Sunday, February 24, 2013

Ca va? Ca va bien, merci!

Did you know that Romania has 53 airports, or that Luxembourg has cheap gas?  These are just two facts among several that my 7th and 8th graders have picked up in their European travels.  Sometimes I hear them talking amongst themselves about this town in Switzerland or that airport in France, and I think to myself "Why am I the one teaching them Geography?"  And then one of them tries to pass off a picture of an Alaskan glacier as part of Holland because it came up on their google images search and they didn't stop to wonder how a glacier might form in a country where almost a third of the land is below sea level.  (Fun fact:  the name "Netherlands" literally means "low country".)  Then I think, "Right, that's why I'm the teacher."

The only thing more surreal than living on a ship that sits more than it sails, where helping the blind see and the lame walk, etc. is more or less a daily thing, is teaching on one.  For someone who has given up home, job, family, Target, sushi, etc. to come to Africa and serve "the world's forgotten poor," I really don't see much of them.  To put it another way, if you thought of the Africa Mercy as a giant body, my fellow teachers and I would be the equivalent of some sort of gland that secretes the goo that helps the muscles move the bones to walk and so forth.  We all know glands are important, but when Michael Phelps won pretty much every gold medal in Beijing, nobody was saying, "That boy's got some impressive glands!"  I'm not complaining, really.  I guess I'm just trying to explain why with all the fuss I made about coming to Africa and asking you all to support me with your prayers/thoughts, letters, money, etc., I don't seem to have had much regular contact with the Africans I came here to help.  On my low-confidence days, this bothers me a lot.  But the truth is that my immediate ministry is with about twenty eleven to eighteen-year-olds, the health and well-being of whom directly affects the hearts and hands that heal the blind, lame, disfigured, and outcast.  Moral of the story:  if you can read this, thank a "gland."

Ooh, and speaking of eleven to eighteen-year-olds, did you by any chance, have a chance to watch this segment of last week's 60 minutes?  It features one of my students!  That makes me famous by proxy, and since you all know me, you are now famous by proxy once removed, as it were.  You're welcome.  Since watching American TV is a little complicated around here, we all watched the 60 Minutes report together on Tuesday evening, and it was a really cool (and slightly nerve-wracking) experience.  One never knows how one will come across on television, and for the most part, I think CBS got it right.  The only correction I would make is to point out that we are not a "mostly American" crew.  There are in fact more than 30 nationalities represented onboard at present.  But I'm not going to complain too loudly.  It's pretty darn cool to be on TV. 

Okay, time for a picture or two...
This is a picture of a typical "Ward Service."  On Sunday mornings, our West African crew like to invite patients and crew to participate in a church service right here on the ship.  I like to come to this service as often as I can because, in addition to the great West African worship (songs in French and Creole as well as English) I have a chance to make connections with some amazing people.  The Guinean people who come to the ship are very courageous, not only because they have made the journey to get here (one woman spent months walking to Conakry in hopes that we could help her) but also because they have trusted their health and in a sense, their future, to a group of weird looking strangers.  If all I can do is say "Bonjour, ca va?" and shake hands and smile, it still means a great deal to me.  (We all look very serious in this photo.  I think we're trying to figure out the words of the song.  With a congregation as linguistically diverse as this, sometimes all we can do is clap together.)

I know what you're thinking, and yes, that is my mother standing next to me!  This week, my mom was able to fly all the way over from California to have a taste of life on the Africa Mercy.  She ate with me, went to Sunday services, helped out in the classroom, and even accompanied me on a venture into Conakry to purchase some delicious mangoes.  It was wonderful to be able to share this life with her, even for a little while.  I didn't even think it would be possible for her to come, but as you can see, she did.  I am very blessed!  By the way, you may have noticed that we are wearing matching wrap-around skirts.  I made these.  I purchased the fabric at the market and sewed them (!) with a sewing machine (!!).  It was my first experience with a sewing machine, but fortunately wrap-arounds are not rocket science.  Still, I never thought I would sew anything that one could actually wear!