Tuesday, February 28, 2012

From Pancake Day to Fufu and Chocolate

This blog post is about some random food items I consumed recently. Quite diverse if you ask me... :) (proper ship food is not included in this list!) Who said that food in Africa is boring???

Ice Cream Flambe with fried banana (and rum) :)

Our Nepalese Ghurka guards with diff. flavours of Hungarian Tibi chocolate bars in Togo :)

Coconut - best drink EVER!

Fufu, (variants of the name include foofoo, foufou, foutou), is a staple food of West and Central Africa. It is a thick paste usually made by boiling starchy root vegetables in water and pounding with a mortar and pestle until the desired consistency is reached. In Ghana fufu is basically pounded cassava or pounded yam pounded together with plantain.
Annie here is eating the white fufu made of Cassava, some redish spicy souce... and... CHICKEN.

According to her it was quite chewy :) It took the cook about 2,5 hours to prepare it - which is really not that long if you keep in mind that the chicken was still alive when we ordered the food! :)

Another type of Fufu, this is made of maize and served in the small plastic bowls (one already open on the green plate). You also have some onion sauce with red palm oil, chicken, fried plantains and crushed green chilli sauce. Believe it or not, this is my favourite AFrican meal! ;)

Mangos, organes and Yam roots sold on every corner.

My new favourite way of eating roasted peanuts - just pour it straight from a whiskey bottle :)

Baugette-s and fresh bread on every street.
Oddly enough the sellers always stand next to each other in groups... 

Fresh pinapple - we often eat that for dinner or after dinner snacks :)


Husband and I are making pancakes for our British friends

Clash of Cultures - on my plate you can see:

1. Pancake Tuesday to celebrate a British tradition before Lent

2. Nuts in caramel to celebrate Mardi Gras

3. Fresh coconut straight from the tree to celebrate, well... to celebrate Africa! :)

(and some okay vanilla ice-cream from France)

With my fav British family on board - their living room is our second home :)

Local ladies usally carry large dishes on their heads with small portions of fufu and some sorts of sauce. They also provide the plate. This type of food is very cheap, but not too safe for our "white stomach". :)

Saved the best for last: this is a fully riped COCOA fruit to make chocolate! :)))))

Chocolate addicted husband was torn when I told him he needed to choose - he can reach me OR the fruit :)))

Friday, February 24, 2012

Abdul, the "spider boy" walks with me - video

This little man gave us last years lots and lots of fun and laughter. He was always in the centre of attention - first because of his deformity, then because of his great smile and attitude, and lately because he was walking WITHOUT crutches for the very first time in his life!

You can watch the video here. If you look closely you can see ME walking with him. The close up shot of me in my high heels and him barefoot making his first steps is very powerful - great camerawork Beau C!

"The villagers called Abdul the “devil child” because of his deformed, curling feet.  Each year this common condition, known as clubfoot, affects 220,000 babies born in developing countries.

Abdul was abandoned by his mother, but his father Simeon stood by his side. He knew that the baby’s condition was medical. It was not a case of witchcraft. He dared to believe that his son could get an education and have a bright future.
Abdul was known as the “devil child” due to his deformed feet. Every day Simeon walked in the intense heat from village to village selling firewood for money to live on. Abdul played with the neighborhood children who taunted him until he hid in the house, sobbing from the pain of rejection. When Abdul started attending school, he proved to be a very curious child and a quick learner. He enjoyed his father’s support of his education, as Simeon regularly helped Abdul with his studies.

Every Saturday, father and son washed clothes together.  Then, before dinner, they talked man-to-boy about the future. There was quite a close bond between them. His father smiled at these memories and said, “Abdul is a cool and wild boy.”

Simeon was determined to find medical treatment to correct his son’s clubfeet. They visited many doctors but never found anyone who could help them. Yet, Simeon had a strong faith in God and firmly believed that, one day, Abdul would be healed. As they searched for a solution, the obvious need for medical care developed a deep desire in Abdul’s heart to become a doctor to give hope to others who suffered.

One day, a radio jingle announced the arrival of Mercy Ships to assess people for surgery. Abdul and his father stood in line for an exhausting three days to be seen. It was worth every second when Abdul was accepted for treatment. “The joy I felt was so overwhelming that I lost my appetite to eat until I arrived at Mercy Ships,” he remembered with a flush of excitement.

At the HOPE Center, crew from around the world and patients with similar conditions embraced the father and son with kindness. Abdul and Simeon enjoyed the social interaction tremendously. It was a refreshing change for Abdul, who was so accustomed to rejection. At first, he cried a flood of tears after playing with the crew, for fear that they would never return, but soon he realized that they visited every day.

Abdul’s  father described him as a “cool and wild” boy. Here, Abdul starts to  relax in the HOPE Recovery Center.Abdul’s first Ponseti treatment involved the application of heavy plaster casts to his legs to correct the position of his curled feet. The thigh-high casts positioned his legs in 90-degree right angles. Abdul was required to stay in a permanent “squat” position for several months. But Abdul’s mischievous spirit emerged, and he cunningly mastered walking like a spider. Now, he could explore his new home and demonstrate his adventurous nature. He became the first one to scuttle over to greet visitors, join in creative activities with the other children and even climb the steps to go into the shower rooms.

Despite the playing and exploring, Abdul dreaded the cast changes. It was a lengthy procedure – but, in time, he formed endearing friendships with the physiotherapy team. His perseverance paid off. Finally, after many cast changes, Abdul was ready for the surgery to make his curled feet flat.

Then, suddenly, he was overcome by a fever. He lay motionless, drained, and limp. His father stayed at his bedside, soothing Abdul’s fears away by gently stroking his head. Fortunately, Abdul soon recovered. The first sign of the return of his sassy nature occurred when he received a puppet bear. The animated bear triggered his sunny smiles and laughter.

A few days after his successful surgery, he returned to the HOPE Center in straight, short leg casts which made walking easier. He joyfully hobbled around on crutches with the other boys who were receiving similar treatment on their legs. He was encouraged as they practiced walking together by playing competitive games.

Angel, a physiotherapy team member, made foot shields to keep Abdul’s feet in the correct position in his shoes. “The braces will help him in the future to walk correctly. I love that – it motivates me to make them,” said Angel. However, the foot shields brought to light another problem – Abdul did not have any shoes because he had never been able to wear them with his curled, twisted feet. This was the first time in his life he needed to buy shoes, and a delighted Abdul beamed, “I am happy because I can walk to school when I go home.”At the HOPE  Recovery Center Abdul tremendously enjoyed the social interaction of  playing with other children.Then something very unexpected happened. A Mercy Ships doctor offered to do some tests on Simeon. He had whispered since he was seven years old, after a long- term throat infection damaged his voice box. The doctor agreed to do surgery. Abdul was enormously excited about his surgery because he would now be the official person to look after his father in the hospital. As they waited to board the ship, he strutted up and down with a bounce in his step, announcing to anyone passing by that he was a “caregiver.”

Shortly after his father’s surgery, they were ready to return home. Physiotherapist Nick was overjoyed with the boy’s progress and said, “Abdul is very special. I’m very proud of him. His first few steps were like a newborn calf, but now he’s walking with confidence. His future will be worlds apart from what it would have been before treatment – he would have been begging on the streets. Now, he will work, contributing to society, which gives him a bright future.”

To mark the occasion, Abdul proudly wore his superhero Superman costume. Brimming with confidence for their future, his father waved goodbye and declared, “His faith has grown stronger and stronger as his legs healed. Now he’s ready to grow into a great man that we will love and respect!”
(by a ship writer)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sibi's new smile

Meet Sibi.
She is a supercute little princess.
Her only "fault" is that she was born with a cleft lip that makes her an outcast of society.

Do you remember her from Screening? I was trying to distract her while Deb took her picture...

Well, she was on board last week and she received a simple, yet life-transforming surgery.

This is Sibi Amegleto and her very happy mum today:

Yes. We work here for these smiles!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Weddings in Togo

The ship’s last field service in Togo was in 2010, and while it was there, many lives were saved, and many more were transformed. The following story about Win’n and Aicha isn’t about saving a life, but about helping to make a happier life for two from Togo.

I hope you don’t feel tricked or misled – this time it’s not MY story, but it’s a very sweet story indeed and it also gives you an idea of how Togolese people get married… with a little help from Mercy Ships. Enjoy! :)

BTW, they got married at the same place as we did 2 weeks ago...

“Once upon a time in Togo, there lived an elementary school teacher named Win'n. He was a fine, handsome young man … but he was born with webbing between the ring finger and the pinkie finger on his left hand.

In 2007, Win'n was invited to a friend's birthday party. One of the guests immediately caught his attention – a lovely young lady named Aicha. He glanced at her, and she glanced at him. He asked if he could drive her home. She refused. Because he wasn't faint of heart, he asked her again. She relented a little, saying maybe he could drop her off at the end of her street. He drove her home, and then courageously asked for her phone number so he could call her on Sunday.

“It’s my mother’s phone. I can't give you the number,” she responded. Finally, he asked if he could take her out on a date.

“My mother won't allow me out,” she told him. “If you want, I'll go and ask your mother,” he said. But she didn't want him to do that at all. Near exasperation, he said, “If you don't like my personality, tell me.”

She was silent – a very good sign.

It was time for the school year to begin, and Win'n was assigned to teach at a new school. When he showed up for the first day of school there was Aicha, in charge of the student food concession. Win'n was overjoyed! Now, he could have lunch with Aicha every day!

After more than two years, the headmaster called him. “You have been together with this girl for a long time. It is my wish that you would make her your wife. It was time to meet Aicha's mother.

A nervous Win'n went to Aicha's house at the appointed time. He was invited to sit in a chair, while Aicha sat on the floor at her mother's feet. Aicha's mother was a widow who wanted her daughter to be married properly, in the traditional manner.

She asked Win'n if he wanted to make her daughter his wife. He quickly responded that he did. The mother then gave him a list of things to buy if he wanted to ask for her hand. The list included 4 pairs of slacks, 4 pairs of shoes, 4 slips, 4 bras, a suitcase, and one large container of cola nuts (about 10,000 cfa). This list amounted to a dowry. Traditionally, a family asked for something that represented their area of Africa. For Aicha's family, it was cola nuts. Win'n bought all that was on the list, and next, his three aunts paid the traditional visit to the home of the bride's aunt. They knocked on the door, and the bride's aunt answered , “What's the news?”

His aunts then said, “Don't worry. We come with good news. There's a sunflower in your home. Our nephew wants to pick the flower, but he wants to ask your permission.”

The bride's aunts replied, “The flower has a price.”

Then Win'n's aunts produced the suitcase, and the bride's aunt checked to see that it contained all of the requested items. Now, four young ladies, including Aicha, lined up. As each one passed by, the bride's aunt asked, “Do you recognize the flower? Is it this one?”

When the bride-to-be passed by, the aunts said, “Yes!”

The bride's relatives responded, “Now, we are proud.” Win'n was overjoyed, but he had a problem. The ring finger of his left hand was webbed to the pinkie finger. He couldn't wear a wedding ring. Surgery could correct the problem, but on his teacher's salary, he couldn't afford it. He was very disappointed.

Then the mother of one of his students told him of the surgeries that the volunteer doctors with Mercy Ships perform without charge. This was his only chance to have his fingers separated.

Win'n received a free surgery and post-operative care. During one check-up, Nurse Alainie Costas discovered he was engaged. “When are you getting married?” she asked.

“As soon as my fingers are officially separated,” he answered.

On August 7, Aicha slipped a gold wedding band on Win'n's ring finger. What a wonderful wedding present from Mercy Ships!" (by a ship writer)

Friday, February 17, 2012

February Connections Video

Here is the February Connections Video for you where my favourite Grant explains to you why we returned to Togo this year. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

Married in Togo... - How Bizarre

Before we left the ship...
If you know that catchy song from OMC (How Bizarre)... I don't need to explain it any further. :)
If you don't, go to youtube and listen to it before you read on. If I find some time, I will put together a slide show with that music so you get the full effect. :)

"How bizarre, how bizarre, how bizarre..

Destination unknown, as we pull in for some gas

Freshly pasted poster reveals a smile from the past
Elephants and acrobats, lions snakes monkey
Pele speaks "righteous," Sister Zina says "funky"

How bizarre, how bizarre, how bizarre...

Ooh, baby (Ooh, baby)

It's making me crazy (It's making me crazy)
Everytime I look around
Everytime I look around (Everytime I look around)
Everytime I look around
It's in my face

Ring master steps out and says "the elephants left town"

People jump and jive, but the clowns have stuck around
TV news and camera, there's choppers in the sky
Marines, police, reporters ask where, for and why

Pele yells, "We're outta here," Zina says, "Right on"
We're making moves and starting grooves before they knew we were gone
Jumped into the Chevy and headed for big lights
Wanna know the rest? Hey, buy the rights...

How bizarre, how bizarre, how bizarre...

Outside the Court House with our Landie

With some of our closest friends whom we invited.
Me trying to RUN AWAY... Darren "kindly" making me stay...
Our rings on the Big Book
The day started with me finally being able to sleep in after a busy week. Darren saved me some breakfast and even made me a sandwich for lunch, which was very nice of him. Then I called my dad to wish him Happy Birthday - we chose this day so that we could remember better the dates... :) Darren did some laundry and we watched a few movies just to pass the time. This is only a paper signing ceremony, nothing too big so why overreacting it? Maybe because for the rest of the world THIS IS our wedding date? Funny, how that works, really. For us this was just a necessary step in order to get our marriage legalized...

With Monique, a local lady who helped us a lot with all the paperwork
Around 3 I went to my cabin to get ready, sent D back to shave again :) Cameras charged, rings in pocket, papers in hand, witnesses in car and off we went. D and I were sitting in the back of the Landrover, I always travel there so it never crossed my mind to sit in the front :) With 2 maps and a GPS the driver found the place 40 minutes later. It did look like a Court House with lots of people, photographers and decorated cars waiting outside. We had no idea what to do. There was no reception, no official looking person to ask, just a small waiting room with A/C on so our witnesses went in. We reluctantly followed them only to find 2 nervous couples inside. I was wondering why are they so nervous, not even a smile, just sitting there waiting for their names to be called.

Soon the first couple was called while a lady ticked off our names from her very loooong list... Apparently there were MANY people wanting to get married on that day, which was fine with me. The only thing I didn't get was we had an appointment at 5.30pm first, but a few days later we got a call to come at 4pm instead. So, we showed up at 3.40 and were not "registered" as being present till 4.30. This is African Time, I guess.

We settled comfortably on the chairs, waiting. Soon the second couple was called in while the first couple, now married and smiling, left the Court Room amidst loud clapping and cheering from the wedding party.
Slowly I started to get those butterflies and couldn't sit any more. It was definitely high time for some goofy pictures or I'd go crazy and run away screaming! :)
He wanted to tie me up to that pole... :)
Another 15 minutes later the second couple came out and suddenly a third wedding party showed up and went straight into the room. At this point I was more annoyed than nervous and could only laugh at the bizarreness of the situation... Little did I know what's ahead!

My witness went to ask the woman in charge who said it very politely in French that she didn't know we were there so she brought the next couple in. What she was implying was that we needed to show her "respect" (means bribe in Western English) if we wanted to come next...
How would you react to that? Sad? Angry? Making a scene? Laughing hysterically? Accept defeat? Pay the bribe?
I only shook my head and went back to the A/C-ed room without a word. I really just wanted this afternoon to be over with so that we can go out for dinner afterwards!

About 10 minutes later the woman came out to organize our wedding. It was highly amusing as she tried to boss us around with very broken English:
- Goodson? 
- Here! (D lifts his hand and steps closer)
- You walk with who?
- With my fiancée? (Come on, did you REALLY think this is how it's gonna be???) :)
- No, need other. (at this point we all cracked up laughing, HARD! Patricia, MY witness quickly jumped in to save the day. The woman seemed satisfied with that. She turned to me.)
- Mademoiselle? (I am not surprised she didn't even try to pronounce my name...)
- Here. ( I say and I know what she will ask next. I desperately looked around and found Tony, Patricia's husband.)
- I walk with him. Is that OK?
- Oui. (she nods and it sounds like the English word "we").
Tony was as surprised as I was, but he complied and lifted his arm. I hooked mine with his, but she corrected it: apparently I AM walking HIM in and not the other way around! :) As I said... bizarre!

Carol went in before us to take some pictures. Darren was in already, looking back nervously - not because of what about to happen, but he didn't know what WAS happening right then! Tony and I tried to catch up so we took bigger steps only to be yelled at for running. Go figure... 

Finally we were in too, standing in front of the high desk and a woman in charge behind it. Strangely she didn't sit in the middle chair. She asked something, we just looked at her blank. She showed her finger so we assumed she needed the rings. D gave her the box. She put the 2 rings on top of the Big Wedding Book and motioned for us to sit.

With the Mayor after the ceremony
Behind us the door opened again and in walked the Mayor of Lomé. We had no idea what was going on, until he sat down in the middle chair. I think we got this special treatment because we are white, D says it's because we are with Mercy Ships... Either way, our Wedding was officiated by the Mayor himself! You'd think it's a good thing, right?

As it turns out he had no idea what to say or do so he was heavily relying on the small cues from the woman in charge. She did small hand gestures when to stand, when to sit, what to read... Again, quite a surreal picture!
Me, loosing it... :)
Our translator did NOT translate a single word, apparently the mayor was speaking way too fast. I had absolutely NO IDEA what he was saying. His French words went in in one ear and left through the other without registering and I found myself zoning out. Big time! I was looking around, made mental notes about the decoration inside the room, when suddenly everything went silent. I turned my head back to the Mayor who was looking at me expectantly.

"Ummm... QUI?" - I asked after a couple of seconds. He nodded and turned to Darren. He wasn't caught off guard so he said it straight away. Then we looked at each other. Did we really just say YES to this marriage??? In fracking French???

The Moment of Truth
He continued talking in French, I couldn't be bothered to pay attention. At one point we had to stand up to do the rings. Since we have identical rings and D's fingers are very slim we had no idea whose ring was whose. Of course we mixed them up. :) What do you do then? Change it back and making the whole scene even more awkward or just go with the flow and swap later? We did the latter... :)

Another short speech from the Mayor followed by silence and a smile from him. I lost all my patience and said quite loud: Translation??? 

"You are married now. Kiss."

So kissing we did. Apparently Carol couldn't capture the moment so we had to do it again. After the kiss they opened the big book and Darren had to sign his name 5 times. Then they showed it under my nose to sign.
Where do I sign????
- What should I write?
- Your name.
- Which one? (maiden, married, both?)
- Full name.
- Your name.

I don't remember what I wrote, I don't think they can decipher it either... :(

The Mayor ripped the last column out of the Book and gave it to us. It had some stamps on it so I guess according to Togolese law we are officially married. He shook our hands and we were kindly escorted out of the building.
By then I was so pissed I didn't even bother to smile. The whole thing happened in 10 minutes, the most bizarre 10 minutes of my life - and trust me, I had many bizarre moments!!! :)

We took some more pictures outside. Both D and I just wanted to get out of there so we practically ran to the Landrover. We were soooo ready for some pizza with our friends!
With our 2 witnesses Patricia and Tony from UK
Under the Togolese flag and law
We drove to the restaurant and had a very pleasant evening. Some more friends joined us there to celebrate with us our... ummm... I don't really know, what! First wedding???

It sure doesn't feel like I am married! People keep congratulating us in person, on facebook, in emails. I think we are married... At least here. We didn't get the Apostille Stamp that would validate our marriage for the rest of the world. We were told we can go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get it. But of course only after we pay. Of course... :(

This is the original wedding certificate. If you look closer you see at the "option" part it's hand written: MONOGAMY. I suppose we should have chosen POLYGAMY! I can always use a second husband! :)))
This must be the first, though...
I mean, ever, in history: a Hungarian, a Brit, in Togo, in French, by the Mayor of the capital city! It sure makes for a good story! :)

So this is how it happened. 
We got married! 
I think...