By way of contrast.

27 January 2014

SO remember that blog post I just wrote yesterday? The lovely thing with pretty words that goes on and on about what I love about this place and how amazing it is?  Well… sure glad I wrote it yesterday, because today? Today I needed a good reminder why the heck I am here.

This morning I felt just about every emotion that is entirely opposite to the emotions felt while writing yesterday’s post.  When people say this place really can make you a little bi-polar?? It’s absolutely true.

Let me tell you about my morning.

It started off with me hitting the snooze button one too many times, which is dangerous with roommates and the morning getting-ready dance is pretty well orchestrated so as everyone gets enough bathroom time.  

The bathroom started to flood during my shower. This is not an uncommon occurrence, as we have a vacuum system for drainage (think airplane toilets complete with the very loud suctioning noise) and during peak shower times it just can’t keep up. 

Breakfast was disappointing… though I will not ever publicly complain about the food, I do miss being able to stock my own kitchen with whatever I want and being able to eat whatever in the mornings.

I had a meeting in town at 10am with a local rather-important-person.  I had made this appointment several days ago and spent quite some time typing up a full page of topics that needed discussing during this meeting.  I also booked out my car early (we have a set number of ships vehicles that can be reserved for business or personal use) so as to make sure I got one of the Toyotas.

Let me interject my morning story by telling you a bit about the cars. We have a fleet that can be categorized into four different levels.  The old Land Rovers are many, many years old, little to no AC, they are usually the dirtiest and just feel the clunkiest, the clutch is very stiff and the engine runs very loudly glub-glub-glubing down the street.  Then we have the newer Landies which are easier to shift, the AC usually works, and they are mildly more comfortable.  Then we have the new Toyotas which were just purchased less than a year ago, they purr like a kitten when you start them up and the clutch and gear shifts are so smooth it’s almost like driving a car, and the AC always works amazingly well.  VIP – there are two really nice Toyotas reserved for VIP and manager use but they are wider than the rest of the vehicles and I’m pretty frightened of putting a big scratch down the side so try to avoid them.

Okay, so now that the car explanation is out of the way, you can probably see why I sign out Toyotas early – they are the easiest to drive and the AC works!  Well, this morning, it was not to be. I got to reception only to find out that my reserved car had been taken out of service and I got stuck with one of the oldest Landies.  Swell. (Yes, I groaned and moaned and made a face, then told myself to suck it up and move on.)

Well, such is life, so I get into my old Landie with my translator (who I don’t really need but kind of like having around. His name is Francis and he’s like my little brother, he shows me shortcuts through traffic, corrects my French mistakes, and got me out of a sticky situation with a police officer one time… so he’s a good guy to have around).  Traffic seems exceptionally bad but I think to myself every time I’m stuck it seems exceptionally bad so maybe it isn’t exceptional and I should just start calling it usual… but I digress.  Sitting in Pointe Noire traffic with no air flow and no air conditioning isn’t fun.

We made it to our destination at exactly 10am.  This would never happen in the States as back there I am always at least fifteen minutes early to any meeting. Neurotic maybe. But here, it’s okay, because I’m guaranteed to have to wait in the outer office of this person for at least twenty minutes.   Its normal here, it’s cultural, and I’m totally prepared to sit in that office for about twenty minutes before seeing the person I’ve come to see.

An hour and forty-five minutes later I am still sitting in the outer office, and I’m fuming mad.  But not mad enough to leave because I don’t want to repeat this charade the next day and this meeting is actually really important.  And not really mad enough to throw a fit, because it’s at least a hundred and ten degrees where we are sitting and I’m about to pass out.  This is when I remembered with a cynical chuckle the happy pretty how-I-love-this-life blog post yesterday and I found myself thinking about how much I dislike this place, this cultural thing that makes it okay to make someone wait on an appointment for over an hour, this heat, this lack of a proper bathroom to at least try and mop up some of the sweat pooling in various and somewhat unfortunate places… this misery I’ve willingly chosen to participate in.

The meeting went fine once we finally got in but by this time I’m absolutely starving and need a bathroom and thought I would have long since been back on the ship, so I was likely a bit less sunshine-and-roses than my usual self. I was also really really glad to have a translator with me because my French began to fail me… blame the heat, I guess.

So finally we’re done and we go climb back into the old Landie and glub-glub-glub our way to the gas station, as when the tank gets ½ full we’re required to make the stop and today I drew the short straw.  Normally I don’t mind getting gas but again with the traffic, it took about thirty minutes to go a mile and a half.

Once I got to the gas station we had to wait in line for diesel, and there was of course only one attendant, so we’re sitting in this oven of a vehicle in the blazing noonday sun in the tropics.  Once we finally get up to where we can get our diesel, I can not, for the life of me, get the gas cap off the old Landie. (Incidentally, the Toyota gas caps are very easy to remove).  Usually when this happens I bat my eyelashes at the male attendant and he comes in and saves the day and takes it off for me.  But not today. Today (of course) the attendant was a woman, who looked at it and said, “I’m not doing it, you do it!” Awesome. So after some more finagling, trying to remember what the combination is of turning, pushing in, and pressure is, I get the thing open, only to find my hands suddenly covered in diesel as the pressure is released. 


We get the fuel we need and carry on, sitting in traffic once again to return to the ship, and realize there is no way we will make it back before lunch is over. 

So at this point, try to imagine with me – I’m not moving in traffic in a Landie that is at least two hundred degrees with no AC, being cursed and honked at by other drivers because (gasp!) I try to drive like a normal sane driver (I can’t even begin to talk about the insanity of driving here) an am nearly hit about four times and frustrated to tears as I creep through an intersection that could easily be assisted by something as simple as a stop sign (and subsequent enforcement of said stop sign).  I’m sitting in a pool of sweat. I’m tired,  I need a bathroom, I’m absolutely ravenous, my mascara is literally melting right off my face, and I smell like diesel fuel.  (And I’m dehydrated and feel a headache coming on – a totally rookie mistake, though, no grace for that one. I know better than to go anywhere without a water bottle…)

Are you surprised I was questioning my calling and my sanity in that moment?  I confess the words “I hate this place” actually went through my head.

But they never escaped my lips, as they aren’t true.  Reality is, this morning isn’t really out of the ordinary, and I would never dream of complaining about these things except for the irony of yesterday’s blog post, and by way of contrast, todays.  Because goodness and joy really can be found in every situation. I really am grateful I have a car to drive and don’t have to take a local taxi, no matter how hot it is it is.  (And two hundred degrees might be a minor exaggeration.)  I’m grateful we even get breakfast and lunch served to us, and my missing lunch gave me a great reason to “have” to take my translator out to lunch, which was an enjoyable experience for us both.  I’m grateful I have running water and cleaning up the flooded bathroom isn’t really that big of a deal, and my roommates are pretty much awesome and we are good about giving grace to each other in bathroom collisions and the like.

So at the end of the day I can look back, roll my eyes and chuckle, and look forward with anticipation to whatever tomorrow brings.  It’s never boring, that’s for sure. 

It's when....

26 January 2014

It’s when I’m assaulted by hot, sticky, salty-fishy-diesely-smelling air as I saunter down the gangway and to the dumpster (skip, bin, whatever culturally-appropriate term you choose), greeting the Gurkha on duty with a smile and a ‘thank you!’ on my way down and then back up. 

It’s when I actually pay attention and notice it’s exactly one hundred steps from my ‘front door’ (of my cabin) to my workplace,  (my desk) and think about how much time I spent commuting back in America.  It’s also when those hundred steps takes me over a half an hour for all the greeting and hugging and good morning!’s and how was your weekend?’s. 

It's when a group of friends  sing "Happy Birthday" to someone in a minimum of four different languages.

It’s when I spend my Saturday evening laughing both with and at my friends as they compete in the ship version of the “Not-So Newlywed Game”, featuring couples from Australia, the US, England, the Dominican Republic and Holland.  (the Dutchies won it…)

(Photo credit to Natalie Bullock)
It’s when I get to meet Katie’s dad who grew up in the interior of the Ivory Coast and we share a few anecdotes about life in the bush and my Peace Corps experience, and the genuineness with which he says “I’m grateful to be in a room full of heroes”… and he’s actually Wess Stafford, president of Compassion International, and kind of a big deal, but really, I know him as Katie’s Dad who’s awesome.

It’s when I am conversing with a visitor from Kinshasa and the entire ship tour comes as easily out of my mouth in French as it would have in English, with barely a second thought. 
It’s when I am greeted with excitement and gratefulness that the cafĂ© is open; when I make and serve a crewmember his/her coffee drink and we can see a dove in the swirl of coffee and foamy milk (if you squint and hold your head the right way and think really hard about doves); when any crewmember takes the first sip of the coffee drink I prepared and their face lights up with a big grin, as if saying yes! It is EXACTLY as I hoped and dreamed it would be!  
(Photo credit Shea Payne)

It’s when a friend asks me how I slept last night, and knowing it’s not just polite chatter; she knows I’ve had issues with sleep and is genuinely interested in my answer, and when I say I slept great! she’s excited for me and we celebrate together.

It’s these moments, these priceless treasured moments, that cause me pause; it’s when I am overwhelmed with gratitude, with amazement, with utter abandoned joy that I have the honor and privilege of serving on a hospital ship in Africa. 
I had the opportunity to share my story a couple times whilst I was back in Minnesota and there were a few surreal moments during those talks that I almost felt disembodied, as I rattled on about life on a ship and this patient and that country, and watched the facial expressions of my listeners.  They would smile and their eyes would widen and say things like wow that’s so amazing! You’re incredible! You’re an inspiration!  and I would almost get angry at them, but not really angry; I just emphatically tried to point out that no, I’m a real person, I’m not quite sure how I ended up here, and I’m just trying to put one foot in front of the other just like you are… I just happen to do it in a rather unorthodox environment.  But then, as I read my own story in print or I hear others, heroes of faith and service who are also my coworkers and friends, share their stories which are inexorably intertwined with mine, suddenly I can agree, not that I'm amazing but this, what I get to do…. Yeah, this is amazing! And then… How can I possibly be so blessed? 

I didn’t choose this life for myself, it was chosen for me, before the beginning of time, and I simply said yes.  Never in my life did I think I would ever fill up a passport, but as I paged through mine after it was stamped at JFK it occurred to me that if my summer travel pans out as I hope it will I might need to get a new one before fall.   It’s exciting and adventurous and I think my time with family reminded me of that, but also reminded me I’m missing out on a lot; birthdays, weddings, first steps of nieces and nephews, and mom’s pot roast (among many other things)…  And I think I need to be reminded of both, from time to time.  Both the blessing and the sacrifice, the joy and the not-so-joyous moments, that make up this thing called life to the full to which all of us have been called…. I just happen to be, as I like to call it, in a bit of an unorthodox environment.

Blessings on your Sunday, and wherever you find yourself this day, make sure to seek out the joy in it.  And have a cinnamon roll.
(photo credit to my sister Karin who makes amazing cinnamon rolls and posted this photo to my facebook wall just to remind me of what I'm missing out on...)

What a difference a week makes...

24 January 2014

When I started this post just a week had gone by since I had dragged my giant orange overweight bag up the gangway; that, by the way, felt like it had doubled in length and incline whilst I was away.   In seven short days much had happened and if had you asked me at one point in the midst of chaos on Wednesday how long I had been back I would have honestly had to do the math as it seemed I had actually never left.  I received an email from a family member that said ‘what a difference a week makes!’ and I absolutely couldn’t agree more.

We’ll start with the weather, that’s an easy, safe place to start. It’s approximately one hundred degrees warmer here than it was back in Minnesota.  The humidity is high and when it rains it pours; buckets and buckets of water everywhere that stops just as suddenly as it starts and the sun comes blazing out in all its ultraviolet skin-scorching glory.   Or it doesn’t and the dampness hangs in the air like a heavy blanket threatening to cause you to drown simply by breathing deeply.  Within the confines of the ship is another experience in extremes; the other day in the starboard aft hospital section the air temp clocked in at a toasty 105 degrees thanks to the proximity of the engines and the CT scanner, among other things I would never imply I understand, while in my cabin I need a thick sweatshirt, my down comforter, and a cup of hot tea to ward off the chill of the air conditioning.

Which brings me to my next topic to share – tea.  I never, ever drank hot tea in the States growing up, nor did I consider such a beverage whilst I was there last month. Never once did I think I’d like a cup of tea - I drank coffee by the gallon. But, sometime over the last two years with Mercy Ships one of my most favorite activities has become to have tea with friends.  And that’s not a euphemism for hanging out or chatting, we really do both go get cups of tea and sit and solve the world’s problems… or at least some of our own. In fact I have a tea date for tomorrow at 11am with a lovely English friend, and that’s exactly what we will do.  (And if we’re drinking coffee, then it’s a coffee date, not a tea date.  No question…. And tomorrow it’s tea).  We’ll sip tea and share hearts and it will be lovely.  

Which is an excellent segue to my next topic - language.  Returning to my homeland caused me to realize much about how my language has morphed over the years.  It took about two years after moving from Duluth, Minnesota to Seattle, Washington for me to notice my language and pronunciation had changed; suddenly I could hear the ‘Minnesotan’ accent in my family that all the Seattlites had teased me for.  Well, imagine those minor changes (for example, pop became soda) times about a zillion and you have my current language barrier of American English.  Lovely was never a term I would have used growing up, but now I might (and did) use it to describe anything from food to Christmas lights.  I couldn’t for the life of me come up with the word snowmobiles which everywhere else in the world they call snowmachines.  When I want to throw something away I put it in the rubbish bin and when I want to go for a run I put on my trainers.  Tylenol = Paracetamol and I actually asked a friend with whom I was eating to please pass me a serviette instead of a napkin.  Good Lord, what happened?? 
What a difference a week makes.  And so does a year, or two, or thirty-three when one lives a life such as mine.  Things change and I change and relationships change and language changes and we learn and grow and somehow, whether it is in my inherent nature or it’s an acquired skill, I embrace change.  If we’re not changing and growing then we’re stagnating and I don’t know what images that word brings to your mind but to mine, it’s nothing pretty and there’s no way I want to ever be stagnant.
So I press forward towards that which I have been called – life to the full.  And this week has been full.  I loved my time away, it was truly a gift of rest; rest for my body, for my heart, for my soul.  It was the gift of being loved and taken care of and cinnamon rolls and Law & Order marathons. It was glorious and it was needed and in that brief season, that was life to the full.  Now I’m back here on this crazy ship in this job that I absolutely love, that fulfills me in a way I never dreamed any job actually could, and life to the full looks very different, and it’s still a gift.  Now it’s the gift of being surrounded by heroes from across the globe, bringing hope and healing to those who are desperate for both, of speaking French and planning events and writing emails and having tea.   

I’m not sure how to wrap up this rambling, tangential blog with a nice neat bow of a conclusion so I’ll just leave you with an invitation: I want to invite you to grasp on to the gift of life to the full, whatever that season looks like; whether it’s cinnamon rolls or sippy cups or the corporate ladder or cultural chaos.  There is always joy to be found in the calling; in the difficulties, in the changes, in the work and in the rest.



(I had a photo of a cinnamon roll to put here... but blogger is not playing nice this evening. So insert mental image of a warm cinnamon roll with cream cheese frosting.... mmmmm. yum.)

South Africa

20 January 2014

On my way to the US for Christmas I had a 24-hour layover in Johannesburg, South Africa. Yay, a new country to explore, a new visa in my (nearly full) passport! I spent the night at a very nice guest house near the airport (which is gorgeous, by the way!) and ate ostrich sausage for dinner, which was delicious, though a bit salty...(Because who eats chicken when one can eat ostrich??  at least that's how I roll!)

The next day my dear ship friend Maryke, who lives in Pretoria when she's not on the ship, came and got me and we spent a most lovely day together! We visited the Rhino and Lion game reserve, had a picnic, drove around a really pretty lake and finally stopped for a selfie in front of the Union buildings in Pretoria (capitol buildings) before heading back to the airport and my 18+ hour flight to JFK.

Maryke, the day was perfect, thank you so so so so much!!

Enjoy a small selection of the 240+ photos I actually took in those 24 hours...

OR Tambo airport in Joburg is beautiful, and had this giant Christmas tree in the arrivals hall.

This photo is for Kim. :)


Thirty Three.

19 January 2014

Yesterday I turned thirty three years old. A lovely symmetrical number, if you like that kind of thing.

It was a fine day, really.  Different from last year, for sure, but I honestly did not want a big deal made of it.  I already feel very loved and celebrated for my return to the ship just two days before, and I'm still fighting jet lag and back pain so wasn't really into making it a big deal.

I had a lovely conversation with a dear friend about birthdays a few weeks ago, and sometimes I think we as humans wrap our self worth into things like how many balloons we are given or the amount of decoration/time spent on us on our birthdays.  I'm not at all saying that celebrating is bad, so please do not hear that, but at the same time... I would rather have a surprise blessing on a random day some other time, not a forced one just because someone some time said we are supposed to do that on birthdays. 

So it ended up perfect. I had coffee with dear friends, and love receiving cards with words I can treasure for a long time.  I love the simplicity of life on the ship, the gifts of a chocolate treat or quality time, such treasures. 

There was no birthday cake involved, which was totally fine.  I had a birthday cinnamon roll, which quite honestly I appreciated and enjoyed much more than I probably would have enjoyed cake.   I really love cinnamon rolls. :)

Wishes for this new year?  Well, it's somewhat convenient that my birthday and the new year happen about the same time, as I'm thinking about my un-resolutions from last year and will be writing up a new list sometime soon.  So stay tuned. 

Many, many thanks to everyone who sent love through words, cards, thoughts, decorations on my door, prayers, encouragement, and facebook love.  I am very blessed indeed.


18 January 2014

Hi friends!

Do you ever have the feeling when you haven't done something for a really long time, it's really hard to start it up again? Like if I haven't called a friend forever, to call her seems really difficult, like there's so much to say I don't even know where to start.  Or the mess on my desk reaches epic proportions and it's been so long since I saw the surface of it, I can't seem to find the impetus to start to clear away the clutter.  Am I alone in this?

Anyway, this blog post is sort of like that... I'm not even really sure where to begin, so I'll just jump write (right) in (ha) with a conglomeration of words and photos and thoughts that may or may not make sense to you but hopefully you find them worthy of your time.

I spent an extremely wonderful day in Johannesburg/Pretoria with a dear friend from the ship on my way back to the states, that deserves it's own post so will write and post pictures of that later.  Just in case you were wondering :) it will come. 

Now on to other randomness.... And seriously, Blogger will NOT let me put these photos in order! so they're totally mishmashed together.  Oh well, you get the drift, I hope. :)

JFK customs and immigration hall is the largest I've ever seen.  I've been across the pond many times but can't recall if I've ever done it at JFK before... but anyway, it was very quick and orderly. I expected issues as my bag was completely full with mail and packages from other people on the ship to be sent to family and friends in the states - but I wasn't even given a second glance. . The flight from Johannesburg to JFK was really really long and I was so very happy to be able to move again...

As I was waiting in the arrivals hall at JFK to check in for my flight to MSP, I drank coffee and watched the birds flying around... inside.

This happened multiple times.
Bridget got much more excited about the wrapping paper than anything else.
It was extremely cold most of the time I was back in Minnesota.  I spent a whole lot of time reading, sleeping, watching TV, catching up with old friends, and just relaxing in general. It was beautiful and I'm super thankful for the opportunity to rest!
This handsome fella came for several visits. Taken from through the patio glass on my mom's deck.
Sunset from the plane.
My sister, niece, and I (among others) all bundled up to face the cold to see Bentleyville, a huge Christmas lights show.
Bentleyville has the largest metal tree in America, or something like that. And the lights are set to music.
Duluth's most famous landmark, the aerial lift bridge, lit up at night.
The tropics... in the winter.
Sunrise at my mom's house one day. Beautiful... very, very cold.

On my way back through JFK I spent the night at the holiday inn express - and was randomly chosen as the guest of the day! So random. So I got a few chocolate bars and some chips and such.  And a sign. And a bell that went off when they greeted me.  Weird. But a really nice place and I would totally stay there again.

When I was in New York, I decided I needed to catch up on America after having been gone for a long time - so, I got the news, the gossip, and the gadgets. Pretty well rounded, don't you agree?  
Well, I guess that's enough for now. I'm strangely wierded out by some of the photos I am sure I took of Christmas and family aren't showing up on my camera card. I will have to look for those again, methinks.  In the meantime, it's absolutely delightful to be back on the Africa Mercy, my ship home... I really love this place. And will write more about that later, too. :)


Suprise! and brrr...

03 January 2014

Surprise! I surprised my family in Minnesota for Christmas! It was great fun. :) Now I'm trying to stay warm when it's more than a hundred degrees colder here than it is in Pointe Noire, my ship home. That's cold, friends. Really, really cold. Just wanted to let you know I am still alive, though a bit chilly, and will return to regular posting after my return to the ship (and regular internet access!) in mid-January. Happy New Year! --Krissy
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