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Spring in Maine was "like a big drink of water" to Julia McDonald '99. As she leaned out the window upon her recent return to Colby she was dazzled by the spring colors. To others it may have looked, well, green. But they hadn't spent two years living in the desert, where spring lasts for 15 minutes when the acacia blossoms erupt, only to be devoured by camels.
Aside from fading henna on her hands and nails, there were few clues that Julia McDonald had spent the last two years working as a hygiene and sanitation volunteer for the Peace Corps in a remote village in the Saharan desert. Yet the experience has clearly transformed her life, steering the theater and geology major toward a career in medicine.
Joining the Peace Corps had been a childhood dream for McDonald. After working in theater and publishing for a year after graduation, "I remembered I had lost that dream," she said. She got an application and packed her bags.
She was posted to southeastern Morocco, where she learned the Berber language, Tashelhait, and dressed in the traditional manner, which required several layers plus head scarf, even in 140-degree heat. Her journey began with a seemingly endless drive through the desert. After several days, the bus driver dropped her off "in this flat expanse of nothingness--brown and gray rock that's beaten flat by the sun." Tadakouste, her final destination, was still another 20 kilometers away, along a dirt road.
Living without electricity with people who had never known a Westerner, she shared her knowledge of health care while learning from the villagers, who became her friends. "I'll never forget sitting out in the desert under a full moon with the women, having conversations I rarely even have in English," she said.
She clearly feels she received much more than she gave: "My plan was not to go over and teach people how to live their lives, but rather share ideas with people about how to do things." Her days were filled with home visits with the sick and those giving birth or in mourning. "I would often have a theme for the day, like dental hygiene, and I would try to work in an informal lesson while I was sitting there, washing vegetables or kneading bread," she said. While she found her work immensely satisfying, there were also frustrations with the lack of medicine and poor hygiene. The nearest health center was 20 kilometers away, back down that dirt road. In the second year, McDonald helped the village build latrines and develop a system for bringing tap water into individual homes.
Unfortunately, McDonald's stay in Morocco was abruptly terminated when she was evacuated because of a health problem. She had planned to go back to finish her term and even do a third year, but during her recovery, McDonald's plans changed again.
Reflecting on her time in Morocco, she realized how much she loved the work she was doing. Becoming a doctor is "something that I've always wanted, but I've always been too intimidated by the science courses. After two years in Morocco, and seeing some of the worldwide health needs, I recognized that not only can I be a good doctor, but I think I would be a good doctor," she said. This fall, McDonald made plans to bite the bullet and enter a pre-med program. Though she wants to specialize in women's health, McDonald was not sure yet whether she wants to practice at home or abroad. The last few years have taught her the wisdom of the Arabic proverb, "the wind does not always blow the sailor in the direction he intended."
-- Rebecca Green
FEATURES: On Terror's Trail All Business School Across the Bay
A Global Forum
An alliance with the United World College is giving Colby an international flavor and perspective.
Brian MacQuarrie '74 looks for the sources of hatred that spawn violence and finds more.
Ted Snyder '75 runs a business school and tells us about it.
Kristine Davidson Young '87 and Barney Hallowell '64 dedicate themselves to their students on North Haven Island.
On Terror's Trail
School Across the Bay
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