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.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Observations from my Walk Home

It's funny how you can return 'home' and yet find that your interpretation of circumstances has changed because of experiences you've had while away. The mind makes leaps in logic that seem completely reasonable until something else startles you back into the current setting.

I walked by an ivy-covered building at the medical center the other day and heard birds chirping. I caught myself thinking "weaver birds" and turned to look for them. I saw the ivy instead of the palm trees and remembered I wasn't in Africa anymore. In 1990, after returning from Sierra Leone, I sat on the hillside at camp, heard movement in a large tree, and immediately looked for a monkey.

Last night I saw 3 gas tanks hanging in back of a building and wondered, "Why do they need three church bells?" I walked a little bit farther and realized it was a dive shop and those really were scuba tanks, not a mechanism for calling people to a meeting.

On another note, there are three Dunkin' Donuts along the 1.2 mile walk home. Do we really eat that many donuts and drink that much coffee?

Monday, November 3, 2008


This weekend my nephew Patrick celebrated his 4th birthday. Today my mind returned to thoughts I'd recorded four years ago on my website (no longer active) and I was reminded of these truths. I thought I'd share them here...along with a photo or so of Patrick and his much-loved younger siblings.

At this point in my life, it’s unlikely I’ll ever know what it means to have a child. This love that has grown for Patrick since Maureen’s call, for this little one I’ve never held (and even now that I have held him), gives me a new understanding for the depth of love my heavenly Father has for me. Patrick’s done nothing to deserve my love for him, just as I have done nothing to deserve my Father’s love. He just is, a representation of a new generation. How God must feel as he looks upon me – and you too – a child he created. It truly is a fathomless love that I am only beginning to understand.

Lessons from my First Week on the Job

I've learned a few key things in my first week on the job:
  • I don't have a crew, I have a team/staff
  • The SICU and Trauma/SICU aren't on Decks 5 & 6, but on the 5th and 6th Floors.
  • That big wall of glass in my office isn't a porthole, it's a window.
  • No one uses military time, so I need to use AM/PM again.
  • I'm back in the US, so dates are written month/day/year and not day/month/year.
  • The entrance to my workplace is not a gangway, but the main entrance.
  • That person near the entrance is not security, but the valet parking attendant.
  • Magnets do not hold things on the bulkheads...I mean walls.
  • I do not have to use sticky-tack to hold items on shelves. And sail preparation was probably NOT the most likely explanation for all the equipment the staff found on the floor in a storeroom this morning, but it was the first thing I thought of!
  • No one pages me to tell me that mail is available for pickup. I have to wait until I get home to see if any mail awaits me on the stairs and I have no idea who else might have received a care package this week. Of course, most people don't rely on care packages. If they need something, they go to a store to buy it!
  • I can't just wander over the the ward or down to post-ops to get a baby fix! Maybe I need to volunteer for that 'baby cuddling' program they mentioned at orientation.
On the other hand, some things are no different:
  • I need to wear my ID all the time.
  • There are still lots of stairs to go up and down.
  • I'm still not excited about going to the dining room/cafeteria for dinner. I'd rather cook my own meals.
  • I walk about 4 miles/day and am going to have to figure out a way to add that extra mile at the end of the workday.
  • My office is just as cold as my office on the ship and I don't think I can control the temp either.
  • Patients speak at least as many different languages here as they do on the ship. The difference is that the translator is available via the telephone.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Texas??? Not me...

"Are you from Texas?" one of my staff asked me this afternoon. Hmmm...not sure where that one came from. It definitely isn't my accent. I grew up in New England and never managed to acquire the local accent. I've never lived in TX, just visited relatives and the MS office, so I REALLY didn't have a Texas accent. So what could it be?

Ah, the armadillo earrings. I bought them because they remind me of a fun trip with good friends...

After a summer at camp, two friends and I headed to Virginia for a trip that would include 2 days of job interviews/apartment hunting for me and lots of camping the other days. The initial day with an interview and apartment hunting proved to be quite boring. We looked around, I asked all the questions, and my friends just tagged along. That was completely out of character for them. Before we headed out on the second day of apartment hunting, I set out the guidelines. Both of them were to act as though they were the ones searching for an apartment, exploring, asking questions, and making observations.

Kelly took this challenge seriously. She'd heard the questions and typical answers frequently enough to ask them herself, but it was always with a twist. An innocent question about the pet policy (pets under 10# permitted) led to a follow-up question for me: "Jean, how much does your armadillo weigh?" Kelly also determined that the tub capacity was adequate for my tie-dying hobby, while Mandy inspected the closet over the stairwell and established that it offered a satisfactory spot for someone who wanted to assume the thinking position, lying down with her legs extended up the wall. I think she was the one measuring rooms for my loom and attempting thunder-thigh ballet upstairs to make sure sound didn't carry (or maybe that was me). We weren't convinced that my imaginary, 6'6" boyfriend Bart would clear the light fixture in the dining room and unfortunately, he wouldn't be allowed to come visit on his Harley.

The poor woman showing us around seemed a bit flustered, but I'd like to think she caught on to the joke and from time to time tells the story of these crazy women who came one day to look for an apartment...

Monday, October 27, 2008

First Day on the Job...

It felt a bit like field service orientation with Mercy Ships as I started my first day at BIDMC. I couldn't help but be struck by the similarities between Mercy Ships' objective of caring for the poor and the heritage of Beth Israel Deaconess to serve those who had had no access to health care, whether due to discrimination or poverty. The next similarity came when Paul Levy, CEO/President, spoke of being culturally sensitive. Later there was talk of using translators to promote effective communication. Not so different after all!

On the other hand, my commute was longer today that it was on the ship. It took me 25 minutes to walk to work instead of 2.5 to go down a flight of stairs and the length of deck 3. I'm still getting a stair workout since it my office is on the 6th floor. I do have a HUGE porthole...I mean my new office. Dinner means having to actually cook (or heat up leftovers) instead of climbing from deck 3 to deck 5. That's proving to be more of a challenge than I expected. I've gotten lazy!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Michigan State 35 vs. Michigan 21

Favorite memories of a football Saturday in East Lansing: walking along the Red Cedar, leaves crunching underfoot, aroma of woodsmoke drifting through the air, and the music from the Spartan marching band carrying across campus. I know that today's game was at the Big House in Ann Arbor instead of East Lansing, but that made today's victory even sweeter. Way to go, State! Now that I'm stateside again, I hope to be able to get to a game in the next year or two. It's good to see MSU hanging in there and winning in the second half of the season as well as the first.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Autumn in New England

It's always fun to be home this time of year. On Thursday after settling on an apartment in Brookline, MA, I took a break from planning for my move this coming week. Filled the car with gas and emptied the memory card, loaded lenses and filters into my lumbar pack, and headed to the mountains. I was too lazy to plan a hike, so I just drove along scenic routes and took photos. After the drizzle stopped and the clouds cleared, it was a gorgeous, warm autumn day.

Today we went to Maine to visit Bryan's family. I had a great time playing with Patrick and Libby. We spent substantial time playing hide & seek outdoors since the weather was gorgeous. When it was Patrick's turn to hide, I was surprised to discover that Libby could count to 13 (tho' she then jumped to 16 and 19...). I've included a few photos of them hiding behind a tree, Libby counting, Patrick sliding, and a couple from my trip to the mountains.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Camping out...or not...

This was the weekend I planned to introduce my niece and nephew to the joys of camping. I piled the tent, 4 sleeping bags, large air mattress, and multiple flashlights into the car for the journey to Maine. Their mom made sure the ingredients for s'mores were in the house.

Yesterday afternoon when we arrived at the house, Patrick and Libby helped me pitch the tent, blow up the air mattress, and unroll the sleeping bags. They started practicing making shadows before it was really dark. Patrick could hardly wait for it to get dark, but we did decide we'd eat supper first.

When darkness fell, Grandpa cut branches for roasting the marshmallows on the grill...but then Patrick informed us that THAT wasn't how the instruction book said to roast marshmallows. Off he dashed to retrieve Just Me and My Dad by Mercer Mayer. "See, THAT'S how you cook marshmallows," he corrected me, pointing to the picture of a log-cabin style campfire. Eventually he conceded to using the grill and enjoyed his s'more, though he never asked for more. Libby didn't like hers at all.

We all donned our warmest pajamas and then moved out to the tent where we made shadows, read Just Me and My Dad, told original stories, sang Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, turned out the flashlights and tried to go to sleep. The quiet lasted 5 minutes before Patrick broke it with cries of "I want Mommy." No reasoning with him, no consoling him, so in we went. His dad's response? "I gave you until 9 pm." It was 8:50. Guess we'll try for longer another day. Still it was fun. I plan to do some real camping later this week in the White Mountains.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Male Patients with an Interesting Problem

Back to interesting news articles. The Liberian Observer today published an article about fistula surgery performed during an upcountry surgical campaign. In addition:

"Dr. Mulbah disclosed that other patients suffering from other forms of sicknesses were treated during the two-week massive surgical operation.

"He said the foreign doctors and their Liberian counterparts operated three male patients that had problem with their uterus.

"The patients, he said, were involved in road accident."

All I can say is, that must have been some road accident!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Rocks on Tarp on Zinc

A few days ago I wondered if I would remember the houses with corrugated zing, covered with tarps and the tarps held down with rocks. En route to the airfield in Sierra Leone today I snapped this photo from the window. Now I know I should remember!

I was also pleased that they didn't weigh ME when I checked in, so I knew it was going to be a larger plane than the one I flew to Freetown in.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Flying in Africa

My post earlier this morning was thoughts and recollections on returning to Sierra Leone. Last week I was in Benin for an assessment trip in anticipation of the ship's visit there last week. Brenda, who was one of my cabinmates during my DTS 12 years ago, was the other person on the trip. We met up with Daslin, one of my former managers who now lives in Benin. Getting there had a few humorous moments. One of them was when we walked across the tarmac to the plane and Brenda exclaimed, "You've got to be kidding! I'm not getting in that small plane." After we eyeballed our luggage and nodded to the guys loading it, we ascended the few steps into the 19-seater prop job. All I could think was, "At least it has portholes." One time I flew out of Liberia on an UNMIL flight and all the portholes were blacked out. It's very disconcerting to fly during a storm, through turbulence, and not know if the current descent is intentional or not nor just how close you are to the ground!

When we arrived at the airport, we had our luggage weighed (for all of you in the US worried about the new luggage restrictions, imagine if you had 12kg/26.4# for a one-week trip and you wanted to take a laptop computer that would consume about 8#. We asked for and received an extra 5kg allowance a few days ahead, so we had a bit more leeway and managed ok). Then they handed us our boarding passes...and in the process I noticed that Brenda had become Doris and I was now Arthur! For Brenda they used her middle name and I was given the first name of the next person on the manifest. And to think, I even wore earrings that day.

Arrived at the airport yesterday morning and had to wait outside for about 10 minutes for the WFP personnel to arrive. When they did, the person who checked me in for the last flight, greeted me by surname and asked, "You're flying again?" At least I was Marie this time and not Arthur. They still don't get that whole first name/middle name thing! The purser said every time she talked to them or emailed them about my flight, they called me Marie. Maybe Jean will get to fly home Tuesday.

I should have known there was something different about this flight when they weighed not only my luggage, but also had ME get on the scale! Let's just say that Brenda would not have been excited at what she saw when she walked across the tarmac if she'd been with me yesterday. The Toyota Land Cruiser the driver picked me up in had more headroom than the Cessna Grand Caravan with seats for 9 passengers. I had to walk hunched over to get to my seat. I picked the single seat in the front row so I had a clear view out the window without much wing interference. The safety briefing was a verbal from the pilot who pointed out a fire extinguisher in the door and a blue box in the back which contained enough food and supplies for a week should something happen to strand us somewhere!

At times it felt like a roller coaster ride, but the thing I love about roller coasters is that the swooshing sensation is predictable...and in a plane you never know when turbulence is going to hit. I thought my neighbor across the aisle was going to lose her lunch, the way she held her stomach, pursed her lips and kept blowing out her cheeks.

Anyway, it was a good flight and I think I may even have seen Mattru, Jong, where I used to live, from the air. It is pretty close and certainly had the different landmarks I could think of: what looked like the outline of the hospital buildings in an area soon after the town started, a split in the road later, the falls where we used to camp upstream, a small island mid-river, etc. The pilots had propped a GPS on the dash for the flight, so when I thought I recognized the village (I know you can't tell much from the photo above, but I could in person and when I zoomed in), I took a photo of the GPS. I couldn't see the numbers from my seat, but I could in the photo. When I look up the coordinates, they correspond pretty closely with the location of Mattru or possibly one other town on a different river, but that town is on the opposite bank of the river. Who knows. It's nice to think that maybe it was Mattru.

Back to Sierra Leone

I flew back to Sierra Leone yesterday morning. Fayah, a Mercy Ships driver from the fistula center picked me up and took me across Freetown via the hillside route in order to avoid traffic. The road travels through villages whose names recall the British connections: Bathurst, Charlotte, Leicester, Regent.

I noticed things as though seeing them for the first time because I realize it could be the last time. In two weeks I'll leave West Africa.

Twenty years ago, when I first landed it Sierra Leone, it was also rainy season. Coming down the steps from the plane, the humidity assaulted me. Rain often made conversations difficult if not impossible...nothing like trying to chat when a downpour plays kettle drum with the corrugated zinc roof over your head. On the road I remember the kids filling potholes with rocks and asking for a dash to reward them for their work before allowing us to pass. I remember sitting at the bottom of a hill contemplating whether it was better to stay to the right or left of the rut or straddle it and cross where it turned at the top. And I remember my first trip to Mattru with Michelle, when a rock struck our windshield, shattering it...and THEN the afternoon rains began. We ended up replacing the windshield with a sheet of plastic, on which the windshield wipers were of course useless, and she drove much of the way with her head out the window while I shifted according to her instructions. A friendship was born on that trip.

Yesterday I found myself wishing I had learned a lesson from my friend Ann and carried a notebook for recording observations and thoughts. Would I remember the zinc roofs covered with tarps and held down with rocks so the tarps would help keep out the rain and the rocks would keep the tarps from blowing away? Brooks that were often invisible from the road during dry season, now waterfalls and rapidly rushing streams visible from a distance? The sight of kids and parents washing laundry and themselves as the water dashed over rocks beside the road? Red clay rutted roads? Men, women, and children carrying usual and unusual loads on their heads (15' pipes, baskets of cassava leaf, bundles of charcoal or yams)? Men and women sitting beside a rock pile, hammering rocks into gravel to sell?

Fayah stopped at one point and backed up a bit, looking to the stream beside the road before continuing. When I asked what he was looking at, "there's a crocodile down there," he replied. That was a a little ways after the entrance to the chimp sanctuary. "It's open again; the chimps are under control for now." A few years ago there had been an attack on people and a massive chimp escape. These chimps were ones that had been kept illegally as pets.

Will share more thoughts and observations later.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Interesting Competitors on Liberia's Olympic Team

In The News this week: The Liberia National Olympics Committee has disclosed that for the first time in the history of the country, Liberia will feature “quailed Olympians” at this year’s Olympics games in Beijing, China, with the expectation of being competitive.

What does a quailed Olympian look like??

Friday, June 20, 2008

Go Green!

What a great year it has been to be a Boston area sports fan! In the past 8 months the Red Sox won the World Series, the Patriots lost in the Super Bowl, the Bruins made the playoffs, and the Celtics won the NBA championship. After years of heartache (I know, it's only sports, but when you think you'll have a chance to savor victory and it's taken away in a cruel fashion...), it's good to celebrate victory. Since I am out of the US most of the time, I don't get to follow as closely as I would like. This year on the ship we have sports channels and I was able to catch some of the Celtics games, though it has meant staying up until all hours of the night. When I lived in England I subscribed to MLB radio so I could listen to Red Sox games via the internet. That's not an option with the slow connection on board, so I have to follow via Gameday and read recaps the next day. I can't read it on the SI website since the sonic wall blocks it at least half the year (that swimsuit issue raises all sorts of red flags).

Tuesday night I had the television on and the ESPN tuned in (I don't know who showed it in the US, but via satellite it was ESPN)...and fell asleep 15 minutes before it started only to awake after the trophy presentation.

That's about it from here. Just wanted to say that as a Boston fan I do realize what an unusual season this is and I'm glad I get to read about it even if I can't experience it all on tv or in person. The next thing I'd like to see is a Red Sox - Cubs World Series. I'll be home by then and actually get to watch it during reasonable hours.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Patches Off

I headed out to the dockside unit today to see if I could catch "Old Lady" when her eye patch came off. She'd already had hers removed, but there were several other post-op patients in line to have their patches removed and eyesight checked. Two women in particular caught my attention. When their patches came off, huge smiles danced across their faces. Outside the tent the translators were leading a worship time, so the sounds of music carried inside. I asked the first woman if she could see and she responded, "I can't sing, but I can dance!" Hands lifted up she bounced around in her seat. I don't take the time often enough to stop in and capture these events. It put a bounce in MY step and a chuckle in my voice as I thought back to the women who were so excited this morning. Makes it all worthwhile.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Old Lady

No, I'm not talking about myself when I say "Old Lady," though I keep inching closer to that status. Today I helped relocate the patients awaiting cataract surgery from the pilot entrance to the recovery room. One of the women I led down the hallway was named Old Lady. What's with a name like that? I wondered what it would be like to call a baby Old Lady or if perhaps she had started out simply as Lady and picked up the adjective as she aged. And if she picked it up as she aged, when did she cross the magic line? According to WHO, average life expectancy for women at birth here in Liberia is currently 46; in neighboring Sierra Leone it is 42. Approximately one of four children in these countries die before they reach their fifth birthday. Startling, isn't it, in this day and age?

I've been thinking about age recently. My great uncle sent an email last week notifying my siblings, cousins and me of what would have been my grandfather's 100th birthday if he were still alive...but he died before I was born. I'm a year older than my grandfather was at his death. Sometimes I think of all he did with his short life and wonder if I have done enough with mine. I can only say that I have obeyed the call of my Father in heaven and given back to him what he has given to me. I confess it hasn't always been done joyfully nor has it always been done as quickly as perhaps it should have been, so don't think I'm anyone special! I'll be the first to tell you I'm not.

I had NO intention of going here with this post when I started...I was just going to tell you about Old Lady. Together with 25 others today, Old Lady received the gift of sight. And today someone cared enough about Old Lady to find out what her real name was, the one they called her as a child. Once upon a time there was a young girl named Denae (sp?), who grew up, grew blind, and received back her sight on a white ship in Africa. And for a little while today I had the privilege of walking beside her.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Diligence of Duty and Other Observations

Just three brief updates on previous posts:
Wednesday night I ran out to a downtown restaurant for takeout and on the way home I turned on the radio. I was amused to hear that someone was on trial for "diligence of duty." It will be a while before Liberia is back on its feet if diligence of duty has become a crime :)

When I checked the Liberia news alerts, I read that a UN helicopter crashed on landing at Greenville. That's where we flew last month to screen for patients and where I had been uneasy enough about the trip that I wrote out a revised will the night before leaving. The good news is that none of the four crew members on board at the time were injured.

Meanwhile, neighboring Guinea (it circles around Sierra Leone, so it is north of Liberia along the coast, but east of Liberia inland) continues to experience unrest, with a military revolt this past week over the issue of back pay. The trigger for this latest event was the President's removal of the Prime Minister. This doesn't strike me as the stablest of West African nations, but Mercy Ships has decided to go there in 2010. Alimou may have trouble getting home if the flights are interrupted this week.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Avoid Securing Good Health

I should be going to sleep, but I just read this article online and had to comment. Reading many (not all) African newspapers is an entirely unique entertainment, as they strive to sound professional and it so often falls flat. The following is from a story about a father of new triplets, appealing for financial aid:

"Commenting on his means of survival, Mr. George, in a rather sad tone said he previously served as a watchman but that doctors advised him to quit the job to avoid securing good health (emphasis mine), while his wife who previously sold cold water to generate funds for the family also abandoned the business due to her pregnancy."

Tell me, what is so dangerous about good health that one should do everything within his power to avoid it?!?!?!? If I were even remotely touched by this story, I would not be moved to help someone who can't bother to work because he might become healthy.

Alimou Ready to go home

Scurried around tonight to get a photo of Alimou with some of us who went to the Guinea screening. We thought he was going to fly home to Conakry tomorrow, but in the end we decided he would probably be better off sticking around here a little longer and getting stronger. Although flying will be easier than an overland tour, it will still take the better part of the day on a multi-stop World Food Program flight.

Alimou looks terrific. His head is wrapped with a compression garment in the photo. When someone has a tumor as large as he did, it takes a while for the skin to shrink back (like a woman's belly after having a baby). In September when he returns for a bone graft, Dr Gary will also trim a bit of the excess. Do that too soon, however, and he could end up with too little skin.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Rediscovering Amazement

Thursday evening I passed by some guests who are on board for a little less than two weeks. One woman was excitedly telling the others about her 'Adopt-a-Patient' experience. She was delighted with the opportunity to befriend and pray for a patient who was scheduled for surgery the Friday. That reminded me again of the delight a friend experienced as she joined us on screening trips around Guinea. She kept exclaiming, "Isn't it a-MAY-zing?"

In my 11 years with Mercy Ships I've participated in 20-30 screenings, everything from the major beginning of a field service events to driving around remote, barren prefectures in search of the elusive person with a cleft lip. I've seen people with huge tumors and damaged faces, so I suppose I've become immune to some of it. Traveling with Ann opened my eyes again to tune into to the Amazing...not what Mercy Ships does, though that is amazing...but more importantly what God is doing. Join me in a journey of rediscovering amazement as I traveled around Liberia and Guinea in April and May.

Three of us arrived in the sleepy, southeastern fishing village of Greenville. When we arrived at the hospital, there were three people waiting for us. I admit, I was disappointed...all this way for three people? Then I saw the man sitting at the end of the bench. When he turned his face toward me, I saw he had no nose. Ah, I thought, it was worth it for him. Isn't it Amazing that God sends 3 people on an UNMIL flight so he can get a new nose? And Isn't it Amazing that the day we left, a young boy with Burkitt's lymphoma came...a cancer that can be treated in Liberia and once again, UNMIL was able to provide transportation for James and his dad to fly to Monrovia for treatment?

When we headed to Greenville, I knew that helicopter travel was a possibility. I've flown on helicopters several times, but I have never wanted to! As I packed for the trip, I had a general sense of unease about the whole thing, so much so that I even wrote out an updated will the night before. I didn't tell anyone, just left it behind. When we headed to Greenville, we traveled on a small plane. The entire stay in Greenville, Dr Chris and Ann dreamed of flying home on a helicopter. Isn't it Amazing how God gives people the desires of their heart? Although I was dreading a helicopter ride, Dr Chris and Ann visibly bounced across the tarmac with a sense of anticipation.

As I looked back at pictures I took on the helicopter flight as well as during our trip to Guinea, I can't help but think, Isn't it Amazing how God creates beauty in so many different ways, from the lowland, mangrove swamps of Liberia to the mountaintops of the forest region in Guinea?
Isn't it Amazing that God could use a war to send a missionary from Liberia to Guinea? Isn't it Amazing that God could use one man with a vision and a passion to bring more people to Mercy Ships for surgery than our trips to Ganta, Greenville, and Buchanan combined?

While we were in Guinea we met a doctor who is an orthopedic surgeon who later inquired about the possibility of serving with us for a while this summer. He and his wife decided to pursue other options. Then on Friday morning at 1 (yes, 1am my time!), I received a call from someone in Texas who wanted me to know that one of the orthopedic surgeons scheduled to come in a week had to withdraw because of a blood clot in his leg. Could we check with the orthopedic surgeon in Guinea to see if he would be able/willing to fill in for those two weeks? Isn't it Amazing that God introduced us to an orthopedic surgeon a few weeks before we needed one? Something that could have sent us scurrying was resolved within hours, as the orthopedic surgeon Dr Bob and his wife accepted our invitation only 7 hours after it was offered. Isn't it Amazing?

That's just a taste of it, but I'm trying to keep my eyes and ears tuned into the Amazing.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Perils of a Name like Jean

There are certain positions on the Africa Mercy that invite invitations to special events and I happen to occupy one of them as the HealthCare Manager. So I can't say I was surprised when someone handed me an invitation to an upcoming service in June. I WAS surprised, however, to read why I had been invited. Turns out the inviting church was having a Father's day celebration and I had been offered the award of "Honored Father." I confess this is not an award I would have ever considered myself eligible for nor even aspired to, but when one is in a country that neighbors a French-speaking country, it only makes sense that they might think my name, Jean, is the French version of John. The feminine version of my name would be spelled Jeanne in French.

I turned down the invitation; I don't think it would have been proper to show up on Father's Day to collect my special award. Besides, what they really want is my money and I'm not very keen on these blatant requests for my attendance simply so I will give them funds for whatever their current project is. I was so surprised by the "Honored Father" bit that I forgot to read that part before I returned it to the person who delivered it! Guess I'll never know.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Guinea Screening

Returned yesterday afternoon from a great screening trip to N'Zao (near N'Zerekore) Guinea. It was by far the most productive of our journeys over the past month. We held screening at the N'Zao Hope Clinic operated by CMA. A missionary there has sent us patients since the Anastasis was in Guinea in 1998-1999. We were blessed by the hospitality of the CMA missionaries there. On a very practical level, it was nicer than any of our other three trips and more productive. Because N'Zerekore is at a higher elevation, it was cooler and more comfortable than Monrovia tends to be. The clinic uses solar power for most of their needs. It was nice to know the lights would turn on without the rumbling of a generator in the background.

During our stay in N'Zao we scheduled 21 patients for surgery. The first of these, Alimou (young man in the middle photo above), will fly to Monrovia this week for surgery on board. Aminata, the girl with the cleft lip and palate that I'm holding in the lower picture, will come for surgery at the end of August. She didn't speak or even attempt to speak although her hearing seemed ok, but she was very willing to be held and played with. I'm looking forward to seeing her on the ship shortly before I leave September 1.

A friend who was on the trip with us is working on a list of "You know you're in Africa when..." observations. One of the items we added to that list on this trip was, "You know you're in Africa when it takes 350,000 of the local currency to buy 3/4 of a tank of diesel." And you thought gas prices were going up in the US!

Greenville...Not Much Happening There

I tried publishing this before I left for Guinea, but it wouldn't save, so here it is a few days later.

I'm beginning to think I just can't keep up with a blog! It's been more than two months since I posted anything. There are times I think, "that would make a good subject for a blog," but I never manage to follow through.

Over the past month I've been running around the countryside looking for patients for the Africa Mercy. There was a three-day trip to Ganta (near the border with Guinea), a two-day trip to Buchanan (3 hours south of Monrovia), and a three-day trip to Greenville that felt like a lifetime! Since traveling to Greenville takes two days over land, we flew courtesy of the UN. There were a few communication snafus, but it was all worthwhile when I saw a man with no nose sitting on the end of a bench. I knew we could help him. After evaluating him and a few others, we headed back to the UN guest house. We ended up hanging out in Greenville for a few days. There is not much to do in Greenville...the only vehicles belong to NGOs and UN; I went in search of Coke in case I developed a caffeine headache, but there was none. I took pictures of kingfishers, weaver birds, cattle egrets, hibiscus, other flowers, and ants. I often take photos of flowers, but when I'm reduced to taking pictures of birds, you know I'm bored!

Coming home we had to flew in a helicopter. Usually I'm fine with flying, but for some reason I was uneasy about this trip and definitely didn't want to be in a helicopter! Dr Chris and Ann were excited about the opportunity. I just prayed we'd stay up as long as we were supposed to stay up and only come down when intended. To keep my mind occupied, I read When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin and took pictures. Here are a few from the trip.

On Wednesday Ans, Ann, Keith, Dr. Mark and I head to Guinea for four days.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Lunar Eclipse

Lots to tell you about, but little time to write. Perhaps this weekend I can fill you in on screening, etc. Last night I dragged myself out of bed to watch the total lunar eclipse. While it was prime time viewing in the US, here in Monrovia, totality started at 0301, which meant it interfered with prime sleeping time. Earlier in the evening I had checked out a NASA website that provided details of 7000 years of eclipses. While standing on Deck 8, I couldn't help but marvel at the wonder of how God set everything in motion and they continue predictably today so that someone with a computer program can tell when eclipses occured in the past and will occur over the next three millennia. The writer of Hebrews says that through his Son, Jesus Christ, God made all things and the Son holds all things together by his word.

I also considered the words of Psalm 19, "God's glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon." (The Message) I hadn't remembered these later verses, but I think they will be my prayer each day: "Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh! Keep me from stupid sins, from thinking I can take over your work." It's so easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of the days, I must often remind myself that I can't take over his work. I'm glad he wipes the slate clean and offers a new beginning each day.

I tried to get photos, but clouds moved in and there were only brief windows of clear sky. I haven't even downloaded the few I took to see if they turned out. Mostly I just enjoyed the wonder of the night and the reminder of God's steadfast presence.

President George W. Bush visited Monrovia today, so many of the streets were closed to traffic. We knew about this in advance, so we kept our eye patients overnight last night. Usually they arrive the morning of surgery, but we didn't want to take any chances with delays.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf came to the ship Tuesday afternoon and greeted the crew. She is the kind of woman one could put their confidence in as president. She has taken a stand against corruption and is making a difference in her nation.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Almost to Monrovia

We're on track to arrive in Monrovia tomorrow morning about seven. We were six hours ahead of schedule, so they've used the time to practice different maneuvers. It's a good thing everything is still tied down as we've made a lot of turns. Earlier today we had a swell from the starboard side, causing the Africa Mercy to roll from side to side. This ship is so stable that it likes to return to the upright position as soon as possible. That makes for a regular rocking motion.

I stayed up until three this morning to listen to the Super Bowl via NFL radio and watch the Game Center updates on the big screen. We don't have satellite tv during the sails, so there was no chance to watch it live. Our bandwith is minimal, so a few of us gathered in one place to listen together. Let's just say I was the only one disappointed in the outcome. When I checked my email this morning, I had one letter of condolence. Others offered their condolences throughout the day. A few people overheard and thought that someone in my family had actually died, so I had to tell them that it was just that the Patriots lost! I think I've done pretty well, considering I only managed four hours of sleep last night. A couple who arrive Friday night will bring a recording of the game with them and I've reserved the International Lounge to show it Saturday evening.

Busy day today, but somehow didn't seem to knock too many items off my 'to do' list. Worked through lunch (which ended early to accommodate our prayer time at 1245) and right after dinner I had to go to Toastmasters. I was just an Ah-counter tonight, to it was an easy night in that respect. Next week Monday will be even busier. I'm scheduled to give my 10th speech at Toastmasters in the evening and right after that the HealthCare Services Open House begins.

Good night!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Come Sail Away...

This afternoon we lifted the gangway and sailed from Tenerife with the tunes from Teodoro's trumpet touching our hearts. Teodoro is a long-time friend in Tenerife. If he's on the island when we arrive or depart, you can bet he'll be on the dock. The standard is Amazing Grace, but it's quickly followed by other favorite hymns that speak of God's faithfulness and our call, as well as give praise. When we arrived around midnight just before Christmas, Teodoro was there. We heard the strains of Amazing Grace before we picked him out, atop the sea wall near the light (you can barely pick him out in a similar location in the photo from today). That night it was Great is Thy Faithfulness that stood out in my mind and heart; today is was To God be the Glory. You know what? We're headed off on a grand adventure. I have only a general idea what lies ahead in Monrovia. We've been there fact, it seems we just left! But God doesn't allow himself to be put in a box, one doesn't really know what will come next. But this we do know: God is faithful and it's all about him, not me, not Mercy Ships. To God be the Glory.

The first picture shows it a bit better, but the seas are not smooth...not rough, but definitely not smooth. I spent most of last week seasick (the headache and dizziness thing, nothing more) and we were still in port, so you can imagine what it's like now. It's a good time to curl up in bed with a dvd or book, but work beckons. Tomorrow morning I have to present HealthCare Services activities at the Liberia briefing for the crew. If it's still like this, I'm not sure how I'll fare. It may end up being a very brief briefing!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Preparing to Sail

Quick request if anyone out there is reading this. Please pray for our staffing needs in HealthCare Services. We're in critical need of operating room nurses, dentists, and various eye specialists. If you know of anyone who fits the bill, encourage them to apply at the Mercy Ships website!

Ran into town this afternoon so I could get a yellow fever vaccine. It's good for 10 years and mine is due this summer, so figured on getting it here. Unfortunately, when we (several of us planned to get them) arrived at the vaccination center, there was no doctor and apparently he isn't open on Tuesday evenings. Now we're hoping to be able to get it tomorrow morning, though shore leave ends at 0800, so we'll need special permission for that.

Since I was already off ship, I continued to a supermarket to complete my final shopping for the next several months. In all my trips to the stores, I had forgotten to by hand soap! Sometimes the ship shop carries it on board, sometimes they don't. I've learned over the years to simply stock up on what I want. Also made the requisite stop at Viva Maria's so I could buy three fresa y limon (strawberry & lemon) fruit drinks. I drank one in the restaurant, one while waiting for my Chinese takeaway (next stop to use up Euros), and put one in my freezer when I returned to the ship. I'll enjoy that one later!

It's nearly midnight and it's just dawned on me that if there is any chance of an 0800 yellow fever vaccine tomorrow, I am going to have to leave the ship by 0720 in order to walk there in time. Good night!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Nativity Scenes in Canary Islands

As I've walked around towns on both Gran Canaria and Tenerife, I've marvelled at the number of nativity scenes displayed in public places, often sponsored by the town. In Gran Canaria the city of Las Palmas sponsored a sand sculpture contest that depicted the various stages of the account of Jesus' birth, from the annunciation to his role as Shepherd. The mall had a detailed layout that included women washing clothes and men baking bread.

In Orotava, the Nativity scene fills half the town square, directly in front of the town hall. It has details I've never imagined in when I considered Jesus' flamingos anyone?