Monday, December 12, 2011

Sail away! Sail away! Sail away!

Good’ay mateys! Greetings from somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean!  It’s such an incredibly freeing yet confining feeling to be out on the open sea!  Plus I get to learn really cool words like “muster” and “bunker” and starboard, port, aft, bow, bridge, etc. I’m a pretty able seaman!  It’s been a while since I last wrote, so I will rewind for a minute and re-cap my last weeks in Sierra Leone before I get to the sailing stories!

Hiding from the teary-eyed mob!
My last few weeks in Sierra Leone were wonderful and awful at the same time.  After the hospital closed, I transferred to work in the galley- cooking food for all the crew on the ship!  It has been a lot of fun- we even cook food sometimes amongst all the music and dancing!  The nice thing about working in the galley was that it gave me more days off for my last 2 weeks in Sierra Leone (SL).  I was able to enjoy some extra time in town with local friends, and I even managed to get in a few extra trips to the beach, and watch one last soccer match between the ship crew and the locals (never mind that the game was delayed due to a riot at the earlier game resulting in tear gas and a fleeing crowd that I got swallowed up into...)! 

Here is a photo journey through my last few days with my SL friends..
vicious game of musical chairs at our beach party!

Do these kiddos look familiar? Look at my blog on Aug. 22- I met these kids at Mama beach, and ran into them 3 months later at a different beach! And they remembered me!

Beach football game

This guy provided a nice obstacle for the football game... he is currently crossing the center line.

Joey and I on our 5 mile walk to another beach!

Crab attack!! These little buggers are exceptionally difficult to catch!

Found some monkeys in the tree! Oo wait, is that Israel and Abdulai??!

Christian found the best napping spot

The crew with Crooksy on her last day :(

Becca and I went to Autie Fatu's (one of the day workers in the ward) and saw her and her husbands farm

Manual labor! No motorized equipment at all!

I have a photo with a basket of cucumbers on my head.. I will post it later! I need more training.. it's not so easy!

 Video of the Day worker celebration day on the ship during worship time

Day worker celebration day

We got to see the baby of 2 of our friends right before we left! It was perfect timing!

My thinking spot!
It was a wonderful last few days, but I knew each great adventure was just another day closer to saying goodbye.   I was very fortunate to be able to say good-bye in a real West African time-frame: to spend the entire day with a friend before actually hugging goodbye at the end.  I didn’t understand why saying goodbye seemed so hard until I sat down and really thought about it.  I said goodbye to so many family and friends at home before I came here and none of those goodbyes seemed quite as difficult as the ones I had set before me here.  It bothered me at first because I thought, “I have known these people for 4 months… why should it be harder to say goodbye to them than to people I have known for years back home?”  Some people suggested it was because I would never see these people again.  But I didn’t buy that because I strongly believe I will return to SL someday.  I spent some time in my best thinking spot- the end of the dock in Freetown- and I finally realized the answer, and it broke my heart.  

When I say “goodbye”, or “see you later”, or “until next time” to people in America, I know with about 95% assurance that they will be OK.  But I can’t say that with any assurance for my SL friends.  When I left for Africa and I said goodbye to Mom and Dad, I knew that unless the great depression came back, they would have food in the fridge, lights at night, a safe place to sleep, medical care if they got sick, and they could count on that being true for the next 50 years or so.  But the heart breaking part about “goodbye” in SL, was that I wasn’t sure if any of those things would be true for my friends- tomorrow, or any day in the next 50 years.  But yet it is so powerful and encouraging to see the hope and faith they have for a safe and healthy future. 

I have also done a lot of contemplation and theorization on the cultural differences between my American culture and the Sierra Leonian culture I have so enjoyed for the past 4 months.  I absolutely loved the culture and way of life here; there are so many beautiful aspects.  The people are so welcoming and friendly, they would literally drop everything to help a perfect stranger, and they would give up all of their comforts to make you feel welcomed.  My friend Johanna and I were walking to one of our SL friend’s homes when her sandal broke.  She tried to fix it but couldn’t, so a woman on the street gave her a new pair of sandals.  Then when we got to our friends compound, Johanna asked for some tape to fix the broken sandal, and instead the entire compound came together, examined the shoe, and scurried off with it, only to return 15 minutes later with a perfectly repaired sandal.  Not only that, but they reinforced the other sandal just in case it were to break someday too!  If I broke my shoe in America and took it to my neighbor’s house, he would tell me to go to Wal-mart and buy a new pair!  That’s the kind of community that exists here.  If you walk by somebody in the street and don’t say “hello, how is your family?” it is just about the most disrespectful thing you could do.  They are a very relational culture that depends on each other for enjoyment, comfort, safety, and survival.  I can only imagine that the West African’s who come to America feel very lonely and isolated because of how independent we are. 

SL has an amazing and beautiful culture that I have learned so much from; but with the beauty of any culture also comes the frustrations.  I have found trust to be a big struggle for me here.  More than once, I have felt betrayed by a West African friend.  It hurts and it frustrates me, but I also realize that often it is done to just save face.  They change a story or say something false just because they think it is what I would like to hear.  Trust is also a struggle in their culture when it comes to male-female relationship and marriages.  Complete fidelity to ones partner is all too commonly broken.  Many women constantly fear that their men will leave them, and many men constantly fear that their woman will cheat on them.  It is a sad reality that many couples have a lack of trust in each other. 

To think about these issues, I returned to my best thinking spot: end of the dock in Freetown.  A friend of mine gave me the idea that maybe some of these cultural differences, especially with faithfulness and trust, sprout from the roots of how our cultures were founded.  If you look at West Africa, the first people groups here and thus the basis for the culture comes from the indigenous tribes which had animistic and tribal beliefs.  If you look at America and the original founding father’s beliefs, America was founded on Biblical principles.  “In God We Trust” is not just a phrase on the back of a dollar bill.  Even though American’s may not practice Christianity so strictly anymore, and much of American culture is far from Biblical, the truth is that the basic morals we teach and attempt to follow are originally Biblical, and it is very evident when you travel to a culture that is not founded off of God’s word.

Loading the last Land Rover

Don't drop it!

After all the thoughts and theories I developed on SL, it was finally time to depart.  All of the goodbye’s aside, there were a lot of fun and exciting things about leaving and leading up to the sail.  Some of the locals started to panic about us leaving- with good reason.  If we left, that meant they or their family member couldn’t get the surgery that they needed.  So there were a lot of attempts to get on the ship at night.  Some friends and I were sitting out at our thinking spot at the end of the dock when one of the Ghurkas (security guards) walked up holding a sling shot.  I said, “what is that for?!” and he pulled a handful of marbles out of his pocket and said, “that’s how I keep people off the ship!” and OOo my goodness do they have some wicked aim!  The night before we sailed out of Freetown, I got to do pirate watch with a friend from midnight to 2 am.  The best part was one of our Ghurka friends let us shoot his sling shot!  I shot the containers on the dock with expert aim! (Or close to it…)

Pulling away from the dock was bitter sweet.  There were a few people who slipped past the port security guards to wave us goodbye.  Most of the crew was standing out on the top deck to wave goodbye, and the Captain came across the loud speaker and said a beautiful prayer for Sierra Leone, Freetown, and for our travels.  It was a great send off to a wonderful outreach.
Our small goodbye crew on the dock as we pulled away

We had a beautiful first day of sailing with gorgeous weather and smooth waters.  Even with smooth waters, the ship rocks a considerable amount!  I even fell over in the shower once (probably due to my extremely poor balance early in the morning).  It is funny to watch people walk down a straight hallway; they all weave left together, and then right together! 

The water is so incredibly blue, it is amazing!  They opened up the bow for us to go out and watch the sunset and watch for animals.  So far I have seen a ton of flying fish (they can glide above the water for 100’s of feet, its incredible!), a few large iridescent-looking fish, a lot of dolphins, and a few whales!  I haven’t seen a whale close up, just a fin or 2 and a few blow holes, but all the same, it’s neat to see!  The dolphins have been the entertainment of the weekend.  Once they realize the ship is there, they come jumping from miles away in pods sometimes numbering in the hundreds.  They like to swim and jump at the bow of the ship.  I swear some of them are straight from Sea World with the shows they put on!  I even gave one a high five and scratched his tongue! 

On the 2nd night of the sail 3 other girls and I slept outside on the top deck.  It was a beautiful night!  The moon was full and very bright, so we couldn’t see any stars, but it was still gorgeous.  We got up early the next morning and bumped and bounced our way to the bow to watch the sunrise, coffee in hand, and a warm ocean breeze.  It was an amazing way for a Wisconsin girl to spend a December morning- watching dolphins jump in the light of the sunrise!  The only thing that would have made it better is if I was sitting in my canoe with my fishing pole in hand :)

The sunrise gang!

Goooood morning Atlantic Ocean!

Prayer requests:
- For our time in Ghana- that it will be a nice relaxing vacation for crew to rejuvenate and recharge for our Togo outreach!
- For the few patients we left behind that weren’t completely healed.  They were transferred to the local hospital with precise directions on care.  Pray for a speedy and uncomplicated healing!
- For people left in Sierra Leone who didn’t receive surgery- that they will recognize that God is still all loving and in control and just, despite their discouragement. 
- For the good friends I left behind in Freetown- that they will have health and safety, and the inspiration and motivation to help pull their country out of poverty and devastation.

Miss and love you all, and thank you so much for your prayer s and encouragement!  And a very merry Christmas to you all, as I probably won’t write again until after the holidays!  

Stay tuned next time, as I will be revealing my newest and latest crafty hobby!  I am recycling water drinking bags into weaved purses! (or attempting to…)  I figure I can sell them on the street for some extra cash.   Seeing as how I was denied my desire to work as a moto-taxi driver…