Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Top Questions: What You're Dying to Know!

We are back "HOME," that place that feels comfortable, welcoming, and familiar.  For us, in this season, that is the Africa Mercy.  It's not so much a physical location, since we are moving from country to country, but this strange, interesting, multi-faceted community that becomes a family despite our many differences.  Welcome hugs awaited us from our "family" from Ghana, Jamaica, Sierra Leone, Nepal, the UK, South Africa, Australia, Benin and Liberia, Canada, the US and Holland. 

We had an amazing time these past eight weeks on our first holiday back to American soil since joining the ship in February 2011.  While we were prepared for some culture shock, it was quite minimal and we adjusted back into the quick pace of life in the US fairly well.  Decision making was an even weaker point than it had been before, but that is probably just me!

While we shared our stories and our life we had several common questions come up, so I thought I'd address those here:

1.  How was Africa?
Simply, Africa is hot.  It is beautiful.  It is gross.  It is smelly.  It is amazing.  It is full of interconnected people who know what community looks like.  It is appalling at times at how primitive it can be, and shocking when you see glimpes of the modern.  75% of Africans have a cell phone, (while only 42% have access to electricity).  It is a hodgepodge of cultures, languages, people, traditional living and modern technology.  It is like you see in the photos, only magnified so much more in real life.

2.  Do you homeschool the girls?
 No!  Onboard the ship there is an accredited Christian academy (Mercy Ships Academy) that holds classes K-12.  All students receive instruction by an incredible crew of volunteer teachers in the subject areas of math, English, social studies, science, French, Bible, P.E., art, music and drama.  Class sizes range from 1-6 students.  This was one of the deciding factors for us on serving with Mercy Ships because our kids get to have such a rich, intercultural experience alongside us, and I am freed up to work during school hours and be a part of the bigger picture of Mercy Ships. 

3.  What do you miss the most about America?

This answer is different for each of us:  Seasons, snow, running through a park, being able to blend in a crowd and shop without hassle, cotton candy, fresh berries and seasonal fruits like peaches, Lucky Charms, backyard barbecues, boat rides, fishing in the river, a Sunday afternoon NFL game, get togethers with friends and family top our lists.

4.  What do you do on the ship?

The girls go to school, take ballet, piano, attend running club, Bible club, and spend most of their free time hanging out with friends or watching Disney (if they've done their chores).  Dan works as the Ancillary Services Supervisor in the Hospital- overseeing and directing the lab, pharmacy, bio-tech, radiology, palliative care and rehabilitation departments.  He will be transitioning over to the Patient Flow Manager in a couple of months which oversees the Screening Team and the traffic flow of patients in and out of the Hope Center, the hospital onboard the ship, and the entire process in between.  I am an Administrative Assistant helping out in Human Resources and the Hospital doing small, menial tasks so people with bigger responsibilities can take care of the big jobs.  I do a lot of work in Microsoft Excel updating or creating spreadsheets, managing statistics, chasing down signatures, paperwork and if I have extra time, I count pills for the pharmacy.   In our free time we interact with patients, play games, watch movies, workout, swim, or catch up with others over a cup of tea or coffee.

5. How much do you get paid to work on the ship?
We, along with almost all the other crew members on the ship, PAY to be here.  We are volunteers that have to raise our own funds to pay our crew fees (room and board), insurance, taxes, travel expenses, clothing, and all the other expenses you incur in life.  God has been incredibly faithful to go before us and raise the funds and we are so thankful.  There are several other crew members onboard that struggle, and if you are led to help, let us know and we'd be happy to connect you with someone that could use some help.  We have seen God's faithfulness time and time again as He meets our needs before we even ask. 

6.  Where do you live?
We live in basically a two-bedroom apartment onboard the ship.  We have our own bedroom, the girls share a room with bunkbeds.  It is about 440 square feet, but it feels plenty spacious.  It's amazing what you don't need when you live in a community. 

7.  Do you get seasick?
Well, probably if we were out at sea all the time, but as it is we have only sailed six days in the past 18 months.  We are tied to a dock for most of the year, in one country, and the only time we are let loose is when we are traveling to our next port.  For us that was a five day sail between Sierra Leone and Ghana, and then a one day sail to Togo.  If you are trying to work on the computer during that time, yes, you will probably get seasick, but after the first day or so we got used to the motion and learned how to walk down the hall with our hands extended to prevent bumping into the walls!

8.  Have you learned the language?
This is a little misleading.  The official language of each country we have been in has been either English or French.  We are working on learning French (creating a bit of confusion in my brain with all that Spanish mixed in there!).  However, these languages are the languages established and imposed by the colonial countries of England and France.  So, this tends to be the language stressed in school and business, but the home languages continue to be those that go back hundreds of years before European languages: twi, ewe, mina, soso, fong, mende, krio.  In any one country there may be 200 different languages spoken.  We have learned a few catch phrases of the major language of each port city we have been in, but no, we are not fluent!  Africans (and Europeans) continue to be shocked that Americans speak so few foreign languages, when they speak several fluently!

9. What's happening next for your family?  
This is what we have renamed the million dollar question.  We initially committed to two years with Mercy Ships.  This would end February 27, 2013.  However, we all feel that it would be difficult to transition away at that point in the school year and our outreach.  So, we will stay at least through the end of our field service in Guinea, which wraps up the end of May 2013.  We are not required to leave at that point though, so we are just praying to see if this will close out our season with Mercy Ships, or if the Lord would have us extend.  We won't get an eviction notice on our door - ideally they would love to see long-term crew stay as long as they feel God is leading them to do so.  Please join us in praying for direction in these big decisions. 

Fifth grade graduates having dinner out with their dads at the end of the school year in Togo


  1. Great update Tiff! Glad you're back "home".

  2. Enjoy your posts and praying for your decision as you seek your future beyond May.
    Dawn Marie

  3. Great to see an update on how all is going on the ship for your family. Excited to know you guys are about to arrive in Guinea and things are going well.