Books I Read in 2016!


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 


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. 


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. 


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


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.  


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. 


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. 


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


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


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


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.  


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. 


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

John 14:18


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.)


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.


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. 


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


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


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. 


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

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. 

All Aboard!

One week in and ready to go!  


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. 


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


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


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


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.  


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.  


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.  


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.  

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!