Tag Archives: mercy ships

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.

 

 

6 Comments

Filed under September 2012

Rollercoaster ride

Lots of people have asked how I’m doing. What I’m feeling, as the departure date looms just around the corner.

“Are you excited?”

“Can you hardly wait?”

“Are you ready to go?”

Although I’m looking forward to this year with great expectations, I have to say the answer to those questions is a resounding “No.”  I’m terrified. I’m overwhelmed. I’m too busy focusing on what has to be done in the next ten minutes, to be able to think about next year. It’s like a rollercoaster ride I can’t get off.

Here’s a random list, in no particular order, and in no way exhaustive, of some of the things taking up my emotional bandwidth, energy, and time.

Trey.  A friend’s 3-year-old just died. From Whooping Cough. He was born a few weeks before Peanut. Although I never met him, I loved him dearly and deeply. Most of the scary stays (‘visit’ sounds much too pleasant–but I guess ‘stay’ doesn’t do it justice either) we had at Seattle Children’s Hospital, Trey and his family were having their own scary stays, usually much longer than ours, at another Children’s Hospital across the country.  In addition to other physical complications, Trey was experiencing many of the same challenges as Peanut. I prayed for him on and off for 3 years and watched him struggle and grow and learn and develop.  Now, as I move from room to room, sorting and packing, each time I pick up Peanut, I think of Trey. The loss of him hits deep down inside. I cry for his Mama who will never again feel the delicious weight of him in her arms, or smell his hair as he snuggles close. I cry with gratitude that I have my Peanut and can kiss his sweet cheeks. And there’s a feeling, less strong than guilt, similar to uneasiness, that my life goes on. That my life is all about looking forward and adventure.  And I keep looking at video’s and pictures of Trey, and then I can’t stop the waterworks and can’t focus on packing. And then I’m completely derailed from whatever task was at hand.

Logisitics. To not frighten away anyone who might be considering making a similar life change to follow your dreams, I’m going to quickly smooth over the nightmare of tangled details required to get this family of five out the door. Read fast…Doctors appointments by the dozens. Countless house showings, always at the most inopportune times. More immunizations and paperwork than I am comfortable with. Flights. Housing. More flights. More housing. Contractors in and out (good idea to keep this one in mind so you don’t inadvertently leave the bathroom door open when you think you’re alone in the house. It’s embarrassing). House sale falling through. Goodbyes for each child, with each of their closest friends, and with their classes. Selling both our cars and coordinating “alternative transportation” (taking offers from kind friends to pick up and drop off, then breaking down and getting rental cars). Listing and selling all our possessions we don’t want to keep, and coordinating the pick-up/delivery for each. Boxing and storing what we do want to keep.  Getting the children to do the same. Changing our mailing address on everything. Getting the electronics and entertainment (music, books, movies) set up.  Changing insurance for most everything. Writing homeschooling and therapy curriculum. Working full-time and figuring out how/when/who to tell the news (oh, and block them from FB until you do). Figuring out, ordering, and testing eyelash enhancers. And the list goes on. But, I’ve lost interest in writing it and you get the point. We’re busy.

I threw my back out, helping someone carry out an armoire they bought from us. Let’s just say that muscle relaxants don’t help with clarity and focus, and shooting pain isn’t conducive to packing, lifting, and moving.

We’re also trying to be thoughtful parents, and help prepare the kids for what’s to come, and to help ease some of their fears as they watch piece after piece of furniture leave through the front door.  FYI, I’m not currently focused on being a great wife. It may partially be because I think I get a pass for these last few days, and just possibly because it isn’t readily apparent that Dreamboat is focused on it either. But it’s possible it’s me and I’m missing the effort.  So, we’re trying to spend some time with each child, making them feel important, and allowing them time to talk through what’s going on inside them. And my heart is heavy for Miss O in particular.  She is struggling with saying goodbye to her best friend. And her best friend is really struggling. And Miss O is very similar to how I was as a child, strong on the outside, but very tender and sensitive and easily bruised on the inside. And this friend is the only person she really talks to. Including me (one of my greatest hopes is that I become her confidante this year).  And we’re also trying to do some ‘normal’ summer activities with the kids, like sports camps, additional therapies, and evenings by the water, enjoying al-fresco dinners at Music In The Park.

Time. With friends. There has been a steady stream of company, staying with us this summer. And, we’re trying to fit in every last opportunity for time with our local friends too. If you’ve heard of the book “Love Languages”, mine is TIME.  I feel loved when people spend/make time for me. That’s how I show love too.  So, in the middle of this craziness, I want to carve out time for everyone I love. Of course I’m driving the family that I love a little crazy too.  I haven’t figured this one out yet…no clear answer or boundaries set. I’m willing for things to be crazy if that means I get one last dinner, or Bunko game, or girls’ night, or sleepover, or coffee, or happy hour, or breakfast, or pedicure, or, or, or….I’m in!

A friend of mine recently returned from an extended visit to Uganda. With their three children who are similar in age to mine. I called to catch up with her and asked for some tips on what to expect.  She told me how one of their kids dealt with the culture shock by withdrawing and going very quiet. The older child showed his struggle by being angry. All the time. The third child couldn’t swallow. And gagged or threw up EVERY morning. It was awful. She hated it. And after twelve months they adjusted, and equalized. And a few months later they moved back. And now they’re going through it All. Again. But, she also said it was all worth it. And she’d do it again. So, I’m mulling it over and wondering how my friends will feel if I’m gagging through our champagne breakfasts upon my return…

And then there’s the fact that I’m going back to Mercy Ships. To where I grew up. It’s like going back to those horrid, awkward feelings of being thirteen. But, more on that another time. I don’t have words yet to describe it. For the ‘hornet’s nest’ to make sense.

So, I hope you’ll understand that although I know I am blessed beyond measure, and that this year will be a highlight for all of us, that I’m not excited right now.  I’ll get there.  Soon.

Miss O saying goodbye to Maisy

7 Comments

Filed under September 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…

8 Comments

Filed under Aug 2012

Curfew and other vices

I’m starting to freak out a little about appropriate behavior during our three months on the Africa Mercy. And it’s not the kids’ behavior that concerns me….

I’m not a rule follower.  There I said it.

I have never been a rule follower.

My job is to question the rules.  Sometimes this has served me well (and benefited the processes, companies, service agencies, etc. around me).  Sometimes, well, not so much.

I think I’m in trouble.

Unfortunately, here’s where I have to admit that the last time I got spanked (yep – true story). I was fifteen-years-old and had disobeyed the ship rules by going on a deck which those under sixteen were only allowed on with an adult (it was deemed unsafe). And I got caught. Oops.

And, Dreamboat and I are taking the family to volunteer with Mercy Ships for three months. In Africa.

Alcohol and smoking are not permitted on the ship due to insurance reasons. I get that.  But here’s my secret hope: maybe they’ll reconsider when they meet my kids and realize we’re homeschooling for the first time in our lives, and when I convince them that being a parent and being in Africa and after a long day and when I’m longing for some peace and quiet, or had a really rough mentoring session with some of the crew, or want some alone time, or want to kick off a deep conversation with Dreamboat, or enjoy a good book, or need to really focus and prepare my management training classes for the following day…a glass of wine or good whiskey is the perfect answer to all of it.  And, I’d even go for bad whiskey…not yet sure about bad wine.  But, after a real scorcher of a day, I’m betting I would.

Smoking is not a temptation for me.  So, I’m good there. Whew.

So, at Bunko the other night, I asked the girls for advice on what to do if the ship doesn’t change their minds.  By the way, I’ve never yet played Bunko.  We talked. And drank good wine. And after you hear what we came up with, you’ll realize it was more than just one glass.

Their fantastic advice was for me to take up chewing tobacco in those little pre-stitched packages. I think it’s called “Snuff”.  The thinking is that I won’t be breaking any rules that could invalidate the ship’s insurance.  And, it would provide me with a quick and easy way to just chill and take the edge off.  And I wouldn’t have to deal with spitting out loose tobacco and carrying around some sort of receptacle all day.

And you know what?  It’s a viable option. I’m considering it.

I realize a mature adult would request someone in HR send me a list of official guidelines.  I haven’t. I’m too terrified of how long the list will be and that the part of me that doesn’t like to follow rules will rear her ugly head, dig in her heels, and decide to be stubborn. I’ve seen that happen.  It’s not pretty.

So, I’ve just been planning to go off the ship, find a little café, and have a glass of wine in the evenings now and then.

And today I heard from our travel agent that one of our flights was outside of ship curfew.

Wait…what?  C.U.R.F.E.W.

Oh help.  I can’t say it out loud yet.

I can feel my inner child’s heels digging in. Just a little.

18 Comments

Filed under Aug 2012

Home – part two

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their crew of volunteers minister to those terminally ill.

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

Agricultural training.

Maternal health training.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Comments

Filed under July 2012