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.