Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Where are the Colors of Fall

I may be a few weeks behind here.  In fact, I probably am since I am seeing snowy photos on facebook from Colorado already. 

But, this week we sang the song, Indescribable, by Chris Tomlin.  Normally when I listen to this song I get quite nostalgic reflecting on the seasonal sensations bursting forth around me. "From the colors of fall, to the fragrance of spring..." "Who has told every lightning bolt where it should go, or seen heavenly storehouses laden with snow...."  All of this lyrical imagery makes me connect the dots with the current climate outside and I remember what I treasure about each season.

And, oh the fall! The brilliant yellows, reds, and burnt oranges - that crispness in the air; the baking that begins to warm our toes and tummies - gingers, apples, cinnamon, caramel; the crunch under the feet as the frosts begin and the leaves tumble down: I love fall!

But this week I had a reality check: It's nearly the end of October!  Those colors of fall exist- somewhere, out there.  But not here, in Guinea, West Africa.

Here the colors of fall look pretty much like the colors of any other month.  A little less rain, as we come into the close of a six month rainy season so we see more and more sun and less puddles to avoid on the dock.
We see the colors or imported goods, of green apples that arrive from a shipping container
and other loads piled high.
We see the colors of locally grown melons, pineapples, oranges (that are green in Africa), peppers, mangoes, tomatoes and lettuce.

And we see the colors of the sea - the tranquil blues, greys, and greens of the water's edge

the view of Conakry from the area just by the port

the water as the boats load up for commuters to and from the islands just off the coast
the bright orange of the Ministry of Fishing and Aquaculture life jacket adorning us as we cross to the islands
the endless blues of water and sky, that sometimes blend together

the water where we are docked, alongside other container ships, naval vessels, fishing boats and tugs - water that varies in shade and clarity from hour to hour

the cliff alongside Casa Island, which we round on the way to Roume Island for a day of R&R on the weekend

We also embrace the rich colors of the land here - the reds of the clay, and the greens that envelope everything above ground post rainy season

and the colors of nature that subtlely and covertly paint the world around us:
the earthy tones of mushrooms and fungi

the red, browns and blacks of little insects looking to devour all they see

beautiful butterflies oblivious whose colors are oblivious to the political boundaries

And we enjoy the spectrum of the sun as it shows its splendor throughout the day
bouncing off of patterns of sand

the days where it hides a bit behind layers of clouded haze

and days when you pray for the haze to come

and spectacular, one-of-a-kind sunsets that take your breath away, reminding us of the great big God we serve

and the vibrant colors of Africa - some beautiful, and some heartbreaking
trash and the work and sustenance it provides for so many as they find their living in its midst,
 plastic tarps that provide a shelter, rust, moss, and weathered frosting that coats all it touches

rainy season leftovers, bringing a deluge of castoffs to create their own community - often at the expense of others.

Brillant yellows, greens, reds and oranges do exist here, just in a different form:

displayed for the city to see as the wash is left out to dry
soccer jerseys, headwraps, fabric to create baby slings in bright patterns and obscure designs
tubs that transport life-saving water, cooking oil, or palm wine
So we enjoy our October - not with leaves changing and falling to the ground, but with the rains coming to an end.  Not with cinnamon and spice and pumpkins and candy, but with bananas and avocados and anticipation for the first mangos of the season. Not with a crispness of the air, but with humidity and sun.  And still, we recognize how Indescribable this amazing place and these amazing people are that God has created. 

*special thanks to all the crew members who contributed their photos for collective use onboard the Africa Mercy.  Your eye for the picturesque makes this blog come to life!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Oh Yeah, and the President Came By....

It's not every day that the president stops by for a visit.  But, you'd like to think you'd have a little warning if he was going to, right?

Well, such isn't always the case.

This past week we had quite an exciting day as we received a surprise visit from the President of Guinea, Mr. Alpha Condé.  As head of the state in the country that has invited us to perform surgeries, stay in their country and work side by side with their Ministry of Health and local healthcare organizations, of course he has a standing invitation to visit the ship.  Usually we extend an offer and based on the busy scheduled of a national leader, we are often dropped from the ticket. 
President of Guinea, Mr. Alpha Condé

This was the case in Togo, last spring.  The president of Togo was scheduled to come for a visit, and Kylie was prepared to greet him at the gangway with flowers (her moment to shine!!), but then he called to say he was out of the country and wouldn't be coming.  All the work of preparing hors d'ouevres, polishing and beautifying the ship, people on standby to host tours and help escort through the several decks:  all for nought.
But last week, it was exactly the opposite. 

We received a phone call saying that President Condé was in the port, visiting a French naval vessel, docked immediately behind us (or should I say, "to the aft of us?"), and he was heading our way for a stop. 

Immediately the plan went into action: 
  1. Notify the crew via loud speakers (please don't take out your trash right now - the president is coming!  Put on your Sunday best - the president is coming!)
  2. Chef and team went to work making a beautiful assortment of finger foods
  3. Hospitality teams went crazy cleaning and prepping for the visit
  4. Team Leaders and Managers changed into their suits and dresses to recognize this dignitary
  5. Security teams met with the entourage of presidential security guards (maybe 15 of them?) who were walked through the ship to identify any areas of concern
  6. Hospital crew continued to care for patients and perform surgeries
And then he was here.  After a tour of the ship including the hospital wards, he shared a brief message in a gathering open to all crew and day workers.  Can you imagine getting a job for a non-profit, making a few dollars a day, and getting to meet your president at this job?  What a day for them!
Meeting our Managing Director & his wife (all the president's men are behind him)

Coming up the gangway (you can see all the military presence all around the dock)

Shaking hands with all our Senior Management Team members and other key leaders on the ship (all the president's bodyguards following him)

Touring the max-fax ward - max fax team leader is giving him some background information on patients- the national and maybe military press are videoing and doing interviews

Yaya with grandma and a day worker await their turn to meet him.

Another ortho patient is greeted by Mr. Condé

He is noticing before and after photos in our hospital hallway

Emmanuel has quite a job here - interpreting for the President - translating from French to English.

Mr. Condé was moved by what he saw on board the ship, and wanted to shake every single person's hand at the close of his message (a logistical nightmare for the security guards trying to streamline and protect during this meeting). 
And after 90 minutes on board, he was off. 

The hoards of officials, guards, soldiers, bands, and all the other hoopla that accompanied him were able to clear out of the port.  The port gates opened again for vehicles coming in and out (some of our crew were stuck outside of the gate for a few hours, unable to return to the ship due to the president being inside).

And business was back to usual.  What's on the menu for dinner?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Teachers Needed for Next School Year! Want to Teach in Africa?

One of the best part of Mercy Ships for us is the chance to serve together as a family - in an environment where we can focus the majority of our time and energy not just to surviving and coping with a new culture, but dedicated and purposeful to the mission at hand. 

The Academy onboard the ship is one of the reasons we are able to do so.  Over 50 students from multiple countries live onboard with their parents who serve in roles all over the ship in management, service, nursing, surgeon and technical roles. 

Each grade level has their own teacher, own classroom and amazing resources! We have a computer lab and a separate library just for academy student use.

Like the rest of the crew members, our teachers volunteer their time and pay crew fees to be a part of this mission.

Our teachers have a close-knit relationship with families, colleagues and the 350-400 crew members that live onboard. 

Our school year corresponds primarily with our field services in each nation in Africa we serve, and have vast opportunities to participate in other opportunities that Mercy Ships is involved in: be-friend-a-patient on the wards, prison, orphanage or hospital visits throughout the weeknights or weekends and a plethora of social and spiritual activities to enrich this experience.

If you are interested in having a year that "looks different," experiencing Africa while still having some comforts of home at hand, being a part of a rich, dynamic Christian community and influencing young lives, check out this opportunity!

If you are interested, please contact emily.siemens@mercyships.org

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Things You Take Forgranted

Let's say you have a three-day weekend.  You'd like to visit some friends that live 193 miles away.  What do you need to do?  Fill up the tank, pack a suitcase, and hit the road, right?

Appreciate that freedom!

This weekend we have a three-day weekend and for several weeks we have been planning to use it to visit our friends at Cheshire Home in Freetown. 

Making a plan and carrying it out is more of a community effort here.  Decisions that in the U.S. I don't take much time to consider, here are complicated.

Let me explain:

To get 193 miles away will involve crossing an international border, changing languages, changing money,  passing through several military checkpoints on each side of the border where the soldiers could be looking for a "gift" to ensure our safe travel (i.e. bribe).  We will travel for at least six hours each direction on a road that supposedly is well-paved on the Sierra Leone side, a little less maintained on the Guinea side.

We need to figure out our transportation.  Do we take the bus?  The bus has a decent price, but only travels to Freetown on Tuesdays and Fridays.  It leaves at 11:00 (but sometimes as late as 1:00pm) and arrives well after dark.  We are not fans of traveling in the dark.  Do we take a taxi?  Who do we know that drives a taxi? What is a fair price?  What is a fair price for a "foday" (a white person) to pay, here in West Africa?  Will they take us all the way to Freetown, or leave us at the border?  How many people does the taxi hold?  While it might be a five seater sedan in the Western world, they might consider it a 6-8 person taxi.  Do we want to be squished in with eight people, or willing to pay for those "vacant" seats so they consider it full with only five of us?

What about food?  With the cholera outbreaks in Guinea and Sierra Leone, do we want to be eating food off the streets?  How much food gets you through a weekend- with no electricity, refrigeration, or methods of cooking?  Do I really want to eat a whole jar of peanut butter this weekend? 

What about water?  Bottled?  Camelback?  Buy purified water in the sachets on the streets?

Do we have enough money?  How much Guinea francs should we bring?  Leones for Sierra Leone?  US Dollars?  In a part of the world where everything is done by cash, what do you do for the "in case of emergency" plan?  I could pack a credit card in my pocket, but that doesn't do me any good for 9 out of 10 "what if" scenarios I can imagine.  In Guinea, 7100 francs equal ONE US dollar.  And the largest bill (yes, LARGEST) they have is 10000 francs (equal to about 1.30).  That means big stacks of money wherever you go.

about seven dollars

Do we bring our own mosquito nets or will the hotel have them?

Do we have a cell phone with a Sierra Leonean sim card? 

And the questions go on and on!
So, while we have a "plan," we hold this very loosely. 

We can very much relate to the verse:  Proverbs 16:9....
A man’s heart plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.

We can plan and prepare (and pack like Boy Scouts - being prepared for anything!), but ultimately we find many times here that we must rely on the LORD to carry things about.  Things WILL happen and we can't really control many of the circumstances around it.  So we trust and remain flexible to the plans.

So, I hope to go to Freetown tomorrow.  I hope that our visas get approved from the Embassy and back to us today.  I hope that we find transport that is reliable, reasonable, and safe.  I hope that as the first group of "fodays" going across the border from Mercy Ships we won't get hassled or detained for hours on end at the border.  I hope to visit with our friends.  I hope that our transport back on Sunday goes smoothly as well. 

But I also recognize that This Is Africa, and sometimes things just don't work out how you imagined them.  And we embrace that truth and walk forward with a good attitude willing to embrace whatever comes our way this weekend.

Stay tuned for the report!