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.