The last week of September was a biggie, with selection day and prep and lots of meetings and getting the hospital ready to start. That Sunday, the 25th of August, a friend and I had been given the opportunity to speak to the crew about education and healthcare in Congo, and it went smashingly well. We were asked to present it again on Friday to all the national offices in a virtual roundtable, which also went pretty well. Dana Perino was onboard, the founder and much of the International Board was around, and it was just a crazy, exciting week. I was trying to keep on top of it all while preparing to run our first medical conference the following week on Radiology. The stretching continued, and I’m amazed and honored at the story and life experience that has brought me to this place to serve these people in a way that so beautifully utilizes so much of my strengths and skills; not for my own glory but for His.
Friday afternoon – I was in the middle of three conference calls in a row and needing to head to the airport afterward to pick up one of the radiology instructors, when I was asked to meet with one of our leaders in the café. A bit breathless after the crazy day and week and sprint that I had been on since the start of Congo, I sat down and was informed I would be heading to Brazzaville on Tuesday to speak and present Mercy Ships to the United Nations - World Health Organization, which was hosting a large gathering with delegations from 49 of the 52 African countries as well as a group from the headquarters in Geneva, including the Secretary General.
Okay. I said. And then ran out to do the airport run.
I was really glad my car was full of people for the airport run as it allowed me to just drive and think and pray and not engage in conversation! It was a blur of thoughts and prayers and emotions and excitement, but ultimately, I just want to honor and represent God and Mercy Ships to the best of my ability. I trust the leaders here and know they wouldn’t ask me to do something like this without complete confidence that I could do it well. And I know I have a gift with communicating, and I don’t get nervous in front of an audience, regardless of who is in the audience. I’m just honored that I get to use that gift to bring glory to God and visibility to Mercy Ships, an organization I love and believe in.
The next day I had already made plans to go hiking with friends and debated as to whether that was the best idea or if I should stay behind to work on my talk, I’m really glad we decided I should go. My dear friend and coworker Michelle was going to make up the PowerPoint for the presentation and go over with me on Sunday the things I needed to cover. So I went out and hiked and enjoyed the beauty of creation and friendships and exercise and fresh air and freedom from marine grade glass and bulkheads and paperwork and computer screens. It was glorious.
|Hiking through legit jungle. Incredible.|
Sunday I finalized some details for the Radiology course and did some laundry and worked with Michelle and then some other people on the presentation. We weren’t really sure about anything – not about how much time we would have or the setup of the room or whether or not we would have PowerPoint availability or even whether I should speak in English or French. So we planned for most of those possibilities and I felt (mostly) ready for any of the above.
I’ll admit I panicked a little tiny bit about what to wear. I mean, I have some decently nice clothing but nothing seemed appropriate to be catapulted on to the world stage… But ultimately, I reasoned, I’m a volunteer who had three days’ notice. I couldn’t fly to Paris that weekend to go shopping and I didn’t know I would need a suit and can’t get one here. So I’ll wear the dressiest thing I have with me and that will have to be good enough. And then, of course, it was. Phew.
Monday began the course which went really well, and I was so thankful I had prepped my day crew well enough in the first few weeks that I felt confident enough to leave them to it whilst I was away. I borrowed a nice carryon bag and ironed a couple shirts and went over the presentation again and tried to get some good sleep.
|A snapshot of students learning about ultrasound techniques|
Tuesday I was out at the radiology course early as we were expecting press there that day. Sure enough they showed up and I was glad to have Jay, our PR/Media guru, present. Racing back to the ship to throw the rest of my stuff in my bag I was obviously a bit worked up and nervous as I completely forgot my passport – Brenda saved me and got it to me before we left the ship but if she hadn’t, I would have not probably realized it until we had reached the airport! Traffic was especially bad, too, and it took a long time to get there. I was travelling with one other Mercy Shipper and we would meet the third at the hotel. I’m always amazed at the stuff that goes on in an African airport that you would never see in the states; nothing dangerous, per se, but it’s always extremely loud with arguments erupting here and there and security hand searching every single bag and everyone hurrying up to wait.
The flight itself was short and we were greeted in the airport by a driver who rushed us through passport checks, no standing in line this time! Didn’t see much of Brazzaville but what I did see was nice; wide roads and traffic circles and big parks with pine trees (those somehow always seem out of place to me here in Africa). We met up at the hotel and talked through what would happen that evening; as it turns out it was a bigger gathering than we had initially anticipated, they expected 500 attendees and it was all Ministers of Health, Ambassadors, government leaders, and high ranking officials. It was a huge and actually unheard-of-before honor for Mercy Ships to present to this audience; to their knowledge it’s never been allowed for a non-profit to present at this level. It was decided the best course of action was for me to speak in English and the PowerPoint to be in French, that way we wouldn’t lose half our time in translating every word but the message would get out appropriately in both languages. I was relieved; I knew I could do it OK in French but not knowing really what the venue or audience would be like I was glad to fall back into my mother tongue.
Then we headed to our respective rooms and I stretched out on the huge king size bed after taking a long, hot shower. Truth be told, that was one of the most fun things about the getaway; our ship beds are smaller than a standard twin and our showers are limited to two minutes, so to enjoy the luxury of space and time was a perfect way to be mentally ready for the big event that evening.
|Snap from my hotel window. Grass! Beautiful. :)|
The dinner was held in a huge tent - but not like any tent I have ever seen. This tent had chandeliers and air conditioning and a dance floor and a stage and seating for 500 around ornately decorated tables. We were early as we wanted to make sure the PowerPoint would work and after a bit of fumbling around it did. Guests arrived by the hundreds through a receiving line of elegantly dressed hostesses, the music provided by two of Congo’s best-known musical groups. Our presentation was the first and only presentation before dinner; I was thankful to find this out as then I knew I would actually enjoy dinner and conversation in a way I wouldn’t have had it been afterward!
It went really well, even though the room setup was awkward and I couldn’t really see the screens, and our participation served its purpose; to put the name and mission of Mercy Ships in the minds and hearts of the 500 world health leaders in attendance. After we finished dinner was served and the music began; the musicians were very good but very loud and conversations were limited. However, we made contact with a few people we needed to make contact with and then headed back to the hotel.
The next morning, after a restless night and another obscenely long shower, I found out at breakfast that the delegation from a nearby country with which we (Mercy Ships) very much wants to build a relationship so as to serve there in the future would be coming back to the ship with us for a private lunch and tour… and I was invited to be a part of that. Wow, what an honor! We packed up and headed back to the airport and after an uneventful flight back to Pointe Noire I got to experience another first: travelling in a police-escorted motorcade! It was crazy, how fast we drove as the traffic parted like the Red Sea for our motorcade heading back to the ship. Wow! Once we arrived at the ship we were ushered up to lunch and then the tour and translating and it’s honestly all kind of a blur to me but I remember looking around a few times and thinking about the previous 24 hours and thinking, how on earth did I end up here?
Once we saw the delegation off I dove head first back into Radiology course details among other meetings and projects and reports and people. I worked quite a long day Thursday and another long day Friday followed by dinner out with our instructors and back at it Saturday morning… but it was wonderful. I love people and speaking and tours and relationships but couldn’t do that all the time or I would go crazy. I also love administration, details, reports, supporting others, but couldn’t do that all the time either or I would go crazy. I love that this job allows me to do both.
So that was my week. It was crazy and exhausting and exhilarating and entirely awesome. This week should be much calmer, and I know that I need to settle in to the marathon pace for this field service, as a sprint is just not sustainable. Thanks, my friends, for your support and prayers and thoughts and encouragement. I have much more to write but will leave it at that for now…. Blessings- Krissy