Can science be fun? Well if you believe there is such a thing as a unicorn doctor with swag, look no further than pioneering Biologist & Co-Founder of Koze Syans, Dr. Karl-Frederic Vieux, Phd. Whether you are an Audio (Apple, Spotify, Google Podcast) or a Visual (YouTube) learner, his interactive series is bridging the gap between the science community and general public, and educating the next generation of Haitian scientists. In a spare moment from making new scientific discoveries and developing his future "Geek Squad", Karl recently drop' in to reflect on our Dwelling in Other story and shared what childhood memories the piece got him thinkin' about:
What is your fondest childhood memory about where you grew up?
Choosing a single memory is quite hard. There is however one recurrent theme in all my favorite ones. Family is at the heart of all my fondest memories from Haiti: from the bb gun wars with my brother and our neighbors, to camping at the beach with all the cousins. I still remember the excitement and the pure joy of being all together - libraries of pictures and albums at all the aunts and uncles’ houses fill in the blanks, and help the memory stay fresh in my mind. Our family gatherings, the Christmas eve parties in particular, were always a blast; playing a lot of ‘Gason pa kampe’ on my Godmother’s lawn. One particular year, we were playing with firecrackers in the front yard and, somehow, one blew up near my face and blinded me for the rest of the night. Despite the obvious panic of the moment, I still cherish this particular memory. It reminds me of the carelessness and resiliency of my youth.
What sounds, smells, colors remind you of home?
Nothing brings me back like the smell of Haitan food cooking in the background. The smell of ‘epices’ cooking in the pots, and the aromas coming from the simmering rice, remind me of Sunday dinners with family and friends. Sade playing in the background. Smes, Haiti Troubadours or Strings would also serve as the soundtracks to our meals and the kabichas we would take after.We would cap our nights with a blockbuster, HBO series or Fior di Latte ice cream.
My mother and her family's North-American influenced upbringing definitely enhanced that sentiment of 'other-ness'
Have you ever felt ‘other’ where you grew up?
As someone who grew up with his cousins almost exclusively as his only friends until middle school and high school, it very quickly became the world vs. us for a while. My mother and her family's North-American influenced upbringing definitely enhanced that sentiment of 'other-ness'. My wannabe emo-punk inclinations at the time did not help either in Haiti. But what has always and still makes me feel ‘othered’ the most, is the socio-economic disparities between the circle that I grew up in, and the vast majority of Haitians. To say that social tensions are high in Haiti is an understatement. I find extreme discomfort when faced with that fact, especially in a place where wealth and status are a huge part of your identity. I do believe however, that feeling ‘other’ in Haiti is as much a result of external gaze, as it is the result of self reflection as guilt is a significant component of this complex web of feelings. I have never felt more ‘other’ in Haiti than the years that followed the 2010 earthquake. The disparities had never been more clear to me after this tragedy. I felt both judged, and disgusted by my fortunes at the time, and felt very disconnected from the reality of my country.
What does being ‘privileged’ mean to you?
For me, privilege comes with a certain comfort that allows you to go about your life without having to think of the struggles of others, the 'why' and the 'how' of your actions - big and small - and how they impact others. It's somewhat of a naivete that shields you from the often harsh realities of the world. But you can choose whether to stay in that comfort or to challenge yourself to change your outlook and help those without that agency.
What does ‘belonging’ mean to you?
Finding a sense of belonging is something I have struggled with for a very long time. I have a bad case of imposter syndrome that follows me in all my endeavours. I never feel Haitian enough nor North-American enough - a perpetual sense of not knowing where you are meant to be, that I’m sure most of the diaspora experiences. Ultimately, I have come to realize that I cannot rely on others for that validation.‘Belonging’ has to come from within. My ‘Haitian-ness’ should not have to prove itself. I do the work to know about my ancestry, my history, and my culture. Admittedly, there is still work to be done, but I refuse to be exiled from where I grew up - both figuratively and literally. Therefore the real opinion that matters is my own. I need to find acceptance in myself and embrace the layers, complexities, and nuances of my identity before I can truly belong. It’s a work in progress, but I think I'm on the right path.