Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rice Paddies and Lemurs.


I’ve been staring at this empty Word document that will eventually become a long-overdue blog post for several minutes without so much as one letter appearing on the digital white paper.

Where do I start?  Wherever these words lead me, I guess.  I will try to paint the picture of the last few weeks as accurately as I can, but it’s moved so quickly and changed so frequently it’s as blurry as the Malagasy countryside that was speeding past my window today on my way to the Port city where the Africa Mercy will dock, completely unexpectedly and yet at exactly the right moment in time.

Wait, huh?

Let me back up.  We were supposed to go to Guinea, and then because of Ebola, we decided to go to Benin, a place that will forever hold a piece of my heart. Then, the first week of August, after the Advance team on the ground in Cotonou, Benin had been working hard for three months to set everything up, suddenly came the news that brought all our plans to a screeching halt and our crew to their knees – Ebola in Nigeria. 

It was decided we couldn’t go to Benin – not when the very nature of what we do brings thousands of sick, desperate people into one place.  The idea that we could actually do more harm to a country than good, by creating a ripe environment for the malicious evil that is the virus, is unacceptable to us, an organization that seeks to heal and bring hope, not the opposite.

So we waited, and watched, as ebola continued (and still continues) to destroy our hopes and dreams for West Africa. I couldn’t blog, I couldn’t stop crying much of the time.  My heart breaks for those people that I love and that place that I love.

We looked at a return to Republic of Congo, a country far enough from West Africa but after a few days of focused planning for that country another strain of Ebola showed its ugly face in the Congo’s larger neighbor, the DRC.  Another set of plans out the window.

Imagine a hospital ship full of people called to help and heal Africa stuck in a shipyard in Spain.  Awesome? Not so much.  But this community continues to amaze me and the faith of my friends and ship family as we came together to pray for our future and those we love in Africa.

Then, a flicker of hope – connections and favor seemed to be opening the door to a country I never considered and never planned on visiting.  A country with a huge population and a huge surface area and an equally huge need for specialized surgical services – and a people and culture entirely different than the Africa I’ve become accustomed to calling my home.

Madagascar.

And just like that, with three days warning, I found myself tiptoeing out of my cabin in the wee hours of the morning to board a plane and cross over to the other end of the earth and touch down in a country that I have fallen in love with.  A land entirely different yet much the same as those I know, a land of rice paddies and lemurs and beauty and despair and hope.

This place is gorgeous. These people are stunning. And the welcome we have received is overwhelmingly enthusiastic, open, and encouraging.  I’m so honored to be a part of the Assessment and Advance team, on the ground preparing the way for the ship to arrive in the port of Toamasina in just a few weeks.  It’s exciting, it’s exhausting, and it’s so much fun!   We’ve already experienced tremendous favor, with connections being sent from the first few minutes on the ground, to perfectly timed street conversations, to extremely fruitful meetings and travel.  There’s still so much to do, and I won’t be able to blog much, but I hope to at least get some pictures up from time to time.  I’ve already posted several to Facebook, check it out if you haven’t already. And please, please, please, keep the people of West Africa as well as the people of Madagascar in your thoughts and prayers.

There will be much more to come… stay tuned.
 
My favorite snap so far - rice paddies in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Shot with an ipad from the window of a moving car!
 

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