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.