Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: gladi

So I find myself with only minutes left of 2012- a year that has been full of laughter, tears, singing, praying, dancing, and most of all JOY. Despite the ups and downs of this year in Sierra Leone, if I had a word to sum up the year in Krio it would be gladi gladi. It means one word: Happy. Wouldn't you be happy if you had the opportunity every Friday to dance (like no one is watching)? There is no better reason to dance than to celebrate healing and to tell Papa God tenki for these ladies- 12 gladi gladi moments of 2012. Happy New Year!

Note: The last minutes of 2012 when by fast as I waited for the pictures to download and another hour rearranging the photos. Still can't figure out how to format it to my liking, but nonetheless its long past into 2013 and I'm going to bed. May your 2013 be full of gladi gladi moments. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Month in Review

A wise friend told me, "the longer you wait to blog, the harder it is"... and its true. It would be difficult for me to share all my past thoughts, feelings, and activities in one blog entry. To sum up lessons learned and what God is doing in my life in one night, might be disastrous (meaning one very long entry). For now, I will share pictures with you since I last posted in November. A more official life update will come soon, I promise. I only have five days left at this wonderful place.

The ladies spending time with Teacher Hagar. 

USA Election Time: Doesn't represent my political views, but everyone else in Sierra Leone including Aunty Fatu. Not sure about the vertical stripes. 

Break time: Playing jenga with my ladies on the ward. They would take turns pulling a block out while the other one held the tower so it wouldn't fall! 

Due to presidential elections in Sierra Leone, we had to close up the ward for a few weeks. These are the last two ladies that left- all dressed up in their gladi gladi outfits. Bernadette, Ward Supervisor and Millicent, OR supervisor, joined me to say goodbye to these precious ladies. 

American Thanksgiving with friends from all over the World. Thankful for this amazing place to work, beautiful country, and friends that support you even when life seems impossible. 

The VVF Ward was closed, but maternity stayed open so we had babies! Serah was a former VVF patient, but came back pregnant with twins during elections. President Koroma is re-elected! 

Baby "Allison" came for a visit! It was the highlight of my day- my week! Her Mama was also a former VVF and had her in October at AWC. Now Allison comes for her immunizations. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Standing on that dock, waving the M/VAfrica Mercy goodbye with my ship family in tow was a weird feeling, but deep down inside I knew I would see them again. Fast forward ten months... and what a joyful reunion it was! Last week I had the privilege of being a guest on the ship (thank you Schwebel family) and reuniting with dear friends from years past. The decks would echo with shrieks of laughter, as I would see familiar faces, even to the point of people coming out of their offices to see what the commotion was all about. Oops. I would get double takes from people that were surprised to see me onboard. Invited by the youth for a private pizza and pool party. Every corner I turned, there was someone there to give me a hug and welcome me home to the ship. Even the Gurkas’ hugs were so tight that I was afraid they would break a rib!  That is what I needed the most: hugs. With those embraces came love and encouragement from the people that know me so well after experiencing Africa together.  They know the challenges of work- struggles to know how to help and the heartache when we cannot, they understand the need for flexibility and patience when we live on Africa’s timing.  I am so thankful for all the time I had to catch up with friends over coffee and meals up on deck. They would ask me “So how is Sierra Leone?” and they would listen intently. By the end, I got my response down to a few minutes summary about my ladies and how much joy they brought me each day. Thank you ship family for the wonderful reunion- hope to do it again real soon!

So on Thursday, I thought I would never make it back to Salone with police visits, border patrol, traffic, and military checkpoints. However, 13 hours later in a cramped taxi, I made it home to Aberdeen. My only motivation to get up Friday morning was our traditional Gladi gladi ceremony. As I joined my coworkers in singing, I spotted Isatu in the front and a huge smile formed on her face when we saw each other. She was beautiful with a new dress and head wrap on, complete with make-up and jewelry, but what stuck out to me- was her smile. She had been with us at AWC for almost 10 months, recuperating from severe malnourishment, anemia, depression, pressure ulcers, wound infections, foot paralysis and two fistulas. My first day at AWC, I met Isatu and saw the emptiness in her eyes- she had lost all hope. Eventually, with some tough (and tender) love and care- making her moringa tea, encouraging her with a Complan milkshake when she got up in the wheelchair, grueling exercises, coloring or crafting with her, learning Temene, holding her hand during spinals when tears came down, and more than anything hugs & smiles everyday- she made it to this day. So after a few more gladi songs and a Bible story, the ladies got up to walk around and shake everyone’s hand. What a sweet reunion (after being gone 6 days) and to give Isatu a hug and tell her how gladi I was she never gave up despite the challenges.  Most of the ladies are very somber, but Isatu never lost her smile that morning as we sang and danced around the ward for the last time.

Monday, November 5, 2012


This is a patient story I wrote in October for the quartely reports to our funders. I have been able to see these ladies throughout the year (always together) with a smile and hug for me...

Most people would say nothing good can come out of having a fistula, but Kumba and Namisa think otherwise. Life was difficult, suffering with inoperable fistulas for three years, but just this year they both came to Aberdeen Women’s Centre and met their best friend.

When Kumba was 15 years-old her parents gave her marriage and soon after she became pregnant. A traditional birth attendant came to Kumba when the labor pains started and tried to help the young girl in labor for two days until she was taken to the government hospital. When Kumba was mourning the loss of her first baby, she realized she could not control her urine coming out. Kumba cried because she knew that it would be impossible for her to move around with others. Her husband left her because she had no child so she stayed with family in Guinea for five years. Her grandfather heard about AWC on the radio and went to collect his granddaughter and brought Kumba to Freetown. Her first visit here was rather discouraging when the doctors told her she needed to wait for an expert surgeon. Kumba returned to Kono, a northern district of Sierra Leone, to wait for a phone call.

Near the same time, Namisa was also waiting for a phone call for an expert surgeon. Namisa was born and raised in the Kono district. She married at 25 years old and tried to deliver her first baby, but was unable. Namisa was distraught of giving birth to a stillborn baby and later she was leaking urine. Namisa was not happy because she used to be social, but was now "an outcast, depressed, stigmatized, and frustrated." Namisa's husband sent her away and she worked as a farmer with her mother until she heard about the centre. In 2009, Namisa was placed on a waiting list after her first visit to AWC because her injuries were extensive.

Kumba and Namisa were called by the screening team in the Kono district and brought to AWC for camp in March 2012. On the journey from Kono to Freetown they became instant friends, not knowing about each other even living in nearby villages. The pair never separated, their beds were side by side as they recovered and even celebrated their Gladi gladi together before going home to Kono. They returned for their follow-up appointments together in June and both received urethral plugs for urinary incontinence. September came and Namisa and Kumba were here again at AWC for another fistula camp. They do not look anything alike, but sometimes I even would confuse their names. In any case, nurses would call out one of their names and both would come running. The ladies both had their second fistula operations done to improve their incontinence in mid-September. October marked not only the end of rainy season for Sierra Leone, but a celebration for the camp ladies having gladi gladi. Namisa and Kumba left AWC to travel home to Kono, thankful to be dry and to have a friendship, no matter the circumstance, that would last a lifetime.

Kumba & Namisa- a friendship forged over fistulas.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Agape... Not only does it mean love, but one meaning is to fine one's joy in. The word agape is used in 1st John for us to understand not to find joy in loving the things of this world. Firstly, I love God and second I love people. Maybe coming in a close third would be mexican food, but unfortunately its of this world. Or is it? :) So God's given me a love for a certain type of people... the unlovable in the world's eyes. These fistula ladies are so easy to love. I love their their smiles and silly quirks that I get to know while they stay on the ward for a few weeks... like Doris here in the picture.
So, I've been gone from AWC for six days now and I have thought of the ladies often. I am thankful to my Mercy Ship family that have hosted me and listened to my stories and looked at my pictures of them. They have heard me say over and over again, "They are my joy." I must sound like a proud mama, sharing about Korea walking and Isatu finally having her gladi gladi ceremony. I'm cutting my trip short here in Guinea just so I can travel back to Salone in time to celebrate with Isatu and dance with the ladies on Friday.
I love people too on this ship. It felt like coming home. The Africa Mercy crew was my ship family for three years as we served together in Benin, Togo, and Sierra Leone. This visit has been rejuvenating for the body and soul. Community is good for me- amazing talks over coffee, meals of cheese toasties (grilled cheese for Americans), and hanging out on the deck. Most of all the hugs. These people know how to hug... and also listen when you need to talk. There was a lot I needed to process about the past 10 months I have been away from the ship and also my future plans. For now, I will leave this floating white box in less than six hours and travel for the majority of the day back to the little women's hospital with renewed agape for what I have the joy to do.

Monday, September 3, 2012


Eucharisteo. It is a new word in my vocabulary and now a daily reminder to be thankful. Author, Ann Voskamp, in her book One Thousand Gifts breaks it down as “Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word, chara meaning joy.” A dear friend of mine shared the concept with us just a couple months ago at International Church. Before Jen left for vacation she gave me her copy of One Thousand Gifts. She is now home in Canada starting cancer treatments and her email updates are full of eucharisteo. I cringe at the thought of my complaints about minuscule things like bugs in my flour or another rainy day- when I should instead be thankful for food and shelter. So after reading this book, I made it point to give thanks and the joy certainly does follow.

I am thankful for God bringing me here to work with fistula ladies. They bring me endless joy. If I am having a frustrating day, I just take a moment to sit on the bench with the ladies as they plant their hair. I see Monday at her same spot on the bench everyday. She is a tough little lady even to me as she speaks Limba, confident that I know what she is saying. I really don't, but the smiling helps.  I walk by the ward and hear “Allis” called through the screen windows and know someone is looking for me to come and dance. Even a minute of dancing with the ladies brings laughter to the ward. I love that Fatmata, Kadiatu, and Mariatu are always together chatting away in their native tongue. They are determined to teach me more Temene, I try, but I stick with the basic greeting I already know. They have given me a Temene name, Alimatu, so I hear that across the courtyard on occasion. Isatu arrived over the weekend because she will have her surgery in two weeks. I am even thankful we will have another camp this month- it means Isatu along with many women will have their fistulas repaired. Most of all, I am thankful for the Gladi gladi ceremonies. We give Papa God thanks for the healing of the ladies. You can see the joy come alive in their dances and hear it in their songs.

I have been planning First Aid & CPR training for all AWC staff along with IMATT paramedic Tasha. The maintenance guys and domestic ladies leave the classroom with smiles on their faces and contagious joy. All we have done is given them basic knowledge and skills, but they are thankful. I also have the privilege of teaching computer skills to Millicent, the OR supervisor. She is almost double my age and we have a lot of fun working together not only in theatre, but now at my desk. All last week, Milo typed her first Word document and Friday she presented her first OR policy. I am thankful to all the teachers (and my parents) that taught me how to use a computer and to type without looking at the keyboard. It’s nice to take a break, cuddle a baby, and to watch Millicent discover new things she can do now on the computer.

I look back over the past week and I have a lot to be thankful for- even bubble wrap. Two containers came this week full of supplies, but also an endless supply of laughter from the ladies as I showed them the fun you can have with bubble wrap. This evening, I cleaned up my office after a day of admin duties and headed out the door toward home. I saw only one kitchen lady dishing up the patients’ dinner, so I headed over to help serve. It was cassava leaves, not my favorite dish to smell or even to look at. Nonetheless, I delivered the green sludge and rice to each of my ladies sitting on their benches. As they took the bowl from the tray, each one said “Tenki” and that brings me immeasurable joy. That's eucharisteo- joy that comes from thanksgiving.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What's new?

One day I got in the car with my friend and AWC driver, Abou, to run an errand in town. In my forgetfulness, I asked, “What’s new?” (instead of "How d'body") and I got a questionable stare from Abou. I had to explain the phrase and then give examples to what was new in my life. Its been fun to ask Abou every once in awhile the American greeting and I usually get “Its raining boku.” I tell him to try again because its been raining non-stop since June! As I think about it, it has been awhile since I’ve shared with the blog world what is new in my life. So imagine with me… We meet up for lunch (I’m imagining Mexican food) and you ask me “What’s new?”. I then pull out my (non-existent) smart phone to tell you stories that go along with the pictures…

Isatu recently left to go home to Moyamba. She has been at AWC since December of last year bed-ridden suffering from depression, malnutrition, pressure ulcers, and anemia. Look at her now standing strong! Isatu will return in September when we have another camp to have her fistula surgery. I look forward to reuniting with her soon! 

Our head surgeon, Dr. Alyona Lewis, finished her time with us here at AWC. I met Dr. Alyona on the ship in Benin in 2009 when she was training in fistula surgery. Those were my first weeks working with fistula ladies and she shared her desire to help the women of her country suffering from this awful condition. We have kept in touch and I am grateful that we have had the chance to work together again. The ladies and staff all enjoyed a gladi gladi ceremony with Dr. Alyona on her last day! Dr. Alyona has passed on her wisdom, skills, and scissors onto Dr. Tagie to continue the fistula operations. 

I look forward to Friday each week, not because of the weekend that follows, but because it’s the day we get to celebrate healing for the fistula ladies. Gladi gladi ceremonies never get old in my book. Two weeks ago we celebrated with Aminata, Adamsay, Fatmata, Salamatu, Isatu, Memunatu, and Larana! There is always a Bible store shared and this week was the Good Samaritan, but this time set in Kissy Road not the road to Jericho. Some of these ladies have been here since June waiting for surgery and now they are going home dry.

We have a small international team mainly made up of medical professionals- midwives, nurses, and doctors. So you can imagine the conversations over dinner, but the accountant and project team members still come to meals. We have a lot of fun with Chuck Norris movie nights, cheering on our countries in the Olympics, and hanging out at the beach together. We really do get along, coming from all corners of the world to work in this small hospital in Sierra Leone. The country director, Jude, once described this place like a theatre production and God directs each one of us in and out of the scenes here at Aberdeen Women’s Centre.

There are also goodbyes that happen outside of work within the expat/missionary community of Salone. A huge prayer of mine was answered when I heard about a international group that meets weekly for Bible study and a monthly church service. The group is made up of some amazing people- ladies that work with the mentally ill at City of Rest, families that minister with Word Made Flesh, administrators of World Hope & Word Vision, doctors that heal the blind, and friends that save lives at the government hospitals. Again, we come from all parts of the world, but here we share the common bond of Christ and desire to serve the people of Sierra Leone. I look forward to reunions with these dear friends I have had to say goodbye to for now.
I scroll through my pictures and I only have one from last week. This is my “Mende Mama”, Saffiatu, when she came back for her follow-up appointment.  As I was taking a lady back to the ward after surgery, I heard my name called out. Now, it could have been any of the dozen ladies sitting at the craft table sewing and coloring. I was giving report to the ward nurses, when Saffiatu walked in and what a joyful reunion it was! She was so happy to tell me she was dry! This is what I look forward to everyday- seeing the ladies come back dry with not only their hope restored, but joy has returned in their lives. If you ask me any day “What’s new?” I could answer with the simple word “joy” and it would never get old.


The views expressed here are solely mine and are not the opinion of AWC/Mercy Ships.