Tag Archives: Africa

Diving into the deep end

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Physically, it was a tiring day.

Emotionally, it was exhausting.

And rewarding.

And, why I’m here.

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Filed under September 2012

The adventure has begun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

We all, truly, love the adventure so far.

 

 

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Filed under September 2012

Nighttime dose of reality

I know the pictures of us touring Brussels look like so much fun. And we are having a great time. But, let’s not romanticize what traveling with three kids can look like. I won’t go into the detail of the fighting and bribing to get two of the three kids to eat, at two of yesterday’s three meals (we fixed the usual fare for breakfast, in our apartment).  But, I will give you a brief overview of what the night looked like.

We were going to have an early night.

That was the plan. But, plans don’t always happen.

After blowing (Ruining. Forever.) our Bluetooth speaker (our only provision for the music required for family dance-offs), Dreamboat figured out how to accommodate charging 3 devices through an assortment of converters, power strips, and adapters. One of the devices was my phone.

Dreamboat and I finally turned the light out just after midnight. I swear I had turned my phone off. Repeatedly. But, as it was one of the lucky electronics to be charging, when someone called at 2:30 AM, it rang. And rang. And rang. I finally unplugged it to get it to power off.  Even though it was arguably my fault, for the sake of preserving friendship, I’m not going to find out who called.

The call started a chain reaction.

First Peanut woke from what he thought was an afternoon nap.  After 30 minutes of listening to him (and potentially cursing his being awake. Potentially), I got up and gave him a Melatonin.  Yep. Drugged the Peanut.  Shouldn’t have wasted my time.  When I went back to bed he yelled loud enough to be heard back in Seattle. Woke the other two kids.

Here’s where the night took a decided downturn.

I brought Peanut to bed with us.

Now, I’m not a family-bed-kind-of-person.  No judgment here for those who are.  (I believe that whatever works for your family and gets your kids reared with the least parental-suffering, and I suppose, least child-suffering too, is a good way to go.)   For me, that means no co-sleeping. Co-sleeping means I suffer. And we all know, “when mama’s not happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

I need my sleep. Dreamboat and kids will agree, I need my sleep.  In fact, I can totally see the appeal of Carol-Burnett-style-separate-beds. Just saying. (And, obviously I am seriously sleep-deprived or I wouldn’t ever say that. Ever.)

So, bringing Peanut to bed, which was a selfless gesture on my part to allow the older kids to sleep, had the usual disastrous effects on me. Even though I got more cuddles and kisses and slobbering and kicking and face-patting and hair playing (pulling) and eye poking and hand-holding than a girl could wish for.

Peanut thought he was in Heaven.

I thought I was in Hades.

Dreamboat slept through it. All.

At 5:20 am, Peanut fell asleep.  I immediately carried him back to his pop-up-crib and returned to bed.  Where I eventually fell back asleep.

At 7:00 am, construction started on the building across the street. Let’s just say my thoughts weren’t charitable and my earplugs, which I wear every night, can’t stand up to hammering on metal. With a metal hammer. At 7:00 am. After having been asleep for only 1.5 hours.

At 7:30 am, Miss O came in to show me a bite on her finger. A bite, on her finger?  From a bug. That’s why she thought it was ok to wake me? Really? I refrained from giving her a bite to complain about. But I thought about it.

I sent her away without acting on my thoughts. I thought I was even pleasantish. (Miss O may have a different opinion.) But, I bet she won’t wake me to show me a bug-bite tomorrow morning.  Although, she might wake me for a hangnail.

At 8:00 am, G woke up. And came to tell me was awake.  Wasn’t that thoughtful of him?

I gave up. Got up. Made some coffee.

I have to say, Douwe Egberts makes some delicious coffee. And, when paired with heavy whipping cream, it makes me happy.  And, drinking several 10-ounce ‘cups’, from a European-styled bowl, makes me really happy.  And helps to make-up for the lack of sleep.

So, I’ve now been up three hours, and Peanut is still sweetly sleeping.

And I’ve had lots of coffee.

I’m equal parts admiring and envious.  But, I’m letting him sleep.  How can I begrudge him the rest he needs, that also gives me the quiet I need to write?  And to enjoy yet another large bowl of heavy-cream filled coffee?

Once Peanut wakes, we’re off to explore the Atomium and other Brussels monuments, and free-museum Wednesdays.

And I’ve already warned the family that I may not be at my most-sweetest today. Let’s just hope there’s no discussion over trying new foods today.

They’ve been warned.

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Filed under September 2012

For My FIVE Kids

Not sure I would ever say this out loud.  But, this is my private journal (right?).  I wrote this alone in a motel room, after a lovely glass of chilled rosé (it’s my favorite summer wine). And I recently read an inspiring story about an abandoned child that was rescued by Mercy Ships.

And, although I currently have three children, my key password at work is: For My FIVE Kids.

It’s not figured into our budget. There are no additional airline tickets purchased. And, just yesterday, Dreamboat tried to get me to agree we would NOT. But, here’s my secret hope…

There will be a child. Or siblings. Who need love. Our love.

I’ve always wanted five kids.  I remember Dreamboat’s eyes when I told him this particular dream of mine, on our fourth date (right after I told him that I don’t share well, and if he wanted to date the other girl he was seeing, then no hard feelings, but I wasn’t interested).  Well, obviously Dreamboat bet on me, and we’ve made three amazing children. And I barely lived through the pregnancies. And the family barely survived me being pregnant.  And I wouldn’t want to add children to our family while I’m busy working with my corporate clients.

BUT, while we’re taking this year to focus on family, should a child (or children) be without love. Without family. Without resources. Without hope.  Then, I want to be their answer.  We have love to give.  We have more resources than they were born to.  And, with this year “off”, we have the time to spend, incorporating them into our family structure. Loving them. Nurturing them. Showing them they are valued and unique and treasured.

It may not happen.  It doesn’t usually happen this way. In fact, Guinea’s adoption policy with the US is complicated.  And if it doesn’t happen, I’ll be OK. Disappointed. Maybe a bit heartbroken. But OK.

And, knowing me, I may put the dream to one side…but only for a while.

Miss O wants a little sister. I’m happy to comply. But, I’d be happy with any child. Boy or girl. Or one of each. Or two of one.

7 Comments

Filed under Aug 2012

Education and discontent

When Dreamboat and I were first married, we used to dream. A lot.  We’d play “What would you do if you won the lottery?”  We were broke and it was fun. And we learned about each other. And what inspires and motivates us.  And, not surprisingly, we learned that if there were piles and piles and oodles of money lying around (those MEGA million lotteries were the most inspiring), we both wanted to support education.  For other children. For other adults. For other countries.  Because we both firmly believe that when you educate a child, you bring hope to not only that child, but their family, their village, and their entire country.  As a former high school substitute and French teacher, I firmly believe this.

And, funny enough, my clients at Microsoft for the past several years, have been in education. Strange how that works. Isn’t it?

And, I’ve been inspired. (You will be too if you check out this video.  Promise).

And I’ve been reminded of the need for more education. Anthony Salcito, their VP of worldwide education is working tirelessly to support his belief that education for every child should be a Right. NOT a privilege. (I couldn’t agree more). His daily highlights of education heroes will remind you too (and inspire you. And on occasion, bring you to tears).

And I’ve been convicted to do more.

OK. I have to insert here that the ‘conviction’ partially came through hours, months, years of misery at work.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely, dearly, truly love Microsoft, and the $500 million they’ve poured into education (reaching 8 million teachers and 190 million students). I’ve gotten my kicks working with Ministers of Education around the globe. I’ve loved rolling out lesson plans focused on protecting our environment to 149 countries. I’ve been privileged to participate in bleeding-edge discussions around child-directed learning. It’s also been rewarding to get to challenge the Microsoft employees to do their part in education. To make a difference too.

And I sat next to CEO Steve Ballmer once (I’m still a total nerd at heart).

And, I got to make a few new entries to the list of countries I visited…which I have kept over the years.  I first started writing it in high school, when I was bored in classes.  I’ve kept it up in all sorts of boring meetings since then. That and ranking the list of guys I’ve kissed…which of course, I don’t do anymore.  (That also gets boring when Dreamboat clearly outranks anyone, and new entries stopped over fifteen years ago.)

Yes, I am that shallow. And obviously have no shame. Sorry Mom.

But, inside, I grew dissatisfied. And I lost some of my passion. I grew quieter. I started to settle with the small decisions. And then with the bigger decisions. And stopped voicing my opinion. And I felt like I was wimping out. I wasn’t living my best life.  I had more to give. More to do. More to be.

Of course being an entrepreneur in a large, corporate setting, isn’t easy either.

But now, as part of our year of travel, we’re going to DO more.  We’re going to volunteer with Mercy Ships, who work tirelessly to educate others about health, agriculture, and micro-enterprise.  We’re going to volunteer at an orphanage in Peru, and help ensure those children get the love and education they need to flourish and live their best lives.

And… and here’s the funny/hard/interesting part. This year away also means we’re going to school our own children.  HOMESCHOOL.  That word used to send chills down my spine.  I should never have said ‘never’. I know better.  But here we are. Homeschooling three kids for a year.  And I know that I’m putting into practice and living out what I believe in.  That education can change lives. And will change the lives of my kids. That this year of adventure and helping others, and culture shock, and hardship, and surfing lessons, and fine wine (not for the kids), and opening our kids’ eyes to the world, will teach them more than they could learn any other way. That this year of adventure will be the best education I can give them. And that they will be changed because of it.

And, they will thank us…maybe not right away, maybe not for a few years…but they will, in time, think of this year as one of the greatest gifts we could give them.  And, just like my time growing up on a ship made me who I am, this gift will shape who they become.

 

Ps – I’ve taken on one last client (of course it’s all about education) before we head out, to raise awareness for Microsoft’s Global Forum. It’s a joy and an honor to work to celebrate the world’s most innovative educators, who bring learning to life in the classroom and impact millions of students. And, hopefully (it’s commission-based) it will provide some income to help fund this year of education and adventure!

One of the AMAZING, innovative teachers being recognized at the Globl Forum

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Filed under Aug 2012

The important things in life

After Peanut’s intake evaluation in the morning, “we” decided to head down to the tourist district of Boulder. It’s really cute.  We checked out the walking streets and several of the shops in the glorious sun.

While checking out a shop called ‘Peppercorn’, I started to feel fear. Heart palpitations and sweaty palms kind-of-fear.

You see, this darling store was filled with beautiful, pretty, shiny things.  And I love pretty, shiny things.  I really do.

While Dreamboat is perfectly happy traveling with a small backpack filled with of all his worldly possessions, and owning nothing else (well, except for a mansion-sized storage unit FULL of books), I’m happiest at the Four Seasons. I don’t pretend anymore that any of my dreams involve camping. They don’t.

I truly love fresh, running water. Especially when it’s the exact temperature I want it to be. A cup of tea sipped from fine china is my idea of recharging.  A walk through a fancy furniture store, with shiny, modern chairs, stunning arrangements, and spectacular art, feeds my soul. Having friends over for dinner with three sets of crystal glasses, as much silverware as I can fit on the table, and four differently-shaped but coordinating plates laid out on a linen cloth, with fresh flowers arranged in silver pots, makes my inner-little-girl giggle with happiness.  And the outer, forty-something me, giggle too.

And, I’m getting rid of all the pretty, shiny things I’ve collected over the years.

And, I’m willingly headed to Guinea.  That’s in West Africa.

I’ve been to West Africa before.  It’s dusty. It’s dirty. It’s impoverished. Much of it, to western sensibilities, is very sad.

And I know so many people desperately need all the help and services Mercy Ships has to offer. And that’s part of why Dreamboat and I are taking our family there.  We want to teach our kids the truly important things in life. (At least I can admit what my priorities should be.)

And so, while I know I will long for beautiful place settings, and air conditioning set to the exact degree I wish, I will find treasures MORE BEAUTIFUL than I’ve witnessed before.

I’m not just saying that. I really believe it.

I will see my children begin to comprehend that other children are truly happy playing with only grass and twigs.  I will see how education and health are key to transforming an individual and a nation’s future.  I will witness how many people walk for miles to get water, not remotely fresh or cool.

And, I will experience the beauty of many sunrises offering new hope to a country ravaged by poverty.

And joining villagers as they drink pure water from a new well, drilled in their own ‘town square’, will taste better than any glass of champagne I’ve sipped from my wedding crystal.

And, the beauty of the patients’ faces, after their lives are transformed by a free surgery that removes the stigma that had made them outcasts their whole lives, will be more beautiful than any shiny baubles I could find here in Colorado. Or anywhere.

And, I may take along some ripped-out magazine pages, of pretty, shiny things.  Just to glance at occasionally…

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Filed under Aug 2012