Friday, June 22, 2012

Togo Birthday to Remember!

To add to my collection of birthdays (and boy, are they growing!), this year we celebrated a bit early.
Why?  Well, my actual birthday falls the day after my brother's wedding this year and he and his new bride deserve to be in the spotlight.
Also, I wanted to celebrate with a few score of my favorite Togolese people and other multi-national Mercy Shippers, so our timetable was limited.  The ship has sailed from Togo already, our family has flown over "the pond" are are back in the States for the first time in more than 16 months, enjoying some down time and connecting with friends and family, so, the birthday celebration was moved up. :)
Earlier this year Mercy Ships hosted two different dock parties.  Normally every Thursday night on the ship, the crew get together for a Community Meeting - worship, message, encouragement, etc.  With a crew of nearly 400 that is continually changing faces, nationalities, ideas, experiences, and enthusiasm, it is important to have regular gatherings that keep us all on the same page.  The plan in Togo was to have these get togethers dockside about every six weeks, in order to have enough space to invite our 200 day workers to join us. 
The first one was awesome.

People everywhere, barbecue, lively music and worship.
Six weeks later we did it again, but this time,I hate to say, it was even better..... Our wonderful nurses decided that the patients didn't deserve to be sitting in the ward, when there was dancing taking place on the dock.  So out they marched - up two decks to the reception area, and down the 40 steps of the gangway to join us on the dock for lively, dancing, worship!

When I saw Afi, John, and some other patients from B Ward, I knew the fun was going to really begin.  And I knew that Beaugard couldn't be far behind.  Oh what a happy day that was as we danced and worshiped together.
So, six weeks later would have been around the time of the ship's departure.  I was looking forward expectantly to a third celebration like the first two.  But, was disappointed to learn that due to the rainy season and some other factors, one wouldn't be planned.
Never one to be brought down by external circumstances, I began to plot....  And others started to plot with me.  Hmmmm.  June.  I have a birthday in June.  Greta has a birthday in June.  I bet others have a birthday in June. 
If we have at least one birthday, that is reason for a party right?
So what if we aren't having an official function?  We can have our own celebration. 
And that is just what we did: a June Birthday Bash on the Dock!
Now one thing that is common in big celebrations in Africa is to look the part by wearing coordinating fabric.  In Sierra Leone if they were having a big event at the church, they would announce how much fabric cost and you could purchase the length you wanted and take it to your tailor to get something made.
Side note:  In Africa, this is the most common way to get new clothes: you buy fabric, you bring it to a tailor, they take your measurements, and voila! A custom fit shirt/dress/skirt/suit/etc.  Sounds pricey, but it's the only way to shop unless you want to purchase used clothing out of a pile on the side of the road. 
We wanted to make this as authentic as a couple of white American middle-aged girls could muster, so Greta headed to the fabric market and came back with 24 yards of a fantastic selection.

Crew, day workers, male and female all participated in our fabric project and came back with dresses, skirts, and shirts of unlimited styles and embellishments. 
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The rains in the afternoon scared us a bit, but by the evening the rain had stopped and we prayed hard that the roads wouldn't be complete mud puddles.
7:00 came and the friends started trickling in.
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Actually, it worked well because we weren't the only ones with the idea to have a party on the dock that day.  Tim had a 5:00pm party that included a barbecue, so the crowds were already partially present.  And our friends came - some in their regular clothes, about 12 of us in our new African ware.  A couple of djimbes came out, and then a guitar, and the party was ready to start.
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The guitar passed from hand to hand and the songs went from English to French to Ewe and beyond.  The common thread:  a love for fun, a love for Jesus, and a desire to celebrate together.
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The puddles on the pavement didn't stop us.  The fact that our sense of rhythm is different didn't stop us.  We played our invisible trumpets, flapped our wings, splashed our feet in the puddle remnants and celebrated together. Young. Old. Recovering. Caretaking. Healthy. Togolese. Beninois. Ghanian. Canadian. Dutch. American. Liberian. Sierra Leonean. German. And more.
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And the long-term patients that came out to join us CERTAINLY didn't stop us- that made it all the richer.
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Oh what joy it is, when brothers dwell together in unity.  Ps. 133:1.  I learned this verse some 19 years ago while on my Discipleship Training School (DTS) in El Paso, Texas.  It applied just as sweetly then as it does today.  The beauty of friendship that transcends culture, gender, economic status, and all earthly circumstances but stands firm on the bond of being brothers and sisters in Christ compares to none.
So, as my actual birthday nears, I cherish these memories - dirty feet.  Rats running around us.  Fan ice frozen treats in a little cooler.  Chicken dancing on the dock in Togo.  Unforgettable.
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Nurses make great babysitters,

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…so the mommies can join in the fun too!

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