Books I Read in 2016!

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I bought a kindle this year and it was the best thing I could've brought on my Africa trip. I get e-books from my library and it makes book-reading easy and cheap!  Here are my favorite books that I read this year. 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. An autobiography written from the unique perspective of a neurosurgeon dying of lung cancer. I was weeping by the end, but definitely worth the read. 

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It took me about a quarter of the book to appreciate the way it is written, but then I couldn't put it down. It is a slow, sad story of World War 2 as seen by a French blind girl and a German radio man. 

Daring Greatly and Rising Strong by Brene Brown. I read both of Brown's books on the ship. Her research and ideas on shame and vulnerability and the desire for human connection gave me many new ideas on how to interact with humans. The ship provided a great place to practice! 

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. My parents recommended I read this one. Keller's connection of marriage to the gospel is beautiful. It spoke to me, even as a single person. I will definitely read this again when closer to marriage. 

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracey Kidder. I read this book about Dr. Paul Farmer in preparation for my Haiti trip. An inspiring book about his determination to bring healthcare to rural Haiti and eradicate tuberculosis in the country and increasingly all over the world. A must-read for medical missions enthusiasts. 

Strength in What Remains by Tracey Kidder. Another incredibly inspiring true story of a Burundi refugee who survives genocide and homelessness to become an Ivy league-educated doctor. He returns to his home country to treat his own people because that is where his heart is, regardless of the condition of Burundi. 

Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof. This book, also a documentary, is the summary of many years research into gender inequality and oppression of women worldwide. The chapters are dedicated to multiple issues seen mainly in the developing world, some of which I have seen in my travels this year. The author included interviews and stories of women all over the world to illustrate the issues and propose solutions. I learned so much about what my fellow sisters' lives are like overseas and also what I can do to help. 

Beautiful Battlefields by Bo Stern. I actually read this book a few years ago during a really hard time in my life, but it is so good, it's on this list. Stern's story of living with her husband's ALS diagnosis as a pastor, wife, and mother is truly inspiring. I learned so many tools for dealing with pain as a Christian that I utilized in that battle and others as well. 

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. A fictional story about 2 French sisters during World War Two had me reading late into the night in tears. 

An Unexpected Journey

There are no safe paths in this part of the world. Remember you are over the Edge of the Wild now, and in for all sorts of fun wherever you go.

- J. R. R. Tolkien from The Hobbit 

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My African adventure is over and I find myself sitting in an American coffee shop. I have a delicious Chai in hand, my computer, my iphone, my kindle, scarf, hat, new boots, Bon Iver setting my mood. I have everything I have been missing for the past 4 months (including my queen sized bed in a room that I sleep in all by myself!). And yet...I miss, so very much, miss my African adventure. 

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I'm shivering and scraping ice off my car; I miss the heat, the humidity and even sweating profusely. I can go to the refrigerator and grab food whenever I want, but I miss eating with 400 other people in a loud dining hall. I've started the hunt for a new job yet I wish I was back in a tiny crowded ward with screaming/laughing kids and singing/dancing mamas. 

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It is quite difficult to put my emotions into words, but in this moment, I'd go back in a heartbeat (with an extra $5K). Serving the Africans and living in community is incomparable to my comfortable Western life. It was a joy that I fear I didn't enjoy ENOUGH when I was there and now it's loss is acute. The lessons I learned there will forever be with me. 

Friends who became family

Friends who became family

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Porto Novo

It only takes an hour to get to Benin's capital city of Porto Novo. Kate and I got invited to visit one of our translators: Boris and his family. We took a motorcycle ride to the bus stop and were directed by our vigilant drivers to get into a shared taxi that would take us to the station in Porto Novo. 

Cassava root, plucked straight from the yard next door.  

Cassava root, plucked straight from the yard next door.  

Boris and his daddy picked us up on their motorbikes (yes, Boris calls his dad Daddy so we did too!). They took us to the agricultural center to tour the farm and grounds.  

Boris, me, Arince, Kate, and Daddy

Boris, me, Arince, Kate, and Daddy

Boris' older brother Arince joined us there. He also works as translator on Mercy Ship.  

Daddy and his youngest son's son, Eme.  

Daddy and his youngest son's son, Eme.  

After a quick and dirty ride through the city's well-known market (I was quick to point out that Kate and I are NOT market people and we need only drive through), we came to Boris' family home.  

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Their home did not have running water, but they did have electricity. We each took a turn pulling up a bucket of water from the well, like any curious Westerner.  

Kate is meeting the neighbors. 

Kate is meeting the neighbors. 

Boris and Daddy are both competitive bowlers. Bowling in Africa is more like Bochi ball. Boris plays on the national team and decided not to go to the World Cup in Madagascar so that he could work on the ship. 

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Kate and I get lessons on bowling (she was much better than I), but it was very fascinating to watch Boris and Daddy play each other. 

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Nothing like some refreshment to rehydrate after the profuse sweating that is taking place!  

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Boris' mum, Gabriella, cooked us cassava. It is a root vegetable that tastes like a dry yam but it's white in color.  

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On the way back to the bus station, we stopped by the statue of King Toffi in the city center.  

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Boris and Daddy put us in another taxi back to Cotonou and look who was our seat mate! He made us laugh all the way home.  

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Adventure can be really scary. This day had a lot of unknowns, but with a good friend and SIM card,  bravery is easy to find. 

The Moment

I just finished my last shift as a nurse on the Africa Mercy. I found myself counting the minutes left, wanting to linger on each one, telling myself that 8 hours was going by way too fast. 

I'm learning how to savor moments. As soon as I realize it, the moment is already a memory. I stop in the middle of it and tell myself  "Remember this!" 

I had so many of these moments tonight, mostly starring Djamou, my little 2 year old patient. I've been his nurse for many weeks now and he steals all the hearts. I will hold you and play with you as long as you let me.   

Normally pretty temperamental and whiny, he was in a very happy mood today. I walked up and down the long hospital corridor holding him and singing Justin Beiber songs to Blandine. She giggles and echoes back the lines. I will never forget the way she calls me "sister." Or her laugh. Or hopefully anything.  

Djamou continues to cuddle and play with me, following me to other patient's beds when they needed something and lifting up his arms to be held. He wraps his arms around my neck with a squeal. It sounds silly,  but when a child wants you, like REALLY wants you...hard to beat that feeling. 

I look at my watch and there's only 25 minutes left of the shift. I'm holding Djamou on my lap, half ignoring his mama's look to come to bed. Just 10 more minutes!    Blandine and 2 other older ladies' beds are facing me. I hear them say "Cait" and "yovo" (white person in Fon) and "Americano."

I look down at Djamou and he's looking at me, unblinkingly. He says, "Yovo? I love you" and I already feel my eyes welling up and soon tears are dropping off my nose. He never broke eye contact with me. I stared down at him through blurry vision and knew I could NOT forget this moment, especially. My last moment on Africa Mercy was being loved by a toddler that I adored. I couldn't ask for anything else at all. 

 

 

 

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Sakate

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  

John 14:18

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Sakate is a town, 2 hours drive from Cotonou. I got a spur-of-the-moment invitation to visit an orphanage there with the intention to help with a project there. Five of us from Mercy Ships set off on a Saturday morning, in a torrential downpour.  Within an hour of the drive, the skies had cleared and we were driving through lush green jungle! Green! Do my eyes deceive me? (Cotonou is NOT green.)

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We arrived at the orphanage and about 22 kids lined up on steps to be introduced. One of the oldest girls (about 20 years old) began to sing. Her voice filled the silence so beautifully. Ahhhhhh. Her solo lasted about 30 seconds before being joined by the ensemble, the claps and drums reaching an ear-splitting volume that was less-peaceful on my delicate American ears. And thus went the rest of the afternoon...

***I mention this to point out the contrast. Not much in Africa have I been able to describe as quiet and peaceful, but this girl's voice was right on the money.

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Jonah (above) had just recently come to the orphanage. He is probably about 3 or 4 years old and he has barely spoken since his arrival. The orphanage director (John) told me that they aren't even sure which language he understands. A family had all the paperwork for his adoption and then when they visited the orphange to meet him, saw that he probably has some developmental delays and did not proceed. 

Jonah has a laugh like you wouldn't believe. I pushed him in that swing for at least an hour and he giggled like a child who had never known a heartbreak. 

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Michelene (above) has quite the 'tude, but if I clicked the camera enough times, she'd give me a beautiful smile. 

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Francoise has a wandering eye, but these makeshift glasses only make her cuter. She has a sweet, sensitive spirit that is most endearing. 

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Codjo is a 2 year old boy who is already adopted by the directors of the orphange, a wonderful couple from Ohio who live in Sakate full time. His mother died due to complications from his birth and his father wanted him to have a better life so he asked John and Ashley if they would adopt him. My mouth just about dropped open when Codjo's birth father pulled up to the orphange while I was there (and after I had just heard this story). Apparently he visits all the time. I'm sure that doesn't rip your heart out. John is a nurse and Ashley is a pastor and I loved the way they loved on these kids. They are good parents, so loving yet so firm with them. 

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I spent most of my afternoon pushing the kids on the swings. 

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Quite the pout, Michelene! 

Quite the pout, Michelene! 

I found that my soul was incredibly refreshed from time away from the ship, being in a small group, and loving on kids who are not post-surgery. I would accept any excuse to go see them again. 

Kids on the Block

Real talk: nursing on the Africa Mercy is not intensive and can make 8 hours seem like a very long shift. But  this leaves lots of time for snuggles, laughs, playtime... and the endless search for constructive entertainment for cooped up kids. 

FAITH. She is a diva of a 3 year old. Loves attention and responds accordingly to the camera! I love her adorable babble when she talks and I wish so badly I knew what she was saying. Even her shrieks of delight make me smile, despite the high pitch. She likes to cuddle and will use any excuse to be walked up and down the hallways (she gets very heavy very fast). Her sister Godwin (not pictured) stayed with us for a bit and is every bit as adorable as Faith. 

MIRACLE. I've talked about this cheeky monkey before. When he's in a good mood, he never fails to bring smiles to EVERYONE, even the mom's of other patients ( I feel like this is significant as they don't seem highly amused by all the children running around). He walks, like a t-rex with his hands wrapped up, into B ward and into shouts of MEER-ROCK!!!!! I'm instantly laughing and hoping he wants to be held. 

On the day that he was discharged, quite a crowd had formed in the hallway to say goodbye. His mom saw me and waved me forward for a photo. I leaned down to pick him up and he wrapped his little nubs around my neck and squeezed. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world, Miracle. Thank you. You are already so missed. 

VALENTIN. He was my very first patient on the ship and he has come SO FAR. I've gotten to see so much more of his personality since that awful first day. He has a squeaky little voice and likes to giggle at things I have no idea. Even when he's not feeling well, I tickle his hand and he tickles mine back. 

RACHIDI. He's a punk and he knows how to push my buttons. Teenagers are not supposed to to sit in bed all day! Nevertheless, we've had a good time together. But seriously, it's time to go home! 

MEMUNA. She is the sweetest 17 year old, here on board for her second surgery to remove a facial neurofibroma that has grown back. She is featured on the film "The Surgery Ship" from when the ship was docked in Guinea, 4 years ago. She has lost use of her left eye already and it's been discovered that she will be losing sight in her right eye as well. She is so quiet. I wish I could talk to her to fill silence. But she holds my hand, lets me guide her and that's all the communication that is needed. 

 Her sister (above far right in pink) and her nephew (baby facing camera in the wagon) accompanied her to Benin for her surgery. They have all been a joy to care for. 

The hospital has been open long enough now that we are starting to send patients home! So very bittersweet. So many are a complete joy to spend time with and I'm so sad to see them go but also excited to see what cuties we will get next! 

Evening Shift

I arrive on the B ward for an afternoon shift. The day and evening nurses stand in a circle to pray for the coming shift. If we are lucky, one of the day crew (hired locals/interpreters) will pray a big sweeping thank-you-JESUS prayer. 

We start handover of patients with the day nurses before they take a few patients up to fresh air on Deck 7 for the last hour of their shift. After half the patients leave, a quiet settles on the ward. Some kids fall asleep. Most of the parents are already asleep. A stray toddler or 2 might be roaming for trouble. I start a game of cards with one of the teens, but both hands are splinted so I play both hands (after multiple explanations to me by the interpreter of the rules of this particular game). 

Blandine!

Blandine!

The rest of the ward returns and chaos ensues. A good chaos. Mamas are awake and chatting animatedly with each other. Babies are crying or nursing or crawling around. Teens are getting glassy-eyed with boredom. Kids start complaining of pain and I pass pills. The medications to give are Tylenol and ibuprofen, morphine for the recent post-ops. More people drift in and out of the wards...doctors, anesthetists, nurses, patients from A ward (general surgery and B ward overflow), physical therapists, chaplains, visitors, crew, day crew, the list seems endless sometimes! 

At least once during a shift, I have a moment of reaction. Panic is rising like the heat and stench. It's so loud! Its so crowded! I can't handle this! I can't fit between the beds. I want to hold that baby but he's been crawling on this nasty floor all day. Why can't day crew speak better English!?! I'm so tired of repeating myself and re-explaining a simple message! I just want to have a normal conversation with this person!   

 The panic subsides in a few seconds with a deep breath. Move on. You can do this. You are already doing this.  

I spend the next 20 minutes learning how to tell time in French by one of the day crew. He makes me count "one o'clock" to "2400 hours" in French over and over until I told him my head was going to explode. He laughed uneasily. Maybe that doesn't translate well...

Time for dinner. Everyone gets a squirt of hand sanitizer and a bowl of Beninese maize and meat. I spoon feed my girl with bilateral hand splints. I wouldn't normally enjoy feeding a grown woman, but her bed is right next to the cutest 3 year old you've ever seen. Faith and her sister entertained me between bites. The 5 year old sister can can count to 10 in English and practiced with me. I attempted to recall the French numbers I'd just learned and she helped me. :) 

Faith before her surgery. Her sister could be her twin, they look so much alike and have the same hair beads. 

Faith before her surgery. Her sister could be her twin, they look so much alike and have the same hair beads. 

Later in the evening around 7 pm, we have a visitor from A ward, Miracle (2 years old)! (But I learned that he pronounces his name "Meer-rock.") When he's in a good mood, he wants to be held and flashes everyone a big toothy smile. I took him on a walk in the hall way and he points to the pictures of the nurses and day crew hanging in the hall way. He jabbers on, pointing to one then another and back again. The hallway is a hundred degrees cooler than the ward so I'd stay out there as long as he wanted. 

Miracle getting all the attention. 

Miracle getting all the attention. 

Bed time starts at 9 pm. The lights go off and curtains are pulled around the beds. There are a few rebels who are resistant, but we say "Bonne nuit" and turn our backs. I wouldn't mind rocking a few babes to sleep at this point in the day.  

My friend Deborah working my dream job :)

My friend Deborah working my dream job :)

Getting Real

The hospital on Mercy Ship has been open for almost 2 weeks now. My unit (B ward) has been almost full this week. We have 20 beds filled mostly by kids under the age of 16. Here are some pictures of B ward kiddos. 

R. has been my patient many times now. He has just recently started smiling again after a painful surgery on his foot. He's now turning out to be quite the rascal and is requesting English lessons, but only if I agree to learning Faun language (local dialect). 

R. has been my patient many times now. He has just recently started smiling again after a painful surgery on his foot. He's now turning out to be quite the rascal and is requesting English lessons, but only if I agree to learning Faun language (local dialect). 

This little guy was my first patient on Mercy Ships, little V, a very small 8 year old boy with severe burns to his groin and thighs. A week after my busy day with him, he is up and smiling and holding my hand. After listening to his screams that day, I am so happy to hear his cute little voice babbling things that I don't understand. He isn't smiling here, but he does smile! 

This little guy was my first patient on Mercy Ships, little V, a very small 8 year old boy with severe burns to his groin and thighs. A week after my busy day with him, he is up and smiling and holding my hand. After listening to his screams that day, I am so happy to hear his cute little voice babbling things that I don't understand. He isn't smiling here, but he does smile! 

I haven't had this guy has a patient but he's been on the unit for awhile now. He had severe burns to his armpit and now after his surgery, his arm will stay splinted in that position for about 2 weeks. 

I haven't had this guy has a patient but he's been on the unit for awhile now. He had severe burns to his armpit and now after his surgery, his arm will stay splinted in that position for about 2 weeks. 

Here are some photos of patients during the screening process. I did not get to be a part of this, but am able to see and share the photos from it. These kids are so cute. I wish I could take pictures of the kids on the wards as well. The moms bring in their other children as well (flashback to Haiti) and toddlers are running wild on the unit. One in particular is my favorite, Prince. He looks about 14 or 15 months old and is always wearing black teva-looking sandals on his feet (the absolute cutest). The patients and their parents help take care of him too (he is WILD). 

These photos below are from Mercy Ship's previous field service in Madagascar, but are examples of the types of surgeries and healing processes that I have already seen on board the ship in the last 2 weeks.  

On a personal note, I am slowly adjusting to ship life. The conditions for sleeping are the most disheartening for me. I'm not a good sleeper even in the best of conditions, so sharing a tiny room and sleeping on a bad mattress are not working well for me. GI bugs are going around like crazy here on the ship and I got food poisoning last weekend (note to self: don't eat weird mushrooms). I know things will continue to improve with time and prayers are so appreciated! 

Please enjoy fall for me. I am so sad to be missing it! 

Thai food in Benin -- hold the mushrooms.... 

Thai food in Benin -- hold the mushrooms.... 

Rooftop hangs.  

Rooftop hangs.  

All Aboard!

One week in and ready to go!  

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I will be working on B ward, which is the Plastics unit. Unlike what you'd think plastic surgery is all about in the States, these procedures are about function, not aesthetics. For example, a severe burn can cause contractures to the point that a person cannot use a limb or even walk. The surgeon uses a skin graft to release that tight skin and restore function to the affected limb, but only after weeks and possibly months of healing and rehab. This is just one example of a plastics case, more to come. 

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This last week has been all about prepping the wards for the patients and preparing us new nurses for their care.  

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We will have Day Workers, who are local translators, working alongside us.  

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The nurses station is quite small...well the whole unit is small. It's going to get VERY crowded! 

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I am in a 4-berth cabin with only 2 other cabin mates. Lucy and I are both working on B ward and Theresa (far right) is a nurse in the operating room (OR).  

Lucy is from Sydney, Australia and Theresa is from California.  

Lucy is from Sydney, Australia and Theresa is from California.  

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Deck 7 provides from great views of the port and the sunsets. The weather has been quite cool when it's cloudy and being so close to the water, there seems to always be a good breeze.  

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I've ventured out in Cotonou a few times. I went to an arts and craft market with these girls. The shopping lasted 10 minutes and then we sat in a bar (drinking what we'd ordered as Coke and came out looking like Fanta) to recover from all the vendor-hassling.  

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Another day trip led to this pool. The pool guy let us in for free when he found out we were nurses on the Mercy Ship.  

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Lucy :)  

Lucy :)  

Truthfully, the last week has included more downtime than I bargained for. I'm so thankful to have Lucy to sit around and laugh with. She's teaching me Australian. Haha! 

Surgeries have officially started this week and that means I'll have stories to tell very soon!  

Iceland: Reykjavik and more

I gave myself two full days to explore Reykjavik. I heard from other travelers along the way that there wasn't much to do in the city unless you've planned tours and boat rides. I found this to be true. 

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This church is quite tall and picturesque. I confess that I have no idea what it's history is, but I did discover that Iceland is a "Protestant" country, although it has a very high number of of athiests (I'm told). 

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Reykjavik Roasters

Reykjavik Roasters

I slipped into 2 different coffee ships for expensive java and book reads. 

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Harpa is the Iceland Hall of Music and it is quite the structure. Visitors can come and explore the inside and get free wifi! It sits on the harbor and was a lovely spot to read. 

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This bicycle functions as a gate!

This bicycle functions as a gate!

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One day in Reykjavik was plenty for me. I got bored by the end of the day. If I wanted to spend the money, I would've gone on a whale watching boat tour. Instead I decided to hike to THE HOT RIVER. I found about this place from Instagram. It was a 40-minute drive from Reykjavik and then a 50-minute hike. 

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But a beautiful hike...oh look another waterfall!

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There were so many people there that I was afraid it would ruin the vibe, but the river is sectioned off with rocks and it was easy to find space away from others. Once in the river, it was almost too hot to sit in for very long. 

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On my way back to Reykjavik, I sat in this cute little cafe for a couple hours. 

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The final Iceland activity was visiting Blue Lagoon. I was told repeatedly that it is a tourist trap and the water and mud is artificial, but...when in Iceland, you go to the Blue Lagoon. 

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The atmosphere was really fun and very low key. I got wifi in the lagoon and swam around with my phone so an older couple asked if I'd take a photo of them. I also met another solo traveler from Australia who had been at the lagoon all day. Whoa. 

Not a great photo. My phone case got a little foggy. 

Not a great photo. My phone case got a little foggy. 

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A very relaxing time and worth the tourist trap just this once. 

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I stayed at a hostel near the airport and had the great fortune of meeting all these ladies in this picture! All of us were solo traveling and happened to stay in the same hostel! We banded together and drove out to attempt to see the Northern lights, but did not have good luck. By the time I was falling asleep, I felt like I'd been adopted into a little family of nomads. 

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Goodbye, Iceland! You were worth it. 

Iceland: The Western Fjords

I spent 2 days driving around the peninsula in northwest Iceland. So much driving. So much beauty to look at.  

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I stayed the night at a hostel in Holmavik. It was a cute, but cold, little town. It was only my second night in Iceland, but I started to get a little lonely after all the driving.  

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I met two older guys from Barcelona who were really sweet to me at the hostel and chatted over dinner. They were the only other guests who seemed to speak English.  

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Little Mitty. :)  

Little Mitty. :)  

I never got a clear idea of what this statue is about.  

I never got a clear idea of what this statue is about.  

Gravel roads were not easy on Little Mitty.  

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Waterfalls are EVERYWHERE. Even in the middle of nowhere (where is that water even coming from?!).  

The horse farm in Bildadalur

The horse farm in Bildadalur

My next night was, hands-down, my favorite stay of the week. I booked an Airbnb on a horse farm in a fjord. The hosts were so welcoming and I felt instantly at home (good medicine for loneliness). Another older couple from Quebec were also staying there that night and equally as warm and friendly! 

View from my room.  

View from my room.  

The horse farm had its own geothermic swimming pool...but it was a little cold.  

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My host (he had a very Icelandic name that I can't spell) invited me fishing so I accompanied him. He went to a little waterfall with a pool where trout hang it.  

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He didn't catch anything except a tiny trout that he threw back.  

This little river was on his property.  

This little river was on his property.  

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I hugged him when I left and he gave me an awkward grampa hug back. :) 

I heard multiple people call these "hot pots" 

I heard multiple people call these "hot pots" 

My host suggested I stop at this little gem on my way back to the city!  

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Dynjandi waterfall was also on my way back, just 6 miles from the horse farm!  

Seriously an epic waterfall. It is so tall and in the middle of rocks. No other nature for miles!  

Seriously an epic waterfall. It is so tall and in the middle of rocks. No other nature for miles!  

Changing hut or leftover set piece from LOTR? 

Changing hut or leftover set piece from LOTR? 

On my way to the peninsula, I picked up a hitchhiker from Argentina who was working at a hotel for 2 weeks while she was traveling Iceland. I stopped back at her place, picked her up and went to another hot spring.  

Not naked. Water is really mossy.  

Not naked. Water is really mossy.  

This was my last stop before arriving in Reykjavik. I loved my time in the fjords. I definitely felt that God was blessibg me with plenty of company when I was getting lonely. That seems to be a perk of solo travel--I was very open to meeting and chatting with people, especially other people who were alone. It's a great way to bond!  

The top 2 right stars are my 2 nights of stay in the Fjords. It was a 5 hours drive from he middle star back to Reykjavik.  

The top 2 right stars are my 2 nights of stay in the Fjords. It was a 5 hours drive from he middle star back to Reykjavik.  

Iceland: The Golden Circle

Iceland is beyond beautiful. I started my trip by renting a car and driving the Golden Circle. Let me show you!

Part of the water above Skogafoss.  

Part of the water above Skogafoss.  

I was able to see a lot of those stars on my first and second day.  

I was able to see a lot of those stars on my first and second day.  

I wanted to make sure I saw everything in Justin Beiber's music video.  

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The black sand beaches.  

The black sand beaches.  

I made hot tea every day and brought it with me. Nice and warm.  

I made hot tea every day and brought it with me. Nice and warm.  

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Skogafoss was my most anticipated waterfall to see. It did NOT disappoint.  

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I hiked the stairs to the top and hopped over a ladder and discovered more and more trail. Another 10 minutes hike up was another epic falls!  

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I stayed here for awhile as most people did not venture this far.  

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I ended my night by trying to find the Seljavellir pool, almost missing it because it is down a dirt road. The water was pretty warm and I had a lovely conversation with a fellow solo traveler while hovering around the hottest spot. 

The view of a river from my Airbnb in Selfoss.  

The view of a river from my Airbnb in Selfoss.  

On my way again the next morning to the secret lagoon. I am told by locals that it is better than Blue Lagoon and it is indeed much cheaper. 

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Secret Lagoon had fantastic facilities, clean bathroom and nice showers.   

Fun fact: every person is required to shower naked before putting swim suit on and getting into the pool.

Fun fact: every person is required to shower naked before putting swim suit on and getting into the pool.

Geysir that heats the pool.  

Geysir that heats the pool.  

Next stop: Gulfoss.  

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I stayed at this one for awhile also. How could you not?!

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Next, I really wanted to find Bruarfoss. I'd seen pictures of it and was determined to figure out where it was. I didn't realize that it wasn't a "main attraction" like Skogafoss and Gulfoss. It was down a dirt road, then a 15 minute hike. Only 2 other people were there!  

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It's not very big, but I couldn't look away from the blue water! 

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This was my last stop on the Golden Circle. There was so much more to see but I underestimated how much driving was involved to get to my next stop for the night. The car I rented was a manual, sans cruise control PLUS not all the roads were paved!  

Next up: the Western Fjords! 

 

How to be a cancer nurse.

As an oncology nurse, I get asked all the time, "I don't know how you do it." 

I'm not really sure either. I stumbled onto oncology by accident, not an intentional career move, and somehow I've been "here" on and off for 5 years, inpatient and outpatient, solid tumors and blood cancers, across state lines and international.

I've figured out that the strongest tie that holds me to oncology is RELATIONSHIP.

The essence of cancer treatment is repetition. Patients come in to the hospital day in and out to get labs checked, correct levels, get fluids, get blood, infuse chemo, treat side effects, manage reactions, be educated, receive all manner of pokes and prods, etc. The list goes on and our dear patients sit and wait with us day after day. All the repetition cultivates relationship between nurse and patient that I haven't experienced in my personal life, a bond formed by illness and pain that remains indescribable. It is really hard to watch people in pain, it's even harder to watch people die. For this, I have no answer, no secret to make this easier or more bearable. Sitting with a patient, watching tears flow, anger ripen, prognosis and expectations change is HARD and takes a lot of emotional bravery just to sit and hold a hand or knee, or even a heart, and not run away.  

Being a cancer nurse is tough, but it's included some of the most meaningful moments I've been blessed to experience. 

 

 

Africa Mercy Ship

I have been praying about this opportunity and my desire to serve overseas! I have been doing smaller trips to Haiti and the Philippines that have prepared me immensely (I hope!) to try a longer trip. And here it is!

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I am volunteering to serve as a nurse onboard the Africa Mercy this fall! I will be serving for 10 weeks as a ward nurse in Cotonou, Benin (west coast of Africa).

 

Short version: Mercy Ships is a Christian organization that has turned a big boat into a hospital. It ports for 10 months at a time in one spot on the coast of Africa. Not only do they provide life-changing surgeries to those in need for free, but also seek to integrate patients and families and others back into their own culture with training, jobs, facilities, and food in a way that is sustainable after the ship leaves.
Please see their website to get more information!
http://www.mercyships.org

My position is to care for patients when they are done with surgery and on the road to recovery. Patients, both adult and pediatric, are seeing healing in so many types of surgeries. Maxillofacial, orthopedic, plastic reconstruction, women's health, and eye care are just a few of the surgeries that are restoring people's lives, all in the name of Jesus. I am so excited to join this cause.

The above photos above are not my own. These are examples of what kind of patients I will be seeing on the Mercy Ship. 

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I am asking for partners, both in prayer and finances. As exciting as this opportunity is, it is terrifying think I can actually do this (will expand on that later)! Prayers for my anxiety and endurance are so appreciated. I am leaving my job in Portland to serve and will not have income for several months. I am fundraising the money for this service and would love to have anyone be a part of this with me.

Cost breakdown:

Initial Immunizations:                 $   400 one time                      $  400                                                         Airfare:                                       $2,500 one time                      $2,500
Crew Fees + living costs              $1,000 X 10 weeks service =    $2,500                                                     Home expenses while gone:          $300 X 2 months =                 $  750

Total Project costs                                                                      $6,150                                                    My personal commitment/savings                                                -$2,000
Total needed support for this funding gap                                      $4,150

***I am fronting the funds for this venture by using the site YouCaring. Please click on link to support!

Mercy Ships will reimburse me if you would like your donation to be tax deductible. You can use the link below to donate directly to Mercy Ships in my name (using designation code 4377 in the optional message box)! 100% of all funds raised are going towards this trip. 

http://mercyships-us.donorpages.com/crewmates/CaitlanMacMahon

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I really look forward to sharing all that God can do through me with all of you.

Peace,
Caitlan

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Although I will be serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships.

Wait

"Wait."

It's the most clear message I can hear from God. 

"But God! I'll go anywhere and do anything You ask! Just tell me!"

"Just wait, daughter."

My feet are planted firmly in reality and my ears are the most open -- if I am being honest...waiting for anything but "wait." Haha. The emotions of the last trip have stabilized, events have been processed, and I'm "ready"...okay, God! I'm here for my next assignment! Where to next?!

"WAIT."

Sigh. Why is waiting so hard?! The longer it goes on, the more impatient I get for what is to come. But what I am learning in the waiting is that it is in the waiting that I learn the most.

I've been thinking about James 1: counting it joy in trials (i.e. when I have to wait). In the waiting, I have to be so intentional to seek Jesus out. In the Philippines, it feels like the Holy Spirit is present every other moment! In Portland, it's usually me on the couch, looking despondently out the window. God is in the small struggles as much as the big moments. I think that God uses all this waiting time to mature my faith so that I can handle the big moments without falling apart. He just wants me to spend time with Him. He wants this steadfast faith to be as effective as possible, perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:4)

So in light of that, " I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me." (Micah 7:7)

"Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be CONSTANT in prayer." (Romans 12:12)

In Acts 16:6-10, Paul senses the Spirit closing the door to traveling to Asia so he waits in Troas. He has a dream that a Macedonian man stands over him and says, "Come to Macedonia and help us." Paul wakes up and "concludes that God has called us to preach the gospel to the Macedonians" and so he goes. 

I hope one day to hear God's call so clearly and then obey. 

Respite

I just got back from five beautiful days on Kauai with my dearest friend. 

Kalalau trail on the Napali coast

Kalalau trail on the Napali coast

One of my oldest friends (we were pen-pals when we were 13!) and her husband and friends have a house on Kauai that they open up to host people in ministry to come vacation on the island. I brought Jessica with me for a little R&R in paradise. 

Rebecca and Lindsey, our incredibly generous hosts  

Rebecca and Lindsey, our incredibly generous hosts  

We had an amazing time, lots of hiking and swimming and talking. 

Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon

Beautiful places and good friends are food for the soul. 

Chasing waterfalls.  

Chasing waterfalls.  

This photo is barely edited! Those colors are real!  

This photo is barely edited! Those colors are real!  

Jess graciously obliged all my requests for pictures. 

No place I'd rather be...except Navotas. ;) 

No place I'd rather be...except Navotas. ;) 

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Waimea Canyon State Park is fantastic. The views, the colors, that waterfall in the corner. 

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We met this homeless local on Glass Beach. He wanted to sell us some weed. He was so sweet. Reminded both Jess and I of being in the Philippines. 

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We stayed in the mountains. Gorgeous green views.  

We stayed in the mountains. Gorgeous green views.  

Beach destination along the Kalalau trail

Beach destination along the Kalalau trail

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Thank you so much, Lindsey, for showing us your island!

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My favorite part of the trip is hiking to these epic waterfalls. I made sure to try out the water at each one. 

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Til next time, Hawaii!

Napali coast view

Napali coast view

Squad Goals

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These girls are the kind of girls I want in my pack. They are loyal, joyful, faithful, present, encouraging, good listeners, willing, able, loads of fun, and very good at laughing. :)

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The last night in Navotas, I was showing them some of my pictures from Haiti. (Two of the girls are nurses waiting to take boards.) I showed them the picture of my big-headed baby and Krissa, very nonchalantly, says, "Oh yeah, that's hydrocephalus." They have a good grasp of a lot of medical needs that I am only just learning about.

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Sometimes I catch a whiff of the Navotas smell here in the States. Not very often at all, mind you. Its so bad! But when I do, I almost love it. It reminds me of a place that I want to be.

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When I go to Navotas, I feel like I have to sacrifice most of my comforts-- hot shower, nice bed, quiet rooms and conversations, driving my car, etc. It only took me one day or so to get used to bucket showers, sleeping on mats in the heat with the sound of traffic all night, and riding fuming motos.

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Good friends check each other for lice. :) And lots of other things.

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All these girls have amazing voices. I wish they could record an album so that I could hear their voices daily from home.

Victorious Tonsillectomy

Remember the little boy in Navotas who needed a tonsillectomy? His name is Jude Matthew. 

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At the end of our trip, the team pooled together every last peso we had for a grand total of 31,000 pesos ($670 US). Since the family has a Philippines medical card, this amount covered the exact amount needed for surgery, anesthesia, antibiotics, and ice cream during recovery!

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Mercy (pictured above far right) faithfully took Jude Matthew and his mom Jervie to the needed appointments in the last 2 weeks. 

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Little Jude Matthew got his surgery on March 16! It was a success and he was discharged the next day! (I could definitely be wrong about the timing---15 hr time difference...) 

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Sometimes God heals people miraculously. It didn't seem like it at first, but God used our team with William and Mercy to work a miracle in this little boy's life. ❤️

Hazel

Hazel daaaaaarling. I met Hazel on my previous trip. She lives close to a mall with good souvenir shopping so our team met up with her last year. 

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Hazel is a small person with a huge heart to serve her own people. I was amazed as she was telling me that as much as she wants to spend time in the States, she knows God has called her to stay in the Philippines and put that dream on hold. That's so hard, girl. You inspire me to take a step back from my own dreams and ask God to do with them what He will, even if it means taking a different path. 

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Hazel wanted to pray for us as a team, standing outside Tender Bobs (restaurant). With laying on of her hands, she prayed life and peace over us. One of my teammates commented later that she wished we in the States could pray more like Hazel, so full of passion and longing for Christ. 

All photos by Jake Hixon

All photos by Jake Hixon

Hazel does get to see one of her dreams realized. She is going to South Korea this summer on a mission trip. I'm so excited to see what God does with this little lady. She sure is special. 

the sweetest of loves

Three days back on US soil and my jet lag game is strong. 

I feel like I have all these feelings and thoughts to communicate but it's all been coming out in tears. (Thanks to all my friends that have let me meltdown on them this weekend.) So here's a piece of my heart. 

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Scrolling through my photos from the Philippines trip, I keep stopping at this one. That shade of green will probably always remind me of Navotas. 

Tricia is a piece of the Navotas community that I am missing so much. On my first trip to Navotas, she came and found me in a crowd of Filipinos and wanted me to hold her, without ever having met me before or knowing me. She's let me hold her ever since. I'm not a mother so I don't know the feeling of a child wanting me like a mother, but I imagine this to be close to that. 

 

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She does little things that make me feel. She will always lay her head on my shoulder and every once in a while, look up and in my eyes, touch my face, make sure it's still me, and then lay her head back down.  

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She doesn't like the camera so it's been hard to get good pictures of her, but that's ok.  

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The morning that we said goodbye to the Navotas church, I turn around and see someone else holding her. I can't lie, it hurt a little bit. She let me hug her right before I got in the van to leave. The sweetest of hugs.  

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I hope I can hold you again someday.  

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