Friday, June 29, 2007

Two Weeks!

I've tried several times to add some pictures to this post, but apparently it's not going to happen today, so I'm posting what I have to say and hopefully in the next couple days I can add more pics.

I can't believe I've been in Liberia for two weeks already! In some ways it feels like it's been months and in other ways, it seems like I just got here yesterday. It's funny how you feel so new and confused about ship-life, and then within a few days you're the one showing your new cabin-mates around. It feels a little like being in a time warp here on the ship because we're not only removed from home, but we're also somewhat removed from the people of Monrovia, living just off the dock. Compared to home, it would seem that coming here to serve is definitely "roughing it". When you go out in the community, though, it's painfully apparent that we on the ship are still living like royalty! It's a bit difficult to justify both perspectives and figure out where you fit or exactly what your purpose is. There's no way that we on the Africa Mercy can even make a dent in the struggles of this country. It's obvious that all we can do is try to share God's love with those that we come in contact with and then let Him do the rest! To be honest, it's so devastating that I'm glad it's ultimately His job and not mine because I would probably give up and not try.

Surgeries have gone well this week and I'm starting to get the hang of working in the ward. I still have a way to go, but it gets easier every time you go to work. It's a foreign experience to have one of the biggest challenges be communication. We have translators that are very helpful, but not all of the patients and translators even understand each other. We have one lady in the ward who only speaks Mandingo and there are no translators that do, so she just smiles and follows along with the rudimentary sign language we try to use. How incredibly intimidating and scary it would be to be in such a strange place, having surgery, feeling pain, and not be able to speak with those that are caring for you. One of the ladies that came to the ship earlier this week had never left her village, never ridden in a car, never slept in a bed, never walked up stairs, and didn't believe her granddaughter that there was actually something as ridiculous as a floating building! Almost all of the patients have to have lessons on how to use a toilet and be reminded that they're to flush. It's a concept most of them have never encountered.

Life on the ship is going well, too. It's fun getting to know people from all over the world. I love hearing different accents and expressions. Sometimes the expressions that different people use can be quite entertaining because what may be a comman phrase in one country may be pretty crude in another. I hear about bits all the time. My roommate, Shonagh, is from Scotland. She fell up the stairs a few days ago and bruised her knees. She called them her rude bits. She also gets bits (stones) in her shoes. When she got a sunburn she had to put sunsreen on her red bits the next time she went out. It's fun learning from each other, both phrases, nursing practices, and perspectives on life.

The Anastasis sailed away today, on her way to India to be scapped. It's a pretty sad day for a lot of people that lived on her for many years. I never lived on the ANA, but even so, it looks a bit sad when you look out the window. Before, when you looked out the port side windows you saw a beautiful old cruise liner. Now the dock almost seems off balance, only seeing a ship on one side. Even though it's sad in some ways, the new ship is a blessing in the fact that the capacity of the hospital has nearly doubled! The opportunity to be able to reach that many more people is defnitely a good thing!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Jamaica Road

The pictures above have nothing to do with the rest of what I have to say, but they're a couple good shots of the Africa Mercy on the day she arrived in Monrovia. In the sunset picture, the one on the left is the Anastasis, the ship that's being retired.

I've been meaning to write about last Sunday for the last few days, and I finally have time. I really had no idea where to go since there are a lot of options. I also had no idea what to expect when I got there. Jamaica Road is a church that's only a mile and a half or so from the ship, so that sounded like a good option to me because I could walk in the neighborhood a little bit. As I've said, it's rainy season, which is the "cool" part of the year, but we were all roasting in the short walk there. The temperature isn't terribly high, but the humidity is incredible.

Once we got to church we had to wait a while to go in until Sunday school was over because the building is only one room. I learned that compared to several churches in the area, this one is a pretty nice building. They actually had a roof, block walls, and a cement floor. There were no doors or windows. A friend of mine went to a church that had a roof and a little bit of the framing, no floor or walls. Everyone was so friendly and welcomed us in right away. Shortly after the service started, the lady leading the service asked all visitors to stand. ( I appreciated the fact that during the walk to church someone had warned me about what was coming.) As soon as we stood she had us all come to the front of the church. The congregation proceeded to sing a song of celebration and dance to the front to greet us one by one, shaking each of our hands. After that first time, you are no longer a visitor, and become one of the ones that gets to welcome new people next week. The worship time was wonderful! We sang and danced for quite a while, dancing forward a couple times for the offering. (and I thought the walk to church was warm!) I'm told that most West African churches collect 2 or 3 offerings, dancing forward to give for each one. They may not have much, but they're thrilled to be able to give what they do have.

I'm discovering that I don't necessarily like being far from people from home, but I do love being a couple time zones ahead. It's cool that even though we don't all "do church" the same way, we're all worshipping the same God. As I worship with people here in Monrovia, I get to pray ahead for those in Indiana, Michigan, and Indiana that still haven't started their days! (Except maybe the pastors doing final sermon preps:)

The Africa Mercy

This is a picture of a few of the girls that I arrived in Monrovia with. Kassi on the left is my roommate. Behind us, you can see the back of the ship. I've had lots of questions about what ship life is like, so I'll try to describe it. There are around 450 of us living on the ship. There are 8 decks. Decks 1 and 2 are the engine rooms and off-limits to the rest of the crew. Deck 3 is the hospital. They're still putting the finishing touches on it, but hopefully it'll be ready for surgeries at the beginning of the week. I also live on Deck 3. Deck 4 is housing. Deck 5 is a dining hall, reception, the ship shop and snack shop, offices, and Starbucks. I guess one of the big wigs on the Starbucks board is also on our board, so all of the coffee onboard is free from them. There's a big open staircase that runs between Decks 5 and 6 near the internet cafe and Starbucks. I hear a lot of people calling that the town square. It's almost like it's a little city. Also, the gangway enters on Deck 5 beside reception. Deck 6 is the International lounge, which is where we have all of our community meetings, and then some family, VIP, and guest cabins. Deck 7 is more offices and then an open area where you can go "sit on the porch". Deck 8 is the top and is a flat deck that you can walk around on some, but right now there's a bunch of stuff still up there that was strapped down during the sail here from England.

I'm living in a cabing that has 3 berths, 2 people/berth, so there will be 6 of us total. Right now there are 4 and our 5th arrives this evening. She's also from the States, but I don't know where. So far I like the girls I live with. I share my berth with a girl from Canada. The other 2 girls are from Canada and Scotland. We have a bunk that folds against the wall, a narrow closet and two shelves. Backpacking in the past was good preparation for packing light and making do with not so much stuff. We can only do laundry once and week and can only take 2 minute showers. That means you have to get wet, suds up, and then rinse off. No 30 minute steaming showers, or you run out of water to drink! Sometimes they have to go on water restrictions, so I'd rather conserve than do competely without. It's not bad, but it is different getting used to things. Most of us came to Africa expecting to be very hot. That's true outside, but inside there are places on the ship that get very cold! I think the hospital will be fairly warm because the Liberians won't tolerate the cold well when they're used to tropical weather.

We start surgeries this coming week once the hospital is completed. The first surgeries will be VVF(vesico-vaginal fistula) repairs. These are women who have tried to deliver their babies at home, which is common practice. (Actually they are considered weak if they go somewhere else to deliver.) For various reasons the labor goes poorly and they are often in labor for 4-5 days. Obviously the baby dies, and the mother is left with terrible tissue damage. It forms a fistula, or tunnel, between the birth canal and their bladder, so then they leak urine all the time. Of course it smells and they become outcasts. Usually their husbands and the rest of their families want nothing to do with them. Having the repair allows them to return to life with the rest of their community. I think the plan is to also do some eye cases and orthopaedics over the next couple months. I'm nervous because the work will be very different than at home, but I'm also excited to get started.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Here we are...happy landing on a chocolate bar

Angie, that title's for you.
It's amazing to finally be able to say that I'm in Africa. It still doesn't seem real, but when I look out the window, I'm sure of it. The flights went well, and I'm pleased to say the jet lag has not been too bad. The time difference is only 4 hours. I'm hoping to be able to post pictures sometime soon, but it was dark when we arrived at the ship last night. When we landed, the pilot said that the Liberian government will fine people taking photos in public places. I think that has to do more with govt. and UN buildings than in public, but one of the people on the ship said that taking photos in public is also a good way to get your camera stolen, so we'll see how it goes.
There are so many things I could write about. I'll try to share some of my initial observations. The first thing was that I've always thought of Africa being mostly brown. Parts of it are. We flew over the Sahara and it was like an ocean of brown. Liberia is lush green with lots of tropical trees. It's rainy season right now, so I'm sure that makes everything more green. The hottest part of the year is our late fall and early winter. I can tell you thouth, that rainy season is still hot and very humid. For those of you familiar with Harrisonburg, the view from the plane looked much like standing on the top of the hill at EMU. You look across a very flat expanse to a range of mountains. Beautiful!
When we arrived we had more than an hour drive to the ship, which by the way, looks much larger in person than it does it pictures. I think that there is a more affluent part of town, but we sure didn't see it. Just on the drive here, you have to be amazed at how many people there are with so little. We are so rich in the U.S. The airport was an intersting experience. It was very hot and humid. Baggage claim was an experience! (the good news...7 of us were on the same flight and we all got all of our bags!) As we were going through immigration the officials were very stern , but then every one of them said, "Oh! Are you with Mercy Ships? You're our favorite group. Go on through." They didn't even ask to see our passports or anything. It's nice to feel so welcome.
One of the more amusing things I noticed was broken down vehicles. It wasn't so much the vehicles, but the flares that they used to alert on-coming vehicles. Ours are like an orange flame or sparkler. Here they pull a big clump of weeds, roots and all, from the ditch and then put several of them in the road behind the car. Not high tech, but it gets the job done just as well.
Right now I have 2 roomates, but I think we're supposed to get three more in the next few weeks. The cabin is split into 3 different smaller rooms that are partitioned off. It's a little tight, but not so bad.
Surgeries will begin in a week. The transition phase from the Anastasis to the Africa Mercy is still going on. Some departments have had more difficulty than others. That's something to continue praying about. It seems like there's a lot to be done in the next week to have the hospital fully up and running. It will be nice to soon feel a little more comfortable with where everything is on the ship and then to actually get working and taking care of patients.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Journey Begins

Well, it begins! I'm leaving tomorrow for Monrovia, Liberia on the west coast of Africa. I'll be living and working on the Africa Mercy, a hospital ship owned by Mercy Ships that provides help and healing to the world's forgotten poor. The opportunity to help reach out to those who would probably not receive care otherwise is an honor. I don't know exactly what my role will be other than working in the ward, but I look forward to the experiences of the next 11 weeks.
It amazes me to look back at what the last 16 months has held. I went from thinking in early 2006 that I would probably leave the country in a couple months to thinking in early 2007 that this whole thing was not going to happen at all. As I look forward and look back, it excites me to see how God has worked out this whole time of service. For the better part of a year, it looked like a mess that He didn't plan to work out. I had prayed and wondered for quite some time. Finally I decided that if I had not received an acceptance letter by Feb. 28 of 2007, then I was to move on. Guess who e-mailed me on Feb. 28?! There was over a year of wondering and waiting and now the last 3 months have been so amazing to see how even the littlest detail worked out. It's been great confirmation that this is the path I'm supposed to take right now.
I said earlier that it begins, but the beginning was actually a long time ago. I don't think it was a coincidence that during those times of doubting and waiting I did the study by Beth Moore entitled Believing God twice. I guess I needed a lot of reminding that I needed to believe Him even when it didn't make sense. It was a tough year wishing that I knew the timeline, but now it seems to be coming together better than any plans I had on my own. The prayers, encouragement, gifts, and financial support have been so greatly appreciated. Thank you!!! It has been been pointed out to me that I'm going for a lot of people, so the ways that you have supported me, will be reaching people in Liberia even though you don't meet them. I'm excited to be the hands and feet for a bunch of people. So...the journey began a year and a half ago, but now the travel portion of this adventure begins. I'm excited to see where it goes from here!