Friday, March 30, 2012

Let's Play Football!

All work and no play?  Not here.  Living in an environment where you live where you work, it's important to take some time to get off ship, away from your workspace and do some "normal life" activities. 

This past weekend we had the opportunity to be a part of the fun.  Our crew soccer ("football" to the rest of the world) team took on the day workers in a friendly competition.  We have about 200 "day workers," those from the local region who are paid to help us do the day to day tasks on the ship we don't have the man power to do (or the bed space to have that many more crew members on board 24/7 doing that work).  This includes everything from galley, dining room, engineering, deck, hospital translators, receptionists, dock security, and more. 
The cheerleaders were present (unofficially, of course) (actually all these photos are courtesy of Deb, on the right! Thanks, Deb!!).  Here we have a French teacher, nurse, dietitian/infant feeding program director and nurse!

This beautiful sports facility was rented for the day- grass field, track surrounding it, tennis courts, bleachers, swimming pools, playground, snack bar, etc..  Amazing resource in Lomé!

The teams suited up - red is Crew, grey/black is the Day Workers.

Stretching is always important, to prevent injury. :)

This is serious business- the goalie wants you to know.

Oh yeah, and the day workers think it's hilarious that the crew is going to play "avec une fille! avec une fille!"  (with a girl!) And a Kiwi at that!!  Don't let her smile fool you- Miriam is a rugby player- she can contend with the boys all day long.

Pre-game huddle & prayer

Get your game face on, Kevin!

And we're off.  JD filled the crucial role of goalie.

And the game was an even match.  Here Edouard is representing his home nation, Cameroon.

And showing off his fancy footwork, despite a persisting knee injury.

Theo, from Ghana, isn't messing around either.

Kevin, in his home country of Togo, has more than just a game face - he means business!

But the day workers are here to prove something as well.

Coca-Cola- it's everywhere you want to be (or should they have gotten that jingle first?).

Missy & I were enjoying the bantering, action and cloudy skies and sprinkles! What a perfect afternoon!!

Come on, ref! Didn't you see that?

A little rough play results in an injury (or two)

Phew.  A near goal for the crew.  Score is still tied 0-0.

Dennis (also from Ghana) is happy for halftime and no personal injuries.  Last year we witnessed his head injury in a game against a local team in Sierra Leone. 

Coach Briggs (from Liberia) gives some pointers to his very international team.

In the second half, it was Christoph, the Austrian, who scored the only goal for the crew.

Yeay for fans!

The day workers had scored one point also, and there's no time to break the tie before the game ends.
Valiant effort, day workers!
And equally valiant effort, crew - next time we'll see who emerges on top!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fun with Lumen

Last week Lumen, the patient that Savannah and I have been paired up with to spend time with while she was on the ward, had healed sufficiently to be sent to the Hope Center.  The Hope Center is our offship facility that serves as housing for our patients that still need regular dressing changes, physiotherapy, or other interaction with the hospital. 

This building is beautiful and is a great home away from home for our patients and their caregivers.

So, we rejoiced with Lumen ("Lu Lu"), little brother Julien ("Ju Ju") and grandma (caretaker of these little ones, "Amelé") as they took their belongings and loaded into the Land Rover that carried them down the road to the Hope Center.

But not without a little bit of fun, first!

I heard this story through the grapevine (the grapevine in a community of 400 is VERY loud and active!!)

One day on the ward, Ju Ju decided it was time to go pee pee, despite the fact that he is still in a diaper.  He Pulled down his diaper and started going everywhere....  Lumen is sitting on the floor playing jenga with Nurse June, and Grace is trying to capture Ju Ju and his output (notice the cloth on the floor). 

Lu Lu is in disbelief!

Grace, Grandma, Lu Lu are all laughing at the craziness happening here!!

Jenny risks making a mess herself!

Oh the laughter outweighs the pain on the ward every day!

Every 48 hours Lumen comes for a dressing change in the Outpatients tent. 
Just as these nurses are caring for Tani, they gently and compassionately change bandages, inspect wounds, treat them appropriately and change into clean dressings, monitoring the progress each day.

Savannah and I were able to visit Lumen for each of her dressing changes this week, and a physio appointment. 

Lumen's eyes light up when she sees Savannah!  "Savannah! Savannah! Savannah!" rings out in her high squeaky (loud!) voice as soon as we enter.  I don't have an identity.  I am just Savannah, part two.  When Savannah has to leave for ballet class or piano lessons, Lumen throws her head forward with a giant pouty lip and whines.  I had to explain, "What am I, chopped liver?" to Rebecca, the translator in outpatients (seen in the background below).

Brenda is the main outpatients nurse and she has her hands quite full with the sheer numbers of patients that come through each day.  If we can distract Lumen and keep her smiling for the majority of her appointment, it's a bit of a help! 

We happened to have a fire drill this week while Lumen was on the dock waiting for her appointment.  As soon as we were visible at the top of the Gangway, Lumen started trying to flag us down and yelling, "Savannah! Savannah!"  We asked if we could abduct her from grandma for a bit, and grandma willingly and eagerly agreed to release this active little six year old from her care!

We brought Lumen to our muster station and she was the hit of the day.  Running around in her new fluorescent pink, velcro sandals she tried to evade the capture of our loving arms, giggling infectiously with every stutter step and turn.  She helped us pass the 30 minutes quickly as the fire teams fought the pretend fire on the ship, the muster leaders took role, and we accounted for each person that was signed in onboard.

Today we will go visit all our friends (big and small) that have moved from the plastics ward to the Hope Center, including:

Mokpokpo, the most patient, content, ticklish girl I've met!

Gnameko, the delightful boy with Down Syndrome who loves to snuggle, color, play with baby dolls, and encourage me to tickle Mokpokpo!

Abel, beautiful Abel!  He and his little brother LOVE the scooters in the ward - I'm sure they are loving the open air at the Hope Center!

 Tani, whose giant smile outweighs the fact she's missing an eye and her nose has had to be reconstructed.
Comlan and his sassy caregiver, Amelé (same Ewe name as Savannah: born on Saturday)...

Jemima - this beautiful girl from Ghana can light up a room with her gentle smile!

Looking forward to seeing these friends again!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Thursday Mornings

APEHM: Association de Parents et Amis d'Enfants Handicapés Mentaux
Translation: Association of Parents and Friends of Mentally Handicapped Children

This Thursday my trip to APEHM was a special treat since my parents have arrived in Togo so they were able to accompany us and experience the privilege of working with these darlings. 

This school is funded by the parents of these children with Down Syndrome, ADHD, autism, cerebral palsy and other disabilities.  They arrange their own transport for the children to come to school every weekday (on motorbikes!), and also pay for them to receive hot food each day (total cost for food and transport equals almost $4/day - a small fortune when the average daily wage is $2.13!  This week was like most - we arrived after they had eaten their porridge and tea, and all three classes had joined together in our main gathering room.  We were warmly greeted with many smiles, handshakes and "Bon jours." 

Anita - with her beautiful smile.

We start with some singing in French -Kafui N, Kafui L, Mouka, Désiré and Pascal actively engaged in our activities.

Kokou, Efue and Rudolph listening as Jillian talks about kindness and Emmanuel translates.

After some songs and a short, simple teaching, we set to work coloring pictures.  Some lose their patience quickly with their worksheets, but many are fastidious about coloring, staying in the lines, and being good artists.

Déborrah was too shy to be in the picture with me.

Little Timothee couldn't believe that there was another Timothy (my dad) who was a Yovo (white man!)

And of course, with a camera, comes lots of posing!  Julie, Mouka and Pascal were eager to join Jillian in this photo.

Mouka and Kokou were happy to be taking a picture with this big American, even if he was working up a sweat already.

Mom helped make sure everyone had the colored pencils they needed.

 And these little hams, Anita, Julie and Stephanie were living it up!
The boy on the right is Espoir.  This means "hope."  He is a lovey dovey. 

 The first game we played after finishing our pictures was musical chairs.  The teacher (in the red tshirt at the far back right) chooses one of their favorite songs on the laptop, and controls the starting and stopping of the music in this high-tech version.  Espoir chose my dad as his fellow competitor in this game, where you don't just march around the chairs, you dance and jive however you see fit. 
Kokou and I were having fun watching this competition heat up (fortunately Dad let Linda win the finale - it was down to the wire though).

Merveille is a sweet little girl who always is dressed to the nines and has a smile that brightens the room.

Here's a little piece of evidence of Espoir's affection.  I don't think Gaston was appreciating it too much.

Espoir and I blow bubbles every week.  Some weeks he wraps his arms around my waist and barely gives me an inch to hold the wand away from my face before he blows perfect soapy bubbles all over my cheeks.  He has perfected the art of bubble lips. 

 Samson is another character that I can't forget to mention.  Samson always has a stick in his hand.  He walks in and out, never really engaging in our activities (unless they involve paint brushes! Watch out!), but he beats to his own drum.  He reminds me a bit of a wizard.
And all of this is made possible with Emmanuel - our translator who not only speaks English and French, but Ewe, the most common local language here which is the dominant language for these children.  French is generally studied in school, but Ewe is the home language, so for children with learning and mental disabilities, French is not the norm.

 After three hours we finish - sweaty, dirty, slobbered, but loved on.  This is one place that though it is exhausting, I seem to return with more energy and more joy.
I don't think it's just the dancing, singing and bubbles.  It's a glimpse into the contentment that comes when we don't focus on the things the world has to offer - but the simplicity of life as a child.

As Atsu's face shows- he knows who he is, and he's not afraid to show it!  I hope to one day fully experience this freedom - to be who I was created to be, not be afraid to hide it, and live it to the max.  These children remind me of what is important in life and for that I am grateful.