“God is Bhajan,” said Angela, my taxi driver, answering a question as to whether hurricanes ever struck the island nation of Barbados.
According to Angela, the hurricanes neatly swivel around the island, normally leaving the island unscathed.
Angela is a single mother of two pre-teens. At thirty-five, she feels “like an old woman,” and “fat,” though I found her vibrant, vital, fit and full of humor.
“Children age you she said,” referring to the constant chores requiring her attention, and the financial burden imposed by raising her young ones on her own.
“Once you have children the romance stop,” she opined. She no longer speaks to the father–“He is not worthy of my speech.” Her life was work in the hope her children would not repeat her mistakes; would find time for education and secure financial stability.
A literary magazine in the bookstore at the University of West Indies described the Caribbean as an ‘endless archipelago,’ one central island ‘repeating itself endlessly,’ as in a hall of mirrors–in my mind, a metaphor for variations on the human family.
We dined at a restaurant made to resemble the “Wild West,” replete with appetizers labeled as “foreplay,” an odd choice for a meal. Among us was a believer in natural law, who finds within the grooves and rhythms of jurisprudence the same echoes of eternity that biblical prose affords–hints of the divine strewn like glittering jewels amidst the ordinary crumbs of human thought and language. We talked about education; tourism and need for diversification of the economy; the ‘brain drain’ of educated talent; other matters.
From the University to the Wilderness Preserve of Barbados: monkeys, turtles, hares, and other creatures sharing lanes of cobblestone traffic with humans. The tortoise’s steady progress across the same baked bricks showed the path home.
Four other tortoises feasted on grain in a nearby stone hut, while the wild green monkeys scampered on branches above and macaws squawked beside the mud. Families of species freely interacted in the wooded wild, creepers dangling onto the path, watching and participating in the roundabout dance.
The Caribbean family, I learned from a quick survey of literary sources in the UWI bookstore, is displaced. European colonizers slaughtered the indigenous population and then fashioned slavery of African families; slaves learned the language of their dominant masters and from that learning forged a culture, using the very tools of the oppressors to overcome the oppression and create a land anew. The humiliation embedded in history, freed peoples built nations on lofty aspirations yet still shackled to the colonial past, found obstacles to ideals of freedom.
The Brits both initiated a class of civil servants and simultaneously created systems of bureaucratic governance that continue to plague the peoples they were supposed to steward. The evil of slavery persisted in a legacy of humiliation and pain, and in the creative outbursts intended to allow one to endure and fashion new beginnings. One cannot understand the Caribbean, like other parts of the world, without recognizing the wreckage of colonialism’s legacy and the time and energy needed to fully heal. In this I am most interested as a student of alternative medicine, which contains a variety of tools for healing on the microscopic (individual) level as well as on more subtle macrocosmic (national and social) levels. (Friends in Boston are using “family constellation therapy” as one tool to accomplish generational healing–healing the family soul.)
To a tourist the landscape is picturesque, but echoes of history remain. Even the mighty sugar cane fields, surging alongside the concrete roadways, remind one of the plantations, rebellions, suppressions of rebellions, of yesteryear; the drive to dominate rather than steward or nurture the authentic soul of a people.
Yet currents of love flow. The endless archipelago is a mirror for the human family, and reflects its most profound achievements as well as its greatest distortions. I leave it to the literary artists and critics to further embellish.
In writing Future Medicine, I had applied Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to the regulatory structure, arguing that regulatory objectives, too, range from low-level needs paralleling physiological ones (e.g., fraud control) to those paralleling Maslow’s self-actualization (e.g., encouraging transformation). It seems to me that trying to obtain even a rudimentary grasp of the dynamics roiling like an undertow beneath the surface of institutional politics and business interactions is worthwhile and has parallels to previous work in the political and social history of conventional and alternative medicine in America.
Historically, politically and legally, conventional medicine tried to subdue its rivals and gain ascendancy through legislative controls assigning power and delimiting practice; this occurred alongside a legitimate drives for accreditation and standards. And certain other dynamics crept in: biases, prejudices, pushing down and asserting dominance and expelling providers from accepted societies. The result was an enshrinement of one form of professional healing with all others subordinate to its social power. (CAM: Legal Boundaries and Regulatory Perspectives, 1998).
The British Empire, like all empires in its drive for conquest, emphasized control and domination, rather than moving up the ladder to encouraging self-actualization and transformation. One cannot help but wonder how the children-states of the colonial period, from Syria and Iraq to India and Barbados, would have fared had the articulated and implemented regulatory goals functioned at a higher level.
That movement probably would have required more than anything a shift in consciousness, one away from what the Marxists call “exploitation” and toward a recognition not only of our shared humanity, but also of our kinship and connectedness that is encapsulated in the prayer that says, “the world is my family.”