquitos, the largest city that cannot be reached by road in the world, was all that I wanted. I reacquainted myself with the architectural sumptuousness of the Rubber Boom Days, visited the Iron House built by none other than Gustav Eiffel of the Eiffel tower frame, took in the air of the vast Amazon River, went in search of the history of Moroccan Jews who had come here during the Rubber Boom, ate at a Chifa which is the Peruvian version of a Chinese restaurant famous for its Fried Rice and Chicken. I spoke to many local people, but not to a single foreigner or a tourist. I am not on a holiday but to enhance my anthropological ability to observe life as it goes on in another part of the world, far removed from our everyday life.

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I will highlight some anecdotes of the day here in the Amazonian Outpost.
The common form of public transport is MotoKar, wich is a motorcycle usually a Honda attached to a rear two seater, which splutters along. I wanted to go to the Museum and the receptionist at the Palau Amazonas Hotel where I am staying hailed a MotoKar and we began our journey. Once the driver found out my Cuban conncetion, he insisted that we go and look for some Cuban friends he has, we ended up in a Barber Shop in another suburb, met the Cuban barber, I may get my hair cut by him tomorrow and then went to the Amazon where the Nanay River meets it. I loved his enthusiasm for life and great hope he has for his life ahead of him. He was from Barranquilla in Colombia and he hopes to get to Ecuador and from there to Spain.
(Erstwhile home of Mr Cohen who might have arrived in the late 1890s to IQUITOS, Now a supermarket and a cafe)
When I enquired about a restaurant where Peruvians eat and not those frequented by tourists (with its high prices), she offered to come with me to the restaurant tomorrow evening!
People in general are friendly and talking and getting their life story is what I do best on my travels.
 It was good to see a patriotic march to celebrate the end of the War of the Pacific, one of the many internal wars in Peru
Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame said to have built three houses here in Iquitos, this one called House of Iron is easily to find.

Women tend to be on the plus size in this outpost and one can easily see why if you are to go to outdoor areas where plenty of food is being sold. Fried in the same oil, these rings, I think they are called Sancoche, are offered for a fraction of a dollar for a small plate (2 Soles).