Invitation

Got the email today. I’m in. July, teaching secondary ed mathematics. Where and when, you ask? That I’ll find out in the next 10 business days as the physical invitation is mailed to me. But it’s official.

I think this calls for a martini.

Update on the medical stuff (since I know that no one wanted to see that at the top of this message): the problem was not necessarily my asthma, but rather that I have been to urgent care recently and they needed to find a site that was within 4-6 hours of medical care, should I need it. So I won’t be way, way out in the boonies (which, actually, I kinda would have liked). But they found something for me, so I am happy.

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Evals In

I got the correspondence back today from my medical and dental evaluations. I hadn’t heard back from dental because I didn’t have enough xrays done. (Actually, I’m pretty sure that I followed the instructions that they gave me. But I seem to have mailed those in instead of keeping them, so I can’t doublecheck my suspicions.) However, I just need to get those in a month before leaving – which would entail that I can get an assignment to leave before doing so. So I’ll just get those done before leaving Milwaukee.

The medical evaluation confirmed my suspicions: I’ve been qualified due to asthma. I’m not sure why – I only use an inhaler as-needed, which is almost always because of a bout of bronchitis. Giving me a couple albuterols should be sufficient, and I don’t see how location plays a role in that. But, that would (according to the PeaceCorps Wiki, over in the sidebar) remove me from service in Burkina Faso, and likely from West Africa in general. Given the rest of the info I’ve gathered and have been told, I think I know where I will end up. In the meantime, I’m trying to teach myself how to pronounce click languages.

Ch ch ch changes

Got an email today. Evidently, I have a qualified medical clearance; I guess I find out in a few days what that means. I’m still on, but for whatever reason, Francophone West Africa seems to be out.

What does that mean? It sounds like I’m still going to be in Sub-Saharan Africa somewhere teaching math, and still leaving in July. However, the precise location is up for grabs. I’ll post updates as I get them, although I don’t think that I’ll have much to say until I get my official invitation.

Update: No, nothing official. I just did some searching. Assuming that I’m barred from West Africa, but still teaching Math in Sub-Saharan Africa somewhere, it looks like I might be in Namibia, South Africa, or Tanzania; perhaps in Cameroon, which would be why I “may not” be in Francophone Africa. Or maybe they figure that Ghana, the Gambia, or Sierra Leone would be safer places for me than Burkina Faso. All of this could be overturned in seconds with the next piece of info I get, of course.

Updates

I went to a PC networking event last night. There were a bunch of other prospectives, as well as returned volunteers and families for all involved. It was interesting hearing people’s stories of where they had been. I also had some good chances to talk to people who had recently been in Africa. They speculated that I would probably be placed in Burkina Faso (or, the country formerly known as Upper Volta), since it is the only country in West Africa that they know of that both speaks French and needs math teachers. Since speculation is all that I have at the moment, we’ll go with that. And who doesn’t want a capital called Ouagadougou?

Although I might have more soon. See, there are four separate evaluations – medical, dental, legal, and placement. I finished the placement eval earlier this week, and just got notice this morning that my medical eval was complete and that I’ll receive the results in the mail soon. (Of course, that could mean that I was deferred or something – but I like my version better.) So it’s just legal and dental. Dental was received at the same time as medical, so I would think that it should be processed soon, and I don’t have any major surgeries or anything that need to be done. Legal, well, there’s that stupid document I forgot to sign. But I sent that in a few weeks ago, so hopefully that should be done soon as well.

So I might find out sometime relatively soon where I’ll be going. There are a lot of hopefullys in the above paragraph. But after listening to all the people last night who have been waiting a year and a half to find out their placements, I figure that I’m going through this whole process rather quickly, one way or another.

UPDATE: Legal has been cleared. So I’m just waiting on dental, and then for the different groups to get together and discuss placement options. Fingers crossed….

Book Review: Nine Hills to Nambonkaha

I just finished reading Nine Hills to Nambonkaha, aided in part by illness keeping me in bed and in part by a head that just won’t take in any more French at the moment.

Another very helpful read, the presents the author’s experience in PC as a sort of optimistic roller coaster. This author was involved in health work in the Côte d’Ivoire, shortly before it devolved into civil war. She paints her village in lively detail, making the assorted personalities come to life. She shows the many frustrations that beset her mission as well as her initial struggle to find a place in the community, while also sharing her (rather significant) successes. On top of all that, the book is well-written and a quick read.

I’ll write some more soon on issues that the book raises – two that come to mind are the complexities of polygamy and whether health efforts should try to use belief in sorcery instead of stamping it out – but I’ll wait for my head to feel a little less cotton-filled.

Delays

So I just got some PC stuff in the mail today.  Turns out that I forgot to sign a fingerprint chart.  Oops.  Though at least I know now why a hold was placed on my account.  I’m still wondering how I missed that, when I looked over the sheet multiple times.

I’ve also been waiting for my medical forms to get back to me.  I had scheduled my physical exam right away, got the lab work done… and have been waiting now almost a week and a half to get the paperwork back.  Not waiting on lab results any more, mind you, but simply for a licensed MD to come in and sign the paperwork.  I’m getting kind of antsy, since I was told that I need to get the stuff in right away if I want to make it for the July position.  It’s not a huge deal, since if I don’t make that nomination, there will be others, but I am chomping at the bit to get started.

On a brighter note, French is going much more quickly than planned.  I had originally been planning on taking the exam in May.  However, I’ve been working through Carnegie-Mellon’s online course at the rate of about a lesson a day, and have started French 2.  Since I only need a decent score on the exam and not a perfect one (and, from what I remember, the Spanish CLEP exam was pretty easy – there’s no reason I should have tested out of 4 semesters of Spanish with what I remembered for that exam), I am currently planning on taking the test next week or the following Tuesday and getting it done.  (That way, I can give myself license to study a fun language, like Hausa or Bembara.)

Historical Perspective

One problem I’ve been seeing about PC health missions in Africa is the problem of convincing people of preventative measures. People don’t want prevention; they want a cure to the horrible parasite infecting them now. Malaria avoidance takes a back seat to chloroquine injections to cure it now.

In order to understand this, first let’s look at West African society. West Africa has a lot of bugs and little food with little protein. Death rates are high and often people have to work the whole day long to be able to eat. Of course a society like that is going to prize the present day. Saving up for tomorrow only makes sense if (a) you have enough to save up, and (b) there’s a reasonable chance you’ll make it to tomorrow. When resources are scarce and life uncertain, by contrast, societies are going to value activities that celebrate the present. I say this to underscore how material conditions affect what people value, and that it makes sense if one puts oneself in their position.

But more than that, let us not forget that preventative health did not immediately catch on in the West. When it was suggested that washing hands would cut down fatality rates in hospitals, doctors laughed! It took a while for modern medicine to catch on in the West. When you really look at it, you could go back to the Greeks, to Aristotle’s observational skills, the work of classical and medieval physicians such as Galen, Avicenna, and Maimonides, the rise of Aristotelianism, nominalism, and mechanical physics, the discovery of germs, and then the further scientific research to get to where we are today. It took our society millenia to discover this stuff; why should it be introduced elsewhere in a single generation?

When you think about it, putting aside modern education on the germ theory of disease, hand-washing does seem like an almost magical ritual. Why should it work? And even now, most people do not take advantage of preventative medicine, but wait until they are sick. Hand-washing is really a magical ritual for most, and vaccines taken because required.

Things take time, and the problem of introducing new medical practices hits against a certain inertia in human nature that we see at home just as much as overseas. I do not plan to go to change the world. I hope to make a difference in one or two lives. They can impact a couple more, and from there more, until in a few hundred years there is health and education throughout the region. I would like to see it done now, to be sure, but (1) societies change over generations, and (2) the real change needs to come as an African response to African needs, and not some middle-class white boy telling them what they need. I go to offer tools I find useful and that I think are useful to human beings in general, and hope that they will actually be so.