Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Out to Sea (at last)!

So here we are sticking our toes out over the rolling Atlantic while our ship sways back and forth, vibrating like one of those massage chairs from Costco.  There's nothing like putting out to sea for slowing the heart and clearing the mind.  I think we're all so very relieved to be finally going somewhere that even those who don't like sailing are breathing a sigh of relief.  The Africa Mercy has spread her wings and flown the coop, so to speak, and the sweet scent of freedom and saltwater permeates the whole ship.  The experienced sailors among us have lined their camp chairs up on deck seven port side and, propping their tired feet on the protective white railing, promptly fallen asleep, while the newbies flit about like giddy kids on Christmas morning.  And it's from here, placidly ensconced in my heavy duty camp chair, that I shall endeavor to outline for you, dear reader, the more salient points of the past six weeks.

On Tuesday, the 29th of July, I said the last of many wrenching goodbyes to friends and family in the US and set my face toward the Canary Islands where my ship home waited to take me on my next African adventure, field service in Benin.  That was six weeks ago.  Four weeks ago, two things happened:  we started school (hooray!), and we realized that we probably weren't going to go to Benin (sigh).  It's a long story, and I certainly don't know all of it, but basically the outbreak of ebola that began in Guinea last winter has turned into a much bigger problem than anyone thought it would be.  Whereas all the previous outbreaks rose and fell relatively quickly, this one has only gained momentum, spreading from Guinea to Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, and Senegal.  It is difficult for a ship full of people who have committed their present lives to providing medical relief for the poor in West Africa to sit by and watch the countries we love and sacrifice for face so much fear and death.  But what could we do?  We are not fitted out to deal with infectious diseases.  We do surgeries and education.  If even one person with ebola came to our normally very crowded screening sites, we would actually be responsible for making things much worse.  While there were no confirmed cases in Benin, how easy would it have been for someone from Nigeria, desperate for help, and willing to try anything, to make the journey across the border and bring ebola with them?  It presented a risk both to us and to the Beninois we wanted to help, and it was a risk our leaders were not willing to take.  So we waited.  People made plans.  Plans changed.  We took our students on field trips to the Science Museum (very interesting--all in Spanish) and the beach (definitely a cultural experience).  We waited some more.  Nurses and doctors got tired of cleaning empty wards and moonlighted as cooks, plumbers, and deck hands.  Some people felt called to go home.  Departments shuffled themselves around, put finishing touches on their chain-of-command flowcharts, and generally cleaned house.  I learned how to negotiate taxi fares in Spanish.  Friends returned.  Birthdays were planned and celebrated.  And still, we waited.

Then a possibility began to emerge, an opportunity that had never occurred to me...

And so we're off.  I can't tell you where we're headed yet, as it hasn't been officially announced.  But I can tell you that the excitement here is palpable.  It's a new road for us, and I'm sure it will have its challenges (like anything worth doing), though at the moment we can't help but smile.  We are so ready to be out about our Father's business again.

Update:  It has been announced, so I can tell you after all.  We are headed to


Isn't that exciting?  We'll be sailing all the way around the tip of South Africa, with a stop-off in Cape Town.

Here is the official statement that went out this week.

Everyone is just buzzing with anticipation to see what our next chapter holds.
As for me, well, I am going outside to stare at the sea and enjoy the delicious feeling of finally being on the road again.