Saturday, October 29, 2011


I got a few responses to my ‘your turn’ post that I wanted to be sure I addressed. For those of you with more questions- please send them my way- I’d love to answer them.

One of the questions was: How does Mercy Ships partner with local physicians, especially local health systems, to do follow-up care and health promotion/prevention?

Great question. Mercy ships send an advance team in before we go in to a new country. Most of the time, we’ve been to the country before, so the advance team checks out our previous contacts and verifies that all of our information is accurate. We assess what surgeries already have specialists in the field and how trained up they are.

For example, here in Sierra Leone, in the past we partnered with a local business that formed a women’s clinic in Aberdeen, which specializes in Vesciovaginal Fistula surgeries. Currently, the clinic is fully operational on its own- without our help, and we don’t perform these VVF surgeries in Sierra Leone because their own country can provide those surgeries to them. Now, if we find a surgeon who needs more training, often we’ll bring them to the ship and help train them up so that thy can perform these surgeries after we leave.

We try to focus on surgeries that cannot be offered in country so that we do not take away from the development that has already happened. We also do not do ‘medical’ cases, meaning we don’t do long term cases. We focus on surgical cases. For example, we cannot operate on malignant tumors because they need follow-up chemo, but we do treat benign tumors.

We also work hand in hand with a few local hospitals to help them learn how to provide follow-up for our patients. For example, we do a ponsetti training program to help treat orthopedic patients, which will be something the hospitals and programs can continue when we leave. We’ve also been aiding in treatment of Burkett’s patients in the local children’s hospital, which is also a skill that can be carried on.

As for prevention and health promotion, we don’t do as much of that- especially on the training front, but we do help host local conventions- such as an anesthesiologist convention. We also provide training for prevention and health promotion in our dental clinic, eye clinic and in our outpatient center for all patients who come through.

We also have our food for life program, which is our agricultural program. Through this program, we trained 16 locals in agriculture, who then took the knowledge to their villages and trained up local villagers. In this program, they learned lots about different fruits and veggies that promote different aspects of health and why, so they can pass the knowledge to local villages. I love that programJ I’m hoping I answered that question in the way you wrote it;)

Someone else requested more patient stories- I have TONS of those, so I’ll be sure to post more of them from time to time;) I’m frequently down on the ward visiting, so I’ve made friends with tons of different people- especially plastics patients(patients who have suffered burn contractures). More on that laterJ

As for me, I’ll be with the ship until somewhere between February and June 2013. We’ll see what happens. It’s possible I’ll be back- especially if we end up with an Asia Mercy, which is in the beginning stages- I’d love to see more of the world and serve, but we’ll seeJ I committed to 2 years, which is up February 27, 2013- I think I’d like to be home for Easter that year, but again- we’ll seeJ

Thursday, October 27, 2011

John Obey

Last weekend was quite possibly one of the most magical and glorious weekends of my life. Certainly in Africa.

A few weeks ago, I asked a friend who often goes on fun adventures off ship if she could let me know the next time she goes. It happened to be that they were going away for a friend's goodbye weekend, I happened to know the friend, and she invited me along. I was besides myself excited to say the least. A little part of me was certain something was going to get in my way of going on this trip- my first night off-ship since my gateway field service and my first FUN night sleeping away. Things sure did TRY to get in my way- I was schedule to work that whole weekend, I got cover, my cover bailed on me to cover for someone else, then an AMAZING high-schooler who is trained on my job volunteered to take the shift for me, then my roommate agreed to cover my other shift. THANK GOD FOR AMAZING PEOPLE.

Finally the morning of our departure arrived. I was snoozing away, excited to get to sleep in a tad, eat breakfast, pack a few sandwiches for the trip and be off. However, it went NOTHING like that. Instead, it went something like this.... I was sleeping when suddenly an EARSPLITTING alarm starts going off. This alarm was really, really, really long- much longer than normal. It took me a minute to figure out what was going on- I had my earplugs in, but I could still hear this sound... within maybe 3 seconds, I hit my light, pulled off my pajamas, threw on jeans and a sweater. Then I realized my roommate was in bed(duh) and I just changed in front of her... I got over it quickly as she asked “What is that sound?” and I was BOLTING around getting my glasses on, hair up, then she asked “Are you okay?” I said, “I HAVE TO GO...!” She was still in a daze and very confused. Later she figured it out.

Let me give you a little bit of a history. Now, on the Africa Mercy(AFM) we have 2 alarms. I get to explain this to all new crew, so I'll explain it here for you briefly. The first alarm is the Emergency Team Muster alarm, which is a beep that lasts NO LESS than 7 seconds... this one lasted at least 30. This alarm means all emergency teams need to get to their station as QUICKLY as possible. I am on an emergency team. All receptionists are on the “Muster Control” team. Now a “muster station” is where everyone gathers to be accounted for, so we are in charge of taking the names of crew who were missing from those muster stations and finding where those people are. It's extremely stressful, but we're pretty good at doing it quickly by this point. The reason I had to BOLT was because of all of this. The second alarm is the crew alert alarm which is 7 short beeps followed by a long one. This means that all crew not on an emergency team head down to the dock to muster, where your name is called out and you are hopefully accounted for.

This was not at all how I hoped to spend my first moments of my day. The trouble was, since the alarm was going off at 7am, I KNEW it was NOT a drill. They don't torture us in this way on the ship- it's mainly out of respect to the families with small children that they don't do that on a Saturday, but also to the dining room staff who need to get our breakfast set for us(which also includes sandwich items so we can all make a pack lunch for the day). I was on full alert. We all got to reception and just stood there as the captain looked at the fire panel for what was going on. As it turns out, someone put a piece of bread in one of our sandwich presses and left it there, causing it to burn and ALMOST start a fire, a detector picked it up and bam- we had an alarm waking everyone up. Because of this they found faults in the system, but thankfully after a few minutes, I was released to go to breakfast and then I went back to bed.. or tried to... no success.

I lugged my hiking backpack upstairs full of the things I'd packed the night before- ready to go- when I realized I might've overpacked. In the end, it turned out that I actually used almost everything I packed, but I did go drop a few things off in my room so I didn't have TOO much.

We walked out to the main road, where an amazing day worker who came with us, Harry, negotiated a great price for a Poda Poda- or a public transport mini-bus (80,000SLL to get there- meaning 6,000 a person which brought us to around $1.50 a person to go over 50 miles away), and we were off. I sat in the front due to my unfortunate curse of carsickness and we trucked on down to John Obey.

Now, a little history. John Obey is a village where a group of Europeans came in and set up an Eco-Tourism site. They trained the villagers in building using earth bags(rice bags packed with cement and dirt, stacked in a certain way, then covered in plaster, which builds an INCREDIBLE structure- so great!), using human waste as fertilizer(gross but cool), and delegating daily tasks to people of the village to ultimately make a great resort for people visiting Sierra Leone. I have to say, they were VERY successful in winning me over. All in all, my dinner, breakfast, and tent cost about $20 total with a few drinks included in that as well... WHHHAT ON EARRTHH?!?!?!?!

We settled in, got sunscreen on(though I still managed to be burnt to a CRISP at the end of the trip) and got on in the water. Now, for those of you who know me really well, you know that the ocean and I have a hard time with eachother. One day many years ago the ocean decided it wanted to eat me, and took me away in a rip current. With lots of help I survived, but it was pretty terrible and I was told by the guards I should've had a very bad injury, if not be dead. Alas, I had not a scratch on me. Still, after that, it took me about 8 years to get myself back into the water- which was this last March- but I'm still VERY wary of the ocean. Fortunately the water at John Obey was INCREDIBLY calm and friendly for me. At times, the pull scared me a bit, but I was fine:)

We layed on the beach all day long, watch the most AMAZING sunset I've ever seen in my entire life, then had an awesome chop barbecue dinner. Now, here Chop means to eat... so you say “Chop Chop” if you're hungry and want to eat.. Eat we suree did... we had a salad(which I was nervous about but didn't make us sick) with cabbage, cucumber, tomato and other things that weren't covered in bleach water, couscous cooked in some yummyness, Grilled fish- we're not sure what kind but it was AMAZING, onion sauce to put on it all, fried plantains and french fried 'sweet potato' which is really 'yam'-not sure what it's be called back home... I don't think they exist in the US, which isn't the same as sweet potato fries at home, but pretty dang good. Such a fantastic dinner. My friends brought a little wine and we just enjoyed eachother's company and great food.

As the sun went down, the creepy-crawlies made their appearance. At dinner, a crazy looking bug came up to me- I'm still not sure what it was... I thought it was a spider at first, but then realized it had antennae, and definitely not 8 legs... scared the wits out of a few of us. A few minutes later, I was going to sit on a hammock near our campfire, when I heard something moving. I used my flashlight to see what it was. It was huge and had many legs- I SCREAMED and RAN AWAY. Quickly Harry came to my rescue... come on... he's from SL- he's not scared of any of that.... he takes my flashlight and looks- it was a CRAB. Now, someone had warned us about the crabs coming up during the night, but I didn't really believe them.... HUGE thing... I was so scared I almost cried because I thought the thing was a huge tarantula, but really it was a crab. I had lots of these moments throughout the night.

After a few of the people in my group decided to go see the cool glowing fish in the water and we all watched(saw nothing though) I climbed into my little tent and TRIED to sleep. Probably one of the worst nights of sleep since I got here- the ocean was sooo loud and I was paranoid and uncomfortable, but alas- it was glorious- I didn't mind at all losing sleep over this amazing trip.

We got up in the morning, had a yummy breakfast, swam, read, spent time in the hammock, snacked away(I didn't pack a lunch- oops!) and got ready to go.

Here's where the REAL adventure began. We asked our poda poda driver to be there around 2pm so we could get back in time for dinner. I was looking forward to vegging out with my computer watching House for while before dinner and after a great shower(well as great as a 2 minute shower can be). Soon, I realized, I'd be lucky if I got back at all. Our driver never showed- we called and he was still in town. We called other people and they were all in town- over 2 hours away. In retrospect this might've been a better idea than turning it down. When all was said and done, I took a little nap in the hammock, then got up to realize we were about to go on a little hike. It was mayyybe 2 miles, with a couple of hills that I wasn't too too pleased with, but alas- we had to do it. I was burnt and could feel it as my heavy backpack pressed into it, just praying we'd get some help and get home before dinnertime was over.

In the village we waited in, we were greeted by many super sweet kids. They LOVED getting their pictures taken and seeing them. They would just laugh and LAUGHH when they saw themselves on the camera. They also got some special treats. We were all hungry by this point, so whatever we shared, they got some too. They LOVED showing off by running down the hill and completely wiping out at the bottom and piling on top of each other in the process(see below). Great entertainment in my opinion:)

We waited... and waited... and waited... Eventually, a Mercy Ships vehicle passed us..... and kept going. I think they realized we were in distress though and they turned back around to talk to us. They were PACKED OUT- so none of us could fit in. They did however say they could save dinner for us. There is a new rule where you can't call the dining room if you're going to be late to save you dinner- it's there for many good reasons. Though in times like these, it was hard to accept- it wasn't our fault we were late- we gave ourselves 4.5 hours to get back for dinner which SHOULD'VE been plenty of time.... but it wasn't. We were so thankful that the group could save us dinner-otherwise we would've been not only tired, burnt, and miserable, but starving.

Time passed by and we decided to make a new game plan- we'd take whatever option we could when it came to us and fly with it. A group of us piled into a taxi, and met the other at Tomba(a popular stop for transport). Harry went to get us a Poda, but while Harry did that, we found a taxi that could fit 7. We had 11. Note the problem? 11 people plus bags- large ones at that. We piled our bags in the back to the best of our ability- thankfully my big bag fit back there. The big bags and guitar fit in the back, the small bags were held. There were 4 of us per row that would've been tight with 3 of us and it was uncomfortable to say the least. The driver decided he'd take a back road once we got a bit of the way into the journey. I think it was to avoid getting a ticket from the police who were bound to be nearby. This was a TERRIBLE idea. The car was so heavy that the bottom of the car just scraped along and I truly thought we were going to be stranded up in this village area... Thankfully we got back around 7pm- after 5 hours from the beginning of that journey. I took a nice shower- I was SOOOO burnt so I put some aloe one and wandered up to eat some dinner. Just a sandwich but it was a good one.

One of the awesome teens on the ship ran up to me asking if I could help with the cafe that evening- its just too much for one person to take on. I agreed. Later I wondered why. It was great fun, but I was wiped out. I got in my bed just in time to fall asleep around 10 and be up around 6 for work in the morning. Cafe was indeed fun though and I discovered a new drink that tastes just like rice pudding... a vanilla and cinnamon steamer! Yummy!! New fave.

It was quite an adventure but totally incredible and wonderful. The weekend was full of alone time, or at least semi-alone time, where I was able to just pray and talk to God a bit. I finally had the TIME to chat with Jesus, which I totally lack on the ship. I try to fill every moment with something on the ship- if not with work or another activity or event it's reading, movies, etc. It made me realize that sometimes I just need to find somewhere alone... or sort of alone... and just sit. It did help over the weekend that I had great things to look at while I prayed that kept me plenty entertained- watching the sunset over the ocean which made the water look like gold, looking at the stars, watching the campfire. I just need to find my thing on the ship.

I wouldn't trade the weekend for anything. Beautiful.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Your Turnn!!

So- I KNOW a bunch of people look at my blog.... I'm once again at the point where I want to know what YOU want to read about. Do you want to know things about my life on the ship? Africa?

Some of you might be reading but have never met me- do you want my story(I've been thinking of doing that but want to know if people are interested), do you want to know what I want to do with my life/what I aspire to do? Do you want to know about interests of mine?

These things could have all or nothing to do about where I am right now... I just want to write something that you want to see....

now, please...don't let me down this time. Normally, when I post this on fbook or something, I get 0 responses... IF YOU ARE READING THIS... please post a question on my comments;) Please????

K. Thanks...

Ps- 9.5 weeks until I touch down on US soil for my month vacation!! Yehaw!!:)

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Dilemma

Sorry for the inconsistent writing over the last week or 2... I've had a bit of writer's block but think I've found something that might interest you... at least a little bit.

Something I've found to be a huge point of conflict on the ship is the turnover rate.

Let me explain what I mean..

We are a volunteer ship. Most sane people don't commit to more than a few weeks, or at most a few months to the ship because they have lives back home, kids, jobs, houses, cars, etc that they need to get home to. They're brave because while they're paying lots of money to be here, they also have to pay their rent and bills. I have immense respect for short termers because they've put their lives on hold for however long they're here. Some treat it as vacation, but most are here to serve and serve hard for their short stay. I have TONS of respect for the short termers who still have all of those things at home and pay rent and bills on them, but come for 6 or more months while doing all of that at home. That's amazing.

The insane bunch of us have sold all we have and given up everything- our jobs, families, houses, cars, lives- to be here. Mind you, I didn't have a job other than babysitting, my dad is taking care of my car, and true I do have very few possessions, but my parents still have a house I can go back to. I haven't given it ALL, but sometimes it sure feels that way.

Because of these things, most people come for as short as 1 week to the ship. With this comes a HUUGEE turnover. By turnover, I mean that people come and go so frequently that no department is ever really stable. Every part of the ship is always losing someone who was trained and gaining an untrained crew member. This can be insanely frustrating for the heads of departments as well as crew, BUT it's got its benefits. It truly is great meeting so many people and being involved in their adventure here. You meet so many kinds of people from all kinds of cultures- super cool.

With the huge turnover, means huge amounts of goodbyes. In the beginning, I didn't have many goodbyes, but the families I worked with in 2009 started going and that's when it was getting tough. These people I saw as a permanent fixture on the ship were suddenly gone and it felt like the whole ship changed. This has happened a few times for me before I started to turn off my emotions and not let myself get too close to people who were leaving soon.

And HERE lies the problem. I remember when I came the first time, most of the long termers flat out said "I won't be friends with short termers because they'll be gone soon- what's the point." Now, that's a TERRIBLE attitude to have. Yet, I've found myself thinking the same exact things. Why? Selfishly we all want to be COMFORTABLE and have our little groups we belong to, but that is NOT why we're here. We didn't come to Africa to feel safe and comfortable... we came to help the people and serve effectively- right? Yes- it stinks to constantly be in a state of goodbyes and it causes lots of heartache, but we can't just be hermits either.

I've gotten to the point where I've stopped saying by to people that I 'sort of' know' and only say bye to those I really know well. I've grown to realize that the short termers are actually a huge blessing to the long termers. They bring a new energy and vibe that we feed off of lots of times. Also, no one said that because they're here for a short time, we can't learn things from them. Some of my short term friends have taught me more than I thought possible and have taught me more in their few weeks with us than some of the people I've been with for 8 and 10 months!

It's so important for us to remember that we're not the only people on this ship- short termers come and go, sure- but they are just as effected by this place as we are. What I mean is that the interactions we have with them and they have with us go a long way. They're not just a part of our trip- we're a part of theirs. I know I will most likely not see any of them again- maybe a couple here and there, but how cool will it be a few years from now when we can say, "Yeah... we were in Africa together..."

I'm hoping this all makes SOME kind of sense- it's a bit disjointed, and I'm sorry for that, but hopefully you understand what I'm saying.;)

<3 M

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lonely, I'm Mr Lonely.

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT meant to be a pity party or an attention getter- I'm sharing it merely because I felt like sharing it with you all.

Some of you might be wondering not about the things I'm doing, but HOW I'm doing.

I'll give you a bit of an inside peek at what's been going on for me and what I've been struggling with.

You'd think that with almost 500 people living on a ship, you would never get lonely. GUESS AGAIN. As most of you know, I'm very extroverted. I need interaction with people often in order to feel energized and re-booted. I am also an external processor- I need to talk things OUT LOUD to fully process and comprehend them. It's a problem here. I have friends, sure, but only very few people I feel comfortable running to if I needed something. Even when I do need something, we hit a bit of a conundrum. 1)They are probably working, 2)They are probably busy, 3)they might be a different kind of personality- introverted, etc. These are all problems at home, but they are amplified by a million here.

At home, even when I'm not around friends, I have my family. While that interaction may seem insignificant and routine, I've learned that I 100% took those interactions for granted. Sure- we got on eachothers nerves and didn't always want to be bothered and were running in 100 different directions, but at the end of the day, they were ALWAYS there. I know that both of my parents if I ever needed anything would be there. I could ask for a date and we'd make it happen, I could make dinner for them and they'd be there, I could ask to have Jo for a day, and they'd let me. Having people around that you KNOW are there for you and have always had your best interest in mind is extremely comforting. Having that stripped away, on the otehr hand is EXTREMELY painful. I don't have that here. 5/10 times I go to a meal, I sit alone.

Another problem with this is that I am NOT an initiator. While I'm an extrovert, I do NOT impose, and I do not initiate. If someone is sitting alone, most times, I don't join them unless I know them. If my friends are going off and doing something or just hanging out I do NOT invite myself no matter how much I might want to go. Here's where you hit a MAJORRR clash. Everyone is different. Some say 'If they want to come, the'll come'. Some say 'Lets invite everyone." some just don't think about it. Me- I don't like to go annnywhere unless invited. I've had too many experiences where that's backfired- I invited myself and found out later they did NOT want me there. That's hurtful and to preserve myself I just steer away from it. Is it right? No... but is it the way my mind and gut go? Yes. It's something to work on, but for now it's a huge wall.

I have always wanted to belong to a group. Up until this point I never once have, except for my family, which I desparately wish I had here during all of this. I have never been someone people invite places. It's never, "We need to invite Michelle" or "Michelle has GOT to come!!"It's always an afterthought. "Ohhh you should've been there". But.. if I didn't know about it.. how could I have been there? This sense of belonging has never happened for me, which is a bit funny because it's one of the top 5 things I've always wanted for my life.

I truly think that this is something God is trying to work on me in. I have this overwhelming sense that this is not what I want for myself. I don't want to constantly be in a state of loneliness and wishing that my life was what it isn't. I want to be content with where I am and just give the rest of the feelings up. I am sick of feeling constantly lonely. I've asked God to not just take this away, but to show me how to handle this. I have some past friendships that still haunt me a bit that I'd like to deal with. I have some serious deep issues in this department that I just want to work through and learn from, not just cast off. My hope and prayer is that I don't just get rid of these issues for a day or a few weeks. I don't want temporary releif, but I want COMPLETE relief... I want to be finished with it forever so that I never have to go through these things again. I don't want to question my sense of belonging and who I am. I want to be okay with where I am in regards to this. I'm not saying I'll never ever feel lonely again- not going to happen- it's a human emotion we all feel from time to time. I'm just asking for God to intervene and get RID of all of this with me.

I know this post is loaded. But, I'm hoping that by sharing this with all of you, you can do two things. I hope you can pray for me- for all of this. It's been a battle all the way back to when I started making friends. I've always thought people were my friends because they felt bad for me, which isn't true. Another thing I hope might come from this is that someone might read this and say 'wow.. that's me... or was me.." and would be willing to chat about it. I've asked God to bring people my way who can help me through.