It’s 11:20 in the morning… waiting for my flight to Amman, Jordan.
Lufthansa just brought me to Frankfurt from San Francisco. The flight concluded with a sumptuous breakfast before arrival.
SAMS is a non-profit, non-political organization representing thousands of Syrian American medical professionals in the US that provides humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees in Syria, Jordan and Turkey.
During our 7-day SAMS medical mission in Jordan, I worked in 3 different clinics exclusively serving Syrian refugees.
There were a lot of beautiful children with urologic problems. I advised their parents about proper treatments. On two occasions I saved them from following through on improper surgical recommendations.
On the final day we celebrated our work and received thanks from the Sister of King Hussein.
The next day we travelled to explore the architectural site of Petra.
In the evening my Jordanian friend Dr. Hussain Abukhadair, whom I met several years back during my urologic mission in Palestine, came to see me.
We have become good friends and shared interesting experiences in Jerusalem. Hussain had taken me to the famous Al Aqsa mosque, a Holy site for muslim pilgrims, where the prophet Mohammed transcended to Jannah (Paradise).
Back to Amman for Dinner
In Amman on the night before my departure Hussain came to my hotel and drove me to his home for dinner. With his wife, his adult son and daughter we chatted through a sumptuous dinner. His wife specially cooked a delectable fish for me that I enjoyed.
As we were eating, Hussain suddenly exclaimed,
“Where is Sheela?! Call Sheela, introduce her to Dr. Das!”.
I gathered that Sheela has just arrived from Bangladesh as a contract worker for 2 years service as a house maid.
I was delighted to meet Sheela. To the utter amusement of Hussain and his family, Sheela and I started chatting in Bangla. Sheela was also visibly excited to know that I was also born in East Bengal, which later became Bangladesh.
“Where in Bangladesh are you from?” I asked.
“Where in Khulna? I am also from Khulna!”
“Khan Jahan Ali Road”
I jumped up! “Oh my God! Our house is also on that road!”
Sheela was 21 years old. Her father married her off to a 51 year old man when she was 16. Her husband has sent her to work in Jordan to make some money for her family. She has a boy and a girl, 2 and 5 years of age, who are being looked after by her sister-in-law. She misses her children a lot and was having problem with clinical depression.
I was emotionally shaken. I told Hussain to consider her as my own daughter and look after her. Mrs. Hussain promised me to take Sheela to the psychiatrist and do whatever is needed until Sheela returns home after two years. Sheela took my name and phone number and we both were in tears as we parted.
After a rewarding time in Jordan, I left for Portugal the next day….
I am a part of all that I have met.
Yet all experience is an arch wherethru’
gleams that untraveled world, whose margins
fade for ever and ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
to rust unburnished, not to shine in use
– that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will.
To strike, to seek, to find and not to yield.
This was my fourth trip to Haiti. It seems like I have to wait for disasters and mayhems to happen to rush back to the embrace of my beloved Haiti.
This time it was the Hurricane Matthew that wreaked havoc to Haiti in general and to my school in Leogane in particular. My Haitian daughter, Thamara, wrote:
“Dad, things are bad all around, but we are fine, please do not worry”.
I could not sit idle and had to go assess the damage and plan reconstruction.
My Haitian American friend Jensen joined me. After a red eye flight to Miami, I took the noon flight to Port Au Prince (PAP). Lack of sleep was taking its toll on me, but I was cheered up by the Thammie’s embrace at the gate. Jensen and I checked in the Best Western where another young man, Clarence, joined us.
Thammie came along with Dmitri, whom I met 5 years ago during our medical camp. I listened to Thammie’s chatter about her family, her job and her recent encounter with rogues that robbed her family savings and her laptop. I told Dmitri to find a place in a safer neighborhood for Thammie’s family to move. Thammie insisted on my taking a nap. They all went to Jensen’s room while I showered and rested for about an hour.
We all then went to a nice restaurant. Jensen and I had a Caipirinha. Jensen made me order a Haitian dish with Conch meat, which I didn’t fancy much. The restaurant band played beautiful Caribbean music including my request of Guantanamera.
We were all happy to be together once again in Haiti. I recalled my last blog entry on Haiti…
Haiti envelops me, embraces me, engulfs me in her unconditional love. And so little I can give back in return.
Dmitri drove Thammie back to her home and we returned to our cozy hotel.
Next day, after breakfast Jensen and I with our driver James went to Leogane. After about an hour we started climbing up through the forest towards the mountains. The wreckage from the hurricane was all around us. We came to a shallow river which James drove through slowly.
We were all worried about hitting a boulder under water and getting stuck. I got out and put on my wading boots, we carefully walked through the river to the bank where we found horses waiting for us. I climbed up on one of the horses and started trotting towards the mountain. It was an arduous journey for about two miles until we reached the top.
My feelings were bitter sweet finding the school still standing but half the roof and solar panels had been blown away. The children surrounded me and the 86 year old grandmother was happy with my assurance about repairing the roof of the school. The doors and windows facing the blast of the hurricane were also broken. The community leader and teacher Jonas showed us around and we discussed our plans on repairs to be done.
I was extremely tired, but rejuvenated with coconut water. We came down the mountain again on horseback to our car by the river. The village children waved farewell to us. Jensen said that Thammie called and rebuked him for taking me all the way and I said that if I had known it was going to be so hard I may not have come but I am glad that I did make the journey. We drove back to PAP where Thammie and Dmitri were to join us for dinner, but it started raining and I told Thammie not to come in the rain.
Next day after breakfast I took a stroll in the city on foot. Our car had sustained damage to the brakes, so James took it for repair. I rested in the afternoon watching US election fever on CNN. In the evening Thammie came to visit after work. We had a long chat about her work, finances and her future. She was visibly enchanted by my visit.
We went for dinner at a nearby hotel. Jensen’s Facebook friend Abbey joined us. Jensen made a touching farewell speech thanking me for coming back again and again to stand by and help them. I thanked them for their accommodation and acceptance and giving me the opportunity to serve Haiti.
My flight was early the next morning, I said goodbye to Thammie. Her eyes welled up as she hugged and said,
I know I left my heart in Haiti and I will always have a place in the Haitian heart to come back to.
Now I have to raise awareness and gather funds to repair and expand the school in Leogane.
I shall not give up on those beautiful as well as resilient children of Haiti.
Haiti 101, a brief history of Haiti
As one of the poorest countries of the world Haiti bears the historic scars of economic and political exploitation by the western powers from its inception as the first black sovereign state.
In 1492, with the expedition of Columbus, the island of Hispaniola was colonized by Spain. In quarter of a century the natives were almost completely eliminated and repopulated by slaves from Africa. In 1697 Spain ceded one part of the island to France that became Haiti and kept the part that became the Dominican Republic. Sugar industries and forestry soared but none went for the local population of the slaves. In 1791 the slaves rebelled against the French and in 1804 declared independence driving away the French. The rebellion became the only slave uprising in history with the foundation of a new country of Haiti.
Unfortunately and sadly for reasons inexplicable to many, in 1825 the new Haitian government agreed to pay France 150 million francs to compensate them for their losses from the uprising and even though defeated, France would recognize the independent nation. As bizarre and unfair it may sound, Haiti continued to pay around 80% of its national revenue until the entire amount was paid off in 1947. By then Haiti became an economically fragile nation.
The US as well as other European countries were eyeing Haiti for a potential naval base in the Caribbean since mis-1800. In 1915, the US invaded claiming to be there as a stabilizing force to ease civil unrest as a parental figure. But its actions revealed the underbelly os self interest. One of its first moves was shifting Haiti’s financial reserves to the US and rewriting the constitution to give foreigners land rights on the island. Haitian writer Edwidge Dandicat notes – During the 19 years of the US occupation, 15 thousand Haitians were killed. Any resistance to the US-installed puppet regime was crushed and a gendarmerie modeled after an occupation force was created. Although US troops officially pulled out in 1934, the US exerted control over Haiti’s finances until 1947. Many argue that American intervention in Haiti still has not ended.
This unstable financial mayhem led to political turmoil. From 1957 to 1986 Haiti was ruled by two terrifying corrupt dictators: Francois ‘Papa Doc’ and Jen Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier. Both the father and the son employed armed militia to silent dissenters and stole millions of dollars from local and foreign sources as country’s loans that amounted to about 40% of the country reserve. About 30 thousand Haitians were killed and all major social institutions were crushed or infiltrated during their regime.
Since then Haiti has been controlled by various military dictatorship and democratically elected governments. Years of brutality and oppression have scarred the political system, and Haiti is still trying to find its way as a democratic nation.
After over a year of my literary ennui in blog writing, I had to resume.
My beloved cousin Professor Somnath Sen, the economist, has been chiding and chastising me for my laziness. I had no idea that someone would enjoy reading about my idle ventures.
Last year was an eventful year for me punctuated by multiple physical ailments that I would rather not discuss and forget about. But now I have slowly regained my strength and my schedule. Because, honestly, I feel that to survive, I must serve.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep” – Robert Frost
For nearly twenty years I have joined my friends in Liga International to work at our medical clinic in San Blas, Mexico. This unique medical venture involves many pilot–owners of small airplanes who co-ordinate to fly down medical and paramedical personnel from the US to Mexico on the first weekend every month.
I came to know about Liga from a pilot friend who used to take me to Baja where we worked as the Flying Samaritans. In my first trip to San Blas our plane made a noisy landing at a small rough strip adjacent to the clinic in San Blas.
This air strip was closed for a couple of years due to concerns around drug trafficking by small aircraft. Sineloa is notorious as a major center of operations for the Mexican drug cartels, but somehow I had missed such eventful encounters all these years.
I met the nurse co-ordinator Jacki Hansen who established and has been running the clinic, enhancing the infrastructure, fundraising and numerous other chores for 31 years. Lately, Jacki has had her encounter with cancer and chemotherapy. This amazing, and seemingly frail, lady remains undaunted and has been coming to run our clinic even during her bouts of chemotherapy working from 6 am to past midnight through the week end. I feel so fortunate to walk in her shadow.
Last month I returned after a gap of over a year because of my open heart surgery. My pilot friend, Skip, flew down from Ukiah to Concord to pick me up. We then flew to Bracket near Los Angeles where Renee, Whiney and Angelo joined us. After stopping at Obregon for immigration clearance we landed at the El Fuerte air strip at about 3pm. Jacki had arrived a few minutes earlier in another plane. Jacki and I hailed our taxi and headed for San Blas while my other co-travellers headed for their clinic in El Fuerte.
We reached San Blas after an hour and were welcomed with cheers and hugs from the local villager volunteers.
There were about 9-10 patients already waiting for us in a side room. The clinic has a large central waiting hall for the patients, surrounded by exam rooms and one wing for surgeries. Upstairs we have two halls with cots for sleeping and a cooking area with an adjacent long dining table and benches.
Over the years the village ladies have developed a warm relationship, cooking and feeding us. They even know our tastes and our idiosyncrasies. My friend Eduarda made me sit down and fed me fried fish, rice alongside a salad with avocado.
I then hurried down to see my waiting patients. Most of them brought their folders with X-rays and lab reports that I perused with the help of a local interpreter. I tried to practice my Spanish but it was grossly inadequate. On this trip we were handicapped by the absence of anesthesiologists. I saw a 15 year old boy with an inguinal hernia.
There was another middle aged gentleman who was miserable with his pain in the bladder area. His CT scan showed an avocado size large bladder stone. But more worrisome was the fact that he also had a large tumor in his right kidney which was certainly a malignancy. I told him that we are not equipped to deal with the kidney tumor and he will need to go to the local city hospital and probably will have to pay for his treatment. He said that he has been aware of the tumor for four years and was not concerned about it. It is the bladder stone that is making him miserable. I could imagine his anguish. I said that unfortunately we didn’t have an anesthesiologist this time, so he could come back next month or I could do the surgery under local anesthesia though there may be some amount of pain involved. Both the gentleman and the boy with the hernia insisted on having their surgery. I told them to come next morning with an empty stomach for their surgery.
I saw the other patients that evening, advised them and went upstairs for a shower and prepared for bed. As I was rubbing myself with Deet to avoid painful mosquito bites, I told my friend in the next bed that because there is no malaria in Mexico, I don’t feel as worried as I was in Africa, Haiti, Bangladesh or India. He said recently there had been cases of the Chikungunya virus in Mexico and central America. Now I was really worried because that virus causes bone breaking pain and fever and has limited treatment available. So I vigorously doused myself with Deet, and kept wishing that I believed in prayers, or had someone to pray to. It must have worked, as I slept well amongst the 10 other volunteers in our hall.
Next morning, after a sumptuous breakfast of papaya, huevos fritos, tortillas and coffee I went down to the operating room. I found Jake, a paramedic who agreed to watch my patient with some sedation and his wife, Ashley, a pathology tech to assist me with another local nurse. Shawn the dialysis technician acted as the circulating nurse. We started our surgery with the hernia repair for the young boy. It went surprisingly well.
Our next patient was the one with the large bladder stone. I gave him a lot of local anesthetic in the wound and Jake gave him sedatives, but we were limited by the available narcotics. I slowly proceeded with my incision to the skin and underlying fascia, liberally injecting lidocaine in each layer. But, as I approached the bladder, my patient started thrashing about as the stone rubbed inside his bladder causing a lot of pain. Jake was looking for Morphine and Versed, but neither were available. I felt something wet and warm on my left foot and noticed that the patient has pulled out his IV needle and had been dripping blood on my shoe for a while.
Jake gave him more Propofol, which calmed him down a bit. I used more lidocaine on the bladder wall, made a quick opening in the bladder and removed the huge stone with some difficulty. The patient became much comfortable after that. I inserted a catheter in his bladder, which would remain for a week, and closed up the bladder and other tissue layers. With a great sigh of relief our whole team went for lunch.
Afterwards, in between seeing other patients I came to check on my signature patient, with the bladder stone. He was all smiles, drinking Coca Cola while his wife thanked me profusely. I advised them about post-operative care and they will contact me through the local physician in case of need.
It was time for us to return to El Fuerte where we would spent the night with my co-travellers before our flight early next morning. I said goodbye to the locals, gave my parting hug to Jacki – promising to return – and took a taxi ride to the motel La Chosa.
I sat at the dining area sipping my well deserved Margarita grande en las rocas. Soon Jake, Ashley and Shawn joined me for dinner. We exchanged stories of our interesting encounters in the past and wrote down our contact numbers and emails.
It was a wonderful feeling making new friends with similar passions and missions in life.
I knew their journies had just began, as mine had started two decades earlier… a joyous–blissful journey that I would cherish to continue.
As Rabindranath Tagore said:
“I have been invited to the world’s festival of joy. Blessed, Oh blessed is my human life.”
“Leaves get yellow. The tree puts out fresh roots and makes them green. Why are you so content with a love that turns you yellow?”
– Jelaluddin Rumi
Afghanistan, the birthplace of the Sufi mystic poet Rumi has always fascinated me with its history and intrigued me with its decades of mayhem and catastrophe. So when Zia, the Afghan-American husband of our resident, Erica, invited me to join him in starting the Pandora Foundation for Health and Education in Afghanistan, I readily complied.
With plans to make an onsite assessment, I arrived in Kabul on December 9th. The airport bus dropped me at the main security gate where I was relieved to find myself in the welcoming arms of Zia and his two brother-in-laws, Sharif and Hamdulah. They both work for International NGOs and share a rented house with their families.
We arrived at the house around midday, the air was already turning gray from fog and smoke. I shared the room upstairs with 3 other adults, sleeping on pads arranged along the walls. There was a wood burning stove in the middle and quilts to fight the bitter cold.
Dinner placed on a vinyl sheet on the floor. The meal was made up of flat breads, several plates of rice with meat, some vegetable dishes and salad. We ate together, with everybody dipping and picking up food from the dishes. To drink, a dilute concoction of tea, which is also served throughout the day.
The food was carefully prepared by the women and brought up by the boys. I heard the whispered questioning behind the curtains and felt their sisterly concern for my food habits… but, I never saw the face of an adult woman throughout our stay. This was extremely distressing for me.
Sharif took me downstairs to the small courtyard with gutters to urinate in. On one corner there was a doorless room with a squatting hole. The stench was overwhelming. Because there is no running water in most of the country, it is difficult to clean floors and you have to be careful not to step in any stray deposits. I decided to consume minimal food and drink to avoid the urge to need the facilites.
Early next morning, before dawn, we left for the six hour drive north to Zia’s village of Baghlan. Even with three layers of cotton, wool and velour I was terribly unprepared for the bitter cold. Sharif took the coat off his back and saved my trip with his Afghan gesture of kind hospitality.
The paved road was constructed by the Russians in the 80s. It ultimately forks off to Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. On both sides I could see the beautiful snow covered peaks of the Hindu Kush range. At 8,000 feet we passed through the Salang tunnel and started our descent towards Baghlan.
We went straight to the house of Zia’s cousin. He is the village community leader, a five-year term. Amidst the warmth radiating from the wood burning stove we had more tea followed by lunch, similar to the previous day. Once again there were no womenfolk to be seen and the toilet was a squatting hole in an adjacent room, a gunny sack curtain for privacy. I was told that people, including women, mostly go in the open fields.
Later in the afternoon, the village elders arrived for a discussion about our project. Sharif did a wonderful job of translating and conducting the meeting. I found the elders quite animated and involved in their discussions and questions to me.
But, again, you did not find any women, even in their head to toe Burkha, joining us with their suggestions. Especially, when these problems are mostly theirs to deal with and suffer through. Instead it was the men making all the decisions… the ones who have dominated and created this backwardness for half a century.
It was like deciding on diagnosis and treatment without any input from the patient. To me, very frustrating and upsetting.
The elders continued their discussion and came back with suggestions on construction sites. There was a suitable piece of land belonging to Zia’s family, but his patriarch Uncle felt that such a central location would cause indecent exposure for the girls. He would rather have the girls walk three miles to another school site than offer the convenience of a nearby school.
That night I was to stay at the lovely house of Basir, another brother-in-law of Zia. As we were walking for about a mile I was boiling with rage about the lack of women’s rights. I told my companions:
“… gentlemen, you talk about women’s emancipation, education and empowerment, but it is sheer hypocrisy that you don’t consider giving them the decency of an in-house toilet.”
In the evening I sat down for dinner. Basir’s children brought the dishes from their mother, who was whispering instructions to them from behind the curtain. Perhaps because I had been nurtured by the love of my three elder sisters, I found it distressing to be unable to offer a simple gesture of gratitude to my Afghan sister.
Next morning we went to assess the proposed construction site. The local elders were enthusiastic and sympathetic about the plight of the girls and promised to provide assistance in construction.
We then went to visit the local hospital. I roamed around the immunization clinic, outpatient department, operating room, radiology, pediatric wards and other departments. It was a reasonable structure, though the relatively empty beds were disconcerting. We then met the surgeon and had a formal meeting with the hierarchy of medical staff who were excited about our commitment to improve their healthcare delivery. We made a list of items to be brought in to enhance the service.
At night Sharif and Basir joined me for dinner. We had a long discussion about politics, social culture, women’s rights and religion. The local TV channel was broadcasting the human rights group’s complaint about rampant torture of women with acid attacks and beatings. Sharif told me about his aunt who had both wrists fractured and deformed from repeated beatings by her husband. My eyes welled up when he told me about a girl in Kabul with an undiagnosed psychiatric ailment, she remains in shackled, in chains, without evaluation or treatment.
I told them about the fertility index of Afghan women being the worst in the World along with the deplorable literacy statistics and human rights record. I noticed a look of concern when I mentioned my liberal views in support of gay rights and my opposition to capital punishment. They were quite vocal about the Islamic teachings and how the Taliban had distorted their views influenced by Mullah Omar and Al Qaeda.
I carefully concluded saying that my religion is Love and my religious rites consist of service to humanity: “I serve therefore I am”. They were very amused.
The next morning, amidst rain and snow we started our drive back to Kabul. As we reached Salang tunnel it started to snow heavily, so we had to put chains on the tires. We stopped at a large eating house for lunch, where I was relieved to find a reasonably clean toilet.
We reached Kabul in the early evening and after dinner I decided to turn in with half an Ambien.
Very early in the morning I woke with the call of Azan from the neighboring mosque. I noticed a mild pain in my upper chest, that persisted even after rest, and some shallow breathing. My chest wall was not tender and I was overwhelmed by the ominous thought of a coronary attack. I stood up to go to bathroom but sudden dizziness made me hold on to the walls and sit down.￼￼￼
All morning I stayed reclined on a bolster and played gently with Humdulla’s daughter and Sharif’s son. I decided not to tell anybody about my predicament.
At midday Zia and my new friends took me to the airport. I was still dizzy with some chest discomfort. I knew that I couldn’t tell anybody because I wouldn’t be allowed to board the flight. I was not afraid of death, but certainly was scared about the process of dying. I also knew, that if anything were to happen, the Afghan process would be very convoluted and disastrous. I had to reach India soon.
I slowly inched to my seat. Shortly after take off the stewardess came to serve lunch. Airline food has never been my favorite, but I noticed that I finished the salad, the yogurt and the vegetarian dishes, scraping up every last grain of rice. Within a few minutes I was totally rejuvenated with no more chest pain and no dizziness. I fell into a blissful siesta for half an hour.
At Delhi airport my childhood best friend, Abhijit, met me. He was appalled by my appearance. I told him that with no shave, no bath and very little food for six days he couldn’t expect much better. Later Abhijit cooked as I took the most refreshing steamy hot shower of my life.
I devoured the feast of fried fish, tandoori chicken, mattar paneer and steamed vegetables. I was ravenous and I ate with reckless abandon. We chatted till late about our life, our pursuits and our friendship. He presented me his latest book, talked about his other literary works and about the school that has blossomed under his nurturing for 30 years.
We both agreed that we have found meaning and purpose in life. We have achieved much and failed in as many, but the journey has been enchanting. And now, if the curtain drops, I will only hear the applause, with no regrets nor resentments.
“On this day of my departure, let me utter this; All that I have seen and all that I have received, is beyond comparison.”
– Rabindranath Tagore
My niece Sonali picked me up the next morning. We went to ‘Oh Calcutta’, my favorite avantgarde restaurant in New Delhi. As I gulped down several delectable Bengali fish dishes, Sonali opened her heart to me. As usual, we parted in tears at the airport. I love my niece so much, it hurts. And now…
“I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep”.
This school for 700 girls will be a formidable project. But I cannot give up, as this would be the stepping stone for the emancipation of those Afghan girls from the tyranny of illiteracy, ignorance and gender discrimination.
I seek your blessings so that I don’t give up.
Fukuoka kara ai wo komete – With love from Fukuoka
After a 16-hour redeye flight I reached Fukuoka to attend the 32nd Congress of the Société Internationale d’Urologie. This is our largest international urology society with representatives from 29 countries around the World.
After managing to rest for a couple of hours after a Japanese pizza lunch, that evening we boarded our chartered buses for the Museum venue hosting the award ceremony.
I was very happy to meet my friends from Kenya, Ghana, India, South Africa, UK, USA, France, Germany and around the World. I regaled in their congratulations. It was a glitzy and spectacular event.
In my acceptance speech I thanked the SIU for their consideration and acknowledged the fact there are many friends equally deserving of this honor.
Watashi no kokoro ha ima mo Nagasaki ni arimasu – I left my heart in Nagasaki
I took the train from the Fukuoka’s beautiful Hakata Station for the two-hour ride to Nagasaki, where I boarded the sight-seeing bus. We visited the Atomic Bomb Museum with photographic exhibits and mementos including a replica of Fat Man, the atomic bomb that devastated the city.
It was quite a somber experience.
We continued to the Peace Memorial Park adorned with many beautiful sculptures, donated by different countries. A peace temple reminding us of the atomic bomb dropped by the US with its wanton killing of Japanese citizens and long standing injuries from nuclear exposure.
It was saddening to think that Humanity has not learnt its lesson from war, and its sequels still raging in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Libya etc.
The clash of imperial hegemony with orthodox extremism continues to stifle the hope for a peaceful world for our children.
Shall we ever learn that love can heal and transcend all sectarianism?
The remaining days were spent attending the spectacular academic meeting, running from hall to hall listening to, and participating in, presentations and discussions.
On SIU Night the famous Nakasu Kawabata Shopping Arcade was adorned with welcome messages for the SIU. There were entertainers performing Japanese music, dance and colorful marches all accompanied by unlimited food served from faux street stalls and flowing libations for the delegates.
We all agreed that the Japanese were the quintessential hosts.
On Wednesday morning I delivered my Albert Schweitzer oration on “Global Disparities in Access to Surgery – A Humanitarian Crisis”.
My friends were complimentary about my lecture.
His highness, the Crown Prince attended our Congress and the security arrangements were mind boggling. But the overall ambience of Japan, the wonderfully amiable people, the civic discipline and generosity was unforgettable.
Our Congress ended with a spectacular gala banquet. The dinner items were out of this world, but I had to control myself to avoid the delectable Kobe steak.
After 5 days of academia, camaraderie and Japanese bonhomie, I was happy to return home. But I said :
Watashi ha mata nihon he modori mass
Japan, I shall return…
Lecture delivered at the 2011 AUA Annual Convention in Washington DC.
Sarajevo – My Love
First stop was at beautiful Mostar with its famous Stari Most stone bridge. Destroyed in 1993 during the Bosnia and Herzegovina war, the bridge was rebuilt after the war and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We walked through the stone paved streets lined by unique shops, chatted with the local Muslim girls at the book store and I bought gifts to bring back home.
Skender, with his masters in corporate finance, was an intelligent and jovial company. At every stop he educated me about the local history.
We had many an enchanting exchange of opinions about Islam and Humanism. At some point he quoted a sura from the Koran,
“The rewards of deeds depend upon the intentions, and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended.”
I responded with Albus Dumbledore’s advice to Harry Potter,
“Remember Harry, it is our intentions rather than our abilities that tell us who we really are.”
We arrived in Sarajevo at my hotel Safir, which was near the fountain that led to the old town. We toured Sarajevo, the only city with a Catholic church, an Orthodox church, a synagogue and a mosque within stone’s throw that have coexisted for centuries.
I saw craters resulting from Serbian bombings that has been artistically filled up with red cement and named ‘Sarajevo Roses’. We went in the outskirts to see the Kravice waterfalls and I had a relaxing swim.
Skender’s father, Salem, took me on the Siege Tour where I saw the ‘Freedom’ tunnel that Bosnians created to go underneath the airstrip to carry their wounded and provisions to Sarajevo seized by Serbian bombings. Just 5ft high, 3ft wide and 3150ft in length, through which 20 million tons of food entered the city, and 1 million people were transported.
Salem was quite emotional and animated talking about his experiences as a young soldier fighting in the Bosnian army.
On my final day, Salem showed me the Sarajevo History Museum.
When Salem dropped me at the airport for my flight to London, he asked,
“So Sakti, why did you want to come to Sarajevo?”
and I answered,
“Salem, the plight of Sarajevo haunted me in the 90s when I saw the photos of inhuman Serbian atrocities on this beautiful multicultural city of exemplary coexistence.
I had to see how Sarajevo has stood up, survived and now blossomed into this citadel of cultural tolerance. I am so glad that I came.”
My flight from Sarajevo, via Munich, to London was delayed but I was relieved by the cool appearance of Rakesh at the gate. We spent an enchanting evening at Chez Nimi, three of us chatting till 1am in the morning.
Rakesh dropped me at Heathrow for my flight to San Francisco. We parted with his bear hug. I never seem to get enough of his loving company.