Thursday, June 3, 2010

You're Luggage

Just like every episode of MTV Cribs features a look inside the fridge, it seems like every Peace Corps blog has to mention a packing list, so here it is:

2 blue
1 brown

I'm not going to pretend to know what I'll need for the next 27 months, but I plan on writing another post or commenting on this one to give future volunteers an idea of what works and what doesn't.

I will however pass along some tips that I got from others with more experience than me.
  • My high school French teacher grew up in Togo and said that cell phone service is good and that everyone has one. He said that drivers and people with electricity are fine with letting you get a quick charge whenever possible.
  • I spoke with a RPCV who was working on the Africa country desk in DC and he recommended getting saddlebags for the bike that the Peace Corps will give me.

That's it for now. Next post will be from Africa!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Allow me to break the ice

Tomorrow I will be leaving the US to join the Peace Corps as a volunteer in the Community Health and AIDS Prevention (CHAP) program in Togo. Whenever I would tell people about my plans I would get a slew of questions like:
Why would you wanna do that?
How will you live without ESPN?
What's a Togo?
This blog will try to answer those questions as well as keep you all posted on my experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo. So let's start from the bottom and work our way up.

What's a Togo?

Togo is a small country in Western Africa sandwiched between Ghana and Benin. It's about the size of West Virginia but with a population of about 5 million (WV is about 2 million). The main language is French, but I will be learning a local language as well. The economy is based on agriculture but that industry is having troubles as the population continues to expand and good farmland is deteriorating.

As a volunteer in the CHAP Program, my primary goal will be HIV/AIDS Prevention, and at 3.3%, the Togolese adult prevalence of HIV is the 21st highest in the world. I will also be working on malaria prevention methods, establishing healthy nutrition practices and general community health issues (weighing babies, preventing diarrheal illnesses, maternal health etc)

For more information on Togo, go to:

How will you live without ESPN?

This one could be tricky but hopefully having the World Cup in Africa will help ease the transition.

Why would you wanna do that?

I've always been interested in infectious diseases, especially tropical medicine and parasitology, so I jumped at the opportunity to work for the Environmental Protection Agency filtering fecal samples for intestinal parasites. The work was far from glamorous but I met some really cool people, including two Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), and I eventually got in touch with a professor at Ohio University who was researching Chagas disease in Ecuador. Meanwhile I took some public health classes at college and decided that I wanted to work in public health and tropical medicine, but I wasn't sure if it would be through med school, public health school, or a Ph.D.

I worked in Ecuador in the summer of 2008 and absolutely loved it. I spent the summer hiking around rural Ecuador teaching people about Chagas disease and working in mobile clinics. There were two Peace Corps volunteers that worked with our group and another RPCV who was in med school. From talking to them about their experiences and my time doing hands-on public health work, I started to seriously consider the Peace Corps. So I came home, did some research on the Peace Corps and when I was sure that the thin mountain air hadn't affected my reasoning skills, I applied to be a Peace Corps volunteer.

The next year and a half was a bit of a buzzkill as I had the awesome luck to apply just as the economy took a downturn and the number of applications to the Peace Corps and other service groups went up. The application process is already long as you go from the paper application to an interview to nomination to medical/dental clearance to placement and finally departure, but the time between steps seemed to take forever. It didn't help that I was initially nominated for a position in Eastern Europe (the only non-tropical Peace Corps region), but at least it was in the Health program so I accepted the nomination. I found a job working in a filariasis (a nasty parasite that causes debilitating swelling) lab at the WashU Med School which was a bit of a blessing in disguise because I was able to attend seminars and conferences on tropical diseases in addition to working on public health from the laboratory side. I also got a glimpse of the politics of public health from watching my boss work with collaborators and local governments to get approval and funding for future projects.

So that's my story so far, and hopefully this blog will help me keep track of the next chapter, but no promises as to the frequency of posts as internet and electricity will be scarce.