Peace Corps Writers
A Writer Writes
Burkina-Faso — Always on My Mind
by Glen Davis (Burkina-Faso 1995–97)
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WHEN ROBERT FROST WROTE about “the road less traveled,” I am convinced he was thinking of the dirt path leading to Basma, a tiny village in the West African country of Burkina-Faso, where thePrinter friendly version sight of a motorized vehicle is the talk of the town. From 1995 to 1998, I served in Basma as a community health development worker with the United States Peace Corps — a road in my life that has, indeed, made all the difference.
      Why did I insist on deferring medical school to live in the obscure country of Burkina-Faso? Hot, flat, and famously poor, a capital city named Ouagadougou seemed an unworthy destination in the eyes of my family and friends. But I seized the opportunity to learn about medicine on a human level beneath technology and bureaucracy before forging ahead with formal medical education. After three months of intensive Peace Corps training in local language and community health, I was delivered to my post in the village of Basma, a remote village of 1500 inhabitants located 100 km north of Ouagadougou.
     My home in Basma was a round, mud-brick hut on the grounds of the primary care clinic, nestled between hospital rooms and the maternity ward. Supervised by three Burkinabé nurses, I assisted each day with clinical procedures and traveled to neighboring villages to conduct childhood vaccinations. Collaborating with village leaders, my primary role was to plan and implement health education programs focusing on the following themes: Prevention of malnutrition and dehydration; Educating families about the vaccination schedule for communicable diseases; Control and prevention of Guinea Worm disease; and Construction of latrines in family compounds to improve the health and hygiene of the village. My experience in Burkina-Faso profoundly impacted my professional development, introducing me to the pathology of infectious diseases, clinical aspects of maternal and child health, public health policy in a real-world setting, and primary health care at the grassroots level.
     But to describe my three years in Basma purely in medical terms would give an incomplete impression of my life there, for I lived my most memorable moments outside the clinic. Far removed from the world of the “urgent fax,” I renewed my appreciation for correspondence in the old-fashioned way. I learned to conserve AA batteries by manually rewinding cassette tapes with a ballpoint pen. As an apprentice to the village mid-wife, I was taught the importance of chasing chickens, goats, and pigs out of the room while women are giving birth. I lived and worked with people who have never heard of the United States of America and who have never considered the possibility that the earth isn’t flat. Sipping millet beer with village friends under African skies, I was asked questions like, “Can you see the moon in your country?” I made bricks from the earth and built my own house with them, and I peacefully cohabitated with bats, scorpions, and porcupines. Above all, I encountered a genuine goodness and integrity in people whom I will never forget. Warm and lively, with an enviable sense of humor and a dignified sense of who they are, the people of Burkina-Faso sustain a moral wealth that makes economic poverty seem insignificant.
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