When I was a young adult, I used to think of my world as the environment in which I had the privilege to mingle. To me, it was the places I could reach through the glare of my eyes, through the strength of my feet. I was fine with that, for beyond the frame of my tropical world, I knew very little. That was more than 20 years ago. Needless to say all has been changed. By now, we all understand such world no longer exists, a world so limited in depth and in scope. These days, through the means of technology, there isn’t a corner of this world that is unreachable.
Writing this piece, I intend to spearhead no exercise of genuine recollection; I intend to bring back no sweet remembrance or to express shared nostalgia. If this were the case, this short story would lose its unique sense of purpose. After all, the difference between past and present is a factored-in reality, especially in this ever-changing world. What I’d like to share with you is the wholeness of a world so interconnected not just through the power of technology, but also through the means of human survival and generic social values.
I am no anthropologist, but I always have an acute affinity for the study of mankind and all the nuances and similarities that render our global village all the more complex. When I was a kid, I used to like learning about other countries and their people, their hobbies, their histories etc… As I got older and as I began to travel outside of my social box, I started to realize that indeed people are different in social interactions, but our differences are rather skin-deep. They are pushed to forefront, sometimes, only to achieve personal gains which can only be sustained in a short term basis. When interests dwindle and anxieties are lowered, a sense of normality returns, and people go on living in the same old trend of survival amid scars of past violence and wars.
In the Bahamas, I was amazed to meet a Bahamian official during the country’s food festival in Nassau. It is an annual event that hosts countries across the Caribbean. He stood in line before a Haitian food stand waiting to savor a piece of the Haitian deep fried pork, fried plantain over sprinkled hot pickles or pikliz, as they call it in Haiti. I didn’t know if he was such an important person until someone in the crowd called to him and asked this question: “Do you truly like Haitian food?”
“Of course,” he replied. “My brother married a Haitian woman from the island of Eleuthera,” he added. What hypocrisy! Once we know how badly Haitians are treated in the Bahamas. We spent nearly an hour talking about the Haitian community in Nassau; he seemed very proud talking about his Haitian acquaintances, his little girlfriends back in college, his fascination about Haiti’s history etc…
The surprise in Nassau was just a mirror reflection of what I’ve come to witness through the years. Wherever I went, whether in Paris, in London, in Ottawa, in Berlin, in Montreal, even in Singapore, people are just the same, friendly, hospitable and jovial. Beyond the shallow of their differences lies an unbelievable sameness for survival. When hardships strike, we all drift toward an immutable defense mechanism, sheltering our lives and that of our close relatives in order to weather the storm and ultimately beat the odds.
If we’re all so much alike, however, why are we so dreadful, sometimes, toward one another? There’s only one answer to this, I think: It is the quest to have it all. It is this vexing urge that makes us think somehow we have what it takes to be better than others, to subjugate others and even to shoot our way to the top. Meanwhile, the most vulnerable pay the price. Can we do better than this?
Dr. Ardain Isma is essayist and novelist. He teaches Cross-cultural studies at University of North Florida. He is the chief editor for CSMS Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org