Friday, December 30, 2011

Advent: Preparing for Christmas, on a ship... in Africa

A big part of Christmas is the preparation and the expectations - which we could also take part in this year even in the heat and the different location.

The ship goes through a transformation as we decorate and adorn the walls, floors, bannisters and ceilings with reminders of the precious Gift we received some 2000 years ago.  This wall became a large progressive nativity calendar.

The Christmas trees you see above the cafe (there are five of them in the middle of the picture) are secured for sail by fishing line and magnets to the ceiling, so while the boat swayed at 10-15 degree angles, the trees just dangled at the same spot.

Winter Wonderland is (apparently) an annual event onboard where the the crew get to join in the fun of preparations.  Anyone who wants can run a booth - sell their handiwork and crafts, baked goods, open a photo booth, etc.  The girls enjoyed Annika's booth where you could make your own gingerbread houses and have some lebkuchen and cider.

Savannah's house turned out quite nicely.
Savannah and Noel had a great time in the photo booth!
At the Winter Wonderland, the little girls (in matching outfits) performed their ballet songs, taught by the older girls (sitting down).  Miss Shelly made their skirts and hair scrunchies with fabric she bought in Sierra Leone.
On a different day, we had a cookie bake.  This was by far the easiest way of doing a cookie bake! Thank you, galley team!  We bought kilos of dough (2.2 pounds for you Americans that forgot how to convert). 

Simply, roll, cut, put on the tray, and they get whisked off to the galley ovens for baking.

Of course we didn't plan ahead and bring Christmas shapes, so ours were the most interesting of shapes:

Elephants, puppies, lions, butterflies and pigs - they need a Christmas too, right?

And yet on different evening we had several storytelling seminars and activities where people could share their talents.  We listened to dramatic reinactments of Christmas stories, original plays (Jesus in the 21st Century) and also were treated by the Swedish family on board, the BÖrjessons, as they shared songs and the stories of Santa Lucia, with the star boys and all. :)  It brought back some great memories from Bethlehem Covenant Church and the yearly practices and preparations for that special day.

So we prepare with some traditions - some new and some old, but our hearts do the same thing - they long for the peace and stillness among the busyness to hold that precious Savior in our arms and savor the meaning of His coming.
a large batik of the nativity scene

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sailing, Sailing, Over the Ocean Blue

The last few weeks we have been packing up a hospital and preparing all departments and cabins for sail (imagine your house tipping back and forth at 10 degree angles - with the risk of tipping up to 28 degrees).  In addition to this, we also must bring onboard all our supplies that have been on the dock- including our entire fleet of Land Rovers and Nissan Patrols.  Here this Land Rover looks like a toy car, but it has some serious bulk to it.
In the days leading up to our departure we all stayed busy securing our cabins and packing down everything.  We have a Christmas tree (tied to a string, and secured to the ceiling with a magnet).  We have a fridge (bolted to the ceiling through a pulley system).  Our cupboards are jam packed to prevent momentous movement and latched together with metal plates. 

After everything was loaded and secured, our day of departure from Freetown reluctantly arrived.  We had bid a teary farewell to our friends at Cheshire Home earlier in the week, and now it was time to say goodbye to our Sierra Leonean friends and some crew members heading off onto a new journey, away from Mercy Ships. 

The tears streamed down our faces as we waved goodbye to these sweet ones on the dock, Anna, Joseph, Angel, Alie, Allison, & Dulce to name a few.

The Krio worship songs being sung on the dock echoed across the river as we pulled away and were escorted out of the Queen Elizabeth Quay to the Atlantic Ocean.

But it wasn't all fun and games on the ship yet.  Now that we were acting like a boat, we had to do some things that boats do: like practice good safety.  So, our fire drills became "at sea" drills - where you don't actually muster on the dock, but you go to deck seven, get your life jackets and practice boarding the life boats.

Even Baby Daniel (10 months) needs a life jacket, but which size is the best for him?  Mommy and fellow Dutchy, Gerrit, scour the label for the right information.
The rescue boat teams also have work to do - inspecting, doing practice drills and making sure they are in full working order in case an emergency arises.

With the safety drills out of the way, the sailing fun could begin.  One of the fun parts of the sail is that the bow is opened up for the public- this became a great place to watch for sealife and explore a new part of the ship.

Even our Gateway girls (the ones who aren't going home for Christmas) had time for a goofy photo!

Savannah with buddies, Caroline & Megan
And the view is impressive, though not too dynamic.  Several days of this, with rocking back and forth (like you're in a ferris wheel car) gives your stomach a little run for its money.
And while some of us get to play, it's serious business for the technical crew onboard- FINALLY! they must say, they are able to do the jobs they are trained to do.  The ship is out to sea and they can put into practice their training.  Here Ryan is scanning the horizon - pirate watch, sealife, other vessels - anything seen is of importance to us.

Highlight of the trip? The sealife of course.

Some departments continue business as usual (we still eat, we still make a mess, still spend money, and we still have crew coming and going so the galley, dining room, crew services, finance, and HR, to name a few, continue on in the same manner as at port).  But nurses and most hospital crew are reassigned to help in these departments so you get to see many new faces doing different jobs. 

And we rock and roll up and down throughout the day and the night.
Our view for five days looked like this.
And this.
One eventful day of the sail was our bunkering.  This is an old term from the days that ships would receive coal and it would go into ther bunkers.  This term is still used today, though liquid fuel is delivered.  We met up with our bunkering vessel in the middle of the sea.
 What could have been a dangerous process of securing two ships together at sea, went without a hitch and though we did have to wait for a fishing vessel to refuel before we received our turn, all went well. 
After staying in one spot for nearly 21 hours, we were on our way again.
And while we rocked and rolled a good portion of the time, other mornings were gorgeously still, like this one.

Then, Thursday morning - other ships came into sight as we approached the Tema port in Ghana.
The pilot boat came out to greet us and much to our relief, we did not have to go to anchor first (from what we have heard this is an exceptionally rocky time for this ship), but they were able to escort us directly to our berth space.

And again we are greeted by curious fisherman in the port.
This port is massive and quite modern compared to what we have seen in Freetown the past ten months.

And we look on eagerly for what our time here in Ghana will hold.

Standing on the dock is our entire Advance Team, a department that works specifically in setting up the outreach prior to the ship's arrival.  They have to arrange for the logistics of the port documentation, water, trash, bank arrangements (imagine 300+ people ready to enter the local economy), delivery of fresh produce (again for 300+ people), travel visas, etc.  Most of this team is working currently in Togo, also with the hiring of the day workers for our field service that starts next month, as well as working with the Ministry of Health to come to an understanding on what we will offer in exchange for what they will help us to accomplish.

Many of this team left in October or November so it was a breath of fresh air to see their friendly & familiar faces waiting on the dock for us- singing praises, welcoming us (Akwaaba!) to Ghana.

And for Ernest, and other crew members, it is a welcome home, as this is the first time the Africa Mercy is in his home nation of Ghana.  He is proud to be able to show his country where he works and what we accomplish onboard.

And we are excited to see what Ghana has to offer!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Preparing to Leave

Saying goodbye isn’t the hard part, it’s what we leave behind that’s tough.

This is getting more and more real here.  You'd think with the years of experience of saying goodbyes (end of camp, end of school, moving from state to state), that it would get easier.  And in some ways it does.  I know in the bottom of my "knower" that the pain will ease and those faces that I see so frequently now will become a warm memory in my digital scrapbooks - a fleeting shimmer of love as I see their faces flip through rolling desktop background on the computer.

But that's also what makes it hard.  I don't WANT them to become just a nice warm fuzzy.  I care deeply for each of these faces - for our day workers that we have worked side by side with for so many months.  I know we'll meet new faces next month, but I really like the faces I see here. 

For all the darlings at Cheshire Home who have burrowed their way deep into my heart.  I want to be able to pop over and have a little impromptu dance party while they make fun of my white rhythmic challenge, and tease my inability to speak more than small-small Krio. 

Patients that you have cuddled, snuggled, cried with, and seen transform by leaps and bounds that depart for their villages hours away, without even a mobile phone number to locate them again. 

In a way I believe these goodbyes are harder because we don't have the false promise of shared technology and convenience to make us believe that this isn't a final goodbye.  Let me explain myself: 
In America, UK, Canada (all those developed nations we call home), we live with the idea that we can control situations.  "I'll earn the money, and come visit you again."  "I'll call you on my cell phone, I'll send you an instant message, I'll drop you an email, I'll Skype with you, and of course this isn't the end."  We innocently believe this, trusting that we are in control of all these situations (finances, health, life) and for the most part it pans out.

These West African goodbyes seem more indefinite.  Some here in Sierra Leone have email accounts, but I have yet to meet anyone who has internet connection at their home.  The children at Cheshire laughed when I asked if they had email or facebook.  There is no organized mail system here that would guarantee something arriving beyond the Freetown Post Office.  Mobile phone numbers change at the drop of a hat (all plans are pay as you go, voice mail on the phones is not standard). 

So, I'm trying to engrave in my heart the lessons I've learned from these precious ones:

Contentment in the midst of lack of resources.
Joy despite poverty. 
Generosity even with the little.
Persistent love and appreciation.

While the goodbyes aren't easy, it is definitely what we leave behind that is tough.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Celebration and Goodbyes - A Week of Everything

Wow.  What a full, emotional week.

As we come to a close here in Sierra Leone, we have so many mixed feelings.  It's hard to think about saying goodbye to this beautiful country- full of fun loving people, ready to Tell Papa God Tenki at any moment, singing acapella no matter what your voice might sound like, and willing to give when their pockets are empty.  We've met countless patients, caregivers, day workers and neighbors that we have come to love.

But, the clock is ticking and our days here in Freetown are limited.  So, we must say thanks.  Last week we hosted a Thank You Event for all officials and "big-wigs" that have partnered with us to make this field service so successful.  This includes the Ministry of Health, directors of other organizations, doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, physiotherapists, bank leaders, and the many others that have helped.  They have provided free berth space for us at the port, trash removal, fresh water, and mostly partnership.
As you can see, the Stewards Departments (Hospitality, Galley & Dining Room) put on an elaborate, beautiful spread of food and make it a very special event.

Many of these workers have been in the hospital during the duration of this field service, but now will reassign to departments such as hospitality (preparing the rooms for guests and crew), dining room (serving the food), galley (cooking the food), or crew services (cleaning the ship) since all the patients have been discharged from the hospital.

Wednesday night was CONFIRMATION & BAPTISM night.  Five girls at the Cheshire Home made the decision this year to go through the confirmation class at Bishop Crowther Anglican Church, their home church (within walking/rolling distance from the home).  We were privileged to not only be invited to be a part of this special evening, but four of us were asked to be Godparents for them.  We also helped them with the purchase of their fabric for white dresses, veils (requirement from the church) and stockings. 

There were 18 students in the class all together so we were thrilled to see Cheshire representing almost a third of the class. 

11.2011 Cheshire Baptism (18)
our goddaughter, Kadiatu ("Kadie") Christiana ,
11.2011 Cheshire Baptism (13)
Kadiatu doing the Gospel reading
11.2011 Cheshire Baptism (26)
Marie after receiving her candle representing Christ's light in her life,
11.2011 Cheshire Baptism (37)
Kadija, receiving her confirmation Bible,
11.2011 Cheshire Baptism (6)
Samantha following baptism.
11.2011 Cheshire Baptism (41)
Here's the entire class with the Bishop
11.2011 Cheshire Baptism (44)
Here are the five girls from Cheshire and their "opoto" (white) godmommies
11.2011 Cheshire Baptism (7)
And here's the whole gang that got dressed up and came from Cheshire to support these girls.  It was a night full of emotion.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving (as you know), and our Food Services departments worked hard to make it special for us.  As you can see, it looks pretty close to an American Thanksgiving plate.  No sweet potatoes with marshmellows or pumpkin pie, but we had just about everything else. 

11.2011 Thanksgiving (6)
11.2011 Thanksgiving (4)

And today, we had our Day Worker Thank You Event - what an afternoon of celebrating what God has done and how many lives have been changed during this year.  It was truly a special afternoon filled with authentic worship as we thanked God for providing these 200 amazing workers.  For many, they don't know what the future holds.  As this time comes to close, so does their reliable paycheck.  In a country with an 85% unemployment rate, this has been a huge blessing for them this year.  So, we join in prayer trusting that the Lord will meet their needs and open doors for them.  We also bid farewell with tears as we recognize that many we will not see again.  Working side by side, suffering, rejoicing, and sweating together, you come to love people in a deep way.  We will miss these beautiful faces.  But, we recognize this is part of what we signed up for:  lots of hellos, lots of goodbyes, constant change, constant choices of having to open your heart up again and again. 
11.2011 Day Worker Thank You (8) Fuse
Joseph and I - Joseph worked with the physiotherapy team.  Joseph is hoping to attend a DTS in South Africa next year.
11.2011 Day Worker Thank You (4)
Jane, the screening coordinator, with her two day workers, Henry & Thomas who have assisted in the screening process all year- making trips upcountry every two weeks to pick up patients scheduled for surgeries - LONG hours, lots of work, hearts of gold. 
11.2011 Day Worker Thank You (1)
Here are the day workers from Outpatients where Dan worked part of the year.  Helping in this department isn't always fun- dressing changes, crying, yelling, and pain.  11.2011 Day Worker Thank You (3)
Dan with Idrissa, one of our friends who worked at the Hope Center.  Idrissa shared with us stories of what his life looked like during the civil war and how he escaped by getting on a boat and heading to Guinea.  Idrissa has a heart of gold and is planning on serving with us again next year. 11.2011 Day Worker Thank You (5)
Dan with Mark & Titus, two hospital day workers.
11.2011 Day Worker Thank You (12)
With 220 day workers invited to lunch, the lines were long, but there was plenty of rice, fried plaintains, beef with peanut sauce, spicy topping, onion stew, and black-eyed peas. 
After speeches, worship, thank yous and prayers, we celebrated with ice cream before we bid farewell to these precious friends.