Monday, April 25, 2011

Happy Easter!

With this snap I want to wish you all a Happy belated Easter! 

I was away for a few days without electricity, will write about that soon. But for now I just wanted to tell you the background of these pictures. I was at the beach a few weeks ago and saw these cute little chicks. I thought it was an early Easter present to these kids who played in the dirt. The father said that I was way off there. They color the chicken so that the vultures and hawks would NOT take them... :)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Getting around in Freetown

There is only 1 word that would properly describe the transportation here: NIGHTMARE! :)

There is no real infrastructure here to begin with. Freetown is a port city that stretches across several hills and mountains. In order to get from our hostel to the orphanage we worked with before the ship arrived, we needed to go up and down several times. Originally built for 200,000, the population swelled to around 2 million during and after the civil war. As a result of this the road system has struggled to cope with this huge influx of humanity, causing massive congestion both day and night. Traveling 6km across the city (in the direction of all the beaches and restaurants) can take anything from 20 min. to 3 hours. Added to the fact there are no pavements, means that all the pedestrians and market stalls are on the (very narrow) roads. There are no traffic lights either so all junctions are manned by traffic police who vary somewhat in their effectiveness.

Poda Poda is the public transportation here. These vans usually go between 2 major conjunctions and the price is around 1000Leonean (4500L=1$) so this is indeed the cheapest way to travel. It’s also the slowest, too. A poda poda has 5 rows so 25 people can easily get in. And as we all know there is “always room for one more”, especially in Africa. We had 30 people in our group and somebody mentioned it the other day: “I think it’s a luxury that our team has 2 vans. I have seen more people crammed into 1 van…” (Jeff, you are NOT funny!) :)

Our Poda Poda driver was pulled over for breaking the African traffic laws a few days ago. Apparently those exist. His punishment: to sit in "Time-out" for 30 minutes while all the cars he illegally passed, caught up and passed us on the side of the road.

The lowest rank within the police force is the traffic instructor. The poda poda drivers called them "my wife". When I asked why, he smiled and said that they act just like a wife: "you give them some money every morning and in return they turn the other way each time you break a traffic law"... :) 

Taxis are fun to try, but they also get stuck in traffic. In western countries you normally have 3 pedals under your feet: accelerator, break and a clutch. Here they have the accelerator and ANOTHER accelerator and the horn! :)

Motorbikes (okadas) are the fastest way to get around; that is only if you are willing to sit behind those crazy bikers who risk their lives every minute. In Sierra Leone they have to ride on the inside of the road unlike in western countries where they have either a separate road or a slow lane close to the sidewalk.  

Walking is another alternative. Here the challenge comes in the form of heat. The temperature is at least 100F° (40C°) nowadays and for the next couple of month it will only rise. Not to mention that during the dry season (November-April) there is NO rain and hardly any clouds in the sky so it IS really hot!

Oh, and then there are the hand carts, wheelbarrows (used to move around products) and many more to contend with... :) It sure makes for some interesting driving.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Our neigborhood...

Now that you saw my view it's time to venture out a bit. Outside of the port gate is an extremely poor neighborhood. Often if people come to the city from the provinces they don't know anybody. They have nowhere to go so due to lack of options they end up spending the night at the harbor. One night turns into 2, 2 into a week, a week into a month... And before you realize it, you have a permanent spot, even a small shack if you are lucky.

This is just outside of the gate.

Poverty is really all around us...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My view...

As you can see, the view from my window is not that glorious. BUT!
1. I CAN look outside from my cabin, unlike most crew members and
2. it's not a tiny porthole, but an actual WINDOW! :)

This is mine just between the ''m'' and the ''e'' making it ME :)

This is at low tide...

 Unfortunately it's quite boring outside, mostly I see our vehicles and endless rows of containers...

 From deck 7 you can see a bit further out...

And if you really open your eyes, you can see the poverty that's all around us...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Why are we in Sierra Leone?

Here is a short video that we put together to show you the needs of this country.

When the Minister of Health and Sanitation was on board for a short reception, she shared some even more shocking statistics with us:
  • population: 6 200 000
  • gynecologists: 5
  • midwives: 80
  • physicians: 4
  • psychiatrists: active-0, retired-1
  • Sierra Leone is no.158 out of 169 on the WHO's Human Development Index (Norway is no.1!)
Any more questions?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Our Department

It's always a nice challenge to work in a department with extremely talented individuals. Not to mention that these artsy people come from different cultures and countries and I have the privilege of being their manager...

 CNN Style team photo in our office
We were all supposed to pick up a prop we often use.
I have 2 nerve guns... (insert "evil laugh" here)

We all dance together on the same tunes...
From left: John, Liz (photographers, US), Sophie (Pr Coordinator, Swiss), Claire (writer (UK), Tom (photographer, UK), Elaine (writer US), Lewis (PR Admin, US), Réka (Manager, HU), Anouchka (Vision Trips, Swiss-French), Debra (photographer, Canada)

Trying HARD in vain to get a decent group photo... :)

First full blown smile in 13 years

Here is a wonderful story of the first patient who was operated on board in Freetown!

Isatu was born with a cleft lip and was mocked her entire life. While other kids could go out and play with each other or go to school, she was hiding in their tiny little kitchen and spent her days helping her mum around the house. She rarely spoke to people outside her family and practically never smiled in her life.

Then one day she heard the radio announcement that Mercy Ships is coming to town and to her delight cleft lips and palate was listed among the type of surgeries that we offer for free. She came to the screening with her dad and she was scheduled to be operated a couple of days later. In fact she was the first to receive the priceless appointment card for surgery in the Sierra Leone field service.

According to the doctor who did the surgery on her it was an "easy operation that took only about 40 minutes". She spent the night on board and from the early hours of the following day she never stopped giggling and laughing!

Her father said that she will soon enroll in an adult education class. Her brother was excited too and said "now she can make friends and find a husband" :) (getting married is extremely important for Sierra Leoneans!)

What an amazing way to start our Field Service here!!! I have tears in my eyes again as I type this story. I just cannot imagine my life in isolation; not being able to spend time with others... The fact that you cannot smile or laugh with others is breaking my heart again and again. In the Western world many kids are born with cleft lip and palate, but they are operated right after being born - problem fixed! Here people have to spend their entire life in shame and hiding.

But now Isatu can and (I think) will never stop smiling for the rest of her life! :)

Screening ReBoot - Take 2 in Freetown

My day started at 4am when the alarm clock went off. It was a bit tricky to get all 3 of us in the cabin organized and ready in the bathroom before we grabbed a quick breakfast in the dining room. Nearly 100 of us left in several vehicles just before 5 am with another 100 coming an hour later. The port gate guards were standing in awe as our white Land Rovers full of people in blue scrubs rolled out one by one - it must have looked like a mass exodus...

We got there in no time, strangely there was no traffic whatsoever and I realized that Freetown is not that big after all. :) Slowly all the vehicles arrived and people started running around like poisoned ants: some busy with distributing chairs, others hanging posters, another group trying to move the tents and tables...etc. It looked kinda funny, most of us had flash lights in our hands or on our heads. Suddenly I saw something amazing: in the middle of the chaos Dr. Gary was sitting on a chair in front of some big lights and he was reading a newspaper... That sight calmed me down like nothing else could have since that Monday. If he acts so calm and relaxed, as if it was just another normal morning... then it's gonna be an awesome day! :)

Our only goal that day was to schedule ca. 500 patients for surgeries - we didn't go there to have fun or to take pictures of people's sufferings. Only the 2 official photographers were allowed to take pictures. We are allowed to use some of them so that others can also see what we saw on Saturday.

From Friday evening people started to line up outside and our security guys were going up and down the line with some posters I gave them that showed the type of conditions we were looking for. According to them it helped a lot to screen through the line. It is always difficult to send people away, but we didn't want them to stand in line for long hours only to be turned away right before the gates.

The weather was extremely pleasant, till about lunchtime the sky was entirely cloudy and we even had some breeze all day long! What a perfect day to be outside all day without shades! :)

(Dr. Frank and Anna with possibly the youngest ever
patient who will receive a prosthetic feet!) 

The most difficult thing for a doctor or nurse is to say NO. Not because we don't want to help, but unfortunately sometimes patients come with a condition that is in too advanced stage to be treated. Those patients are often referred to Harriet (see photo), a good friend of mine from England. She is the palliative care nurse (click here if you want to read a very touching and sad story). During the screening I witnessed her unfailing dedication and compassion as she prayed and cried with the parents of a little boy. The tumor started growing 1 month ago on his face and according to Harriet the best they could do was to give him 2 weeks worth of painkillers to ease the pain. Why 2 weeks? Because in 2 weeks time he will be home with Jesus where there is no pain and no suffering...

I knew it will be emotionally very difficult for me to be there. We saw sooooo many patients with conditions you NEVER see in the western world. The desperation in people's eyes were piercing right through my heart and you just simply cannot be unmoved by it. For the photographers it was quite a challenge to take pictures of people who wish they were invisible. Often they have to live in hiding and isolation... Imagine the struggle they went through, to build up enough courage to come to our screening, to stand in line for hours, to be visible to people, to show your handicap openly, to dare to hope...

And to finish on a higher note: today we had the debriefing and it turns out we were able to see ca. 3000 people and scheduled about 500 surgeries! What an exciting thing to know that soon all these lives will be changed and through these transformational surgeries not just individuals, but their entire families and communities will have a brand new start and a brighter future!
(the patients had to go through several
stations from registration to medical history
and check ups and at the end they were
all coming to our station where
a "pre-op" photo was taken.)

If you want to see a short video on the screening click here. (it's the footage from Lewis and I who were filming that day, some stills from the photographers plus some shocking statistics.) Enjoy!