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.