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 his 169 page, double spaced, typed diary that he kept in-country in those early days of the Seventies.
Dr. Kogan was the Peace Corps Physician in care of 70 PCVs in the nation now known as Burkina Faso. The nation 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.
Dr. Kogan went to Africa during those early days of the agency when the Peace Corps, through Public Health, sent MDs overseas to care for Volunteers. He arrived in Upper Volta with his wife, Dena, and two babies: Teidi, one month old; and Magavin, two-and-a-half. In the first entry of his diary, he 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 every day on the streets of Ouagadougou.”
Diary of the Ouagadougou Doc: A Peace Corps Experience, a self-published, unpretentious little book written in clear, straight prose, is a wonderful example of how to tell the “Peace Corps story,” and from a doctor’s perspective, someone who is trying to keep his own children, Peace Corps Volunteers, and Upper Volta host country nationals, healthy and alive.
The book has dozen of black-and-white photos of the people, not PCVs, and nice “pull” quotes. For example, he quotes the Acting American Ambassador, Richard Matheron, while on home leave, standing at a bar in Santa Monica and crying out: “What the hell am I doing here in Southern California when I could be back in Ouagadougou?”
Towards the end of his tour Dr. Kogan sums up his time in Africa: “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.”
He then lists a dozen things he hopes he has learned overseas 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: “Write . . . but find a way to keep it short.”
Good advice for us all.