August 14, 2002


This was written by Blair Whisenhunt, one of Kate's fellow Peace Corps volunteers.

After a lengthy bike ride and bitch-out session, I thought I'd feel better.  Weeks, almost months, of discouragement after disappointment have turned me into a bitter, callous, and negative person.  Previously, I had always considered myself to be a positive person with a broad and encouraging outlook on life.  When obstacles presented themselves, I took them on as exciting challenges and personal growth experiences rather than cumbersome and annoying impediments.  Challenge is what I sought, not avoided. 

These days, the tiniest nudge off my path is enough to cause a nervous breakdown or mental overload.  As Volunteers, we're constantly reassuring each other as we trudge through rough times and become accustomed to life in a strange, frustratingly slow and backwards world. 

"Oh!  Don't feel bad for pushing the little kid down the well. He was throwing rocks in your window." 

"Oh!  The guilt that comes with killing and eating your neighbor's only goat is justified by the fact that they scream "la blanche!" every time you step outside your house."

"Punching holes in his bike's tires isn't as bad as letting all the chickens out of his chicken coop, since he does harass you everyday and wants you to be his third wife and take him to the States with you." 

Of course, these are exaggerations and we volunteers would never do anything so treacherous, for the sorcerers would certainly come after us and place horrible spells and voodoo upon us.  But we often imagine sweet revenge with a sick sense of satisfaction.  It's many weeks since I've been inspired to do much of anything besides bitch and complain about this unappreciative, corrupt, and hot country.  It's hard to motivate to write when all you want to do is remonstrate, which is not the most well received form of communication from me to you.  

But today it finally happened.  I had a long overdue "That's why I'm here" moment. Assarata is an infant about one and a half years old, although she hasn't grown since I came almost 10 months ago.  She's been sick since her birth and her prognosis is grim, even though they don't know what illness she has.  As my host family's youngest daughter, I feel obligated to help them when I can, as they bend over backwards for me.  I've sent the baby to health centers in Cote d'Ivoire as well as an overnight hospital stay in Ghana.  After a week or two of seemingly improving health, she'd fall off into a frightening state of despair and helplessness.  Her limp body no larger or distinguishable from that of a malnourished chicken.  Her head is disproportionately bigger than her body and her bulging eyes plead for help. 

Last time I was in Abidjan I remember discussing this with a fellow volunteer who prescribed giving her a paste of powdered whole milk, sugar, oil, and water.  She said that malnourished kids pack on the pounds and vitamins faster than you can say Dunkin Donuts.  So this evening, as I watched Sali bathe Assarata and heard her faint cries, I ran over to the small store to buy the goods.  I returned to their courtyard and began the demonstration without words.  As no one there speaks French and I don't speak Dioula, I animatedly measured spoonfuls of each magical ingredient, added water and watched Assarata inhale the concoction.  For the first time she was eating without force and seemed to actually enjoy it.  

As 30 or so family members and neighbors hovered around to watch, cheers of joy and relief were expressed.  Many thanks were exchanged, hands shaken, smiles broadened, and hopes renewed.  Even if this temporary medicine does not forever cure Assarata, knowing that she is happily eating something nutritious and substantial is very satisfying.  At least 10 other mothers with babies watched on and this informal courtyard classroom will hopefully help many other sick or malnourished children in the village.  

It's moments like these that give me the motivation, drive, and inspiration to return to the battlegrounds of underdeveloped Africa and brave the ambush of seemingly endless needs of these people.  It's days like these when all the hardships are lowered on the totem pole of African life.  The nuances can't compete with the gratifying moments, full and inspiring enough to be cause for celebration.


"If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people." -- Chinese proverb