Half way through week 6 in Sierra Leone… crazy. I have been planning to write this blog for a long time, but my mind has just been all over the place and I couldn’t decide what to write about! I titled this blog “Ay di com!” because that is a very common phrase here, and I find myself saying it a lot! It means, “I’m coming!” or “I will come!” When you are in Africa, and you see someone you know on the street, or when you leave a friend’s house, or when you leave church, or when you see anyone that you wish you had time to have a longer conversation with (which is everyone), you say “ay di com!” This phrase permanently commits you to return and enjoy your friends company again soon! Unlike in America, when we say, “See you soon!”... it doesn’t actually mean see you soon. We just say that to be nice, and then never actually plan on seeing them again, right?! Well not so in Africa my friend! When you say good bye to a friend, and they ask you if you will return tomorrow, they are serious! So don’t just agree and say, “O yes yes ay di com!”
Relationships and community are so huge here. They thrive on being inter-dependent, sharing deep conversation, and caring for others. In the ward, it is a struggle to keep the patients off each other’s beds, keep babies with the right mom, and keep them from sharing food, cups, and toothbrushes! As frustrating as it can be sometimes to maintain some reasonable infection control, it is just beautiful to see how much they care for each other!
The more time I spend here in Sierra Leone, the more I WANT to say “ay di com!” because everyone I meet and everywhere I go, I really do want to go back and have more conversations and spend more time with them! I’ve never been a fan of having to say good-bye, and I’m sure getting some practice here! Staff turn-over on the ship is pretty high, and many of the people I arrived with will be leaving soon. As I dread the thought of having to say good-bye to them, I realize that this is going to be a pretty regular thing for me as I will see many people come and go.
The bittersweet good-byes also apply to my patients! There are only 3 patients left out of the 15 or so long-term patients that were here for 2-3 months. One of the ladies, Esther, had a very large breast cancer tumor that was removed and skin-grafted over. She has become such a close friend, and she left today. She was looking for me before she left, and I found out too late, so I ran outside onto the dock and caught her before she left! (it was just like in the office, when Pam ran to catch Michael at the airport!) I had been through a lot with her over the past month of so. I remember when I first got here, her wound was not healing well, and she had a very deep wound that was infected. She was very sad and quiet and didn’t talk much. As the weeks went on, something changed in her, and she started to think more positively, and listened to Gospel music all the time. The ward was like a juke box 24/7! Her wound started to heal amazingly well. I use to love dressing change time with her, because we would go into a separate room, and it gave us time to talk and be real with each other. She had just finished her final nursing exams before she came in for surgery, and she will have to finish up clinicals now that she is out. I am so excited for her to be a nurse- she will be incredible! One of the last dressing changes I did on her, she was very quiet and I didn’t know why. When we got into the dressing change room, she started to cry, and said she was just thinking about everything she had been through the past few months- the surgery, the pain—but then over all of that was the joy of meeting us, and making close friends, and relying on the Lord. I felt so blessed to be able to have that moment of tears and laughter with her as she recalled her experiences the last few months! I am so excited that she is going home, but I have an URGENT prayer need for all of you—Esther is currently having her other breast screened, as we found another lump before she left. She is very scared and frustrated, so PLEASE pray that the screening will come back clear, and she is breast cancer free!!
Another difficult good-bye was to a patient named Alpha. He had also been here since I first arrived. He started out as a very quiet, shy man, but eventually opened up and laughed and joked, and was the sweetest, most loving man on the ward. I had gone down to the ward one day and saw that his bed was empty. My heart dropped, because I had no idea he was leaving and I hadn't said good-bye. Luckily I found out he had gone to stay at the Hope Center for a while. The Hope Center is a home run by Mercy Ships. Discharged patients who still need outpatient care, but live too far away can stay there as long as they need to. New patients can also stay there before surgery if they live far away, or if they need heavy nutritional support before they are ready for surgery. It is an amazing place, and it is so much fun to go hang out there on off days to visit old patients and get to know new ones.
So when I found out Alpha was staying there, I stopped over one day to see him. I was sitting out in the court yard with a group of children, when he came running up to me and gave me a big hug with tears in his eyes, so excited to see me! If you had seen this man a few months prior- a quiet mechanic who kept to himself- you wouldn't recognize him! Attempting to separate myself from my work here and not get personally involved with patients is absolutely impossible here. It is moments like this that make me realize just how powerful the work is that we are doing here!
So this past week I have named myself Danielle-the tear-maker. Hopefully my good-bye to Esther will be the last person I will make cry for a while! In total over the past week, I have made 6 people cry! Call me a jerk. So let me explain:
1st is a friend of mine here on the ship. She is from Africa, and we were talking one night, when I realized I know absolutely nothing about her past. I started asking questions, and she shared a little, but skated around many questions. Finally, she said, "you will make me cry, it is too hard to talk about". I am slowly starting to realize the amount of pain that many African's have gone through. She started to tear, and I didn't press any further. Wars and famines and true suffering have infiltrated this continent, and I don't think we could ever truly realize what pain and suffering is when compared to what most people here have been through. A few of us American's were chatting in the galley one night (while waiting for banana bread to cook, Mmmm!) and we started listing the luxuries that we have in America that would be just insane requests here. It really puts things in perspective. I was ashamed to admit that if a friend of mine from Sierra Leone were to visit me in the US, I would not want to pick them up in my car, or take them to my house because I would be embarrassed of luxuries I have. Here is some of our list:
- I have crazy electronis- a computer, Ipod, GPS, camera.. and I'm not even technologically intelligent!
- I can instantly cook food in my house- in a microwave, stove, or oven
- I have a mattress. not only that I have blankets. AND, I am the only person who sleeps in my twin-size bed. Not my sister, or my cousin, or my grandma. just me.
- I have the ability to keep food cold, or even frozen
- I can have a "snack" if I want
- I can push a lever, and my poo will instantly disappear
- I can wash my clothes without going to a river. and instantly dry them.
- If I'm cold, I can turn on a heater. If I'm hot, I can turn on an A/C.
- If it rains, I can shut the rain out of my house.
- I have electricity..in my house!
- I own a car.
- If I burn myself, or get sick, or accidentally cut off my finger, I can go to a hospital and get it fixed.
OK, I think you get the point. Seriously think about these luxuries.. do you take them for granted?! Back to the list of cry-ers..
2nd is a patient of mine named Hassan. He is a sweet little 12 year old boy who had 2 hands deformed from a fire. One hand we are unable to repair- his fingers are gone and only has his palm. The other hand was contracted, so we released his fingers and used skin grafts to open up his hand. I did his dressing change yesterday, which you could imagine is pretty painful on fresh, new skin. He is a quiet, sweet, boy, and was shedding some seriously painful tears. (3rd-) His dad started crying because of the pain that his son was in, and unable to avoid the chain reaction, I started tearing up as well! It was not a pretty situation, but at the end, the dad said, "I am so grateful for what you do, I tell God Tenki."
4th was another patient, Sally. She is 28 and had a burn to the arm with contractures that we released. I was doing her dressing change the other day and asked her how the burn happened. She started to tear up and said that she was escaping from her village with her mom in a car full of people when the rebels through a bomb at their car. She was able to escape, but her mom did not. She was 13 at the time. Unfortunately, over half of the burn patients here have similar stories. And 15 years later now, they are finally getting treatment.
and 5th was Esther and 6th was Alpha, which I already explained to you!
There is a ministry here in Freetown called Missionaries of Charity. I thought I had talked about it before, but I can't find it in any of my old blogs. It is a home that was developed under the tradition of Mother Teresa. It is run by 4 nuns who all trained in Calcutta at Mother Teresa's ministry there. Every Wednesday morning a group of Mercy Ship-ers go there. I have gone quite a few weeks in a row now, and I fall in love with the people more each time! The have a wide range of illnesses, some with TB, HIV, Malaria, malnutrition, etc. And some are just handicapped or developmentally disabled, and have been abandoned their by their families. The sisters are amazing, and the 2 hours we spend there give them a bit of a rest, since they are caring for the people 24/7. There is a girl named Sadimba there who is a bit younger than me, and lost her arm in the war. Every week we play memory, and she kicks my butt every time. Last week she wrote a song about having Hope in God. After all she has been through, her faith is incredible.
2 weeks ago, I held a tiny 4 month old baby. You know the little skin-and-bone babies and children that you see on TV? Well it is a much more humbling and heart-breaking experience when you actually hold one. Some of the babies and children here are so malnourished when they get to Missionaries of Charity that they have no energy to laugh, cry, play.. nothing. I could feel every rib in the 4 month old, and I felt like I was going to break him with every move I made. He just laid on my chest with his eyes open, too tired to even sleep. Last week I was holding a 5 year old boy that was about the size of a 2 year old. His arm was the size of my thumb. I was trying to color with him as he sat on my lap, and I would put the crayon in his hand and lift it to the paper. He would scribble for about 10 seconds before he would get too tired, and resort to just staring at the paper. I just want to hold them and take them home and love them! What the sisters are doing is absolutely incredible. Taking hopeless, ill people and giving them life again!
This little boy I have plans to steal. His mother had surgery to release on her chest and let for burns. She is in a lot of pain and it is hard for her to care for him, so us nurses have been taking turns! He is a little crabby pants unless he is being carried! Carrying babies on your back is the thing to do in Africa! It is called a Po-Po. It is incredible, and I'm not sure why we don't do it in America! It is super comfortable, the baby is happy, and your hands are free! I can give medications, do charting, check vital signs, etc. with this little monkey on my back! (The only risk is that you have to pray for no diarrhea-explosions, or it could be bad news for you..)
Tomorrow I am going to the American Embassy! I am taking some of my Sierra Leonian friends there to get information on studying in the US. I have been helping them find information online, but I think we will find more information at the Embassy. At first, I thought it was cliche and silly for Africans to want to study in the US. They can just get an education in Sierra Leone, why does everyone want to go to America?? But unfortunately, with a degree from a local university, majority of people cannot get a job. Most of these universities have been re-established in the 5 years since the war, and are still growing. Businesses here highly respect education from western countries, so with a degree from the US, a job is pretty much guaranteed. If anyone has any information on scholarships or grants for Africans studying in the US, let me know! They have to take the TOEFL (Test Of English as Foreign Language) before even applying, and the test cost $160 USD, which is basically a lifetime savings over here, so it is quite a decision to make, and they need to have a good idea of a place to study before dishing out that kind of money. So keep them in your prayers!
My accomplishment of the week: I went on an adventure into town- solo! You may think this is nothing, but trust me, in Freetown, going out alone is huge! I wasn't completely alone, because I met up with one of my local friends, but I had to get to his house by myself, and I succeeded! I took an Okata (motorcycle taxi) and didn't even get ripped off in my price! Some people find Okata transport to be crazy, but I think it's the way to go! You get places so much faster, because the motos drive anywhere they want! Right down the center line in bad traffic, on the sidewalks, anywhere! :) And so far, no wipe-outs!
More stories and adventures to come! I currently have a dress being made at a local tailor (He is no Suzi George, but I'm excited!) So I will be sure to share a picture when I get my new African-garb!
Love and hugs to all!
Prayer requests for this week:
- for Esther- that her scan for more cancer will come back negative
- For the children at Missionaries of charity- to put on weight quickly and get energy to be a real kid!
- For my local friends hoping to study in the US, that they will get promising information at the embassy, and hope for scholarships and grants!
- Post-op day 15 for many patients, and skin grafts are healing well! Continue to pray for ZERO infection!!