Sunday, December 30, 2007

Mercy Ships AWAFC Party...

Our staff Christmas party. Above: the pictures. Below: a description of the photos.

Preparations started Friday morning. My job: beating peppers for the meal. A new discovery for me; efficient, especially for crushing garlic.

The meal was ready on time: 1 pm. Rice, fried chicken, potato salad, cous-cous. Yum.

After the meal, staff & patients got together for the reading of the Christmas story & for caroling, which included songs in Krio, English, Dutch, Mende, Temne, Limba, etc.

The 8 patients on the ward joined us. Fortunately all would be going home before Christmas day. For most of the staff that meant a bit of a holiday.

One of our OR nurses is retiring. So we included some speeches and gifts in honor of him. He served with us for 2 ½ years.

We also had great dessert. Cake & ice cream. A real treat for most.

Then we ended with a surprise Raffle. All names in a box, and the winner gets…a huge bag of rice!

Before going home all of the staff received their gifts. A bag of toiletries. A sack of clothes. A bucket of rice. A coupon to pick up a chicken.

Merry Christmas staff of the Aberdeen West African Fistula Centre!

This year's Salone Stocking...

Christmas in Salone is a bit different than Christmas at home. It’s hot and sweaty for one. Streets and houses are for the most part not decked out with decorations. People aren’t going crazy buying Christmas gifts. Nope, it’s not quite the same. I think I like it more though without the Christmas Craze. And I think I ended up doing more Christmas-like things here than I would have at home…visiting orphanages, the Children’s play, feeding center, etc.

Memorable times; a perfect Christmas except for the fact that I wasn’t with my whole family. Fortunately we could still do some of our family traditions: stocking, Christmas brunch, presents after brunch. Of course, even the stocking was a little different in Salone. I had a pillowcase for a stocking this year, wedged into a drawer. It served its purpose however. And in the morning it was fun finding gifts from my fellow expats in there.

The most extraordinary gift this year was the gift of “24 hour power” (green card above stocking). Since we don’t usually have power during the day, one of my house mates offered to cover the cost for some extra generator hours, so that all of us at the house could enjoy electricity (i.e. internet, ACs) during the day. We made use of the offer this afternoon which was GREAT. Sitting in the gazebo on a Sunday afternoon enjoying the luxury of internet!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas in Calaba Town...

Last week Sunday Luzanne, Vez & I spent the afternoon with children in an orphanage in Calaba Town- on the other side of Freetown. Vez has a physio patient at the orphanage and thought it would be great to have a Christmas party there. So, in the evenings before going, we spent some time sorting through clothes, toys, etc. to get the gift bags ready. Fortunately we had names and ages of the children so that made it a bit easier!

After church on Sunday we piled into the landrover and headed off to Calaba Town on the mountain road. We got there a little early- no problem. We were welcomed by the children and all sat in a smallish room together, the children with big smiles on their faces. While waiting for the director, we decided to start coloring. The kids loved it. And this was just the beginning. A little while later we all went outside for games. From old to young, big to small, they all joined in and had a fantastic time. They played the egg and spoon race, sack race, orange between the elbows, passing a ball alternating over the head/in between the legs. Great fun! Lots of laughing. A little bit of struggling for the younger ones, but lots of help from the older ones.

After a little bit of time to rest and catch their breath all of the children came back inside. They all listened carefully as Vez explained why we had come, and what Christmas means to us- God sending His son, for us. And because of the gift He gave us, we wanted to give them gifts too. The children glowed as we called them up one by one for their very own Christmas gift. A black plastic bag with red or green ribbon around it- they held onto them as if they were treasures. As each child received their gift they thanked us numerous times and their smiles only got bigger as they opened their gifts - a shirt, pencils, pen, sharpener, eraser, candies.

After the gifts they were served extremely large plates of food! How they manage to eat such large amounts I don’t know- but I suppose they eat twice a day, so that must have something to do with it. Once the sodas were handed out we started watching Ice Age 2 – which probably didn’t make much sense to them, but made them laugh anyway. The older ones liked the movie the most while the younger ones spent the entire time wrapping and unwrapping their gifts over and over again- thoroughly looking at the contents of the bag each time- as if they had never opened it before. So cute!

It was a wonderful way to share Christmas with the children. This is what Christmas is about. Sharing God’s gift with those around us. And sharing what He has give us with others.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Saturday Christmas play practice...

For the past 4 weeks we have been working on the childrens Christmas program in Sunday school; learning songs, rehearsing lines for the play, memorizing a verse. The children have been busy. However, there is only so much you can do in an hour of Sunday school, outside on a bench under a tree. We needed some time to practice inside, so we decided to meet at 10am today.

Just after 10am we drove up to the community center in Regent where we met up with 1 of the Sunday school workers and about 10 children. Not one of my 4 narrators were present. No Mary, no Joseph, none of the actors really. Hmmm...10am African time. And here I thought we were running a little late.

No worries. Soon enough 3 wisemen, a shepherd, an angel & an inn keeper walked in. So we (mainly Jitske) started with costume design. A couple of sheets, strips of fabric, some tinsel, and out come some costumes. Slowly more kids showed up as well as the other Sunday school teacher.

Time to practice. The choir was positioned in the middle of the stage, the angels on the platform, the inn keeper to the left, narrators to the right etc. Mary had arrived, but still no Joseph. So, as we went through the play- I stood in for Joseph and the 3 missing narrators & gave stage directions. Of course half way through practice we were told another group needed to use the building, so we continued practice outside, under the tree, in between 2 parked vehicles. No problem.

After going through the play a few times (12x4 lines narrated while children act out the story, with 4 songs after every 3rd verse) we decided it was time to stop. Of course, just as we were wrapping up, the boy playing the role of Joseph walked up. Well, better late than never I'd say. It meant having to go through the play one more time- but I felt better knowing he would know what to do Sunday morning!

So, tomorrow is the real thing! And I'll be sure to report back. I'm sure the children will do great. They amaze me over and over again!

Thursday night Christmas lights...

So, to be honest, I was pretty happy on Thursday when the last patient walked out the door. Don't get me wrong, I love my job, but it really felt like it was time for a break. So it was quite a nice feeling when the last patient left the clinic. I did schedule a follow-up patient for the following morning, but nevertheless it felt like the beginning of a holiday, with only one work day to go. [actually it felt more like the beginning of the break then, than it did on Friday- probably cause I was so tired on Friday to even enjoy the fact that it was the last day of work in 2007]

Thursday evening I went to a place called Bunkers with two celebrate a bit...and to enjoy the Christmas lights. Bunkers is a 2-story restaurant/bar on the beach and probably the best decorated place in town. We had passed it a couple times at night last week (when taking friends to the heliport) and thought it looked like a fun place to hang out. We couldn't pass up going there once during the holiday season. So 3 of us sat there and enjoyed the colored lights strung along the ceiling, the lit up reindeer, the green-light christmas tree (of which half the lights weren't working), while listening to the ocean and enjoying each others company. Honestly though, we were all pretty tired, but we still had an enjoyable evening.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

One week till Christmas...

7 days to go.
After sharing Christmas at 2 orphanages and the Feeding center,
There’s still much more to come.
Staff party on Friday.
Children’s Christmas play at church on Sunday.
Get-together with expats Sunday evening.
Bringing gifts to Joshua on Monday.
Christmas Eve dinner at orphanage no. 3 Monday evening.
Brunch at our house on the 25th.
And then two days/nights at the beach!!!

Tonight we decided the house needed a touch of Christmas.
It was time to put up the tree!
The Christmas decorating began…
With cups of hot chocolate & coffee…
Christmas music playing in the background…
Lights dimmed & candles lit…
And a few hours later…
Our house looked like Christmas!
We ended the evening watching “Narnia”, the only Christmas-ish movie we have!
It was a fun evening with the team!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Two nights at the heliport...

Okay, so I didn’t literally spend two nights at the heliport.
But I did spend a portion of two consecutive evenings there.
Why does one go to the heliport, you might ask?
And why two nights in a row?
Well, to see off one’s friends.
Stefani left on Friday & Morgen on Saturday.

FYI: To get from Freetown to Lungi airport you need to cross the river.
There are 4 options:
Road...this would take hours on bad bumpy roads, poor choice.
Ferry…cheapest option but takes awhile and not nice at night when all alone
Hovercraft…my favorite option but it’s still not in operation since it’s near-sinking experience.

(see "Sinking Hovercraft" post by clicking here)
Helicopter…the fastest but most expensive option at $70 (for a 7 min ride!)

So, my friends chose the helicopter.
And we decided to see them off.
Of course there’s some waiting involved,
Since both my friends had seats on the 2nd helicopter shuttle.
This meant waiting awhile before the first shuttle left,
And then waiting for its return from Lungi for the second shuttle to go.

Actually the waiting was fine – it gave us time for one last chat.
And to my surprise- there’s GRASS at the heliport.
There isn’t much grass in Freetown, so it was quite a treat.
So, there I lay, sprawled out on the grass, gazing up at the stars.
Not worried at all about what those around me thought.
I was enjoying the moment…until it was time to say goodbye of course.

Morgen & me at River no 2 one last time yesterday... I'll miss you friend!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Christmas at the Feeding Center...

Yesterday I went to the government-run Therapeutic Feeding Center in town.
When I refer malnourished children; that is where they are admitted.
So I sometimes go there on a Friday to visit,
To see if the children need additional help.

The purpose of today’s visit?
To give the children a Christmas gift.
To brighten up their day.
To show them love.

As we entered the room, the children were being weighed.
They were in their mother’s arms.
Most between 1-3 years old. Naked. Exposed.
Waiting for their turn on the scale.

I have to be honest; they looked miserable.
Skin & bones.
Some looked like little skeletons.
Resembling pictures on CNN from Ethiopia or Darfur or any refugee camp really.

Of course, I have seen this before. Many times. Every week.
But it hit me hard this morning.
I guess their usual clothes always mask the severity of their condition.
Today I was confronted with REALITY once again.

I was appalled by what I saw.
It was heart breaking.
Little children. Innocent. Suffering.
All over the world.

And there we were, delivering little gifts.
Don’t get me wrong, it was great to give the gifts.
But when I thought about the big picture,
It seems so insignificant.

Sadly, some of these children won’t make it till Christmas.
I thought “is this really all I can offer?”
So as I sat there with 2 year old Abdul on my lap (who I referred)
All I could do was pray.

Pray that God would touch these little lives.
Trust that these little ones are in His hands.
Acknowledge that He is in control.
And realize that He wants me to share His love.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Saturday at the orphanage...

On Saturday 4 of us took a trip out to an orphanage in Wellington where Stefani has been helping out on Thursdays/Fridays for the past 6 months. It took us 2 hours to get there- but no worries- there's always window shopping on Mountain Cut Street - literally people walking by your car window selling anything from popcorn, to cellphone top-up cards, to christmas lights, soft drinks, monopoly board games, tea towels, etc. Always amusing. And I had brought along some Christmas cds. So music wise we were set as well. And there were two "Frog and Toad" books in the car- so I was the designated story teller...and enjoyed every minute of it.

Stef leaves on Friday, so this was kind of her farewell. It was also an opportunity for us to bring the children Christmas gifts that Stef's family and friends had put together. The children loved it, the gifts that is. They had a hard time saying bye to Stef and it was heart-breaking to watch the tears stream down their faces as they sang her a goodbye song. Fortunately they broke into excitement again when they got the chance to play soccer with their new soccer ball.

I spent some time with this little girl whose mom works at the orphanage. She's a cutie. I decided to take some video footage with Stef's video camera- that way she didn't have to worry about it. Anyway, the kids of course love the camera. And this little girl enjoyed looking at her friends on the screen! And of course, we recorded a little of ourselves, and made sure we filmed a goodbye wave for Stefani! She'll be missed- both at the orphanage and at our house. Bye Stef.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Psalm 36...

Your Love, Oh Lord
Reaches to the heavens
Your faithfulness
Stretches to the skies
Your righteousness
Is like the mighty mountain
Your justice flows
Like the ocean's tide

I will lift my voice
To worship You my King
And I will find my strength
In the shadow of Your wings

Friday, December 07, 2007

Salone’s Chimps on National Geographic...

Last night a group of us went to the IMATT compound to watch a premier showing of National Geographic’s documentary about the Chimp Reserve. The documentary was well done & the evening pleasant. I must say it was a bit of a ‘shock’ to sit in a room with so many expats. It’s been awhile since I’ve been with so many ‘white people’ in one room!

I’ve visited the Chimp reserve a number of times in the last 2+ years; both before the “jungle breakout” and after. So, yes, I have seen the REAL Bruno – the alpha male that is currently still on the run. It is a very interesting place to visit; the nature is amazing, the chimps are intriguing to watch, basically it’s a great outdoor adventure. Favorite spot: the tree house.

In April 2006, Bruno and another 30 chimpanzees escaped from the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. One man died as a result. Since the escape, 27 of the chimps have returned to the sanctuary. Bruno and 3 others are still missing. National Geographic put together this documentary about the escape. “Jungle Breakout” is one episode in the series “Hunter and Hunted”. (
Hunter and Hunted 4: "Jungle Breakout")

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


Unfortunately goodbye’s are all too common when it comes to long term missions work. I’ve seen quite a few people come & go over the past 2 ½ years and goodbye’s are definitely not a highlight. I tell myself that it’s something you get used to; but it isn’t really.

However, as one of the guys pointed out- it also means saying a lot of hello’s. I guess sometimes it’s just a matter of deciding how ‘attached’ you want to become. Anyway, to look at the bright side- I am thankful that I can meet so many great people out here and make new friends. And spending time with friends definitely is a highlight.

So even though it wasn’t fun having to say goodbye, I was happy to be able to spend one last evening with ‘the guys’ last week Wednesday, before they headed back home (after 10 months here). Talking, laughing, chilling at Bunkers on the beach & watching a Christmas movie- which did get us into the Christmas spirit… Good times. Good memories. And hey, at least there's email...

I guess all this to say- be thankful for your friends. Enjoy the moments you have together. And I’ll say this to you as much as to myself- don’t hold back from investing in friendships just because you know you’ll have to say goodbye in the near future. Better a goodbye to a good friend, than no close friend at all.

(me & "the guys" at their farewell concert at church)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

3 weeks till Christmas...

November has come & gone. It was a busy month; with a lot of activity. Now December is here, with only 21 days till Christmas!

There’s a lot to do before Christmas: 7 long, busy, hectic, full clinic days, 3 vaccination days, 2 Sundays to practice the Sunday School Christmas play, 1 staff Christmas party to plan/organize/enjoy, many childrens' gift bags to put together, a house to decorate…

Does it feel like Christmas yet? Well, yes & no.
It’s not cold, but we have had some rain this week (surprisingly!) so it’s a bit cooler. The few stores here (supermarkets) are not yet playing Christmas music. However, because I’m organizing the children’s Christmas play at church, I’ve been singing ‘O come all ye faithful’ for the past week. Bliss café where we sometimes have our Sunday lunch, has a very small Christmas tree in the corner of the café; the first & only one I’ve seen so far. And friends are starting to head home for their Christmas holidays.

So, yes, Christmas is coming. I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be nice to have a little break from work. And I am excited about the Christmas program at church. As a Mercy Ships team, we will spend a few days/nights at the beach over Christmas which will be fun as well. A time of reflection, thanksgiving and anticipation…

Friday, November 30, 2007

Highlight of the week...

This is me and Baby Sherif. Yes, that's her name, Baby. She's 5 months old and daughter of one of the VVF (fistula) patients at the center. She is extremely cute. This picture was taken on Wednesday morning - I got to hold her during our devotions time. She's such a sweetie. Today I spent some time with her again. She smiled a lot! She's a very happy little girl. I took her around with me today while I was doing a few errands- such as handing out pay slips to my staff and printing documents. I walked around the wards with her and she made most of the ladies smile. What a delight and a definite highlight of the busy week. Of course after an hour of playing she got tired and fell asleep in my arms. Sweet!

Monday, November 26, 2007

A bit sad...

Okay, so, I have been a little down today. I think the reality of saying goodbye to friends has hit me once again. Some good friends are leaving this week, and over the next two months more will be leaving. I have gotten a little tired of saying goodbye; over and over and over again. I’m sad. I think that's the hardest about being here long term.

So, it’s only fitting to post something about the Anastasis- my long lost home. A friend posted these links – about the Anastasis in Alang. It was interesting to read the history of the ship and to see all of the pictures; so many familiar shots. But it also made me a little sad.

Click on the following links:

Anastasis in Alang Part One & Anastasis in Alang Part Two

The photographer that wrote the blog entry writes the following- “In the distant reaches of Alang, there was another group of ships, including a chemical tanker, a couple of "regular" tankers, and the most exquisite of them all, the sculpted, sleek ANASTASIS. Seeing such a beautiful creation and knowing that it will soon vanish forever stirs up a strange elixir of emotions. Here was this magnificent and proud ship completely exposed in the most natural of settings. For a ship about to be demolished, the ANASTASIS was in fine cosmetic condition. Ironically, she looked better at Alang than she did at Los Angeles two decades prior. I was so thrilled to be able to wander her decks one final time and take all the views I needed. It is such a shame that she could not be preserved but the cold reality is that ship preservation only happens once in a very, very blue moon. At least she will live on in memories and images.”

Yes, her legacy will live on…

(click here for previous blog post about Anastasis)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sinking hovercraft...

The drive to work on Tuesday November 13th was a little unusual. Just after the roundabout we looked to the left and saw the hovercraft partially under water! A pretty unusual sight so we stopped to take some pictures.

We still don’t really know what happened.
Rumor is there were 30+ passengers onboard.
No one was injured; they made it safely to shore.
The hovercraft was on its way to Aberdeen from Lungi.
According to some, the engine caught fire.
Other stories are that the filters of three engines were blocked, causing trouble.
Supposedly they ran out of fuel and a boat came to refuel the craft.
Some say that the boat crashed into the craft, causing damage.

We’ll never know what really happened. By the afternoon the hovercraft was towed back to shore. So, hopefully it will be up and running again soon…

Friday, November 23, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving...

Good morning.
This is the 2nd time this week I find myself up & running early in the morning.
This time I woke up at 5 am, but it was my own alarm clock that woke me up.
I wanted to say bye to friends who are heading back to the Africa Mercy.
They were here for a week, helping with the technical/maintenance side of things!
They were a great help, and lots of fun to have around.
Speaking of Friends...
Yesterday was Thanksgiving and I think most of us would agree that friendships are something we can be thankful for.
We had a wonderful time last night.
Celebrating Thanksgiving with 28 people.
Representing 9 countries: America, Canada, England, Scotland, South Africa, The Netherlands, Nigeria, Sweden & New Zealand.
From Mercy Ships Sierra Leone, to 4 American guys ("the guys") planting a church here, people from the IOC in Texas, a visiting mechanic from the UK, people from the Africa Mercy, a visiting surgeon, a lady working at a local orphanage, a physio who works with us part time and her dad who is visiting.
A few people spent the day at home preparing while some of us went to the center.
Clinic was long but done just in time to get us home in time for a shower before our special dinner.
I can tell you we had the most amazing dinner.
Here in Sierra Leone we managed to put together the perfect Thanksgiving meal.
Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, stuffing, pumpkin pie, jello, apple pie, ice cream.
What a treat!
We thoroughly enjoyed the dinner.
And afterwards had a great time of worship and sharing.
I couldn't have had a better Thanksgiving.
And I can truely say I am glad I could spend it with friends.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Security at the Teamhouse...

It's 6:10 am.
Why am I in the living room and on the computer already?
Oh yeah, a phone call at 5:15 am woke me up!!
My father called from his residence.
He was called by our security company asking if our house's security alarm had gone off.
So he wanted to check with me, at the other house.

Some background info:
We have guards on our compound provided by an official security company.
With that comes a panic alarm system.
We each have an alarm button in our room.
If something happens we push the button and an armed response team arrives.
Unfortunately the alarm sounds like a faint car alarm in the distance!

I told my father I had not heard the alarm.
But I also did not feel like going out to the guards to check, on my own, in the dark, just in case something was wrong.
I waited.
But I heard loud voices.
I decided to be brave.
After calling my father to tell him I was on the move I left my room with flashlight, cell phone & panic button in hand.

First thing I saw was red & blue lights flashing outside of the gate.
I peaked around the side of the house and saw a man with a red army cap on.
He didn't look familiar.
All of a sudden I didn't feel so brave anymore.
Change of plans.
I went around to the back of the house and went in through the back door.

That's when the alarm came on again; time to wake up one of the guys!
We opened the front door and were met by 5 men- all from the security company.
They said there is a fault in our security system and the alarm was randomly going off.
For the last hour!!!
The armed response team and everything showed up (hence the flashing lights)
Hmmm...some alarm if none of us woke up.
And too bad the guards didn't alert us!

So, all this to say, all is well at the team house and it's been an adventurous morning!
The security system will be up and running again by this evening...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Today is World Toilet Day...

Have you ever heard of World Toilet Day? Well, neither had I until a few weeks ago so I thought I’d take this opportunity to tell you about it. Seems interesting enough!

November 19th was declared 'World Toilet Day' in 2001 by 17 toilet associations (never heard of them before!) around the world. Since then, there has been an annual World Toilet Summit and many other regional conferences. This years WTD will launch the 2008 International Year of Sanitation (IYS), declared by the UN.

"WTD is a day to celebrate the humble, yet vitally important, toilet and to raise awareness of the global sanitation crisis." The theme for this year is “TOILETS FOR ALL”. Can you imagine life without a toilet? I suppose it is something I take for granted, because for 40% of the world’s population, this is reality. Here are some facts:

* 2.6 billion people do not have somewhere safe, private or hygienic to go to the toilet.
* On average, a person visits the toilet 2500 times a year, meaning you spend about 3 years of your life on the toilet.
* One gram of faeces can contain 10 million viruses, 1 million bacteria, 1000 parasite cysts and 100 parasite eggs.
* Suppression of urination due to dirty toilets can lead to urinary tract diseases. In order to avoid visting public toilets, some people refrain from drinking and suffer dehydration.
* The simple act of washing hands with soap and water after going to the toilet can reduce diarrhoeal diseases by over 40%.
* Most toilets flush in the key of E flat.
* Safe disposal of children's faeces leads to a reduction of nearly 40% in childhood diarrhoea.
* There are many people without a toilet yet so many names for them: loo, powder room, lavatory, outhouse, convenience, bathroom, gents, garderobe, necessary, women's room, restroom, potty, privy, the smallest room, cloakroom, latrine, place of easement, water closet (WC), throne room, and more...

Think about (and if you can, help) the 2.6 billion people out there, who have never used a toilet in their life!

Sources:,, BBC news, World Toilet Organisation

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Another day at River no. 2 ...

Today was another great day in Sierra Leone. After church 10 of us piled into the land cruiser & headed to River no. 2 beach. The roads were pretty good (compared to weeks ago) and we got there in less than an hour. It was a very relaxing day besides the struggle against the current to get out of the river meanwhile colliding with huge under water rocks. But we survived, with a minor cut or two. The rest of the day really was perfect: snacks, sound of waves, a fold out bed, sun, music & good company. What more could I want?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Inauguration news...

"We must all be ready now to embrace change. Change in our attitude towards one another, change in our attitude to our work and responsibilities and change in our attitude towards our nation."

This one of the statements President Koroma made during his inauguration speech which was attended by over 30,000 people. He called for a radical change from the way his country and its people have been used to doing things, inspite of the tremendous strides the country has made. All of these changes, President Koroma said, should translate positively into progress and development for the country. The President stated that his government will remain committed to maintaining good relations with all international friends & organizations and that they will remain actively engaged with brothers and sisters in the West African sub-region. He also reiterated his pledge to prioritize the provision of electricity not only for the capital city, Freetown, but for all provincial headquarter towns. He also said his government will exercise zero tolerance towards corruption, after which there were loud cheers coming from the stadium. It sounds like it was a successful ceremony. Now we wait to see how the government procedes and how the people respond.

"Corruption is not only a matter for the leaders and heads of government institutions, it is equally a matter for everybody... unless we change our attitude, we shall never be able to create the prosperous country that we dream about." (President Koroma)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

President's inauguration planned for tomorrow...

Driving home from work today we noticed a number of people hard at work; young men painting the street curbs. Red and White. Colors of the All Peoples Congress party. Even the palm tree was decorated with red & white paint; marked with the letters APC. Tomorrow is a big day for the people of Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone's recently elected president, Ernest Koroma, will be formally inaugurated tomorrow. News is that 8 West African heads of state will be in attendance as Sierra Leone's former president, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah hands over the presidential staff to new president, Ernest Koroma, in a ceremony marking the democratic transfer of power. It is the first transfer of power since Sierra Leone's civil war ended in 2002. President Ernest Koroma was actually sworn into office in September but the official festivities were postponed because of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

More news tomorrow...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Frustrations in the outpatient clinic...

What to write?
Well, not much today.
It’s 9pm on a Monday evening.
The day was long.
Some cases were frustrating.
I am tired.

At 8am this morning there were 80 children at the gate.
Unfortunately we had to turn 20 of them away.
The waiting room just can’t really hold more than 60.
And it would be overwhelming for the lab.
And even with 60, the last child didn’t go home until 6pm.

What to say to the parents who are turned away?
Each one says “please see my child, he/she is sick”.
I tell them “all of them are sick, it’s not just your child”.
I tell them “I can’t treat all of the children in Freetown”.
I tell them “I am sorry” and tell them what their options are.
But what does any of this mean to the mother holding her sick child on the other side of the gate?

We do what we can; today, we did it for the 60.
By the end of the day I was somewhat frustrated.
Why do some parents here seem to know so little about so much?
They load up their kids on meds, they barely feed them, they wait too long to see a doctor.
I realize again that “lack of knowledge” and sometimes “ignorance” is the root of many problems.
If only parents knew more, surely more childhood deaths would be prevented!

To be continued...

Friday, November 09, 2007

A reminder...

One night I had a dream.

I was walking along the beach with my Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints. Other times there were one set of footprints. This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life I could see only one set of footprints. So I questioned the Lord about my dilemma.

"Lord, You told me when I decided to follow You, You would walk and talk with me all the way. But I'm aware that during the most troublesome times of my life there is only one set of footprints. I just don't understand why, when I need You most, You leave me."

He replied, "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you. When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bucket showers...

In my last post, I mentioned having to take a bucket shower.
To some this may sound strange.
But for most people in Sierra Leone, this is daily routine.

I do have a regular shower; however, it doesn’t always work.
Sometimes the water tanks that lead to my shower are empty,
So I have to go looking elsewhere for water.

No problem; a bucket shower is a great alternative.
To be honest, it’s not all that bad.
You get wet, you get clean. Whatever works right?

For the children, I’d say it’s much more fun!
It’s more of a bucket bath at times than a shower.
(I do miss baths!)

We often see little kids taking bucket showers outside of their houses.
I think they look the cutest when they’re covered with soap suds.
Doesn’t this little guy look like he’s having fun?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Not so normal Tuesday in the clinic...

Unlike most Tuesdays, today was hectic; many children at the gate and many ‘interruptions’. Here’s the run down…

0715 - Phone rings. A patient of mine that had surgery on the Africa Mercy has been discharged. The father wants to know if I need to see the child, or if they can go home to Kono. I tell him he can go home.

0750 – I arrive at the clinic.

0810 – I go to the gate to face the line of 60 children; time for triage. I see a girl who looks pale & weak; I’ll see her first. I am asked to talk to 2 other patients; they have tumors. I need to discuss the possibility of surgery on the ship.

0820 – The patients are inside. My first patient is 4 years old, febrile, pale and breathing fast. I take her to the lab to do the history & examination while the lab tech draws blood. We wait for the results.

0845 – Her Hb is 6.7 g/dL. Her blood smear is full of malaria parasites. I send her to the referral center with a letter, hoping they have bed space.

0920 – By this time I have just seen a 2 month old boy with a persistent cough & fast breathing. He is struggling; he needs oxygen. A referral letter is written, a taxi is chartered, and off he goes.

1000 – I see a couple of ‘regular’ patients.

1030 – One of my follow-ups arrives. He’s 5 months old and I’ve been treating him for 2 weeks. He was pretty sick yesterday, today he looks a little better, except for a respiration of 80 per minute! I arrange for a chest X-ray elsewhere. He’s on his way.

1100 – A nurse asks me to see a patient; a 2 year old I saw last week (malnourished, breathing fast, poor condition) that I referred to the TB doctor. He is now on anti-TB drugs and looks a little better; he has a long way to go.

1245 – I have another follow-up case. Usually follow-ups come in the afternoon but I was concerned about this one yesterday and wanted him to come earlier. I diagnosed him with malaria & anemia (Hb 5.6 g/dL =low) and started him on anti-malarials. Today he’s eating & playing. I send him to the lab again.

1250 – I have a 5 minute lunch break while waiting for this child’s results.

1255 – Oh no, his hemoglobin is falling. It’s now 5.3 with the centrifuge and 3.9 with the hemocue. Yikes! I call the referral center; no beds left. The child is stable so I send him home with clear instructions, in case he gets worse. I will see him again on Wednesday. I say a quick prayer.

1300 – I continue seeing patients. There are at least 30 still to be seen. At least there’s another doctor now.

1600 – Children that were in line at 8 am have been seen. It’s now time for the 10+ scheduled follow-up cases. Some are better; some need to go back to the lab, some need other meds.

1630 – The boy I sent for an x-ray at 1030 is back. The x-ray was fine. I’m puzzled by the case; he is again on antibiotics and will be followed-up again.

1700 – The father of the 2 month old I saw earlier today shows up at the gate because his wife & son did not return home. I call the referral center to check if the boy was admitted – he was (so was the 4 year old girl). I tell the father. He seems disappointed that we didn’t give medicine; he is concerned. I explain that the child needed oxygen and stronger medicine. In the end he seems to understand and leaves for the referral center.

1800 – We’re all waiting for the last lab results so that we can send the last few patients home; almost done.

1830 – I’m on my way home.

Of course the craziness didn’t end there. I got home to find out there was no water in my bathroom and so washed my hair under the stand pipe outside, and finished with a bucket shower. I then realized that I missed my laundry slot. Then I went to a movie night at a local restaurant, to watch a great movie that unfortunately finished before it was really over. Then when I got home I had to finish up the October statistics for the clinic. It’s been quite the day!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

More of Robin Utrecht's pictures...

The pictures say enough.
Amazing pictures, amazing place, amazing work, amazing children.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Do not fear, Sandra's Latest is still here...

If you're looking for my blog, you found it.
This is the latest of The Latest.
The new and improved version.
For those of you who frequently visit my site,
You'll notice I made a few changes...
A few???
Maybe a lot.
Yes, my site had a make-over.
After struggling with various HTML codes this evening,
I finally managed to give my site a new look.
Content has stayed the same.
So, stay tuned for new posts on Sandra's Latest...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Fun with photos...

Okay, so this post is totally not work or Africa related, but I thought the picture was pretty cool. If you saw my previous post, you can see that we had quite a bit of electricity last weekend. Saturday we had 7 hours of NPA and Sunday about 5 hours. This might not sound like a lot of electricity to you, but it is when you're used to being without power on a Saturday and Sunday. Anyway, it meant I had some time to surf the web. And of course one site lead to another and another. Which brought me to this site , through which I created the above collage. So, if you feel like doing some fun stuff with photos you've taken (and have some time), check it out.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I was seen in the metro...

NPA is on! NPA is the National Power Authority. Basically it means we are getting electricity from the city, rather than our generator; something that doesn’t happen on a daily basis. This is one of the things that people are looking to the new government for – 24 hour power! Anyway, seeing as we don’t turn our generator on during the day it is a pleasant surprise to have electricity right now. Of course, it could go off at any second. But so far it’s been on for 4 hours straight.

Anyway, no – there is no metro in Sierra Leone. However, a friend of mine got a hold of me on msn chat and told me he saw my picture in the ‘Metro’ newspaper in Amsterdam this week. So, since I have some time to kill I thought I’d try and see if I could find it online. And I did. The picture is one of the one’s Robin Utrecht took (see previous entry). The article itself is obviously in Dutch so most of you can’t read it. It’s not actually about the work we do here, but a general piece on projects in developing countries. I still thought it was fun they used a picture from the clinic.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Visit from Dutch journalist & photographer...

This impressive picture was taken outside of the clinic gate on a Monday morning, as the moms were waiting to come into the clinic with their sick children.

Early October we had the privilege of hosting (well-known) photographer, Robin Utrecht, as well as journalist, Anne van der Vliet, from Holland. Their aim was to report on the work that Mercy Ships is doing both here in Sierra Leone, as well as on the Africa Mercy in Liberia. While in Freetown, they were also able to cover amputee football, an African church and the Special Court.

I was impressed by Robin’s photography; more photos will be posted soon. It was also fun to hear that a number of the photos, as well as a brief story on my parents and me, appeared in multiple (14!) newspapers in The Netherlands. It’s not every day that you get a Facebook message from a friend saying they saw your picture in the local paper!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

World Polio Day - towards a polio-free world...

Today is Wednesday.
Vaccination day in the outpatient clinic.
A day to focus on prevention rather than cure.
One of the diseases targeted is polio.

Poliomyelitis is a highly infectious viral disease.
Mainly affecting young children.
In some cases children are left paralyzed.
This is permanent.

There is no cure.
Only prevention.

October 24 is World Polio Day.
Marking the birth of Salk.
Leader of the team that invented a polio vaccine in 1955.
In 1988 Sabin developed an oral polio vaccine.
This is what we’re using today.
It has reduced polio worldwide by 99%.

Polio cases are at an all-time low in West Africa.
However, 90% of the world’s polio cases are still found in Africa.
There is still a global push to eradicate the poliovirus.
We are joining in the fight.
“Kick polio out of Sierra Leone”

Monday, October 15, 2007

Behind the scenes...

The day after the big catch I was walking along the beach with my colleagues and we again saw fishermen pulling in their nets. This time I had my camera with me. Here's a little glimpse behind the scene...or nets!

First the fisherman push their boat into the water, then they get in, paddle out further, throw the net into the water, then they somehow get back to shore- with ropes attached to the net at each end, the ropes are then attached to a tree or some other object on the beach- with a fair distance between them. After a while, guys start pulling on the ropes - slowly pulling in the net, little by little. After a while, their catch lays on the beach in front of them. Some days there are only a few fish in the net, other days there are more. Very occassionally there's the Big Catch.

On this particular day they caught a lot of fish- not as many as the night before (see previous blog entries) but still a rather big catch. They were quick to use the net to build a 'fence' around the piles of fish. Soon enough a big crowd gathered around.The catch needed to be protected.

As you can see, it got pretty busy. I am not so sure how it works. Apparently some fish are sold, some are given away. It seems organized, but it is hard to figure out what is happening. A lot of people walking back and forth, some arguments here & there, many baskets, piles of fish covered with cloth to symbolize ownership. One man even put his bicycle on top of his fish to make sure no one took them! Buying, begging, selling, giving. Everything at once.

When we asked one man how he got his fish, he said: "I am strong, you need to fight for it!" (He was one of the ones who was given a fish). When a small fight broke out, a sensible teenage girl commented on how silly it was to argue, saying: "ah, they're only fish..."

It was fun watching...from a distance :)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Best buy in Freetown...

When I'm in Europe or the USA people often ask what I miss most; often referring to food. To be honest there's not a whole lot I miss. We have a great cook at the team house and lots of fresh fruit (pineapple, mango, papaya, etc). I probably eat better dinners here than I would if I was back home. And we have dessert night once a week!

So, what do I miss? Well, those that know me well, will know that the one thing I look forward to the most (food/beverage wise that is) when going 'home' is MILK!!! Powdered milk just doesn't do it for me; it's fine in cereal, or tea, but it's not something I'd want a tall glass of.

BUT- I found an excellent alternative- it seriously is the best product I've found yet in Freetown - and they have it at 'Freetown Supermarket' (my favorite grocery store). It costs 3500 Leones which is $1.17 for 500 ml. I love every drop of it! What am I talking about??? CHOCOLATE MILK. Need I say more?

Tomorrow is Friday...which means doing some shopping for the weekend- I usually buy juice, chips and 3 or 4 chocolate milks for my supply :)

PS: The second best buy is definitely Cadbury's Milk Chocolate with MINT chips- unfortunately they hardly have it in the stores...which makes it a real treat when they do have it I guess.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Fish Story Part 2: a video: "man attacked by flying fish"...

Excellent video footage from last week's big catch, taken by Frans. You'll want to watch this clip a few times, to appreciate it in full. It wasn't until the third time we watched it that we noticed the man being 'attacked' by a flying fish! We were a little concerned at he's being carried away. But after seeing him sitting on the sand, looking relatively okay, in another clip we decided it was fine to laugh and enjoy. It's one of those clips you can watch over and over and over again.

The flopping fish are obvious, as is the lady dancing on the left of the screen. But pay special attention to the man that appears in the middle of the screen (wearing red shorts, white shirt).

Sunday, October 07, 2007

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish...

It was late afternoon when a couple of us went for a run.
We took our usual route, along the beach, by the water’s edge.
12 minutes into our run we saw a lot of people up ahead.
We stopped to check it out.

They had just pulled in their nets, or attempted to at least.
The catch was so big, they couldn’t pull them in all the way.
So, at the water’s edge, men started pulling huge fish out of the nets,
Throwing them to guys a couple of meters further up the beach,
Who proceeded to throw/carry them to a pile that was beginning to form.

So many images-
A barricade of fish at the water’s edge.
A huge pile of fish further up on the bank.
Fish flying through the air.
Men and women running back and forth.

We stood there watching in awe.
I had never seen so many fish at one time.
A colleague estimated that there were ten tons of fish.
The locals said it is the ‘cowrah’ fish.
Word has it that a catch like this occurs once every 18 months.

When we got home the catch was the talk of the evening.
A number of us had seen the excitement at various stages.
Frans who was there around 430 took some video clips.
Jerry who was there after us at 630 took some pictures.
I could only begin to imagine what the ‘fish miracles’ in the Bible were like.

We couldn’t help but decide to return to the scene.
Curious to see how many fish were left; surely they can’t sell them all.
At 830 pm 5 of us climbed into the Land Cruiser.
And drove off into the night,
Excited, like little children on the eve of a birthday.

When we reached the spot, there were cars everywhere.
It was dark, very dark.
There were hundreds of people around.
A big NGO ‘no no’ really, to get out of the car and start mingling.
But we did just that.

We were soon ushered down to the beach by some locals.
There was now a huge netted fence at the spot we were at only hours before.
Because we were white (tourists they thought) they let us into the netted area.
We were in the inner circle.
Only a foot from the enormous pile of fish.

After taking some pictures we agreed to buy some fish.
6 fish for Le 50,000 ($17), which disappeared into a big bag.
The bag was carried to our car and we were on our way home.
The longer we were in the car, the stronger the fishy smell.
By the time we reached home the smell was overwhelming.
(For those who have done obstetrics- think of the overpowering smell of placenta…yuck!)

Now that we had the fish, they needed to be cleaned.
Fortunately our security guards agreed to help.
But first we needed to take pictures of our catch.
The 5 of us with our fish- on World Animal Day.
Out came the knives (albeit blunt) and basins of water.

This is the end of part 1 of the fish story. To be continued…

~ Act Justly. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly. micah 6:8 ~