Thursday, April 26, 2012

The New Normal

It occured to me today that I have grown used to Africa.  Things that used to surprise me, I hardly notice.

For instance, when we were running last week, we were passed by many people - men, women, boys and girls running in flip flops.  They were all running several kilometers along the beach road to get to their soccer practice at the beach.  No big deal. 

We were also passed by an older woman who was wearing a skirt, flip flops, a cut off t-shirt, balancing a large basket on her head full of fruit, and carrying a homemade broom under her arm. 

A little embarrassing that she was passing us, but nothing really to write home about.

Then we passed a guy (finally!) who was carrying an old-fashioned sewing machine on his head, and smoking a cigarette. 


That's a first.

I guess that might be something you don't see every day.  Even in Togo.

We see so much that is normal here and not normal in the United States, that I don't even know what the absolute normal is.
  • Is it normal to pee along the side of the road? 
  • Is it normal to have a family of four on a motor scooter? 
  • To dance like a chicken as a form of worship to the Lord? 
  • To eat fresh papaya, pineapple, mango, and bananas every day?
  • To buy your water in a sealed plastic bag on the side of the street, from a girl who carries it in a plastic bowl on her head?
  • To be able to speak at least three languages?
  • To carry a handkerchief with you because there is no doubt, you WILL be dripping sweat eventually?
  • To see a live goat riding passenger on a motorbike, being punched in the head if he starts to squirm?
  • To get someone's attention by "psssst"ing at them, or making a loud smacky kissy noise?
  • To see agouti meat for sale along the side of the road, and wonder who will be the lucky family that gets to have that much meat for dinner?
  • To take a bath in front of your house with a basin of water and a plastic cup?
  • To carry anything and everything in your head?
  • To do your laundry by hand and lay the clothes out on the sidewalk or sandy beach to dry?
  • To have the rightaway entering a roundabout, but once you're in, you yield to everyone entering?
  • For girls aged six and up to "po-po" their siblings or children (carry them wrapped onto their backs with a piece of fabric)?

To be able to buy anything from the car (qtips, sliced papaya, bras, tennis shoes, and cell phone chargers)?
The answer to all of these questions is YES if you are in Togo.  Most definitely yes.  So much so, that I don't think twice about any of these.

How many things that seemed overwhelming and bizarre when we first arrived in Africa don't even hit my radar any more?  Way more than I realize I am sure. 

I think we have found a new normal.  And I might like it better.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

I know my blog posts aren't always the most heartfelt, but I'm just being real with you!  Our lives aren't 24-7 patient stories.  They are a good chunk of time- especially this year in Togo I have spent more times in the ward, on the dock, in outpatients and at the Hope Center then ever before.  And I can tell you stories about so many patients.  I could write a blog right now about one of them.  But, instead I'm going to give you a glimpse of ship-life. 

When you get nearly 400 people together from 30-40 nations around the world, you get a lot of energy.

And a lot of passion about many different things.  At times we have had trivia nights organized.  We had a musical production of Godspell directed by a crew member.  We have ballet classes, African drumming classes, karate, scrapbooking, soccer games and more. 

And in the midst of all these people we also have a few runners. 

Yes, I thought my running days would be on hiatus while in Africa.  You see, I was going to take a sabbatical from running, using the African sun as my excuse.  But, that didn't happen.

Starting back in Sierra Leone I learned of others who enjoyed to run (or at least the benefit of burning off those extra calories).  There because of the crazy congestion and traffic in the city, we were quite limited to back and forth on the dock, which grew rather tedious.

But, here in Togo we have a beautiful ocean boulevard complete with sidewalk that runs along the beach for 9.5 kilometers (5.9 miles) all the way to the Ghana border.

Early on I decided that my goal would be to run to the Ghana border and back, and I am proud to say that I accomplished that last month.

Two weeks later, there was another group with a more ambitious goal:  a border to border run!

Togo is just a wee, skinny country, spanning 56 kilometers (about 35 miles) between Benin and Ghana.
Some runners and some other adventurers decided that a run from one side to the other would be a great idea!
It turned out to be quite the production! Leaving the ship while it was still dark they drove to the Benin border.  There they split into their teams - some were running 5k, others 10, still others 28, and one attempted the whole thing solo!  Some were biking, some were doing both and all were eager to finish quick, get out of the heat, and have a great time.

The view was magnificient at the start.

Missy & Jane put their bikes to good work.

And managed to keep their smiles on their faces.

Herma too pedaled along, providing Jeroen with some companionship as he attempted the entire length as a one-man team!

Sometimes the road was pretty desolate, but Mercy Ships' Land Rovers accompanied the runners to make sure they had enough water and attention if needed.

Some teams ran 10k segments - here is a checkpoint where a new runner will be taking over.
You don't really need to WARM up your muscles, but make sure you are still limber!

The Gendarmerie (sort of like the National Guard) provided traffic assistance as well - see the blue lights on the motorcycle (zimijhan) ahead.

Polly even managed to give someone a lift along the way!

The smiles weren't just pasted on the faces- these were authentic (probably because at this point they were riding, not running!).

And the runners were serious about their work as well!

Despite the increasing temperatures and the intense sunlight, Jeroen kept plugging away at his goal.

And at the Ghana border, he was all smiles! What an accomplishment!  Jeroen and his wife Hennie, pictured, join us from Holland.  Hennie is the science teacher in the academy, and Jeroen is a chef.  In his "real life" back home, he is also a French teacher so he provided an eight week course last fall for all of us, and is doing another one now.

Marga was hot, sweaty, but so thrilled with her performance!

Team Spicey was all smiles as they approached the finish line - this international time from England, the US and Nepal ran in honor of one of our gurka guards who had to leave unexpectedly when his only son was killed by lightning while serving for the Army of India. 

As they got closer you can see here the Gendarmerie helping to clear the way.

The event was a success, fun was had by all, and it probably will not be repeated next year, since Guinea is is roughly the size of Oregon.  But, I am sure there will be more fun up someone's sleeve!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Et Savannah, ça va? (And how is Savannah??)

These days we spend a fair amount of time on the dock, visiting with the patients that we grew to know and love while they were on the ward.  As they have progressed in their healing, they have moved either to the Hope Center, or in some cases, back to their homes, with return trips to our dockside for their outpatients and physiotherapy appointments.


While their eyes light up when they see any of us, Savannah seems to be the biggest hit.

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Savannah and Jemima.

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Savannah and Abel and his momma.

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Savannah holding Abel.

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Savannah and Jo-Jo, Abel’s brother.

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Savannah and Lumen’s grandma.


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Savannah and Lumen…. are you seeing a trend here?

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Even the day workers wanted a photo with Savannah.


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Jo-Jo is learning to walk so these moments of delight were especially sweet for us to share.

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And while they wait for their appointments or the shuttle vehicle we provide to bring them back and forth, we play.  We talk a little French.  We learn a little Ewe.  And we laugh.

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Who is next in line of favorites?  Well, it would happen to be Dan’s parents!  They arrived last weekend and have been blown away by the sense of community exhibited by all those they have met. 

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Beau-pere was a big hit with the young and old, and they all wanted photos with him (each one commenting on how he looks just like Dan!).

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Lumen’s hair was in fine form for the day – straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, wouldn’t you say?

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Ju-Ju, Lumen’s little brother was especially expressive and heureux this week (happy), so we captured him several times.



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As these lovely patients share their families with us, we have had the delight and privilege to share our families with them.