Monday, January 30, 2012

Confessions Over Coffee II

Confession: I'm a stationery snob.
Working at Papyrus ruined me. Hallmark and American Greetings don't cut it anymore.

Confession: I listen to Norah Jones only on rainy days.
Her music is far more entertaining under those circumstances.

Confession: The part of reentering service that scares me the most is a new team.
It's not the people who scare me. It's having to build those friendships all over again, knowing that I left perfectly healthy ones behind.
That, and going through pre-service training again. I pray I don't write it off because I already "know it all."

Confession: I really don't care for tea.
That's why we have confessions over coffee.
But if your name is Meredith or Victoria, I'll enjoy a cup of tea in your kitchen over quality conversation.

Confession: I'm afraid of dogs--deathly afraid--for as long as I can remember
If it's bigger than a cat, it's big enough to hurt me.
So if I hang back or put you in front of me if I see a dog from 60 yards away, this is why.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

She opened a can of worms. A potentially huge can of worms.

As any fanatic of anything would, I subscribe to the "Peace Corps/The Gambia" Facebook group. Someone posted in the group today an invitation from yet another returned Peace Corps Volunteer. The invitee seems to be suffering chronic health issues that relate directly back to her PC service. In short, she feels misled and not compensated enough regarding her chronic health conditions. She is led to believe that there are many RPCVs who feel the same way. I have chosen to reply to her invitation. The initial response is one merely of understanding and curiosity. I have not yet disclosed my own experience or opinions. That will come later. Thus begins the saga:



I am responding to a young woman who posted your invitation and email in the Facebook group for Peace Corps/The Gambia.
While the girl who posted claimed to not be in the situation you are in (having obtained a chronic physical handicap directly related to one's PC service), I have. Please understand that this email may be lengthy, but I am more than happy to share any and all of my experience and opinions with you.

I was sworn in as an Education volunteer in The Gambia on September 2, 2011. I moved to site (4 hours on a dirt road upcountry from the US Embassy and PC office) on September 5th Two nights later I developed a high fever and an overall sick feeling. I begged the PCMO to send PC transport the next day, and I left my hut on September 8th thinking that I'd be gone just through the weekend. Au contraire, I was in the city for less than 24 hours before they medically evacuated me to regional headquarters. I was at the regional PCMO for 4 weeks where I stabilized and the doctors ran out of resources to be able to diagnose me accurately. I was further evacuated to headquarters (Washington, DC) where I received a firm diagnosis the day after arriving back in the states. Final  diagnosis: drug-induced hepatitis directly caused by the malaria prophylaxis I was taking per PC policy. Basically, the medication I had to be on gave me hepatitis.

Having hepatitis was a living hell. Praise be to God that our bodies are created to heal themselves, and mine has responded quite well since discontinuing that particular medication. I was eventually medically separated from my term of service and sent home to California. As a result of my COS physical, I found out that I had also brought parasites back with me from Africa. The average PCV would think, "no big deal; most volunteers contract parasites." However, parasites are kind of a big deal and they have left lasting impacts on my body as well. Ironically enough, I am currently reaping the destruction of the parasites more than I am of the hepatitis.

On the second leg of my med evac adventure I spent three weeks at headquarters in Washington, DC. There I met kindred spirits among the other med evacs. We all had our issues: a face bashed in by metal pipes, blood infections that caused permanent nerve damage and septic shock, "wack evacs" who were evacuated for sanity and mental stability purposes, an unwanted pregnancy, and HIV+ tests. We were the extreme, the really messed up.

There is no way to adequately communicate my experience to you without writing a novel. (Not to worry, I have already begun the outline for it.) However, I hope you believe me when I write that I have thought through, perhaps excessively, exactly what you state as concern. If I understand correctly, you think that volunteers such as ourselves have been treated and dealt with unfairly. We have been misled and ignored, and--for the most part--deserve better than how we have been treated post-service.

I have a couple of questions for you. Please answer as you feel led, and do not hesitate to tell me what information you wish to remain private:

1. Where and when did you serve? Which sector?
2. What chronic illness/physical condition do you suffer, as it directly relates to your PC service?
3. How do you think, specifically, PC could [have] better service[d] you regarding your answer to #2? In what ways do you think PC has failed you?
4. What is your goal(s) in "going public?" By what means do you plan on accomplishing this? You specifically stated that you want the media involved. Can you elaborate? How will the media help you accomplish your greater goal(s)?

I do have more thoughts to share but do not want to overwhelm you. I look forward to hearing your responses and further communication on the matter. Additionally, I am open to answering any questions you have regarding my own case. Please do not hesitate to contact me via telephone if you prefer.

Kate Wright
RPCV, The Gambia


To be continued...

Friday, January 13, 2012

One of Peace Corps' Finest

I know this is a low-quality photograph, but it's all I have documenting my time in Dakar.
(Special thanks to Kim for sharing!)

Many people enter our lives for only a short period of time. Very few of those short-term relationships leave a lasting impact. Such is the case with the above woman: Dr. Ararat Iyasu (middle). She was the woman replying to my "I have a fever that won't go down" text messages and the one who listened to me beg her to send a PC car to my site so I wouldn't have to take public transport. I met her at about 8:30pm on September 7, 2011. She was wearing a beautiful purple outfit and had a calm demeanor. (I, on the other hand, was freaking out.) She poked and prodded my body, took my vitals and a urine sample, then forced me to drink water all before I thought to ask her name. I remember thinking that she must think I was the most rude person she had ever met. I found out that she is the regional MD and PCMD (PC medical director). She was filling in for a week in The Gambia, away from her permanent post in Dakar.

I was pretty out of it that whole night, so when I woke up at 3am with the chills and a general sense of panic, I wandered out to the reception room. She immediately sat up from her slumber on the couch to tend to me. The next day she tried to force me to eat in-between sleeping, fought communicated with headquarters to get me to a place with better health care, and sat beside me on my bed to comfort me. That night she saw me off in the airport with the promise of seeing me in less than a week. The expression on her face told me that she was doubtful of my ability to travel alone. With God's help I did, in fact, make it to Dakar.

I woke up the first morning in Dakar to Dr. Ullie telling me that the guy from the lab was here to draw my blood. Viles of it. We're talking feeding-baby-vampires-status. Dr. Ullie reminded me of my own grandmother, Oma. She told me, "Ararat said she is your mother, so that means I am your mother until she returns." It's true. I had those same thoughts about Dr. Ararat. She was like my mother. (She is, in fact, older than my own wonderful mother.)

Dr. Ararat continued to be my advocate as I laid around the PC office fighting fever, rash, jaundice, and stomach viruses. She visited me every day, and I would sometimes hike to the 3rd floor just to sit in her office while she worked. She gave to me from her own prized stash of Quaker instant oatmeal (rarely found in W Africa). She ordered the other Senegalese volunteers to take care of me. She put my personal requests in the communication logs with headquarters. She was there for all the doctor's appointments (when she wasn't out of the country) and took Kim (other girl pictured) and I to N'Ice Cream during those outings. She spoiled me and cared for me as if I was her very daughter.

Dr. Ararat, you are unforgettable. You made my whole Peace Corps/med evac situation the best it could have been. I cannot wait for the days we will reunite. I am thankful for you!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Confessions Over Coffee

Confession: I wish I had majored one of the sciences. Not Biblical Studies.
This picture really is of my chemistry review notes. I can't get enough of science.
Alas, what is done is done. If I were to go back, it would be for the sciences.

Confession: I have the same shower routine. Every time. Exactly the same. 
Boring, yes. But efficiently boring.

Confession: I love networking
There is something special to me about building positive relationships and linking others along the way. 
I don't know why or how God has given me [many] friends in "high" places, but I love it.

Confession: One of my all-time favorite movies is High School Musical.
The other one is The Wedding Planner.

Confession: There are certain things that still make me cry when thinking about how difficult Africa was.
I am aware that I was an emotional wrek while I was there, and I thought I was over it.
Apparently not every aspect.
 I guess I cannot always blame the medication for everything.

Friday, January 6, 2012

If I Were a Single Mom...

...I would be anorexic. 

Seriously, moms. 
How do you find time to eat, let alone do other things necessary for survival? 

Hats off to you!

I've been having fun this week:

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011: The Year of Change

A week ago a friend asked me what God has shown me through this past season.
This morning in church six vulnerable people shared what they have learned in 2011.
As the introspective type, I constantly reflect on these same things.
Ergo, I am inclined to be cliche and share my own.
Reflection is careful consideration.
After months of careful consideration, a certain theme continues to rise above the rest.


"'Tis absence, however, that makes the heart grow fonder."

Imagine being cut off from everything and everyone that is familiar. Except for your underwear.
Making new friends during Peace Corps service is not optional. It's survival.
I have never, never had a stronger bond with a group of people than I did during pre-service training.
What was more interesting, though, was to discover who from my pre-PC life decided to make the effort to maintain a now international friendship.
I'm not judging; I myself gained a whole new perspective on what it means to be a friend.
THE most difficult part of the past five or six months has been to be unexpectedly torn from those new, instantly-best-friend-status friendships: PC/The Gambia volunteers, African medical doctors, pseudo Lebanese family, networking from friends back home, PC med evacs.

So what has God taught me in 2011? What stands out the most?

The faithfulness of a friend.
True friends know no bounds.
"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."
     - Proverbs 18:24
"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."
     - John 15:13

There are a few friends who have stood out above all the relationships.
You know exactly who you are. You have made the difference.
Thank you.