Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tell PapaGod Tenki!


  KUSHE from Sierra Leone!


      The West-African adventures keep getting sweeter and sweeter, and it's only been 2.5 weeks!  I am continuing to become more comfortable with ship life, enjoying more excursions off-ship, and building deeper relationships with my patients everyday!
Fighting the crowds
The Cotton tree!
     Last week on my day off I went for a walk into town- my 3rd attempt at finding the "cotton tree", and this time I was DETERMINED to find it!  Another nurse and I walked through town in an attempt to finally make it to the downtown area.  We fought our way through the market, enjoying the wide array of smells that change every step you take, skipping over flowing rivers of festering garbage, turning down marriage proposals at every corner, and attempting to NOT get hit by a shag-wagon full of people!
I literally almost got wonked in the melon by a poda-poda mirror, but was saved by a kind man pushing my head out of the way!  After about an hour and a half, we finally saw light at the end of the tunnel and saw the immensely tall and beautiful cotton tree towering over the chaotic city!     
     After we saw the tree, the excitement was gone, and we didn't know where to lead our adventure next, when all of a sudden a kind young gentleman came out of nowhere and started talking to us! (I exaggerate when I say "out of nowhere"..everyone tries to talk to the "white babies").  At first we tried to shake him, but he said he had the day off from school, and would like to show us the government buildings, so instead of fighting it, we decided to see what would come of it!
Freetown view from the mountains!

Sierra Leone's parliament building
Frances walked us around State Avenue, and showed us all of the government building and explained what they did there.  He even payed off a security guard to walk us around the parliament!  It was a fun filled afternoon of touring, eating coconuts, meeting his family, and seeing his house.  It is so sad to see how they live.  Frances was fortunate enough to have a concrete house, even though we had to walk through a dirty, rocky, small alley to get there.  A lot of people are living in small shanties made of scrap metal with rocks on the roof to hold it on.
     I asked Frances if we could see his church, and he was very excited to take us down the block to meet his pastor and pastor's wife.  They were soooo sweet and welcoming and treated me as though I were a long lost daughter.  Tomorrow I plan to attend service at their church and I am very excited to get involved in their community! Look for updates later :)
Pastor Amara's church
     This past week was my 2nd week working on the ward, and I am becoming much more comfortable and excited about it.  It is hard to even consider it work when I enjoy it so much.  But I guess that's what I came here for!  The patients are absolutely amazing- they are so kind, and hilarious, and thankful.  We haven't been doing as many surgeries lately, and are instead focusing on healing the wounds and infections from the last round of general surgeries.  This past month as been filled with hernia and hydrocele surgeries, which many of them unfortunately did not heal well and became  infected.  It is so heart breaking to see these men sit in the hospital for 40+ days, but at the same time they have become like family to each other, as well as to me.  I know that God has a plan for them being here so long, and I just pray that they are able to see that.
     Last week I had a sweet lady in her mid 30's who had a huge goiter.  I had her all prepared for surgery, and took her down to the OR (or "operating theater" as they call it here!).  I was embarassed to realize that I hadn't gotten a pregnancy test on her before surgery, and was about to run get a test kit when she stopped me.  She said there is no way that she could be pregnant because after she got this huge goiter (literally the size of her head), her husband left her, which has been over 5 years.  The OR nurse and I decided we would trust her rather than make her feel worse and force her to be tested.  It was so sad to hear her stories because the life of a single woman is not easy here in West Africa.  People are rejected by their families and villages when they have these large deforming tumors, and it is just heart breaking to see what happens to them, but at the same time it is so rewarding to know that we are able to help.
Our private paradise island!
     After a long weekend of work and little time of the ship, I was going stir crazy!  It was "ship-holiday" this weekend, so most people had Friday off. 4 other girls and I decided we needed a few days of relaxation, and a night off of the ship!  We found a place to stay at one of the local beaches called "Tommy's paradise Island Guesthouse" on Lakka beach.  There was one picture online, and no reviews, but we decided to be adventurous and book a room!  The whole weekend was very eventful, starting with the taxi ride there!  Public transportation of any sort here in Africa is always an experience!  Lucky for us we had the assistance of an African friend to hale us a cab and barter a price for us!  Unfortunately there are "black prices" and "white prices" here, and as you could imagine the white prices are at least double!  After 2 hours of waiting for a cab, we packed 5 girls into a tiny nissan, and headed for the beach!  I thought my old car Buttercup was getting a little rickity, but that was nothing compared to what they drive around here!  I don't know how they make it over these terrible, rocky and muddy roads!  The fact that he had to restart the car every 5 minutes, whenever he took his foot off the gas, would have normally concerned me, but not in Africa!  We made our way down through Lakka village, and as we got closer to the water, everyone's nerves began to grow.  we were surrounded by small shanties, little civilization, and barely-passable roads.  We came to a gate which supposedly lead to "Tommy's" according to the locals, and the gate keeper told us the taxi couldn't go through, that we would have to walk in.  5 white girls in a small village far away from Freetown, walking through a gate that supposedly lead to a "guesthouse"... slightly scary!  We told the gatekeeper we wanted to see Tommy first, and we didn't let our new fond friend, Umar the Taxi driver, leave until we saw our lodging!  Our worst nightmares were quickly erased when we met Tommy, a very kind Lakka village man, and we walked down to the  with the company of Umar, who made sure we were safe before leaving us!
A view of our room
     Tommy's guesthouse turned out to be the best kept secret of Sierra Leone!  There were 6 guesthouses on this tiny little island on Lakka beach that you can walk to when the tide is low. (and wade to when the tide is high!)  We had an amazing evening laying on the sunny beach, having our pride damaged  by the massive waves that drove us in to the sand (...or maybe that was just me!)  It was like a tropical paradise that we had all to ourselves!  We were the only people staying on the island, and the staff became like family! (which seems to be a common occurance around here!)
The veranda where we ate

     They asked us when we wanted dinner, and made us an amazing candle lit dinner on the beach, where we enjoyed freshly caught barracuda and rice!  Prepared and served by the cook himself.  It was by far the best food I have had in Africa yet.  That night we sat and watched the stars, brighter than ever, and to top it off we saw a huge dead whale float into shore!  And mark it down, after only 2 weeks, I have crossed the Poop-barrier with my new friends!  (for those of you who understand this, I know you feel my joy! and those who don't understand, please erase this strange sentence from your minds)
My hammock bed :(
     The only thing that would have made the evening better is if I was able to sleep in the hammock on the veranda outside our room!  (I won't go into details, but lets just say I was scarred into sleeping in the room when my dear star-gazing friend, the night security guard, told me that "Jesus Christ told his heart that he should marry me"... As sweet as the proposal was, I decided to decline and sleep in the safety of a locked room!
     After an incredible weekend of relaxing in paradise, making new friends, and exciting travel, Umar came back to retrieve us and take us back to the ship!  More and more each day I am falling in love with Africa, and look forward to my next adventure and the stories I can share with you all!  Thank you for your prayers and thoughts!

Christina in our mosquito net bed!
Sipping bottled cokes in paradise!

Our beach entertainment

  Another amazing Sierra Leonian sunset

Prayer requests this week:
     -we are starting a new round of plastic surgeries soon.  We will be doing a lot of burn repairs, and Noma (flesh eating bacteria) repairs for people who have disfiguring and disabling problems that require extensive surgery and skin grafting.  Pray that the surgeries will be successful and free from infection, as we only have 3 months to heal and rehabilitate them.
     -For the old hernia and hydrocele infections to miraculously heal!
     -For my time at the local church tomorrow, that it will be an amazing community I can become involved in!
The sign says "Love from Sierra Leone!"

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mi gladi fo mit yu!

     Freetown, day 11.
My first Sierra Leonian sunset!  
     It's crazy I've been here this long already, but at the same time it feels like I have been here forever.  I have really melted in nicely to fun group of people here.  My transfer flight in Brussels, I met a few other Mercy Ship-ers and we really bonded and stuck together.  (I taught them Farkle and they love it so they are keepers!)  It's always intimidating to meet new people, especially when you don't have a safety blanket of friends to fall back on.  I have learned that the best place to meet people is at meal time, so I have been diligent about sitting with different people every time and it is working out well! (But note-to-self: look for mostly-full plates before you sit down!  It's not good on the ego when they leave 2 minutes after you sit down!)
      I was nervous at first to start working, but it has turned out to be the best part of my day.  They really rush you into it- with 2 days of "orientation" and then BAM you're on your own!  Although, surprisingly, I felt very ready to be on my own, and I have blended into the ward nicely.  Other nurses were commenting on how quickly I became comfortable and jumped right in to help.  I attribute it all to my 4EF- upbringing! I believe I have proved the motto true, "If you can work on 4EF, you can work anywhere!"
      The work here is very different than back home, as expected.  Most things are run by protocols and nursing pathways, and there's not much stray from the norm.  In contrast from home, where most things were driven by insurance and CMS!  All the charting is paper, and I have no CYA charting to take up my day! (CYA= Cover Your A**)  For instance, when I get a new admission, my one task is to place an IV.  THE END.  No asking 1 million questions, no calling the doctor for 5 million orders, etc.  It's amazing :)  Which in turn, this means that I can spend so much time talking with and getting to know my patients.
     I can't take pictures in the ward, but to give you a little picture, imagine 10 beds in a room, with 2ft max between them.  No walls.  It seems awful in our American mind set, but they actually love it.  If we have to put up a curtain to separate somebody who has an infection, they hate it!  The African culture is very focused on relationships.  In the hospital, they are always talking to each other, helping each other, and they practically cry when someone has to go home!
     One of my favorite aspects of the hospital is the "day volunteers".  There are day volunteers working all over the ship.  They are local Sierra Leonians who are payed to work with Mercy Ships- so it offers locals an income, and it helps us to be more integrated with the culture.  In the ward, they serve as translators for us, as housekeepers, patient educators, as well as a whole other list of duties.  We don't have nursing assistance so they partly serve in that role.  It is fun getting to know them, and they have been teaching me a lot about Freetown!  They also love to teach Krio, which has been a true blessing!  It is a pretty easy language to learn, as it is based on English.  One of my new local friends said, "Krio is a mixture of English, French, and some other language".  I asked him what the "other language" was, and he said, "Ahhh.. I don't know".  So I have decided the other language is gibberish. For example, the title of my blog is "mi gladi fo mit you!"  which means "nice to meet you!"  As you can see it's a phonetic version of English that utilizes some gibberish-like words!
     The day volunteers are also teaching me some cultural norms and helping me to blend in.  For example, I was whistling a little ditty the other day, and one of my local friends looked at me and laughed.  I said, "what's so funny?" and he said, "o nothing, I'm just surprised to see a girl whistling".  Uh oh! this is not a good sign!  I asked, "is it a bad thing?"--"no it's not bad.  but girls don't whistle here, it's only for men to do.  we think she is a man if she whistles".  NOTE TO SELF: don't whistle!  Which is very very depressing, as most of you know I just recently learned to whistle, and enjoy doing it ALL THE TIME!
fishing! Freetown style!
     My first weekend here, I went with a group to a beach called Mama beach.  It is a local village beach that not many people go to.  It is a big fishing beach, and the local village was pulling in their nets when we got there, so we helped!  Unfortunately all they caught were thousands of 3in long fish and a few jellies.  Don't know if the Jellies were stingers, but I wasn't about to find out!
     The beach was all locals, so we stuck out like a sore thumb.  All the African kids just love white people for some reason- they all wave excitedly and say "hello!" and want to shake your hand- apparently white hands feel cool, not sure.  They kept running in front of my camera saying, "snap me! snap me!" which  means, "take my picture!".  So I have about a million pictures of these cuties!
the kids that wanted to be "snapped"
     The fishing boats are wooden, hand carved!  I asked one of the guys how they build it, and they carve and chisel it all out.  One of my goals "which probably won't come true" is to buy a boat so I can go canoeing on the bay!  They are all painted with their family names.  If they are lucky enough, they have a little outboard motor to tote them around.  If not, which the people from the Mama beach village were not, then they paddle their huge nets out about 1km, and then the people on the beach pull them in.
     I also made some pretty good friends on the beach.  I spent most of the afternoon playing with these 2 boys, Allie and Abdul.  They knew English fairly well and loved walking up and down the beach with me.
The hand-carved canoe I intend to buy ;)
my 2 buddies, Allie and Abdul

     My first Sunday here, I went to a local church with a group of Mercy Ship-ers who have been attending this church regularly since they arrived.  It was awesome to experience an African service.  It was about 2 hours long (which was apparently exceptionally fast!)  They sing and dance and have a lot of energy, similar to the Mexican churches I have experienced.  It's awesome to see how excited they are worship the Lord, especially when they have so little.  It was really humbling for me to see how strong their faith was compared to mine, when I have so many abundant blessings to be thankful for.
     This past Sunday I was working so I attended the ward church service.  Every Sunday morning they have a church service held in the hospital for all the patients and family members.  This was again very humbling to see a lot of the patients, all wrapped with gauze bandages, stitches, NG tubes, crutches, etc. smiling and praising the Lord for the surgeries they have had.  Many of the patients are Muslims, but they are experiencing Christ during their stay on the Ship. Lord willing, they will be able to see the incredible Grace and Peace that Christ gives and will surrender their life to Him as a result of Mercy Ships ministry.
     My favorite little buddy from the ward sat on my lap during the service and belted out all of the songs.  It was so heart-warming.  He is a 7 year-old boy who was badly burnt in a fire.  There are many burnt children here, mostly from cooking fires at home.  His hand was melted shut for many years, and the doctors here were able to open up his hand and give him most of his hand dexterity back.  It's amazing how much that can change a little boys life.  He is part of the family here, and it will be so sad to see him leave, although I know it will be such a blessing for him and his family to be back home!
     It has been such a blessing (but at times struggle) to live with so many nationalities on the Ship.  Last time they announced it, their were 37 countries represented here.  Most seem to be US, UK, Australian, or Netherlands, but still their are so many different cultures and languages here.  I didn't realize how different we can be in the way we think, speak, and act.  It has been a wonderful learning experience!  Last night I hung out with a friend from Ghana who works as a night watchman.  I did "rounds" with him which was awesome!  I got to see all the inner-workings of the ship, as well as the bridge (where they drive the ship- I held the steering wheel!), and the "control room" as I call it.  I don't know what it does, but there are lots of knobs and buttons and screens, and  there are people up all night working down in the belly of the ship! What a commitment!  As exciting as it was, it was still a challenge to work through our language barrier, as well as thought and humor barriers!  (I still haven't decided if the poo-conversations are acceptable here..)
     I have gone on a few excursions into town, just walking through the streets and the markets.  I think I would be fully satisfied if I never did any tourist attractions, but just walked through town everyday.  The streets are crowded, dirty, and noisy, and at times dangerous! (I almost lost my head to a Poda-Poda mirror the other day!  A Poda-Poda is a ghetto taxi-van that can shove incredible amounts of people in it! well as goats and chickens at times.)  The other day I went on a hunt for ice cream- knowing full well that I wouldn't find any.  And lo-and-behold I found a guy selling frozen-yogurt soft-serve out of a little machine!  It was the best frozen yogurt ever, and much to everyone's surprise, it has been 20 hours and I'm still not ill with the squirts!   
     unfortunately I am not able to take as many pictures as I had hoped.  Many people don't want to be "snapped", and it's safest not to take my camera out in public, because it will make me an even bigger target for pick-pocketing.  (as if my ghost-like skin doesn't already make me stick out!).  As soon as I develop a sneaky sunglass-camera I will post more!
    This is a pretty incredibly long blog, and I thank anyone who makes it all the way through!  I love sharing my stories with all of you at home, and thank you so much for your prayers and support!
     My prayer requests for this week:
          - To learn more Krio so I can communicate with my patients better!
          - For hernia and hydrocele patients who have been here for 60+ days due to infections and
            complications.  Pray that they will heal quickly and be able to return home.
          - For the burn-victim children who had surgery and skin grafts several weeks ago and are starting to go
            through therapy to get movement back!
          - For me to continue making good relationships with fellow crew on the ship!

     Love and miss you all- please write and e-mail to keep me in the loop!


Friday, August 12, 2011


      After only 23 hours of travel, I arrived dirty, hot, tired, hungry, and overwhelmed in Freetown, Sierra Leone!  But safely!  The last 24 hours have been filled with an overload of information that has left me in a daze.  The internet connection here is poor, and I don't have pictures loaded yet, so this first entry could be a bit sketchy, but I'm giving it a shot!  I decided to give a shout out to the lovely Lauren Slattery, and copy her blogging technique with a list of things I have learned in these first 24 hours:

1. If I don't get hit by a car or motorcycle on the streets of Freetown, it will be a miracle.

2. The internet speed on the ship is just about as fast as travel in West Africa.  (AKA slower than dial-up from the 1990's)

3. Leonians are multitaskers- they double the ocean as their garbage dump. saves on realty, what thinkers.

4. Leonian street laws that I have picked up on: blinkers don't exist, that's what the horn is for.  Half the cars have stearing wheels on the right, half on the left-- which also coincides with the side of the street they drive on.  It's OK to set up a table in the middle of the busy street to play cards. 

5. Just because a ship is in port doesn't mean you won't get sea sick!  I watched my water bottle roll back and forth across my bedroom floor today..

6.  The ship toilets will literally suck you in when you flush. so close the lid.

7.  "port side" is on the left. even though the port is on the right.

8.  There are no cows in Sierra Leone. = no milk!

9.  The sun sets at 8pm on the equator :(

10.  A mission hospital must reuse as many things as possible.. including bedpans and suction canisters.

Pictures and stories to come later!