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.


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