Whether you be a news junkie, a media-savvy person, a Joe Blow or a Johnny-come-lately, you must have been bingeing on the recent uplifting news of the nomination of Claude Gay, the daughter of a Haitian immigrant, to the post of Harvard President. From very reliable sources, her father is an engineer and an alumnus of St Martial and a cousin of hers, Roxane Gay, is a writer and op-ed contributor to the NY Times. Indeed, it is a big deal since it reeks of trailblazing cachet: first African American (man or woman) and second woman ever for this prestigious post. Such event in its implication resembles the famous milestone in November 2008 when the son of an African immigrant broke a most singular glass ceiling to become a resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Within the past few years, we have had our pick of pride-generating stories. Barely a few weeks ago, Rice University held a festive-cum-great pomp celebration of a Haitian-born engineer as a first African American President, Réginald Desroches. The Lone Star state was the last to enact the emancipation edict of Abe Lincoln and that gave rise to the present-day Juneteenth celebration. For the longest time, Rice University had the reputation of an institution with hidebound traditions. Therefore, it was a remarkable break with its past to have picked such an individual. Prior to that a few years ago, it was the turn of Reynold Verret at Xavier University. As luck would have it, Réginald Desroches’s brother, Pascal Desroches, was recently elevated as CFO at AT&T. Of course, we have a seat at the table in the upper echelon of medical academic centers at NYU, Yale and University of Miami with François, Désir and Ford, respectively.
All of this sounds like soothing music to our ears, lately victims of cacophonous sounds of bleak news from our homeland. The contrast couldn’t be starker. As if the dark side of the above fairy tales exists for the stated purpose of spoiling our joy. The same outlets that make us binge also provide gory details about some very unpleasant developments back home. We have become unwitting witnesses, enfolded in unfolding events over which we hold little influence that carry life-altering consequences for us.
This conundrum comes straight out of Machiavelli’s road map of malfeasance, or Dante’s version of modern-day Inferno. One would be hard-pressed to find a more appropriate term to describe the mayhem taking place. This places our birthplace in the most unpleasant casting of a play about kindred spirits relishing the chaos à la Somaliland. The practical effect on our psyche is that we become ensconced in a position of receiving a gift coin with faces holding opposite vectors: awe and shock. Like the awe of such paramount achievements being belittled by the repulsive shock felt at the sight of hooligans burning or ransacking schools, of all places, with impunity. Or one can see the tale of two different societal outcomes based on reverence of a yardstick of scholarship. One rewards it and another is busy to eschew it and put it asunder. Education reverence encourages the systematic building of temples for its dissemination, nurture and preservation.
When education of the populace resides in a very distant second tier position, erection of temples follows a half-hearted, scattershot pattern. Such higgledy-piggledy arrangement eventually allows replacement of hallowed temples in a hollowing-out process by rubbles. Hence knowledge dissemination becomes stymied, and instead of measuring up to international yardsticks, the reign of free fall begins. Imagine if a society capable of birthing such amazing minds were instead using its resources in the business of nurturing such temples. One would end up with success stories like South Korea in a matter of a few generations!
If this above zeitgeist were not bad enough, we have to contend with a cruel, cynical observation that “we are smart enough to shine at the most competitive level overseas but dumb enough to always allow the incompetent and corrupted members of our lot to handle the helm of our nation.” As always, this begs the question, “How come?” A simple question with a very complicated answer, if one could be found to begin with. “How come” has now acquired the status of a holy grail search. It also forces us to reckon with an anomaly that has lasted far too long. The brain drain that leaves the field parched, threadbare, creates a void filled by the less capable and establishes a vicious cycle that feeds on itself.
The acceleration of the drain of the underclass speaks volume for the wretched conditions. For the longest time they were willing to face the dangers of rickety boats bracing unfriendly high seas turbulence to land ashore in South Florida as “boat people.” US Coast Guards vigilance and constant repatriation of loaded boats has changed the venue. Desperation nowadays makes folks go on the treacherous trek on foot of long distances from South America to reach a promised land without missing a beat. I once visited a batey when AMHE held its only congress in the Dominican Republic. I was floored when many of our compatriots repeated verbatim, “No matter how bad things are in the DR, they are even worse back home.”
“How come” needs to be asked by each of us because we should be able to say, “Let’s put an end to this nonsense and let’s start taking care of this sick patient called our motherland.”
As a terrible year is in the throes of its last leg and another one is announcing its arrival to bring some shimmy and its own sashay, we can only hope that better days are ahead and reason will prevail over madness, enlightenment will call dibs over backwardness and finally that light will fray a path bereft of and simply allergic to darkness.
I wish each and every one of you Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and may your health be better.
Reynald Altéma, MD.