29 March 2011

job 22:21-30

21-25 "Give in to God, come to terms with him
   and everything will turn out just fine.
Let him tell you what to do;
   take his words to heart.
Come back to God Almighty
   and he'll rebuild your life.
Clean house of everything evil.
   Relax your grip on your money
   and abandon your gold-plated luxury.
God Almighty will be your treasure,
   more wealth than you can imagine.

 26-30 "You'll take delight in God, the Mighty One,
   and look to him joyfully, boldly.
You'll pray to him and he'll listen;
   he'll help you do what you've promised.
You'll decide what you want and it will happen;
   your life will be bathed in light.
To those who feel low you'll say, 'Chin up! Be brave!'
   and God will save them.
Yes, even the guilty will escape,
   escape through God's grace in your life."

from The Message, emphasis added.

security detail

Allow me to give you a quick update on a few things.

I last left you with the prospects of barracuda for dinner.  Unfortunately, this did not pan out!  From what I have heard, the galley decided that filleting the large quantity of fish for the crew would prove too daunting a task for crew, so instead, they are preparing it in small quantities for the hospital.  But I'm not giving up hope.  I just know we will have local seafood soon...it IS Lent after all.

This past Saturday was our second mass screening day, and unlike the first one, it went incredibly well!  I am pleased to report that there were no security incidents and that hundreds of patients were scheduled for orthopedic, maxillo-facial, and general surgeries.  This was definitely an answered prayer.  PTL.  (That's Praise the Lord for those of you not in the know!)

Starting yesterday, we are without an eye surgeon for five weeks!  We will still be doing screenings, as I mentioned in an email, we will also be doing two separate upcountry trips to distribute eyeglasses, etc., at schools.  While I'm still waiting on the details of those trips, this five-week lull from my job means that I get to attend the weekly eye screenings on Mondays at the Kissy Eye Hospital.  It is nice to work with the whole team and to play with all the kids that show up!  This week we saw about 750 patients.  Now this is a smaller number than previous weeks, BUT we scheduled around 90 people for secondary screenings.  This is a much higher yield than previous weeks of about 5-6%.  So needless to say, by the time our next surgeon arrives in May, we should have a full schedule.

Today I had a pretty easy day.  I was tasked with scanning old patient charts into our computer database, which afforded me the luxury of working in air conditioning.  Near the end of my lunch break (1pm-ish), my teammate John came up to me and told me to meet at the ship's security office at 2:30, wearing my Mercy Ships polo shirt and pants.  The First Lady of Sierra Leone, Mrs. Sia Koroma, would be visiting, and we would be helping with the greeting/security.  You just never know what is going to happen on this ship!  So at 2:30, John, Shannon, and I were assigned our positions by Roger and Barbara, the husband-wife head security officers.  Basically we just had to keep other crew members coming up/down certain staircases in order to keep a particular hallway secure.  I felt very official.  Even though I didn't get to talk to the First Lady (or the Second Lady for that matter--she was there too), she did walk about a foot away from me, so it was close enough.  John and I then asked Roger and Barbara if we could be the official on-call VIP security detail.  They said yes.  I wonder if I can add this to my resume.

24 March 2011


Here on the Africa Mercy, our galley (kitchen) depends a lot on what is available locally.  Several times since I've been here, there have been mountains of fresh produce (sometimes delivered in laundry baskets) waiting in the reception area: mangoes, potato greens, tomatoes, pineapples, etc.  But today was slightly different.  I was bringing a patient up to reception to lead them out to the dock (they had just had cataract surgery), when a fishy smell hit my nose as I approached Deck 5.  Barracuda.

Now they post the weekly menu in the dining room, but I had no idea when I saw "Friday: Ginger and Lime Fish with Coconut Rice" that I would actually be eating something that could kill me if alive.  Note: 

Each barracuda weighed about 10 kilos (roughly 22 pounds)!  Needless to say, I am pretty excited for dinner tomorrow.  

20 March 2011

river no. 2

Here is a photo taken by another Mercy Shipper of our group getting ready to leave River No. 2 Beach, before we got on the fishing boat.
  Left to right: David, Chris, Michelle, Sarah, Jane, Deb, Ezra, myself, Christoph's shoulder, Jeff, Alex.

19 March 2011


Last night, I decided to/was coaxed into going to the beach.

The journey started when we left the ship around 9am and walked about 10-15 minutes from the ship to another dock in our port.  Our mode of transportation today would be fishing boat.  Now let me explain: typically, Mercy Shippers will either use an MS Land Rover or more likely, they rent a poda poda.  A poda poda is basically the local taxi, somewhat like a 15 passenger van, though smaller and designed for more like 20 people. They are EVERYWHERE.  You can rent them (driver included!) for 250,000-300,000 Leones a day ($60-70 USD), which is a pretty good deal if split between a bunch of people.  The caveat to this is that, as mentioned in previous posts, the traffic is Freetown is awful at best.  A trip to the beach (depending on which beach and the traffic) could take up to 3 hours, one way.  Now if you are like me, a trip that long does not sound that pleasant when sitting with 18 other people in a tin box.  Luckily for me, a small group was going to try taking a "water taxi."  Jeff, a crew member from Canada, had met a guy who owned a boat and eventually they worked out a plan for the driver to take us to the beach.  It sounded a bit unofficial (to say the least), but like I said, I was  kindly peer pressured into going, so I just went along.  So here we are, at Dock Number 1, waiting for the mystery "water taxi" to arrive: a Ukrainian, an Australian, an Austrian, two Canadians, and three Americans.  Waiting.  Waiting.  Waiting.  A phone call to the driver said he would be at the dock in 15 minutes.  A mere HOUR AND A HALF later, he arrived.  (BUBS, I hope you are reading this).  Considering he was supposed to be there at 8:45, he was about two hours late.  When he arrived, Jeff told him he was late and that it wasn't good for his business and how in America and Europe we are used to operating on strict schedules and timeframes.  The driver then replied indignantly "I've been to Europe--I know what time is," as though time doesn't really exist in Africa.  Anyway, the "water taxi" turned out to be a wooden fishing boat, similar to the one shown here.  (I didn't bring my camera along because I wasn't sure what the beach would be like and I didn't want it to get nicked.)

So we all piled into the boat.  The fact that there were no life-jackets, or any personal flotation devices for that matter, only added to my wariness/general concern for this trip.  As we left the dock for the "50 minute" ride to the beach, I wondered what exactly I was in store for.  

The sun was very hot, but the boat ride lent a nice breeze as we jetted along the Freetown coast.  We passed several other fishing boats (actually fishing) and about an hour into the journey, we began to question exactly how long this trip would be.  The owner assured us we were close, but that we would have to stop in their fishing village to refuel, as this was the first time they had taken passengers all the way to the beach we were headed to.  Further down the coast, we pulled into a small bay and anchored, as some of the boat operators went to get more gas.  As we bobbed up and down, enjoying our packed sandwiches and waving to the children on the nearby rocks, a woman waded into the water, headed for our boat.  When she got closer, we realized that she had her less-than-a-year-old albino baby with her.  She came up to our boat and tried to give us her child!!  I understand that being black parents to a white baby in Africa would be shocking to say the least, but it was equally as shocking for us to be offered a child for the taking.  We politely declined and she went back to the village.  This is Africa.  

About a half hour later, we were on our way again.  15 more minutes they told us.  Finally, at around 1:15 we anchored.  The "50 minute" boat ride turned out to be a 2.5 hour excursion.  Apparently, time doesn't exist in Africa.  (BUBS, again, I hope you are reading this.)  Because I didn't think we would be on the boat that long, I failed to apply sunscreen.  Mistake.  BIG mistake.  Before I even set foot on the sand, I had a legitimate farmer's tan in just the time on the boat.  My arms and legs are currently bright red and sore, but whatever, we had made it to the beach.

River No. 2 Beach is a pristine strip of white sand, dotted with umbrellas and thatched-roof cabanas.  I'm not sure if there is a River No. 1 Beach (probably not), but this was our little piece of paradise for the afternoon.  After getting off the boat and finding a spot with some other Mercy Shippers who had arrived earlier, we went straight for the bar and got Cokes and Fantas, served in glass bottles.  After a quick nap, we spent the next few hours in the water, jumping waves and body surfing.  The beach was barely populated and the surrounding high, lush mountains and the palm trees was just like what I imagined Hawaii to be like.  You would have never known we were in a text-book third-world country.  Time passed and soon we settled up our food tab and got back on the boat, this time with three more MSers who decided to join us.  The ride back was MUCH more pleasant, as the sun was setting, making for a cool breezy ride.  This time it only took an hour and 45 minutes--no need to refuel.  Upon return, we ate some spaghetti that was waiting for us (we had missed dinner) and then a few of us decided to take a quick dip in the newly opened pool on the top of the ship.  It was cold but definitely a fun ending to a great day.  I showered and now I'm in the library typing this post to you fine people.  I can't believe this was all just today and that I still have a whole other day off tomorrow!  I'm glad I decided to go outside of my comfort zone today and go on this crazy trip to the beach. Definitely worth it.  

Tomorrow I plan on A) not exposing myself to direct UV rays and B) making oatmeal cookies in the crew galley...I'm craving them.  


Eye surgeries began this week, as did my real job.  As a reminder, my job title is "Peri-operative Ophthalmic Team Coordinator."  This basically means that I am in charge of the eye patients on the day of their surgery.  My team (three Day Volunteers, a nurse, and myself) is responsible for identifying patients, giving them a bevy of eye drops, prepping them for surgery, completing their charts, taking vitals before and after surgery, and feeding them after surgery.  This week we had surgeries Tuesday through Thursday, with about nine patients each day.  Mostly older people with cataracts, but we did have a 16 year old with a pterygium.  A pterygium is a fibrotic growth on the surface of the eye, caused by continued irritation from dust, UV rays, etc.  It's kind of like a fleshy callous on your eyeball.  In order for us to operate on them, the pterygium must have entered the patient's visual axis, a.k.a. on the pupil or iris.  Anyway, Tuesday morning was very hectic as we were still getting supplies together and figuring out what exactly we needed and how the patients would flow.  By Wednesday morning, however, we had things down pretty well!  By Thursday, Glenys, the ophthalmic OR coordinator/my buddy from New Zealand, said that I could go in and observe the actual operations.  So on Thursday afternoon, I donned footies and a scrub cap and I went in OR 5 to observe BOTH a cataract and a pterygium extraction.  Normally the "blood and guts" doesn't bother me, but it took me a little while to get over the fact that they were cutting, poking, prodding, and picking at an EYEBALL!!  Gross at first, yes, but I soon got over that.  The surgeon, Dr. Ralph Crew of Michigan, uses a very large microscope-like tool to perform the surgery.  The best part is that the scope has a camera attached which relays what he is seeing onto various monitors in the room, so I was able to just sit in a chair a see exactly what he was doing.

On Friday, I slept in.  Since we didn't have any patients, I was given the day off, which was both a wonderful surprise and greatly appreciated.  After taking care of some things on the ship, I went to a local food market with my roommate Benjamin.  Benjamin is from Ghana, another West African nation, and he enjoys making soups and stews on his days off.  After a short walk from the port, we arrived at an alley lined with vendors selling various foods: fish, plantains, tomatoes, onions, peppers, spices, tinned items, grains, eggs, carrots, potatoes, etc.  After a few stops, Benjamin had a bag full of stuff, and it only set him back about 18,000 Leones (about $4.00 USD).   It was definitely an interesting (and smelly!) experience.  Later in the evening, a few of us watched the movie "Unstoppable" in the Queen's Lounge, a nice room on the ship with a projector and screen which was formerly the Queen's quarters when the ship was a Danish rail ferry.  The best part of that was that the previous users of the lounge had left behind chips and salsa, so we got a free snack, and you all know how I feel about chips and salsa :)

14 March 2011


Short story: Our first eye screening at the Kissy Eye Hospital went really well today!

Long story:  My day started at about 5:45am, leading up to a 7:05am departure from the ship.  Traffic was pleasantly light so the ride only took about 10 minutes.  We got our rooms set up and got started without any issues.  Patient after patient began filing through our doors, being screened for cataracts, pterygium, etc.  I was stationed in our first room, making sure that the patients were flowing through the visual acuity stations (those eye charts that we have all experienced).  Suddenly, Mekenzie runs through the room to the emergency supplies bag.  Mekenzie is a nurse on board who we brought along to take care of any emergency issues that would arise.  I was quickly like "What's going on??"  But then Dr. Woody, our head eye doctor walked in with a bleeding wound on his forehead.  It turned out that something had fallen out of a tree and hit him on the head.  No big deal!  This all continued until about 3pm, at which time we had seen a total of around 500 patients, with 42 scheduled to come to the ship for a secondary screening.  A lot of patients received eye drops or antibiotics, and I even got to do a little instruction on the importance of Vitamin A.  The takeaway point of this story is that things went well and were peaceful.  (Sorry if this is a little non-cohesive, as it has been a super-long day!).

Tomorrow is our first day of eye surgeries, so I spent a good bit of time this evening getting ready for that.  Pray that all goes well!

I had my Chaco's on for 14 hours straight.  Gross.

13 March 2011

zephaniah 3:19-20

19 At that time I will deal 
   with all who oppressed you. 
I will rescue the lame; 
   I will gather the exiles. 
I will give them praise and honor 
   in every land where they have suffered shame. 
20 At that time I will gather you; 
   at that time I will bring you home. 
I will give you honor and praise 
   among all the peoples of the earth 
when I restore your fortunes
   before your very eyes,” 
            says the LORD.

living on a ship

Now that I've been living on the Africa Mercy (AFM for short) for the past week, I feel like I am finally getting used to some of the nuances of living on said ship.  I'd like to share some of those with you now:
  • Port is the left side and Starboard is the right side, which is fine except that currently the right side of the boat is facing the port.  
  • While there are many staircases aboard, there are two main stairwells, Red and Blue.  Red equals my room and food.  Blue equals laundry and work.  
  • Overall, the food is pretty great.  There are 3 meals on Monday through Friday and 2 meals on the weekends (you just pack your lunch at breakfast).  A lot of times, yesterday's dinner leftovers are refashioned into today's lunch...waste not want not!  We have a German baker on board, so breakfast is usually a smorgasbord of freshly baked breads, rolls, and croissants.  
  • Also on the note of food, the snack bar and ship shop are currently featuring a bunch of South African goodies, since the ship was docked there for several months this winter undergoing maintenance.  My personal favorites are Caribbean onion and Balsamic vinegar potato chips and Stoney's Ginger Beer, which is basically like REALLY gingery ginger ale.  Also, Cadbury makes a wonderful chocolate bar called Dairy Milk Cashew and Coconut.  I did, however, pass on the egg and brandy scented shampoo.  
  • All of you Young Lifers will be glad to know that A) Settlers of Catan is very popular on board and B) there are other Young Lifers on board.  I've met a former office manager from Saranac (Greta) and a couple from Australia who have been supporting YL in the Sydney area since the 1970s.  
  • Garbage has never been so fun.  Like all other public services in Sierra Leone, garbage pickup is somewhat erratic at best.  So, when the receptionist makes a surprise ship-wide announcement over the PA that "The Garbage Truck is on dock," everyone literally stops what they are doing to run back to their rooms, grab the trash, and race down the gangway to get rid of it.  One day the "garbage truck" was just a big red tractor pulling an open trailer.  Only in Freetown.  
  • I've learned a fun new card game called "Hand and Foot," which I now call Foot and Mouth Disease.  It is kind of a cross between rummy and canasta.  I was taught the "American/Canadian" version, while a lot the ship plays a slightly different version.  It is very popular on board and can take almost 2 hours to play a game.  Apparently, tournaments are even held every once in a while.
In other news, I never finished telling you the saga of actually getting to the AFM.  After the night in Brussels, we returned to the airport, where Brussels Airlines gave each of us 600 euros in cash (approximately $840 USD).  Elated with this treasure, we made our way onto the plane, which eventually took off only an hour late.  The flight was uneventful and we finally touched down in Sierra Leone around 8:30pm local time.  As we disembarked the plane onto the tarmac, the humidity literally smothered your face like a pillow (compared to the plane's A/C).  But, we had made it!  Once inside the airport, we filled out immigration papers, had our passports collected by a Mercy Ships representative, and were quickly shuffled past customs into the baggage claim area.  Slowly but surely, everyone retrieved their luggage and got it loaded onto carts.  Some of us changed into sandals to cope with our new climate.  We were then led outside and into a series of vans which transported us to a "beach resort" where we would meet the water taxi.  We were not allowed to handle our luggage from that point, which meant we waited under a thatched roof cabana-esque structure while 3 guys transported loads of luggage down to the dock.  Eventually we got the go ahead to go to the dock, which was wobbling up and down and up and down with the income waves. We precariously got on the boat and donned life jackets and soon set off.  The voyage took about 30-40 minutes and we were pretty much in complete darkness the entire time, except for the few lights of Freetown miles ahead.  I guess the drive just aims for the lights and hopes for the best.  By the time we neared the Queen Elizabeth Water Quay, we were in varying states of exhaustion, seasickness, and wetness.  We pulled up onto another floating dock, where we were greeted by a bunch of Mercy Shippers, and had our luggage loaded onto trucks and Land Rovers for a 2 minute ride to the AFM.  From there we led on board, had a quick orientation and dinner, and went to bed.  What. An. Adventure.    

11 March 2011


::sitting in the Midships Lounge, enjoying the sounds of a crewmember plunking away at the piano::

This week has been chugging along pretty smoothly since Monday's incident (read about on the previous post).  On Tuesday, we (the Eye Team) trained our day volunteers.  Day volunteers are local folks who work on the ship, fulfilling a variety of jobs, such as housekeeping, kitchen, and deckwork.  Also, a lot of day volunteers work with medical units, escorting patients, translating, and serving in other capacities.  Mercy Ships reimburses the volunteers for their travel, but for some people, working with us serves as their actual job.  While the reimbursement is minimal by American standards, it is several times more than the average daily wages here in Freetown, so in addition to free lunches and medical screenings for themseleves, it is a pretty great deal.  They work really hard and I can say that I would definitely be lost without their translating abilities.  While English is the official language of Sierra Leone, about 90% of the population also speaks Krio, with is an English-based language.  If you talk slowly, locals can understand you most of the time, but it is definitely a challenge to understand fast-spoken Krio. 

Anyway, back to the week.  Wednesday, Thursday, and today we had patients on board for their secondary screenings.  These patients were seen at the stadium on Monday before things went downhill.  So far we have scheduled 13 patients for surgery next week.  While this number is low, it is at least a start.  We have also been getting ready for this coming Monday, which will (hopefully) be our first screening day at Kissy Eye Clinic (we will be there every Monday until October).  Since surgeries don't start until Tuesday, I will get to go this Monday and help out.  I'm looking forward to it since our screening time last Monday was cut drastically short.  However, in light of the events at the stadium screening, our security team has very strict requirements for letting the Kissy screening happen, so if things are perfect on Monday, then we will have to refrain from screening.  We have all been praying that things go well and that we can make this happen.  

Wednesday night, the hospital department sponsored an open house for the rest of the crew.  Each ward had a different activities and/or snacks.  Even the Operating Room wing was open, which gave us the opportunity to see all the different theaters.  In our eye room, we set up a maze that a participant would lead their blindfolded partner through to represent guiding a blind patient around the ship.  At the end of the maze, my teammate John made a large eyeball out of cardboard and an exercise ball and we had a mock cataract extraction surgery.  It was a lot of fun and the kids here on the ship really enjoyed walking their blindfolded parents through the maze (and bumping them into furniture!).

This afternoon I had a meeting with Glenys, the OR coordinator for the ophthalmic surgeries.  Although I've only known about her for a few days and have only talked with her for a total of about an hour, I already know she is a tough cookie with a heart of gold.  She is from New Zealand (near where The Lord of the Ring was filmed) and gave me a run down of what my job will look like once surgeries start.  I'm excited to get started, but am a little overwhelmed already.  There is a lot to do in coordinating the flow of patients: giving a bunch of different (timed) eye drops, escorting them to various rooms, paperwork, checking vital signs, communicating with the OR, etc.  I will have 2 day volunteers and a nurse working directly with me, but it still feels like a lot of responsibility.  Glenys assured me that the first day would include a lot of mistakes but also a lot of grace.  Later on in the day, the hospital staff had a prayer and praise service since the hospital officially opens Sunday evening.  It was a good time to relax at the end of the work week and to remember the reason why we are really here.

I am going to try to make more frequent posts in hopes that they will not be quite as lengthly.  Every time I sit down to make a post, I think that I will be just a minute, but then I end up writing these long posts as I spill out everything that is on my mind.

Hope all is well in your neck of the woods, wherever you are reading this from.

07 March 2011

screening day

Today was screening day and things did not go exactly as planned.

Let me start from the beginning.

I woke up at 4:40am, grabbed some breakfast, and helped to load up some trucks with supplies (As I type this, it seems like this happened soooo long ago.). From there, 9 of us loaded into a Land Rover and headed for the Freetown National Stadium.  The ride was my first experience being outside of the port, and I was so surprised to see how many people were out and about at 5:30am.  Streetlights are a rarity here, so it was very dark on the streets with the exception of car headlights.  Freetown is known for having horrible traffic, but more on that later.  The air this morning was thick with humidity, so the ride to the stadium was very sweaty, to say the least.   

Built in the 1970s as a partnership between the governments of Sierra Leone and China, the once grand stadium now lies derelict.  Peeling paint, garbage, and dead grass surround the building, yet the interior marble floor, brass railings, and wood paneling remain in fairly decent condition.  Since we arrived while it was still dark, setting up for the screening was an interesting experience.  Hundreds of us set up chairs and tables and stations using only a handful of flashlights and headlamps.  None of the building's lights turned on.  It took a while but eventually we had a moment to rest and apply sunscreen and bug repellant.  Screening began soon after.

At first, I was paired up with Liz, a physician from the U.K. and a day volunteer.  Day volunteers are locals who help out with various jobs on the ship, as well as translating.  The three of us were stationed right inside the main entrance to the compound, while the rest of the eye team attempted to screen people as they waited in line.  At first it was very chaotic, as patients with eye complaints surround us asking to be seen.  With some help from other Mercy Shippers, we managed to set up a line so that Liz could evaluate the best choice for the patient.  Basically, the options were:
  • Record the patient's name and give them a pink card that assigns them an appointment on the ship for a more in depth secondary screening. 
  • Refer the patient to the Kissy Eye Hospital, our partner clinic where we will be holding additional screenings on just about every Monday during the 2011 outreach.
  • Tell the patient that we cannot help their condition and direct them to the prayer tent. 
Once we got the line established, things were going pretty smooth, and eventually the other 2 doctors and the other eye team members cam and joined us under the tent, allowing us to evaluate more patients at a time.  It was an heartbreaking experience having to turn people away who we could not help, especially children, however it was equally as exciting to tell people that we may be able to cure their eye isses as we invited them to the ship for a secondary evaluation.  For those of you who have heard the story of the little girl Celine, I did have the pleasure of seeing a little girl today, Dora, who was also born with bilateral congenital cataracts.  We hope that when one of our surgeons arrives in a few weeks, that he will be able to operate of her.  I should also add that I was definitely thankful for our day volunteer, Safiatu, as she was so helpful in translating between English and Krio, an English-based dialect. 

As screening progressed, I could see through the gates that the crowd was becoming a bit rowdy.  The next thing I know, the shouting became louder and we were being called to keep people from jumping the fence and to form a human chain.  I quickly stowed my clipboard in my backpack and ran to join hands with Mercy Shippers I had never met.  More and more people were released into the stadium, but I believe that the damage had already been done.  Several people were frantically being carried, bloodied and trampled, crying, gasping for breath.  The tent I was working under quickly became a triage area as nurses and doctors, without a second thought, quickly tended to the needs of these victims.  The official statement is as follows:

Dear Mercy Ships Staff and Crew,
A very sad incident occurred in the course of screening activities today in Freetown, Sierra Leone of which you need to be aware.
Initial incident reports indicate that when screening personnel arrived at the stadium this morning there were 700 people already allowed into the stadium and a large crowd outside. Sometime after 9:30 events yet to be conclusively determined occurred to agitate the crowd and cause it to storm the gate. In response 200 more people were admitted to relieve pressure, but tragically 13 were injured, including one fatality and two life threatening situations. Mercy Ships personnel on site cared for the victims and accompanied them to hospitals. No Mercy Ships personnel was injured. Ongoing investigation will determine the facts. Please keep the individuals affected and their families in prayer, and pray also for the entire crew. This is certainly a time to pray and believe that God will work all things together for good in this tragic situation.
The following is the statement being released regarding the event:
Mercy Ships is deeply saddened by the tragic events that occurred today during medical screening at the Freetown National Stadium when a crowd stormed the gate resulting in several injuries and one life lost.
Mercy Ships personnel working at the site attended the injured and accompanied them to local hospitals.
"Our hearts and prayers are with the individuals and families of those affected by today's events. The occurrence of this incident in the course of activities intended to restore lives is tragic. We move forward with tremendous sadness, but great determination, to assist as many people as possible in the next ten months," stated Mercy Ships Founder, Don Stephens.
Mercy Ships exists to serve the forgotten poor and has served Sierra Leone five times over the past two decades, also helping establish two land based health care facilities. For the next ten months, Mercy Ships will be providing surgeries for qualified patients while working alongside the Sierra Leonean Government to support its five-year healthcare plan and strengthen the functions of the national health system.
Once everyone was taken care of, the decision was made to have just a skeleton crew of Mercy Shippers remain at the stadium.  The Eye Team was ordered to go back to the ship.  Once again, we piled into Land Rovers and set off for the quay.  Needless to say, we were all feeling pretty dejected with the outcome of the day.  Yes, we had gotten some work accomplished, but there was so much left to do.  Unforunately, it was out of hands. 

To make matters worse, on the ride back to the ship, we got caught in the infamous Freetown traffic.  To give you an idea of it, imagine any major city, and then make the streets narrower and dirt, add in a few thousand motorbikes, and then make sure there is no differentiation between the road and the sidewalk.  People selling everything from fresh fruit to towels to candy to DVDs come right up to your window, as children, motorbikes, and businessmen all weave in between the moving vehicles.  It took nearly an hour to get back to port, a trip that should have only taken 20 minutes.  I have never seen anything like it.  When I return to the states, I will honestly try to never complain about traffic there again. 

The rest of the day was quiet, as waves of MSers returned to the ship.  The captain had us write down our individual accounts of what happened, and this evening we had a debriefing meeting to discuss the day's events.  It was emotionally and physically draining, but we all knew that the day was in God's hands, despite how hard it was/still is to see where He is in all of this.  We will still carry on with our mission of bringing hope and healing to the forgotten poor here in Sierra Leone.  Regardless of what happened, God has brought us together in the place for a purpose and we will continue to seek Him and His will in the coming months. 

I can't say thank you enough to all of you have been supporting me throughout all of this.    

06 March 2011

made it

I made it to the Africa Mercy last night, safe and sound, WITH all my luggage.  (If you are reading this, thank you for your inanimate object prayers, Taylor Miller!). 

I have somewhat limited internet access until tomorrow, when I can start using my own computer, but I just wanted to let you know that I AM HERE!

Thanks for all your love.

05 March 2011

almost made it

Well, I almost made it to Africa today.

After getting up at 6:30am (Eastern Standard Time), we headed for Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia, by way of Arlington, VA.  Reason: to eat at Noodles and Company with the one and only Mary Elaine Jenkins).  Eventually, we made it to the airport, got through check-in and security.  I boarded my flight and it left the gate at precisely 6:02pm.  Awake time to date: 11.5 hours.

My flight was actually pretty enjoyable.  I was seated in United's Economy Plus section, which afforded me a few extra inches of much-needed leg room.  I had an aisle seat with no one to my left so I was able to spread out.  The meal I had was a surprisingly tasty chicken dish with a tomato-based vegetable ragout and tender roasted potatoes.  Not at all bad for mass-produced airline food.

The flight continued on without any issues, aside from me not sleeping much.  We landed safely in Brussels, Belgium at 7:25am local time.  Awake time to date: ~19 hours.

Once in Belgium, I wandered around the terminal a bit and eventually found Stacia.  Stacia and I share a mutual friend (Marissa Kennedy) but have never actually met until this morning.  We had breakfast together and sat around the airport cafe for a while since our flight was not leaving until 2pm.  Once it got closer to 2, we headed for the gate, got checked in and waited some more.  Finally, we took a bus to a different terminal where we met up with a bunch of other Mercy Shippers.  After chatting for a bit, we boarded our flight.  I was happy with my seat because there was no one sitting immediately around me--the flight was not very full. After waiting and waiting and waiting (about an hour in all), we found out the flight was CANCELLED--with no explanation as to why.  We all disembarked the plane to the tarmac, where we caught buses back to the main terminal.  Awake time to date: ~26.5 hours.

Next we all rallied at the Brussels Airlines sales and ticketing counter waiting to find out what would happen next.  Eventually, we found out that the whole flight would be booked in the local Holiday Inn, we'd get free dinner and breakfast, and (supposedly) 600 euros when we check back in on Saturday morning.  So...we all boarded another bus which dropped us off at the hotel.  Surprisingly, it is a very nice Holiday Inn--very modern and IKEA-esque.  I lounged for a little bit and then got a drink with my roommate for the night: another Mercy Shipper, a dentist from Newcastle, England.  Then we had a 7 o'clock dinner with everyone else.  Awake time to date: ~30.5 hours.

Eventually, we turned out the lights at about 10:30pm...total awake time approximately ~35 hours.   Right now we are getting ready to go to breakfast and then back to the airport where we will supposedly leave this afternoon.  It was actually quite nice getting to spend the night here in Brussels because A) we had a chance to get to know one another and B) it was great getting caught up with the time difference.  God works in mysterious ways, no?