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mardi 25 avril 2017


On the foyer of the Omaha Indian Health Clinic, one can see photographs of their ancestors who went to Paris in 1898 and they were away for nearly two years and they all came back without any loss of life. 
The photograph you see behind me was taken at Parque Neuilly in Paris and I had the honour of standing at this very same spot.
Also at Musee Branley, inaugurated by Jacques Chirac there are memorabilia of Omaha Indians and their contact with the French traders.
Recently I have realized that while I am away from the Omaha much of the time, I can feel their presence in my heart.

 I carry my Mizrachi heritage with me and in the Blue House there are Menorahs and Mezuzah from Fort Cochin in India. It is a pleasure to light the candles and welcome Shabbat if I happen to be in the Blue House.
 Winter is almost a memory and the waning suns can be seen caressing the new growth. The earth is beginning show signs of new life of Spring.
 At the Sioux City Lewis and Clark Interpretive Centre, there is an area of dedication to the SiouxLand Warrior of the Second World War, an Omaha by the name of Hollis Stabler, whose family I know very well. My Omaha brother Charlie Merrick stands her in front of the portrait.

 To work with the Omaha is a sheer pleasure. The CEO, Wehnona Stabler is very supportive of our socio-cultural approach to disease among the Omaha and I have two excellent colleagues, Ashleen BlackBird and Kaley Bertucci, pictured, who make my working days with them a pleasure. They make sure that I am not kept too busy and our combined approach based on the Omaha principles of Kinship and relationship produces good results as patients are comfortable spending time with us, in our facility which is more like a home rather than a clinic.
I will be touching other places which are close to my heart: Miami, Brussels, Kuala Lumpur before returning back to the Omaha.
Thank you.

dimanche 23 avril 2017


Sitting amidst this silence at the Blue House in the Omaha Indian reservation, given the luxury of time, the elevation of spirit and the caress of solitude, my mind intermittently wanders off and I think of my lovers and friends there ..

In no other place in the world, I have felt MUSIC and its words so intertwined with the lives of the people as in my Isla Rica, CUBA.. Creative and innovative, the music portrays a people in pain and pleasure, in conflict and confusion, in joy and celebration.
Think of my dear friends, left behind in their isolation,while I wander around the world, talking about them, longing to be with them.

I was visiting Ecuador, at Quito at a cafe called Cafe Bean, I sat down to write songs of longings for my island and to accompany each of the poems I had to choose a song. As I was writing about the pain of loosing someone I loved, the best song was the one by Maria Teresa Vera

¡¡Grande MARIA TERESA VERA.-Aquí canta la original letra para cantarla un hombre. Para cantarla una mujer sería,en general, más adecuada esta letra: "Me quisiste lo se, yo también te he querido, me olvidaste después, pero yo no he podido a sufrir por tu amor, me condenó el destino; qué le vamos a hacer yo tenía que perder y he perdido contigo /bis Tantos amores buenos que con fe me adoraron, yo les negué el cariño que inocente te he dado, pero fuiste tan cruel que jugaste conmigo; qué le vamos a hacer, yo tenía que perder y he perdido contigo /bis".

There are many popular versions of this song, Omara Portuondo, that grand dame of Cuban "feelin" has a version and I was happy to see one by the legend, EL CIGALO

here you can also hear another great Cuban musician, Pancho Amat.
Love and Music, affections and tropical languorous afternoons, friendships tattoed to your heart, everything carries me to you..

samedi 22 avril 2017


The long haul flight was closing on to its destination, we had taken off from Doha at 8 35 am (1 35 am in Miami), right now the time is 3 15 pm in Miami, about 14 hours into the flight. 
( I was at a seaside village in Bretagne just a couple of days earlier)
After I woke up from my nap,  I had been served Lamb loin with herb crust and rosemary jus and later on it was Lentil pancakes with paneer masala.

 I wanted a repeat of the Lentil cakes and a glass of champagne, Billecart-Salmon, I had planned not to drink during my stay in the USA for the next fourteen days, when I would fly back to Asia with Qatar Airways again and I am sure it will still be Billecart-Salmon!

As luck would have it (I seem to have lots of it on my QR flights!) Christopher MelloCastro was the Flight Attendant assigned to my side of the cabin, the supervisor was the friendly Varun from India. The longer flights are made easier to bear when you have FAs with whom you could chat about the world, and of course, as an anthropologist, I am interested in their stories.
(always with nostalgia, I look at Iran as I fly over, NMH and Som in Shiraz)

Both Varun and Christopher has that extra sense of making their guests comfortable, I think it is not an acquired false sense of sincerity, but a genuine character strength. I can recognize this quality and I have seen them in a few of the QR attendants: Zorica from Serbia, Fatima Zara from Morocco just in the last couple of weeks. I am eager to hear their stories

Christopher is of Goan ancestry, he and his family as is common among the subcontinental people, had become International nomads. They are not expatriates but rootless in the countries of their birth and work. Christopher was born in Saudi Arabia while his mother was born in Qatar, where his grandfather had worked for Qatar Petroleum. He is very proud to point out that he is the third generation in his family- his Grandmother, his mother and his aunt-to work in the airline industry, in the service sector.
He went on to say: I want to treat each passenger, with the same attention my family would expect and deserve when they fly. So I think of the passengers as my family.
It was his first Business Class assignment and I watched him as he attended to the minor details of each of the passenger under his supervision, on this long flight from Doha to Miami (todays flight lasted nearly 16 hours!), to be repeated back within 24 hours.

As the flight was closing in on the Florida borders, I had requested a glass of Champagne, he brought over the Billcart-Salmon, saying he has noticed that there were less bubbles. I will tell you in a minute if it is flat, I kidded him, and I sipped it and found it to be a little flat. Don’t worry, he assured me, and rushed off to open a fresh bottle off Billcart-Salmon. I enjoyed that flute, soothing the body after 15 hours on the plane.
Last night on the QR flight from Cairo (a surreal experience awaits you at Cairo International Airport!) to Doha, the FA was Fatima Zahra from Morocco, once again with the starry sheen to her, like Christopher
Thank you, Qatar Airways, from this Platinum Privilege Club Member for making me feel special on your flights.
I look forward, in the month of May, on the following QR flights:

Miami to Doha; Doha to Brussels to Doha; Doha to Kuala Lumpur; Singapore to Doha; Doha to JFK
When I arrived at the Miami airport, there was an email from QR saying that I had reached their Platinum Level of Frequent Flier, Privilege Club. An honour indeed!

dimanche 9 avril 2017


The Heat Index was 40 C ie about 104 F with high humidity that made any stroll in this historic city a challenge. As the sun began dipping down, crowds began gathering along the waterfront, now the hub of activities, with people of all ages and religions, mixing easily, vendors of all sorts crying for a sale, children greedily eyeing the sweets and the icecreams and local snacks such as unripe mango in pepper powder selling briskly, hundreds of hijab clad women and girls, clamouring along as if a gaggle of birds singing a song of freedom, Hindus and christians and 
this lone Jew  enjoying the sunset.
Into this public space, suddenly a large cruise ship enters, demanding the attention of all those present, out comes the phones and we were photographing people who were photographing us
and it sailed into the sunset on its way to touch another port in a day or two, I guessed Male in Maldives might be their next stop
and they sailed on
there was a campaign to keep the beaches clean and a large group of volunteers marched up and down holding placards and others picking up the rubbish. Their point was well taken as Indians were being shamed into a better behaviour, you are spoiling mother earth and we are looking after it, so please dont do it, I liked the campaign and a young girl among them caught my attention. She did not look Indian but much more Irani, possibly a high school student on exchange who was diligently picking up the rubbish, I wished them all well

Evans-Pritchard the eminent british anthropologist of yore surprised himself while studying the Azande people of Central Africa that he began reasoning about things the Azande way. Being with Omaha Indians and living with them, my own thinking becomes modified when I meet another tribal person.
 My haul of tribal jewelry made by a mother and daughter from Rajasthan. Almost all of this would end up in Cuba
I was secretly hoping that I would run into this young woman and her mother, but this being a vast land where people can disappear for ever, I didnt hold my breath
As I turned the corner of the row of shops, I saw her standing there with her mother sitting down with their wares spread out before them. A smile of recognition appeared on her face and I greeted her warmly which she returned. Is this your mother I asked, yes , she normally stays in the room and makes the jewelry. I wanted to buy only things the two women had made. The last time I took some of their jewelry to the Omaha Indians and they had loved them, even more so when I told them they had been made by tribal people like themselves from India. A man joined our conversation, and she said, this is my Papa and he smiled a little with a little tenderness coming out.
She is used to bargaining, but Pigpen approaching Mr Clean who does no recognize the tough opponent (from the Peanuts), she a poor tribal girl did not recognize that she was bargaining with another tribal with millenial history of bargaining. It was an amicable exchange and we agreed on a price which they seemed to accept without much grief or grunting. I wanted to take a photo and they were happy to pose 
The family had left their village in Rajasthan and they have this small four feet by four feet display of their goods most of which they made by hand and some display items of prefabricated jewelry and baskets and other tchotchkes. We stay here in Mattanchery the man said, we rent a room from a house and we dont take rest, we work during the day and in the evenings we come to the seaside to sell ourwares.
For foreigners who are seeking the soul of India, I will say: these are the soul of India which you are seeking,not the saffron robed gurus and charlatans, and Jiddu would say , you really dont need a sadhu or guru or whatever, be yourself and be kind to others and give the gift of time by trying to listen to their stories, make it important, let them feel important for a little while. They dont have to know my titles and credentials and the job that I do, but for a moment let us deal as human beings one to one, these poor people, children of the earth, tribals of a desert land in far away Rajasthan.
we left each other happier than we were before. I hope to see them again and in fact tomorrow evening before taking the taxi to the airport to go to yet another home, I might stop by to say hello to these fellow tribals from Rajasthan.
I had stopped earlier at the beachside table of an artisan engraver, a burly man with a serious look, around whom hijab clad mothers and children and stern men and kids with serious faces were looking with great deal of attention. I ordered some rings for some of my sweetheart students in Cuba. His daughter was standing and in her limited English she wanted to know about me and my family and my country and she introduced me to her husband and her 10 year old son whose name is Farhan Akhtar meaning Little Star! I reciprocated by showing them some pictures from the phone and they nodded their heads in contenment

As my Omaha Indian teacher would say to me: Doctor, all good things in life are free, dont look for things to make youreslf happy but be happy with the things you have and dont be unhappy with the things you dont have
In the course of one day of 12 hours, how many interactions have I had?
I did not tell you about the long discussion I had at the TEAPOT with the owner who is an erudite local who laments the loss of the local character, with innocent tourists not realizing that they are the reason for it. It wa strange to note that with so many hundreds of local people gathered around the beach and the sunset and the shacks and the shops, there were not too many foreign visitor faces even though along the tourist ghetto, one can see an array of european faces in various shades of red.
I also ran into a Bhutanese who used to be a receptionist at a hotel but now works at Lucky Star Restaurant and I had a chicken Biryani there and had a little chat with him. I had to tell him that I cant finish the entire meal and that I had ordered so that i can chat with him while he worked as a waiter at Lucky Star

Time for a delicious kerala christian dinner to celebrate the Palm Sunday so keenly observed here in Cochin by the Christians


It as my good friend Jim Kerr who visiting me in Miami, pondered at my life and said"
You are truly homeless but you are Upper Class.
So this is the snippet of the life of a Homeless but Upper Class man, in fact for the past six days..
For a Homeless man, I do get to stay at some nice places, the above is the view from the house of my sister in Miami.
Early Monday morning I left Miami to connect with my flight in New York.
My favourite airline is Qatar Airways and I go out of the way to fly them
But today my destination was Singapore via Doha and it is the right choice. 

I know that they keep the first row empty until last, so I request my favourite seat 1k at the airport and today I got it once again.
Before the flight leaves the gate, QR Qatar Airways has a short video of a prayer for safe journey. I kind of like it, as American Indians before going on a journey, say a prayer.
Qatar Airways have strict policies about its workers at all levels fraternizing with the passengers outside the work situation: Flight or Lounge in my case, but without fail I have wonderful conversations with the Flight Attendant assigned to me. This time it was no exception, it was Zorica from Serbia and of course even before the flight took off and she was pouring me a flute of Billcart-Salmon, we were talking about Ivo Andric and the Bridge over River Drina.
The flight was 12 hours in duration but I did enjoy it and did not feel any sort of fatigue when I transferred to the flight to Singapore.
this glass was a toast to Lulu, a margaux from her province

Once again I was given seat 1 K and as expected the first row had been kept empty. Many of the passengers were connecting from the JFK to Doha flight, but pleasantries among the passengers were at a minimum
The flight to Singapore was less remarkable. The all asian crew was efficient but not warm like the JFK-DOH crew and I have noticed it, In fact you could compare the crew to Singapore to the flight crew in the US based airlines, efficient and not so friendly.
More food followed and I cannot drink when the stomach and the mind are not in sync about the time but Karak Cardamon Tea was always welcome

Since 2002 when I began traveling to SE Asia I have been in these parts countless number of times, this is my second journey to asia in 2017 and was here with my brother in November 2016. Was here with my Omaha friends in June 2016, it has averaged about five trips per year! My homeless homes are always the same  Double Tree Hotel in KL, Hotel Equatorial in Malacca, Beyond Yangon in Siem Reap, Double Tree Hotel in Johor Bahru and in Fort Cochin, Bristow Bungalow and Niyati Boutique Hotel.
So arriving a Singapore airport no longer has that exotic feeling as I know my way around and I had a wonderful experience with Uber driver Ang which I had chronicled elsewhere.
 Johor Bahru Double Tree by Hilton is fairly new and learning by experience. They have a smaller Executive Lounge and it was manned by Sashi when I was there who was very attentive and welcomed me with a Capuccino in hand as I had told him earlier that I liked Capuccino

 They had a nice set up, a large selection of baked goods, a couple of Asian selections and the obligatory, baked beans, sausages, fried potatos for the European palate. I wanted to taste the Congee and also the Nasi Lemak so I prepared two small portions of the above, downed with two Capuccinos made by Sashi.
The view from Executive Lounge while looking at it while having breakfast was pleasant.
I took the bus, in Malaysia transport within cities is excellent, and the bus run by Crossway Link was a double storey bus with hardly anyone traveling in it, so it felt like the Business Class or shall I humbly say Upper Class. The journey took nearly 4 1/2 hours, along the highway with palm plantations breaking up recent urban growth but it is definitely a good way to travel within Malaysia, and only slightly longer a journey had I flown, since both the airports at Johor Bahru as well as Kuala Lumpur are far far away fro the city centre.
Was welcomed very warmly at the Executive Lounge of the Double Tree Hotel in Jalan Ampang in Kuala Lumpur. they had already assigned me a nice room in the Executive floor which was conveniently around the corner from the Executive Lounge
 Buffet breakfast was served at the Executive Lounge and usualy I chose the Asian offerings, such as chineese noodles or Nasi Lemak 

 Atty the manager at the Executive Lounge had already allotted me a nice room 3408 and I was very happy wtih it. What I appreciated most from the staff and Atty was how genuinely friendly they were, Dat, Hafiz, Shahril, Zhi, Maria among them.
I always chose to sit by the window whether having breakfast or happy hour glass of wine, this view was always soothing
Once I reached Kuala Lumpur the fatigue of the long trip from Miami hit me and I did not go sight seeing but limited my activities around the hotel , KLCC the mega twin towers with all amenities was just a short walk away. I would stop at the Buddhist temple and offer a prayer , begging protection for those who need protection.
The food court at KLCC is not something you could compare to the food courts at malls or shopping centres in the USA..some of the food served at the food court is restaurant quality and i enjoyed eating there twice.
 Saravana Bhavan Vegetarian as well as Hameed's Indian food are side by side in the food court
 I enjoyed a vegetarian meal from Saravana Bhavan and satisfied my yearning for a Masala Dosai 
 The humble but ubiquitous Teh Tahrek is of South Indian origin but very popular in Malaysia and Singapore brought over by the indentured labourers and contract workers from the 20th century.
It was a short stay and it was time to say good bye, knowing fully well that I would be back here at this very same hotel in the near future. such is the life of a Homeless Man

On arrival Malaysia gives me a human gift and on departure one as well in the name of Nik Mohammed,

KL is notorious for its traffic and Nik M drove me to the airport and we had a nice conversation about life in Malaysia for him and his professional life and the time he worked at Renaissance Hotel and met Raul Castro (will write a later blog about it )
The journey to Cochin via Colombo was nothing exceptional. The Sri Lankan Airways Airbus 321 was spacious and once again no one was sitting next to me. Earlier I had been admitted to the first class lounge of the Malaysian airlines at KLIA by a lovely receptionist Miss F and when I mentioned Nasi Lemak I was escorted to the Restaurant in the lounge and served Nasi Lemak and Teh Tahrek. a nice gesture of good bye from Malaysia

First Class Lounge Restaurant and Nasi Lemak 
 A ceylonese curry meal at the Serendiva Lounge at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo SriLanka
 Image of Buddha is soothing to the soul so this giant statue at the Transit lounge allowed for a little reflection and a prayer 
 Of the four lounges at BIA, Serendiva is not the best but I was surprised to see Champagne on offer and a wide variety of buffet food and drinks

The arrival at Cochin International Airport was congenial, efficient and rapid. The flight from Colombo was full of weary eyed Indian travellers from the Gulf countries who use this route as they might be cheaper than Qatar or Etihad or Emirates.
The anxiety on their faces, their poor people who might have been away for months or years from home, in their newly pressed and often ill fitting clothes, they transmitted their anxiety to the ambiance of the waiting room where impatience and lack of manners were the order of the day
I was surprised how efficient it has become to enter India, I remember the times when beauracratic scrutiny unnecessarily delayed you and a curious customs officer presiding momentarily over your suitcase with a stern exhibition of his momentary power. all that has changed, India is no longer the poorest country it used to be, kerala is far better off than other parts of India (I am told as I dont travel to any other place than Cochin in India)
Within minutes of calling the Uber driver arrived, language was a problem but he navigated through the saturday afternoon traffic and arrived at the Niyati Boutique hotel in one hour and thirty minutes and the Uber fare was an amazingly low 15 usd.
The welcome from Niyati from the owner J was as expected, warm and accomodating and we caught up with the news during my absence of six months from this place, the last two visits to Fort Cochin I had stayed at the Bristow Bungalow.
 crossing the backwaters on my way to fort cochin
 a lovely meal at THE TALK OF THE TOWN of Chef Bensal  Nadan fish Curry and Paratta
 My room was ready for me at NIYATI BOUTIQUE hotel at Fort Cochin
 This land is verdant and lush and driving through it is pleasing to the eye
The Homeless man has arrived at yet another of his homes  this time Niyati Boutique Hotel in Fort Cochin in Kerala India five days after leaving another home in Miami (my sisters), transitin through the skies in my home in the sky (seat 1K of Qatar Airways), home at Double Tree at Hilton in Kuala Lumpur, then to this one..
Tomorrow night is the celebration of Pesach the jewish peoples rememberances of Freedom from slavery in Egypt 3300 years ago, it is highly symbolic I am here in Fort Cochin which once had a flourishing jewish community and the last Jew of Cochin Elias Babu is a good friend of mine and of course all of us are on some journey or other, metaphorically we still celebrate that difficult journey 3300 years ago. Whilst seat 1 K is not as arduous as Sinai desert, it is highly significant of the history of our people, we were without a home for 2000 years and now we have a home, the state of Israel, which we will defend to the end, regardless of naysayers and other Pharaohs who wish us harm
Some of your journeys have been cut short for various reasons, personal ones i can understand but I really feel sad when some people are not allowed to partiipate in the journey they had been allotted, by ill meaning people who control their fates.
So on this very hot day in Fort Cochin where I had escaped to the air conditioned room in Niyati Boutique, my thoughts are with those whose wings have been cut and whose aspirations have been stifled. I wish all of you a seat 1 K in life..