Tag Archives: Africa

Fierce and Clueless – My Messy Beautiful

I’m fierce.

I know that. Maybe not Beyoncé’s “Sasha Fierce”. But, fierce nonetheless. That’s who I am inside. I feel like my world is big. BIG. I feel like the impact I’m called to have on the world is big. BIG. I feel summoned.

But to WHAT????

The doors just keep closing. I’ve read all those helpful sayings, or not so helpful in my case, about rejection simply being a way to push us in a new and better direction. Or that when a door closes, a window opens. I’m looking. I’m watching. Believe me, I am. But, no apparent window or new direction has surfaced. Yet. Just more rejections. And ‘thanks, but no thanks’ emails. And phone calls saying they’re sure I’ll do great wherever else I land.

The temptation is to lower my ideals, reduce my dreams, so there’s less gap between them and my reality.

This isn’t where I thought I’d be. After getting rid of all our ‘stuff’, quitting our jobs, and taking just over a year to travel and volunteer, I thought we’d land somehow different. Better. I thought this year of intentional discovery and challenge and growth would be like a magic-carpet-ride. Transporting us to a magical place in our lives.

And for a while, with three amazing, different, jobs, it almost did.

Where I could help change the world.

But it didn’t.

And, I’m still at a crossroads.

But you know what? If I hadn’t taken this time ‘off’, I’d live with regrets. Big ones. And that’s NOT. ACCEPTABLE. Not to me.

And I know that it took huge courage to step out and make this dream happen. To rid ourselves of the things that kept us busy and scheduled and focused on things that weren’t the most important to us. And to take the kids out of school, against the wishes of Peanut’s therapists. And to spend our savings. And to go. And to do. And to see. To really see.

Seeing the Eifel Tower. For the first time.

And I know that I bring all those learnings and the amazing experiences with me. I know that Dreamboat, myself, and our three kiddo’s are forever changed, in a multitude of ways, from this year.

In addition to our new skills of surfing and Spanish, and our love of Ceviche, we have taught the kids how to love those who were unloved. (Now that we’re back, I have to admit, I’ve regretted this a teensy bit. I’m just a tad nervous, but proud too, as I watch them befriend those who are lonely, and odd, and without friends.)

How to give generously of our time, skills, and resources.

We’ve all learned to be more flexible (some of us more so than others, but nonetheless, I, oops, I mean ‘we’ have improved…at least a bit).

How to focus on others, while not losing sight of who we are. (For me, this one is hard. Unfortunately, it’s still a daily lesson.)

To appreciate the beauty of things being unique and different. And to not be frightened by them. Or to judge.

So, I’m reminding myself of these and all the other gifts we’ve received from this year. (And of course the two gorgeous bags I had made in Marrakech. I’m pretty grateful for those as well.)

And I’m trying to drown out my fears with my gratitude.

I remind myself that I would chose this path again. And I’m taking to those lessons and insights into who I am.

And I’m refusing to lower my faith in myself.

As a wise friend of mine said to me this morning, “Being uncomfortable is OK. Necessary even, to move forward and grow.”

And, she’s right. Of course. (Thank goodness. ‘Cause I AM uncomfortable. That’s a very benign word for the angst that comes in waves. Big, scary waves.)

But, I’m choosing today. Again. Not. To. Lower. My. Dreams. To continue to find a way to make my reality reach the seemingly impossible. To see the invisible and hear the inaudible and then make those things a reality. (That last sentence is shamelessly stolen from Scott Aughtmon’s FB page this morning. I love it.)

And, I’m giving myself a not-so-little pep talk, to suck it up and keep looking. Keep trusting. Keep doing life, even though I’m afraid.

We can be fierce, AND afraid. Right?

——This post and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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Filed under April 2014

The root of all evil

For those of you that need a purpose for a post, you may want to skip this one.

I don’t have any answers. Just musings and thoughts.

About money.

Money is not a topic of polite conversation. One I shouldn’t broach. But it has been bubbling beneath the surface frequently over the last few months. And I’ve been listening, paying attention (which is not always the case with me). Having spent time in West Africa, then Paris, then Peru, I feel like I have some sort of ‘Cost-Of-Living Whiplash’.

Walking down the Champs-Elysées while we were in Paris, I was struck by the volumes of wealth, and the stark contrast to the trash-littered, dirt streets of Conakry. Both cities are home to two million people, give or take a few. The differences, resulting from money, are staggering, and affect every facet of their lives.

Unlike Mother Teresa, I’m no saint. (As if there was EVER any question.)

Unlike her, I’ve not taken a vow of poverty. I’ve got absolutely nothing against having and spending money. Lots of money. As I said in, “The important things in life“, I love pretty things. The more sparkly, the better.  Who I am inside, who I was made to be, feels refreshed and deeply pleased, and a little giddy, when I am surrounded by beauty. My soul is fed. I’m also deeply motivated by helping others be successful – to make money. It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling.

But, likewise, I have nothing against having no money. Living without. Barely making ends meet. Knowing hunger. Suffering.

None of those scenarios have to do with a person’s value.

However, there were many times in my life I got that confused, and wasn’t comfortable letting people know how ‘poor’ I really was. The same goes for being known as ‘wealthy’. And I’m going to resist the urge to explain how rich or poor I was, although I’m dying to. Because, as I just said, it doesn’t matter.

And money being unrelated to our value is a really important lesson to internalize.

And it’s easy to judge people living in filth to have less value. Or at least, less intelligence. But, as the (brilliant) husband of my dear friend Susan pointed out, “Cleanliness is a luxury for those not focused on survival”.

It’s nothing to do with intelligence. Or value.

I have no greater value than the Mama I watched, as she put her little kiddo’s ‘to bed’ on a piece of cardboard on the side of the city street. (It’s been 7 months, but it still hurts to remember her.)

I know that we all, myself included, long for money to pay the bills and live in a manner we choose. And while money protects us from certain pains, it doesn’t protect us from others. It can’t buy time. It can’t mend a broken heart. Can’t remove hate, fear, or doubt. But, it can add vast complexities, fears, responsibilities, guilt, and a deep distrust of others. Especially after one more person asks for a donation. Or there’s an Op Ed about you, again, that’s not true. Or another family member asks for a favor and somehow ends up the twenty-ninth person on your taxes. (No exaggeration. I’ve a friend with that many family members on her taxes.) Or, a ‘friend’ drops your name at every opportunity, and has not ever even offered to pick up the tab when you go out together.

From what I’ve seen in the places we’ve stayed this year, money is no indicator of personal success.

And, money is no predictor of happiness.

And, success is NOT dependent on money.

The people of Conakry, with all their poverty (not the guy with a suitcase of cash and his own money handler/counter), have volumes to teach about true success.

And having spent this week in the jungles of the Amazon, I saw stark, raw, poverty, at every turn of the river.

And, joy.

These kids lived in a one room shack on stilts, but sill aroused envy from my 10 and 7 year olds. They have dream pets (a baby caiman and a sloth)! And not a single toy.

As my friend Dan said last week, after a run through Conakry, “Imagine you live in a country where it starts raining in May and doesn’t really stop until September. Your job is outside. You cook outside. You live outside. But, because of flooding, raw sewage and garbage flow through the streets. In most cities, a disaster would be declared and huge amounts of resources would be used to bring relief. But for West Africa, this is just life. As I was running, I saw people huddled under any shelter they could find. Chatting, and SMILING, even LAUGHING!

…Take a moment to realize that circumstances always change. They are like the wind. But our attitude can stay the same no matter what. I will always know that I really needed Africa and its lessons of contentment, more than they ever needed me and my medical training.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

Isn’t that that true?

Hasn’t Dan grasped the meaning of true wealth?

I’m guessing he has true success – that he wakes up in the morning with his soul at peace. Just like the people he saw laughing in the midst of the sewage and the rain. Just like the countless people I saw along, what I perceived as the ‘filthy waters’ of the Amazon River, swimming and washing and bathing and laughing.

I think money is a fantastic tool, that when used wisely, can have a huge impact. For good. Even GREAT things. I also think that having lots of money comes with an equivalent amount of responsibility, to use it wisely.

I do believe that whoever loves money never has enough. And will never find the success Dan has.

I also believe that having huge amounts of skill and talent, come with the same responsibility to be used wisely. And this is where most of us aren’t as successful. We forget, or get lazy, or don’t put the same careful planning, into spending our talents. We ignore our obligation to use them wisely.

Even though most of us long to be part of something bigger, to use our skill to make an impact in the world, it’s usually easier to let life keep flowing forward, like the current of the Amazon River, with us floating on the surface. I know it would be easier for me. I have to work willfully, which is a nice way to say work really HARD, at directing my giftings in a way that both honors me and helps make our world a much more beautiful place.

When I find that balance, and use my skill and my money to be true to who I am, while making an impact in the lives of others, I have a sense of overwhelming satisfaction. And balance. It’s the same feeling as running, in the early morning, when the adrenaline finally kicks in, and the sun pokes through the Seattle clouds and shines right on me, warming my whole being.

So I have to disagree.

Money isn’t the root of all evil. It doesn’t have any value of its own.

It isn’t the path to success or happiness.

It doesn’t bring joy.

Yes, it can shield us from the hardships of poverty—it can ensure pristine cleanliness. And yes, it can be used as a tool to accomplish mighty things.

But, necessary to any great impact that money can have…

—Is the use of a compassionate heart, a good mind, and wise use of our skills.

———————————————————–

I’ve seen the bottom

And I’ve been on top

But mostly I’ve lived in between

And where do you go

When you get to the end of your dream?

~Jeff Munroe

 

And, don’t ever forget, someone else being rich, doesn’t make you poor!

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Filed under June 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.

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Filed under January 2013

No answers here

 

While driving through Guinea in a car with the Mercy Ships logo emblazoned on the sides, we were often stopped by police. Sometimes it was for medical advice. A couple of times it was to say thank you for helping a family member.

Usually, it was asking for money.

Twice, when riding with locals, the police weren’t very friendly. And could not be cajoled out of their demands. They took the car registration and drivers licenses of the people I was with. Until bribes were paid. My friends didn’t mind much. They were pleased to get their papers back without too much fuss or delay. The money was handed over happily, and the papers were returned with complete attitude adjustments that included a smile and respectful nod. (Wish it was that easy with my kids’ attitudes which frequently need adjustment.)

While the seeming injustice of this would have angered me in the past, I no longer see bribery as black and white. You see, I’ve learned some of the police are paid no salary. And all those I saw were on foot, without a squad car in sight. They pay for a uniform, and have some training to uphold the local law, but are expected to use their authority to make their living. My local friends knew this, and didn’t begrudge paying their part in the system to support the police officers, by giving them money to feed their families.

A western doctor friend of mine, carries cash with her each day, to pay the requested bribes she encounters.

There are some definite benefits to the system.  If you pay an officer, you can have the street outside your house closed at night, and heavily protected against possible vandals or intruders.  Or, for someone like me, who’s always in a hurry, I love that you can pay, a relatively small sum, to have the street of your choice changed to one-way, going the direction you prefer.  Of course that’s fun in theory (for me anyway), and while most of the time I found it hilarious in practice, it can be extremely dangerous. And the time I spent two hours completely immobilized in traffic as my one-way street ran head-on into three lanes of traffic coming at us from the opposite direction, it wasn’t so fun. And maybe not so smart either. But somebody was having a good time counting their money while cars, buses, semi-trucks, and motorcycles, inched their way out of that mess. Some did U-turns. Some, like the city bus, used their size, and the road shoulder, to just keep on coming, while we slowly got out of their way.

But, as we know, corruption isn’t always so harmless.

Guinea has a long history of allowing officials to loot its treasury. During the last years of ex-President Lansana Conte’s rule, employees of the treasury said they would regularly see the president’s convoy drive up to their building and leave with bags of cash.

Ok, I know that sounds fun.

But, so very wrong.

Guinea’s current president, Alpha Conde, with his zero tolerance for corruption, appointed Mrs. Boiro as Head of his Treasury. She launched an investigation into the recent loss of 13 million francs ($1.8 million) which went missing from the state coffers. While I was there, she was gunned down in her car, and killed, in what her colleagues describe as a brazen assassination aimed at silencing her.~ AP. Conakry, Guinea November 10, 2012.

Many locals feel that since Mrs. Boiro’s murder, Conakry is becoming more and more lawless. Some even wonder if Guinea might not be better off run by a strongman than a well-educated humanitarian–someone who is able to keep order with an iron fist.

I don’t know the answer to that. But even asking the question saddens me.

Realistically, I wonder what the motivation is for those in power in Guinea, and many countries like it, to usher in change, and progress. What would motivate them to share power and wealth downward? To get rid of the corruption? There is a level of society that lives above the law, that has huge wealth and power, and access to education, medical care, and luxuries that I can only dream of. Where is the benefit to them?

Corruption isn’t bad for those on the top and middle of the chain. It’s impossible for the man on the bottom of the chain. When the local dockworker earns $1/day, and has to bribe the dock security at the beginning AND end of each day, then it’s impossible for him to earn a living. To get ahead. It’s those at the bottom of the chain that feel helpless. Who wait for someone or something to deliver them.

While the situation in Guinea has no easy answers, I’m not without hope. When I first visited neighboring Ghana in 1991, driving across the border into the country was like crossing over into a barren and ruined land. But, now they are the success story of the region, with development and infrastructure, and stability.

So, I’m not giving up.

As Bono says, “If you want to turn the world right side up, it’s going to take your whole life.”

This is a journey, right?

At this season of reflections and resolutions, what are you committing your life to? Where is your journey taking you? Take a look at what your actions are saying.

Join me in committing to make choices that will help turn the world ‘right side up’. To help bring peace on earth and goodwill to all humankind.

Please.

*I must give credit to Susan Parker, for blatantly plagiarizing her account of Mrs. Boiro’s murder, and the inspiring verse I used in the close above. They’re taken from her column in this month’s Navigator on the Africa Mercy. See, corruption really is rampant. I’m going to have to start with some serious housekeeping in my own life.

 

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Filed under January 2013

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

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