Mexico City, 18 August 2009
During the past 10 days, I have brought the message of Free Gaza Movement to Veracruz, Mexico. I have given a total of 4 Palestine related lectures to different groups of Mexican family practice resident physicians in the State’s two largest cities: Xalapa and Puerto de Veracruz (Veracruz Port). This has been my forth visit to Veracruz in the past 8 years. I have participated in and helped develop a Family Medicine Exchange Program (FAMEX). This cultural exchange or intercambio is between family physicians from Washington State and the Mexican State of Veracruz. We have received to date 8 Mexican doctors in Washington State, including Seattle and Omak and have sent more than 15 physicians to partner with Mexican Family Physicians in Veracruz.
For those of you who do not know, the hit song “La Bamba” comes from Veracruz. Over a century before the Chicano star Ricardo Valenzuela (Richie Valens) made it a hit song in the USA during the 1950’s; La Bamba had been a traditional folksong of Veracruz.
Xalapa ( also spelled Jalapa) is the State Capital, with a lush, moderate tropical climate perched at 1430 meters (4000 feet) within view of Mexico’s highest peak. At 5611 meters (about 18000 ft), Orizaba People from Jalapa are called Jalapenios. It is a university town with a Bohemian artisan and music scene. The countryside is surrounded by lush jungles, coffee and sugar plantations, with waterfalls and whitewater rafting
The Xalapa Family Practice residency program is sponsored by Mexico’s national health care program IMSS, or Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social. IMMS number 66 primary care clinic is a large brick building located in the center of the city. I gave my first lecture there to a group of third year residents about to leave on their 6 month externships out in the bush in the rural hospitals of Chicontepec and Papantla in Northern Veracruz where they treat native Aztec (Nahuatl) and Totanaco patients.
In order to prepare these FP residents for trauma care, I gave them a PowerPoint lecture that I had originally prepared a year ago for the first passengers of Free Gaza Movement: The Trauma First Aid Training Manual. I initially gave this lecture in English last year to the Liberty and Free Gaza passengers at the University of Nicosia in Cyprus.
It was designed to orient those passengers to the basics of trauma first aid in the event that our boats were attacked by the Israeli Navy or Air Force, or if we had experienced other disasters at sea and needed to care for our injured fellow passengers. Fortunately none of the FGM sea journeys have suffered seriously wounded passengers thus far.
Here in Xalapa, I translated the PowerPoint slides into Spanish with the help of Mexican friends and gave the lecture in Spanish (Spanglish really). It contains authentic and graphic photos and DVD’s of Palestinian trauma victims based on the November 2006 Israeli massacres of the residents of Beit Hanoun, Gaza, which killed over 100 people and wounded over 300. I visited Gaza a week after these horrors.
Physicians from Palestine Medical Relief Society gave me these graphic images, saying to me, “Go outside with these and show the world what is really happening to us!” And so that is what I have tried to do. Many who live outside have found these images very disturbing though, and in poor taste. But less so the Mexican physicians, who live in a more pragmatic and realistic society about issues of Death and Dying. After all, Mexico is the land of “Dia de los Muertos” November 2nd, the Day of the Dead.
Apart from teaching the basics of trauma care to the residents, this trauma presentation also sensitized these Mexican residents to the horrors that the Palestinian people have been subjected to by the Israeli war machine .
I gave the second lecture the next day in English with a bilingual translator paraphrasing my lecture into Spanish for the residents. It was my more formal lecture about the history of Palestine and Israel as well as the Free Gaza Movement.
These Mexican residents were not that knowledgeable about the Middle East; but on the other hand, they have not been prejudiced by so much disinformation about Israel by lobby forces either, compared to a typical North American audience. So they were more open minded. And so they were more receptive to my presentation and more sympathetic to the current Palestinian situation.
I was also able to just walk in and give these presentations without any hassle. I didn’t experience any efforts to intimidate or silence me from any “Israel Firsters” trying to block my presentation as being “too political.” This would certainly happen if I tried to give these same presentations in English at the University of Washington Medical School, or at the Washington Academy of Family Physicians.
In Tacoma Washington a year and a half ago, I had a presentation on medical care in Palestine and the situation in the West Bank and Gaza that was all scheduled to go before the Pierce County Medical Society. A banquet hall had been reserved, and flyers went out to all members. They were to pay me a $500 Honorarium for my work. A week before the presentation, I received a call from the County Medical Society President. He was apologizing because he was going to have to cancel my program because of complaints from Zionist medical society members, who threatened to quit the Society if my program went through. So much for free speech in the Good Ol’ USA . . . In Mexico, I did not have to worry about any of this! I just had to try to speak the language without butchering it up too much.
Next I traveled by bus for 2 hours to the Port City of Veracruz. The Conquistador, Hernan Cortes, came ashore here in 1519. El Puerto, as Veracruz’s main city is called, is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement on the mainland of the Americas; It was preceded only by Spanish settlements in Cuba and Hispaniola (present day Haiti and Dominical Republic).
It is a sultry steamy seaport. In the middle of August it brings back memories of Larnaca Port in Cyprus, though not nearly as expensive. It is guarded by an ancient Spanish Fortaleza San Juan Ulua, which protected the Spanish Armada and city from British and French Pirates who sailed in from the Caribbean. There is live music and dancing in the main square until 3 am every morning. (Been there, done that before; didn’t do it this time). I did go Cuban salsa dancing with my colleagues, and went scuba diving.
In Puerto de Veracruz, I gave the same 2 lectures as I did in Xalapa. The last lecture on Free Gaza Movement was the most challenging. It was in a big lecture hall, and we were hooked up via telemedicine to the rural hospitals in Poza Rica, Papantla, and Chicontepec 3 and 6 hour’s drives away, and also back in Xalapa.
The only problem for this final high-tech presentation was that there was no one who could speak good English. So I had to plow through the history of Israel-Palestine and the Free Gaza Movement in Spanish. I got through it though maybe not as elequent as in English. Altogether, my lectures reached more that 200 family physicians in Mexico.