When the 22 St Lucians arrived at the Latin American School of Medicine, we had already been there for over a week.
Being one of 6 Dominicans out of a total of 8 West Indians on campus, I remember being excited to welcome so many familiar persons, young women and men from my own corner of the world. ‘We’re your Sister Island,’ they introduced themselves.
We weren’t the first group of Dominicans to the school. We had heard the stories from our seniors, seen the pictures. I was as prepared as could be expected. Not so the St Lucians. They weren’t expecting the conditions of the dorms; they didn’t know that the water was not safe for drinking, or that milk, sugar and toilet paper would be difficult to come by. Still, they adjusted. There was work to be done. We all shared a dream, and we were all well on our way to achieving it.
It was a St Lucians who first found out, just three months later, that the school was unaccredited. When no Dominican had yet more than a weak grasp of the Spanish language, it was the St. Lucian Spanish speakers who kept us informed and spoke up on our behalf. As a group, we were included in meetings; whatever information they found was made available to us. They advised us on which government officials we needed to contact, and what approach would garner the most results.
It’s ironic now, but our government was initially much slower to respond than the St. Lucian government. As we sat back and waited, the St. Lucians received seemingly endless promises and reassurances. A delegation of St. Lucian officials visited the school, met with the school’s administration and the students, and made more promises. The St Lucians were happy, and while I was happy for them, I nursed a secret envy and worried that we would be left behind.
When a solution came for the Dominicans, we all celebrated together. The government of Dominica had responded with full force; nothing was left to chance. There was a farewell party, and lots of tears- but not too many: We all knew that confirmation was just around the corner for the St Lucians as well. In a few months, we would all be together again in Cuba, our shared dream back on track to full realisation.
I’m now halfway through my first year of medical school in Cuba. Without the intervention of the government of Dominica, I would not be where I am now. For that, I will always be grateful to my government. But, perhaps just as importantly, I know that had my Lucian friends not had my back from the start, the same would still be true. I would, perhaps, still be toiling away in Venezuela, unaware of the futility of my hard work.
As I continue now to work towards realising my dream, I feel the absence of those friends who deserve so much more than they’ve been allotted.