Andy Buhler Biography

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Allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Richard Andrew (Andy) Buhler and I am a recent retiree now living in Vernon, British Columbia. I have weathered 25 years as a practicing medical laboratory technologist and another 12 years as a specialist medical librarian. However, way back in the late 1960s I was just a recently certified med lab tech. I had done some hospital and clinic lab work and had also tested the waters as a salesman for a major biomedical supply company. Sales were not my forte and general bench technology seemed too limiting. Still floundering, trying to find my niche, I enrolled at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and studied to obtain a BSc in Biochemistry.

Sometime during the three years I spent at UBC I noticed an office for Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO) on campus. Hmmm? the option of working overseas in a developing country sounded rather exciting. Did they take med lab techs? Yes, they took med lab techs. Was I interested? Certainly I was! It looked like an exciting two-year foreign adventure plus an opportunity to challenge my fledgling technical skills.

CUSO finally came up with a position that required someone to train dispensary assistants in Kano. I was to teach those assistants how to diagnose, using basic lab tests, about 25 of the more common ailments. The thinking was that each trained assistant would be based in his own dispensary in one of the many small villages scattered around the north. Assistants would diagnose common ailments and would also be trained to dispense common drugs. The Nigerian Government hoped this process would reduce some of the 1000 outpatients a day which were then flooding Kano's City Hospital. Great in concept. Great in theory. Poor in implemention.

When I arrived in Nigeria they weren't expecting me for "small, small time yet" so there was no teaching position. There was no lab building for students who had still not been chosen for the program. There was not even any housing for me. I bunked in with others, drew up some plans for a lab building, then vegetated in the City Hospital while the wheels of Government ground ever slowly onward. The building was only just completed when I left Nigeria two years later. Unfortunately it looked like I should have been on hand to oversee construction.

After about six months of doing virtually nothing at the City Hospital Pathology Lab I gave CUSO an ultimatum -- find me work or send me home.

The Biafran crisis ended around January of 1970 and by May CUSO offered me a position in Ogwashi Uku to set up a lab and train a couple of techs at a Catholic hospital there. St. Mary's Catholic Hospital had been in operation for a number of years but had been roughly used as just an army barracks during the "crisis". A couple of Irish Catholic nursing sisters and a Polish-American Catholic surgeon had begun to reestablish the hospital as a hospital in February.

My first few weeks there were a whirlwind -- designing a lab, driving to Lagos for supplies, interviewing trainees, overseeing lab construction, and doing a hundred other little jobs as required. After my enforced lethargy in Kano, I was exhausted, but happy, by challenges of Ogwashi Uku. I even volunteered to design an X-ray building with darkroom and to purchase X-ray equipment -- all without the foggiest notion of what I was really in for.

By the time I left St. Mary's in late 1971, there were two nationals who stayed and ran the lab in Ogwashi Uku, one who ran the X-ray department there, and two more who had come to us for short-term training and so were then capable of managing a lab in another mission hospital.

Over the two years I filled some of my spare time writing up a cooperant-oriented rag entitled 'The Groundnut Gazette'. However, since there were no groundnuts in the south it morphed into 'The New Yam Underground'. Each "newsletter" lasted for about two issues and all the limited and scurrilous content seemed to be mine.

In the north there were motorbike trips to Zaria and Katsina and Bichi and Gaya and Sokoto to see cooperants, Sallah Festivals, co-workers, and the northern countryside.

In the south I had an opportunity to take my motorbike (Honda 90) from Ogwashi Uku up through Jos and over to Zaria and finally to Kano (where the handlebars fell off the bike as I was riding it to my housemate's house). I also had a chance to drive everything from the hospital lorry to Sister's car to the hospital's brand new Volvo ambulance when I scurried from Ogwashi Uku to Ibadan, Lagos, Abeokuta, Benin, Asaba and other points south.

Lots of good memories, quite a bit of imbibing and hijinks, frequent frustrations, always new experiences, many great friendships.

I'm glad I went to Nigeria. I was further fortunate that my mother saved most of my letters from those years. In 2006 I was able to self-publish through Trafford Press, two volumes of my memoirs. They are entitled: Letters home : glimpses of a CUSO cooperant's life in northern Nigeria, 1969-1970 and Letters home : glimpses of a CUSO cooperant's life in southern Nigeria, 1970-1971.

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