21 March 2012


Last week was full of fun surprises, starting with an incredible blessing on Tuesday afternoon.  You may recall that a few weeks ago I got to go to eye screening, like I did regularly in Sierra Leone.  While I was pre-screening patients, I came across Afeignindou, a young man with burn contractures to his left eyelids, having been burned as a child.  Basically he had no eyelids on his left eye.  He had come to eye screening not knowing that we were really only looking for cataract patients.  Having knowledge of the plastics program from last year, I felt like he could be a potential candidate for our plastics surgeon, Dr. Tertius Venter of South Africa.  We proceeded to photograph Afeignindou and told him that if we'd be able to help, then we would phone him.  When I returned to the ship, I sent his information to our screening team who scheduled him to attend our plastics screening with Dr. Tertius.  After coming to the ship and being seen, he was scheduled for the first week of plastics!  I was thrilled to hear this--the entire story felt like a "being at the right place and the right time" kind of things.  Since most of the eye team are new crew members, Afeignindou could have easily been sent home since he wasn't a cataract surgery candidate.  However, things aligned that allowed me to cross paths with this patient and get him connected to the right people.

Fast forward to this past week, Afeignindou returned to the ship for a post-op visit.  I got to go out to the dock and meet up with him and chat for a few moments.  With the help of a translator, I learned that he is very happy for his surgery.  I could tell...he couldn't stop smiling!  It was so great to actually see and talk to a patient both before and after and to see his radical transformation.

On Wednesday, I had the unique opportunity to go visit the local Brasserie Benin (BB) factory.  BB is a regional beverage manufacturer and distributor of Coca-Cola products.  BB has partnered with Mercy Ships during our Togo outreach and is providing us with highly discounted Coke products for our snack bar.  Shortly after 9am, three Land Rovers headed for the factory, located about 25 minutes from the port.  After a short welcome, everyone donned reflective safety vests and the men were given hard hats, while the women were only given hair nets!  We proceeded into the factory and first worked our way through the brewery section.  BB produces nine different beers, including Guinness.  As we wound our way through the mixing tanks, fermentation tanks, filters, carbonators, and the like, an employee narrated the entire process.  I didn't get every detail because it was very loud and he was speaking quietly.

Our group near the beer mixing tanks, the one and only Mae Palmer caught off guard.

These are old mixing tanks from years ago, when the brewery was German-owned.  Now they are used to mix syrups for various soft drinks.  This room reminded me of something from Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.

Old controls with German labels.

Near the fermentation tanks.  There were about 15-20 of these massive silo-like structures.

After the brewery, we went into the bottling plant and saw the entire process of canning (there were working on a fruit cocktail drink) and bottling (cleaning old bottles, bottling beer, and bottling Coca-Cola).  We also got to see the quality control lab, the freezers, and the warehouse.  The whole operation looked just like something in the U.S.  After the tour, we were treated to light snacks and free beverage products produced at the plant.  We even got goodie bags with a t-shirt, a hat, pen, playing cards, etc.  It was a great way to spend the morning!

One of the canning machines.

The fruit cocktail drink, heading to be packaged in boxes.

Along the Coca-Cola bottling line.

The Coca-Cola side of things.

On the way back to the ship from the factory, we passed one of the notable monuments here in Lomé, known locally as "La columbe de la paix," or "The Peace Dove."  It is even cooler looking at night, when it's covered with blue Christmas lights.  We saw it all lit up last month when were headed to the U.S. Embassy to watch the Super Bowl.  Togo has been a relatively peaceful country, with no major wars in modern times, making this a very appropriate monument.  

Another surprise from this week was getting to move cabins!  Since arriving over a year ago, I had been living in a 4-berth cabin, on the top bunk.  Overall, I didn't have any major complaints: my roommates were considerate and the room was pleasantly chilly.  But when Janine from HR told me that I could "cabin-sit" in a 3-berth cabin for the remainder of my time here, I jumped at the opportunity.  Since Alan, one of our electricians, would be on vacation until after I leave, his berth was open, and so I was the lucky one to get the upgrade!  A 3-berth comes with much more privacy as I have my own "pod" to myself.  Also, it's not under the dining room, so I don't have to listen to chairs constantly being dragged across the floor.

With all this excitement, who knows that the next few weeks will hold!

"Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of lives.  
Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery!  
Replace the evil years with good.  
Let us see your miracles again; let our children see your glory at work.  
And may the Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful.  
Yes, make our efforts successful!"  
[Psalm 90:14-17]

05 March 2012

one year

Why is Sibi Julie so excited?

 (Besides the fact that she had her cleft lip repaired a few weeks ago?)

Because today is marks one year that I arrived to the Africa Mercy!

I started here, in Freetown, Sierra Leone:

And after one year (filled with hard work, prayer, laughter, good food, bad food, new friends, old friends, loneliness, companionship, homesickness, surprises, several plane rides, lots of movies, encouraging words, learning experiences, a few tears, sunburns, chimpanzees, starry nights, surreal sunsets, and too many cute kids to count)...

...I've ended up here in Lomé, Togo!  (Nestled quietly next to the two small gray ships that comprise the Togolese Navy, no less!)

And needless to say, I couldn't have gotten here without YOU!  Yes, YOU!

YOU, Taylor, with your prayers solely for my luggage.

YOU, Kari Ann, with your overwhelming hospitality and encouragement.

YOU, Moma (and Popa too!), with your faithful blog comments.  (Even if you didn't recognize your only grandson when I surprised you with my early homecoming!)

YOU, Kelly and Mary Elaine, with your ability to pretty much always make me laugh.

YOU, all ye Funterns, with the sheer joy you bring to my life.

YOU, family (and Alyssa!), with your unique ability to both drive me crazy and keep me sane at the same time, all through love.

I so wish that I could thank each and every one of you by name, but unfortunately there are not enough hours in the day.  If you are reading this, there is a very good chance that you somehow played a role in my being here right at this moment.  Maybe you said a prayer, maybe you wrote a check, maybe you sent me an awesome CD, maybe you shared an encouraging word when I was feeling down, maybe you just said something to make me laugh.  Regardless of your involvement, you have all been so instrumental and I can't thank you enough. 

Here's to a crazy, wild, wonderful, life-changing, awe-inspiring year!