Vaccines and Bayonets: Fighting Smallpox in Africa amid Tribalism, Terror and the Cold War


Bee Bloeser has lived and worked in Africa, the Middle East and Native American nations and has supported her husband’s public health work around the world. She lives in California.

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“At a time when vaccines are front-page news and a deadly pandemic is raging across the globe, Bloeser’s memoir makes for riveting reading. . .a captivating family history and a reminder of how public health campaigns are still inextricably intertwined with politics. . .”

— Sasha Polakow-Suransky, Deputy Editor of Foreign Policy magazine

“. . .a closely observed memoir. . .historically important. . .most remarkable when it recounts living in tropical, isolated and unfortunate Equatorial Guinea. . . sympathetic, vividly told and useful record of an unusually sombre moment in West African history.”

— Adam Roberts, Midwest Correspondent at The Economist

“. . . reads like a political thriller, women’s history, and African adventure rolled into one. . . . Riveting.”

— Pamela Alexander, Pulitzer Prize-nominated author


When the world’s nations join hands to banish smallpox, the author’s husband is posted to West Africa, initially to Nigeria. She eagerly follows him with two young children and wide-eyed ideals. What she finds during their two-year adventure deepens her love for the Africa she encounters, while its tragedies along with tripwires of international service erode her naivete. Later in Equatorial Guinea when attached to America’s smallest embassy, her husband must partner with a regime known as “the terror.” The people are brutalized, and journalists are banned. The author, one of only two American women in the country, keeps cryptic notes and hides them in a sock drawer, notes now a part of this memoir.


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