Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Giving Blood

Just prior to leaving Sierra Leone one of the other local NGO's came to the Africa Mercy to hold a blood drive.  Generally we keep our blood handy and warm inside of our bodies in case patients onboard need it.  However, with the hospital on the ship closed as we prepared to sail there was really no reason not to leave some of our blood in country for others who may need it.

Dara post drainage.

Who doesn't love a cooler full of blood bags?
 Dara and I both gave (thankfully there is no photographic evidence of my contribution) and we pray that our blood, along with the blood given by many more crew, will put a dent in the huge needs still faced in Sierra Leone.

Chronologically Challenged

Don't you hate it when people blog out of chronological order?  Like when they are in Ghana and just celebrated Christmas and then post about their last days in Sierra Leone. 

So...about Sierra Leone.  We spent our last evening there on the dock as shore leave had been cancelled and we couldn't go any further than that.  As much as we were looking forward to the sail, it was a nice opportunity to 'stretch our legs' for the last time prior to sailing for 5 days. 

One of the huge advantages to living on this ship and spending a lot of time in West African culture is that our kids have begun to adopt the seemingly innate African resourcefulness and ingenuity.  This time it resulted in some stick ball - hitting rocks with chunks of wood found on the dock into the water.  Good times.

Malachi just crushed one into the depths.

Some crew and locals bumping the volleyball around for the last time on the dock.

Xavier having a go with his little stick.

Some of the Galley crew took advantage of thier dinner break to watch the
 sunset before going back to do dishes and post dinner cleanup.

The Africa Mercy at sunset the evening prior to departure.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Unwrapped Gift

Christmas is tomorrow.  We've got some presents for the kids under our three foot tall fake tree in the cabin.  As I look at those presents and reflect on my previous post and the promise to post some statistics, I'm struck by how meaningful a gift we've given so many in Sierrra Leone over the past 10 months.  A gift that you can't wrap, put a ribbon around, or a bow on top of.  Like the gift of sight.  Or the gift of not being shunned by your community because of a grotesque facial tumor.  Or the gift of being able to walk.  Or the gift of being able to eat your Christmas meal without intense pain caused by rotted teeth.  Or the gift of professional training so that when the big white hospital ship leaves you will be empowered to continue to bring hope and healing to your country.

Again, we don't do what we do because of the numbers but both for accountabiliy and because it's encouraging to be able to get a quick visualization of some of the impact that we've had here are some of our end of field service statistics:

Total Eye Surgeries - 1,384
Local Eye Professionals Trained - 23
Maxillofacial Surgeries - 516
Cleft Lip and Palate Repairs - 111
Mentor Sierra Leone Dental Officer - 1
Plastic Reconstructive Surgeries - 159
General Surgeries - 728
Physical and Occupational Therapy Services - 2,282
Dental Care of Tooth Decay and Infections - 34,251 procedures
Training of Locals in Dental Assisting/Sterilizing and Teaching Oral Hygiene - 9
Local Dental Student Practicum - 1
Orthopedic Surgeries - 185
Ponseti Casting (non-surgical correction for club feet) - 105
Train/Mentor West African Medical Personnel in Orthopedic OR - 3
Train/Mentor West African Medical Personnel in Ponseti Casting - 40

The above numbers are just a sampling of our statistics.  There are further statistics for each field above as well as for palliative care, mental health, church leaders conferences, food for life agriculture program, an anasthesia conference, midwife conference, sterilization training, and more.  Also, that only covers the range of things done by the Programs staff.  There remains a host of statistics (some not tracked) of services provided by the Operations (or support) staff that make the Programmatic outcomes a possibility.  Stats like number of toilets cleaned, square meters of floors swept and mopped, miles of railings wiped, number of meals prepared, number of Land Rovers washed and serviced, square meters of deck chipped and painted, number of light bulbs changed, number of functions hosted and served, hours of classes taught or attended, the total tonnage of produce and goods moved (much of it by hand), and the list could go on and on.

We are privileged and honored to have played a part in the lives changed according to the numbers listed above, to live in this wonderful community of brothers and sisters, and to have been called by God to take part in His unfolding story through both of those things.  We pray that we will be able to continue to give the gifts of God's unconditional love, physical healing, and the hope of Jesus Christ through our roles in Mercy Ships. 

Thank you also for the gift that you are in our lives whether you're family, long time friends, or reading this blog for the first time.  In the end, it is relationships that we cherish most.  Thank you for walking this journey with us.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Goodbye Freetown

It's that bittersweet time again.  Another field service is coming to a close.  Sierra Leone, specifically the city of Freetown and its residents, have, seemingly without our acute awareness, grown to be a part of who we are.  This is true in spite of (or perhaps largely because) this field service has been a difficult one fraught with hardships and challenges.  I seem to add a new item to the 'if it can go wrong it will' list daily. 

Nearly ten months ago we were wading and struggling through the quagmire of emotions elicited by the tragedy and mess that was the first screening.  I certainly can't sum that up here.  If you haven't already, please read the previous post 'Shattered' for some background.  Not long after that came 'Redemption' at the second screening, which was as beautiful as the first was gruesome. 

So much has happened in between; so many phenomenal people, so much work, so many relationships built, so many people gone, so many problems solved, so many left to tackle, so many forays into the beautiful mess that is Freetown.  It's so strange to feel that I could write three blogs for each day and not even scratch the surface of our experience and at the same time be constantly at such a loss for what to say.  How do you communicate a smell, the unique feelings of common experience that is ever so uncommon, the bond forged through shared adversity?  I'm sure it can be (and has been) done but not by someone of my limited literary ability. 

We have spent so much time in West Africa that our souls have become enmeshed with the people and culture here.  I pushed Xavier in his stroller for a walk yesterday just 'up the street'.  Our jaunt involved copious amounts of Deet laden mosquito repellent to prevent malaria, a walk down a ships gangway onto a rat infested dock, a bumpy stroll out of the dilapidated port gate onto a narrow road made even more so by the cornucopia of container trucks in various states of disrepair, many of which had people sleeping underneath them on mats or homemade hammocks.  We then proceeded up 'Bad Boy Lane' where we were greeted (to the unaccustomed, accosted would probably feel like a better description, although not so for us anymore) by lots of people touching us, shaking our hands, patting Xavier's head, and calling "white boy, white boy, why don't you walk (translation of the Krio version that we hear)?" as three years old is well past the cultural threshhold of being expected to walk unaided in busy, crowded streets.  We got to the top and turned onto Fourah Bay Road, a cacophany of smells, sounds, and colors there to greet us.  We joined the throng of people going about their evening business and thoroughly enjoyed our stroll down a road where 18 inches of clearance between you and the cars that are passing is considered a big gap, public urination is socially acceptable, and having your head on a swivel to be aware of your surroundings is par for the course. 

We will miss so much about this place and her people. 
In the mean time there is still much to be done to finish preparations for sailing.  And then there's the sail - one of our favorite parts of serving on the Africa Mercy.  After that, a couple of weeks in Ghana and then on to Togo for our next six months of adventure.