Condoms For The Corps

Let me begin by saying that I don’t believe the Peace Corps gives any PCV 2000 condoms on arriving in any Peace Corps country. Just do the math.  However, my new RPCV friend from Estonia tells me, “we were issued the standard PC medical kit with a few clean syringes and 2000 condom in it, and we were encouraged to come back for more.”

True, there was a high risk of AIDS in the north of Estonia, but nevertheless. ..that sounds like a lot of male bragging. I emailed back to Eastern Europe, saying:  Do the math!

After a few more exchanges, he admitted, “Truth be told, probably 30 condoms were issued with our medical kit. But then Volunteers could get re-stocked at the Riga office. We were all ambitious and thought highly of our prowess, so we grabbed huge bunches each time. Certainly, 2,000 would have been a feat. I never had more than 200.”

God, I remember when if you wanted a condom in the Peace Corps, you were ETed. How times have changed. Progress is a comfortable disease, as e.e.cummings phrased it.

Speaking of disease and Peace Corps doctors, we had a wonderful one in Ethiopia, Dr. Ed Cross. Back in ’62 Cross didn’t give anyone condoms or anything else for that matter. Not even pills! Ed was an old school doctor and a  long time public health official who knew more about  government health policy than  curing the ailments of young PCVs, but we loved to go see him and tell him of our illnesses and hangups, and whatever else was bothering us just so that we could hear him say in  his easy, unconcerned gentle way, “you know, my wife had that.”

He cured a lot of PCV right on the spot. Those of us who knew Ed Cross as our doctor when we were PCVs  in Ethiopia would have gone to the ends of the earth for the man.

In time, President Carter would appoint Ed Cross his Surgeon General.

The truth was in Ethiopia you really didn’t need a doctor. You could buy anything you wanted over the counter at any Addis Ababa pharmacy….. I had a hideous toothache one Sunday afternoon  and went looking for relief and and got ‘something’ that not only stopped the pain, I think, it nearly stopped my heart. God knows what it was.

And we also had a ‘local’ dentist. Now that’s a tale.

I went to see him one day up in the Piazza, as the ‘downtown’ of Addis is called. He was German, a real German, in his mid fifties, I remember he ran a few fingers around my gums and declared my tooth had to come out. End of the story. So much for saving teeth!

In our second year in country I picked up a copy of the The Ethiopian Herald and there was an account of how this dentist had been found dead, shot to death, on the banks of the Awash River, some 100 kms south of Addis Ababa near the town of Nazareth. No one knew why or how, but a rumor soon surfaced that the dentist had been a concentration camp dentist during WW II and escaped to Africa in ’45. The Israeli secret police, it was told,  found him practicing dentistry in the mountains of Ethiopia. No trial was necessary.

But 2000 condoms! Wow, that’s a better story.


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  • Good story.

    By the way, the Piazza has gone the way of so many American city centers. It’s shabby, with cheap stores and heavy sidewalk marketing. The fancy goldsmiths, including the legendary Teklu Desta, for those with long memories, are still there, but little else, with a conspicuous exception: Castelli’s, a restaurant in a converted ground floor apartment with its door ten meters downhill from the Piazza. Diners sit in what were obviously bedrooms, the salon, etc. It is the classiest and most expensive restaurant in Addis, the place where Bill Clinton dined recently, where Brad and Angelina go when they are in Addis adopting children. It may still be run by the same brother and sister who ran it in the 1960s…it was two years ago, when I was there last, dining across the room from the head of the African Union, two Members of Parliament and the Swedish Ambassador. Expensive is relative…$100 bought a lavish dinner then, including fine French wine.

    The Bole area, on the way to the airport, and the Old Airport area, in the southwest, have most of the shops and classy restaurants now.

  • Ed Cross to a PCV seeking treatment for an STD: “Washington keeps asking what I’m doing with all this penicillin, and I keep telling them we got a lot of strep throat over here, but they don’t believe me!”

  • There were more condoms in my medical kit then anything else! It was really insulting. When I asked for an icepack b/c I had limited electricity they told me NO!

  • Come on, John, get serious. Beloved Dr. Cross whose visits to us in isolated towns were the big social events, would have saved Peace Corps money and PCVs agony, had he dispensed condoms. I recall a PC doc–it may have been Cross–telling us that he was going through so many antibiotics treating all manner of veneral disease that he had to tell Washington that Ethiopia was awash with pernicous and recuring intestinal infection. We had no AIDS to worry about and all other problems were treatable by a jab or two from the doc. Nobody was sent home for too many intestinal infections.

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