I was teary several times on Thursday, arrival day, the day we have all been waiting for since 2014. People asked if they were good tears; I said they aren’t necessarily bad tears, just alive tears. Most people get that, thankfully. I was awakened by the horrid grinding of metal on metal reverberating through the walls; the pilot entrance being opened! The usual annoyance of a sound like that was quickly replaced with leaping out of bed and throwing open my window shade – Benin, right out my window! We entered the harbor and our berth (parking space for ships) with all the pomp and circumstance expected; singing, dancing, a ceremony attended by various dignitaries, representatives, and assorted VIP’s. During the sail I had shared with the crew some of my Benin experiences; quite a few came around and asked me if it looks familiar. Well, I was never in the port, so no, not really! Let me escape these industrial barricades and I think I will feel more at home again.
And it was true. Yesterday I got to go out and see or HOPE center, and had several meet-and-greets with hospital directors and contacts that I will be working with over the next ten months. Aah, the familiar streets, the lively colored clothing, the massive assortment of fruits or fabrics or other paraphernalia piled on heads and babies slung on the backs of their mamas. We pulled in to the HOPE center parking lot (a pre- and post-hospital residence for patients and caregivers) and as I got out of the Landcruiser it just smelled like Benin. No idea what that is; some combination of the local foliage in thick, humid air with whispers of garbage fires, cooking fires, rotting fruit, and life going on all around us. I was immediately transported back to just over eight years ago; my first steps on African soil right here in this city, taking it all in with wide eyes and an open heart. I could feel it in my blood, the feeling that all is as it should be; that a piece of myself that was left here has slipped back into place and I am whole again.
I wandered around the compound, the reddish dirt at my feet and the honk-honk of the Fanmilk man walking just outside the wall. Laundry hanging out to dry, and a huge mango tree with baby fruits just making themselves seen, and I remember. So many good times under a mango tree. So many friendships forged and memories imprinted and beverages consumed and laughter and light and joy experienced under mango trees. They’re everywhere here and they provide a really nice canopy of shade so many gathering places near my village and elsewhere were under a mango tree. That’s where you’d spread out your mat and take a nap during the hottest part of the day in the hottest part of the year; desperate to catch a breeze and unable to do anything but lie still. There’s a deep joy that wells up in me at the sight of the mango tree; in a cruel twist of fate I happen to be allergic to mangoes, but there’s something about a mango tree that makes me feel at home.
Today we meet our day crew, 225 locals without whom we couldn’t do what we hope to do here in Benin. The ship is now blissfully still for the next ten months, so the work of unstrapping, untying, and unsecuring has begun. Patient screening starts next week, with the hospital opening a few weeks later and the first of many medical training programs also in just a few weeks. It is a lot of work; but suddenly I find myself thinking not about the work, but about the joy it is to do this, to serve here, bringing hope and healing, light and life and service to the least of these. I pray our patients find new life, our training participants new hope, and our crew their own mango tree experience here in this incredible nation.
|HOPE center mango tree|