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…

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