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Searching for Sitala Mata: Eradicating Smallpox in India
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By Kirkus Review
An American doctor tells of her experience fighting smallpox in India.In this debut memoir, Davis recounts the years she spent as a young doctor working with the World Health Organization in the 1970s. The book blends elements of travelogue, as Davis was determined to experience the country of India during her stay, with descriptions of administering a smallpox vaccine program, tracking the spread of disease in rural communities, and navigating post-colonial and intergovernmental bureaucracies. The author was the only African-American woman in a group composed largely of white American and European men, which offered her a unique perspective on the communities she worked with. However, as a Western woman, she faced some challenges in the field that her male colleagues didn’t (“Experienced field epidemiologists told me that I would ruin my kidneys and that I needed to drink more water. They were all men. Where was I to pee?”). She was exempt from many of the traditional local restrictions placed on women, though, and at times her complexion allowed her to pass as Indian and access dangerous areas that the WHO had forbidden its staff to enter. As a Catholic, she found lodging and friendship among the rural missionaries, and she writes movingly of a visit to Mother Teresa’s hospice. She draws a vivid picture of India and the regions she worked in, from West Bengal (“the kaacha roads, the heavily overloaded bullock carts headed for market, the bicycle rickshaws vigorously moving in and out of the congested traffic, and the ubiquitous sacred cow just wandering down the middle of the road”) to Rajasthan (“I met children living in the desert who were ten years old and had never seen rain”). Her descriptions of small details of daily life will allow readers to easily picture the world that she encountered 40 years ago. An engaging, readable depiction of the foreign-aid worker experience.
“A compelling, though imperfectly-told, true story of one brave woman’s role in eradicating smallpox in India. SEARCHING FOR SITALA MATA is the true story of a remarkable woman making medical history, and for that reason it’s worth reading.”
IndieReader Approved: 4.7 out of 5 Rating
2019 B.R.A.G. Medallion Award
Semi-Finalist, 2019 Kindle Book Award
Sent by the World Health Organization to assist the Ethiopian government in preventing meningitis outbreaks in 1990, Dr. Cornelia Davis eagerly accepted this posting. She headed to Addis Ababa, unaware of an obscure war that had gone on for two decades. The doctor had an ulterior motive — she wanted to adopt an infant girl. While providing expert assistance to control epidemics in several countries, Connie submitted her adoption application. Rebels captured previous strongholds of the Ethiopian government and the Prime Minister fled. Connie was left in charge of the WHO EPR Unit. The airport closed and the rebels entered the capital. In the midst of this chaos, Davis was approved to look for an orphan. You’ll be on the edge of your seat as you read about the explosive series of events which destroyed Connie’s house and led her to an infant girl found on the steps of St. George Cathedral. One look, and Connie knew she had found her daughter. Five days later, she was ordered by WHO to evacuate to Geneva. But not without her daughter!