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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

The Internationalization Of Medicine

Hubby remains in the VA Hospital, where he has spent weeks in both Surgical ICU and Medical ICU.   He's had more complications than you want to know about, but before they arose, he was briefly in a more ordinary room on Fourth Floor South.  Unlike any of the other floors with which I'm too familiar, this one posted a map showing the global origins of the staff.  To be sure, it didn't include any spots in the US, Canada, or Mexico, but there was a multiplicity of pins and names for other parts of the world.


I'm always interested in immigration and ethnicity, so I stood in front of the wall map one day and wrote down its information.  That wasn't exactly easy, as many pins clustered in the same small spots, but I think the greatest number came from the islands of the Bahamas and Jamaica.  Again, I don't know if these were all nurses, or if it included the unit's specialists -- lab techs, respiratory techs, physical therapists, and even physicians -- but the list I made had thirty foreign origins, as follows:


Caribbean islands – 8

Philippine islands - 5

Azore/Cape Verdi islands (near Africa) – 4

Puerto Rico – 3

India -3

Brazil – 2

China – 1

Nigeria – 1

Jordan - 1

Greenland – 1

Siberia – 1


I was kind of dubious about Siberia, so I looked at the name under the pin, and sure enough it was "Svetlana," a common first name for Russian women.  Because Hubby has pneumonia and other issues, we now are back in Medical ICU with another staff, which also is highly international.  I've gotten acquainted with nurses from Hungary and India, as well as a physician who called herself "Persian."  When I let her know that I've had Iranian friends who hid from American ignorance by using that outdated geographic term, she was relieved to be recognized as Iranian.  Yet prejudice and the possibility of hate crimes must have been the reason that the map disappeared only hours after a uniformed person saw me writing in front of it.  I greatly regret that. 




The physician mentioned above – who is young and beautiful enough to be a movie star – has extended family in southern Iran, and we told each other of our fervent hopes that Trump's impeachment distraction will not provoke wider war.  Her family lives on a pistachio farm, and I'd never thought about that aspect of agriculture, so I researched it.  Turns out the nuts are members of the cashew family and grow on small trees, no more than ten feet tall.  They have sparse, tiny leaves and need a climate with dry, hot, long summers.  They also tolerate salty soil, and thus are ideal for the Middle East.  Although they are not as long-lived as olive trees – which can live thousands of years – pistachio trees can survive for centuries.


The shells of the nuts are naturally beige, but sometimes are dyed green or even red according to customer expectations.  The nuts provide several important nutrients, and recent research may point to an ability to reduce heart disease.  Some farmers in the dry parts of California are trying to develop the crop, but Iran produces more than half of the world's supply.  Other sources are China, with whom we also are quarreling; Syria, where, to the surprise of the Pentagon, Trump recently pulled out our troops and left the populace to the mercy of bullies; and Turkey, where the Erdogan regime is as unpredictable as our Great Leader.  So if you like pistachios, you might want to stock up.  Chances are, they may be in short supply.


And yes, there are guys on the internet who will sell you a pistachio tree or even seeds to grow one.  Don't.  There should be laws against selling plants to areas where the species doesn't stand a chance, but there aren't any such laws.  Just remember that we live in a swamp, not a desert, and ignore "FastGrowingTrees.com," which will gladly put $249.95 on your credit card and ship the tree right now, in January, even if you live in Missouri.  Ought to be a law.




Agriculture.  When I was a teenager, every boy in our Arkansas high school was axiomatically a member of FFA, Future Farmers of America, while every girl belonged to FHA, Future Homemakers of America.  I plead guilty to having been president of FHA – and yes, even now I value homemaking skills.  It was much more stupid and stereotyped to assume that every young man intended to farm.  This was especially true given that we were long past the time when the Homestead Act -- the greatest federal largess in history -- meant that any red-blooded man was axiomatically a farmer. 


And some women, too, btw.  Especially teachers, who taught school in the winter, lived on their claim in summer, and after just five years, had 160 acres of free land.  I used to ask my students to think about that and about how their lives would be affected if Uncle Sam showed similar generosity to them.  The nation did something similar after World War II, when the GI Bill offered free higher education and low-cost loans for homes and businesses.  And yet the myth persists that modern young people are lazy and privileged, while their ancestors pulled themselves up by their boot straps.


I was reminded of this because my sister in Arkansas sent a package of news clips, one of which was about local kids going to New York City in conjunction with FCCLA.  Turns out that my FHA, Future Homemakers of America, now is FCCLA, which stands for Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America.  Girls predominated in the photos, but there were some boys.  Instead of awards for cooking and sewing, these teens now compete in categories such as "Entrepreneurship," "Teach and Train," and even "Job Interview."  Times change.




I'm writing this on January 6, which is Epiphany on old church calendars.  We in the Tampa Bay area know more about it than most Americans, thanks to the publicity given to the huge celebration in our Tarpon Springs Greek community.  Epiphany there is famous for its ceremony of diving for a cross that a Greek Orthodox priest throws into Spring Bayou (boys only, please, and wearing modest swim clothes).  This year also features a visit from the prime minister of Greece, so what always is an extraordinary day becomes even more so.


As far as I know, Tarpon Springs is unique in its cross-diving, as it is too cold in the rest of the United States to jump into water in January.  When I taught in Massachusetts, however, my high-school had numerous students with Greek and Italian heritage who got excused absences on January 6.  They called it "Little Christmas" and celebrated with festive food and gifts. 


Christmas, of course, celebrates the birth of Christ, and the usual explanation of Epiphany is that it celebrates his baptism.  The Bible tells us that he was an adult when his cousin, John the Baptist, performed this ceremony – and yet both Eastern Orthodox churches and Roman Catholic churches practice infant, not adult, baptism.  Baptist churches did not begin until many centuries later – just the day before yesterday in terms of world history – but they base their young adult baptisms on Jesus and John having been young men.


Scholars say that John was about six months older than Jesus, and both of their births were viewed as miraculous.  While Joseph and Mary were young, John's parents, Zacharius and Elizabeth, were elderly.  He was a Jewish priest who long had prayed for a son, and according to the first chapter of Luke, the Angel Gabriel appeared to him in the temple and announced that Elizabeth would bear a child who would prepare the way for the Redeemer.  The Gospels also say that a dove miraculously appeared when John baptized Jesus, and Tarpon Springs emulates this by allowing a girl to release a white dove.




The Lutheran church of my youth recognized the month of January as Epiphany, mostly with repetitions of hymns we sang a Christmas.  I thought of it as a cold and dreary re-run of a joyous time, only slightly better than the mournful season of Lent that would follow in February.  Epiphany, as I was taught, did not commemorate Jesus's adult baptism, but instead his appearance as a child at the temple in Jerusalem.  Again according to Luke, Mary and Joseph took him there for a blessing from elderly priest Simeon, and Anna, also a temple habituate, prophesied greatness for the child. 


Once more, I may have gotten the message wrong, but to me this Epiphany blessing paralleled a Bar Mitzvah in the Jewish tradition or a confirmation in my Lutheran tradition, both of which occur in the early teens.  Neither depends on the season, but confirmations in the Lutheran tradition always were in spring.  Whether the ceremony was on Palm Sunday (March or April) or during the Pentecost (beginning in May) depended on when the confirmation class completed its curriculum.  If it was in Pentecost, we knew that the class included some dullards.


And there is a third explanation for January 6.  It is Three Kings Day in the Latin American tradition.  This is a happy, gift-giving day that commemorates the Magi, or Three Wise Men, who saw a star in the East telling them to go to Bethlehem, where a new king had been born.  And yes, "Magi" does connect to "magic," and the wise men would be deemed astrologists today.  Allowing for travel time by camel, this happened well after Christmas, and even January 6 is too hurried a schedule.  Yet although it's clearly wrong to include both shepherds and wise men in nativity scenes, I'm not objecting.


As we have more and more Latin Americans in our community, we should pay more attention to Three Kings Day.  Hubby and I been keeping our holiday lights on through January 6 for several years now, and I wish others would do the same.  I expect that most passersby assume we're slothful, but I think that the Moldovan Baptists who have a little church across the street from us appreciate it. 


They don't do any holiday decorations, probably because they fear drawing attention to themselves.  They even took down their identifying sign after some rednecks, apparently thinking that they were Russian communists, vandalized their property.  But they persisted, and the congregation has grown.  On the weekend prior to Epiphany, their parking lot held dozens of vehicles all day Saturday and most of Sunday.  Epiphany was on a Monday this year, and I'm sure none expected to have a day off of work – but maybe in a generation or two.  We need more holidays for lots of reasons, but among the top is the chance that they offer for learning about each other and our past.


And btw, thank you to the VA for leaving holiday decorations up through Epiphany.  Every floor had an eclectic mix, both secular and religious, and I particularly enjoyed the Festus Pole that was immediately outside Hubby's room.  Festus for the rest of us, and happy new year to all!



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