"CUBA and REST OF THE WORLD..." cochinjew's Profile
INTENSE DAYS IN LA HABANA
How does a society affect the character of individuals in that society, such that he or she excels in human characteristics and not exhibit qualities of competition, greed or envy?
Come to Cuba, live with the Cubans for a little while and you would understand. The Journalists who visit this country only talk about the privations (mainly material ones) but the human aspects of Cuba are not newsworthy.
These very same souls would listen intensively to HH Dalai Lama who would say: External Things will not bring you Internal Happiness.
In the past two days, there has been an ambience in the house full of visitors, mainly friends from previous shared times of joy, knowledge and laughter.
Sharing is something Cubans do so well. Since there is a dearth of material goods to share, what is an abundance, the emotions and affections are shared freely. And at the same time the welfare of the group is well attended in ways that is appropriate and congruous.
Three visitors from the Psychology Department of the institute of Endocrinology came to visit: a treasury of knowledge and affections and a genuine feeling of friendship. Hours passed in conversations and continued over a pleasant lunch at La Roca, a restaurant in Vedado.
Many telephone calls to Baracoa, where a whole heap of affections awaited. Was good to be able to talk to them, as communications with Baracoa is not the best, depending upon the weather. A fourth year medical student, wanted a scarf like mine, but I couldn't part with the one I was wearing, a memento of a visit to a Cambodian NGO in Phnom Penh. So I decided to go and look through the various bags and was glad to find a “bufanda” fit enough to send to Baracoa.
A visitor from Baracoa had come here, constant counselling and talking and participating in the every day life of this household, with great generosity of the owner, a retired professor, began to show improvements in her mind and the body. I loaded up various bags of goodies to go to Baracoa to be shared among my many friends.
When it came time for her to leave for Baracoa, today at noon, it was tears all around, and we had lunch in relative silence. Soon a fourth year Philosophy student who is doing a thesis related to medical anthropology arrived with his professor, a colleague of mine of many years. We talked for the next two hours clarifying about culture and disease. Intense though the conversation was, it was sheer pleasure, to give to Cuba a fraction of what it has given me.
Cuba has allowed me to be myself, and enhanced that which I cherish in myself.
La Habana, Cuba
It is 1 AM in the morning and we have just finished our conversations, covering a myriad of subjects and the entire world. We had begun around 10 am this morning, though lunch and dinner with occasional silence, we have carried through our conversations.
The superficial reality is easy to understand but hard to live by, but even harder is the other reality, in which your mind and your soul and your spirit, at times hoping to survive in the earlier reality.
Young women unable to be independent, becoming co dependent on men who are mature enough to handle that responsibility,
I had barely woken up, when the telephone rang. In Cuba, the telephone is an important instrument and in my opinion, slightly overused. But I cannot imagine being here unable to contact friends near and far within Cuba, as other forms of communication or transport is not readily accessible. I am truly enjoying this vacation from Internet and thus taking care of the anxiety of wanting to check your email as well as surfing the net for latest news and other not so necessary information.
Good Morning, said the voice, I am in between two meetings, and I will drop by your house in ten minutes. I had to get ready quickly and be ready to welcome Mr C. A erstwhile Cuban Ambassador to Malaysia.
This is the beauty of Cuba and the value Cubans place on friendships. During the months of November and December, it is a very busy time at the Foreign Ministry and days are full of planning and meetings. The fact that he slipped off to come and see a friend whom he has met in KL, shows the integrity of Cubans. I cannot think of anywhere else in the world, where an Ambassador would take time off in between two meetings, get into the car and drive a few minutes and come and visit a friend.
Nice chat and recollections of our time together in KL and also about our mutual friend MC who is now in the process of becoming a Philosophical Counsellor. We talked about various embassies and people we know in common, from HoChiMinh City to Tarawa. I was interested to hear that Cuba had a project in New Zealand to educate Maoris using the system successful in Cuba and Latin America of Alphabetization. Imagine! A small poor country in the Caribbean helping a rich country on the other side of the earth.
Here lies the essence of the humanitarian aid that Cuba gives to others. What political benefit is to educate the Maoris to read and write ? and all these are not publicized to gain notoriety for the regime. Why is that a Cuban ambassador is one of the three ambassadors resident in Tarawa, Kiribati, coordinating the efforts of Cuban doctors and the local island students studying Medicine in Cuba?
This aspect of humanitarian aid, not something with a string attached, is one of the myriads of Cuban life that I am very proud of….
I look forward to a dinner with the ambassador and his family on my next visit to La Habana and present myself to the Embassy in KL with my friend MC to meet the new ambassador to Malaysia..
I am not a great fan of travel guides or travel magazines but recently i have come across a magazine which really suited my tastes: MONOCLE. as it says it is a brif on global afairs, business, culture and design. I highly recommend it
I dont remember when it started, but must have been early enough in life, this lust for books and places to find them.
Melbourne was a good place to scrounge for books, remember lots of little bookstores near the university.
in Tokyo there is a street that sells used books but very rarely you could get good used books in English
While a student in London, Foyles was a favourite haunt and also the book fair at Hay on Wye?
Books and Books in Miami and the owner Mr Kaplan are institutions on their own right
In omaha, jackson street booksellers never disappoint me, always something or other to buy there, long lost in memory.
Powells in Portland is a destination in itself, i have spent up to one week in that bookstore, reading writing drinking coffee and buying books.
There are small book shops of note: one in san antonio, one in soldier, iowa in the middle of nowhere. of course, la habana never disappoints a book lover, since you can also meet the people who wrote them.
In Yangon there is a street close to downtown where old books are sold and it is a surprise to come across to some rare tome on burmese life and well worth the look
in Bangalore, without doubt it is Premier Bookstore, I cannot respect any one who lives in Bangalore and has not visited this bookstore and chatted with the owner. a nice cup of coffee from the government store across the street await you.
Add to this list a second hand bookstore in the main street of Vermillion the home of University of South Dakota. I got a few books on a recent stopover there.
On a visit to Bangalore, a stop over just to visit Premier Book Store, I needed to buy an extra bag for all the books I bought at the bookstore. I will post a list under Bangalore pages...
left over from the other pages
11 june 2008. In Paris, leaving for Miami, San Francisco and Havana. You cannot imagine how much I miss Mi Isla Rica, mi Cuba, my little Island and my dearest friends..
1 april 2008 Los Angeles Airport. waiting for the Qantas Flight to Melbourne. Cuba seems very far from here, but it does not have to be far from your heart. I think of my friends who are there and in the months of absence, I will be in close touch with them.
I am an Australian, from South Caulfield in Victoria, but have been associated with Baracoa and Cuba for a while now. I hold the position of Visiting Professor of Anthropology at the University of Havana Cuba (I also have academic appointments in London and USA).
I have lived in Brunei, Australia (Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane), Sweden, England, USA, Jamaica and as you can see have visited more than 100 countries and territories.
But as Alistair Reid had mentioned, however we may search, we may not find the place for ourselves, but the place will find you. I had come to Baracoa many many years ago with a good friend of mine, in search of rare palms of this region and it was a love at first sight, reminding of the many atolls that i had visited in the area of the world that given me the legal nationality. Since then i have grown with the city and friendships that have evolved. I am not an apologetic for the local government or the false cultural representatives or the american and mulattos who come to parade themselves as Taino Indians in Baracoa. But this village of Baracoa is so full of gentle people, maintaining a rhythm all of its own, marginalized from the history of the rest of Cuba. Recently a friend of mine, from the Research Institute of Foreign Ministry presented her doctoral thesis about the history and marginalization of Baracoa from the rest of the country since 19th Century. For majority of the people in Baracoa, this marginalization suits well their lethargy imposed upon them against their will by the authorities.
Favourite Country in the Americas: Cuba
Favourite Country in Asia: Myanmar
Favourite Country in Africa: Ghana
Favourite Country in Australasia: Australia OF COURSE
Favourite Country in Europe: France OBVIOUSLY
Montreal, Miami, SF, La Habana, Sao Paolo, Buenos Aires, Merida
Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns,Suva
I am unashamedly addicted to good food, will travel great lengths for it. Refuse to eat bad food even if I am hungry (dont touch Pizza, Hamburgers etc in USA for example). Like wine (malbec, torrontes, southern wines) for more than health reasons.
I have eaten well throughout my travels but bad exceptions stand out: Namibia, Ghana, unfortunately in Cuba except in Baracoa, places I have to be in USA where Native Americans live.....happy to report that food generally available in Havana has gotten much much better. I eat well now in Havana, thanks to my many friends. Healthier than Miami.
Best Airline Food flying long distances:
in Business Class, Continental is hard to beat. MH and SQ. Delta has a good wine selection
was not impressed with Business Class: Air India, Emirates, JAL. Air France does it with style, the food on a recent flight but nothing short of excellent
Virgin Upper Class is also very good. Peiper HiesDeick Champagne, lovely chenin blanc from RSA, Salmon etc etc..
Lovely to visit Premier Bookstores in Bangalore, one fo the main reasons I like to stop in that city of noise pollution and pretention: Books recommended by mr Shanbagh and brought over to this part ofthe world include:
The Indians , a Portrait of a People by Sudhir Kakkar
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Speaking Havoc: Social suffering and South Asian Narratives ed: Ramu Nagappan
David Leavitt: The indian clerk about the brilliant Tamoul mathematician Srinivasan Ramanujan
Time Treks: The uncertain furture of old and new despotisms by Ashis Nandy
Front line Pakistan; zahid Hussain
Culture and Public Actionedited by Vijayendra Rao and Miachael Walton
The ugliness of the Indian Male by Mukul Kesavan
Without Mr Shanbagh's help I would have to wait for months or even years to hear about them. He has such an eclectic taste and he helps others by stocking books no other book store ..This is one of the best.. anywhere in the world..
I am changing skins, from Teh Tahrek (milky tea brought into Malaysia with the Indian rubber tappers a century ago) to Champagne ( Piper Heisdeick Reserve Brut 2003). Idlis, Roti Canai has given way to Salmon and Broccoli Quiche..
Menu on this flight:
Malabari Prawns and tamarind seed sesame potato
Salmon served with potato wedges, pumpkin, asparagus and leek sauce
Praline Kulfi Icecream
An excellent wine; Senga Chenin Blanc, Coastal Region, South Africa 2007.
In just nine hours, 7 40 pm Paris Time ( it is 9 55 am there now), I will be landing at London Heathrow on this flight from Bombay Airport.
Centuries and memories are left behind.
Now planning, executing and feeling comfortable in the skin of my choice: the western professor, the doctor anthropologist.
Thanks to those welcomed and bid adieu in Siem Reap,Kuala Lumpur, Madras and Bangalore and welcome to the hugs and kisses waiting in Paris, Miami and the Americas, especially in Cuba..
There is a great travel book called
About an American who moved to Ecuador who describes his bare bone travel through South America
And he begins his introduction with the following quote:
Travel is the saddest of all Pleasures..
I toast you with this glass of Drambuie with Ice..
Heart is in Paris
Soul is in Cuba
The Passport is Australian, for this wandering Jew.
A young Arab French girl with a visible bulging belly and her hair dyed blonde serves me a glass of house wine. As happens in the evenings, a pianist is belting romantic, moody melodies on his piano in the hallway surrounded by restaurants of these very modern office complexes, La Defense. Friday evening. 7 pm. I have my baguette ready, so what if I am not home yet, I can wish you all a Shabbat shalom. Next Friday night, 8 June, I hope to be lighting the candles at the home of Sister Jackie in Miami, on 16th June, I will be with sister friend Dar in Yakima, Washington and on the 23rd, as the sun goes down with the Havdalah Service, I will be flying from Houston to Paris, and by the next Shabbat or thereabouts I should be on my way to the most Buddhist of the countries, Myanmar. Such is the life of this modern day wandering Jew!
Paris is a delight to the eyes. I am not talking about the classic and modern architecture. While my little island of Cuba offers, along with Brasil, the most sensuous of human beings, Paris has an elegance I have not seen elsewhere, not even in my beloved Buenos Aires! This city has the best dressed black people on earth, lithe and dignified; eat your hearts out, Cape Town, London and New York!! People are more overweight than before, but the French are the least overweight of all Europeans (20% compared to 45% in the UK and around 65 % in Australia and USA), but it cannot be Calories, Fat content or the extra alcohol. Lunch today was two pieces of steamed fish, Merluza, with a citron sauce on a bed of steamed vegetables, a salad of Leek in cheese, rice with thick sauce, some haricots, and then a healthy chunk of Roquefort cheese, to be consumed BEFORE, mind you, eating the fruit salad. Minimum time for lunch is one hour, but it usually stretches into two, perhaps there lies the myth of calories and overweight, the French take time over their lunches, in the USA, at some of the clinics where I work, they allot a mere 30 minutes for lunch, enough time to gulp down some preserved food, fatty and highly toxic!! I believe, it is not what you eat that matter, how you eat it, with whom you eat with, how slowly you eat your food and the relaxation at the table. If you don’t have time to eat, don’t eat, but don’t use it as an excuse to gulp down poorly prepared food! In fact, for one of my patients, I wrote down a prescription, One hour for Lunch to be permitted, if she wishes her to remain healthy. I think of the many delightful meals prepared by my younger brother friend Shimon... Always a pleasure, schmooze, endless chatter, glasses of wine, conversation and a good coffee to follow. Always a pleasure, Shimon… I look for ward to the Chupah, you and Avital in Haifa, with your parents Shmulik and Nava, in October...
I am thinking of the person that I have continuously known for the longest period of time, my younger brother Ricardo. How I wish I was sharing this Shabbat with him in Sde Bkr, in Eretz Israel. Soon enough, Brother. My brother Eliyahu’s eldest daughter, a classic mizrachi American beauty, 11 years old, is counting the days she can set off for her first international trip without her parents, to Paris, nevertheless, arranged by the French School she attends in Portland. My brother and his wife would pick her up at the end of her stay, at the end of this month, my Asian brother who is far more comfortable in Kobe or Cambodia will have to be finding out for himself the beauties of this city...
Reading a wonderful book at the moment, currently devouring Indian literature in English, Pankaj Mishra, Amitav ghosh, Terun Tejpal and this author, Shashi Tharoor, a former UN undersecretary, of Cochin origin, born in London, now lives in New York. This book is a positive analysis of he character of his country INDIA (the title of the book as well) of which he is so proud of. (He speaks perfect French, I saw him on French TV when he was in Paris to celebrate, the Indian Book week). I highly recommend this book as it explains, from a very liberal point of view, what it means to be an Indian, not the hollow bombastic, narrow minded hollers you hear in the writings intended for the west. The other books by Indian writers in English, recently read include
Pankaj Mishra The temptations of the West Excellent chapter on Indira Gandhi and her mishandling of the corrupt political establishment of India.
Terun Tejpal The Alchemy of Desire. This has to be one of the more exquisite romances from India, human and passionate
Amitav Ghosh The hungry Tide. Exciting story set in the Sunderbans region of Bengal. Having a doctorate in Anthropology, Ghosh weaves into his tale, bits of information, lying deep in the archives. Typically, how did the Irrawaddy Dolphin get its name?
Reading shashi Tharoor’s explanation of cultural identity, following that, I have claim to Malaysian and Australian Nationalities (but only hold Australian nationality), I could define myself thus for others (since they seean Indian when they look at me!)
An Australian Jew who is at home in many parts of Asia: Brunei, Malaysia, Burma, Cambodia who calls Baracoa, Cuba home but lives in Paris, France, works with the Indigenous people of America.
To that I add,
The above person cares about you, who will be reading these notes of a wanderer, as this quiet Shabbat begins, sitting at Paradis du Fruit, a post modern café in Paris, where the waiters are remnants of Algeria, Pondicherry and Jaffna and Saigon..
I miss my little island, Cuba, very much, and the untold genuine affections there, can’t call them or chat with them on line or enter into regular communications with them by post, but the tenderness is there.
On this Shabbat, welcome to some new friends from Ljubljana and Warszawa, hello to my friends from the Malay peninsula and the islands, my Kickapoo and hocank sisters, an old friend LMS, other friends in Miami, San Antonio, BA, SP, La Habana and elsewhere, our circle of love grows bigger and bigger…
So, dear friends, brothers, teachers, sisters, lovers and others…
Welcome to this world within a world, we are living a Dream, dreaming of itself (said the Jhu!huasi from !tsumkwe in the Kalahari)…
Welcome to some dear friends from Havana, one from Baracoa, one new friend from KL....life goes on.
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