Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

A Merry Christmas to all you wonderful people!  You've been very much in my heart these last few weeks.  Little things pop up to remind me of this or that.  In a surreal moment, I found myself watching an episode of Stargate SG-1 with the Africa Mercy Nerd Herd.  My heart shed a tiny nostalgic tear when I saw those familiar faces (Walter! Siler! Oh stock footage of British Columbia, I've missed you!).  On a very long car ride back to the ship I found myself making up a story to entertain some kids, just like I used to do for J.J. in Mount Vernon.  And of course the onslaught of Christmas movies we've been watching on this ship does nothing to help matters.  Also, I feel I should confess that whenever I get the chance to, I stalk you all on facebook.  If I can't be there with you in your festive celebrations, I can at least look at the pictures and pretend I'm there.  Sigh...

It is a fact that saying yes to one thing necessarily means saying no to many others, so even though my heart aches at the thought of all the loved ones I won't see this Christmas, it is also bursting with gratitude for all the rich experiences I am having here in Guinea.  I shall try to share a few of them with you.

Almost two weeks ago, my good friend Rebekah got married, and I got to be one of her bridesmaids.  Here's a picture.
See how I'm holding my skirt up with my left hand?  That's because we got our dresses sewn for us by a local tailor who, despite our efforts to communicate otherwise, insisted that all right thinking bridesmaids wear heels with their dresses.  Since most of us very sensibly bought flat silver sandals, our dresses were all a few inches too long for us.  The wedding was a wonderful blend of cultures as Rebekah is from the US and James (the fellow she married) is from Nigeria.  The ceremony itself was relatively short and simple (a Western thing), but it was the first wedding I've ever been to where everybody dances down the aisles and out of the church at the end (definitely an African thing).  Actually, we did a lot of dancing (and, unfortunately, sweating) that day.  It was great fun!

Last night, the Australian contingent got together and planned a traditional Australian "Carols by Candlelight" sing-along.  We all gathered on the dock to eat grilled chicken and sing Christmas Carols.  Highlights of the event included:  a visit from "the Wiggles" and a very African looking Santa, and getting to hold real candles with real fire on them while we sang.  My friend Leanne took this picture.  The glowing cups are our home-made candle shields.

It was strange to look at our ship all lit-up last night and think, 'I live in that big blue and white box with about 300 other people.'  I've noticed lately, that people here are getting to know me well enough that I am no longer able to pretend my way out of a bad mood.  More than a few times over the last few weeks, I've told a friend that I was feeling 'fine,' only to meet skeptical eyes and pointed questions.  It's unnerving to have people digging around your feelings until you're all teary and vulnerable.  But I really appreciate having people here who care enough about me to help me work through things instead of letting me ignore them until they fester.  I know you all would do that for me if you were here.  I know you think about me and pray for me.  Maybe your prayers are helping my friends here notice things.  In any case, I am well taken care of. 

Well, it's Christmas Eve, and there are things to do before our special dinner tonight.  I've decided to give my students coupons for a free game day sometime this next semester as a Christmas present.  Having no Wal-Mart within driving distance really forces a person to get creative in the gift-giving department.

I love you all, and I am holding you in my heart this Christmas.

As Tiny Tim likes to say "God bless us, every one!"

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Highschool Retreat...out in the Bush!

 Every year, the highschoolers (6th grade through 12th grade) take a weekend away somewhere.  This year, we went to the Agriculture Site near Kindia.  Maybe I should back up a bit and tell you that every time the Africa Mercy pulls into a new port, part of what we do involves finding a suitable site and facilitating some agricultural training.  (And by 'we', I really mean the people in charge...I personally know absolutely nothing about making plants grow.  I grew up in a desert.)  Anyway, we left the ship early Thursday morning and bounced around in the car until we arrived here, a farm right outside the town of Kindia.
Isn't it gorgeous?  On Friday morning, we got to help transplant banana trees, move eggplant seedlings from the nursery to the regular plot, create compost (apparently a fair amount of chicken poo is invloved--the African man who was explaining the process to us kept trying to find nice ways to say it, but in the end, how many ways can you say poop?), and harvest palm nuts (not coconuts) from these enormous, spikey bunches.  I tried eating a raw nut.  It tasted oily and fibrous, but not that bad.  Kind of like a cross between a peanut and an avocado.  Here is a picture of the palm nuts being boiled as part of the oil making process.  Once they're thoroughly boiled, the nuts are pressed in a machine.  The oil drips out the bottom into buckets while the fibers are squished out of the sides in a way that reminded me of this hippo that I saw while visiting the zoo last April with Jake, Sara, and little Zoe.
 On Friday afternoon, we went on a 'hike' that was really more like a two and a half hour walk.  (You know it's not going to be a real hike when your guide shows up in jeans and a long-sleeve button-up shirt.)  About two-thirds of the way out, we crossed this really cool bridge.  It was at this juncture that I discovered that my students play Pooh Sticks (!).  Of course, they would never call it that, but the rules are the same.  Everyone finds a stick or leaf or somesuch and drops it over one side of the bridge.  Then they all run across to the other side to see whose stick floats out from under the bridge first.  Here's a picture of all the boys leaning over the railing to see whose stick is going to win.  Sometimes I forget that these families don't have the luxury of just driving out into the countryside whenever they feel like it.  Any trip outside the city involves signing out vehicles or hiring a taxi.  Then it takes several hours to get anywhere, not necessarily because you're going very far away, but because you have to navigate through crowded markets and befuddling streets that only travel in certain directions at certain times of the day.  On top of all that, one must consider whether it's safe to travel at all...  We don't any of us get out as much as we'd like.  
 On the other hand, when we do get out, it's Africa we get to see.  And she's a beauty!  At one point, all the students spent an hour or so making 'land art.'  The challenge was to create some sort of art using only things they could find lying around.  Below is a raft some of them built using bamboo and whatever grasses/vines they could find in the surrounding field.  If you look closely, you can see a heart shaped out of red grass.  When the raft was completed, they launched it into the stream, where it got caught on one of the banks.  It was still there on Saturday morning, when we left.
On Saturday, our plan was to see some cool waterfalls on our way back to the ship.  What was supposed to take twenty minutes out of our travel time somehow turned into two hours, but the waterfall itself proved to be worth it as far as I was concerned.  (We also got to wander through the streets of Kindia, which were colorful and exciting!  We even got pulled over by the local police, but they let us move on after a few minutes.)  Anyway, below you will find a picture of me sitting on the edge of the waterfall.  One of the advantages of getting older is that when you go on school trips, you get to give yourself permission to do the fun but dangerous things.  Ben, the Principal, later told me that he'd had to tell the boys that the only reason I was allowed out there was that if I fell over the edge, he wouldn't have to answer to my parents.  This amused me very much.  Bet you didn't know I was such a daredevil.
 The river below the waterfall disappeared into the jungle in a way that put me very much in mind of the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland.  I almost expected to see a boatful of tourists floating around the bend, camaras at the ready, all eager to see the backside of water.
When I stumbled out of bed in the morning, I sure didn't expect to be seeing this in the afternoon.  :)

You know, strange as it may seem, one of the things I've been working on lately is not envying other peoples' lives.  It's embarassing to admit, but sometimes I find myself sighing a little sigh of self-pity when I see my contemporaries all married with houses and children, or off earning doctorates and writing books.  I see time marching inexorably on in the wrinkles that gather around the corners of my eyes and the odd gray hairs I find sprouting here and there among the brown.  In the quiet math of the Single Woman, I've begun to adjust my dreams from having dozens of children to maybe having one or two before my body dries up like a useless husk, and I have to start taking bone supplements and going on power-walks with little pastel three-pound weights in either hand.  But when I look at pictures like these, and reflect on the million billion more equally amazing pictures I hold in my memory, I realize that I am being given a gift worth far more than I could ever imagine or possibly deserve.  I am content.  Thank you, God.  You do very good work.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hello, friends!

It has been too long since we talked.  The last few weeks have been full of the sort of ups and downs I have come to expect while living in such a unique situation.  I am thousands of miles from my friends and family, yet I see your pictures almost every day on facebook (after the 15 to 20 minutes* it takes to load).  A phone call can put me in contact with any one of you, but the 8 hour time difference means that one of us is usually working or sleeping when the other is able to talk.  While avocadoes and bananas are plentiful, new underwear and comfy shoes have to be ordered months in advance.  This is the only place I've lived where going on a run is more complicated than visiting the doctor.

Please don't misunderstand.  I love it here.  Last night, we had a little evening concert that featured a Gaelic fiddler, a youth praise band, handbells, a ukulele group, and West African drummers.  Earlier in the week, the we had our own little cooking competition based on the TV show 'Chopped.'  And this morning, I went down to deck 3 to have church with the patients and nurses.  I sat on a hospital bed, listened to a great message, and watched African patients and guests take turns cuddling a little white baby, while the pale, blonde Dutch nurse next to me held a beautiful little African baby on her lap. 

In summary: last week I cried myself to sleep one night and spent another night talking with friends, during which conversation I laughed so hard I almost peed my pants.  One day it is homemade pizza and bagels for lunch, and the next day it's mystery rice and some sort of fish soup.  I guess you could say that life here is very vivid.  I am very, very grateful for every bit of it.

Here are a few pictures.  Maybe you can look at them and pretend you're here for a moment.  I'd be very glad of the company.  :)

Guess who played with the ukulelists last night!  Me!  (taa-daa!)

This is a picture of our midships/cafe area.  We're having a harvest festival.  Of course, when you're an ocean away from Target and Wal-Mart, you have to get a little creative with your games...

This particular game is called 'rake the paper leaves with a fork.'  I'm pretty sure the storm trooper won.

Thank you for listening to me, for sending letters and pictures, for taking the time to read my little blog posts, praying for me, and just generally for being the amazing people you are.  You are a great comfort to me.

*Okay, so maybe not quite that long, but it is powerful slow all the same!

Sunday, October 21, 2012


You'll never guess who shook my hand last week.  Go ahead and try... Give up?  It was the President of Guinea!  Yeah, you read that right, the President (as in 'Hail to the Chief') of Guinea (as in Country of).  Isn't that wild?!
I knew something was up when I looked out the window during class and saw guys with guns buzzing around our ship in a little speedboat.  As it happens, President Alpha Conde was touring a great big French Navy Vessel that had been parked behind us on the docks for the last few weeks, and I had caught a glimpse of what amounts to the amphibious wing of the Guinea Secret Service (only not really secret, considering the ginormous guns).  Since he was already in the neighborhood, the President decided to drop by the Africa Mercy as well.  So the announcement was made that if we want to hear the President speak we need to be in the International Lounge at 15:00, wearing our Sunday best, otherwise stay out of sight. Oh, and if you were planning to leave the ship, you can forget it on account of the small army(!) that is now guarding the gangway.  Since I was done teaching, I thought I'd go and hear what he had to say.  As we all waited in the International Lounge for the President and his entourage of ministers and guardians to finish their tour of the hospital, we were prepped on proper President-listening behaviour.  Basically, you stand up when he comes in and wait for someone important to tell you you can sit down again.  Not too complicated, right?  But I don't mind telling you that the longer we waited for him to come, the more nervous I became.  What if I mess it all up somehow?  What if I sneeze in the middle of his speech?  I began to wish I had washed my hair and shaved my legs that morning, or taken an extra fifteen minutes to put on some make-up.  I'm pretty sure I could actually feel my leg hairs growing. 
After what was probably less than the three hours it felt like, he finally came.  Like people at a wedding, we all rose to our feet and watched him process up to his special chair at the front of the room.  Then, we sat down.  Phew!  No international incidents so far.  Donovan Palmer (our Head Guy) gave a very nice presentation on what Mercy Ships does and stuff, and then President Conde rose and gave a speech of his own.  He struck me as a very eloquent and genuine speaker.  He said he was surprised to find that we were an international group (and not just from the United States) and that there were whole families living and working on the ship.  He also shared some of his hopes and aspirations for Guinea, and thanked us for changing the lives of the people we're able to help.  It was a lovely speech, and at the end of it, he said, "I would like to shake each one of you by the hand!"
I'm sure it drove his security guys crazy.  Nevertheless, President Alpha Conde walked up and down each row of seats (a rather squishy affair since there's not much space between rows), looked each one of us in the eye, and with a quiet 'thank you,' shook our hands.
One of my mom's favourite verses to quote is, "For you do not know what a day will bring forth." To which I can only add a hearty Amen.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

To Market

I remember a moment almost exactly twelve years ago when I was walking on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle with my room mate Sarah.  We were freshmen then, just a few weeks into the whole college experience, still aching with homesickness and anxiety.  I think we'd ventured up to Safeway to buy food or something.  Anyway, I distinctly remember noticing that everything suddenly felt normal.  I looked down at my feet plodding away on the sun-soaked sidewalk, and then up at the picturesque houses and trees all crowded together on an impossibly small street, and knew that somehow I could live in this strange new place.  Something inside me stopped fluttering and found a spot to rest.  Well, today it happened again.  A couple friends and I were picking our way along a dusty street in Conakry looking for the market, and suddenly everything became mine again--the rich cacophony of French and Susu (or is it Pulaar?) and broken English as street vendors vie for my attention, the redness of the dirt, the balmy warm breezes, the smell of food and exhaust and people.  It has a hold on me, now.  I belong to it, a little.  I am not making any long range plans or anything. (Don't panic, Dad.)  I just know that right now, I live here.  And it's good.

By the way, the market was AMAZING (and I do not use the caps lock lightly).  I really wish I could have taken some pictures to show you, but it isn't polite here to take pictures of people you don't know without asking permission, and even then it's not a guaranteed affirmative.  A local expat explained it to us this way.  In the West (that means the U.S., Canada, Europe, etc.) when we see something, the image belongs to us, and taking a picture is simply a way of preserving that image.  Here, what we see belongs to the people we're seeing, as it were, and taking a picture of it is a bit like stealing.  Anyway, I don't know enough french to ask permission, so you'll just have to settle for a description.

Imagine a small dirt lane with open stalls all along either side of it.  Clothing hangs along the walls and sandals are piled high on small tables.  In the space of a hundred yards, you can buy daipers, brooms, surge protectors, peanuts, and school supplies, all without leaving the street (which at this point, seems more like and alley).  Suddenly, your guide takes a hard left, darting past people and tables and into a small crevice in the concrete wall.  And while you are mentally preparing yourself for the acute embarassment of bursting into some poor person's living space, you notice two things.  First, what you thought was a concrete hallway is really a hallway-sized tunnel that seems to go on forever, and second, some guy is trying to sell you a nice pair of heels from a niche in the wall that looks for all the world like Ali Baba's cave (if said cave had been six feet deep and full of women's shoes).  And he's not the only one.  As you walk (or sometimes squelch) down the tunnel, you pass dresses, jewelry, cell phone covers, more shoes, and untold treasures of every other kind, all nestled in their own lit-up nooks that shine like merry little lanterns in some sort of enchanted mine.  Eventually, the tunnel opens up into an enourmous warehouse filled with a maze of fruit and vegetable stands.  Lemons, oranges (which are actually green here), potatoes, eggplant, and other produce lie in neat stacks all around you.  In one direction, women are grinding some sort of flour which they will sell to you in plastic bags, while from the other direction, the smell of raw meat signals butchers' stalls.  From a loft on the other side of this great cavern, you hear the industrious buzzing of fifty-odd sewing machines as tailors labor to fashion dresses and shirts and other haberdashery for their clientele.  Another bewildering tunnel (this time the men's department), and you suddenly find yourself blinking in the sunlight--on a different street.  Like I said, it was amazing.

A couple nights ago, I was up on deck 8 (the tippy-top deck) with the ukulele club (nothin' like playing 'I'll Fly Away' with the fellow ukelelists out in the balmy African breeze), and I snapped this picture:

Ain't I a lucky girl?  Yes. Yes I am.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

I bet you were wondering what my toilet looks like...

Hello friends.

 This is a picture of my bathroom.  The view from this particular angle is the first thing I see in the morning.  When I get up, it is pitch black in my cabin.  We have an inside berth, which means no windows, so it's just as dark at 9am as it would be at 3am, which takes a little getting used to.  After hitting the snooze button exactly once, I draw back the curtains and scrunch like an inchworm to the foot of my bed.  Slowly, hesitantly, like a snail coming out of its shell, my leg stretches down, searching in the darkness for the rickety metal ladder that hangs from the side of my bunk.  Having found a solid foothold (-ish), I ease myself to the floor, feel about in the inky black for my towel, and walk by memory and feel across our homely cabin to the bathroom.  I usually don't run into any chairs.  Now, the bathroom light switch is not actually in the bathroom.  It is mounted, rather, on the side of our cabin wall, to the left of the door.  So, partly to help myself wake up, and partly to avoid disturbing my somnolent room mates, I play a little game with myself.  It's called try-to-flip-the-light-switch-and-then-hop-in-the-bathroom-and-close-the-door-before-the-light-actually-flickers-on.  You get bonus points if you don't slam the door.  I think I've legitimately won possibly five times since I started keeping track.

Over the subsequent grooming process, I draw a veil.  I am a lady, after all.  Do you remember how in elementary school we were taught that good people don't keep the tap running while they brush their teeth?  Well, here on the ship, we apply that rule to all water-related activities, including showers.  I'm becoming rather adept at it, I must say, although I don't think I'll ever be able to keep the two-minute shower rule to the letter.  After opening and shutting various drawers in the half-light of my cabin post-shower, I venture forth to the cafeteria for breakfast, and whatever lies beyond.  Someday soon, I shall have pictures of my classroom to share.  (Above, you will find a picture of my bunk.  That's piglet resting by my pillow.  The natty curtains cover all but an eight inch gap at the foot of the bed.  The usefulness of such thick curtains in an otherwise open room more than makes up for their undeniably ugly pattern.)

Life on the ship moves on in its now-familiar pattern of school, meals, meetings, impromptu worship sessions on the deck, zumba classes, movie nights, and so on.  On Wednesday, I went to a crew debriefing where the physical therapy team was showing how they can use a series of gradually altered casts to bring club feet into normal position.  I think it's called the Ponseti method.  Of course, sometimes you have to have a small operation and cut part of the Achilles tendons to loosen the foot up, but most of it is surgery free.  Then, after the last set of casts have come off, they teach the patient a sort of squatting exercise that they can do to keep their feet from reverting back.  Isn't that cool?  For a few minutes, I considered looking into medical school, just because I think it would be neat to be able to help people walk like that.  Ah, me... So many cool things to do and only one life in which to do them.  Maybe I'll fit it in after my kids have gone off to college.  They have scholarships for old ladies, right?  (And considering that I'm not having kids anytime soon, I'm going to be a very old lady.  Maybe they'll put me on the news.) 

I know that not everyone who reads these blog posts is someone who prays (if this is you, I am glad you're here), but I would like to share a few prayer requests for those of you who do.  There's no huge emergency (that I know of), but none of the things we do that are really worth doing are easy.  Sometimes, a slow and steady wearing down of the soul can do more damage in the long run than any sort of crisis.  Also, if you pray with me about these things, it's like you're here with me helping me do something good in a very real way, and who doesn't want a chance like that?  So every once in a while I would like to share some prayer requests with you so that we can pray together.
Here they are:

1. Please pray for my students, that they will have a vision and a purpose for their lives here.  It's not easy being a teenager on a missionary hospital ship.  While these kids have seen more of the world than I've ever seen, there's still a sense that they're missing out on normal things like highschool sports and being able to drive off with your friends and just hang out.  They see the sacrifices they've made to be here, but since they're not actually doctors or deck-hands, or cooks or receptionists, they don't get the satisfaction of doing something that makes a difference.  It's like buying a car without actually getting to drive it.  Sort of.  Anyway, I just want them to know that they are valuable people and there is a purpose to their being here.

2. Please pray for God to send some more volunteers our way.  I don't work in Human Resources, so I don't know specifically what kind of jobs we need filled.  I think I heard something about needing more nurses at our last community meeting.  If you know anyone who'd be interested, feel free to direct them to the mercyships website (

3. We currently have openings for patients in all areas.  It has been a while since the Africa Mercy has come to Guinea, and many people still may not even know that this medical care is available to them.  So, if you could pray that God would bring people here who need to be here, that would be good.

4.  This may seem a bit silly, but as my grandma used to say, you can't have your 'gets' if you don't know your 'wants', and I want some friends.  It's not as if there aren't people on the ship who know me and with whom I have hung out and watched movies and stuff.  But at home there are people who can tell when something's bothering me and who would bug me until I told them what it was.  And then they would do something sweet for me to help me feel better (or, conversely, would give me a metaphorical thump on the back of the head and tell me not to be an idiot).  It would be nice to be teased and hugged and invited to things again.  And I know that at least 75% of the people here are struggling with the same thing.  Maybe you could pray that we'll all stop waiting for each other to make the first move (in a friend way).

5.  Oh, and there are some elections coming up in the next few weeks here. Please pray that they will go well and that the country can continue to stabilize and grow.

Well, it's 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon, and I have miles of lesson plans to write before I sleep.

I sure do appreciate you all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Screening Day

So, Screening Day was last week.  This is the day when Mercy Ships officially opens up for business, as it were.  We rented a huge building (called the 'People's Palace') and in a jaw-dropping feat of organization and planning, saw some 4,300 people with various health concerns, which resulted in 800+ appointments made for life-changing surgeries.  The people we could not help (and anyone with a basic grasp of mathematics can tell that there were more than a few) were escorted to a tent where volunteers offered to pray with them before they went on their way.  For some with terminal conditions, we will be providing hospice services over the next nine months, visiting homes and helping people adjust to the knowledge that their condition has a name and a grim course to run. 

Because Mercy Ships is awesome, my Jr. High and High School students got to be part of this amazing event.  For six hours, my students and I got to color and play soccer with the kids who were waiting to be seen, pass out bottled water and sandwiches, and escort people from the incredibly long line that snaked out of the yard and down the street to their first interview with our medical personnel.  One lady that I spoke with said that she had been waiting in line for more than nine hours.  It was amazing and heartrending and mind-numbing and gratifying all at once, and I am glad I could be part of it.  The students did a great job.  They jumped into the work whole-heartedly.  I was inspired. (This picture, by the way, was taking by the Mercy Ships official photographers, since it would be in pretty poor taste for all us westerners to be snapping pictures of people as if we were on vacation.  If you look carefully, you can see me serving cookies somewhere in the middle of the crowd.  Two of my students are also passing out snacks in the upper right corner.  You can tell it's us because we're wearing our snazzy blue Mercy Ships Academy polo shirts.)

To tell the truth, I'm kind of having a hard time putting the day into words.  It was all so big and I'm so small.  There were so many people there, and every one of them waited in the sun and the rain (yep, it's still rainy season here) for hours so that some impossible dream might come true for them.  And for many, the answer was no.  But for others, a great miracle began.

And you know, small as we are, each one of us had a part in that miracle.  Because a logistical masterpiece like Screening Day doesn't happen without tons of small folk doing a million little things that add up to something enormous.  We have an impressive God, who instead of instantaneously restoring 800+ bodies with a snap of his Great and Holy Fingers, works to bless countless hearts by asking His children to help each other in the ways He has gifted us to.  I know for certain that my heart was stretched and blessed by the people I met at Screening Day, African and Western alike. 

Pretty awesome.

Friday, August 31, 2012

I write to you from the ikea chair in our cabin.  (For those of you who just did a double-take, there was an ikea in Tenerife.  As everyone knows, ikea is the place to go for inexpensive furniture and hip decorative doo-dads, ergo every cabin bears the thumbprint of that thrifty Swedish emporium.  I like it.  It reminds me of home.)  Why, you ask, is a robust young thing like me holed up in her cabin on a bright and festive Friday afternoon such as this?  Well, it's because I'm sick.  I've got some nasty bug or other, and although it involves a good bit of what the West Africans refer to as 'fast-fast,' I can tell you categorically that I do not have cholera.  The crew doctor told us what cholera looks like, in unpleasantly vivid terms, I might add, and my symptoms do not match that particular bouquet of gross.  (I don't know if I'll ever be able to look at rice milk the same way again.)  In any case, I bit the bullet this morning and called in sick.  I hate doing that because it means that my colleagues have to absorb my duties themselves.  There are no substitute teachers on the Africa Mercy.  But it was either that or risk sharing whatever contagion I have with them and my students, and that just didn't seem right.  Funny how priorities shift when you are literally living in the same boat.

Anyway, one good thing about my predicament is that I finally have a moment to stop and share what's happening here with the wide world of people who love me but don't happen to be right next to me to share it all.  We arrived in Conakry last Wednesday, amid much pomp and excitement.  There was a military brass band which played several marches for us as we slowly docked.  Then the gangway was lowered and we were officially welcomed by several important personages (among whom were the Prime Minister of Guinea and the head Public Health official--sorry I don't have official names or titles, my French is still pretty rudimentary).  Oh, and speaking of rudimentary French, guess who is now taking French lessons!  After two lessons, I can already say the days of the week, the months of the year, and several numbers.  You would not believe how complicated French numbers are.  It's like a math problem just to say 93.  I honestly found myself wondering why the French didn't just give up and write it down instead.

Last Sunday, I got all dolled up and finally set foot on African Soil.  I went to a local church with a smallish group of Mercy Shippers.  It was amazing.  The dirt is bright, like the 'red dirt' in Kaua'i.  The trees are a rich and vibrant green.  The people themselves are beautiful, and their clothes are rainbows on steroids.  Before I leave, I have got to get a dress (or three) made from some of that beautiful cloth.  I felt pale and washed out in comparison.  The church service itself was wonderful, if a bit overwhelming.  Everything except for the singing was translated into three languages (French, English, and Su-Su), often right on top of each other.  We were in a large concrete building in a congregation that felt like a thousand people, and when everyone started singing and dancing I felt like my heart would burst.  Of course, it would have been lovely to participate in it all, but since I knew neither the language nor the moves, I just swayed unobtrusively and grinned like a fool.  Note to self:  find someone to teach you to dance, because in all honesty, standing still is not an option.

School is going well.  We are now three weeks into the school year, and I am beginning to find a sort of rhythm to it.  I may have started off a little stronger than I needed to.  It's been a while since I was in eighth grade, and sometimes I forget that there was a time when a 40 page reading assignment felt overwhelming.  Nevertheless, the kids and I are finding our way together, and I find myself more and more grateful for the honor of teaching them.  They are such cool people.  Also, this week I got to read a chapter from Winnie the Pooh to the first graders!  My friend Kayleigh is their teacher, and she was talking about finding readers to come and read stories to her kids, and since that is something I love to do, I simply invited myself over.  It was lovely.  I read the chapter in which Pooh goes Visiting and gets into a Tight Place, and the little first graders' eyes got big as saucers when they realized that poor Bear was stuck in Rabbit's door (there was some giggling, too).  I shall have to see if I can come over and read to them again.

Well, I have now written you a small book and drunk half of my Nalgene bottle, which means yet another visit to the WC.  Here's hoping it's not as traumatic as past visits have been.
I love you all very much.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Here is a poem I wrote whilst bobbing up and down (and side to side) on the great big ship that is now my home:


The ship rocks slowly

Back and forth beneath me

Like the steady breathing

Of your enormous chest.

This is how you tell me

You are here, and
You are not afraid.

It pretty much sums up how I feel about sailing out here in what feels like the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  I love it.  I love the way the ship sways and rocks with each swell.  I love looking out of every window and seeing sea and sky meet in a distant and perfectly straight horizon.  I love all the interesting ways we find to entertain ourselves and each other now that we're trapped here together.  Saturday, I passed several card games (including Hand and Foot, Uno, and non-monetary poker), Scrabble, Battlestar Galactica, and a ship-wide sock-golf tournament (which is just what it sounds like, by the way) just between my cabin and the laundry room, where I happened to be playing a rousing game of figure-out-how-to-operate-the-dutch-laundry-machine.  (I won.)  They tell me that this has been one of their easier sails.  All I can say is it's been delicious.  How many teachers can look out their windows during lessons and see dolphins swimming outside? (Dolphins!  Eeee!  Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures.  I was too busy being gobsmacked.)

We will eventually get where we are going, probably within the week.  (I'm not supposed to give exact dates or locations in case real life pirates or other ne'er-do-wells happen to be reading my blog.)  And once we get there, things will settle into a new normal, one that I have not yet experienced.  I'm kind of excited to be docked and all.  I'm nervous, too, but not as much as one would think.  I really don't know what it's going to be like, for one thing.  Plus, my Great Task has already begun.  Of course I am here to see Africa (not to mention hear Africa, which, if Sunday night was any indication, is going to be AWESOME).  But my real job is right here on the ship, teaching these wonderful, generous, gawky, sullen, brilliant teenagers, some of the very few people who did not get to choose to live here.  I feel like they know more than I do sometimes, especially when I'm teaching geography (that's the area of Social Studies that we're focusing on this year).  Who am I to tell these kids what the world is like?  I grew up in California.  They know Spain and Switzerland the way I know Disneyland.  Well, I can help them learn how to learn, if nothing else.  And maybe if they just want a grown up to pay attention for a while, I can be that person, too.

Speaking of students and school, I have some journal entries to read and return, so I'll be signing off now.  This was the view from deck 7, starboard, Saturday evening.  Not too shabby, eh?

I love you all.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

And now for something completely different...

Picture, if you will, a modest little park in sunny Tenerife.  Petals from some exotic blossoming tree dance about in a lusty breeze that tastes like salt and spicy dirt.  Parked contentedly on a charming green bench, our World Traveler enjoys a hot empenada and cold bottled water, spoils of her first foray in bilingual commerce.  A picturesque family of Spanish vacationers comes whizzing by on rollerblades, while old people sip from delicate cups and argue at a nearby cafĂ©.  Radiating contentment and smug accomplishment, our World Traveler reaches for her handy travel-size Bible to indulge in some practically continental reading.  When suddenly it hits her like a thunderclap.  She is wearing her shirt backwards. 

I thought the neckline felt a little high.

Oh well.  A little fashion violation now and then is good for the soul.

Greetings all, from the Africa Mercy Ship, currently docked in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.  My new life is strange and I am a stranger in it.  I’ve only been here for a day and a half, but it feels like it’s been a week at least.  Everything is so new and bewildering, and yet there’s an air of permanence that honestly scares the poop out of me.  I haven’t spoken to anyone from home in an eternity, and my heart aches like an old boxer’s ribs for the company of someone who knows me more than face-deep.  I feel like I’m losing myself.  Vacationing in Spain is all very well, but when I left home, all I had left was this sense of purpose, and now I feel that draining away, too.

Okay, I didn’t mean to go all Eeyore on everyone.  It’s just darn hard work being the new kid, and I am afraid I might be getting too old for it.  My heart’s not as rubbery as it used to be.  Or maybe I just forgot what it was like to start over.  Nevertheless, I am glad that I came.  Good will come of it, for me and for this strange new community of mine.  God brought me here, and that means he thinks I have things to offer even if I can’t see any right now.  Suffice it to say, I love you all very much and I miss you terribly.

Now for some business. 

My new address:
Sarah Dunn, Africa Mercy Crew
P.O. Box 2020
Lindale, TX 75771

Please send pictures.  Here I am with metal walls and (literally) a boatload of magnets, currently useless.  I seem to have left all my pictures in my car.  And when I say pictures, I mean pictures of you, friends and family!  If I want to see nature I can go up to the observation deck.  Paper mail gets shipped out here from the IOC in Texas for free, but I have to pay for packages that have been shipped.  This is not to say that you shouldn’t send packages, only that said packages should be worth paying 8 dollars a pound to open.  (Which means, sadly, that banana bread, even your banana bread Sister Sara, is probably not a good idea.)

My new phone number: (001) 954-538-6110 ext. 4421

I have two roommates, both marvelous ladies.  Their names are Michelle and Moriah.  And we all have this one phone number between us, which means phone time may be spotty.  I have not been able to buy a phone card yet, but as soon as the ship store opens on Tuesday, you can bet I will be the first in line.

Also, Michelle has been generous enough to let Moriah and me use her computer, so I shall try to send out updates as often as I can.  My goal is at least one fat update a week.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but I love you guys very much.  And I can’t wait to share all the amazing things that will happen this year with you.  
Thank you for being part of my heart.

PS- Speaking of pictures, I have been taking them (yay!) but I'm going to need some help getting them off of my camera and on to this blog (boo! or, as SHS says boo minus!)

I think I'll wander off in search of the library.  We are still on vacation, after all.