Tag Archives: Guinea

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