Belmont Club

The Further Adventures of BC Commenters

Dr. Bala Ambati, one of the commenters at this site, went to Manila on a weeklong medical mission at the beginning of September. Here’s what he did.

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The image of a doctor curing blindness has historic resonance in the Philippines. Jose Rizal had just finished high school with the Jesuits with plans of becoming a surveyor. But when he learned that his mother was going blind the boy set himself a task. He would become a doctor to restore her sight. Unable to take medicine in the Philippines because Filipinos were not allowed to do so then, he went to Germany. It was probably all as well. Denied the chance to go to a local school, he acquired state of the art medical knowledge in Europe.

Without his parents’ knowledge and consent, but secretly supported by his brother Paciano, he traveled alone to Europe: Madrid in May 1882 and studied medicine at the Universidad Central de Madrid where he earned the degree, Licentiate in Medicine. His education continued at the University of Paris and the University of Heidelberg where he earned a second doctorate. In Berlin he was inducted as a member of the Berlin Ethnological Society and the Berlin Anthropological Society under the patronage of the famous pathologist Rudolf Virchow. Following custom, he delivered an address in German in April 1887 before the anthropological society on the orthography and structure of the Tagalog language. He left Heidelberg a poem, “A las flores del Heidelberg,” which was both an evocation and a prayer for the welfare of his native land and the unification of common values between East and West. At Heidelberg, the 25-year-old Rizal, completed in 1887 his eye specialization under the renowned professor, Otto Becker.

He returned and in a moment of high personal drama, memorialized in the painting below, removed his mother’s cataracts. One suspects a degree of artistic license, which is a pity because event was compelling in itself. Rizal had discovered in Germany that truth was universal. He left Germany a poem, expressing the power of the alliance between knowledge and love: a las flores de Heidelberg. “But though, O flowers, you come unto that land, and still perchance your colors hold, so far from this heroic strand … still there your fragrance will expand, your soul that never quits the earth, whose light smiled on you at your birth.”

To the flowers of Heidelberg

Id a mi patria, id, extrangeras flores,
sembradas del viajero en el camino,
y bajo su azul cielo,
que guarda mis amores,
contad del peregrino
la fe que alienta por su patrio suelo …

Mas, ¡ay! Llegaréis, flores,
conservaréis, quizás, vuestros colores;
pero lejos del patrio, heróico suelo,
á quien debéis la vida
perderéis los olores;
que aroma es alma, y no abandona el cielo
cuya luz viera en su nacer, ni olvida.