The Ouagadougou Peace Corps Doctor

 Yesterday I wrote about Peace Corps Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a research psychiatrist, who wrote (among other books) The Insanity Offense and who had been a Peace Corps doctor (Ethiopia 1964-66) and married to an RPCV, Barbara Boyle (Tanzania 1963-65). Fuller was quoted in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.

That reminded me that back in 2001 Peace Corps Doctor Milt Kogan, who served in the Republic of Upper Volta from June 1970 to June 1972, sent me a copy of the 169 page, double spaced, typed, diary that he had kept of his experience in country in the early Seventies. He was the Peace Corps Physician in care of 70 Vols in the nation now known as Burkina Faso.[ It was renamed by President Thomas Sankara in 1984 to mean “the land of the upright people” in Mossi and Dioula, the major languages of the country.] Milt arrived in country with his wife, Dena, and two babies, Teidi, one month old, and Magavin, two and a half years old. In his first entry, Milt writes, “I’m not sure what I expected before I came, but I realized now that despite our Peace Corps training, I was unprepared even for the life that passed us on the Ouagadougou streets every day.”

This self-published, unpretentious small book written in clear and simple language is a wonderful example of telling the Peace Corps story, i.e., from a doctor’s perspective who is trying to keep his young children, Peace Corps Volunteers, and Upper Volta HCNs healthy.

The book has dozen of good black-and-white photos of the people in-country, not PCVs, and some nice “pull” quotes. For example, he quotes the Acting American Ambassador, Richard Matheron while on home leave, stating: “What the hell am I doing in a bar in Santa Monica, when I could be in Ouagadougou,Upper Volta?”

Towards the end of his tour Mike writes, “I miss Upper Volta and I haven’t even left yet. I hope I may have been involved here and that it hasn’t been merely an exercise in voyeurism. I wish that the ideas that seem so meaningful at present can remain valuable in the light of home, even though in the dust of experience it is difficult to weight such things clearly.”

Mike then list a dozen things he hopes he has learned and that he wants always to be important to him. The last two:…”Service…never thought I would say that, but time spent helping others less fortunate lends its own special quality to work. I don’t feel I am a professional do-gooder, but the rewards that came from efforts for others were natural and genuine…difficult hours in labor became burdens shared.”

And finally, he added: “Write..but find a way to keep it short.”

Good advice for us all.


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  • Hey John — comments from the good doctor well received. His cited words indeed capture the sense of service the PCV gets. Just as important is the perspective we all carry with us long after we come home. Whenever there is a story about a third world situation that in – country perspective — special to the vols who serve and live close to the people of their country — comes into play. We may not be back in our village but we still bear witness to what we saw and experienced. In our various ways we can still share with people the lens with which we view the world.

  • Before Dr. Torrey arrived in Ethiopia, Peace Corps hired a seventh day adventist physician who was already in country to assist Dr. Cross, our Public Health doctor assigned to the project. The doctor told me a story about this first experience with venereal desease, which was quite a rude awaking to a new doctor on a religious mission. It seemed that he had been to a village where it was discovered that everyone had syphillis, except for one old man. When asked how he avoided contracting it, he said that he was sorry that he did not have it like everyone else, but he was sure that he had had it at least three times before!

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