Demystifying North American Imagination

Graham Sowa

ELAM: An army of white coats united for the dignity of our peoples.

My matriculation at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in Havana, Cuba has proven to be less romantic and demystifying as many red-blooded North Americans might imagine.

An example of this would be a scene from our medicine and history class last week.  The professor, a scholar in every meaning of the word, was lecturing about the crisis in the feudalist system of Western Europe that occurred from 1400’s to the 1500’s.  He was illustrating the situation with clear logic and enunciated words (only about 50% of my peers in the class speak Spanish as a first language).

We, the students, were informed that new forms of trade created a demand for skilled labor to produce products.  This turned local commerce into regional commerce and put a huge pressure on regional specialization of goods that drained the feudal system of land and exploitable labor.

Now, usually at this point in any history lecture one can observe most of the students in various states of attentiveness.  More often than not the majority are not so taken by the professor’s years of accumulated wisdom and noticeable effort to accommodate those of us with a less than fluent comprehension of Spanish.

Perhaps like most young people in any history class in the world, they are thinking about where they would rather be.  Then, without anticipation, a moment passed that elevated the attention of all, and all the professor did was drop a name.

In his clearly logical and general explanation of events 500 years past he hit a nerve with a simple aside.  He had just made the point that the shift of local to regional commerce led to the first manufacturing of specialized goods with the sole intent exportation.  Then he said the name:  Karl Marx.  Karl Marx said this type of post-feudal western European manufacturing was the human race’s first real try at capitalism.  As soon as I heard Karl Marx I perked up, and in my newfound perkiness I saw that almost all of my other classmates had verve among them as well.

As the new majority of the class were now attentive in hearing the name of Karl Marx, I remember with clarity what conclusion I drew almost instantly at evaluating this dynamic in the classroom:  That this is the first time in 5 weeks of medicine and history class in Cuba, in Revolutionary Cuba, that I have heard any name remotely associated with what someone from the U.S.A. would probably think Cuba history class was composed of in its entirety.  That is, socialist, communist, and revolutionary figures.  And my very next thought was: this will change the class, this is what has been missing, those elements that everyone assumed would be here.  People will want to pay attention and be active learners.

No sooner than I had made this conclusive observation to myself then my classmate to my immediate right, an intelligent and curious guy from the Dominican Republic, leaned over and asked me a question.  “What time is it?”  It was 5 minutes until class let out.  And then the obvious became clear: my classmates were not contemplating the impact of Marx on our interpretation of history; they were fidgeting and waiting for the bell to ring to leave class.

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Graham Sowa: I've been living in Cuba for three years now. I would like to blame my obvious hair loss seen in this updated photo on the rigors of life here and medical school, but it is probably just genetic. I've made some of the strongest friendships during my time in Cuba from other writers on this website. The strength of those friendships has almost restored my faith that the online world can lead to offline and real life change. On that same note I've adjusted to using internet one or two hours a month. In the meantime I have rediscovered things like flipping through the pages of books, writing stuff down by hand, and having to admit that I don't know something instead of rapidly looking up the answer on Google while the teacher isn't looking.

Graham has 89 posts and counting. See all posts by Graham

2 thoughts on “Demystifying North American Imagination

  • Now that is both historic AND funny…. Marx has to be broiling that he, after 500 years of implanting the design is upstaged by a mindless surrender to beans and rice in the chow hall…. gheez, silly peasants.

  • Graham as you mentioned
    50 percent in your class does not speak Spanish as a first language so will it be right to assume that everyone in your class is a foreigner?
    Why do you think that is? Have you ask yourself that question?

    Why the apartheid?
    Are they afraid of you giving ideas to Cubans students or could it be that they are afraid how Cuban students will give you insight knowledge about the system?

    Here in the US I have not seen any school specific for foreigners. We all get the same and go to the same schools. We can mix in and communicate to each other all we want without the government Big brother-ing us. But I am sure you already know that.

    Will love to listen to your opinion.
    Maybe there is the answer as to why they have ease you into Marx only 5 weeks later!

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