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. 

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. 

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.