Thursday, March 31, 2011

Joy Comes in the Morning

For those who are following, I thought I'd give a quick update about how screening went.

I was up around 5:20 am, grabbed my things and made my way up for a nice breakfast, and left the ship at 6 am to make it in time to assist with the beginning of screening.

Around 7 the first patients were admitted through the gates. At first I was helping with the Maxillo-facial waiting area. This included facial tumors, cleft lips and palates, burns, among other things. I had a blast- there were kids galore!! Eventually, as time got going, I realized I was supposed to be in scheduling, not in the area where they wait to see the doctor, so I moved to my area.

Things were super calm at first and I made a point to introduce myself and try to get names.... luckily many names repeated, but it was hard to remember who was who when they kept changing seats and were up and down. After time, we had to expand our section of probably 30 or so seats to another at leasst 30, then again later.

I went to have a little snack break, which was no more than 10 minutes, and I came back and it was booming and people were confused and had to figure out where people belonged. Eventually we got back into the groove after many miscommunications and frustrated crew as well as patients. We figured it out though:)

The clouds were out almost all day- until about 12pm. Once the sun came out it was crazzyy hot!! Thankfully, due to the amazing organization of this screening, all of our potential patients were in the gate by 8:30 am, meaning we got through all of them by about 1:45 or so.

We were fortunate enough to get back quickly, with no traffic, and have some down-time. Unfortuantely, work needed me to help out- they were extremely short- staffed, so I was very tired by the end of the day, but thankfully my gateway family had a movie night planned, so I joined them for a really really fun time with tonns of laughter:) We all needed it.

Though we helped many, we also had to say 'no' to many and some also got news that they, or their loved one, is dying. We do have a palliative care program through the ship, which is such a great opportunity to comfort those who are terminally ill and their families. I think it is one of the hardest jobs on the ship, but I think it is vital for these patients to have some rest both physically through pain management, and emotionally.

This picture took place during the beginning of screening- I love kids. Duh. If you know me at all, you know this. I feel most at home with them, so I totally took advantage when I was at screening. So many cute kids around. When this picture was taken, I was just being a complete goofball with the munchkins, and just trying to get them to laugh and cheer up despite the fact most of them spent the night outside of the complex, were tired, hungry, and also not well. I saw one of the photographers take pictures, but I'm really blown away by how awesome the shot is:) So. Cool.

More later!! :)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Another Screening,.. not just another day

As I posted previously, the screening that took place a couple of weeks ago turned out to be a sad, heartbreaking day and all together ultimately a let-down.

Tomorrow, we are going to try this thing once again. I'll be attending this time as an escort inside the compound, which is a super safe place to be in case you were wondering. People are going tonight to begin pre-pre screening in hopes to eliminate anyone staying overnight who has a stomach ache, headache, or something that we just cannot screen and has no potential for surgery through Mercy Ships.

What we need now more than ever is your prayers. We need as many people interceding for us tomorrow as humanly possible. Satan is pissed and he is trying to infiltrate like he did so well last time. Please pray that we can have a successful screening, that everyone will stay healthy, that everyone will stay safe. Please pray that people who have intentions of starting a stampede or riot stay away and those who we can actually help make their way to us.

I'm really excited, but also terrified, worried, nervous, and heartbroken(already). Tomorrow will not be an easy day even if things go perfectly. We will have to turn many many people away. We will bring people through to the actual screening process, and have to say that we cannot help them. We will have people come to the ship for biopsies who will test malignant, and we will be unable to help them. Please pray that we are compassionate, caring, and empathetic tomorrow and that we wouldn't close doors right away, but strike conversation and be a comfort to both those we can help and those who we cannot. I know I will see things I've never seen before, and feel just a sense of hopelessness at times tomorrow, but I also know that I will see the sheer joy on the faces of those we say 'yes' to and give a surgery date.

It's going to be a crazy rollercoaster ride of a day, but.... it's not 'here goes nothing' ... it's ... "here goes everything...'

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chh..chh. chh. channgess

You might be wondering what ship life has been like this time around, what my work schedule is like, and how I'm coping with all of it... well... here's where you'll find out!!:)

When we first arrived on board, it was a HUGE culture shock for many of us. Imagine living and really interacting with 30 of the same people for 2 months straight. Now imagine suddenly being introduced to at least 300 people in one day and moving from AFRICA to pretty much a small America. Needless to say, it was tough. I was searching for my friends all of the time and pretty resistant to new people at first. I was 'homesick' if you will... I missed being with my 'family' all of the time, I missed the home I created, I missed my roommate, I even kinda missed my rat...sorta.. haha:)

But as time has gone on, I've certainly had my ups and downs. I've been long past the 'honeymoon' phase for a while, and I'm hoping that I'll soon enter another phase past the trying to find my footing phase. Meeting new people and finding new friends has proved semi-difficult, since at my job we've gotten to know eachother, but after a 12 hour day, or 3 12 hour days together, generally, we have had enough of eachother for a while. On the other hand, other departments have super close bonds(especially the nurses), but luckily they're mostly willing to let new people in. The other difficult part is that most of those people that I meet are going to be leaving within the next week to 3 months... then you have to decide the line- how close do i get- how much do I let you in, etc. That's been really really difficult. I also face the fact that 1/2 of the people I am close with now will be gone at the end of the year, but I've decided to just embrace it and not let that get in the way of our friendship.

Now, enough of the intense stuff- I want to let you in on my schedule... it's a little wacky, but my days off are certainly well-earned(I think).
A typical work day:
Up around 7:10
Eat some breakfast
Start work at 8
Work, work, work until 12- 'Rush hour' begins around 10:30, lunch starts at 11:30ish
1 Hour lunch break(I love this feature)
Work work work until 5- rush hour starts around 3:30, dinner starts at 4:45
1 hour dinner break
Clean, clean, clean- we have to put all leftovers away, wash all dishes by hand,

Now let me break it down for you a bit.

Lunch normally consists of leftovers from the night before that we try to fancy-up a bit so it at least seems like you're eating a different meal... normally takes a bit of creativity, but we're generally successful. Sometimes, if whatever was made the night before was super great and the crew ate all of it, we have to make a whole new meal, which is normally aweesommee, but most times, that doesnt happen.

Dinner is almost allllways new food. We have a menu set at the beginning of the week, but we are indeed in Africa, so sometimes the things we need, we just dont have, so we have to improvise and figure something else out. You have to be flexible- this is no 5 star restaurant where if you dont have what you need you freak out.. you just take a deep breath and move on. I'm fortunate to have a great leader who just rolls with the punches. He's also started to notice what my strengths are and lets me do those more- though sometimes I have to work on a weakeness, such as butchering beef... that's one of my least favorite tasks.. its.. just so hard hah:) I am indeed getting better at it though.

So, we work 2 days, off 2 days, on 3 days, off 2 days, on 2 days, off 3 days... well.. let me just show you..
If I work Monday Tuesday, I'm of Wednesday Thursday, but work Friday Saturday Sunday
If I'm off Monday Tuesday, I work Wednesday Thursday and I'm off Friday Saturday Sunday

Weekends in general suck just because your friends are all off work(generally) and are off having fun, while you work. Also, sundays we're up around 5:30 or 6:30 to start breakfast(scrambled eggs and bacon). Sunday is the only day we have a hot breakfast. The other days it's cereal, and currently amazing rolls and pastries because we have a wonderful German baker on board:) Thank God it's only one day a week we have hot breakfast though, because if we had hot breakfast every day, we'd be up at 4:30 daily and work until we're done cleaning..

Now cleaning... we have to put away leftovers, wash all dishes by hand(dishes used to hold food as well as the dishes down in the ward... our Day Volunteers make the food for the ward, so we are responsible for washing the dishes.. it's quite the task with well over 80 bowls and spoons.), Scrub all of the floors, sanitize all surfaces, and make sure everything is set for the next day. Normally we get out around 7:30, but on a really bad day, like this past monday, we were there until about 9:30 due to a shortage of people helping- we were down 2 workers and a few day workers... so there were 4 of us near the end with a mountain of dishes to be washed... that's a bad day..:)

Now... for your viewing pleasure.. some pictures I wanted to post earlier, but never really got to;)

The Hole my rat Malcom chewed in my pants the day before we left him.

My birthday banner I talked about in the last blog:)

Me attempting to intibate my 'patient' at the Open House in the hospital.

My 'patient' once I successfully intibated him.. though.. I 'broke his teeth'...;)

Me being a 'nurse' for a day.... trying to get the bed pan before my patient had an accident... I was too late... luckily I dodged the projectile fluid before it got me... it was coffee grounds and water just fyi;)

Me being a good nurse... forcing meds on my patient.

That is all for now... more to come later:)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Happy Birthday to Meee...

Some of you might be wondering how my birthday went.. well... I'll tell you;)

So, I woke up around 10ish and as I left my room, I expected something to be on the door, but much to my surprise there was a banner hanging across my door, meaning that when I came out, I'd be essentially hit by my birthday banner. It was pretty hilarious as it happened, I let out a little yell, and one of my friends happened to be walking by at that time, and I just laughed and laughed, but tried to be quiet since one of my roommates was sleeping still.

Me and my Cake- Harriet and Savannah both making interesting faces in the background... hahaha:) I love candids sometimes.

After that, use the gift certificate the ship gave for my birthday and I got myself a latte and just hung out on my computer for a while. At lunch, one of my friends, Dan, rang the bell(which is used to make announcements) and said, “Today is the Anniversary of Michelle Cristion's 16th birthday... “ and everyone sang to me. Honestly, the whole ' Anniversary thing made me think 'oh.. its not for me...' but.. oh it was:) So great.

Deb so excited for my birthday- note my face in the background.. too funny:)

After lunch, I did some blogging, etc and ended up semi- bored, but that's not a bad thing after a hectic few days of work. At lunch, I was told to keep the time immediately after dinner free, so I did. Dinner as normal, then I was told at 6 to show up to my friend's cabin(which is a family cabin so it has much more room than the others).

Noel and Kylie

I am guided up by the family's 7 year old- Savannah- who could hardly contain herself- she was so excited. I walk in and there's Tiffany(the mom), and my friend Jane as well as Kylie- Tiffany's 10 year old- who wouldn't talk to me all day until the party- she was excited as well:) Since I beat everyone to my own party, we shouted 'surprise' to everyone that walked in thereafter.. it was quite hilarious.

An extremely excited Kylie

Tiffany made this amazing cake and cupcakes, which someone pointed out was tye dye. It was a yellow cake with chocolate sprinkles(to make it funfetti- my favorite) and the icing was vanilla as well as a nutella flavored- HELLO:) haha.. so good!!!!:) Ps- I've pretty much been limited to tye dye clothing for the last month and ½ since that's all I really packed for our time on land... because I thought I'd have my normal clothes back by now, but boy was I wrong.. so I've become known for my tye dye shirts, which are starting to wear down quite a bit:) So- that's why the tye- dye part was so funny and cool:)

The Cake and Cupcakes!!!!:)

Anyway- so we just had a blast- Tiff's husband Dan was the DJ, and we cranked up some great tunes, danced around, chatted and just had fun!! It was most of my gateway group and we'd only been together a few times over the time we'd been on the ship- so it was nice to be all together again:) I was surprised to find presents and cards- I honestly didn't expect anything at all since we're all on tight budgets- but people really found cheap ways to do it:) I loved it all- one of my favorites was candies and things wrapped up like an OR tray, since my friend is a sterilizer and does these trays all day long:)

Can you spot the OR- style gift? The gold one was also awesome:)

The party was pretty short, since the Hospital Open House was happening that night, and lots of my friends are hospital staff. So, we pretty much moved the party down to the hospital, which I said was an extension of my party. It was actually pretty fun! There were stations throughout the whole hospital where you could sign up to give blood, find out your blood type(I found out I'm A+), be a nurse for a day(which was complete insanity), intibate a dummy, learn to do stitches(surprisingly easy), treat patients with infections(guhh so nastyyy... it was fake but so groosss.. this is why I'm not a nurse...), and so much more. It was pretty great!

Miriam, Kylie and Savannah eating the extra icing:)

I couldn't have asked for a better birthday- it was seriously wonderful thanks to my thoughtful. wonderful friends:) I was a little bit worried because it was my first year away from my family for my birthday and I wouldn't have my friends here, but I got to celebrate with my new, HUGE, family:)

Party Guests(some still in work clothes) and me holding Savannah:)
There's a lot going on in this picture- its awesome:)

Monday, March 14, 2011

In the Beginning...

I realized have yet to tell the story of our arrival in Freetown.

Now, we woke up and had to be pretty much ready to go around 6:45 in the morning on our day of departure(February 8th). Thankfully our wonderful cook, Shirley, made us some yummy breakfast stuff(scones, breakfast sandwiches, croissants,etc) to take along or eat on the spot. We got to Dallas Fort-Worth Airport without much of a hitch... well... there was a giant smoke cloud that we later discovered to be a factory fire, and one of our leaders went backwards on the highway while another did an extreme U-turn.. but.. you know... we got there:)

Our flights pretty much went without a hitch in the plan- no delays, not much turbulence, and the first 2 flights, I had empty seats next to me. We went from DFW to Dulles(which was kinda hard for me to be so close to home, but not able to see anyone), where we were for 3 hours, then we flew to Heathrow, where we were for 6 hours and met up with the other half of our group, who flew from DFW to Chicago, then London. I attempted to sleep, but it certainly did not happen.

Now, the flight we took from London to Freetown was a bit painful. It's the closest seats I've ever encountered, and there was me, a very tall guy from our team, and a pretty tall girl from our team with me in the middle... so. Uncomfortable. But, alas, it was the cheapest option to get all of us there.. so.. not much choice on that. I don't see myself flying with that airline ever again though. They had good service, but the rest was just pretty hard to deal with for 8.5 hours with a stop in Spain for gas..

My friend Noel on the plane

Once we got to Freetown, we were met by a local pastor, who helped us get our cars situated and helped us get to our water taxi. Yes.. I said it right.. water Taxi... A group of men loaded up our lugguage and we didn't see it again untl we got to the hostel- honestly, we just had to let go and trust that we'd get it back. All of our bags made it to Freetown, so we were just hoping all of them would make it to the Hostel at this point. As we got to the hotel where we took the water taxi from, we were warned that the waters were very choppy and we need to be careful as we get to the dock and as we load on- especially for our bags as we might lose them.

Our cozy row on the last flight... sleep deprived...

So, with lots of anticipation, they picked the first group of people to go on the taxi. Honestly, I just wanted to get it over with- I had so little sleep that I almost passed out earlier in the day, and I just was miserable- I wanted to get there. There was one more spot availible an I JUMPED on that opportunity, which I would soon regret. I made my way in the pitch black toward this little tiny boat that had a cover on top to keep us from getting wet(which probably would've felt good at this point) and walked onto the moving dock, which moved with the ocean.... which... was anything but calm at this moment. I was afraid and the men who were helping us load could totally see it. They grabbed my hand and said 'jump when I say'... which wasnt helping my nerves. I realized that if I went any sooner I'd probably trip and fall into the ocean. So, I went the moment they told me to and just went for it- I made it. Barely.

The Water Taxi

I got on this little tiny thing that was hardly lit at all, and made my way to the front, since I know I get motion sick, and didn't want to risk it in this moment. There were life jackets on every row of this eerie boat. I put it on quickly, held on to my bag for dear life(there were marks on my hands after) and hoped for the best. My friend saw that I was in a semi-panic state, and said 'do you need someone to sit with you'. At this moment I knew I had to be honest and let out a desparate 'yes'. She sat with me and held my hand and tried to keep me talking through it- which was hard at first, but came eventually. Once she got me talking about my friends and UMBC, I was pretty much okay:) It was fun to think about the craziest moments in the theatre department again and re-tell those wild stories:)

There were moments where I was almost thrown into a full-on panic attack(which I think I've only had 2 of in my whole life), but thankfully, I had this friend to keep me solid. Man, that boat hit those waves, and I honestly thought it was going to sink, or that I'd be sick... I started looking around for the nearest bag at points, but thankfully, we didn't have to find out how that one would end:)

In the Poda-Poda

Once we got off the boat we waited for probably an hour before we could get in the poda-poda's(the taxi busses) and go- which was good and bad for me- my sickness settled a little, but I was exhausted. Thank goodness someone had a snack I could have because if I didn't eat, I would've probably been motion sick in the next leg of the trip. We got going eventually and got within walking distance of the Hostel when we heard a huuugee bang. The driver said something and hopped out, then quickly got on his phone and was speaking fast and angrily on the phone. One of our team members got out and said, “Oh man.. we seriously just dropped the drive shaft... like.. it snapped in half...” I had to see what he was talking about, so I got out and looked.. it was bad news... but we were so close that we hopped in another taxi(they insisted) and we finally reached our destination.

A Poda-Poda

All was well- there was pizza for us to eat and we were assigned our roommates. Soon after, the power completely went out.... now I'm entering territory I've already written about... :)

But for those who are interested as to what a 'normal day' looked like for us during field service it normally included:

Up around 6:45

Breakfast at 7ish(remember.. we're on africa time.. that normally meant 7:20), which normally meant some kind of egg and bread. We also made our PBJ lunch every day during this time

Leave around 8

Arrive to the Hospitality center sometime between 8:30 and 10 depending on traffic

Devotionals all together sometime between 8:30 and 10

Arrive to Cheshire(or begin on-site work) between 9:15 and 10:30

Lunch at the hospitality center 12-1(almost always included a coconut- yumm)

More work 1-3ish

Arrive back at hospitatlty and wait for the other group to be ready 3:15-4ish

Drive back home 4-?

Arrive back home anywhere between 5 and 7

Dinner 7ish

Relax/ worship and prayer time most nights(optional) 8- whenever

Weekends normally meant some form of a beach trip or relaxation and church from 10-1 or 2ish

Breakfast at the Hostel

There is so much more to tell, but this is getting a bit long:)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


During the 2.5 weeks on land, a group of about 10 of us from our Gateway group worked at the Cheshire Home. The Cheshire home is an orphange for kids who have physical disabilities- some of which also have mental disabilities. Some of these kids have parents, some do not- I'm not sure we ever really figured out everyone's background, or ever will. Cheshire also has a primary school program, where the kids who live there attend school, as well as many from the community. The older kids venture out daily for secondary school on crutches or in their wheelchairs.

We came in and on one of the first days, one of our leaders was told that Cheshire would like us to take both the morning and afternoon(normally school time) with the kids so that we might be blessed by them as well as them being blessed by us... so.. we had probably about 3 hours more per day than we anticipated. In the end, it worked out perfectly- We would arrive somewhere between 9 and 10:30(depending on traffic and how long devotionals took) and break for lunch at noon, come back around 1 and finish around 3. If we kept to our initial schedule of 2-5, we would NEVER have gotten back to the group then to the hostel on time... ever... hah:)

Basically, what we ended up doing with the kids is a VBS type deal. We decided early in planning to teach on the fruits of the spirit, which was perfect because then we had 9 days of material and one free day to do what we wanted. In the mornings, we would normally start with puppets(Tomba and Tolu) who would basically act out a scenario that fit our theme for the day- an introduction, if you will. Then we would normally have the 'teacher' of the lesson come up and teach(we rotated daily) and we'd sing songs- some that applied to the theme, a few that we did daily, and normally one goofy song(thank goodness I learned a bunch at Dragonfly last summer:)). By this time, it was normally around 11 or 11:30, and if we had time, we'd do some reading together, draw, or do anything else we could come up with. When we returned from lunch, we'd normally do a craft, which literally took up the whole afternoon- these kids LOVED doing crafts- so great:) They were really really talented as well, but dont have the supplies to participate in these kinds of activities normally, so they were at a bit of a loss of how to use scissors, draw hearts, or even fold their paper properly.

I think I got so much more out of this experience than I had ever ever ever imagined. As we got going, I started kinda getting into the motions, but then every day something would happen that would either take me by surprise or excite me or just rattle me. As we approached the end of our time with these kids, I began to realize how little I processed about them. We witnessed some things that really shocked me on the second to last day, and it completely broke me. It all hit me at once, and I began to absolutely dread saying goodbye to these kids. Fortunately, we live within 25 minutes walking distance of the orphanage, so I've had the chance to see them again since we left, but it's been difficult.

The day we had to say our goodbyes, we had a great afternoon which included coconuts and little 'goody bags' which had a water bottle, underwear, socks, a lollipop, potato chips, and popcorn in it. I never saw kids get so excited about these things until that day. It went flawlessly- the kids were generally behaving, and all was well, until we began to leave. It was seriously the worst thing that could've happened in that moment. One kid began to cry, and then they all began to cry, which kinda set us all off. I had to pull myself together and pretend I was fine as we left so that they wouldn't get even more upset- but it felt like someone tore my heart out in that moment. How do you process something like this- I was completely bewildered. Thankfully, I had a very observant roommate who helped me through, as well as some great friends who just listened to me as I processed and got it all out- man was that a doozy.

I've included a few pictures, but check out my facebook for all of them:)

Okay, okay, I've decided that it's about time for a new post... people around here are either EXPERT bloggers, or just hardly blog, so I decided to attempt to become better at it to keep you lovely people all over the place up-to- date with me.. But, as I'm sure I've said before, I'd like to update you on what happened on field service, but need to do it a chunk at a time.

Therefore... I shall present to you... the tales of the Hostel(sounds like a scary movie,no?) ;)

This is the lovely hostel we stayed at... it was located at the National Stadium in Freetown... imagine the noise... hm;)(most nights there was either a party going late into the night, or a revival all day, or something to really make living at the stadium pretty tiresome.)

After a long, hard journey from Dallas all the way to Freetown(which I will blog about later) and having the car we were in drop a drive shaft completely as we were approaching the hostel,we pulled up to the hostel at close to 11:45pm on February 9th.

I got inside, and my lovely roommate(Harriet) told me where our room was. They ordered us pizza, which was a nice snack after a lonngg day, and I was about to head up to my room, when the power shut down. Boy- I had no idea how dark things could get until the power was ccommmplletely off... My flashlight was up in the room, and I had to feel around to find it, with an assist of my roommate's flashlight... I was like 'oh boy- this is a greeat start...' After a shower, I plopped myself into my bed to discover the bed basically ate me a live- making for an uncomfortable sleep and a hot night... boy was it miserable.. but... I needed sleep:)

I unfortunately didn't get many pictures of our first room. But basically the on
ly issue with the first room we stayed in was that the AC didnt work... which... kinda became a major issue for us. So, long story short, they moved us to a new room due to both of us being completely worn down by lack of sleep. We were happy to have AC finally, only to le
arn as we were resting only a while after we got the new room, that the plug the AC was in was fried.... it went something like this:
Resting... reading... napping.. etc...
"um... no.....""Um... do you smell something??'
"yes... yes I do... um.... is it the AC??"
"Oh no- I think it's coming from the outlet......*sniff*.. um.. yep..."

We were just thankful we were both awake and aware enough to catch this little issue before it became a BIG issue.

I reported this to the front desk, asking for a few fans to help out- at this point we were wayyyy over the idea of AC and just wanted something that would work. Of course they demand they come take a look at it to see if they can get it sorted out... they came in, looked, and left... then told us we have a fan... haha... We had an industrial-sized fan, which
seriously saved our tails... Once we got it, I think we both slept a little bit better... though.. our new room came with a few hang-ups.

Some examples include: our lovely hole in the wall... the bathroom had a nice huge hole in it right near the shower... which.. made me nervous for a while. Once I got over my fears of said hole, I quickly realized my fears were justified.... more on the Malcolm saga later..

We also had a faulty toilet seat, a loose sink, holes in the ceiling, a lovely little mouse hole in the door(not that they he even needed the hole... just the vent...

Some 'bonus' features of the room/hostel included no hot water(not that you really wanted it), in-room laundry(aka the sink and clothes line), mosquito nets, nice fiirrm beds in the second room, and oh so much more....

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sad day

I was planning to post a much more fun post tonight, but instead, I ask you to read this- and keep all of us here on the Africa Mercy and in Sierra Leone in your prayers.