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Visit to India #1: “My Classmates” (4-19 Nov. 2019)

Publication date:2020-04-09
 
By Dr. Shigeru Suganami
President, AMDA International

On 6 November 2019, I had the good fortune to stay at a guest house owned by Indian Medical Association (IMA) for the very first time. Since it was strongly recommended by Dr. D.R.Rai who used to head the organization, I ended up staying there for two nights. 

Our dinner started at eight o’clock. While it seemed normal for them to gather from that hour after their work was over, it was held in what looked like a chairman's office. Leaving my worries aside, Dr. Rai said he already had a permission, with conviction just as if he was accustomed to the whole practice. And although I could obviously tell he was using this room for a personal purpose, everything made sense to me when I heard his following words: “I am the eldest one here“. 

As the restaurant attached to this building also opened at six o’clock, foods were brought into this room in succession. Seeing the conversation between Dr. Rai and the catering staff, I could sense a social structure unique to India which may also apply to some Asian societies.  The most important thing is to respect a person in a well-established position.
 
73 year-old Dr. Rai is the same age as myself, who fondly calls me “my classmate”. As I wrote in my past travelogue, he was the one who spared himself to travel all the way from New Delhi in the north to see me at the 34th CMAAO General Assembly India held in Goa in September 2019.

I must confess I have a strong attachment to the word “classmate”. When I was attending medical school in the 70s, Japanese universities had been ravaged by student activism. Because schools were closed by activist students, I used this period to take a long leave and embarked on a 10-month journey to Asia. Had it not been for this very trip, my organization would never have existed.

From then on, I never again had a chance to learn with my classmates because of my trip. As they graduated a year earlier than myself, I was struck with a sense of solitude when I came across my old classmates who were clad in white medical robes.

A lot of colleagues my age have started to retire recently. And it is for this reason that I cannot help myself from calling everyone as old as I "my classmate". Dr. Rai was one of the few people who took my hand to empathize with my sentiment. He is such an influential figure who used to lead a big organization. On the contrary, I am just a modest NGO president. Yet, I firmly believe that this word creates a special bond that allows us to transcend our social status.

I also need to mention two of my important female “classmates”.

The first one is Dr. J. Baasankhuu, a Mongolian ophthalmologist who is one of the pioneers in Mongolia’s ophthalmology community. She definitely has an aura of Yokozuna, a Japanese sumo champion. She has headed the Mongolian Ophthalmology Association in the past and has built a five-story medical clinic in Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital, at the age of 70.  Whenever we dine together, she serves me a big chunk of meat on my plate by saying, “This is the delicious part,” contrary to my reservation. I have no way of declining her kindness as her staff tells me she serves food only to someone special.

The second female “classmate” of mine is Dr. Hidemi Asada who graduated from Tokyo Women’s Medical University. She also has the zest to make a whirlwind whenever she passes by. Her father worked as a military doctor at the frontline in Myanmar during the Second World War, going through some of the most poignant experiences. After returning to his homeland, he carried out many activities in caring for people in the war-torn Asian countries. As his daughter, Dr. Asada used to accompany him on his venture, while staying committed to local health and welfare in her native Marugame City, Kagawa Prefecture. 

Dr. Asada is expected to play an important role in “AMDA Platform for Nankai Trough Earthquake Disaster Strategy”, a scheme my organization established in response to the Nankai Trough Crisis which is predicted to occur within 30 years’ time. Preparing for this foreseen quake and tsunami disaster, AMDA has been building a network with nine partner-municipalities in Tokushima and Kochi Prefectures to allow swift coordination at the time of emergency relief. Since Marugame is situated in the hub location, Dr. Asada has kindly offered to accommodate our relief personnel in one of her facilities.

When a heavy rain disaster struck the western part of Japan in July 2018, 59 people lost their lives in the city of Kurashiki which is not far from AMDA Headquarters. It was then when Dr. Asada’s clinic dispatched a mobile medical vehicle to the disaster-stricken site to support our relief work. After clearing legal issues, it practically became a mobile clinic to help those who were seeking medical care. This enabled local residents to receive proper consultation and treatment from their home doctors even in the midst of such a difficult time. We feel truly thankful for her generous assistance in spite of the fact that the months of July and August are the busiest time for medical examinations, and that such vehicles are in high demand. 

I sincerely hope I could work with three of these classmates even in the afterlife.
    •  President's Message
    •  India
    •  2019

 
 
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