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jeudi 10 août 2017


I have just left Havana, Cuba after a few very special days with my best friends in Miami. It was delightful, everything went smoothly, considering the impact of the hardship on the Cubans, caused by the US Government's recent actions which has all but drained the North American Visitor arrivals (except Cuban Americans). In reaction to the cold war policies of not wanting to help the Cuban Government which controls the major portion of the economy, private enterprises have suffered a lot. Wonderful world class private restaurants, not the usual cuban creole cooking paladars, but stylish decors, elegant service and sophisticated food, as in La Dolce Vita and L'Atelier have been shut down by the government. The food at the government run restaurants continue to be abominable but we are left with less of a choice than before the edict from Washington just a few weeks ago.
My days in La Habana were an utter delight, professionally and socially, as has been the case since my association began with Cuba. This time it was sweetened by the ability to provide hospitality to visitors at the same level they offer to me when I visit them in Miami, was very satisfying indeed.
Will review in another blog about the wonderful food we had, courtesy of private cuban individuals, and our meals were all exclusively (with an exception of an afternoon spent at a hotel swimming pool) provided by private individuals: including Pina Coladas, Lobster, Shrimp and Lamb dishes as well as the cuban staple, the caviar of the island, The Black Beans.
What I wish to explain is an experience while I was waiting to leave Jose Marti International Airport at Havana.
My friends had left on an earlier flight to Fort Lauderdale and my flight would be in two hours.
I chose a quiet spot and was either texting or speaking on the phone, my good byes for this time and making plans for the next reunion. 
I was deeply immersed in my task, as I truly enjoy making plans and looking up itineraries and also flight plans. The airport has wi fi and i was enjoying that continuity as well.
Two young women came and sat opposite, both spoke with western accents, even though one looked scottish and other, eurasian. 
After about an hour, the eurasian looking lady, spoke: are you from Cochin?
The question sort of startled me, because it is not the context I am used to, and looking at her I realized she had Malayalee features to her face.
She explained that she saw my visiting card displayed in my carry on luggage had the picture of Kathakali masque and that she could read cochinjew in the address attached to another airline tag. 
As it is customary in these contexts, a pleasant interchange, they are Australians, the Malayalee from Perth and the Scot ? from Canberra. I explained to them that the business card had been designed in Cochin, the only place in India I have any knowledge of, where I had done in depth research about the Jews and i have some knowledge about the Syrian Christians. After a polite conversation, we returned to what we were doing before, but I saw them again twice before the flight departed. While standing in line to board, they were nearby, so I briefly mentioned about my good Syrian Christian friends, and the lady indicated that she was one. We exchanged our business cards and when I saw her again I said, here we are, we meet again. Every one had a smile in their faces.
American Indians believe that there is nothing as Coincidence and all interactions have symbolisms.
It was the Lakota Medicine Man, Lame Deer, who said: for us the simple and spiritual are connected, we see things with our heart and we need only a hint to understand the symbolism.
An Australian professor of Anthropology (even if he is also an Endocrinologist) meets an Australian traveller of Kerala ancestry at an airport in Havana. 
if you look at it plainly, just one of the thousands of interactions while one is travelling, but if the context is taken into account there is a deeper meaning, which we may not be clever enough to understand (I remember my Meskwakia teacher telling me), which has nothing to do with her or with me. Maurice Merleau-Ponty had adequately stated: without context, things have no meaning.
(Merleau-Ponty with his daughter, what I think to be a street in Paris. His best known work is The Phenomenology of Perception)
I knew I need to look for the meaning. When the flight arrived in Miami, I cleared immigration (Global Entry in 30 seconds and the customs in one minute, but I decided to wait for the two visitors from the southern hemisphere, it took 30 minutes for them to clear, they were going to New Orleans as part of their trip.
I hailed them as they came out and directed them to their luggage and then said good bye.
Let me know when you are in Melbourne next, I would love to talk to you about the history of Syrian Christians in Cochin, said my new friend from Perth.
My good friends G and G from Melbourne, came to visit me in Havana, had wanted me to visit them in November and I was planning a detour from SE Asia where I go on a reasonably frequent schedule.
But according to the Native Philosophy the message is even deeper, not meeting the person to discuss the history of an interesting group of people to which she belongs along with my best friends in Cochin.
It became clearer this morning, a day after arriving at the Omaha Indian Reservation.
I looked at the blogs I had written about Cochin and to my surprise , I had written a lot about Cochin and it always had some serious Jewish connection and identity. It was like visiting my own cultural identity. 
Being with my jewish friends from Miami in Havana was an affirmation of our connections but re reading my own blogs about Cochin made me revisit, certain symbolic questions about Cultural Identity.
My jewish identity is not in question but I was astonished to read my own blogs about the Jews of Cochin and the in depth research that had gone into proving the Yemen-Cochin connection as well as my encounters with Cochinim elsewhere but not in Israel. As i was reading in one blog, my closeness in Cochin is not to the Jews but to the Syrian Christians and they have the shared VALUES that are common to all Jews whereas with the jews of Cochin, we share a liturgical connection, rather than an emotional one. I find no attraction whatsoever to Bnei Israel Jews of Bombay or the newly "discovered" jews of Manipur, their stories of interest but not touching that fundamental part of the emotions which is common to the humanity. I feel very close to my jewish brethren from Iraq or Yemen (a possible genetic connection there) because of some shared ancient jewish values. Needless to say I lived in the ashkenazic jewish ghetto of Melbourne and I find those relationships extraordinarily worthwhile and soothing to my existence.
I spent most of the day today reflecting on these things and it gave me a good opportunity to think about my close syrian christian friends in Cochin, RN, MM and CW among others and the many acquaintances I have there. 
I felt more than ever secure about my cultural identity. Camus had said that man is the only creature that seeks to have significance in his life, in his preface to that wonderful memoir by Tunisian-French Jewish writer, Albert Memmi, the Pillar of Salt
it was yet another french writer who started his story:
Moi, j'ai dit l'homme, je suis juif
Marcel Ayme

So I finish my hours spent in silence and reflection on this second day of leaving my rich island, mi isla rica, Cuba, thinking of my dear friends there and I want them to hear ..

Yo, Yehuda, estoy muy agradecido por sus amistades y sus preocupaciones para mi.

and to my new friend, We will see each other soon, sooner than you think.