Tuesday, April 30, 2013


TIA: This is Africa. We sometimes use the term when something doesn't go as planned. We use it more in a jokingly matter, when things could only happen in Africa and no where else in the world. TIA. 

So last Sunday was a TIA kind of day. Moise, our day worker, took us on an outing in Conakry. My friend, Melissa, and I waited an extra 15 minutes for Moise to show up the gate to take us to his church. TIA. When we thought he was not going to show, we decided to take a stroll down the street to find a church. As we walked by the round-about, Moise jumped out of a taxi, in his traditional dress, ready for the day. We ended up at a local church called "Amor de Dieu" meaning Love of God. We danced in the front and sang a few songs we knew in French. The sermon was preached in the loudest decibel possible. TIA. I take these moments (when I'm distracted) to pray for the Church. Pray for it be strengthened. The building we were in was just half full and knowing Guinea is majority Muslim, the need to pray for believers. Prayed for our patients who have come to know Christ, that they will have a place to worship without persecution. Prayed for each of the little ones that dared to come sit on my lap during the sermon, a welcomed distraction of course. TIA. 

Church ended about 1pm, it started at 9am. We were a hour late to begin with. TIA. We took a taxi for just a few miles down the street when Moise decided it was best for us to get out. The taxi driver would have charged us 25,000 Guinea francs instead of the 1,500 (what we paid) to go around the peninsula that Conakry sits on to get to the coast. So we not only cut through a neighborhood, but also a wedding reception to get to our destination. At the end of the street, there was a local djembe (drum) shop, so Moise and I took a few minutes to try these djembes out. 

Melissa asked Moise to take us to a local restaurant for lunch. So we ended up at Fougou-Fougou-Faga-Faga. We were seated under the shade of the palm trees and a great view of the coastline. The menu was read to us which included only drinks. Moise conversed with the "waiter" to ask for food, but the restaurant was not open on Sundays for lunch. So we gave our waiter some money to buy any food he could find on the street. He returned with a long baguette and six small bananas. TIA. Along with our Fantas, we enjoyed the breeze as we heard the drummers down the street practicing on the djembes.

Moise, Melissa, and I returned to the road that was the short-cut to the main road. Yeah, no road names. TIA. We walked through the neighborhood as kids played and women cooked outside on their porches. As we walked by one home, the lady of the household invited us to have lunch with her family. She had just made mango chutney- it was still on the fire when we took our seats. They made us feel so welcomed and thanked us for the work Mercy Ships was doing for the people of Guinea. TIA. It was a delicious add on to our bread & banana lunch and an end to another amazing experience in Africa.

This is Africa. This is a place I have fallen in love with over the four years and four countries I visited. These are the people I have been called to experience life with and love for this time.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Today is a day to be thankful.

This morning, Andre came to us with a tumor on the top of his mouth. You probably could not tell from the outside that he had been suffering with this for years as it took over his mouth. However, by the look of the CT scan and the time and care it took for our anesthesia team to place a breathing tube- he was struggling to even breath. I assisted Dr. Gary in the surgery and the mass came right out after a little manipulation. It fit right inside the palm of my hand. Most likely it is not a malignant tumor, but it would have been fatal to Andre if he did not come for surgery on the ship. Today, be thankful for each breath.

Last night, I took the ship's youth down to the ward to sing songs and hang out with the patients. We made our way down the hospital corridor visiting patients and finished the night in the max-fax ward. I was able to check up on a few patients like Moussa and Nafi, both are recovering well. Madama, a 51 year-old cleft lip patient, had a mirror in her hand, as she admired her new lip. So one of the youth, Michelle, met Mariama in D ward. Both girls are about the same age, but one thing is different- Mariama cannot attend school because of her cleft lip. Michelle managed to teach her new friend a card game despite a language barrier and Mariama unable to understand the numbers on the cards. Mariama came with her father to the ship from the far north of Guinea and I met them at the bench today for her surgery. Melanie assisted Dr. Gary in repairing Mariama's lip, complete with a star-shaped nasal bolster and steristrip whiskers. Hopefully, one day Mariama will be able to attend school and be the star student. Today, be thankful that you are able to read.

Our last patient, Matwata, came all the way from Liberia for her surgery. I noticed Matwata shyly watching from her corner bed in the ward as we sang songs last night. The translator shared the words of "Trading My Sorrows" with the patients- "I'm trading my sorrow... sickness... shame... pain, for the joy of the Lord." Eventually, a small dance party formed with youth, nurses, and patients- including Matwata. Matwata had part of her lower jaw removed today by Dr. Gary and Maryke. Another common tumor we see here, called ameloblastoma, that aggressively takes over the jaw and mouth. Most patients are malnourished because the tumor makes it nearly impossible to eat. So today, when you sit down for your next meal, be thankful you are able to eat.

To some readers, I may sound a little to direct in this blog, but it is a reminder to me as well to be thankful. It was a long day so I was tired when the call team came and took over Matwata's surgery. I headed to my cabin to take some medicine to combat this cold I've held on to for awhile. Instead of complaining about the petri ship, I was thankful I had medicine near at hand to help me feel better. I proceeded to the dining room for dinner- I was more than thankful for the galley team that prepared Mexican food for dinner for the crew. And thats when it hit me, I was able to eat unlike Matwata. I have had the privilege to attend school and hope Mariama will be able to one day soon. Tonight as I sit here, I think of Andre recovering on the ward, that each breath he takes, he is thankful.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Bench

If you ever been onboard the Africa Mercy, you know where "the bench" is on deck 3. It may look like an ordinary bench that you find in a park or a train station, but this one is special. At the bottom of the red stairs that lead to the hospital, you will find it strategically placed right in between the wards and the operating room. When we are ready for our patient, we call the ward and have them meet us at the bench. This is where the ward and OR nurses come together to give report. The patient is given into another pair of caring hands to look after them. I believe this is the place where God enters into the picture even more so when we collectively as a team bow our heads with our patient and pray for healing. We acknowledge we can not do this surgery without God leading the surgeon's hands and giving wisdom to the team to take care of the patient. The bench its made out of solid brown oak slats and has a metal plaque on it dedicating it to a beloved crew member we lost last year, Lady Jean. In past outreaches, she used to sit there patiently waiting for cataract patients coming from theatre. As I wait for my patient to arrive from the ward, I take that moment to be still. In the operating room, my mind and body are going a hundred miles per hour as I work, but this is the place to pause and remember why I am here. I am here for Jesus. And second, for my patients.

Sweet Binta recovering after surgery.
At the bench, there are moments with my patients that I will cherish for a lifetime. Just a month ago, I met sweet Binta at the bench. In report that morning, our team learned that Binta's first surgery had to be cut short because she lost several units of blood. Something her body could not handle again despite the abnormal boney tumor taking over her face. As I waited for Binta at the bench, I took a moment to pray silently we could help her more without complication. Binta using her arm crutches walked toward me with a smile overwhelming her face. Since she was holding on to her crutches, she leaned into me for a hug as I wrapped my arms around this precious one. She had no shame nor fear, she had been at this bench before. I completed my nursing duties including the operative checklist and as a team we lifted Binta in prayer. Dr. George was able to do her surgery and remove more of the bone from her forehead in just a few hours and only one unit of blood was needed this time.

This morning we gathered in OR 4 once again- Dr. Gary, Dr. Michael, Maryke, Melanie, and I- to go through the day's schedule of patients. Our first patient, was 5-month old Moussa, who had a cyst on his head to be removed. We called "D" ward to tell them we were ready and I volunteered to pick up the little one at the bench. I went over the chart with Dan, the ward nurse, and talked with Moussa's mother. Then I offered to say a prayer for Moussa as I placed one hand on Mama's shoulder and another on Moussa, who was in Dan's arm. During the prayer, I felt a very wet and slobbery hand on cheek and looked up to see giggly Moussa staring intently at me. I finished up the prayer asking God to be with us in the room as we took care of him. I cuddled this chubby baby as much as I could as we got him hooked up to monitors. We started looking for an IV and that took over a hour to find, but God gave us one at the right time. It was a busy couple hours and a few stressful moments for the team working to take care of Moussa. As we carried him from the operating room to recovery right where the red stairs end, I had to remember to thank God for listening to our prayers just a few hours before at the bench.
I love meeting my patients at the bench, seeing them smile as I try the local dialect with the help of a translator. I cuddled the babies there. I connect with my patients when I look them in the eye and say their name. I hear a small laugh when I introduce myself as "Alimatu." I see hope beginning to form when they realize this is where the healing starts. More than anything, I love that I am able to pray for my patients and God meets us there at the bench every time.


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