Saturday, May 31, 2014

Normal

What is normal? 

For me, normal is the dining room queue, laundry slots, and sweltering humidity, among many other not-so-normal things. 

So my fantastic hosts in Paris laughed at me almost constantly about the things I got excited about.  Things like shelling peas while solving the worlds problems and then turning on Rolland Garros and napping on the couch.  

Glorious. 

I love that I love 'normal' things in a way that most others don't.  Things like cheese.  We don't get that much on the ship and what we do isn't a legitimately fermented and absolutely delicious Camembert that wouldn't even be sold in the States because it's not pasteurized.  That divine specimen was surrounded by five other varieties that were equally fantastic. Accompanied by a still-warm-from-the-bakery French baguette and a glass of vin rouge, and I am in heaven. 

My 28-or-so hours in Paris were absolutely heavenly, if you haven't figured that out already. 

It was a welcome break from Africa, but especially my travel to Paris - I woke up on Wednesday at 3:30 with a horrendous migraine and honestly wasn't sure I would be able to fly.  Of all the days... 

But many many thanks to the fantastic nurses that are my roommates and friends, they drugged me up and packed me up and sent me off to the airport where I slept it off for much of the waiting time and subsequent flight.  Thanks friends, I owe you big time. 

So by the time I arrived in Paris I was able to embrace the joy that is a crisp, cool, sunny Parisian morning, free of diesel fumes and dead fish and where every day is a good hair day thanks to the lack of humidity.  My hosts were lovely, as previously mentioned, and I fully embraced the French cultural requirements of cheese and wine. 

Yesterday I hopped on a train and enjoyed the six hour journey to Biarritz, my home for the next four weeks. I'm attending a local French language institute for intensive French lessons, many thanks to Mercy Ships for supporting my tuition and costs and the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd Endowment Fund (Duluth, MN, USA) for the educational grant to cover the rest of the costs not covered by Mercy Ships.  My French level is functional, but not fantastic, especially for the amount of interaction I have with the government and local partners, where bush French isn't quite so appropriate.  

So, for the next four weeks I'm immersing myself in French, and hoping to improve my fluency and vocabulary. Expect limited social media and blogging from me, I really don't want to be hopping back and forth between English and French if I can at all help it.  I'll probably limit my emails/facebook/blogging to one day a week; I recognize the privilege it is to be an immersion student in such an incredibly beautiful place and culture, and have no intention of wasting the opportunity!  

Why Biarritz?  The combination of mountains (Pyrenees) and the surfing beaches on the Atlantic, of course :) Yes, I'm in school, but I also fully intend to enjoy myself and practice my French in various social environments.  I love my life on the ship, but also fully intend to embrace the fact that normal life here is about as different from normal life there as you can get.  

Bon voyage, Africa Mercy, may the seas be kind to you.  

Krissy

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Ends and Beginnings.

Today I drove our last three hospitalized patients out of the gate, out of the port, out of the safe and happy and clean confines of the big white ship that lives and breathes love and life and healing.

Photo courtesy of Mercy Ships Australia
I drove them to a local hospital where we handed their care over to the well-trained and willing hands of local physicians and nurses.  There were a few tears throughout the journey and arrival, but they were all smiling when we left; they knew we hadn't abandoned them, they're in good hands, and we'll make sure they are cared for.

And we know they will at least have gloves - that hospital received two landrovers (out of five) full of them on Tuesday!
Photo courtesy of Hannah Wysong
 
As I drove back to the ship we drove past the screening site.  I remembered that early morning ten months ago when I arrived there and got a glimpse of our very first patients.  That was just the beginning... and here we are at the end.  But I was thinking on that as I drove by, and really? it's the end of our patient's time with us... but it's just the beginning of an entirely new life for them.  So honored I got to be there.
Photo courtesy of Comms team

Now the hospital is empty, everything getting packed and cleaned and shredded.  The tents have come down, the dock is buzzing with container packing and cranes and equipment and the incredible pack-up team who has come to bless us with energy and enthusiasm - such a gift to a weary crew.


Photo courtesy of my iphone 3

I had to say goodbye to dear friends today, without whom I don't think I would have made it through this year.  I trust God with them, and trust that I will see them again... but I still can't stop the tears.


Dr. Michelle and I with the K's - miss them already.
Tonight we celebrate as a community the high school graduation of one of our own.  This weekend the exodus continues, with many people leaving, including five landrovers full of people departing with me next Wednesday. I just said a few blog posts ago that I didn't find myself as sad this year as I did last year during this time of last things... but reality is I was just so busy that it didn't hit me until today. And now it hurts.

But really, I'm grateful that I can feel, because it means I am alive.  And I'm grateful it hurts to leave this place... because the only thing worse than this feeling would be to leave and realize that I didn't care at all; that I hadn't made any friends or felt any connection to this incredible country or her people.  And that is most certainly not the case.

I'm once again leaving a piece of my heart here in Congo... Just like I left a piece of my heart in Guinea, in Sierra Leone, in Benin, in Romania... but what they have filled me with leaves my heart not only unbroken, but filled to the brim... blessed beyond measure, grateful to all whom I have had the privilege of loving, working, and teaching, and pray God's abundance of blessing and favor over the people of Congo.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Round of Applause

One of my favorite things:

Alice Jameson, Ladies and Gentleman!  Wahooooo (applause)

(fill in the appropriate name for whoever is the recipient... said in my most 'announcer' voice.)  It's especially fun when I am with people who "get" it and join in the applause with me.

Why?  because every now and then everyone needs a round of applause. 

It's so interesting to watch people's expressions.  First surprise, their eyes open wide and they inhale ever so subtly but sharply.... then a glance around, as if they're saying for me? Really?

And then comes the smile.  A real smile, from deep within, maybe even a giggle along with it.  Some people pretend to take a bow, others turn red in the face, but every single one will smile one of those real, genuine, deep smiles.  

It's beautiful to see.  

In that split second... you are seen.  You are special.  You are the focus of someone's attention and admiration - but not for anything special you have done.  No, you did nothing to earn this round of applause... besides breathing, and gracing us with your presence.  And that's what makes you smile.  You deserve a round of applause, just for being you.   

I was sitting on deck 8 today enjoying some sunshine and thinking about this last season, the victories and the failures and the joy and the sadness, and God gently whispered Krissy Close, Ladies and Gentleman!  and in my spirit I felt that smile come out, that moment of being seen, of being known, not for what I have done but rather because of who I am.  

It was beautiful.  

And I think we forget that that is what God is like. He's on our team, he's rooting for us, his default position is for us and he loves to give us a round of applause, just to see us smile that deep heart smile of being known.

Even when we make mistakes. 

I have seen several photos of friend's little girls popping up on Facebook in their adorable little dance recital outfits, and I remember the excitement every year I had around dance recital time.  The thing is, every single little dancer gets a huge round of applause, even when they forget the steps or fall over, when they loose their balance or their place in the music. They get a round of applause because they are seen and appreciated, not because of their performance but because of who they are.

It is beautiful. 

Some people try to hide from it.  I don't think it's out of fear of being seen.... I think it's out of fear of thinking that others are thinking you want to be seen.  We hide it as embarrassement, but really? We're honored.  Let's be honest.  We all want to be seen, known, appreciated.  Not for anything we did to earn it, but just for who we are. 

One of my favorite all-time quotes came to mind as I was sifting through these thoughts today, my own addition in brackets: 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?' {Who am I to deserve a round of applause?} Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won't feel insecure around you.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It's not just in some of us; it's in all of us.  And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.  
~Marianne Williamson

So go ahead, dear one. Give a friend a round of applause... and receive the one that is meant for you. 


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Snapshot.

I'm sitting down at my desk, in my room, which is by far the coldest room on the ship (except maybe the walk-in freezers and coolers... but sometimes I wonder), with a hoodie, jeans, and slippers, and a blanket wrapped around me and a cup of hot coffee steaming next to me.  


To my left is my beloved window, where through just a few inches of marine glass I can see the dock, a bit damp from the overnight rains, but will dry quickly as the sun meanders higher and higher and the temperature rises as well.  On that dock sits four pallets of pink latex gloves that arrived on the last container... one of the many things on my to-do list for next week, the last full week for me here in Congo, is to distribute those 128,000 gloves to local hospitals, training participants, and charities. 
Snapshot from my window.  Tried to be all artisticy and turns out writing with a mouse
still does make me feel like a five year old.

You have to be careful on that dock... especially if you weigh several thousand tons.  This happened last week. 
Photo stolen off facebook... uncertain as to the original owner.
But back to next week.  Last full week in Congo. I leave in ten days - Wednesday, the 28th, and will say goodbye to Congo... for now. I do believe I will return someday.  And, as recent changes of plans prove, one should never say they will probably never go back someday.  

In the next ten days I will distribute the aforementioned gloves, along with several boxes of other surprise donations. I will drive to Dolisie to do a follow up trip on the training we did up there (which was awesome, you should definitely read about what we did on Michelle's blog here: Do you floss your teeth?  Note: we were not training on dental hygiene, just so you know...)  I will finish up with the dozen-or-so reports that have been the center of my focus of attention this last week - final project reports for all our surgical and educational programs. I will also say "see you" to many, many good friends, but I will not say goodbye and I probably won't go to the dock to wave them off, either.  Some might call that selfish, I call it survival.  I will turn in the rest of my Congo francs.  I'll take everything off shelves and walls in my cabin and secure it all for the sail.  I'll try to get some ideas written down of important things to do once I get back on my ship home after nine weeks of travelling.  And I'll pack my bags and say 'see you' to Congo and my friends here. 

A lovely local friend Catherine
Two little friends, Doreeann and Leeann, daughters of a dear local friend Stella.

This year has been incredible. It's been really, really hard. It's been full of surprises, twists and turns with a few upside down flips for good measure.  I have learned so much about so many things - about the hospital and healthcare and safe surgery and anesthesia and trauma care... about prioritizing and managing complexity and navigating a steep learning curve in a new country in a foreign language, which is not nearly as foreign as it was ten months ago.... about grace, and forgiveness, and love, and friendship, and emotion, and humanity...  It has not been easy... but it has been absolutely 100% worth it.

I spoke yesterday morning to the crew about the healthcare education program and what we had accomplished over this year. It was a pleasure to share many of the stories I had accumulated over the field service of building and running this program - and seriously, what we (the over 100 crew members it took to make it happen) did was incredible. 


There's so much to look forward to next year! I'm getting an assistant, which I'm super excited about, and I'm really looking forward to growing and developing and improving - this year I feel like most of the time I was just surviving... I'm so excited to not just survive next year but to thrive, to bring the program to even a higher level, to grow partnerships with other organizations and make a name for Mercy Ships in the global healthcare education arena.  Seriously... how did I get so blessed to get to do this? This year was a new job in a new country... next year, a job I love and know (at least half the time I know what I'm doing) in a country that I know quite well... oh, so exciting! 

Absolutely must take an opportunity to publicly thank Dr. Michelle and Keith. Enough good things cannot possibly be conveyed in words on a blog, so I will just leave it as THANK YOU.  It has been an honor and a privilege to work with you this year.

So there you have a bit of a rambling snapshot into life today.  This morning I'm finishing up some reports, and this afternoon I'm taking off to enjoy the day.  For the first time in weeks I feel like I can actually breathe, and it's a lovely feeling.  I love my job, but I'm also very much looking forward to a break! 

Wherever you find yourself today, seek out the joy in it. - Krissy

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Flight.

Oh yeah, so last weekend was pretty cool.

I got to fly a plane.

Seriously.

Michelle did a great job of writing about our weekend, so I'll just refer you over to her sweet blog.  Also, the previous entry was about our training in Dolisie, and you'll see a photo of me playing the patient.  So check it out!

http://drmichelleonboard.blogspot.com/ 

A few more photos to add:
Me and Julien, and the plane we flew!

These planes are so small that they don't have a parachute for each person...
there's a parachute for the WHOLE PLANE.  seriously. 
Thanks Julien and Catherine for an incredible weekend.  Krissy

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Chance to be a Normal Boy.

The nurses on the Africa Mercy would not be surprised to see eight-year-old Jordis’ photograph next to the word boy in the dictionary. Right now, if you were to walk into B-ward, you would most likely find Jordis and his best buddy, Chadrac, entertaining the patients and nurses with an improv dance party to the tune of Reel 2 Real’s “I Like to Move It” – to the accompaniment of balloons bouncing, giggles bursting forth, and the two boys hopping around, delighted with the attention. 
Months ago, Screening Coordinator Mirjam Plomp’s (NLD) and her team traveled over 600 kilometers from the Africa Mercy to find patients who might otherwise have never found treatment for their various ailments. At upcountry screening in Oyo, Republic of Congo, she met Jordis and his mother, Viviane. 
Jordis and his mother wait in the screening line for consultation
At first glance, Jordis seemed like a normal good-hearted, overly-energetic kid who constantly gets himself into some form of trouble. But, if you let your eyes fall to his feet, you understood why this healthy boy called deck 3 of the Africa Mercy his home for several weeks. 
Jordis had spent his entire life wanting to do all of the crazy things young boys do, but was unable to do them. Fortunately, he was blessed with a loving mother named Viviane. She desperately wanted healing for her son. She wanted to see him climb trees. She was tired of the sadness she felt as she watched him standing at the base of a tree and watching his friends scurry into the branches. She was tired of seeing the hunger in her son’s eyes as he watched the endless soccer games he could not join. She yearned to see his eyes light up as he raced with his friends or scored the winning goal in a soccer match. So, she made sure they arrived at the Oyo screening hours before it began, and she made her rambunctious son wait in line with her in the pouring rain. 
Mirjam recalls, “Jordis and his mom had been waiting in line for a couple of hours by the time we arrived. When it was his turn, Jordis walked up to me, and I instantly noticed his massive left foot. It was a very large case of gigantism, a deformity from birth.” Mirjam knew it was something that Mercy Ships could treat, so she handed an appointment card to Jordis and his ecstatic mother and told them when to come to the ship in Pointe Noire. 
All it took was a free 45-minute procedure onboard a hospital ship to give the gift of soccer, trees, heart-pounding races, intricate pranks, and goofy dances . . . a gift Jordis had been waiting for his entire life. 
A few weeks after his surgery, Jordis returned for a physical therapy appointment. “The way my foot used to be, I was not able to run or play soccer. But since you fixed my foot, I can do whatever I want to do,” he said as he showed off his soccer skills for the camera. 
Viviane contentedly watched her son be a “ham” for the crew. She knew he had waited so long for this – a chance to be a normal boy.  Now, it was Jordis’ time to shine.  And his mother smiled.


Written by Grace Antonini
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photographs by Michelle Murrey, Josh Callow and Deb Louden



Friday, May 9, 2014

23 Days.

Just 23 days until we sail out of Congo... 

When I first heard that phrase last night my first reaction was how the heck did that happen???  I mean, weren't we just talking up the excitement of a new field service in a new country and region Mercy Ships had never been to? 

Time is weird here.

On one hand it seems like just yesterday we say the largest screening day in Mercy Ships history.  On the other... it seems like a lifetime ago

23 days left of this field service.  I do know how that happened... in a glorious collection of breathtakingly beautiful moments and heartbreaking brokenness and really hard work and joy and singing and celebration and mourning and putting one foot in front of the other, regardless of circumstance.   That's how it happened.

I just finished an exhaustingly wonderful week; the final Healthcare Education course of the field service, Primary Trauma Care, and it was a privilege to host the four instructors form the UK who then facilitated the training of 26 local physicians.  The course went super well, we had a lot of fun and the potential impact of what I get to be a part of? Immeasurable.

On top of running the course we also had several different VIP's on board this week with whom I had various amounts of interaction.   I had a remarkable is this really my life? moment on Thursday when I was paged out of a VIP meeting because I needed to go fetch the goat thorax we had stored in one of the deck two refrigerators, and I was the only one who knew where it was and how to get to it.  (They were using it to practice putting in a chest drain!)

The next three weeks will be a blur, I am sure.  My office/desk looks like a bomb went off, and it all needs to be packed up by Monday (!) to go on the first container heading to Benin. They're replacing the flooring in my office over the shipyard period this summer, so everything is getting emptied out beforehand.  For the next two and a half weeks you'll find me with a laptop somewhere that is not my desk!  Project reports are due, project plans for Benin need to be written, patient handover completed, and follow up for a few of our education projects is scheduled in the next two weeks.  There's also the big Thank You event for partners, the Thank You event for day crew, and various other end-of-the-field-service events happening... 

It's interesting, because I remember this time period last year in Guinea and how sad I was... during this time of last things.  This year I don't find myself feeling that as much; maybe because I am so busy I haven't had time to think about it, but also, when we left Guinea it was very unstable, whispers of conflict and tensions brewing within different groups, and I really wondered if we had left the country in a better place then when we had arrived.  Here, there's no question.  It's been an incredible field service here in Congo, and I believe the future is bright for this beautiful country and her people. 

--K

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Change of Plans.

There's been a change of plans....

Anyone who has worked with Mercy Ships for any length of time at all knows the truth is the only constant is change. 

People come and go, we sail in, we sail out, policies change as people change, we get to know our day crew only to say goodbye to them a few months later, we finally find the most delicious restaurant in town only to sail away a few weeks later.  Our patients return home an entirely different person to the one that first walked up the gangway; and more people come and more people go.

I love it, really - Of course the goodbyes are sad but the hellos and Welcome Back!s are incredible. I love that I get to move to an entirely different country every year and not even have to pack a bag.  And the beauty of things like Facebook and Email means the world is really quite small anyway; I seldom say goodbye anymore, it's more usually see you later!

Anyway, I should probably just get to the point.

As you probably know, if you ever look at the news or aren't living under a rock, there has been an outbreak of a really nasty disease called Ebola in Guinea, West Africa.  The same Guinea where we had planned to spend the next field service on board the Africa Mercy, bringing hope and healing to the forgotten poor.   There's been a task force in place for about a month, with both external experts and internal stakeholders, evaluating the different scenarios and possibilities in light of the outbreak and the subsequent hoped-for resolution of the outbreak. 

And here's where my heart splits a little bit:  We're not going to Guinea in August as planned.  We're going to Benin.

My heart grieves for Guinea; it is a country with so much need and so much beauty and so much hope and potential.  It's a country that has fallen into the aid gap; they haven't been bad enough off (with war, for example) to warrant the mass outpouring of aid that follows such devastation, but they have not been politically stable enough to bring in the infrastructure development, trade, and other programs like other growing countries in the region.  I am sad to not be able to see the friends I said goodbye to almost a year ago when we sailed away, I'm sad not to be able to head to Kassa Island or Coyah for a getaway trip, I'm sad not to get to experience Riviera church again.

But... My heart is overjoyed to be able to go back to Benin.   When asked which of the many countries I've visited is my favorite, Benin is always my answer.  I lived there for two and a half years in a small village about six hours north of the port city; I hauled my water and battled the heat and bugs and frustrations and joys that all Peace Corps volunteers experience.  I left a piece of my heart in that country, with her people and her beauty and her wagasi and her palm oil sauce on my $.25 plate of beans and rice at Mamas little mud hut kitchen.   It was my first Africa experience; it was by far the hardest thing I've ever done in my entire life; it was incredible and awful and I left Benin an entirely different person that when I arrived. 

If I'm entirely honest, as I'm processing the news and changing plans and trying to remember the names of the restaurants we loved or the ones to avoid, there's a little bit of fear in me, too.  What if I go back to my village and see that nothing has changed? What if I go back and no one remembers me? What if it's actually worse then when I was there before?  These might sound ridiculous to you, but when I drove away from my village nearly three years ago I didn't think I would ever return.  Not because I didn't want to, but because it didn't appear that was the direction my life would take me.  Now, three years later, I'm coming full circle, returning to the place that tried to take me out and instead only made me stronger.  I never said my fears were logical; but they are there, nonetheless.

But as I try to do in all aspects of life, I will not let fear rule the day. I will at some point return to my village and make peace with some of the demons and difficulties and hurts I left behind in that place.  I will also rejoice with those who run into my arms, those who I loved dearly, those whom I promised I would never forget... because I haven't.   And I don't think they have, either.

And I can't wait for the plate of beans and rice with palm oil sauce waiting for me at Mamas little mud hut kitchen.  MMmmmm, heaven.