This time for Africa

November of this year I am fulfilling a dream that my late father and I shared – I’m going to AFRICA!  -Que Shakira.

The night that I confirmed with my school and the accepting program in Africa was absolutely nuts. My soul surged. I spontaneously was hooting and hollering, crying and laughing and jumping around like a crazy person.  – Good thing I was living in a small cabin “in the middle of nowhere’sville” as one colleague puts it in Marianna, FL or I would have woken a whole apartment building up I’m certain and no amount of restraint or embarrassment could have held it in.   There were many bumps in the road since then that tried to and were almost successful in shattering the dream but it’s still going and now I’m less than a month from departure.

I am so excited.

The fact that I’m planning to do this seems to have a surprising effect on people. I’m really not sure why – perhaps because they probably felt they knew me as this highly mature, practical, buisness oriented person – at least while I’m working 🙂 . But of course I am like hopefully all human beings – dynamic, multidimensional, both consistent and conflicting, in other words a being that is absolutely impossible to completely capture in totality in any one medium and at any one time. (Yet another reason that computers will never be capable of replacing physicians ( – a story for another day).)   Many of my attendings have heard this news and literally appear to undergo a startle reflex. Nevermind that I’ve been to South & Central America numerous times on medical or research mission work.  I think that some of it is the fear that Africa brings with it especially to the medical community.

Paul Theroux in his book Dark Star Safari – Overland from Cairo to Cape Town, discusses how overarching statements, mostly of the negative kind, are common about Africa relating this back to the continent’s unknown nature, especially in the time of european discoverers – it being drawn as blank, represented as white or black, on maps. ‘Terra Incognita’. He concludes that despite knowledge of the lands it has faded in and out of blankness on the map due to all of the things that the word Africa brings to mind in the realm of current events and recent history even.  Perhaps this explains the surprise and I admit that it does inspire a certain baseline of fear. With little effort, even people like me who have been minimally in touch with current events for some time, can bring to mind a list of associations: starvation, poverty, HIV, plague, droughts, refugee camps, political uprising, warfare, child soldiers, genocide, kidnappings, bombing, etc and even names we’d never heard before for ever associated with horrible images or emotions: Darfur, Rwanda, the Congo and even recently in Tanzania. And for the medically minded: HIV (and all of the various new or rare conditions it brought with it), Ebola, Anthrax, TB, Malaria, Yellow Fever, Dengue, Tsetse/sleeping sickness, leshmaniasis, hemorrhagic fever, Plague, and especially the dreaded Unknown that so many of these diseases were when first discovered. (If you have the stomach for it, whether medical or non-medical in background, I’d recommend just about anything by Richard Preston beginning with The Hot Zone &  The Coming Plague by Lauri Garrett, .)

The baseline of fear is higher for Africa than it is for Central & South America somehow. Curiously enough, many of the travel-loving Americans I’ve interacted with agree with that statement, while the Europeans I interact with (likely fewer due to my polling location no doubt) seem to have more of an opposite view.  Rationally though, there shouldn’t really be much of a difference. You can just as easily get killed, kidnapped, fatally or non-fatally ill in both regions. There may be more current civil unrest in Africa than Central & South America currently but I would venture to hypothesize that press-coverage largely dictates what we perceive of threats to human life and unrest more than their actual status internationally. However, that argument is one that would (and no-doubt has) launch a very long, very heated and highly circular debate in every college & graduate school-associated environment across the globe.  Despite my generation of that hypothesis, I still remain relatively uninterested in that debate though – mostly because I don’t really care about the perception of the problem but rather the identification, understanding and solution to the problem.  Yup – there’s that practical bit peaking it’s head out 😉 .

But I digress…

I’m going to Kenya & Tanzania with a friend of mine (we’ll call him BC) who has gone with his family to various regions of Africa just about every year of his life, mostly on medical missions as well. So with experienced company, the baseline of fear reduced to a managable level and the hurdle of my mother’s comfort level was likewise appeased though neither of which ever becomes completely resolved.

We are using Elective Africa for much of our working and living arrangements and they have also arranged a 3 day 2 night safari for us as well.  They do this for many students internationally, including the “Senior Medical Student” – the MS4 or OS4 in the US, and have a good reputation for it.  This was especially important for the requirements of our medical school – this way we can get credit for the experience. BC found this company from an astute use of Google and following perusal of their site, a mess of pestering questions from both our advisers and the two of us, we applied and everyone on both sides (school & program) agreed that we could fork over our money and participate. Thus leading to the day I started by describing to you.

If you have questions on how to find international student opportunities in medical/health-related fields, please leave your comments expressing interest & I can post on this topic some in the future at somepoint.

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About Femme Sans Frontières

I'm an MD with many passions: medicine, travel, family, action & good fun.

2 responses to “This time for Africa”

  1. Anna says :

    Congratulations! I know you’ve already traveled quite a bit, but this sounds like an excellent adventure. You’re right about the strange level of fear that occurs when people start talking about Africa, and it’s interesting that you mention the fact that it used to appear as either a dark or white spot on a map, unknown territory. When I think ‘Africa’, I can clearly see the northern coastline (with cute little cultural icons) and the southern coastline, but the middle is still hazy. Hope you can keep up with the blog when you’re away; it will be exciting to get to live out your travels with you, somewhat. Best of luck!

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