Monday, June 7, 2010


In late April I traveled to Guatemala for a missions trip and then stuck around longer for a bit of sightseeing. While I was in the jungle using my Palm Pre to connect wirelessly to the internet, I couldn't help but contrast that with Sierra Leone.

Soon after my arrival in Mattru, Jong in 1988, I was introduced to radio check. Twice daily we'd connect with the other UBC mission outposts, "Bumpe, Bumpe, this is Mattru..." If we missed the scheduled time, we wouldn't have a chance to connect until the next radio check.

Radio check prepared me for the 3 phone conversations I had with my parents during the 18 months I lived in Sierra Leone. Making a phone call meant going to a central office, giving the clerk the number I wanted to call, paying up front, and waiting to be told that I could enter a booth to complete the call. The connection was so poor that in order to avoid speaking over each other, we would make a statement and finish with, "Over," just like on the radio.

The final, vital, means of communication were the letters. In the evening by the light of kerosene lamp I'd pen tales from the day, then fold and seal the aerogram (I've learned that today no one has a clue what that is). I'd number them so my parents would know if any were missing. On Sundays, my parents would take turns at the typewriter and their aerogram, one of them starting and the other completing the weekly letter. Mom and Dad saved my letters...I wish I'd saved all of theirs.

Eight years later I found myself on the Anastasis in Madagascar and South Africa. I'd forced my parents to get an email address, adding them to my account before I left. As a result, there were a few moments when I could send unadorned, text only emails for 50cents each. I'm not much of a talker, so I didn't use the phone except for a single call toward the end of 5 months.

Fast forward to Tikal, Guatemala, April 2010. I paid $5 for internet access for the duration of my stay there (in Guatemala city it was free in the hotel). As a result, I could use my phone to send emails multiple times per day, letting friends and family know when I was heading to explore the pyramids, complete the zip line canopy tour or just relaxing in the hammock with monkeys playing in the nearby trees.

We've come a long way. We've gained something, but perhaps we've lost something, too. Moments of quiet, moments of escape, moments of reflection. Easy opportunities to just be without having to be in touch.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Haggling over Prices

I've been delinquent in posting here, but something happened today that reminded me again of how Africa prepared me for home. I submitted an offer on a house and thought, "It's just like bargaining in Africa." I know what they are asking, I know what I want to pay, and I made an offer that puts what I want to pay in the middle. I'll let you know how it works out and how many times we have to haggle. I'm not sure if my technique of walking away when we've reached my price point will work or not when it's a virtual walk away and the other person isn't there to chase me down the muddy aisle in the outdoor market.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Lesson from Africa and Memories of Benin

I never imagined that Africa would prepare me for driving in Boston and New England, especially in winter. As I dodged the potholes and frost heaves during my drive around towns this weekend, however, it dawned on me that I honed my skill of pothole dodging on the city and country roads of West Africa. Likewise, driving through a market area with people crossing the street in various directions provided ample practice at pedestrian dodging, a talent that now benefits the jaywalkers in Boston.

I traveled the tunnels under the medical center today and saw a reminder of Anastasis life: a ceiling leak above a pipe created numerous small-scale stalactites. It even felt like walking down B-deck, with overhead pipes exposed.

Can't believe the Africa Mercy is waiting off-shore, sailing into Cotonou, Benin tomorrow (according to a friend's Facebook status update). Benin was the first West African country I visited with Mercy Ships and remains my second favorite West African nation. Sierra Leone will always be first because I've spend to much time there, but there are fun memories, adventures and patients from several trips to Benin. Here are a few:
  • Justine, who came after she learned that a man with a tumor had survived surgery and returned home;
  • Hugues, whose pre-op photo caused a translator to exclaim three years later, "This is bringing hope and healing!"
  • Cavilla, who didn't survive, but whose story and experience brought transformation to a village and touched the hearts of hundreds;
  • Riding my motorcycle through the villages with a friend on the back and stopping to play with the group of children who called out to greet us. Yes, I know motorcycles are dangerous, but they are so much FUN!;

  • The man in northern Benin who refused to come to the ship for his cleft lip repair because his parents had already died and he was afraid they wouldn't recognize him when he died if he had it repaired. If Sonja had accepted his proposal, she'd be married by now!
  • Touring a 'castle' style barn on the same trip to northern Benin;

  • I LOVE screening days...lots of babies begging to be held and a chance to wear the uniform :) Oh, and the fact that for years I always said "Yes" to potential patients and rarely or never said "No." Though in recent years I usually said, "No," I still loved screening days.

  • Worou (above with Jean Browne) and Sidoine (below with Jean C), infants with cleft lips;

  • Symplice seeing for the first time after his cataract surgery.

  • Brigette (above with Dr Gary) & Houeyi, little girls with horrific tumors. When I tell people why we had a CT scanner on the ship, I tend to tell Brigette's story and how we agonized over whether or not to operate, because we didn't know how deep the tumor went. Houeyi went to the US for surgery.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Africa Needs God: An Article in The Times

My dad emailed me a link to a remarkable article in The Times by an atheist who is convinced that what Africa needs is God.

Matthew Parris wrote:

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

And this is what he said about workers who happened to be Christian and working with a nonchristian NGO:

It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their work was unconnected with personal faith. Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What they were was, in turn, influenced by a conception of man's place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.

Lord, I want my life to evoke this response from those who observe it!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Walking to Work

After venturing home via the sidewalks yesterday, I decided to walk to work today. I'd been taking the bus because the sidewalks weren't all that clear, especially near the intersections. Taking the bus is an adventure in its own right because it's not easy to wait at the bus stop. Yesterday I waited in the street because the snow was more than a foot deep in the middle of the sidewalk and even deeper on the edge of the sidewalk. Will the bus driver see me? Will he stop in time or slide into and over me instead?

Sidewalks present in a variety of conditions. Some are so clear that only the snowbanks on either side tell you of the recent storm. Others are better suited to navigating on ice skates or crampons. Still others present an obstacle course challenge, the crusty upper layer pockmarked with 8-10" deep footsteps. One misstep and I found myself on my knees with snow cascading over the tops of my boots. I need to find my gaiters when I go to my parents' home for Christmas! The irritating part for me (I've really become much more patient as I've aged, but when it's cold outside and I'm on the move, stay out of my way!) are the people who saunter along the narrow paths, oblivious to anyone approaching from behind. MOVE people! Yes, it may only be 5:40am, but you are not the only person out here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Lessons from the First Major Snowstorm

After contending with snow and wind the last few days, here's what I've learned:
1) I like living within walking distance to work.
2) When the commute occurs during a snowstorm, I might want snowshoes or skis to navigate the sidewalks.
3) I want a snowblower!
4) I want my own house so I could buy a snowblower with a clear conscience and not feel like I was subsidizing the landlady who doesn't feel a need for one.
5) When I buy said house, a garage would be nice, but I'm amazed how many homes in New England don't have them.
6) When I buy a house, #1 will no longer be possible, driving in this stuff will be worse, and commuter rail will be less convenient.

On another note, I'm glad I finished my Christmas shopping yesterday so I am not out shopping in today's storm The snow started falling while I was in church this morning. Wish I had taken my camera to capture pictures of downtown with the snow. Another time.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cherry Pie and Gratitude

Tonight I'm baking a cherry pie (I don't do pumpkin) for my first Thanksgiving at home in at least 13 years. Throughout the process, I've been thinking of the simple things for which I am grateful. For instance, I was grateful that I didn't have to gather all my supplies, put them into canvas bags, and carry them up two decks to a common galley. And then make another trip for an item or utensil that I forgot. Run down and up one more time for my own dishtowel. I didn't have to hope there would be an empty cooking station. I didn't have to clean the counter before I started to work. I didn't have to wash the dishes by hand, but I could load them into the dishwasher. Finally, I'm not sitting on a grungy folding chair in the riposto reading Newsweek while waiting for the pie to bake. Instead I'm sitting in a recliner in my living room, writing this blog entry and watching Without a Trace, wishing I'd remembered to do this earlier so I could be in bed now.

In the spirit of my friend Ann, Isn't it Amazing how flour, shortening, salt, and water can taste so good, especially when covered with cinnamon sugar? For that matter, isn't it amazing that raw ingredients mixed together taste wonderful when I wouldn't consider eating any of them individually? Think chocolate chip cookie dough. Or are you one of those people who fears Salmonella and would NEVER eat cookie sushi?

Someone asked me today if I missed the ship. The quick and the short of it is, no. But I do miss the friends I've made and the traditions. Come Christmas eve, I may need to put a shoe outside my door. And I might not be sure what to do with myself on Christmas eve if I'm not scurrying around the ship trying to decipher the phone list and locate cabins so I can deliver gifts.

So now I have to wait 2 days to eat any of this pie...I'm grateful I have food to eat, not just the essentials, but dessert, too. Happy Thanksgiving a couple of days early.