Monday, October 24, 2011

3 months in: And this is what I have learned..

1. Milch is growing on me.  It's not milk.. hence why it's called "milch".  I'm not quite sure what it is... but I can finally drink a nice glass of room-temperature milch and not gag.

2. A "toastie" is staple food item here.  Thank goodness for the george foreman! a nice grilled cheese sandwich is always a good alternative when you just don't feel like eating rice.. again.  For the second time. Today.

3.Africa is the one place that I don't shower before going out. Because I am guaranteed to sweat more than I did in my marathon- in only the first 30 seconds off ship!

4.  The Africa Mercy Starbucks, Aaa-mazing.  75 cent lattes, any size you want!

5.  White-man tea = Hot water, small milch, small honey, steep tea bag for 5 min.
     Black-man tea = Hot water, lots of milch, lots of sugar. no tea bag.

6. When you stay overnight at a hotel, your 2 core questions are: "when does the electricity turn on?"  and, "do you have running water and a mosquito net?"

7.  Black babies are waaaaay cuter than white babies. (sorry to all my prego friends) and they don't cry near as much either!

8. The "fast-fast" is not something you want!  But it is going around the ward, and if you don't wash your hands you might just get it!  (other common names you may know it as: hershey squirts, hot sloppys, the scoots, etc.)

9.  If you're bored, a fun way to pass the time is to play "I Spy" in the ocean trash that floats by.

10.  If you do your laundry while working night shift, the patients will fold it for you.  Just kidding! ..but seriously..

11.  African's are way cleaner than white people.  I feel like such a dirty grunge compared to them!  They somehow always have sparkly clean shoes even when walking on muddy roads, and they wash EVERYTHING!  My dirty old backpack is not a sign of how far I've traveled, but a sign that I'm a dirty white person!

12. The ship gangway is run by Nepalese Gurkhas.  Google it.  They are hard core, and can take you down in 1.2 seconds.  You want them as your friends, but you don't want to play ninja with them.

13.  If you want to prove that you are invincible, ride an okata (motorcycle-taxi).

14.  When an english person says, "don't forget to bring your swimming costume!", they don't mean your swim suit that looks like cat woman with a cape on the back... they just mean a normal swim suit... my mistake.

15.  If your pale, white, American skin has not seen African sun, it won't matter how much sun screen you put on, you will still get burned.  And the African's will wonder why the heck you painted your skin red, and "does it hurt when I touch it".  yes, so stop poking me.

16. If you need new shoes, just go out into Freetown.  There are flip flops EVERYWHERE.  I don't know how so many people lose their shoes, but you can spot flip flops floating past the ship, in the piles of garbage on the street, just laying around the streets, washed up on the beach, in piles in the woods.. even on a vacant island in the middle of the ocean!  and I'm not talking 1 or 2 here or there.. I mean PILES of mismatched flip flops!

17.  Sierra Leonian's like to point out the fact that I am white, as if I didn't know.  small kids (or grown men) point at me on the street and yell, "opadoh, opadoh!" (translated: white person!).  While I was waiting for a taxi once, a man walked past and said, "wow! a real opadoh!"... I had no idea there were fake ones! I have started responding to these comments with "black man, black man!"  which gets a lot of laughs from the locals :)

18.  There are rats the size of cats here.  and they like to run across my path at night on the dock when I'm running.  and it is possible that I screamed bloody murder once or twice :)

19. et me describe to you a poda-poda, which is the most commonly used public transportation here:
      -picture a 1960's VW van, painted up with ridiculous sayings.  The door is about to fall off and is held on with strings.  The seats are taken out, and 4 wooden benches are inside.  that means, 4 people per bench, plus the driver, plus 2 people in shotgun, plus the "apprentice" who sits by the sliding door and yells out the poda's destination, and collects the money.  Do your math: 20 people in a VW van.  add in a goat and a few chickens for fun, and you have the usual day-to-day Freetown transport!  And at night, it actually becomes a dance club inside-- complete with banging loud music, and black lights.  And I can get across town for 50 cents in this amazing party bus, what could be better?!? :)

20. my new favorite thing is to buy things while I'm in a poda-poda (taxi van).  Everytime the poda is stopped (which is very often due to traffic) people come up to the window to sell things-- water, juice, bread, street meat-- are my usual purchases! why go to the store when the store comes to you?!

21.  Don't drink anything when you are out in town!  You don't want to have to pee!  The usual "bathroom" is a cement slab that you squat on, and wash your goodies off the side with a teapot of water. yumm.

22. best thing I have learned: I love Sierra Leone :)  I am pretty sure that the most gorgeous weather, landscape and beaches are right here!  And the most loving and beautiful people as well!

My African babies!

Just wanted to give you a little taste of what I get to play with and snuggle every day!  All of these kids are plastics patients who have had some sort of burned appendage that has been reconstructed, or other congenital deformities such as fingers/toes grown together.  They are all healing wonderfully and some have even gone home, much to my saddness!

Enjoy :)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

ay no J.C.!

"ay no J.C.!" - meaning: "I did not just come!"

This phrase is useful when bartering for a taxi price, or when buying anything on the street.  "I'm from Salone! How dare you charge me that ridiculous price!"  This past week I have truly felt like this phrase is becoming true for me.  I haven't just been that "white girl" on the street, but I have felt like I belong here.  In the last week, I have ran into 3 past patients out on the crazy, chaotic Freetown streets!
     My favorite moment was when I ran into Esther, a breast tumor/cancer patient I mentioned last week.  It started out as a fantastic afternoon, because I was with some friends of mine, a local married couple who work on the ship, and we were headed to their house for the afternoon.  We were walking up the mountain side through the busy residential mountain streets, when I heard my name being called from behind.  I was thinking, "surely they do not mean me.. I don't know anyone here!" and I turned around and saw Esther running up the hill calling after us, with half of her hair braided, half in a fro.  I was so surprised and excited to see her, I ran down to meet her and gave her a huge hug!  I don't know about you fellow acute-care nurses out there, but I have never ran into an old patient on the street and had such a great reception!  She was in the process of getting her hair braided when she saw me, and ran out of the hair salon!  It meant so much to me to be able to see her again, she is such a special lady!  For those of you who have been praying for her- her screening for the other breast is next week, so continue to pray that she won't need another surgery!
     Seeing Esther was only the start of a great evening.  I spent the day with my 2 friends, just relaxing and chatting in their house, and walking around their neighborhood.  I now know how international students feel when they go to school in the US-- it means so much to be invited home with a local!  To be able to experience home life in a new culture, and just to feel  more like family in a new country, rather than a visitor.  Ay no J.C.!
      I also had another home-life experience this weekend.  It was by far my best weekend so far in Sierra Leone!  2 of my friends, (1 Canadian and 1 American) and I went with 3 of our local friends up to the "provinces"- we went to Koidu city in Kono.  If you know anything about the Sierra Leonian war, or if you have seen Blood Diamond, then you may have heard of Koidu City.  Kono is one of the richest areas in diamonds, and because of that, it was the central location of the war.  The rebels basically took of Koidu and used it as their base camp.  2 of the guys, Israel and Abdulai have family in Koidu, which is why we went there.  It is a 9 hour bus ride across the country, so we made it a long weekend and traveled on Friday and Sunday, and had Saturday to spend in Koidu.   Let me give you a little play by play of the weekend..

First off, here is the crew I traveled with:  


Sahr and Abdulai
Johanna, Anjali, and I.  notice the zero-sleep look I'm rockin..

best way to sleep in the middle of a bus!
So to start off the trip on the right foot, 4 of the 6 of us worked night shift all week.  So we were coming straight off night shift, and going to the bus station, where the bus was NOT very patiently waiting for us!  At first glance, it looks like a nice spacious coach bus... but no, no, my friend.  That was not the case.  In classic Sierra Leone fashion, they fill every seat in the bus. twice. and then just when you think there is no way another bread crumb could fit in, they somehow squeeze 50 more people in.  We were fortunate enough to get seats.. small rubber stools in the isle way that is.  So as you can imagine, my brilliant plan to sleep all the way to Kono was NOT going to happen!  Over bumpy jungle-y roads for 9 hours, with zero air conditioning, it was definitely a journey that we won't soon forget!  But we of course made the most of it and laughed our way to Kono.. or maybe that was the lack of sleep talking.. not sure!

After arriving in Kono, we separated from the boys, and us girls went to our hotel and relaxed for the evening!  Saturday was our day to live like locals!  The guys took us to the market and we bought all of the ingredients we would need to make an amazing Leonian feast!  Then we walked to meet Abdulai's mom at her fabric shop and spent some time talking with and praying for her.  She insisted that we return later so she could prepare us some food!  We respectfully accepted (it is very rude here to refuse anything that is offered to you here!)  even though we knew our stomachs would be popping by the end of the night!

arrived at the hotel.. and I passed out

We headed to Israel's home, met the whole fam, and then started cooking!  I imagine the women of the compound were quite bewildered as 3 Sierra Leonian men taught 3 white girls how to cook :) We made Casava leaf and rice, and fufu with an okra sauce.  It was DELICIOUS!  I will let the photos describe our experience...
At the market shopping for our ingredients!

stinky smoked fish. mountains of it.
Our kitchen!  The lunch making crew, plus a few observers.

Center of the market.. filled with fish. stinky stinky fish.

2 chickens freshly killed in a bucket! start the plucking!

Smashing Okra and peppers for the fufu sauce

Israel and Anjali roasting the last of the feathers off the chicky's

I cut off the chicken head! Can you believe it mom?!
"picking" the rice. We were actually just playing in it. don't tell.

 So, funny story.. you never see cats here, only the rare kitten.  We made the mistake of asking where all the cats were.  Turns out cats are a rather tasty entree.  In fact, my friend Israel has eaten 5!  Would you care to know how they kill them?  Neither did I, but they told me anyway, so I figure I should share with all of you in case you ever need to know this handy skill:
          1.  place cat in bag.
          2.  smash bag on ground until it stops moving.
          3.  remove dead cat from bag.
          4.  soak cat in carosene.
          5.  light on fire.
          6.  easily peel away the skin.
          7.  cut up meat and cook as desired!

I'm  not even joking.. this is serious.

Just doing my best to help!  Cooking the rice.

Casava leaf!  staple food item in Sierra Leone!

Finally enjoying our delicious meal!  Casava leaf and rice!

Enjoying our second entree- Fufu and Okra sauce

On our way from Israel's house to Abdulai's
Later we walked back into town, walked around town a bit, and then went to Abdulai's moms house.  There we had ANOTHER amazing feast of chicken and fried plantains.  Now if you are paying attention, you will see that we ate THREE chickens.  This may be no big deal in America, but the fact that 3 chickens were killed for us is so huge.  A family will only kill and eat a chicken on very special occasions, as they are not cheap!  We were so humbled and honored by their generosity.  As an American, my first reaction would be to refuse these gifts of generosity and insist that they don't kill 3 chickens for us!  But culturally, it is extremely rude to refuse gifts or hospitality that is offered to you.  If someone invites you over for dinner, you better go!  Or if someone gives you a live goat, you better accept it! (thank goodness this hasn't happened to me yet!)  It has taken some getting use to, because as an American I don't like to receive gifts, especially when I see how big of a sacrifice it is for the other person.

After an amazing day of walking through town, eating RIDICULOUS amounts of food, and feeling so welcomed by our friends' families.. we headed back to our hotel to catch a few hours of shut eye before getting up at 3 to catch a 4am bus!  Lucky for us we actually got real seats on this bus :)  All in all it was an amazing trip!
All of us with Abdulai's mom

Lessons learned while in Kono:
    - Don't question what part of the chicken you are eating.. just chew.
     - Don't eat with your left hand, its rude.
     - Don't drink anything if you don't want to squat in the road to pee like the locals
     - it IS possible for Sierra Leonians to sleep on the roughest, bumpiest road ever.
     - Africa loves Celine Dion.

When I got back to the ship, my relaxing weekend was put to an abrupt stop, and I spent the rest of the week torturing small children.  It has been a very busy few weeks in the ward, because all of our plastic patients have pretty intense dressing changes.  Hands that were melted shut and are now reopened, and feet that were deformed that have been straightened, and arms that were contracted have been released.. etc.  There are lots of skin grafts and therefore lots of pain and long dressing changes!  This week was a big k-wire removal week as well.  I pulled lots of k-wires out of little children's hands and arms.  Just youtube it... you will see what I'm talking about.  It is sometimes hard to remember that we are actually doing good things for these people when I make them scream and cry as if there leg was being sliced off.  It has been very mentally exhausting for me this week to cause so much pain.  Luckily I can retreat to the Hope Center- where the plastics-patients who are nearly healed are staying, and I can laugh and play with them and be reminded of the amazing changes we are making in their lives!

Prayer requests:
- Continued prayer for Esther that she won't need further surgery
- For the small children in the ward who are convinced I'm trying to kill them.. that the pain will be short lived and not remembered!
- For my local friends who are trying to go to school in US-- pray that doors will open and it will be obvious if it is in God's will for them to go or not.
-  For my friend Abdulai (I think I called him Andy in an older post)-- He is so eager to learn more typing and computer skills, but I don't have access to any programs unless we are online.  Anyone have a CD-ROM version of typing lessons??
- Some of my friends have left for Togo already to prepare for the ships arrival in January.  Pray for their safety in travel and for things to come easily, such as securing a parking spot in the port!

Love and miss you all! Keep in touch, as always I love to have updates from home! Even if it's just, "I washed my car today, and mowed the lawn. and then I peed."  :)

Love and Hugs all around