Sunday, October 23, 2011

Visiting the largest Mosque in town

Ever since I came back from the Middle East I love going into Mosques. It is always a rare treat when I, a white woman am allowed to enter the gates.

Not too far from the ship is the largest Mosque in Freetown. According to locals it was built from  Gadhafi's money - making it all the more appealing to me to visit. Ryan, one of my team members, happened to know the imam, due to the fact that they were shopping at the same hardware store. :) He asked the imam if it was OK for us to come by one day. He wanted to know why Mercy Ships is interested. We quickly explained that it has nothing to do with our company, we simply are interested, as tourists if you wish. To my utmost surprise he said "no problem then". 

The only thing he told me was that I need to enter the mosque through a separate gate and ladies need to wear proper clothing (long skirt, shirt, no showing any skin plus head cover). Well, fine with me... :) So one sunny Wednesday we drove to the gates with Ryan, Penny and Sam, our local translator. We wanted to park outside, but they opened the gates for us. I made a video of this historic moment: :)

At one point Ryan asked the imam to translate some writings on the wall. This is how the conversation went:
- It says, Allah is great, while people are silly. They put extra burdens on themselves than blame Allah.
- Can you give an example? (Ryan asked)
- Yes. For example you have a wife already (and he looked at Penny), but you have a small house. So if you take on a second wife (and he points at me!) you will have a problem. Allah didn't give you this problem, you asked for it yourself."

At this point both Penny and I hid behind our head covers to save face. Ryan had a much harder time hiding his smile! :)

We had a very pleasant time. He even allowed us to go up to the minaret. What can I say: it's a great exercise! If I had to climb up 5 times every day to do the Call for Prayer... I could eat whatever I want! :)

On our way down from the tower we passed some coffins, that was a bit strange... At the end of the grand tour we said our good byes, the imam tried one more time, but we sticked with our Christian faith. To finish off this great visit Penny drove out of the gates wearing her head cover. :)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Going nuts for coconuts...

I need to have one... Or two...

Every time I leave the ship I need to stop for some coconuts. Funny thing is, I didn't like coconuts before, but now that we can have them fresh every day, it quickly became my favourite drink. Locals can get them for 1000 SLL (0.20 USD), we need to pay the "Apoto price" (apoto means white person in a local dialect), which is usually 1500. The other day I saw a kid buying it for 400 right in front of my eyes, but when I asked for one, the guy said it costs 1500. Oh well...

The terms you need to know:
- young: the coconut has no white flesh, just lots of water.
- half 'n' half: it has some flesh, but mostly in a jelly form and some sweet water, my FAVOURITE!
- strong: it has a thick white flesh and barely any water, if there is some, it's usually fuzzy and bitter.

Coconut is sold from wheel barrels
Depending on your preference you order them and hope that the seller can really tell the difference before cutting it open. One guy showed me how to choose: just knock on it and the young ones full of water will sound deeper than the old. Or not... It's not an exact science... :)

I usually buy 1 strong one for the flesh (and dump the water) and 1 or 2 half 'n' half ones for the water. If you get lucky your coconut can hold up to 1 liter of fresh coconut water, and rest assured, this is the safest way of re-hydration in Africa! Not only that but the liquid contains important electrolytes and other minrerals your body needs - to put it bluntly it's better than drinking Gatorade. :)

Penny, me and Sam, our local driver enjoying some fresh coconut while stuck in traffic.

Because of the positive side effects coconut can be used as IV - it's a cheap and surprisingly safe way to treat patients with dehydration; they just hook them up on a coconut! :)

Today I took a short video of how it is done - enjoy! :)

"Make open" is Krio for "Would you be so kind as to cut it in half so that I can eat the flesh?"

PS. A few weeks ago a young boy was cutting it open for me after I drank the water but he missed the hard shell. He managed to hit his palm with the machete and almost chopped his finger off. :( Good thing is that you live on a hospital ship and always carry with you some wound cleaning stuff!

Pride of Lions

Last night we had a special guest on board. First we watched a movie called Pride of Lions. It's a fascinating documentary about Sierra Leone and the 10 year civil war. But despite many films made about this country (like Blood diamonds) this movie focuses on the individuals and what's more important, it conveys the message of HOPE for this nation.

John Woehrle is the executive producer, who by some "strange coincidences" / God's timing, happened to be in Freetown and accepted our invitation for a Q and A after the film.

He walked to the mike and said: "If this is not preaching to the choir, then I don't know what would be. I mean, I am on board the Africa Mercy and we are IN Sierra Leone!" :)

I wonder if it would have been helpful to watch this documentary before we had arrived. Maybe. But watching it now, after living and working in this country for nearly 10 months... The shocking factor is certainly gone. I am somewhat ignorant about the dirt they show on the streets or the many amputees - I see them on the streets every day myself, I even know some of them by name.

They showed some older footage when the city wasn't so overcrowded and I kept thinking I know this street, that's where I bought some fruits the other day... :) I even understood some of the Krio talk and didn't have to read the subtitles!

Bottom line, I think it is a great movie and if you would like to read more on it or even consider buying the DVD, please visit their website:
To watch the trailer, click here.

All the money is used to support NGOs working in Sierra Leone to make a lasting difference!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

D-50 days

Sunset over Freetown from the stern
Today we heard the overhead announcement from the captain - the gangway is closed due to... YES! Engine testing!!!! :)

It means only 1 thing: our time in Salone is coming to an end faster than we could have imagined...

Penny and I went up to the stern and observed the beautiful waves that the back engines were creating. WOOOOOO-HOOOO we are sailing in 50 days!!! :)

 This thought made me really happy today!

That also means that from now on every meeting will involve these words: deadline, packing, "no, you cannot bring that with you" ... etc :)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

An ortho-patient's new life

This is a very cute story of my good buddy, Sahr, who used to race up and down the hallways in his wheel chair.

"Sahr Dauda and his buddy (Tamba) sat with both legs in casts and bandaged in front of them. A look of gleeful anticipation lighted the faces of both boys. They were waiting for the hallway to be clear enough to begin their wheelchair race in the hall of the hospital ship, the Africa Mercy. The volunteer surgeons had straightened the legs of both boys. Since it would take many weeks for their legs to heal, they had plenty of time to hone their racing skills while they built their friendship.

Sahr was born sometime in the mid-90’s in a village near Koidu in northern Sierra Leone. Whether his legs were horribly misshapen at birth or were the result of a congenital disease is not known. Below his knees, his legs angled out and bent back at the shin. His ankles were parallel to the floor, causing his feet to hug the floor at an angle. Walking was difficult and painful. 

His mother fled shortly after his birth, possibly to escape being labeled a “demon” for giving birth to a child with such deformed legs. Sahr’s father was killed by rebels during the violent civil war in Sierra Leone. The young boy was supported by his stepmother for a while. He wanted to go to school, but there wasn’t enough money for that. Instead, his stepmother wanted him to use his disability to beg in the streets. He refused to do that and ended up becoming a street kid anyway. Occasionally his stepmother would let him stay with her.

Essentially homeless and without love and support, he was drawn to a man who was training local teachers to include the disabled in their schools. This man showed a fatherly interest in Sahr, encouraged his desire to go to school, and even arranged for him to have a wheelchair. But he was unable to fully support Sahr because he was struggling to support his own family.

A radio announcement alerted Sahr’s stepmother that a Mercy Ship would soon be docked in Freetown. An advance medical team was scheduled to be in their area to hold a preliminary screening for potential patients with problems like Sahr’s. She took him to register at the government hospital for the screening, and he was among the first to receive a Mercy Ships appointment for surgery.

When they got to the transport vehicle, however, Sahr’s stepmother told him she wasn’t able to be his caregiver. Without a caregiver, Sahr would not be able to have his surgery. Digba, a woman who was accepted for a surgery of her own, agreed to be his caregiver. She traveled with him to the ship and stayed in the HOPE Center as he awaited his surgery. When Digma went home, Mariama, the mother of his buddy Tamba, became his caregiver.

The volunteer doctors performed two complicated surgeries to repair Sahr’s legs, using pins that will help his legs become straighter as he grows. Sahr was delighted to be a Mercy Ships patient. For the first time in his life, his needs were being supplied – a clean hospital bed, three meals a day, caring nurses and state-of-the-art medical care from some of the world’s finest surgeons.

He also thoroughly enjoyed the many weeks he spent recovering at the HOPE Center, making friends with the other children. After surgery, he would bounce on his hospital bed, slapping his hands on the mattress. When asked why he did that, he would respond with a big grin, “I’m just happy to be here!”  

Several weeks of post-operative care were necessary to help Sahr learn to walk on his newly straightened legs. The physiotherapists worked with him on exercises to build his lower leg muscles and to train his knees to face forward without collapsing into each other. Much of this was painful, but he accepted it with gratitude, while building relationships with the medical team working with him.

Boys are boys all over the world. Tamba and Sahr never stopped playing
football since they were released from the wards.

After about five months, it was time for Sahr to leave. But no one would be waiting for him back in his village. He needed the security of a home, the love of parents, the opportunity to attend school – the provisions of life. The Patient Life Department, concerned about his future, located an orphanage started by Mercy Ships crew members. The Mercy Orphanage agreed to provide a loving home for Sahr. He will have a mother and father, as well as several new brothers and sisters. Also, he will attend a local private school, thanks to a scholarship donated by a couple of Mercy Ships volunteer crew members.

Friends recovering at the HOPE Center gave him a grand send-off as two Mercy Ships Land Rovers filled with crew members from Patient Life and other concerned departments drove him to his new home. The children, including his new bunk-mate, Sheku, welcomed him warmly.

Somewhat at a loss for words, Sahr said, “Thank you. It’s fine here. I like it. Thank you.” But his jubilant smile revealed the joy in his heart as he waved goodbye to his Mercy Ship friends and began a new life." (by a ship writer)

It was such a joy getting to know him and spend time kicking the ball together or just listen to his stories. Sahr is such a fun kid to be around and he will greatly be missed by all of us. Moments like this makes me endure the many challenges we face here day after day - to see a boy running around, playing football and being accepted by his fellow peers. I know it's a cliché, but it's still a priceless moment that I wouldn't give up for anything!!! :)

A few weeks ago during our Sunday Service on board the weekly offering went to support the education of these kids in the Mercy Orphanage. We each gave a 100 dollars that would cover an entire school year for one of the kids. What a better way of sharing the blessings than investing in the education and future of these kids in Africa. One of them might be the next president one day...