Sunday, December 20, 2009

Happy Holidays!

I may not have been posting my thoughts here...
But I was definitely blogging in my head...
Until another post, here is an awesome video wishing you...
Merry Christmas!
Joyeux Noël!
¡Feliz Navidad!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Of Yo-Yo Ma, Oprah and Music

Oprah's Season 24 Kickoff Party show reminded me of a story Yo-Yo Ma told on Tavis Smiley a year ago. Tavis Smiley had asked him to describe one of the defining moments that put him on the path to being the international icon that he has become. Here is Yo-Yo Ma’s answer in his own words:

When I was in college, ... I took a course in anthropology where I studied and saw films of the bushmen of the Kalahari desert. And so they live now mainly in Botswana and Namibia.

And there was a blind musician, and the film that I saw was called "Bitter Melons." And a blind musician that played and sang, and played on an instrument that I'd ever seen before, but it was so magical that I was 19 and one of the things that you do when you're 19 is you think "What am I going to do with my life? What are the 10 things I want to do?"

That was one of the things I wanted to do. And for some reason -- and I feel very blessed because of that -- I had the opportunity to go there 15 years later and did a documentary on the trance dance and music practices in 12 villages in Namibia. And at the end of the trip, they did a trance dance. And I asked --where you basically go into, well, a trance, and people who go into trance after hours of singing and dancing, there's a laying on of hands.

And I saw something that was so -- it was about religion, it was about medicine, it was about society. Everybody participated, and anybody who came from neighboring villages who needed it also were helped. And the next day, I interviewed the ladies that were clapping the hands, sitting down, and chanting. I said, "Why do you do that?"

And their reply is the best answer for culture I've ever heard "Because it gives us meaning." And that is something -- and so for the bushmen, that was their most complex ritual. It was as complex, as meaningful, as transcendent as Beethoven or Bruckner or Stravinsky, because this is what -- they gave all of what they had for the meaning that they get back. And that's what motivated me ever since.

Watching thousands people on Oprah participating on the flash mob dance had the same magical effect. One of the participants described the experience as “Joy rising.” For a period of time, it seemed that music joined us together—devoted fans, performers, and spectators alike; it felt like it transported us together into another space, made us appreciate its beauty and gave us a different perspective on life, a slightly richer perspective. When the history-making dance or musical trance ended, it seemed like we were a bit fuller, better...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Eat chocolate

On her last visit, before her return, my sister's mother-in-law brought us a box of Lindt chocolate. For about two weeks afterward, I craved chocolate; I wondered about the joys of being a chocolatier. I even stopped by a chocolate factory. Chocolate seemed to be a substitute for the sudden absence of excitement... At times, I worried about my skin breaking up. After all the last report by an Australian team seems to suggest that there was a link between diet and acne.

Not to worry! A recent study by a Norwegian group of scientists explored a possible influence of dietary factors, including chocolate, on the relation between acne and mental distress. The study was done on 18-19 year old adolescents living in Oslo, Norway. The methodology included self-report, questionnaire, and Hopkins Symptom Checklist 10. The study concluded that, although acne seemed to be associated with mental distress and, among girls, with infrequent consumption of raw vegetables, dietary factors, including consumption of chocolate, do not alter the relationship between acne and mental distress.

Go ahead! Eat chocolate!

Photo: Lindt

Monday, September 7, 2009

Let there be Love and Gratitude!

It has been over a couple of weeks since my dear sister's wedding. I am slowly recovering from all the excitement, dance and food. My sister was a very beautiful bride. Yours truly was the maid of honor and did her best to match the beauty that surrounded her. The bridal party was glamorous. The occasion was made very special by many of our childhood friends, whom we had not seen in over a decade and half, who traveled from different parts of the world to be part of the celebration... Love was all around... My dear sister and her groom's Thank you note, which they included in the wedding program, expressed it well:
We would like to thank our extraordinary parents, our wonderful siblings, and our supportive friends and family members who came from near and far. We feel embraced by your love, humbled by your presence and grateful for our blessings. Each of you has directly or indirectly played pivotal roles in our lives...


... and ...

One of the touching moments of the day was when my paternal uncle, who was subtituting for our father, and my sister went back to their seats in tears after the father-daughter dance for which my sister had chosen "Dance with my father" by Luther Vandross. As I watched my aging uncle sobbing and my mother wiping her tears, I wondered who will manage to be present at my wedding... As I looked over my paternal family members, I imagined how proud my father would have been... For a few seconds, my mind had wandered to the future and then to the past. When my mind returned to the present, the ballroom felt suddenly warmer and fuller. I felt very happy for my dear sister who was blessed to find that special someone in time to share him with the remaining family. The day could not have been more perfect!

Photo: David's Bridal

Thursday, August 6, 2009

To be a social bee or a solitary bee

For the last one month, I have been too exhausted to write. I was too busy being a social bee. Many friends and family members came from all over the world to celebrate my dear brother's wedding. He and his bride made the celebration a 4-day event. Apparently, that is the norm in our culture. It was interesting getting to know new family members and old ones. I felt like I was a character in one of Jane Austen's novels. The most fascinating part is getting to know me from others' point of view. Whew!

We are now getting ready for my dear sister's wedding. We expect a new set of friends and family members. For the next couple of weeks, I plan to be an even better social bee. One wedding down and another one to go. I cannot wait to rest from all the social buzz. I am thinking I may even be a better solitary bee.

*Photo: Solitary bee on Feverfew by laighleas

Friday, June 26, 2009

Micheal Jackson: Thanks for the memories

Where have the years gone? It only seemed yesterday when ...

... I was mesmerized by Thriller the first time I watched it ... like the kids in Zaire...

... My classmate Nouriligne, wearing the red jacket, impressed our gym class with the moonwalk

... Monsieur Billat had our class translate the lyrics of Beat it into french

... We spent our summer nights watching old videos of Jackson 5 at my paternal grandparents' home ... with Uncle B (now gone) and my cousins

... Our nanny H, like Billie Jean, was certain she would marry Michael Jackson one day

... My siblings and I made a pact to call Michael Jackson "Michael Jackson" unlike all the other riff-raffs who insisted on calling him "Michael"

... My Ivorian friend and I debated over the lyrics of Black or White

The years are gone leaving their memories behind. Thanks for the soundtrack of our memories!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bride and Prejudice: "Marriage into Town"

A couple of months ago, my sister came to town to prepare for her upcoming wedding, an event that will last for three days and will include 500 guests, the norm in our tradition. Needless to say, we have been very busy planning. For the last nine months, all of our conversations revolved around the following: venue, guest list, wedding stationery, photography, videography, entertainment, reception, catering,... It has been quite an adventure.

At the end of this visit, the night before she left, I suggested we watch Bride and Prejudice, a movie I have seen many, many times. Growing up, I watched a few Bollywood films at our neighbors’. Even though our neighbors were not Indians, they loved Bollywood films; they would explain the Hindi or Punjabi dialogue to me and my sister even though they did not speak these languages, and we would listen to them even though we knew they did not know these languages. What mattered to us were the many captivating elements: music, dance, spectacle along with love, vanity and social pressures. Here is an example:

I always loved big weddings. But why didn’t someone tell me preparing for a wedding is not just fun and play? Did I mention my brother is also getting married about the same time?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Blogosphere: A Real and Virtual Community?

Have you ever knocked at a stranger’s home, found the door open and then invited yourself into the living room where two good friends were chatting by the fireplace? Have you then sat in the sofa between the friends and just enjoyed their conversation? Well, I have. That is how I started following Gérard’s blog ‘Contraste et Lumiere’.

In his own words, ‘Contraste et Lumiere’ is about:

“Le contraste c'est la dualité. La lumière c'est ce qui donne la vie aux choses, ou du moins une certaine apparence. L'objectif de ce blog est de réunir des choses très différentes souvent même opposées et de faire le pari que loin de s'annihiler, elles peuvent se combiner, se renforcer les unes et les autres et déboucher sur une plus grande clarté."

Gérard’s interests range from politics, art, literature, jazz, film, to good wine, cuisine, and philosophy. I did not know how much I enjoyed philosophy until I started reading his blog. Here are some examples. The comments his friend, Pergame, leaves him are equally interesting and hilarious. In fact, the other friend, who was chatting with him by the fireplace when I dropped in, is Pergame. His daughter Lili, who is a newcomer to the blogosphere, also passes by from time to time.

Before starting to blog, I have lurked in different blogs and even left some comments. What I did not expect is the blogosphere to be like a real community. To my surprise, I found the blogger community really real in a virtual medium kind of way. Folks, that is very interesting to me!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Healthcare Around the World

I watched a rerun of an interesting Frontline report by T.R Reid entitled ‘Sick Around the World’ in which he compared the health care systems of five capitalist democracies, i.e United Kingdom (U.K), Japan, Germany, Taiwan, and Switzerland. According to an excerpt from his upcoming book on international health care ‘We’re Number 37!’, there are four basic health care systems: the Beveridge model, the Bismarck model, the National Health Insurance [NHI] model, and the Out-of-Pocket model. He chose the U.K as an example of the Beveridge model, Taiwan as an example of the Canadian-style NHI model, Germany, Japan and Switzerland as examples of the Bismarck model. He focused on three Bismarck countries on the theory that the U.S would learn more from these private-sector systems than the British-style National Health Service. Each example offered a system that delivered health care for everyone - but with remarkable differences and concerns.

Here is the full report:

The title of T.R Reid's newest book 'We're Number 37!', which is scheduled to be published by Penguin Press in May 2009, refers to the U.S's ranking in the World Health Organization 2000 World Health Report. Although some have
criticized the WHO 2000 report, most agree with the 2007 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that the U.S spends more of its percentage of gross domestic production on health care than other nations including the U.K, Germany, Japan, and Switzerland. Defenders of America's health sector claim that it delivers superior health outcomes, such as longer cancer survival rates. Detractors claim that other nations' systems deliver equal or better health outcomes such as longer life expectancy and better infant mortality rates. The Frontline report shows that nearly every system faces problems of rising cost and lack of access to care. Still, as the U.S looks to reform its health care system, there are lessons that it can learn from these countries. I found the following excerpt particularly interesting:

“These four models should be fairly easy for Americans to understand because we have elements of all of them in our fragmented national health care apparatus.

When it comes to treating veterans, we're Britain or Cuba [the Beveridge model].

For Americans over the age of 65 on Medicare, we're Canada [the NHI model].

For working Americans who get insurance on the job, we're Germany [the Bismarck model].

For the 15 percent of the population who have no health insurance, the United States is Cambodia or Burkina Faso or rural India [the Out-of-Pocket model], with access to a doctor available if you can pay the bill out-of-pocket at the time of treatment or if you're sick enough to be admitted to the emergency ward at the public hospital.

The United States is unlike every other country because it maintains so many separate systems for separate classes of people...”

Sunday, March 8, 2009

La Vida ...

After a month of absence for the holidays, I returned to my regular workout schedule at the end of January. This time, I am starting to even motivate complete strangers. For example, a month ago, I was on a treadmill next to a red-haired guy. After a 15-min walk, I started to increase my pace and eventually sprinted. The red-haired guy next to me started running too. I increased my pace; he increased his pace. I did it again; he did it again. As I was feeling proud to have challenged my red-haired companion, I saw from the corner of my eye that he was about to collapse. He stopped; I stopped. He was breathing heavily. I panicked a little bit. Oh My God! What if he collapses? After a few minutes of huffing and puffing, the red-haired guy left with a red face. He is okay.

I am also attending a Pilates class. The instructor is a sweet Southern lady who likes to end her class with Il Divo music. I think that is her way of preventing her students from leaving the class early. Clever!

La Vida Sin Amor: lyrics

Cuando el sol cae un
dia mas
se que no quieres dormir
La pasión nos vuelve a desnudar
Porque sin ti yo no se vivir

Y en la oscuridad enloquecer
A un
hombre y una mujer


que nunca lloré
Suplicas que no te di
un mundo .igual que solo sabe huir
dejando atrás todo mi sufrir

Y en la oscuridad piel sobre piel
El alma calma su sed


en la oscuridad piel sobre piel
El alma calma su sed


Saturday, February 28, 2009

February: Black History Month

If you are an immigrant to the States, you may be surprised to find out that the month of February is also known as Black History Month. When I first heard about it, I wondered about its relevance. Isn’t February the shortest month? Isn’t Black history considered American history? It was then that I discovered that one of my favorite writers, Alexandre Dumas (père) was one-fourth Haitian and if he were an American, he would be black. Wow!

Ever since, I stopped wondering about its relevance. You live, you learn. This year, in order to celebrate Black History Month, Dr. Isis posted a fabulous link, which I enjoyed reading.

*Picture: Alexandre Dumas (père) by Nadar (Wikipedia)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Dream Deferred"

As I look at the amount of work I need to do before I can apply to medical school, I wonder if I will ever apply, get in and then find what I am seeking. I have been trying to analyze my motivations to go back to school. Frankly, I do not understand them.

When I was fresh out of high school, I seemed to be really focused. I knew where I was heading with certainty. Now, everything seems gray. When I feel this way, I like to read "Harlem" (sometimes called "Dream Deferred") from Langston Hughes' Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951), from which a line was taken for the title of the play A Raisin in the Sun.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
and then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's day thought

“It’s no good trying to fool yourself about love. You can’t fall into it like a soft job, without dirtying up your hands. It takes muscle and guts. And if you can’t bear the thought of messing up your nice, clean soul, you’d better give up the whole idea of life, and become a saint because you’ll never make it as a human being. It’s either this world or the next.” John Osborne (Jimmy speaking to Helena, in the play Look Back in Anger)

If I were one of the characters in Look Back in Anger, I would retort back, “Love is sometimes not worth messing up your soul.” I hope Time does not prove me wrong.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Birdie Num Num

One of my father’s favorite actors was Peter Sellers. He first introduced us to Sellers by renting the movie, The Party, a 1968 comedy written and directed by Blake Edwards, also starring Claudine Longet. We thought the film was hilarious; we spent that Saturday afternoon in hysterics. We enjoyed watching Peter Sellers as he played Hrundi V. Bakshi, a well-intentioned, but hapless, Indian actor who is accidentally invited to a lavish Hollywood party, where he causes havoc. Two decades later, I still burst out in laughter when I remember some of the scenes, especially when Bakshi talks gibberish and overfeeds "Birdie Num Nums" to a macaw.

I wonder how well received the movie would be if it were released in today’s politically correct environment. Did you know that, at one time, India had banned the film? [Read this]. Furthermore, according to Wikipedia, acclaimed Bengali Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray was at one time set to make his American feature debut with Sellers in a leading role for his science fiction film, The Alien. When Ray came to visit Sellers on the set of The Party, he was so disgusted by Sellers' performance and the film, he refused to meet Sellers again. He felt it was a coarse caricature [Read this for more]. Apparently, Ray and other critics of the film do not share the same sense of humor as the fans of Peter Sellers. Richard Combs, the Film Comment writer, put it well when he said The Party is "both classic farce and trenchant satire, a self-sufficient fantasy about the fantasy of Hollywood life."

Had I not seen this movie with my father when I was a child, would I have the same feeling toward it? I do not know. What actually surprises me is that ever since I watched that movie I have been using the line “Birdie Num Num” to say “I am hungry” or “The food tastes good”. Oftentimes, I do so without even realizing it. Recently, my sister brought her future in-laws from out of state to introduce them to the family in a traditional ceremony. When she went back, she emailed me a clip of “Birdie Num Num” scene. I had a good laugh. Next time you are in a restaurant and you overhear someone say “Birdie Num Num”, don’t fret because you might just be seating next to me.

With apologies to Satyajit Ray, enjoy:

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Let’s party and be sane!

The more you live, the wiser your parents seem. “You need to have an active social life to be sane” is something my mother always said to me and my siblings. I never really paid attention to that daily advice. I enjoyed being a "recluse". When my mom first moved to the U.S., she missed her very active and high profile social life the most. I never quite understood the importance of her social life to her well-being until I read about a recent Swedish study reported in the journal Neurology which claims that socially active people who were not easily stressed had a 50 percent lower risk of developing dementia compared to men and women who were isolated and prone to distress.

Past studies had shown the association between chronic distress (i.e. neuroticism) and greater risk of dementia, and the association between active lifestyle (i.e. high extraversion) and lower risk of dementia. The new study sought to examine the individual and combined effects of neuroticism and extraversion on the risk of dementia.

The study was based on a 6-year follow-up of 506 elderly people from the Kungsholmen Project, Stockholm, Sweden, who showed no signs of dementia upon the first examination. The volunteers’ personality traits were assessed using the Eysenck Personality Inventory. Specialists diagnosed dementia according to DSM-III-R criteria.

Among the different combinations (i.e. high neuroticism and high extraversion, high neuroticism and low extraversion, low neuroticism and high extraversion, low neuroticism and low extraversion), low neuroticism in combination with high extraversion seems to be the personality trait associated with the lowest dementia risk. However, among socially isolated individuals even low neuroticism alone seems to decrease dementia risk.

Hui-Xin Wang of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, who led the study, said in a statement reported by Reuters.
"In the past, studies have shown that chronic distress can affect parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus, possibly leading to dementia, but our findings suggest that having a calm and outgoing personality in combination with a socially active lifestyle may decrease the risk of developing dementia even further."

Mom, you seem to be right!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A New Day!

What a day it was! The day before yesterday... The day of the inauguration of Barack H. Obama ... It was a new day. It was a new beginning. It was a gift filled with faith, hope and affirmation.

No matter how hard I tried to ignore the day, it confronted and overwhelmed me. What a day of faith it was for the African slave up in heaven to see the son of an African become the leader of the free world! What a day of hope it was for poor forgotten children around the world to see a dark-skinned man from humble beginnings rise to the top! What a day of affirmation it was for Americans -past, present and future- who believed in the greatness of their country!

If only I could put the spirit of the day in a perfume bottle to spray a little each new day...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Audacity of Hope

Before president-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office and the novelty of having him in the White House wears off, I would like to pay homage to him and, most importantly, to his supporters for making a seemingly impossible dream possible. Thank you everyone! I hope he can live up to the expectations.

Monday, January 12, 2009

One Ruble

Here is a joke that describes somewhat the reason for some of my trepidation for going back to school:

A Russian walks into a bar and orders a beer. "That will be one ruble," says the bartender.
"One ruble!" the customer protests, "last week it was only fifty kopeks!"
"Well," replies the bartender, "it's fifty kopeks for the beer and fifty kopeks for the perestroika."
Reluctantly, the customer gives the bartender a ruble, and is surprised when the bartender gives him back fifty kopeks and says, "We are out of beer."

Ruble = Time (fifty kopeks) and money (fifty kopeks)
Perestroika = Healthcare system reforms
Beer = Satisfaction

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Out of the mouths of babes

This past Sunday, I had an interesting conversation with two four-year old twin sisters who came to visit my mother with their grandmother. They were cute and talkative. During most of the visit, they were busy playing with each other except when I interrupted them.

Me: What are your names?

Twin #1: M...

Twin #2: I... What is your name?

Me: Mi.

Twin #2: Why are you wearing a scarf? (I was having a bad hair day so I was covering my head)

Me: Why? You don't like it?

Twin #2: Did you wash your hair? (Curious look)

Twin #1: Is it still wet?

Me: No and No.

Twin #1: Then you have to remove it (Pause). Where is your baby?

Me: What? Am I supposed to have a baby? (Blank stare) Here is my baby (I pointed at an old Teddy bear that I had)

Twin #1 and #2: Nooo (They started laughing) That is a Teddy bear!

It was good having our home filled with the laughter of young kids. After they left, I was motivated to wash and style my hair. Thanks I and M!

Friday, January 2, 2009

When is Time to let go of a dream?

I am thirty-something. I am a single female. I have an advanced degree. The next obvious step would be to settle. That means find a husband and a well-paying job. No! Not if Fate has anything to do with it. There is a very stubborn inner voice that will not convince me to let go of a life-long dream of going to Medical School. That inner voice is remarkably loud and, at times, keeps me awake. Not long ago, I found a helpful website. Click here.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Why blog?

I am usually a quiet person. “Menew Zem Alesh? Techawechi!” (Why are you quiet? Say something) is a phrase I dread at social gatherings. My silence is, of course, only a façade because, in my head, I have very heated conversations. It is, well, safer that way. I do not offend anyone and no one offends me.
Then, why blog?
1. I want to start the new year with a new hobby.
2. I plan to do it for pleasure.
3. I want to do it for the sake of learning.