Tag Archives: Africa Mercy

My boyfriend is no girlfriend

This is a long one. I plannned to divide it in two, but couldn’t find a way to make it work. So, grab some coffee and settle in, or read it in parts. As you wish.

———-

Before I was ready to hit ‘publish’ on the previous post, I asked Dreamboat (my legally permanent boyfriend) to give me his input. His response: “I got bored half-way through.”

I laughed out loud. Love that man.

But, he’s no girlfriend.

And, he got me thinking.

One of the secrets to getting through the circus that is my life, as graciously as possible, is having and keeping friends. Good, wonderful friends.

Being so far away from home, and unable to speak the local language, makes me miss my friends, themselves scattered all over the globe, even more. I’ve spent a lot of time this last month thinking about how wonderful they are and how much they mean to me.

It wasn’t always that way.

My first seventeen years were mostly lonely. Difficult. Painful.

Thank God for family – the people who become your first friends, and are stuck with you, while you figure out how to be a friend too.

I was watching “The Bachelor” today, when in one of the girls said in her cameo, “all of the girls are going to be so jealous of me.” She meant it. When asked what she has to offer the Bachelor, instead of talking about her unique qualities, she was thinking about the other girls. And how to make them jealous.

Why is that?

Why is it that girls are known for being intentionally mean to other girls? Why do we so often compete with each other instead of support and encourage each other?

It made me sad. (But, to Dreamboat’s huge embarrassment, the show, I find hilarious.  I think we should make a drinking game for every time someone cries. Or for every time there’s a kiss.)

But, back to my point. I think girls being mean stems from insecurity.

We think that deep down, we’re not good enough. (Not pretty enough. Not kind enough. Not lovable. You fill in your insecurity…)

For me, it’s more personal than watching a reality show on TV (well, VPN’d into a US IP address, and watched on my laptop with ear buds so as not to irritate Dreamboat unnecessarily. I save that for other times). I know what it looks and feels like first-hand.

Growing up on a ship limited my pool of friends. There were many wonderful people who lived on board for a short time, whom I loved. But then they left. And I felt like I was in constant mourning—saying goodbye to friend after friend, after friend.

Of the other families that lived on board long-term, like we did, there were two other girls my age (WHY is it that when you’re young, age makes SO much difference?). They were six months older than I was, and in the grade above. Not always, but most of the time, I was the odd-man out. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it got so ugly, that for a while we met weekly with our moms and were refereed by the school principal, to sort out our regular ‘misunderstandings’.

It was hurtful. And I blamed them.

Looking back, I’m not sure I was any less catty, or petty, or mean. I do know that I was insecure and trying to find my place.

What happened when I was twelve didn’t help. There was a boy whom I admired more than anyone else in school (as did most of the kids onboard) for his kindness, ability to have fun in any situation (and we were in some doozies in various countries), and athletic skill. We didn’t have much opportunity to play sports, but he seemed born an expert at them all. One Saturday morning, while he was talking in the hall outside my cabin, he was asked whom he thought was the prettiest girl onboard. After being badgered a bit, he answered, “Heidi. But, I’d NEVER date her.”

I could feel my insides shrivel up.

HIM saying it, made it so much worse. I was completely blindsided. For weeks it hurt, even to breathe.  You may think I should have been grateful for the compliment on my looks, but appearances you can’t help (at least not much at twelve). You’re born that way. But, I took what he said to mean that who I was—ME—wasn’t good enough.

Now, I can’t blame overhearing that conversation, and its impact on me, for all my insecurities. Or for my part in the cattiness with the other girls. But, it took me a long time to know that I’m beautiful inside.

When I was seventeen, the older two graduated, a new influx of long-term people moved onboard, and my world changed. Brightened. Friendships with other women blossomed. Especially with Susan. She helped turn the tide. It sounds like a weird womance (since ‘bromance’ is out there, we should have a word too, right?), but I remember when I first saw her. She became a loyal, fierce friend. In fact, a few miserable months into my first marriage, when I finally was able to whisper the painful mess I was in, I called Susan. We haven’t had much time together in these last many years (more years than I want to say), but the last three months in Guinea, while we were volunteering on the Africa Mercy, she was there too. We laughed, cried, laughed some more.

Here we are with another friend, who also meant the world to me. I wish she’d lived onboard more than those few months our senior year!

Here we are at Miss O’s birthday party a couple months ago. Susan showed up to do the set up and the entire cleanup.

Susan, and the many, many wonderful friends that have followed, yes, including friends I’ve grown to love and appreciate from those lonely years onboard, have been a source of strength, wisdom, comfort, support, and lots and lots of fun.

I don’t want to consider where I’d be without those feelings of being whole and known, sometimes, too close for comfort.

They’re from many different languages and cultures, with strongly opposing views and faiths. My Facebook newsfeed is an education in juxtapositions, which I find highly entertaining and also thought-provoking (that’s a good thing).These friends who help provide me with a sense of ‘home’, no matter where I am, are old and young. Many are ‘unique’ and ‘quirky’. I like them. I need them. I learn from them.

Yes, because I move around so much, home is not always a place. For me, home is an experience of belonging. To create that with new people, takes physical and emotional presence. It’s intentional. While I’ve watched some of my friends chose to emotionally distance themselves from the hurt of potential goodbyes, I’ve chosen the other path. To continually open myself to new people. To see them as adding to my life’s riches, and taking them with me as I go.

Staying close to those who are far away—yes, it’s painful. It means leaving pieces of my heart with people and places—requires nourishing and treasuring them when I no longer have the physical proximity. I keep them in my heart, wherever I may go.

Here’s my group of girls who joined a little ‘bon voyage’ party as we left Seattle.

If I could go back, and talk to my twelve-year-old-self, in an effort to avoid ‘the lonely years’, I’d start off with reprimanding her for being myopic. For being overly focused on myself. Selfish. (I know it’s the usual tween affliction and necessary to grow into an independent adult, but really, it’s soooo not attractive. Or helpful.) If she would just take the time to really look at others, she would see them absorbed in the same struggle to become their best selves. I would tell her that eventually, she would learn to turn her sensitivity outward. To be empathetic to others. To be a source of strength when they feel insecure and in need of encouragement. Then, I would tell her that the world is a big place. Without limitation. And that she should celebrate all her successes, AND her friends’ successes. That life is not a zero-sum-game (pulled from my ever-reducing vocabulary from global econ class). Our life is not reduced by the successes of others. There is no limitation and need to compete. If anything, my life now (and could have been true for my life at twelve) is enriched by others’ successes.  I would tell her that there is limitless satisfaction in being part of others blossoming. Sharing in their joy as they grow into their talents.

I would also tell her to start speaking her mind a LOT sooner. She has some great insights to give her friends, and the wisdom is wasted when she’s silent. Those truly worthy of her friendship want the wisdom. (Such a simple thing to say now, but if she could do it, she might sidestep that abusive first marriage).

Another life-lesson that has saved me in countless ways, and that Dreamboat and I taught in our management training workshop, is MRI—Most Respectful Interpretation—which basically means to think the best of people. Assume if someone’s acting strange, that unless they say otherwise, then the problem is with them (an issue at home, late night, work disappointment, etc.). Dale Carnegie, who coined the term, explains it much more eloquently, for a management setting. But, the basic principal is it’s not all about me. Don’t assume it is.

One of my dreams is to make a difference. For my life to count by being part of something bigger than myself. I got to do that in a really big way, by volunteering on a hospital ship. But, I also try to do that in small ways. Everyday. No matter where I am. Everyone needs relationship and intimacy. It’s beautiful to be known and loved.  And, as I give of my heart and my time to others, I receive in return the strength I need, to help keep my vision, passion and courage alive.

While Dreamboat is my lifetime friend (thank God for his honesty. I need it.) and I’ve lots of male friends whom I love, including my brothers…

One of my brothers may love me just a little bit less after posting this pic of him, but I just couldn’t resist.

 …sometimes a girl craves time with her girlfriends!

 

6 Comments

Filed under February 2013

God is great. God is good. Let us pray.

While I perused my book this afternoon, and soaked in the tub, ignoring the eighteen, yes EIGHTEEN, attempts to open or unlock the door, I was also mulling over whether to write this post, about some comparisons between Muslims and Christians, and how they challenged me.

You see I’m more comfortable with my public self being seen as funny and kind. And a bit shallow. I’m very new to blogging, and I’ve seen vitriolic comments on friends’ posts, where they voiced an opinion on something deeper than soapsuds. But, I can’t stop thinking about this, and this year is about doing what’s right and what my heart is telling me.

And, I took a vow of honestly when I started writing. So, here goes.

As you may know, we spent the first three months of our year ‘off’, volunteering in Guinea with Mercy Ships Then we went to Morocco, for the two weeks over Christmas. Both these impacted our family in countless ways, which I won’t go into now. Travel isn’t new to me—I’ve spent time in over sixty countries. But, I was continually surprised by Morocco. The people that I met, the countryside I observed, the customs that I learned–in fact, the entire experience was amazing. Inspirational.  (And, I’m still in awe of their abundant, delicious produce).

Morocco is a majority Muslim country. Their two main tenets or “wings” are: 1) love God, and 2) do good deeds to benefit yourself, your family, the community, and mankind.

They have a beautiful saying that ‘No bird can fly conveniently with only one wing or with one wing weaker than the other.’ And, a Muslim can’t be welcomed in Heaven unless he is keeping a good balance of the two Islam wings.

Because of my American passport (the whole ‘One Nation Under God’ thing), most Muslims associate me with ‘Christians’.  What may be news to you, is that includes all things “Hollywood”. Including your worst-nightmare-styled-cheap porn (as opposed to the quality, expensive variety. But, I digress). And, right-wing Teaparty politics. And, blowing up an occasional doctor who works at an abortion clinic.

I find it fascinating, and sad, that pornography and political extremism and murder are synonymous with Christianity, to much of the Muslim world.

(I know this is completely off-topic, and not at all important, but I’m dealing with my aging skin as well right now. I also find it fascinating, and sad, that the not-so-fine lines, are becoming a permanent part of my reflection in the mirror.)

I had all that knowledge in the back of my head upon arriving in Morocco, where Moulay, our ‘Guest Liaison’, asked me to not let the ‘call to prayer’ disturb us in the early mornings, but to be “overwhelmed by feelings of blessings and prayers for our good health”.

(Isn’t it crazy that we had a ‘Guest Liaison’? I know!  It sounds so fancy and sassy at the same time.) If you want someone to buy amazing, Moroccan treasures, and then ship them to you, let me know. Moulay’s your man.

And, as Moulay forewarned, each morning, and an additional four times throughout the day, the call to prayer is sung by each mosque’s Imam (leader), and amplified through their loudspeakers. Did you know there are mosques on most corners? At least one per block of every village, town, and city in Morocco? They’re hard to miss during the call to prayer, FIVE times a day. Especially when you’re warm and snuggled with your love under a duvet in the early morning. And when you’re trying to have a conversation, or keep a train of thought, during the other times throughout the day.  But, I guess that’s the point…

The sound wasn’t pleasant to me at first. It was foreign and a bit frightening. And, very off key. But, that may have been because I could hear six different Imam’s singing. And their timing was more than a little off. Not even One Direction would sound good with that many harmonies going on at one time. Or at close to the same time.

I found out the Imam’s are all saying, “God is great. God is good. Let us pray.” And pray, they do. Even in the really fancy, western mall, there’s a prayer room. So Muslims can take a break during their shopping, to stop and worship God.

Even more glaring than the call to prayer, were the cats and the beggars.

There are stray cats all over Morocco, (OK. So the 3 cities and a couple little villages I got to know). Not really many dogs to be found, as in other parts of the globe. But cats. Lots of cats. Miss O, who is 10, was all set to be dramatic and upset that the cats go hungry and are unloved. (Currently, her tears are saved for the imagined misfortunes of animals, and of course, if she feels slighted by me or Dreamboat.) But, NONE of the cats we saw in Morocco were skittish, worried of mistreatment. The cats there aren’t afraid of people.  None of them are scary skinny. All seemed fed and sleek. On NUMEROUS occasions, I saw people dropping off scraps for the neighborhood felines. As a result, and another one of my many side-notes, Morocco doesn’t seem to have a rodent problem. Anywhere.

You may not be interested in cat care, but our curiosity grew until the kids volunteered me to ask someone. I learned the second Muslim tenet applies to animals too. So, they’re treated WELL. And the same tenet spells out that it applies to all ‘mankind’. That’s why, when we were stopped at red lights, and there were beggars, the taxi drivers would roll down their windows, kiss the cheeks of whomever was asking for food or money, and hand some over. The first time it happened, I thought the beggar was a dear friend or relative of our taxi-man.

The locals didn’t shun the homeless. Or look the other way. In fact, people called out blessings to them, asked about their health, and prayed for them.

I was in awe. And kept looking for signs that it was just a mirage. But, as far as I could tell, Morocco is a country that reminds its people to pray five times a day, remembering that God is good and great. Whose inhabitants believe, and demonstrate, that beggars and strays are to be cared for, and who are kind and welcoming to people of other faiths—even the violent, pornography-loving kind (‘me’). And, it’s clean. Pristine. Without any apparent graffiti problems.

I find it fascinating, and sad, that terrorism and political extremism and murder are synonymous with Muslims, to much of the western world.

I’ve been around the block enough to know nothing is really that black and white. Or, that simple. Dear me. Not even my feelings for my precious kiddo’s, for whom I’d give my life, are that simple—they are children, after all.  And, there are ongoing Muslim riots in France. Last week was the terrible hostage crisis in Algeria, led by Muslims, where the death toll still isn’t final. And the killer in the Aurora mass shootings was a Christian. As was the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary.

I guess what I’m saying is, let’s all be inspired by Morocco to not just ‘talk our faith’ (whatever your faith may be). Let’s show it. Let’s make time to pray. Let’s do good deeds to benefit ourselves. Let’s do good deeds to benefit our friends and families. Let’s do good deeds to benefit our planet. And all mankind.  And I’m also saying that what looks different, can be frightening. But, if we look a little closer, we might see more similarities than differences.

My visit to Morocco is going to be the fodder of life-lessons to my kiddo’s and my inner-Heidi, for years to come. I’m going to remind us that we have choices to make as we live out our faith. And no matter what, we can do what’s right. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said; “The time is always right to do what is right”.  I often forget this. I procrastinate. I justify.

Our time in Guinea was focused on helping those less fortunate. Which I loooooved. But, in many ways, I learned more, and was challenged more, and received more wisdom, from our ‘vacation’ to Morocco.

3 Comments

Filed under January 2013

Bad attitude

So, I feel a bit badly about this post. It’s not happy and doesn’t sound like me. But, it is honest. It is where I am right now. Next week will be better, maybe even in a couple of days. Promise.

I know the phases of culture shock, and that settling in is just ahead. But, I can definitively state that the ‘honeymoon’ phase of living in the Spanish village of Gaucin is firmly behind me. Right now I’m stuck in ‘cranky’. Which is my nice word for it. Dreamboat and the kids may have other words to describe it.

Most of my friends think of this year of travel as a collection of amazing locales. And fabulous cuisines. And they’re right. I did too. But, you know who’s cooking and cleaning in each of those places? And doing laundry? And wiping dirty bottoms (not just my own)? Yep – me.

Right now, following my dreams looks a lot like being a housewife. Just with a change of location.

At this moment I’m in this little Andalucian village, perched in the mountains above the Mediterranean, and gazing over the spectacular views. It is even more picturesque than it sounds. Stunning. See…

View from my bedroom. Really.

View from my bedroom. Really.

 

Sun setting over Gaucin

Sun setting over Gaucin

 

Calipha, 'our' donkey.

Calipha, ‘our’ donkey.

And I feel stuck. Trapped.  And I feel badly for feeling badly.

And I wonder why we’re here and how long I can last.

I look back on the three months in Guinea with longing. Not really wanting to go back to life on the Africa Mercy, but missing the constant knowledge that we were making an impact in the lives of others. And missing the challenges of life in Africa. Truly. (I am one of those crazy people that thrives with obstacles to overcome.)  And I miss lots of activity. And I miss my friends. (And I miss having a scale. Where’s the reward in eating well and exercising daily when I can’t know how much weight is melting away?)

And, I have to admit, I’m a city girl. In addition to a certain level of activity and availability, I’ve gotten accustomed to a high standard of coffee (my mom’s entirely to blame for that one – and I’m grateful to her), which our drip coffee maker does not live up to. And that last cup, five hours after the pot was initially brewed, is simply gross. No matter how much heavy cream I add.

The nearest movie theatre is an hour away, and without a car, it’s unlikely I’ll see a movie while we’re here. Funny thing is, I don’t really care about whether or not I see a movie, but being unable to see a movie is a different story. That makes it feel like it wasn’t my decision. Back to being trapped.

And Dreamboat is loving it here. Which is irritating. He’s reveling in the quiet. In the beauty. And the older kiddo’s have just started in the local school and are immersed in Spanish, just like we wanted.

First day of school

First day of school

And, apparently, not in need of future therapy for it. They’re happy and making friends.

I’m obviously not like them.

Part of the issue is that I miss having a job. I know. Crazy, right? But I’m more comfortable in my role as worker-person, than house-wife person. I’m trying not to be bored, to figure out my new role. I know it’s good for me. For us. But, really, so far, I don’t like it much.

But, I think I’m going to start looking for our next place in a larger town, with easier access to trains and buses. With, stores big enough to handle the pushchair (stroller) without knocking people out of the aisles like bowling pins. Which sell both toothpaste and veggies under one roof…to keep from having to constantly apologize to my family for my attitude. Which I’m going to change. My attitude, that is. I’m going to focus on my many, many blessings. And the view. And how lucky I am. And I’m going to learn to slow down and enjoy the quiet. And I’m going to speak up more and allow Dreamboat to give me the perspective that I need. To help me get balanced again. And I’m going to continue enjoying all the many, many cuddles and kisses with my Peanut. Whom, by the way, is also thriving.

And I’m reminding myself, that even though I’m worn out by details of everyday life, sometimes that’s where victories are won. I’m in the right place. For now.

9 Comments

Filed under January 2013

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?

4 Comments

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.

1 Comment

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.

11 Comments

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

Comments Off

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.

4 Comments

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.

8 Comments

Filed under September 2012

Home – part two

I’m often told how strange/odd/unique/different I am.  It’s true. I am.  Just today I was trying to fill out one of those online password reminder forms.  It wanted the street I grew up on.  The city I lived in. My 3rd grade teacher…NONE of which I could answer.

So, here’s a bit of background on why I am such an alien. Happy alien. But still an alien.

I grew up on a ship. The Anastasis.  She was  a 522 ft. (183 m), 11,650 ton hospital ship that recently ‘retired’ (it was time.  She deserved to sail away on still, aqua waters, forever.  But, it was and still is, very hard to say goodbye). I moved onboard when I was nine.

See that third porthole back from the 4th deck up? I drew a yellow arrow for you…that’s my cabin…IS my cabin. ‘Cause in my head it’s still mine.

The facts are pretty simple.  How I felt about it is more complex…which I’m sure will feature in future blogs, as its part of who I am.

The Anastasis belonged to Mercy Ships. A non-profit organization that brings hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor.  All their work is given for free.  They perform all sorts of surgeries, like the cleft lip and palate repair on this little one.

Their crew of volunteers minister to those terminally ill.

Train local personnel to address mental, neurological and substance abuse disorders.

Agricultural training.

Maternal health training.

Varied construction projects to build local hospitals, training centers, orphanages, and other community service facilities.

And distribute food and other supplies to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Here a picture of us kids (me, Luke and JP), shortly after we moved onboard, and then with Mom & Dad, and Charles, after he was born.

During my ten years onboard, we sailed all over, usually spending half of each year in the world’s poorest nations (by WHO standards), and visiting 1st world countries the other six months, to gather supplies, support, and volunteers.

‘The Ship’ as everyone calls it that lived onboard, was like a floating village.  There were upwards of 500 people and over 50 kids at any given time.  We had school in a designated area, built-out with classrooms on the aft (back) of one of the decks.  And unfortunately, Mom was the Principal for a while. I didn’t like that so much.  She was great, but you can’t get away with anything when your mom is your teachers’ boss…

We did science experiments and had piano lessons (and the dreaded recitals).

A nuclear submarine engineer and Chief Engineer taught my advanced trig and calc classes. During the summers we had to volunteer with the department of our choice.  My favorite jobs were volunteering with the fire team, the aft deck snack shop, and working with a construction crew. I’m sure painting on my arm was really helpful.

These glimpses into my life don’t really begin to describe it. I loved every minute of it in many ways, and at the same time really suffered from it too (mostly because of who I am). One of the things I found the hardest was the constant goodbyes to friends, either as we sailed away and waved goobye to them and their country, or as other ‘ships kids’ and their families moved back ’home’.

But, growing up on the ship gave me an innate understanding and love for people of other cultures.  That raises the question of what ‘other’ cultures are. Hmmm. Not sure what culture I am…But I know I am so very grateful for how blessed I was, and am.  Growing up as I did was the amazing gift that made me who I am. That gave me the heart for development. That exploded my worldview. That gave me such a feeling of fulfillment and joy. That helped me truly see and really love people.  All people.

And now, Dreamboat and I are about to take the kiddo’s back! Back to living with people from 149 countries.  Back to making a difference.  Back to doing our small part to change the world.

We start volunteering (yes, we’re PAYING for the privilege to work) on the Africa Mercy this fall.  This ship will be in Guinea.  My life, in an awesome and strange way, is coming full circle.  I get to introduce my kids to my home.  It will change their world…and make them odd too.

And by the way, I like being odd.  It suits me and it will suit them :-)

4 Comments

Filed under July 2012