Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Be(nin) a Variant: Why it matters

On an atomic level, we are all the same. Quite simply, our bodies are just a delicate balance of chemicals and elements that miraculously work together, creating life as we know it. And yet, despite our identical internal makeup, we feel the need to differentiate, categorize, label, and hate others who appear different on the outside. Why is this the world in which we live?

Before joining the Peace Corps, I worked at a genetics laboratory on the forefront of personalized medicine. In genetics, no one is the same. While we all start out from millions of nucleotide base pairs, problems during replication can cause variants that either have negative, positive or undetermined consequences. From a clinical perspective, each person's genetic code was the key to solving their disease.  We analyzed their  differences to provide medical support, counselor their families and  helped them plan for their futures.  I believe that we were saving lives.

It was at work one afternoon when I opened my email and found out about my acceptance to the Peace Corps in Benin. After my initial shock, I googled Benin, embarrassed that I couldn't place this small West African country on a map. I turned to my colleagues to tell them the news and realized I had no idea how to even pronounce Benin. Is it Been-in, Beh-neh or Ben-neh?! We laughed about it for a while and started calling it benign, the classification of a genetic variant that is neither helpful or harmful to your health. It exists in harmony with its surroundings (and often throws medical scientists for a loop when trying to actually determine its true purpose!)

And that's how the Benin Variant was born. As a peace corps volunteer, I know I won't change the world. But, I know that I can be a variant in the lives of those around me. Being a variant means celebrating differences, challenging stereotypes and ultimately working to mark the world a better place. With one year in Benin on the books, its incredible to think about how many new people I have welcomed into my life, learned from and grown with. And that's what this blog is all about: sharing, learning, accepting and questioning. I hope the next year is just as fruitful.

With the recent events in the US and worldwide, this is a reminder to be a variant in this world. While on some level we are all the same, it's our tiny differences that make us unique and give us the power to build a world worth fighting for.

Let's not wake up to more news of hate, terror and discrimination and instead preach love is love is love is love.  My heart goes out to the whole world tonight, for we are all in need of healing.

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