Tag Archives: mercy ships

Moving on

I am scared.

This isn’t the cute kind of nervous. I am so scared that my pulse is racing and my armpits stink. And not just a little.

But, you know what happens every time on ‘The Bachelor’? Whichever girl is brave enough to admit her terror (of heights, or bungee jumping, or polar swimming), is THE one he picks. It’s human nature. We root for the underdog. The one who is most afraid. Because ‘The Bachelor’ is real life, right? Totally kidding. But, there are some great lessons to be learned, even if most of them are what not to do.

Like the contestants on ‘The Bachelor’, but hopefully in a much deeper way, today I’m choosing to face my fears. To admit what has me stinking up the place. I’m already married to my ‘happily ever after’, so it’s not about beating 24 other contestants for his attention. (Thank Heaven for that.)  I read somewhere, and it resonates with me, that bravery is ‘Being afraid. But still willing to move forward’. So here goes.

Deep breaths…

I’m baring my soul here, ‘speaking’ my fear out loud, as I’m hoping to move on.

Because I’m terrified.

I am afraid I won’t get a job.

And, if I do, it won’t be THE job. (Or I won’t be able to create THE job). The one that is meaningful. The one that is my legacy. The one that is fun and challenging. The one that brings in money to replenish the coffers we’ve emptied during this great year of travel and adventure.

The one, that if I don’t do it now, it will be too late.

And I won’t have significance.

And I won’t change the world.

When I come to the end of my life, I want to be able to say that I’ve used up all the skills I was given. I want to challenge myself. I want to take risks.  I want to be selfless with my time.

But I am afraid that I won’t do any of those things. That I will end up going back. Backwards. Back to doing what’s familiar. Boring. Easy.

I am afraid that this amazing year, as it relates to my career, will have been a waste.

(I know of course, that this year is not a waste.  And that, although I’m at a crossroads, it’s not that desperate. But, regardless of what I know in my head, my fears aren’t always rational.)

And, there is an opportunity…

An opportunity that is in the forefront of my mind as I write this. THE one I want. The one that is equally exciting and terrifying. The one that would stretch me to a whole new level. The one that is EXACTLY what I’ve dreamed of for many, many, many years. The one I don’t feel qualified for. OK – not even remotely qualified for.

And that I don’t think I’ll get.

Just writing that down makes me realize I’m going to need to pick up some more antiperspirant. Lots more.

And now, here’s the even deeper truth. For a few months, I succumbed to the fear.

I could have, should have, written this post in Peru, before we arrived in the US. Because, I felt the fear growing then. It filled my dreams at night. It lurked in the corners of my mind as I explored the Amazon during the days.

That was three months ago.

Since then, I’ve been struggling to move my bravery to the front, to open up about the fear, before there were opportunities lined up.

But, until today, fear had won.

Well, today I’ve had two victories.

First, I’ve ‘fessed up about the underlying, unattractive current which has run through these three months of trailer-living and job-searching, as we drive from state-to-state.

Driving behind 3,000 sheep

And second, I’m admitting that I’ve been white-knuckling it through much of yesterday and today’s drive across-country. I’m writing this from the passenger seat of our vehicle, as we make the long drive from Colorado to Texas, via Kansas and Oklahoma, pulling our twenty-eight foot trailer. The drive was on a dirt road. Down an impossibly steep grade. With cliffs on both sides. With gale-force winds. As dishes, and my whiskey, flew out of the cupboards and rolled around together on the trailer floor. On a narrow road that occasionally saw our tires going off the road and a hair’s breadth from careening over the cliff. We skidded around corners, gravel flying.

OK, all of that may not have happened at the same time. And Dreamboat may have a different, less colorful, version of the events.

But, I was heart-racing, stomach-clenched, scared. Afraid. I would have gotten out and walked if it wouldn’t have meant leaving my babies. And Dreamboat.

But, I’m happy to say that even though you can smell the after-effects of my fear since my deodorant gave out early yesterday morning, for the last hour we’ve been on a wide, flat, paved, wind-free, highway. We all survived (Dreamboat never doubted it). I am finally and fully relaxed.  I’m not sure that waiting until the fear has passed, is considered brave.

But, nonetheless, I think I should get a badge of honor for my, mostly, external calm.

I am moving on.

15 Comments

Filed under October 2013

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

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.

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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.

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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

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

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?

15 Comments

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

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.

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Filed under September 2012