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.