Yearly Archives: 2012

What exactly, are we teaching the kids?

We went to poverty stricken Guinea, in West Africa. To teach the kids to have a heart for those less fortunate. Then we went to Morocco. Here, the little kids, and many adults, have learned to holler in French,

“Give me money!”

You should see my kids’ faces as I walk on by. Or, answer “Non”.

Or, even worse, dare to ask them, “Pourquois (why)?”

My kids look at me as though they’ve never seen before…Then the questions start…

Now they’re not sure whether we’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, or, shun them. While giving disapproving stares. Not quite sure where to go from here. It’s not the conundrum I was expecting to face. I’ve explained that the local children we’ve seen here are healthy and well. And that it would be offensive if we were back home in Seattle, and asked obvious tourists walking through the city, to fork over money to us. I think I just gave them their next fundraising idea.

Not sure the message is clear to them yet.

Or to me.

 

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Filed under December 2012

Warriors

Some say we’re crazy. Some say we’re brave.

We’re probably a mix of both.

But really, we’re battling for our children’s hearts, souls, attention, innocence, education and memories. And we’re doing it through travel.

The dream of taking a year ‘off’ to travel and volunteer in global development has been brewing for many years. And is driven by numerous factors, all of which seem to come back to the Little’s. Our kiddo’s. These little people we’ve been trusted to grow.

I don’t want to hope I raise children who are kind, grateful, and honest. I want to model it. I want to require it. I want them to be impacted so deeply by the people, sights, experiences, smells and sounds of this year, that they have no choice but to respond with overflowing love. Because that’s what love is, right?

Life isn’t easy. And we decided to start this year in Guinea, whereby the location of a child’s birth dictates, if they survive, that their life will be difficult. I want my children to not expect life to be fair, but to be deeply grateful for all the little things they previously took for granted. I can already tell you my G-ster will forever be grateful every time he turns on the tap and has clean, abundant, warm, water.

Life is filled with beauty and joy, and I want to teach the kiddo’s to always look for them. To see and appreciate them.  To relish the pleasure of seeing a mamma when her baby girl comes out of surgery with her cleft repaired, and is no longer a ‘devil-child’. To stop and enjoy the majesty of a sunset over the horizon. To sit and linger over a family dinner, savoring every bite and moment.

No matter where we live, we are surrounded by those less fortunate. There are endless ways to help, if we only look. I am modeling for my kids, in big ways and small, that having a heart for others is good. And, being driven to find a way to make a difference, is great. I want one of the major take-aways for this year, lodged deep down inside each of them so they can never forget, to be an expectation that it’s their job to love their neighbor. Tangibly.

‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ and ‘The American Dream’ don’t provide meaning. Being involved in something bigger than ourselves does. I want our kids to see that quitting our jobs at the height of our earning potential (so ‘they’ say), getting rid of the house, and the cars, and the stuff, in order to experience the world, has been the bigger dream for us. Because, we as a family, value experience and learning above possessions. That nonconformity and the courage to follow our dreams have already delivered us a lifetime of meaning, and life lessons, and joy. And we’re only three months in!

Life can be scary and overwhelming. But having, and keeping, quality friends is one of the secrets to getting through graciously. Miss O is one of those private girls, who before we left, shared her deepest thoughts and hopes with only one girl. And Dreamboat and I want her to open up to us. To allow us in as trusted friends. And for the boys too. We want to spend the quality time with each child, available to them, focused on them, getting to know them, so that they know and trust us. And share their thoughts and hearts with us. Even when they’re grown. But, especially, when they’re teenagers.

I want to teach the kids to delight in their accomplishments. To mark their triumphs, knowing that they’re fleeting. To participate with us as we extravagantly ‘waste’ money we’ve saved.

Most of all, deep down and without doubt, I want each child to know that we treasure them. That our love for them means we have taken this year to focus on them.

Many people plan and work towards traveling when they retire. We decided to make time now, while our kids are still at home, and Dreamboat and I are in great health, to introduce the world to them. To open their eyes and hearts, and instill in them a curiosity for learning. Even if it means not retiring.

So, people may look past us, unaware. But we’re warriors. Fighting for our kids. For their futures. For our legacy.

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Filed under December 2012

Gateaux

Tomorrow night I’m talking to all the Mamma’s onboard the Africa Mercy (AFM), about growing up on a ship, and how that has impacted my life. And how being here as a mamma myself, gives me new perspective and lots and lots of admiration and respect for these amazing women.

And, we’re all supposed to bring a dessert.

So I decided to just run into Conakry this afternoon, and pick up something yummy from a French bakery I’ve come to love.  After a couple stops to chat with street vendors I’ve gotten to know, and buy a Christmas present for G-ster, I arrived at the bakery. Hot and very sweaty, but without incident.  The cakes were beautiful. All had writing on them, so I thought I’d pick one the least inappropriate for our gathering (not for a birthday as most referred to…but none said ‘just because you need to have something yummy’).

Then I noticed the prices. And decided I should get the cheapest one. I pointed it out to the lady behind the counter, making sure it could survive a twenty minute walk home in the sweltering heat. She assured me twenty minutes would be fine. And then I went to pay. I counted out 395,000 Guinea Franks in small bills–equivalent to SIXTY dollars– at the cash register. The lady took my money and filled a small suitcase with the cash, and tucked it under the table. (Ok, not really, but that’s what it felt like.) I’d like to highlight that there’s some serious math skills, and arm strength, required to live here and deal with such large denominations of currency, in very small bills.  As I tell Miss O, it’s a real-life example of why math is necessary.

The cashier moved on to the next person, beginning to count out their suitcase of money.  As this is after all Africa, and I need to slow down a bit, and I was happily chatting with a man who’d had lunch with the President the previous week and heard about Mercy Ships from him, I waited. But the ice cream I’d also bought was beginning to ooze out the sides of the container as it melted. So I asked the cashier for my cake. She hollered for the sales lady. Then others behind the counter began hollering for several sales ladies. Then there was lots of pointing and loud discussion.

The cake was lost.

Gone.

My concern was, the cashier would refund my money, I’d have to pick another cake, and then repeat the whole counting process again.

But, a sales lady ran outside and had their security guards bring a customer back into the store to look through his purchases. A man searched high and low throughout the store.  Another group of sales ladies began unwrapping…actually ripping…the paper off the FIVE boxed cakes (he brought someone to handle the cash. Seriously) the customer I was chatting with had purchased.

And after twenty minutes, the cake was found. It had been mistakenly wrapped and added to the desserts of my conversation buddy.

So I said my goodbyes, and headed out the door. I was preoccupied with not tripping while carrying the $60 cake on the way home, so kept my gaze focused on the ground, knowing the rush-hour traffic would let me know of their presence with lots of honking, in time to step out of the way. ut, I only barelyvery narrowly avoided several speeding motorcycles, and 3 curious goats.

Without further incident (marriage proposals don’t count), the cake and I made it to the port and back onboard.

I wonder if fierce committment to desserts is something I should mention tomorrow night?

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Filed under November 2012

Dreamboat

I used to think that with time, I got smart, and picked a great husband. I’ve since come to realize I had nothing to do with it…God was indulgent and generous and gifted me this wonderful man.

Sunday was our twelve-year-wedding-anniversary.

I think our anniversary is the highlight of my year. More than birthdays. More than Halloween. (Maybe not more than Christmas, but that’s not really comparing apples to apples, as that holiday has a huge spiritual component for me.)

But, the anniversaries we share, although wonderful, are not more wonderful than any other day together. Really. In fact he’s one of those anti-Hallmark-induced-celebrations-kind of people.  He mostly avoids to-do’s on Valentine’s Day. His proposal was over crepes one nondescript Saturday. But he brings home flowers, and chocolate, out of the blue. All the time. (Well, he did. And I’m sure he will again. After we leave Guinea).  And more importantly than flowers, and yes, even chocolate, is, he is kind to me. Every day. Always.

I’m not sure how or where he learned it, but he never loses sight of his goal: To have a great relationship. With me.

So, he doesn’t say things he’ll regret.

He doesn’t do things that will hurt me (at least not intentionally).

I always know, no matter how frustrated, angry, or sad he may feel, that he loves me. That he’s in this forever. As Elvis sang to me, walking me down the aisle in the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chappel, to marry Dreamboat;

All that I want is to be near to you,

To spend my life making it clear to you,

You are my heart, my soul, my dream come true.

Dreamboat LIVES that. Every day.

People often say marriage is hard work. Work? Yes, it can be. Hard? Nope. Dreamboat is living proof it doesn’t have to be.

 

Renewing our vows, for our 10th anniversary, at the same Vegas chapel where we got married.

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Filed under November 2012

Abu

There are two men I’ve seen, in the halls of the hospital ward downstairs, that each have a very large, benign tumor growing out of the right side of their neck and face.  Today, and every day, they tie hankies over them, to keep others from being too shocked and horrified at their appearance.  But still, seeing their right eye grossly misshapen, and pushed up to the side, a good 6 inches away from where they should be, is shocking.

I had prepared myself today, with a smile on my face, ready to look them in the eyes and offer what I hoped would be solidarity, courage, understanding, empathy. But, as I walked around the corner and saw Abu (not really his name–I can’t spell it, and would like to give him some anonymity to share his story when and if he chooses), our eyes locked, and I’m ashamed to say, I recoiled. Hopefully it was only inside, and that my smile stayed in place on the outside. And then I looked at his mamma, sitting, tired and scared, by his side. And my heart broke for her. And I smiled, deeply. Warmly. With empathy and understanding. Because being a mamma, with a hurting child, whom others look at strangely, wondering what all is wrong, is something I understand.  I recognized in her eyes the look of exhaustion, tinged with hope, of someone who has prayed and begged and bargained for the life of her son, while sitting by helplessly as he suffered.

I bet his mamma was thinking about this Wednesday.  Abu is no longer the emaciated 64Kilo/103lb man that arrived onboard. He has gained over 10Kilos/22lbs. I’ve wondered what on earth is in those IV’s: Guinness? Ensure?  Whatever it is, it’s working.  Abut is now strong enough for surgery.

Abu used to be strong, and handsome, representing Guinea as one of their elite football/soccer players. Think tall, dark, David Beckham. But five years ago, a small lump began to grow on the right side of his neck. And for the last two years, he’s been unable to eat solid food. He had a few weeks left to live.

You’d think my vanity would stop me from admitting this, but injustice drives me to do some crazy stuff…A few days before leaving on our epic year of adventure, a mole on my neck got red. I called my doc and was irritated at the two-day wait to get an appointment.  But, as soon as she had a look at my mole (which until then, had been quite cute, but if I’m totally honest, may have been camouflaging a zit), she cut it off. Without even asking.  Now how is that fair?  Why is it that I received the pinnacle of science and medical care? And Abu has lived FIVE years with a tumor that is killing him? I’m not sure who to be angry at…but I am angry. Abu was, is, dying. And his mamma’s heart is broken.

His surgery on Wednesday offers hope. Without it, he will die.  Soon.  But, the surgery is not a guarantee that he will live. In addition to the usual risks of general anesthesia, Abu’s tumor has grown through the vital nerves and arteries in the back of his neck.

Because of the tumor and his misshapen face, Abu is hard to understand.  But, he, and his mamma, have talked with several people about the risks. About the risk of death. Or a stroke. And you know what Abu said?

“This isn’t living.”

“I want to take the risk.”

If Abu and his mamma have the courage to take the risk, what about me?  What about you? Where are we letting fear stop us from living?

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, you better believe I will be praying for Abu. For the doctors. For his mamma.  For his life.

I know that life isn’t fair. And I know that Abu may not live beyond Wednesday, and that he didn’t receive medical care that would have prevented this crossroads. And on Wednesday I will go and visit Abu’s mamma, and sit with her during his surgery.

But, I am also going to use this opportunity (that I wouldn’t wish on any mamma or daddy or elite soccer player or any person, in the world) to examine my life to see how I can make a difference in the wellbeing of other people’s lives, and in what areas I am not living. Where I need to take a risk.

Will you make the same choice as Abu?  And please pray for him too?

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Filed under November 2012

Flashbacks

“It’s difficult to explain what it’s like for me to be here.  I naturally want to say “back here”, but that’s not really true. I guess because I grew up on the Anastasis, Mercy Ships’ first floating hospital, it’s very much like coming home.  Even though this is a different ship, and the majority of the people are new to me.  I think being here is the closest thing to ‘home’ that I have. Most of the time that’s a good thing. A great thing.  Occasionally, not so much.

When we arrived at the airport in Conakry, there was a man there, also headed to the Africa Mercy (AFM) who looked JUST like my first husband. Same build. Same hair. Same swagger. Same outgoing personality that won over everyone he met. And even the same first name. Hopefully he didn’t see my shock (and horror) as he came over and introduced himself.

You see, the last time I was in West Africa, with Mercy Ships, I was engaged to be married. Our relationship progressed through each port of call to which the ship sailed. There weren’t many red flags. But, in retrospect, I can clearly see two. Neither were make-or-break issues. But a big one showed up as we were driving away from the wedding, when he coolly stated.

“I’m not going to do any of those things I promised.”

Thinking he meant he didn’t want to be the first up each morning, to make coffee as we’d agreed during our pre-marital counseling, I figured it was no big deal.  Little did I know he meant that he would not be living out our VOWS… At all… By ANY stretch of the imagination.  Which he did a good job of clarifying for the four years we were married.

The unfaithfulness was not the most painful part. Not even close. Neither was the physical abuse.  Neither was the loss of trust in what was supposed to be my best friend. The hardest part was the emotional abuse. The brainwashing. We’re all gifted with plenty of natural ability for self-doubt, without someone else coming in to confirm, and even increase, our belief in those lies. He called me;

“Fat, ugly, bitch.”

And, the sad part is, I answered to it.

And through it all, I smiled. No-one, NO-ONE knew the depths of my pain and confusion and depression. Not even me.

After we separated, some friends of ours invited me to dinner.  The husband asked me;

“What did you do to make him leave you?”

You see, this man and everyone else was fooled into believing his lies. Even the girlfriend that called and asked me for his new phone number, had fallen for his lies.  And the other new girlfriend whom he took to Europe on my credit card.

People thought of me as a strong person. I had thought of myself as capable. Intuitive. Wise.

That was the hardest part.

I was broken.

And it took me years to rebuild.

But, rebuild I did. And I have to say, that I like the new and improved me even better. And the lessons I learned.

And you know what? My pain was nothing like his, which drove him to such terrible choices. I’m whole. In fact, I’m better for it. (You know the saying, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’? Well, it’s true). And believe it or not, I would do it all again. The exact same. To be who I am. To be married to Dreamboat and have our three precious kiddo’s. And be spending this amazing year together, living out our dreams.

So, when we arrived in Conakry, Guinea, to begin this adventure of a lifetime, and teach our kids the importance of making our lives count, of aligning our priorities with making a positive impact in other people’s lives, I was also being reminded of a ghost from my past. Multiple times a day. I saw him at coffee break morning and afternoon, during meals, during meetings, ashore, and what feels like, around each corner.   And, I’ve realized that that chapter is long closed. The scar is healed over.

And I’m softer, wrapped in the joy and reality of my life now. And, West Africa, which I truly-deeply-madly love, is mine again.

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Filed under November 2012

A shopper’s paradise

I love West Africa. For hundreds of reasons.  One of them being the shopping.

Actually, to be more precise, what I dearly love is the bargaining – the game of it. And the well-practiced dance I get to do, with the owners of the goods. I like to pretend to be offended at a high price, and watch the man, woman, or child, return the exact same expression when I answer back with a ridiculously low offer.  I love finally coming to an agreed price, where both of us feel we’re getting a good deal. Exchanged names. And made a connection. That guarantees me a smile, and an even better deal, when I stop by the next time.

I’d happily buy something I don’t need, just for the joy of the game.  And indeed, I’ve done just that. Many times.

So, in case you like to bargain, or just to shop, here are some great places to check out if you’re ever in Conakry, Guinea.

This is a drive-up shop of bespoke, leather, hand-made, women’s bags/purses. I have to admit I’ve never seen anything like it before. They’re stunning. Just be sure to walk carefully over the little ramp, so you don’t drop your new bag into the sewer ditch.

Equivalent to a Men’s Warehouse, but you can have a suit tailor-made, for under $10/7.6 EUR. And the shoes are already broken in for you.

European car & motorbike repair shop, that will sell you a Mercedes for $3K/2,300 EUR.

Just like an Ace Hardware store. Only better. And without any sales tax.

This is a personal favorite–I am, after all, a shoe-lovin’ girl.  Look at all the colorful, high-heeled sandals.  You can grab a pair when picking up your fruit for the day. Very handy.

This place is kind-of a cross between Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Linens ‘N Things. But with more customers.

This shop reminds me of World Market, but as it’s all local art (and great quality), it’s more similar to one of those fancy mall stores that sell all the touristy stuff, from ‘famous’ local artisans.  I tried to snap a picture of all the anatomically correct statues, particularly of old ladies (who’ve fed a lot of babies), but the car was moving too fast. You’re welcome.

And, in case you should move here, there’s no need to make a special trip to a furniture store, to get your home set up.  You can just do a little drive-by-shopping on your way through town, and tie it to the roof of your car.

While I truly love all the locally-made textiles, I’ve noticed piles of imported, well-used, bags and shoes from world-class designers.  Come to find out, what doesn’t sell from charity shops in other parts of the world, is sent here. By the container-full. While it provides me a guilt-free means of buying the large, classic, quilted, Chanel I’ve always wanted, it makes me sad. For one, could someone please send over some that are only ‘gently’ used? And more importantly, it’s embarrassing.  I’m doing some questioning, and some thinking. And so far, not liking the results. But, will save the deep thoughts for another post, when I’m more informed.

All for now,

H

xoxo

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Filed under October 2012

My little man

My delicious, six-year-old G-Man is a cuddle-bug. When he forgets, (which I pray he continues to do. Frequently. For many years to come), that he’s too old for his mama’s goodnight kisses, or that he’s now matured beyond walking hand-in-hand with me, he will come find me on the couch in a quiet moment, curl up in my lap, and let me hold him. This tender, precious, boy of mine, had my heart heavy with concern when we broke the news about this year of travel.

You see G is a contented little boy. A homebody. Happy to stay home and play. Entertaining himself for hours with cars, Lego’s, dirt, or rocks. For him, a year of adventure didn’t sound like, well, an adventure. It sounded scary and foreign and far from home.

The idea of selling our house, saying goodbye to school and his friends, and leaving, was frightening to him. He struggled.

Dreamboat and I talked a lot about how to help him work through his fear. How to allow him time to come to terms with it, and to talk through what was going on in his heart. About how much he, of all the kiddo’s, needed this year to learn to think of others. To grow from the natural inward focus and selfishness of a young child, into an awareness of others’ needs. We also wanted G and his brother and sister to be aware of how great others’ needs can be. To not only see, but to open their hearts to people who truly have nothing. And to become people of compassion, whose hearts are shaped at this early age, to help others.

So, as we began selling and packing up our things, we asked G if he would separate his toys into those he wanted to keep and those he would bring to Guinea, to give to the kiddo patients in the ward. I was surprised and pleased at his generosity, and dramatic flair, as he happily piled up the majority of his toys to give away. But, being limited by airline weight restrictions, I changed my sermon to also include being generous with kids in the area who have very little and shop at second-hand stores (not sure that had the same affect; they’re some of our favorite stores). But, we set aside two bags of cars, animals, balls, superheroes, airplanes and other treasures, and we paired down his clothes so that the toys could fit into his allotted suitcase.

I’m pretty sure I questioned my grand idea, and cursed those heavy bags of toys a time or two during our travels.

Within hours of finally walking onboard our home for the next three months, we had deposited our luggage and headed downstairs to the hospital ward to meet some kids. We didn’t have far to look. And yes, we broke the rules, unknowingly that time, as ‘Befriend a Patient’ wasn’t supposed to start for a week. We tentatively went in and were enveloped by a ward full of orthopedic patients, some in pre-op, some recovering. The ward was full of friendly faces, all thrilled for the distraction from their nervousness and boredom. And parents and extended families grateful for new friends to play with their kids.

We continued to break the rules, this time not so unknowingly when I pulled out my phone camera. (I know. I know. My name is Heidi and I’m a rule-breaker. It’s been 30 minutes since my last infraction). I reasoned, very maturely I might add, that they did it first…the father of one of the little girls had started videoing and snapping pictures of us from the minute we arrived. The bravest of the little kids, a girl named Mariama, with bow legs and club feet, and a little boy named Mamu, who was developmentally delayed (and reminded me of my Peanut),  pushed and fought…to take pictures of themselves, and each other, on my phone. The rest of the room quietly took turns sidling up to G and patting his blond hair.

As we were preparing to go, I asked the charge nurse (I had already been reprimanded for the pictures, so thought it best) if we could give the kids some toys.  She said we couldn’t. It wouldn’t be fair. Unless of course we gave a toy to each of the children.  She had no idea what she was about to unleash.  Before she could change her mind, we ran back up to our cabin and hand-picked twenty-one toys to give away.

You should have seen the patients’ sweet faces.  I obviously wasn’t thinking when I took the earlier pictures, and consequently got busted, or I would have saved the rule-breaking for the best shots!  The only toys we’d previously seen in the wards were hand-made dolls of knotted yarn.  I doubt those kiddo’s had ever seen Lightning McQueen. But, they sure knew how to rev his engine and let him fly across the ward floor.

The following weekend, we went to visit and catch up with the same group of kids at Mercy Ships’ Hope Center — A ward at a local hospital, where patients stay to receive physical therapy and bandage changes, until well enough to return home. Added bonus, at the Hope Center, taking pictures is not against the rules.

When I recovered from Mariama launching herself at me before I made it through the door, I looked over to see G seated across from an albino man, with an obvious wound on his forehead (well, the wound was obvious to me. Not sure G noticed it, or cared).  They were deeply engrossed in a game of Connect Four. There was my sweet boy, not just observing others and their needs, but sitting with them, playing games, and becoming friends. Many of these patients had been outcasts, as a result of local beliefs that evil spirits caused their disabilities. But here they were, now physically transformed by free surgeries from Mercy Ships doctors. And G, with his open, untainted heart, and without a thought to the ‘propriety’ of touching this man, simply saw him as a willing participant in a game.

My heart swelled. And tears pricked my eyes. And I tried not to think about germs. And the flies landing on us. And what cholera-bearing-treats might be lurking in their nasty, flying bodies. I am after all, still a mother, who has to think of her boy’s heart, AND his health.

He spent most of the morning playing Connect Four, hollering for me to see when he was winning, and begging to play again each time his opponent won. We stayed and had lunch together.

Today, at dinner, G announced that when the year of travel is over, he doesn’t want to move home.

“Where do you want to live, Sweetie?” I asked.

“In Florida. Next to Disney World.  I’ve never been there. In my WHOLE life.”

I stifled a giggle, and took a long, slow breath. My boy is going to be just fine. Not only is he not scarred (so far), by the adventure, it sounds like he’s beginning to see the world as his potential home.  And, even if his current heart’s desire is met, and we move next to Disney World (which sounds more like a nightmare to me), his compassion and thoughtfulness are awakened. And growing.

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Filed under October 2012

Diving into the deep end

Yesterday was my first Dental Screening. I volunteered to work security. It’s kind of like overseeing, with a team of other people, hundreds of starving people lined up for a free soup kitchen that is their only hope for a meal. Ever. But this was for people who need to see a Dentist. And most of whom didn’t speak English.

I had in the back of my mind the seriousness of the endeavor, as Dreamboat had been to an Eye Screening (for double cataracts) last week, where the crowd had gotten out of hand. When the door they were pushing against began to buckle, the screening was quickly cancelled.

We left the ship at 07:00 (we use nautical time here) and were instructed what to do, how to use our radios, and outfitted with bright orange vests. No piece of clothing has ever given me such authority before. Loved it.  (I’m thinking of wearing one daily to increase the respect I get from the family.)

It was a short drive to where the offshore dental team works, and when we arrived there were already hundreds of people lined up in mostly orderly rows divided by: men, women, and children.  After tucking some cash into the back of my pants (next time I’ll wear something with pockets!), I walked down the three lines and chatted with people. Greeting old and young men, holding babies, and talking with the women. And grateful my French was coming back.

They were beautiful. Colorful (I LOVE the fabrics here). Faces full of hope. Most were full of smiles. Those that weren’t smiling were holding hands to swollen cheeks, some with tears streaming down them, with obvious infection and lots and lots of pain.

Ever had a toothache? I can venture to say it HURT. My ability to consider other peoples’ feelings goes out the window when something really hurts.  But maybe that’s just me…

Hordes of other people, those in need of non-dental medical care, milled about. Waiting. Hoping. Fathers brought their sons to me and showed me disfigured legs. Mothers brought their daughters to me and peeled back their little fingers to show webbed hands from burn accidents. A man brought his blind father. A woman raised her shirt to show me growths in her breast. The need was heartbreaking and overwhelming. I was starting to regret the vest. Many of these beautiful, hurting people I sent away with a “Je suis desolee” [ I am sorry]…

…But, I am not a Doctor. Today is for teeth problems only. For those who need a dentist.  Watch and read The Journal for news if there is another General Screening.

Those I turned away thanked me for my time. Thanked me. One father said a blessing for me as I walked him and his young son away. I was stunned. That probably wouldn’t be my first response if one of my kids was turned away. I was humbled, amazed, and inspired by him. By the beauty I have encountered in the people here. Warm. Gracious. Kind. Honoring. Even in the face of incredible suffering.

Some of these, whose ailments were operable, we were able to quietly lead away from the crowds and behind security, to a medical screener, who took their contact information, to reach out to them in a couple of days.

I planted myself at the front of the line, just to the side of a very large puddle. I thought it was safer there. Less emotional land mines for me.

As the sun began beating down full-force, some of the little children began to fidget and cry.  One mama brought over a piece of cardboard, so her kids could rest their legs and sit for a while.

The adults explained to me that many had spent the night on the street (strong word for the dirt-packed, trash-littered, grass & mud-lined place that it was).  Some had been there since 02:00.  All were tired. Most were hungry.

As surreptitiously as I could, I pulled a sweaty 10,000 GFN ($1.42 USD) from my yoga pants and asked the security guard (a handful of whom Mercy Ships hires to secure their off-shore sites) to negotiate and buy bread rolls from a woman carrying them, in true African fashion, on top of her head.  She lowered her metal pail, and forked, hopefully fresh, rolls to the children.

Snapped with my phone to not attract the military protecting adjoining buildings from photographs.

Most of the women had obviously rotten teeth. They explained that they brush regularly.  But difficult pregnancies, with lots of vomiting, eats away the enamel. It’s one of the hordes of unpleasant reasons I stopped having babies. I would be waiting in line right there with them if I didn’t have access to the dentists I saw regularly through each pregnancy. And if I were born here, to similar circumstances.

As time wore on, the sweat beading on my upper lip began to bother me. Instinctively I brushed it off. And then thought of the disease. The cholera epidemic here. The germs I must have on my hands from all whom I’d touched. And then transferred to my face. And then I was ashamed for thinking of myself. For worrying about keeping my hands sanitized, when these women with whom I deeply identified, were facing such bigger issues. And would continue to face, long after the few hours I volunteered.

I’d like to say the dental team arrived and all ended well, and eventually it did. I was truly amazed. But, it didn’t end without bringing to light corruption and sadness.

The security guard at the front of the line, against Mercy Ships direction, had been making a list, and probably taking money, to secure places at the front of the line.  Him moving people around almost started several uprisings. He messed with the wrong mama’s! But, he’s lost his job, the waiting people were calmed, and then eventually screened by the dental team. Those with urgent needs were seen immediately. Many were given appointments for today.  Many were also told to come back Monday and Thursday of each week, until all are seen.

When my radio cackled it was time to leave, I wasn’t prepared to go. Not ready to leave. If it weren’t for the meetings waiting for me back on board, I would have stayed all day, sharing in the hurts and celebrating the joys with these inspiring people.

Physically, it was a tiring day.

Emotionally, it was exhausting.

And rewarding.

And, why I’m here.

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The adventure has begun

Rather than simply change planes in Brussels, we decided to spend a few days there, to adjust a bit to the time difference, and have a family break before starting life in Guinea. This picture sums up our five days in Brussels.

We had such a wonderful family time, to decompress, eat, drink, and be silly.

The flight to Conakry, was a deep (and LOUD) dive into local culture! The man a few rows ahead, traveling with his two young daughters, had his hands full. When he couldn’t get one of them to shush, either someone sitting within the sound barrier (eight rows front, back, and either side), or someone within arm’s reach, would take one of the girls.

Sometimes the man would raise a daughter up over his seat and hand her to an unwitting (but apparently not unwilling) passenger.  Sometimes it was initiated by the fellow passenger.  All of these were strangers.

And, strangely enough, each of them tried their hand at quieting the child.  Some were men, some were women.  They each succeeded in getting the girls to sleep. And then they would quietly pass the angelic, and finally quiet, girls back to their dad.

I think Peanut knew he was going to be handed over if he fussed, and was suspiciously quiet the entire seven hours. 

Our cabin on board the Africa Mercy has been a pleasant surprise!  It’s 10% of the size of our house, (it’s still our house–the sale fell through) but much bigger than we anticipated.  We’ve got Peanut’s stroller and backpack shoved behind the end of the couch, but we’re in!

The kids’ room has a bunk bed for the older two, and Peanut sleeps in a pack n’ play at the foot of their bed.  The room is just wide enough for him to reach over the side of his crib, open either of his siblings’ closets, and dump all their contents on the floor.  He’s greatly amused.  They’re campaigning for me to pay them in TV-time, every time they have to clean up one of his messes. I like the idea of paying for chores with something other than cash, but not sure TV-time is the winning currency.

Our “Master Bedroom” (had to say that - it makes me snort and giggle) is cozy. I love that Dreamboat and I literally brush past each other a dozen times an hour. Small spaces make for lots of contact. Can’t beat that.

Hmmm…I’m thinking that in the next house, we should switch the master bedroom with the closet. That’s a much better use of space.

Speaking of closets, I brought ALL the wrong clothes. This is a Moslem part of Africa. No ‘kneevage’ allowed. I’m looking at my knees with new eyes!

During breakfast, early one morning, (and, I do mean EARLY.  There are mandatory meetings that start at 7:45 am, and Dreamboat had left at 4:00am for a screening of potential patients with DOUBLE cataracts.) Miss O was telling me that I don’t understand how hard it is to be my daughter. Had I shown more sympathy to her plight, we might have avoided the incident that followed. But, I didn’t. And here’s what did.

Miss O, quite dramatically left to use the restroom. When closing the bathroom door, which is about three inches from the kitchen sink,  she was making a point. Firmly. And she locked it.

Now, the room we’re staying in isn’t used often. And, it was once the showcase cabin while the ship was being retrofit. And the keys to the rest of the ship don’t work here. And our doors are solid metal.

Without knowing any of this, Miss O shortly tried to leave the bathroom. The door would not unlock.  I have to admit I wasn’t feeling my MOST charitable, so I let G try to help her for a minute. Then, I tried pulling the door while she tried the lock. Then pushing the door. Then we tried passing things like coins under the door, to see if she could use them to unscrew something. Anything.  G tried passing his math under the door.  I think perhaps he had ulterior motives for that one.  But, I didn’t think it was serious. For Pete’s sake, if she locked the door, she could eventually unlock it. Right? So, while I tidied up from breakfast, we continued to encourage her through the locked door, and her voice stopped quivering and took on more of an annoyed tone. Again. I chalked it up to all the adjusting we’re doing, and continued trying to help.

After thirty minutes, I sheepishly called Reception, told them of our situation, and asked if there’s a master key.  Within minutes the Duty Officer arrived.  He called the First Officer. Who called the Captain. They worked for TWO AND A HALF HOURS.

While we waited, I took advantage of the forced halt to the day, ran Peanut up to Preschool (a thirty-second-commute), and made coffee to share with the Captain. We had a great chat and the officers provided emotional support to Miss O, asking her how she was doing every minute or two. I kept her supplied with reading material.

Finally, several drill bits later, and after trying several other options, including a crowbar to the frame, they drilled through the lock.

I’m grateful for the perceived lack of my empathy, as there was a great life-lesson for my girl.

I will also be grateful when a blank plate is placed over the gaping hole in the bathroom door.

There’s not enough bandwidth to upload the fifteen pictures I had planned to include. You can use your imaginations.

 

We all, truly, love the adventure so far.

 

 

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Filed under September 2012