Okay, first of all, sorry for being M.I.A…(1) Its been pretty hectic around here and (2) I have for some reason lost my patience with blogging. Even when I have nothing to do but sit around and read I haven’t been able to summon the motivation to write. But here is my valiant attempt at catching everyone up with all that’s been going on here in Morocco.
At the beginning of April, me and eight other PCVs from the Agadir-Massa-Tata province of Morocco participated in a program called African Lion. On an overarching level, African Lion is a 10-day program that partners the Moroccan military forces with U.S. counterparts in the largest bi-lateral training exercise on the African continent. African Command states that this exercise is “designed to improve interoperability and mutual understanding of the U.S. and Moroccan military tactics, techniques, and procedures.”
In addition to the military training aspect of African Lion, there was a five-day humanitarian aid program that again partnered U.S. and Moroccan forces. Humanitarian Civil Assistance, or HCAs as they were called among the military personal, provided free on-site medical clinics in specialties such as general medicine, dermatology, pediatrics, gynecology, ear, nose and throat, ophthalmology, dental, and more. Working alongside the Utah State Medical Command, Utah Army National Guard, and the Royal Moroccan Military, Peace Corps volunteers were enlisted as translators in the local dialect of Moroccan Arabic and the Berber languages.
[Side Note: This is the first time in the history of Peace Corps Morocco that volunteers have worked alongside the US military. Generally, the organization prefers to keeps itself separated from the military in order to avoid confusion among host country nationals over the nature and purpose of Peace Corps].
Everyday for five days our group of the aforementioned organizations left the military hub in Agadir at 5:00am and set out for a previously notified Moroccan village. The HCAs [which we set up at a different village each day] began letting in patients each morning at 7:00am and finished sometime between 5:00pm/6:00pm every night. Over the course of those five days, HCA doctors were able to provide medical care and prescriptions for over 5,000 patients.
Initially, we as PCVs were uncertain how we were going to effectively contribute to this project with no medical training. I personally envisioned us sitting around, emptying garbage, going on coffee runs, and doing all the silly and/or dirty jobs that trained professionals usually have assistants or secretaries to handle. However, first day on the job we each partnered with a specialty and were put to work!
I was assigned to Ophthalmology with Major Ken Lord. After an brief initial meet and greet, he put me to work setting up the exam equipment, sorting eye glasses, and organizing patients. As soon as the gates opened I was immediately busy with the triage of patient ailments, translating for the two National Guard members giving the eye exams, and translating for Major Lord as he performed inter-eye exams. I don’t think I even sat down that first day as I attempted to prove my worth to the project…This paid off the next day when Major Lord requested my assistance in ophthalmology for the rest of the week [rather than having us rotate specialties as previous planned]. From then on out, I was taught how to give initial eye exams, how to dilate/ examine pupils, and of course translated for patients during inter-eye exams.
Crazy/ Gross Story & Picture Alert: On the last day that I worked the HCAs, we had a patient come into Ophthalmology smelling strongly of urine and human feces; it was clear that this man had been living on the streets for quite sometime and had exceedingly poor hygiene. He came in complaining of itchy eyes and blurred vision, and after an initial eye exam was told he did not need glasses but rather needed to see Major Lord for a microscopic exam. As Dr. Lord began his examination, he immediately told me to stand far back and bleach everything that has come into contact with this particular patient. It turns out that this man had pubic lice that began as a sexually transmitted disease but because of his hygiene and lifestyle as spread across his whole body to his eyes. In the picture below the white balls are in fact egg sacs, and from the microscope you could actually see the lice moving across this man’s eyelashes and eyebrows. At that point Major Lord noted that while he had heard of this happening, he has only actually seen the condition in his text books from medical school. Lucky us.
This opportunity was a turning point for me in my Peace Corps service and an experience I will never forget. Over the course of five days, I not only participated in a once in a lifetime project but also changed my irrational overly critical opinion of the U.S. military. As a peace loving idealist I have always had an extremely negative outlook on the activities and actions of our service men and women; however I failed to see that there are numerous ways in which individuals participate in the U.S. armed service. I met an array of interesting, worldly, enthusiastic, caring individuals, none of whom fit neatly into my gun happy, war mongering, close-minded conservative stereotype. I have a new appreciation for the men and women who serve the U.S.A. and will in the future attempt to reserve passing such extreme judgments and generalizations.
Because of our positive contribution to the project, those organizing African Lion 2013 have already requested that Peace Corps volunteers be involved again as assistants and translators. Of course I hope to participate again next year as this was an unforgettable experience and a rare opportunity that has positively affected me more than anticipated. Below is a link to an article specifically about the HCA portion of African Lion 2012.
☮ & ♥ [& support our troops] from Morocco!