Monday, April 26, 2010


My spirit was filled this weekend. I traveled about two and a half hours east to a small town in Benin called Possotome. I went with three friends, Alainie, Jane and Hettie. There isn't much in Possotome. No waterfalls. No hiking. No large, grand scaled African adventures, but I came home more refreshed than any of those weekends.

We left late Friday evening after everyone was done with work and arrived at our hotel close to eleven. It was dark but even in the darkness you could see the beauty. Our hotel was right on the lake. They were in the process of building a dock into the lake and we grabbed a drink and sat out on the unfinished dock. The stars were amazing, along with the moon. I knew this was the start to a great weekend.

Waking up on Saturday we ventured to breakfast. Sitting there at breakfast we sat and watched some men making the boards for the dock. No power tools here. All power came from their hands. Splitting logs with axes and peeling the logs. So much work went into each board being made. At breakfast we planned our day, to find a fishing boat so we could go out onto the lake. We figured we would walk into town and see who we would meet. We went back to our room to get some things and while there we looked out our window to rain. Lots and lots of rain. It went from a sunny, humid day to torrential down pore within minutes. Plans quickly changed and we decided to go back to where we ate and wait out the storm there with some scrabble. By the time we ran back we were drenched! I love African rain storms. The amount of rain that can come from the sky is like nothing I see in Washington, and I have seen some great rain storms in Washington. The day quickly turned into a day of scrabble, tea and talking. Relaxing day for our souls!

That evening after the rain stopped we journeyed into town to see what we could find. The air was cool as it happens just after rain storms. Pretty much the only time you can go outside and not be immediately drenched in sweat. We knew Possotome, and Benin for that matter, was big on voodoo. We came across fetishes on our walk. There were statues made of mud and stick and shrines erected. Small skulls of animals tied around trees to protect the tree from vandals. Hollow is the only way I can really describe it. I prayed a lot on that walk.

Sunday morning we woke up and knew we had only a few hours to find a fishing boat. That was our goal for the weekend. We walked into town again and came across a group of kids playing foosball on the side of the road. We stopped and talked with some of them for a bit and asked one boy, ten years old, if he knew where we could find a fisherman to take us out in his boat. He said he knew as he took us down a road toward the lake. When we got to the lake we saw a boat tied up and he said it was his fathers boat and he would take us out. His friend, Francois, came along too, a boy of 18. We figured this would be a great adventure so we all climbed into the narrow boat. I don't know how the boat didn't flip. It was the rockiest boat I think ever made but they took us around to see the fishermen and parts of the lake.

They told us they had a coconut tree and asked if we wanted to see their house and have a coconut. Who would say no, so we pulled into some reeds and the young boy shimmied himself up to the top of the palm tree. He walked around up there like he was on solid ground and kicked down the coconuts. We put them into the boat and went back to where we started and tied up the boat. They took us up to their house and cut open the coconut and we drank, then they cut it open so we could eat the inside. I had another coconut moment like this a few weeks ago but I liked the taste of it so much more this day. Maybe it's because of the sheer randomness of this moment. These two young kids showed such hospitality. Their father walked by at one point and we all figured he was thinking, where did my kid find these crazy yovos! But there we sat, eating our coconut and as Alainie had said, this was a John 10:10 moment, living life to the full!

Driving back to the ship in a taxi Sunday afternoon, my spirit felt full. It was a weekend I needed to get away and have John 10:10 moments. To sit and play scrabble in a rainstorm, have an adventure with two kids, and most of all just talk and get to know three great friends.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


I have seen pictures of noma before. I remember seeing pictures the first time I served on board and during my orientation this time, the same pictures. I didn't think I would really see patients with noma though. I don't know why I thought this. We are here to help and serve the poor and that is who noma affects.
Noma is a gangrenous infection of the face that spreads very quickly and leaves you severely disfigured. It starts, usually, as a sore in the mouth or as a small infection and it eats away at your face. It eats through skin, muscle, all the way to the bone. It thrives in poverty ridden places. Places of very poor sanitation and poor nutrition. The last time it was seen in the West was in German concentration camps.
A few days ago an 8 year old girl flew in from Cameroon with her uncle and a PA from a hospital there to meet up with the ship. She's a bubbly, outgoing little girl not seeming to be affected by all the yovos or being on this large floating vessel. She has been in and out of hospitals for the last year trying to get help so she already seems pretty comfortable in her surroundings. On the right side of her face is her bandage. It completely covers her cheek, up to her eye and right up to her lips. Yesterday the doctors took off her bandage and I couldn't believe what I saw. I was looking at this precious little girl with noma. It was like the pictures I had seen. No skin. No chubby cheeks. I saw right into her mouth. She still has her gums and some of her teeth, but when the doctors were talking, it hit me how extensive it was. She was sticking her tongue out of this hole and poking it with her finger. She has her mouth and now this other hole. How she is able to eat, I don't know. She has taught herself how to avoid this hole somehow so she can get the nutrients she needs.
She has had many surgeries before. Other hospitals have tried skin grafts and things but nothing has worked. It always excites me to hear Dr. Gary talking about what the surgeries will entail. Taking muscle flaps and manipulating them around to form chubby cheeks and thinking through the best way to give this little girl back normalicy in her life. Her surgery will be sometime this week so please pray for wisdom for the doctors and healing for this little girl.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Baby got back!

I have so much to write about but it seems like the days fly by so fast! I will share just a quick story now and try to write more this weekend since I will have a few days off.

I have been working now as a charge nurse which comes with its own challenges and moments of excitement. Yesterday was my first day shift in this position and I was getting pretty frustrated at the computer. I was trying to get all the new patients entered in and for the life of me I couldn't get the fonts to match or the size of the typing to do what I wanted. In the midst of all this I looked to my left and standing there was Monique, a four year old patient on the ward. She has become quite the cuddler. If a new person walks into the ward, she will raise her hands up to be picked up and held by anyone. I was working quite a bit of the morning with her on my lap trying to keep her from typing on the keyboard. At this point, though, when I looked over and saw her standing there I noticed she had a baby doll in one hand and her blanket in the other. When she knew I had seen her, she walked over to me and turned around. She proceeded to bend over, throw her doll on her back and hand me her blanket. As all the mommas carry them on their backs, Monique wanted to carry her baby on her back. I tied the baby on and obviously didn't do it right because she looked at me, looked down at how I tied it, looked up and me and back down, then handed me the other two corners of the blanket so I could tie it correctly so the baby would be better supported and wouldn't slip out the bottom. After it was all tied correctly, she went about her business as if she was the momma carrying her baby on her back. It definitely made my morning and helped to calm my frustrations a bit!

The wards can be pretty busy at times, but when you take the time to look around at all the different patients and see what each individual has to offer, it really is life changing!