mercredi 25 mars 2015

SWEETNESS COCHIN STYLE

Perhaps I have been living in the west too long or that I have been away too long from countries of my lovers and friends, I am overcome by the sweetness of the Malayalee people that I meet (a Malayalee may be a Christian, a Moslem, a Hindou or a Jew, who has ancestral connections to this land called Kerala)
Just today I met Mr B and Ms D, who came to design a visiting card for me, with traditional motif. After our long conversation in which I got to know them, I could only admire them, for their sweetness, their dreams written all over their faces. I enjoyed having Lunch with them.
they are part of the DARK PROJECTS, a design team, www.darkprojects.in
I hope to run into them, somewhere or other and  may my good friend MC in KL run into them in KL, inshallah!

mardi 24 mars 2015

GASPAR DA GAMA...FIRST OF THE MANY FOREIGN JEWS ON COCHIN COAST

 I had only one purpose looking through the graves at the Grave Island off the coast of Zanzibar.
Would I be able to identify any Jewish names amidst the medieval miscellany of the tombs.  Alas, I failed. Back at the StoneTown in Zanzibar (Zinj il Barr  the land of the Blacks, the Arab traders had called it), I engaged anyone who would give me a history lesson, but 1498 was too far into the oblivion.
My aim was to find out whether or not Jews from the Malabar Coast had assisted Vasco da Gama in his journey from East Africa to Calicut on the Malabar Coast. The Jewish trading presence was already well known on the spice coast for centuries. Abraham ben Yiju, a tunisian jew was already well established in Mangalore in the 12th century and his trusted assistant travelled to and fro Mangalore to Aden.
The news I could glean in Zanzibar was that a malabari moslem by the name of Mohammed or Ahmed had shown Vasco da Gama the way!
But in the back of my mind, there must have been some Jews who might have helped Da Gama.. after all he was interested in Spice Trade..
The answer arrived as I was perusing through a volume called India and Portugese. As I was reading through the chapter on Cochin, a name suddenly appears, Gaspar da Gama! He pretended to be a Moslem, calling himself Mahomet in the employ of Sultan of Bijaupur..then he confesses to be a christian, hobnobbing with the newly arrived Portugese..
Vasco da Gama, knowing that there was something exotic about him, but not wanting to behead him but use him for his linguistic abilities, Gaspar spoke both Arabic and Hebrew as well as could make himself understood in Spanish, thus communicating with the Portugese.

Truth comes out, Gaspar, his original name is lost to antiquity was a POLISH JEW, born in Poznan in Poland, forced to flee Poland because of royal decree of expulsion of the Jews. He became very useful to the Vasco da Gama as well as the Portugese empire. Historians credit him to be the first european to set foot on Brasil and the South American continent, with Pedro Cabral who later arrived in Cochin.
Despite his multiple conversions, Vasco da Gama was his godfather when he converted to Catholicism, Gaspar married a Jewess from Cochin with whom he had children.
For many other Jews, anthropologists, writers and professors of religion, including this professor from Cuba, Gaspar must be made our Patron Saint.. one of the many improbable Jewish souls of the Malabar Coast!

I am unashamedly Lusophilic..Cabo Verde, Cochin, Malacca, Syriam, Brasil are constantly on my mind. While the Jewish-Portugese relationships over the centuries had been stormy, individual stories like the one above warms my heart.
and of course, I have had close relationships with the Portugese Jews of Jamaica...

Would you like one or two eggs and how would you like them cooked, asked the first Prime Minister of Barabados, Mr Erroll Barrow. at his home in Barbados.
When he knew I was Jewish, he revealed a little known secret, he was a descendant of Baruch Lozada families who had fled the Dutch Brasil in the 17th Century!
here are some information:the marriage of Gracia Baruh Lousada to David Raphael de Mercado may evidence a family link formed earlier via Recife/Livorno trade before the Portuguese reconquest of Dutch Brazil. The Mercados, having left Recife (in Dutch Brazil) in 1654 or thereabouts, promptly used the access that David Abravenel and Simon de Caceres had with Cromwell to secure a pass to Barbados in 1655 and it would seem that they came to Barbados from London soon thereafter . Their remarkably prompt relocation to Barbados from Dutch Brazil shows that they probably knew of the potential for sugar in Barbados - the early history of Barbados  shows that the Barbados sugar pioneer James Drax visited Recife to take advice on sugar from the Jewish planters there. Because Gracia's brothers Aaron, Abraham and David Baruh Lousada seem to have got to Barbados somewhat later than the Mercados - our earliest indication from ref 5 is 1659 - perhaps the marriage was a key factor in drawing them to Barbados

lundi 23 mars 2015

44 hours of Journey from North American Indians to Indians of India

It took me forty four hours of travel
By car from the Indian Reservation to the airport in Omaha, Nebraska and then a short flight to Chicago. Waited for the long flight on Etihad from Chicago to Abu Dhabi. a very short wait before we were off again to Cochin. Effortless Immigration and Customs check and very quickly to Cochin Club..
Not only there were changes in time zones, I was at a different geographical location, different circumstances, different food, new friends.. new ways of thinking
I have had a tremendous time in Cochin, thanks mostly due to the hospitality of Mr RN, an erudite gentleman of another time and ways of thinking.
It is time to leave
I am flying Qatar to Doha and then on to Chicago and connect to a flight to Miami. I look forward to that..
Miami and Friends 
Cuba and colleagues and Lovers and friends
American Indians
Quiet sweet days in Belgium
that is what I have to look forward to..
Plan to be back in Cochin after the Monsoons with my good friends from Miami..

dimanche 22 mars 2015

VISITING WITH A PURPOSE OR JUST PASSING THROUGH
I can recognize two types of Tourists: one group that is passing through, they didn’t come here because they have any special interest, they are going from place to place, looking at what is presented to them, with no great or deep interest in the culture of the place they are in,
A typical stay in a tourist area of India, a country with such a deep culture, would be no more two or three days, during which they would like to include a trek, an Ayurveda massage and a visit to the Backwaters or look at a Kathakali performance.
I am mentioning these things because I am in Cochin in South India at the moment.
This type of travel is usually due to some PUSH in the lives of the tourist, usually a backpacker. They are not in Cochin because of the unique nature of this heritage city but because they are on a trip through India and Cochin happens to be a popular spot.

This superficial brush with India gives them no time to understand the great philosophy behind the various culture, they trivialize YOGA into a stretching exercise; Ayurveda into Massage therapy. Thus a quick rush through India or a similar country will have not given them the greatest gifts of understanding and harmony and peace this country can bestow, instead they go home with the same depth of intolerance and arrogance they came in with.
One example of this myopic view of the world is the question I am asked: it does not matter it is India, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia or Myanmar. By these tourists, which part of that particular country I am from?
If mood suits me, I would make up a country and say I am from that country, but their pride prevents them from asking the location of this magical kingdom I am from!
outdoor exhibit at the cochin muziris biennale 
The other group, while still being a tourist, takes an interest in the place where they are. They stay in places, where they are accorded respect. Who is shown more respect in London? Someone who stays at 50 pounds a night hotel or hostel or someone who stays at a hotel which costs 150 pounds? Who is served better? The Chinatown café in London where you dine for 10 pounds or the restaurant in Knightsbridge where it would cost you 30 pounds?
These norms apply in Cochin as well.

 I have enjoyed my visit to Cochin tremendously; I am sure this is my fifteenth or so visit in as many years. The caliber of people I have met have been nothing short of superb, the knowledge they have imparted have been full of value... they are diamonds in this dune of sands… as is the case everywhere else in this world.
The second group of tourists to Cochin is on the increase. In two days I met, while not looking to meet them, an official of the Belgian government based in Hong Kong and a senator from the Thai assembly ( of course the current political turmoil there  has left him with time to travel!) These people have a genuine interest in learning about the history and culture of Cochin and they would cherish the knowledge they gain and would encourage others to come and visit. They are also not budget restrained like the backpackers.

My writings about the culture of Cochin and the history that I have gleaned are for this second group of Tourists, which I would put as tips on travel in the www.virtualtourist.com/m/26dab pages or Trip Advisor pages. This is my contribution to the welfare of the City of Fort Cochin.

samedi 21 mars 2015

GRATITUDE IN FORT COCHIN

Gratitude in Fort Cochin
I am reminded of the line from the French writer, Marcel Ayme:
I, said the man, am a Jew
As I walked up to the offices at the Santa Cruz basilica, built initially in 1505, a very kind young Priest wished me good morning.
I, said the man, am a Jew

My sister and her husband, who look after me well and have my welfare in their heart, live in Miami. My sister, for clarification I said, is a devout catholic, so is her husband, has been blessed with the power of prayers, escaping the tortures of chemotherapy more than once and now free of her cancers.
She is blessed, exclaimed the priest. I continued, in the style of a professor I am, I have seen the power of prayers in the case of my sister. I would like to express thanks for her cure,
You may do one of many things, continued the baby faced priest.
You can do things in your own tradition. But if you wish to do something in Catholic tradition, as we are going through Lent, there are many possibilities: giving alms for the poor, sacrifice foods and feed the poor or if you wish we can say a Mass.

Soon after she was free of cancer, at that time I was living in Paris, and Ima Lea, organized mass to be said for her at Montmartre in Paris and it was my pleasure to go there with my sister and her husband as well as her daughter and her family on another occasion.
I would like a Mass to be said expressing gratitude of all of us for the life of my sister as well as the kindness of her husband.
He takes out a ledger and writes down
7 am 23 March 2015  Mass of Thanks for Jacqueline and Joseph Simmons, Miami
If you wish, you can be present.
So, this Jewish professor brother of hers, who spent all of yesterday with some dedicated people on preserving the Jewish heritage of Cochin and this region, will be present at the Mass at 7 AM!


I will think especially of my teachers among the North American Indians, who taught me, Gratitude is a concept to bring you back into harmony. My good friend MC who introduced me to Yoga, talked about Gratitude list, so does Dalai Lama from the Buddhist philosophical canyons.

Cochin is an appropriate place to be, on the morning of the Mass, where unlike elsewhere in the world, Moslems and Christians and Hindus live in complete harmony.
I, said the man, am a Jew
I, said Yehuda, am Grateful


PS 7 am on Monday Morning here in Cochin would be still Sunday evening in Miami and Cayman Islands

jeudi 19 mars 2015

AN EXTRAORDINARY WEEK IN THE USA WITH INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA

ONE WEEK IN THE USA: A TRAVELOGUE
This is a not an ordinary travelogue. I have just spent one week in the USA. I flew in from London on American Airlines and left on Etihad Airways.
All of the seven days were spent with American Indians, from now referred as Indians. I touched the Non-Indian world briefly, for food and transportation but friendships, joy, celebrations were carried out in the world of the Indians.
Ethiopian Restaurant with an Indian friend, who has good taste in food and wants to try various types of food and we went to this Ethiopian Restaurant. It is amazing that the owners had left their country, for whatever reason and now are cooking for a Midwestern USA  population, hoping they would like the Ethiopian Cuisine. It is not an exciting cuisine, the meat and bread (Injera) based cuisine is hardy, does remind you of Africa. The spices are pungent rather than smooth that you find in Asian Curries.
Drive to the Indian reservation on this sunny day was pleasant enough. You pass through some small towns which have seen better days. Vast tracks of land, stretching to the horizon. Loess hills which is a unique form of sand hills, found only in three places on earth, guards you as you drive up to the Reservation. Cars speed along the highway, otherwise there is no sign of human presence,
The next three days we were busy looking after the health and welfare of many Indians. Such an immersion (you are not here to do a “job”) sees you in the front seat of the drama of symbolism, so obviously present in their behavior and ways of thinking. All the patients without exceptions went home happier, since we pay attention to what and where they need attention.
Here are some  of their explanatory models, which are so culturally bound.
:Now that I am older, they gave me too much food
:When there is no halushka (dance) my blood sugar goes up.
:I don’t feel good because I went drinking with my girlfriend. (The explanation is not the obvious one, but the fact that the bar he was drinking was raided and the police found an outstanding arrest warrant from many years ago, thus he was incarcerated for 30 days)
Food is central to Health and Ill-health. Food has many symbolic meanings for the Indians, which makes it somewhat difficult to eat wisely or dieting.
In this isolated community of Indians, there are always some ceremonies or “doings” during the week, especially during the weekends.
For American (Non-Indians) who may have rigid meanings to their ceremonies ( going to a place of worship) or who have assimilated their ceremonies to the mainstream modernism, it may be hard to imagine that small communities of Indians carrying on their tradition and ceremonies, as they have done for hundreds of years.
I attended one of them.

You do not need any special invitation. The level of your participation is up to you. You can don the full regalia of a war dancer and dance to your heart’s content or simply walk around the arena to the timing of the drum. Or, wait your turn at the buffet table to be set. People who organize these ceremonies are happy you are there, expect nothing in return.
A girl was turning four years of age, so it is a significant birthday. The drum and the singers were going to sing war songs of yesteryears, this is not done often. The proficient dancers welcome this, as would those Indians who love to listen to these songs,
There were about 100 people present, people of all ages. Many of the children were dressed in traditional dresses, as were many of the adults. The dancers were in full regalia (it takes a while to don it, and you need help). Grandmothers were braiding the hair of their granddaughters,  girlfriends helping adjust the costumes of their boyfriends, little boys and girls were running around while dressed in homemade, bright, traditional dresses. A sense of togetherness pervaded, they were affirming their cultural identity. I have long association with this tribe, I noted with gratification that I was the only Non-Indian present.
Many tourists including Americans and Australians and Europeans go to Vietnam and Thailand and visit the “hill tribes: where a performance is put on, for a fee for the tourists. These very same tourists would not take the time to look into their own backyards, whether it is American Indians in USA, or Aboriginals in Australia or Bretons in France, where the rich cultural traditions are maintained, not for show but for affirmation of identity and a sense of togetherness, to assert the importance of the collective over the individual.
Prayers are an integral part of the Indian life and spirituality, the person organizing the ceremony, talks, bringing in the culture of the tribe, the lineage of the family, importance of solidarity and good will, he offers gratitude and prayers, this serving as a lesson for the younger ones and  the benefit of prayers for all present, with its attendant ceremonies.
When the prayers and the ceremonies were over, often to the accomplishment of the drums, while the fully ornamented dancers walked around, the buffet table was set up. Food is served in a certain order, the elders are served first and then they invite people in the order. It was gratifying to see the children not growling but patiently awaiting their turn. I noticed also that parcels of food were being made ready for the elders to take home. Tonight it was a balanced meal of traditional and modern foods. I enjoyed the traditional soup with hominy and meat, which was very tender.
Dance begins!
Even an outside like me, who is not an expert on the songs of this tribe, I could feel the power and force of the dancers. I was told that these beautiful songs are not sung that often, the dances that go with are different, including the mocking of the enemy.
The girl whose birthday it was, was not at the centre of attraction. They were being together to show their solidarity and affirm their identity. Equality and lack of hierarchy are fundamental characteristics of the Indians. There was special dance for the Little Girl, when all in the audience, participated to show their respect for her.
The village is in the midst of a food desert, the nearest restaurant or food store is a good 40 km away. I feel lucky that the nearby town has two Thai (one good and one so-so) and a Vietnamese restaurant with unchanging good quality food. In the week I was there I had three Thai meals and one Viet meals and needless to say, when you are with Indians, you never eat alone.
The highlight of the week was a visit to the home of an Indian couple, in the company of four other Indians  (who had all known each other for ages). We had gone out to eat together earlier (at the Thai restaurant). I thoroughly enjoyed observing them, while participating in the conversations and laughing my guts out at the recall of stories and jokes so abundant among them.
I have to remind Europeans and Asian Indians that it is important to know WHO you are and not WHAT you are. Those impressed by qualifications and an engorged CV, would be attracted to the next bigger one. Indians from the very beginning has taught me: pay attention to WHO you are. To this day I am not interested in the quantitative aspects of people when I meet them, but pay attention to the qualitative aspects of their character.
I was so happy to be among them, because they were all so happy to be with each other. No one in America laughs the way Indians do, the laughter arising out of the depth of their souls. Constantly, jokes, stories, laughter were exchanged, each taking their turn spontaneously. Indians are very family oriented and young adults join the older ones in these long hours of conversation and laughter.
It is interesting to note that conversations tend to focus on the welfare of the individuals within the tribe and also about the tribe itself, and also our own personal efforts to better the ill health of the people. The emphasis is never on the individual and always on the collective.
On the day I left the village, the local high school basketball team had won the State Level championships. One of the elders remarked, perhaps the work of all of us, over the years to prevent illness and promote good health, teaching healthy lifestyle to the younger Indians were bearing fruit, and boys and girls are beginning to show their prowess of their knowledge about good health and lifestyle!
It felt gratifying.
The last time the championship was won by this high school was back in 1940, a distant 75 years ago. The festive mood in the village was palpable.
Almost one week to the hour of my arrival to the USA from Bruxelles, Belgium, this flight takes off, taking me over the Loess Hills formation (found in only three places on earth) in the direction of  Chicago.

PS  Within 40 hours after that take off, I would arrive at Cochin International Airport, having taken the 14 hour flight from Chicago to Abu Dhabi on Etihad Airways and connecting  with a flight to Cochin. On this geographical dislocation ( I thought to myself, I am going from Indians to Indians), I made four new friends from Etihad Airways : a Tunisian, a Palestinian with whom I had a lovely talk (if only our politicians can get along as well as we did!), an Indian from Bombay as well as a Japanese from Nagoya.

mercredi 18 mars 2015

FEW HOURS IN COCHIN.. VERY EXCITING INDEED

I returned to Cochin after an absence of five years, which is very long for me with regard to any country in my world view. I had come primarily to renew my acquaintance with Mr Rockey Neroth, an erudite Gentleman of the old school. He had organized everything for the first few days of my stay here in Cochin.
My Etihad flight from AUH to COK ( I had connected with a 14 hour flight from ORD) was delightful, with the presence of Khaled, a Palestinian born in Abu Dhabi and Preeti a relatively new FA from Bombay. Arriving at 4 am, I was the first one through Immigration and Customs, which was rather straightforward, compared to the difficulties I had obtaining a visa. 
Mr N had sent his driver Philip to pick me up and through the empty streets of that early hour we were able to make good time, I requested Philip that we stop at a road side stall for a cup of tea. Looking around at the buildings showing their age, I felt I was in Rangoon rather than Cochin and the comparison stayed in mind for a while.

On to Cochin Club a venerable institution from yesteryears and staying there brought me back memories of Brunei and other dying colonial times from the past. The rooms were huge, with fitting reminiscent of another time, Nostalgia without sadness. I enjoyed being ensconced in this nostalgia. 
A short auto-rickshaw drive  brlought me to the offices of Mr N and we had a lovely conversation, first over some fresh juices at the Cafe at Ethnic Passage in Mattancherry, just opposite the Paradesi Synagogue. He took me to the Pavillion Restaurant at Hotel Abad where the lunch of fresh fish, cooked Kerala style in a banana leaf (I thought of the umu in Tokelau Islands where they cook their fish wrapped in banana leaf). The fish was so tender it melted in your mouth along with the appropriate spices. We drove past the Chempitta Palli, a mosque with architecture typical of the sacred in these parts. This mosque was financed by a Jew at that time, showing the ever present harmony with which the various religions coexist here. Visit to the ruins of an old synagogue in Jew Town was sad indeed, but the government has to decide to protect these monuments as the Jewish presence in this land is fading.
Prof Karmachandran from Trichur arrived in the company of local guide Mr Biju Thomas. It is always a pleasure to meet erudite people in Asia, it has a special meaning, weaves you away from the stark reality that surround you. Both these men are very knowledgeable about the sacred monuments of the past and we arranged to visit the Jewish past of this part of the country, Chendamangalam, Parur and Mala. For those interested in a guided tour of Jewish Cochin, Mr Thomas is the person to contact +919833973468
The conversation with these knowledgeable historian and the well informed tour guide/cognizanti reminded of those distant days of my glorious days in Kuala Lumpur in the company of MunChing and Ho and Brijesh
Had Cochin Club had a working wifi I would have stayed on their revelling in its colonial past , but i was so lucky to discover a boutique hotel, something of a novelty here in Fort Cochin, owned by local person who gave up his corporate life in Melbourne to return home to dip in various businesses, while keeping the flame of his desire to do Organic Farming. It was a pleasure to meet him and his wife and I thank him for a nice Lunch at the Pepper House along Kalvathy Road, the Alleppey Fish Curry with rice and some vegies were the right size for a hot a day. During the day I had the chance to meet Mr Walton, who is a walking library, and his busy life is centered around his father's house in Princess Street. Truly a delightful genleman to talk to.
On my way over to Mr N I stopped by the house of Sarah Cohen whom I had met nearly twenty years ago. Taha who manages her affairs was present and he remembered our visits there six and seven years ago. I truly appreciate their remembering us when they have so many people passing through their lives on a daily basis.
When I entered  the Niyati Boutique Hotel, I was surprised to see an East Asian face behind the desk who was extremely pleasant and helpful. Imagine my surprise when he told me that he belongs to the Hindu Kiranti tribe people of Bhutan! I was proud to tell him that there are students from Bhutan studying Medicine in Cuba and many of them have already gone back after their graduation, like Dr Suresh Mothey, a Bhutanese of Nepalese origin.
Such is the life of an Anthropologist
Just a few hours in this delightful place woudl enrich your life, if you would permit it.

People who are close to my heart, in Bruxelles, in Miami and in La Habana keep me well alive.. School holidays start in Bruxelles in one week, Pesach would begin in two weeks... this is a jewish holiday where you have to be with your loved ones.. I hope so
Thought of the different places I have spent Pesach and read the Seder
Baracoa, Cuba
La Habana, Cuba
Miami, Florida
Melbourne, Australia
New York
London, England
Paris, France
Bruxelles, Belgium
Lund and Malmo, Sweden 
Rhodes, Greece
Cochin, India 
Kingston, Jamaica
Corpus Christi, Texas
Portland, Oregon, among others..
I am not sure where I would for this coming Seder....

samedi 14 mars 2015

BUDDHISTS AND AMERICAN INDIANS: COMMON PHILOSOPHICAL THREADS

On Reading about Buddhist Philosophy
Peace in the world begins with us
What works?
What works to free the mind from Suffering?
What works to engender the heart of compassion?
What works to awaken us from ignorance?
Love  Compassion Peace
In Sanskrit  Maitri, in Pali Metta and the Burmese say Mitta
All meaning  LOVING KINDNESS
Attitude of Friendliness
Good Will
Generosity of Heart
I noticed that many people, both in USA and Europe, are very suspicious of the Other. Always thinking that the Other is harmful, devious or trying to leech something out of you.
In Cuba, you can only thrive if you can trust the Other.
Paranoia is a wall built up of Ignorance. Ignorance is the basis of the structural defects in our ways of thinking.
With ignorance of the OTHER, the mass of people and environment outside of our own, we can never grow to become good human beings, a good relative as Indians would say or be effective in our efforts to make this world a better place.
To exist in your own isolation, you don’t have worry about your human connections outside those of your work or necessary or obligatory ones.
A psychologist friend of mine from Havana would say: You can thrive as a human being only if you can thrive on human connections.
Among the Indians the human connections are not technical, not quantitative, nor calculated with benefit in mind.
Let us practice Loving Kindness
Without expecting anything in return, let us be friendly towards the OTHER. We, especially in the European world, have been taught to be frightened of the Other, from the time of the Plague in the middle ages which they thought was brought on by the Other. Currently the atmosphere in Europe is poisoned against certain minority groups and Jews have suffered more than their share. Let us cultivate an attitude of friendliness towards the Other, in our daily dealings.
My good friend Joe, the Buddha of Bogor, would say: Smiling is a must. He smiled at me repeatedly on that early morning at an airport in the USA, we began talking and became very good friends. If I had thought, what does he want? He looks like a Chinese businessman, I want nothing to do with them, I would have lost a wonderful chapter in my life.
Let us not have any ill will towards people we encounter during the course of the day, especially if they are the Other. It is difficult to cultivate this, but if you have an attitude of friendliness, then it is easier to cultivate this. So important to cultivate the attitude of friendliness and good will in the hearts of children as they are so fertile in their mind and imagination. Perhaps this is what is meant when we say, the Children are our future
I have never met any group of people more generous than the American Indians. Americans in general are far more generous than their European counterparts , but the Indians steeped as they are in the long millennial history of their people living in isolation in this large continent, had developed the concept of Gift. (so well delineated by Marcel Mauss, Father of French Ethnology who was  nephew of Emile Durkheim, father of French Sociology) Just last night I was at a dance celebration (please don’t confuse dance celebration of the Indians and equate it with a Party, fiesta or Disco, these dances are usually symbols of prayer, accompanied by age old songs). The little girl was turning Four, a significant birthday. Songs and dances were those of the times when they were preparing for war and you could feel the intensity, the power and the thrust of the music and dancing. Most people who attended left bearing gifts from the family, substantial gifts for which the family has to sacrifice some other material comfort. The gifts consisted of quilts or blankets or shawls or baskets of food or artifacts of  culture. I thought of the birthdays of four year olds in Europe. Among the Indians, it is the children who have to observe and learn, they are not taught how to dance but they observe how the elders dance and imitate them.
If your mind is full of loving kindness, it would be easier to cultivate this generosity of heart.
 
This can be seen in the stark contrast of Networking among Indians and Non-Indians, when non-Indians meet to network, they are interested in, What can YOU do for ME? But when Indians meet each other, it is What can I do for YOU?
It is a great paradox that it is some of the poorest on this earth that is the most generous. Europeans have lost the gift of time, neither to receive nor to give. The Birthday party, last night, lasted well into midnight with singing and dancing, eating together and sharing an atmosphere which have been constant for them for centuries.
As Laurens van der Post had eloquently stated talking about the San/Bushman of Kalahari: these men who continue to cultivate the innocence of children, are the closest on this earth to the original creation of the Great Spirit.
To be with Indians, is to understand this never loosing innocence about the beauty of life and connections and relationships and generosity of spirit.
With all these in mind, we can honestly wish:
May all being s be happy.
Loving kindness does not seek self-benefit.
Loving kindness arises from purity of heart not associated with anything harmful
Many relationships fail because the love is mixed with desire or attachment.
As I write this, at the Reservation of the Omaha Indians in Nebraska, I realize that those who truly need to read this will have no time to read it. I feel my heart full of content with no malice towards anyone, also without any attachment to anybody.
To those who say, I have no time, I will say what the ancient philosophers of all persuasion have said:
When the student is ready, the teacher would appear.
American Indian food at the dance celebration: meat soup with hominy (traditional), FryBread (post contact), pasta salad (modern)


jeudi 12 mars 2015

SOCIAL MEDIA AND DIABETES CARE IN AN INDIAN RESERVATION IN THE USA

Today is Wednesday, 11th March 2015
In a tribal Clinic in a corner of the State of Nebraska, the isolation measured by the distance to the nearest café: 30 miles.
After a very pleasant especially healthy lunch prepared by our tribal nutritionist, a patient was ushered into the consulting room. A tall Indian, very neatly combed hair, and well presented, comes in and sits near me. I insist on my patients sitting near me, rather than opposite me, his face or presence obscured by the computer screens.
Unfortunately he suffers from Anxiety attacks for which the psychiatrist had medicated him with a variety of drugs. His wife has a responsible job within the tribal administration, she is also a patient of mine and I had been pleased with the lifestyle changes they were trying to make.
After the usual pleasantries we began a conversation. You look good, I commented, with sincerity, since I detected a shine of good health on his face. We have been trying to change our eating habits. My advice to them has been to avoid heavily processed foods, limit processed foods, and view with skepticism the claims of Pizza Companies and other food pushers. I like to conclude with Michael Pollan’s words: Food does not come through the windows of your car.
Yes I feel good, he said and we continued our conversation a little longer, talking about the improving weather, with possibilities of increasing physical activities. We do not order a lot of investigations, and I try to explain to them the significance of the tests and also interpret the results or consultations of other physicians he might have seen.
I began with the normal eye examination and thus assuring him that his kidneys would also be equally unaffected. HgbA1C a measure of blood sugar excursions had diminished from the last visit, making him and me happy. Fats in his blood have normalized an indirect measure of a better eating pattern. But when I looked at the Cholesterol levels, I was a little disconcerted to see that the so called bad cholesterol was at 180, a level not preferred.
Normally in our patients with Diabetes if they have higher levels of “bad” cholesterol, we prescribe a medication called Statins. Are you taking any statins? I asked him.
There was a moment of silence. He turns an inquisitive face towards me and asks, Does not Statin medications cause Diabetes or make it worse?
I was taken back, for two reasons. We do try to educate our patients and keep them engaged in their own health, but what surprised me was that the paper critically claiming this association was published only on 5th March 2015, less than one week ago. I am fortunate enough to read and have time to read a fair bit of medical literature on a daily basis, and I had discussed this paper with my erudite doctor friend in Miami, who also has time to read medical journals and other articles on a regular, leisurely basis.
Yes, it is true, my friend, Statins can cause Diabetes and make Diabetes worse in those who already have it. I am happy you know that. But I want to explain something. This association of Statin and Diabetes is seen only with powerful statins and at a higher dosage level. The Statin I prescribed for you is a mild Statin and at a lower dosage level.
He was happy at the explanation, and said, if you recommend, I would take it. I told him that in light of current knowledge, it is better to protect his heart since he was younger than 40 years of age.

I was curious; I asked him, where did you read about Statins causing Diabetes? And I was not prepared for the answer. I read it in Facebook a couple of days ago!, he said, with a slightly mischievous laugh,
Here sitting in front of me, this humble Indian, who is afraid to go out into a crowd because of his fear of anxiety attacks, living in a village without a café or shop, is so engaged about what affects his health that he has searched and found the information that he wanted to discuss with me.
I silently wondered how many PAs, Nurse Practitioners or Doctors in the State of Nebraska would have known about this research published less than one week ago? Knowing the reading habits of health care providers in this part of the world, I would guess a small percentage.

A theme during the conversation at Lunch time resonated within me, in our small tribal clinic, we try to engage our patients in their health and educate them in a culturally specific fashion so that they receive the education given.  I was extremely pleased with this patient and complimented him. He got up to leave, he seemed taller than normal and the contented look on his face was my reward for working with the Indians.

mercredi 4 mars 2015

FOOD SYMBOLISM OF PURIM, THE UNIVERSAL MESSAGE OF THIS CELEBRATION

Today is 13th of Adar 5775
Yesterday evening, walking home in the evening, the clear fading sky showed the outlines of a bright moon, almost full.
Is the moon full? my little companion asked me. No, but it will be full tomorrow.
I wanted to look up when it would be full, yes, it would be a full moon of joy on 14th Adar 5775...
And we shall eat Homentashen, (Haman’s pockets) those of us who can procure a piece!
(I may have to substitute Nata, the famous Lisboan pastry instead)
It is the feast and celebration of PURIM. As in many of the celebrations, there is much food symbolism, including the sweet, the chick peas representing the vegetarian diet of Queen Esther (4th century BCE).
It is good to think of my two brothers on this day.
The Ashkenazi one, in 2009, was in Jerusalem for this celebration and he sent me a photo of two children walking along a busy street, in disguise, as is the custom of children celebrating. In Jerusalem the feast is celebrated on the 15th Adar
My dear Sephardi brother, who like me grew up in lands, not of his birth (India), nor of his parents (Olav Ha shalom, Iraq and Egypt) wouldn’t be a stranger to the tenets of this festival, the only festival to have a non-Hebrew name! I am sure my brother would like Seudah Purim, the feast; giving alms and sending foods (send some to me brother when I am in the food deserts of North America, serving the Indians!)
What foods do we serve to remind us of this joyous triumph over the evil Prime Minister, Haman? Like the presence of our people in all the 127 provinces of ancient Persian Empire, what did our people eat in distant corners of globe? Needless to say, the food symbolism of Queen Esther’s diet (vegetarian food, to keep kosher, to hide that she was Jewish from the Persian King) is universal but as can be imagined the pastries differ.
börekas, almond “cigars” and candies called figuellos. – (See more at: http://jewishfoodexperience.com/a-different-flavor-of-purim/#sthash.nTPPjlQW.dpuf)
Arany galuska, a dessert consisting of fried dough balls and vanilla custard, is traditional for Jews of Hungarian and Romanian descent.
Special breads are baked among various communities. In Moroccan Jewish communities, Purim bread called Ojos de Haman or Eyes of Haman is sometimes baked in the shape of Haman's head, and the eyes, made of eggs, are plucked out to demonstrate the destruction of Haman.

Among Polish Jews, Koilitch, a raisin Purim challah that is baked in a long twisted ring and topped with small colorful candies, is meant to evoke the colorful nature of the holiday
Orejas de Haman (Haman's Ears) or Hojuelas de Haman. These pastries are also known as Oznei Haman. (Wikipedia entry)
What is the lesson in PURIM for an anthropologist?
The word PURIM, derives from PUR, which I am told is from ancient Persian, meaning LOT. –im suffix is the plural of the word, Lot.
It symbolically denotes the integration of our people into the multitudes of cultures that we have lived among in the past 4000 years: starting with the Egyptians, where they may have spoken Hebrew; two very prominent Hebrew based languages, Yiddish and Ladino, and many more forgotten and nearing extinction idioms: such as judeo-arabic, judeo-persian, judeo-turc.
To me, integrating well into the country of your residence, while not turning away from the fundamental laws of humanity we live by is the lesson that I would reiterate to myself and those around me on this day.
Here are some pictures of Purim specialties from around the world of ours and our ancestors.
sambusak el tewa, iraqi chickpea turnover

Hadgi Badah
Indian spiced Sambusak mixed with Malpua a pastry of Bnei Israeli of Bombay
Borekita, of eggplants, being made by a Washington DC area lady of turkish origin
Who has not enjoyed a good Homentashen? 
Kreplach soup, meat hidden inside the dumplings.



More than 60 years ago, a well-known American Rabbi, in his discourse about Jewish survival had this to say:
On the contrary: Our salvation and our existence depend precisely upon the fact that "their laws are different from those of any other people."

Purim reminds us that the strength of our people as a whole, and of each individual Jew and Jewess, lies in a closer adherence to our ancient spiritual heritage which contains the secret of harmonious life, hence of a healthy and happy life. All other things in our spiritual and temporal life must be free from any contradiction to the basis and essence of our existence, and must be attuned accordingly in order to make for the utmost harmony, and add to our physical and spiritual strength, both of which go hand in hand in Jewish life.
With best wishes for a joyous Purim, and may we live to see a world free of Hamans and all types of Amalekites, the enemies of the Jews, of their body, soul and faith.
(This discourse was given on 1 march 1953, a modern day Haman, Stalin, was struck ill that day and died four days later)
 This is also a special holiday to celebrate the bravery of women, Queen Esther as well as the woman who suggested that Haman be hung!
I am thinking of my mischpochah, in California and North Miami, also in Haifa,

Chag Purim Sameach, Freilichin Purim or Purim Allegre 



 If you know the right people, even at a beach in Mexico, you can get Homentashen
The humble Nata, the famous Lisboan pastry. I have been to the famous shop at Belem in Lisboa where the best Nata comes from, they say.
The following item from Bala Menon, an author of a book on Cochin Jewish cuisien caught my attention (anthropologically speaking)
The Pastel has been a favourite for the Cochinis for several hundred years. The Cochini pastel was mentioned by Shlomo Reinman in the 1850s in his book Masa’oth Shlomo b’Kogin. Reinman was a merchant from Galicia in northwest Spain, who came to Cochin in the 1840s. Pastel is a Portuguese word for a crisp pastry with assorted fillings. In Israel, the pastel’s cousin, the bureka is made with phyllo dough, filled with vegetables, meats or cheese and garnished with sesame seeds. In Cochini homes, burekas are always dairy (with cheese), while cheese is never added to pastels.

It made me think:
Sambusek is of Iraqi origin and the Bnei Israelim make it, showing their recent contact with the more prominent Iraqi Jews 
whereas Paradesi Jews of Cochin, who trace their origin to Spain and Turkey, among other areas have Burekas which are of Spanish origin.
An Interesting thought!
Must bring it up to Rockey Neroth, my good friend from Cochin on my impending visit to Cochin

Just received an email from Teheran, POR in Persian means FULL..
Bon apetite!
Came across this photo of a 1936 Seudah Purim at the Sefardi Society of Washington DC!

lundi 2 mars 2015

AMERICAN FOOD GUIDELINES, BRAZILIAN GUIDE TO BRAZILIAN EATING, MICROBIOME AND WHAT WE SHOULD EAT

AMERICAN FOOD GUIDELINES, BRAZILIAN GUIDE TO BRAZILIAN EATING, MICROBIOME AND WHAT WE SHOULD EAT
United States Food and Drug Administration has issued a new set of rules to guide Americans towards good eating. The scientific value of it is highly dubious and the social value of it negligible.
First of all, a country as diverse as USA cannot issue guidelines for the population. Diversity of cultures, racial and national origins as well as Food Availability. Most importantly, POVERTY.
Lack of availability of food and the means to procure them when they are available is a deadly combination which can turn a healthy country into an unhealthy one in short order. I have personal experience in this matter and have observed how a country which was healthy and lean and without cardiovascular disease or diabetes, within a short period of time became overweight and sick, despite no change , if anything only an increase, in physical activity.
Many of the well-known Public Health oriented Nutritionists, such as Marion Nestle, has commented at the ambiguity of these guidelines from the USA.
Americans tend to embrace fads with ferocity unknown to the civilized people.
It was funny to observe Americans carefully cleaving the egg yolks from their breakfast eggs at hotels. An array of artificial products entered the market. Then came the low Fat Diet, which produced an entire industry of false sugars and possibly contributed to Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Ill Health. The New guidelines seems to say, come back, all is forgiven! I am sure Egg Industry but not the American chicken would be very happy. Meat is allowed, and as usual no mention of Quality of the meat is mentioned. And the normal chant about Vegetables and Fruits, knowing that apart from an educated populace, less than one in twenty Americans eat the prescribed fruits and vegetables!
When I was a student in Australia, I intuitively realized that eating Australian Food on a daily basis was a sure prescription for ill health and Death, I did not know the reason why at that time, but many years later during my travels to Asia and Europe, I understood the concept of MICROBIOME… eat to please your gut bacteria which has the same ancestral origins as you do. I am a very proud Australian, grateful to the multitudes of gifts it gave me, but I cannot forget that I am only two generations removed from organically grown rice, curried free range chicken and vegetables grown within a few kilometers and seasonal fruits.
So the Guidelines for Food for me (this has to be individualized, as Genetic, ancestral food varies. The neutral ancestral food is Mediterranean) has to take into account:
My Microbiome
Food Availability ( as I travel between Europe, North America, Cuba and Asia) is inconstant and has to be constantly modified. As I work among Native Americans and live among them in their isolated reservations, that comes into the equation as well.
This has created a wild array of food habits.
I just ate a lovely butter soaked croissant and downed it with strong coffee with milk and sugar at a café in Brussels. But I will refuse to it Bread or Croissants while I am in USA. Home made Idlis or Dosai are much welcomed in Cochin, India. I would eat Danone Yogurt in France but not the same brand in the USA as the ingredients are not the same, same goes for Cheese from France and the same brand ( eg: President) made in Wisconsin, USA.
I have a set of good friends in Miami, one of them, Dr W and his wife G, are also foodies but meticulous about what they eat. Our dining sessions (as they go on for hours) usually consist of well prepared meals in good proportion (never fast food, never large portions). Here is one of the more important ingredients of Food: Eat with Friends or Family and don’t eat alone. In Cuba, I never eat alone, and when I do eat, I spend enough time enjoying the company of people I eat with.
When I travel to the remote Indian Reservations, I take food with me from Europe or stop at Trader Joe on the way. Fortunately when consulting with the Lakota in Eagle Butte, the coworkers are cognizant of our collective aim of eating well and good meals are freshly prepared each day.
Unfortunately, many of the developing countries, such as India, Brasil, Malaysia, China among others, equate being progressive and western, by adopting American Fast Food Culture . I don’t see Indians in India lining up at a French Restaurant or an Italian Restaurants but try to get into a Starbucks or McDonalds! Wish you luck.. All these countries have increased their rate of obesity and overweight as well as the chronic diseases they never used to suffer from, at a rapid rate.
In a way, you are what you eat. Or to pun on an old saying
Tell me what you eat, I will tell you what sort of person you are!
Worried about losing the progress Brasil has made under Lula, and the worsening overweight and obesity patterns,  Brasil has issued Food Guidelines and to me it is much more sensible.
Here is a summary of it:
The guidelines are remarkable in that they are based on foods that Brazilians of all social classes eat every day, and consider the social, cultural, economic and environmental implications of food choices.

The guidelines are remarkable in that they are based on foods that Brazilians of all social classes eat every day, and consider the social, cultural, economic and environmental implications of food choices.

Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet 
   Natural or minimally processed foods, in great variety, mainly of plant origin, are    the basis for diets that are nutritious, delicious, appropriate, and supportive of socially and environmentally sustainable food systems.

   Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts for seasoning and cooking foods and to create culinary preparations 
   As long as they are used in moderation in culinary preparations based on natural or minimally processed foods, oils, fats, salt, and sugar contribute toward diverse and delicious diets without rendering them nutritionally unbalanced.

   Limit the use of processed foods, consuming them in small amounts as ingredients in culinary preparations or as part of meals based on natural or minimally processed foods
  The ingredients and techniques used in the manufacture of processed foods – such as vegetables in brine, fruits in syrup, cheeses and breads - unfavourably alter the nutritional composition of the foods from which they are derived.

   Avoid ultra-processed products
   Because of their ingredients, ultra-processed products—such as packaged snacks,   soft drinks, and instant noodles – are nutritionally unbalanced. As a result of their formulation and presentation, they tend to be consumed in excess, and displace natural or minimally processed foods. Their means of production, distribution, marketing, and consumption damage culture, social life, and the environment. 
THE TEN GUIDELINES
Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet
Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts when seasoning and cooking natural or minimally processed foods and to create culinary preparations
Limit consumption of processed foods
Avoid consumption of ultra-processed products
Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company
Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally processed foods
Develop, exercise and share culinary skills
Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life
Out of home, prefer places that serve freshly made meals
Be wary of food advertising and marketing  

It is well understood that in the USA, the food industry has disproportionate power to influence the creation of food guidelines ( eg: the meat industry blocked the inclusion of “eat less meat” in a previous guidelines). The agencies of the government do not have funds to disseminate its own information, and the public relies upon the Food Industry for the information which cannot be said to be unbiased!
Many of the “experts” who recommend the guidelines are either consultants to the Food Industry or have nefarious relationship with the Industry.
I wonder whether there are any Anthropologists involved in the formulation of the Food Guidelines? Looking at the language of the Brazilian Guidelines, it is obvious they had asked Nutritional Anthropologist advice!