Monday, July 30, 2007

community life

Coming to Mercy Ships one of my grandest concerns was the prospect of living in a ship with 450 other people. I am very idependant. I love to be with people but I qually like to be alone. Sometimes I just perfer a long drive to nowhere with the company of myself.

But I have been pleasantly surprised.

At home I have my life nicely segmented. Work. Family. Friends. Church.

Here things are a bit blurred. Work is a 10 second walk away. And I feel like I go to work for fun (come on, dance parties with one year old's, endless games of uno, convincing the children to call me aunte Megan, is that really work?).

I was told when I came that the crew becomes your family. I was bit cynical. I don't like needing people.

But my mom is not around to hear about my bad day at work. Ben (my brother) is not here to listen to music with or solve the world's problems at 2 AM. My Dad's not around to tell me how it really is. Josh (my other brother) isn't here to make me laugh and bring me tea when I'm sick. My best friend is not here to wipe the whip cream off my nose.

So you are forced to be vulnerable. To step out of your comfort zone. To let yourself need someone. And actually it's great.

I was certain I would have had at least a minor emotional breakdown at this point. That I would be extremely homesick and lonely. Instead I have quickly made friends that feel like family. A never-ending Coatsville of sorts.

Life can be so delightful.


Today I danced with a very cute boy. Then we went for a long walk outside.
His name is James. He's cute. He's Liberian. He's 1 1/2.

Most Liberian children scream when anyone with white skin approaches them. But James is my friend. With the exception of when I have to give him medicine, he likes me.

*side note* yesterday I tried to trick James by putting his medicine in apple juice. He refused to drink it. I then tried orange juice and had his mom give it to him. He never saw me handle the cup. He still would not drink it. Why are children so smart?

James mom came to me today with her cell phone. She wanted to show me the screen. I was surprised at what I saw. A fat hippo wearing a sumo wrestling outfit was dancing around the cell phone screen to a wild African song. Bizarre. Hilarious. I with I could find it and post it for you to see. My brother's would have laughed very hard.

James took his mom's phone and pressed repeat on the hippo song. He was sitting in bed and began to dance to the music. He shook his little hips (as much as his large leg cast allowed him)and snapped his little fingers. American kids just don't do that. I melted. Then I joined him.

We danced for almost 30 minutes. I think we played every song on his mom's phone.

After my shift I carried James to the seventh deck so he could get some fresh air. He wrapped his little arms around my waist and nestled his little Afro under my chin. And then he fell asleep.

Holding a sleeping child is a beautiful experience.

James is beautiful boy.

It's a shame my job is so tough.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

birthday party


My Internet is not connecting in my room. So I have been forced to utilize the Internet cafe. It's a little slow, a little noisy. But this is Africa. It happens.

Thursday was Liberia's Independence day. Tonight Monrovia celebrated with a 45 minute fireworks display (sponsored by the UN). It was the most lovely night. The weather was cool with a warm summer breeze. The port was lined with Mercy Ship crew who enjoyed the display. We were all quite impressed.

Today at work my patients were conspiring against me. And that's not just an expression of a frustrated nurse. I had a great day today.

We have three orthopedic male patients between the ages of eleven and fourteen. Can I just tell you that adolescent boys are adolescent boys, whether they be Liberian or American.

Jarmee, 12, gave me a new name. My name is now Estella. His exact words, which were delivered with a devilish boyish demeanor were

"Megan is not a fine name. Estella is a fine name."

Sorry mom.

Around 1:30 Jarmee called me, Estella, to tell me that his leg hurt "small small". Being the caring nurse that I am, I was going to get him some Tylenol. But I was prematurely stopped. Jarmee then told me it was not his leg that hurt "small small," but his neighbor's, Johnson (14). Johnson was holding his faces pain scale and telling me leg hurt. But before I could get his Tylenol, Johnson told me it wasn't his leg that hurt, but David, 11, who was across the room.

Nurses are taught to always believe a patient when they tell you they are in pain. But I was catching on.

My exact words were

"Your totally playing a trick on me. That's just not cool."

Except that I loved it. I love sassy people and practical jokes. And they made me laugh.
Boys will be boys.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


trouble. (Melenie, Krystal, & I)

the comforts of an Liberian taxi (the dutch boy looks happy)


She sat alone.

The rhythm of an African drum began to rumble. Soon a chorus of strong, exuberant voices began to ring. The voices owners moving individually to the beat of their own song a choreographed manner.

She sat alone.

Fixed in the center of the room was young woman with a shy smile. The singing was for her. Every face in the room was meandering towards her general direction and flashing looks of graceful pride her way. Her eyes could endure the emotions of the glances for only a few seconds until her inner bashfulness caused her to look away.

She sat alone.

But she was use to being noticed. For almost eight years she endured the stares and mocking of the world around her. Her foul stench and wet clothes invited attention. She wasn’t like everyone else. And she knew this painfully well.

She sat alone.

A smile was fixed on her face. A tranquility of soul was reflected in her eyes. Hope was formed in her lips.

She stood alone.

With a soft, determined voice she testified. She thanked the doctors and nurse's in the room for her miracle. She was dry for the first time in eight years. Crystal dew glistened from the corners of her eyes as she spoke.

“I cannot talk long about what you have done for me or I will cry great tears. All the nurses are good nurses. For years I was alone but they touched and played with me like a little girl. Thank you so much.”

She danced alone.

A dance of freedom. A dance of restoration. A dance of hope.

She had gained more than physical healing as a room full of adoring eyes watched. The outcast was loved.

And she wasn’t alone.

The room was full of sisters.

burn out bright

Monrovia has now electric grid. With the few exceptions of generator driven lights, the streets are completely dark. There is a fear associated with darkness. We must strictly adhere to our curfew for safety reasons.

In darkness a small light is highly visible.

Tonight I climbed on a stack of wooden crates and sat by the water. The sky was partially cloudy but every so often the clouds would blow over and leave a patch of nude sky exposing a few scattered stars. They looked like small pebbles in a murky brook.

Stars are formed when matter in clouds comes together due to the ionic influence of neighboring stars. As the matter increases the cloud becomes increasingly dense until it finally collapses, which generates heat and gas. When a certain temperature is reached, the particles of matter begin to glow. A star is born.

Stars are fueled by hydrogen gas. When this gas is depleted the star life will end. Larger stars end their lives with a giant supernova explosion, in which the will omit a tremendous amount of light.

As I gazed at the lonely stars I thought about the distance which separated us. Millions of miles. But I could still see there light. You could probably see it too. I couldn’t see it during the day. Only the darkness displayed their radiance. And though it was dim light it’s surroundings made it highly visible.

I’d like to live my life like that.

Burn Out Bright by Switchfoot

Does it have to start with a broken heart
Broken dreams and bleeding parts
We were young and world was clear
Young ambition disappears
I swore it would never come to this
The average, the obvious I'm still discontented down here I'm so discontented

If we only got one try
If we've only got one life
If time was never on our side
Before I die I want to burn out bright

So a spark ignites
In time and space
To make it through this human race
You fight and crawl your way back home
But you're running the wrong way
The future is a question mark
With kerosene electric sparks
There's still fire in you yet
Yeah there's still fire in you

If we only got one try
If we've only got one life
If time was never on our side
Before I die I want to burn out bright

I can't clean up the mess I've made
I can't clean up the mess I've made

Can't sleep in the bed I've made
Can't sleep in the bed I've made

If we only got one try
If we've only got one life
If time was never on our side
Before I die I want to burn out bright

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


My arms are still covered in paint. I look somewhat like a leper.

Many people don’t realize the scale of programs offered by Mercy Ships. While it is a hospital ship and our primary outreach is medical there are a vast assortment of community programs. They range from teaching agriculture skills, woman’s empowerment, church empowerment, HIV education, Mercy ministries (visiting orphanages, prisons, hospitals) and community development. Today I volunteered to work with community development.
Currently our team is building a school in a local village. The concrete building had nine rooms. Only two of them were painted. My job was to help paint the walls.

I rather enjoy physical labor. It’s not something I’d want to do everyday, but sometimes it’s rather nice to work in a manner that leaves you tired and dirty (when dressed for the occasion).
For almost six hours I painted concrete walls in Africa. And had fun doing so. There was four of us painting, including my friend Krystal. We found that scaffolding can double as a concert stage and paintbrushes can be used as swords. We ate lunch is a nearby hut. I had a chicken and fish dish over rice. My stomach is “small small” upset at the moment but it’s part of the African experience. I even ate warm hand-cooked donuts. It was a good day.

And I think the paint will come off. Eventually.


Top ten things I never thought I would do in my life, #6 Be on a volleyball team with UN workers from Bangladesh. But that’s what I did last night. I’m really not even sure that I could find Bangladesh on a world map.

On Monday and Thursday nights at 5:30 volleyball is played at the UN field in our port. I have to admit that I often feel like our teams handicap (I need to learn how to set) but I am a big fan of organized games and being outside. So volleyball is quite fun.

There are a few UN workers usually come and watch the games but last night they played. And I was on there team. I didn’t really understand their English and I am not sure if they understood my heartfelt apologies for incorrect sets, but it was fun. And on my list of top ten things I never thought I would do. Ever. I could not have conceived such a moment in the far outskirts of my deepest imagination.


Yesterday I went to church. A small Liberian church in a beautiful broken down building. One of the church ladies had articulately decorated the bare walls with an assortment of red, orange, and yellow wildflowers. Humble and beautiful like the people of the church.

Worship was lead by an African woman with a strong startling voice. Her words were sung with deep pathos and genuineness. She asked the pastor if she could share with the congregation.

“I have a burning testimony to tell.”

She had a daughter that she had adopted that was nineteen. Her daughter was blind. On Tuesday she came to the Africa Mercy for free eye surgery. She can see.

“My daughter had never seen my face. Before she only felt it with her hands. Now she sees me.
I want to tell everyone. I want to tell all of Liberia.”

Her blind daughter can see her for the first time. I was almost in tears.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Thou hast found me when I sought Thee nought
Thou hast captured me when I ran aloose
Thy grip is stronger than my heart
Thy song is louder than my cries

Where could I go that Thou wouldst not see
What could I fathom that Thou hast not known

Let me retreat in Thee. Let me intreat of Thee.
Thy soul's ever fixed Love.

The day my soul doth leave the earth behind
I will not care about my works
Success and trial will fade into
the deep chasm of deaths unknown

When the soul departeth from it's mortal frame
one thought occupies the mind of truth
Nearer I shall be to Thee
Nearer I shall be to Thee

Sunday, July 22, 2007

making a small small difference

I’ve never had problems reaching for the stars. Maybe it’s just my personality. Maybe it’s because I’m a first born child. Maybe I’m just a dreamer. I like to over analyze. I like to be passionate about everything.

Just ask my brother.

Coming to Africa I assumed my grandiose thinking would be super inflated. That I would want to carefully and dogmatically guard my earnest beliefs on everything while simultaneously conceiving a plan to single handedly save the country of Liberia.

Don’t worry, I already know I am completely ridiculous.

Instead, I am daily increasing my belief in the truth of Mother Theresa’s quote
“We can not to great things, only small things with great love.”

There are so many small experiences here. Like yesterday at the pediatric hospital. African children are often terrified of white skin. You stoop down to their level with friendly eyes and are often greeted with an underlying look of terror and uncertainty. This progresses to either a systematic series of screams or a retreat back into the arms of a nearby mother. Sometimes both actions occur simultaneously.

I stooped down to talk to a small boy on the malnourished children ward. He looked uncertain but he did not withdrawal when I reached for him. I sat on my knees and gently rubbed is small dark hand. He didn’t smile. He didn’t really even look at me. But at some point the grabbed my hand and would not let go. I think I was providing a tiny sense of security. As I held his hand and gazed at his tiny face I was hit by the beauty of the moment. It was a small moment. But it was filled with great love. And I think it was important.

Today at church a beautiful little girl in a clean white dress cemented herself next to me. She would grab my hand and carefully examine it’s contours. She touched and played with my hair. She held and laughed and my huge earrings. I quickly sensed that she was in need of female affection. I was old enough to be her mother and she was emulating me in a daughter-like fashion. I gave her the affection she was craving. After the service was over someone told me that her mother was dead. The little girl asked me if she could go home with me. We were together for less than two hours. A small string of moments but important.

I don’t think I will ever change the world but that is not a defeating thought. It liberating. I am free to give myself over to daily tokens of affection. Small things with great love. You don’t have to be a dreamer to do that.

pediatric hospital

We were let past the blue locked gate. Two land rovers of Mercy ships crew equipped with face paint, colored pencils, soccer balls, and jump ropes. We were greeted by a collection of twenty moms and children sat under a tin awning. A thin dirt road lead us to a brick two story building. The walls were painted with contrasting picture messages.

“Keep our community clean” picture: a clean city with neatly filled trash cans.
“A dirty community” picture: a city littered with trash.

“A planned family” picture: A hardworking neatly dressed husband if featured inside a comfortable home kissing his wife who is holding the hand of a single child.
“An unplanned family.” picture: A disheveled man is on the beach with a woman. The woman is pregnant, has a child strapped to her back and is holding the hands of two small children. The man and woman are positioned in a stand-offish manner.

“No money services” was painted on every wall. It featured a crossed out picture of a woman who was carrying a child giving a medical personnel five Liberian dollars.

I walked up the steps and into the building. It was like most Liberian buildings. Broken and rundown. The side effects of civil war.

Hand crafted renditions of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pinocchio, and Donald Duck were painted on the inside walls. A three foot plastic container of water with an attached spicket labeled “hand washing water” sat in front of a cramped nurses station. The floors were as clean as they could be kept but were filthy by American standards. An American infectious disease nurse would probably need a sedative to walk through the hall. But the hospital can only utilize the resources they have. They just very little resources.

I began to walk down the halls. The rooms each had four or five beds. Each bed was covered by a green mosquito netting, had no linens, and was home to two patients. The pediatric hospital I was standing in had 120 beds and housed 240 children. This was a medical facility only. No surgical procedures were performed.

Children in Liberia don’t have the luxuries of western children. Western children are hospitalized because they have a compromised body. A strange blood disease, a tumor, and respiratory infection. Maybe a trauma.

Liberian children are hospitalized for malnourishment and malaria. Two preventable conditions.

This unit treated malnourished children. The extremely malnourished were in a different part of the hospital. These were the stronger children. Their arms were small and thin. Their bellies large and bloated. Some had IV’s protruding form their foreheads. Most were under the age of two.

In America, physical malnourishment of children is generally associated with some form of child abuse. Many mother’s here were teenagers. Loving teenage mothers. Rape was made illegal in Liberia last year. Many of these woman did not choose to be mothers. But they sit and coo and play and make their babies smile the same way an American mother would. The fact they have malnourished children has nothing to do with abuse. They just don’t have food to give their babies. So they watch their babies get sick. And many watch them die. While we visited the ward children nurse’s and doctors in the emergency room were performing CPR on a small baby who wasn’t responding.

I assure the mother’s pain was acute as any American mother‘s.

You would be shocked at the lack of physical resources in Liberia. But that’s not what made me sad today. I was sad that I met a hundred children with healthy bodies. Healthy bodies that were sick simply because they were starving bodies. Children that had bowed legs and big bellies secondary to poverty. A hospital full of kids who didn’t need sophisticated medical care. They needed food.

While America begins to address the downfalls of childhood obesity.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


The ward is still filled with pediatric patients and fiberglass casts. I love working with children.
Little James was one of my patients tonight. He has been terrified of me all week. We are the first encounter with white skin that many of these children have. They are understandably terrified.

But today James was happy. He is three and has the softest, darkest black skin. And the happiest little smile. When he's happy.

We played lion tonight. I got on all fours, He got on all threes (His fourth leg was occupied by a cast). I made scary lion faces at him. He made them back. Slowly, we approached each other in a pounce-like crouched position. And finally, after a 30 second stare down, I would let out a loud roar and he would let out a deep-rooted belly laugh. His smiles and laughter were worth my dirty knees.

Little Manja is a year old. All the kids here are breast-feeding addicts. You kind of get use to walking into a room and seeing two or three mothers feeding their children uncovered. The new normal. While Manja was being fed her mother started singing to her. She would intermittently reply in baby coos. Such a beautiful sound.

My oldest patient was ten. We fixed his left foot. In the older children we can only fix one foot at a time. This patients dad was concerned about his other foot that is still turned in. Mercy ships will be in Sierra Lionne in February. I assured the father that we would try to schedule his son then.

It's so sad to see these kids before surgery. They are the walking crippled. But not anymore.

Friday, July 20, 2007

happy birthday Dorothy

Dorothy is one of my roommates. Today was her birthday. She didn’t tell anyone until mid afternoon. It was just enough time to run to the ship shop and buy cake mix and frosting. I have very limited experience with baking and thought that only water needed to be added to cake mix. Apparently I was wrong.

When I read the box I realized eggs and oil were also required. However, this realization occurred at 2:30 and our ship shop is only opened until 2:00. Dilemma Dilemma.
Through various friends I was able to acquiesce the needed eggs and oil. I even finished baking the cake before the crew assembled on the port for a fire drill (great fun). Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting chocolate sprinkles and oreo cookies. Wonderful.

We met in the café after dinner to sing and celebrate. I told everyone if they liked the cake I made it. If they didn’t, it was the fire drills fault. Obviously, it would not be possible to light birthday candles on a ship. So I took two plastic knives and covered the tops with saran wrap. Dorothy had to blow the saran wrap off.

A birthday on a hospital ship.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


People are going to think I am a smoker. I spend too much time on the port (where the smokers sit).

My cabin is on the third deck where there are no windows, about 20 feet away from the hospital. I love the commute. I use to leave at 5:30 am to be on time for a 7:00 am shift. Now I leave at 6:55 if I want to get to work early.

My needs are contained on the ship. My home. My food. My star bucks. My library. My food store. My job. There is no need to go outdoors. It would be very easy to go weeks without ever breathing fresh air or feeling the sun’s warmth wrap your skin. I have made a conscious decision that I need to breath fresh air for at least ½ hour every day. It’s necessary for my soul’s survival. The port is my outcove.

Last night it was exceptionally beautiful outside. It was the kind of night you go for long drives to nowhere with your windows down and music up. I can’t drive in Liberia. So instead of a long drive to nowhere I went for a long sit to nowhere. I sat on the end of the dock with my legs dangling over the dirty Liberian water and the sea breeze turning my hair into a large afro. My ipod singing the sounds of a melancholy play list. It was glorious.

Last week I did the same thing but in the rain. I put on my raincoat and grabbed my pink umbrella and sat surrounded by the Liberian rainstorm. There was something very soothing about the stormy sea.

As I looked over the Monrovia skyline I couldn’t help but be amazed. How many girls from Bucks County are able to enjoy the serenity of an African rainstorm? Not many I am sure.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

en route to Golden beach

Krystal and I. We might be a little naughty when together. Or maybe just sarcastic.

Golden beach..where we ate dinner. lovely.

views from the back of the landrover

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Last night someone gave me there phone number. And no, it was not a Liberian male (Although I am convinced I have found the perfect therapy for any American woman experiencing bad self esteem: walk down a Liberian road. It's an instant cure. No where else in the world could you receive three offers of marriage on a three mile walk).Mary went home yesterday. Her VVF is fixed. She no longer has to live with the shame of incessantly leaking urine. I took our picture and printed a copy for her to take home. She left her address and phone number with the patient in the next bed over. It was hand delivered to me last night.

Mary showed me a picture from her dress ceremony. She looked radiant. I am so proud of her. I am so happy for her. I didn’t feel like she was a just a patient, she was a friend.
I had showed her picture of my family and dogs. I had laughed at jokes with her. She laughed at my half-mad-whimsical notions. She introduced me to her husband when he came to see her. (Her husband had to be a very special man- most men leave their wives when they develop this condition.)

I still can’t believe that I am in Africa taking care of these patients. At some point I suppose it will sink in.


I have been in Liberia for a month already. It's amazing how quickly we can reconstruct our idea of normal and adapt to our circumstances.

A month ago, it was not normal for me to do one load of laundry a week. Or to take routine military showers (turn the water on, wet your body, turn it off, lather up, turn it on to rinse). Or to crave cheese sandwiches (I eat about 10 a week). I wasn't aware that peanut butter and honey on bread is a nice alternative to peanut butter on bread. I had never identified myself as an American (I'm from Bucks County). I never thought I would have to make a conscious effort to daily breath fresh air. I wasn't use to carrying an umbrella on all my journeys.

A month ago, I didn't realize how large a child's mal-nourished stomach can grow. I had never thought about what would be like to deliver a baby by yourself while member's of the rebel army surrounded your home. I had never seen urine pour though a body like a sieve. I never thought people wouldn't want to go to church because the building where the service was held once hosted the travesties of war. I didn't know how much I loved my country.

I didn't recognize how real the hand of God has been on my life. How real my faith is.
I am in Africa on a hospital ship. Something real has happened in my life or I am completely crazy.

I have seen that humanity is equal. We all share it. The same fibers are woven throughout time and eternity. Death is our destination. You can die from malaria at age 3 or die covered in grey hair, but we all arrive at the same place.

I am being daily convinced that the only way to enjoy the journey is to view it through the heart of it's Creator. And there lies a thousand small wonders and a life filled with contentment. The longing soul is satisfied.

Breath in the scenery. Love those you meet. Compliment the little things. Don't long for new beginnings. We have today.

Let's enjoy it.

Monday, July 16, 2007


The children are sleeping.

I read them bedtime stories. I tucked them in. I kissed their foreheads. We said their prayers.

Little "B" completely owns my heart. He hobbles around on his pint-sized crutches like he is flying. His r foot is still completely twisted and gnarled. It looks so uncomfortable. We are going to try to fix that next year when we are in Sierra Leone. We can only do one foot at a time.

When I was in high school I sprained my ankle and had to use crutches for a week. I was a miserable, complaining grump. And I was hobbling around on a good foot.

B never complains. He just smiles and tries to find Waldo (in a where's waldo book). We tried to find Waldo for a half hour tonight. I was unsuccessful but B found him.

When I was assessing his lungs he asked if he could listen. He listened to his heart, lungs, and stomach. I told him he should be a doctor. He is such a smart boy.

B's mom is not here. Neither is "S" mother. S is a seven year old boy who had a club foot repair done on Friday. He is very sweet. He's also a bit jealous that B has crutches already. S wants to get out of bed too.

Both boys have older sisters staying with them. But sisters are not moms. I tried to give them some extra love. They miss their moms and I know how that feels.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


I am writing from the peace ward. It's not really peaceful at the moment. The little two year old boy in bed 63 is terrified of the hospital and white people. He is inconsolably scared. His cries are filling the air. I don't blame him. I am sure he has never been in an environment remotely similar to the hospital. And we put both his little legs into long itchy casts and poked his skin. You'd be inconsolably scared too.

We started our orthopedic surgeries this week. At this very moment I am looking after five beautiful African children who have undergone club feet repairs. They all have at least one leg held hostage by a stiff cast.

I love looking after the VVF ladies but taking care of children feels like home. And they have stolen my heart. I cannot help but kiss their foreheads when I tuck them in at night.

There is "B". A nine-year-old charming little boy with club feet. We have repaired his left foot and he has been getting around post-operatively on a tiny pair of crutches. You should see him move. He flies around on his still turned in right foot with determination and grace. Never complaining. Always wearing an ear-to-ear smile. Some times he wears a hand knit grey skull cap. It's rather cold on the ward.

Tonight we looked through a "Where's Waldo" book together. I remember having a "Where's Waldo" obsession at that age. I said a goodnight prayer with him before he went to bed.

"Is there anything you'd like me to pray for?"
"What would you like me to pray for?"
"Pray for my foot."

We prayed for his foot.

Then there is little "C". At age 1 1/2 she is already potty trained. Her mother and 6 month sister are staying with her. Tonight I held her while her mother fed her sister. She carefully examined my white face. Touching my eyes. Trying to place her hands in my mouth. I started to sing her a little song. She started to sing with me.

"You are here, Lord, watching over me," was harmonized with a series of loudly pronounced coos.

A far too precious moment. Did I mention that working on a hospital ship in Africa is great?

Friday, July 13, 2007


Bullet holes in a street lamp

july 12

It as been sunny this week. A luxury during Liberia’s rainy season.

I am beginning to feel a bit more acclimated to Liberia and ship life. It was my day off so I gathered some friends and we went to the market in search of African fabric. It was a successful journey. The scenery is not quite as shocking to me as when I first arrived. You learn to walk by the kids playing in the heaping pile of trash in the middle of the road.

Carefully, I am trying to define for myself the delicate balance of ship life. It would be very easy for me to spend all my time alone contemplating the depths of my experience but it would not be healthy. I need my daily dose of carefree laughter regardless of the continent I am living in.

Tonight was a fun night. And much needed. I went to a beachfront Liberian restaurant with some friends. The waiter set up a plastic table and chairs for us o the sand that directly overlooked the steadfast crashing tides. All the stars were out in their glory. It was very beautiful. I had Coca-cola light and a plain omelet. I really miss eating eggs. I finished the night with some creamy coffee gelato. Yum.
A tall, athletic looking young man was sitting on bed 51. My new patient. A 19 year old boy who was having an orthopedic surgery performed tomorrow. His profile was athletic. His arms were thin and strong. His face young and smooth. His left leg was carefully sculpted. His right was completely withered.

The surgeon came in and sat across the boy. He looked like everyone’s favorite grandfather. He had a large friendly smile that matched his kind manner. Bed 51 did not recognize him until he removed his OR cap and revealed a sparsely-white-haired-mostly-bald head.

He instructed bed 51 to demonstrate his manner of walking. Bed 51 grabbed a long, sturdy stick and with agility slid across the room on one leg. The surgeon looked concerned.
After conferring with a second doctor, the surgeon sat a foot away from the boy.

“I don’t think we can perform a surgery for you.”

The boy was taller than anticipated and the surgery we could offer would not solve his problem. He would need a complete foot amputation and protestic leg to be helped. An option which was not worth the associated risks and was refused by the patient.

You could see the deep disappointment in the boy’s eyes. I tried to withhold the tears in mine.
But something really beautiful happened next.

The surgeon placed his hands on the boys shoulder’s and looked him in the eye.
“You are a smart boy. A strong boy. You can finish school and become an important man. God created you and has a plan for your life. You don’t need two legs to be used in His plan.”
His words did not melt the disappointment form the boys face, but they were spoken with such conviction, belief, and gentleness, the boy could not help but sense the author's sincere love and concern.

In the western medical community we don’t like to think that we can’t fix something. We like the illusion of perfection. But perfection is an illusion.

Regardless of what we allow others to see, we are all hiding some deformity or defect. Whether it be hidden in our character, job, family, or past. And we can’t fix ourselves no matter how hard we try.

I’m glad that God does not require perfection. That He has plan’s for people with only one strong leg. There’s hope for me.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

ortho screening


This week has been a bit frustrating. You kind of get tired of explaining yourself. Of not knowing where things are. You miss talking to people who really know you. Who know your weaknesses and strengths. Who trust you and value your opinions.

Coming to live on a ship I have lost control over most things. I can’t drive. I can’t control when or what I eat. I don’t choose who I live with. I must sign up for my hour a week laundry slot. Showers must be less than two minutes. There is always a meeting I am suppose to be at. I can’t meander the streets of Liberia alone.

Human nature is so human. In one moment your are standing in awe of the fact that you are a part of the restoration process of a deeply suffering women, the next you are annoyed because it will be another night eating peanut butter and bread.

Yesterday, I went for a jog along the port. As I jogged toward the ship a girl was walking towards the gate. She held two small crutches. Her legs were completely bent to the left so that her body made the shape of an “S”. Each movement was a four part series. First her right arm extended foward, followed by a downward slinking of her body to the right. Then her left arm advanced, from which movement would trickle down her legs to the left and finally a step was taken. One small step.
I passed her three times during my jog.

This morning I thought about what it meant for her to come to the Africa Mercy. Sit was a long, slow, and arduous process. I just walked on. It put’s things in perspective.

While ship life has it’s challenges you kind of lose your frustrations when you look around. Having to walk two miles with completely bent legs and small crutches in the afternoon is much more frustrating than having to wait to use the dryer.

As I jogged past the crippled girl she lifted her face from her efforts and flashed me a huge, genuine, beautiful smile. Me on my two working legs.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


I am a little tired right now. But I should be. Today was a bit busy.

I am working 55 hours this week. At home I work 36 hours a week (if I got out on time). It's a little draining but I love being a nurse in Africa.

Today three of my five patients were children. This always makes me happy. My 10 month old child was spiking fevers. At home, when a child spikes, we ask ourselves what might be infected. A catheter? A central line? An abscess somewhere?

But in Africa we think one thing: Malaria.

In the time it takes to read this email, at least two African children will have died from Malaria. Malaria kills two African children a minute. It is a major cause of death under age five.

After several attempts we were able to draw the blood needed for a malaria test. Of course, being less than a year of age, the child freaked out when we stuck him. I had to utilize my entire upper body to keep him still while he screamed in my ear. Welcome to pediatric nursing.

I felt so sad for him. He was terrified of anyone with white skin. If I were him, I would be too.
We had to postpone his surgery for his bilateral club feet until his malaria is treated. Assuming that it the cause of his fevers. His mom was quite amazing throughout the blood drawl process. I have seen parents have very adverse reactions to the screams of their children. She held him quietly and calmly. No anger of annoyance was shown toward the staff. I liked her.

I like being a nurse in Africa.

Monday, July 9, 2007


My knees hurt real bad. I played volleyball toady at the UN Base with an entourage of Mercy Ships crew. My all or nothing personality shone through. Leaving me with bloody knees before the official game even started. Three different UN workers stopped me at times during the evening to inquire if I would like the assistance of their medical tent. Of course I said no. I kind of like being dirty when I am dressed for the occasion. And was I dirty. I definitely broke the two minute shower rule tonight.

We played until we could no longer see the volleyball. As we arrived back at the ship their was just enough lingering light to gaze at. The sunsets here are beautiful. I make a conscious effort to enjoy at least a few moments of their splendor every night. There was just enough time for me to make a cup of hot chocolate and meander to the top deck. Covered in red dirt.

As I walked up the steps to deck eight I felt like a princess entering a palace. The sky was an enveloping canopy of vibrant hues. The clouds displaced royal purples, crimson pinks, and burnt yellows. And I had a 360 view. My heart nearly melted.

I have a tendency to over think. I always ask why. Perhaps I have an inquisitive nature. Or maybe I am just cynical.

Being in Liberia has given me much to think about. My brain feels a bit oversaturated at the moment. There are so many levels to even the simplest experiences. I have been thinking and trying to decide how I feel about everything. Examining injustice’s. Exploring patriotism. Strategizing efforts. Filtering emotions. Deciding how I am going to save the world.

But sitting on deck eight I realized it’s not what’s important.

Watching sunsets is important.

Solomon correctly stated “there is nothing new under the sun.”

We work. We love. We eat. We go hungry. There are times of peace. There are times of war. Season’s of harvest. Seasons of labor. We live.

But if we only live we will follow the pattern of humanity and in a few generations no one will even remember we existed. And there will still be work. And love. People will eat. People will go hungry. There will be peace. There will be war. Harvest and labor.

There are moments waiting to take our breath away. Canopy’s meant to cover our heads. Will we miss them.

I thought it lovely that God would give Liberia such beautiful sunset. My breath was taken. A place filled with tension and brokenness covered by peace and tranquility. Something deep resonated in my heart. Something that will outlast three generations.

Sunday, July 8, 2007


It’s been almost two weeks since I went rode in a car. I miss my car. Well, I don’t really miss my 98 Toyota Avalon. But I miss singing to music with my brothers or by myself in my Avalon. I miss weaving in and out of cars while driving at illegal speeds down I-95. I miss cool summers night drives to nowhere on the back roads of Bucks County. I miss the half-haphazard Afro achieved by having my windows down.

So when I was picking a church to go to this morning it had to fulfill two conditions:
1. The service had to be less than 2 hours.
2. It had to be far enough that it required a car ride.

I know, I am so spiritual.

The pillar of Fire church met both requirements and it had a great name. I decided to go.

Today was rainy. And the roads in Liberia are all made of dirt. That makes for interesting driving conditions.

Let's just say the ride wasn’t smooth. And by not smooth I mean my already upset stomach almost became completely bedside itself due too the 45 minutes of continuous jousling, shaking, and general feeling of being tossed around. There were doubts as to whether we’d make the return journey.

So reassuring.

We walked up the stairs of a run-down building to a surprisingly beautiful room. Not a nice room. But beautiful. There were several plastic chairs and some rickety benches. Three of the four walls were open spaces, perhaps windows where windows were meant to reside, and they allowed the beauty of the jungle terrain to be consumed from three sides. Lovely.
The floor was half tiled. The ceiling just had just a few speck of panels left. All the painting was chipped. There was a large wooden pulpit with a lace table-runner decorating it’s front. A banner with the church’s name hung on the back wall.

A humble décor. But décor is way overrated.

About nine Liberian people came to church this morning. It’s rainy season. People are scared to leave there homes when it’s raining, They have to walk to church. People with small children face the dilemma of bringing them along journey of leaving them at home. Neither is a very viable option.

I am adding “getting to church” to the list of things I take for granted.

The pastor arrived a bit late. All but a small patch of fabric by his right pocket was completely saturated with rain water. He had just walked for an hour in the rain to church.
You would never know by his sermon that he was preaching to a congregation of fifteen. His pulpit covered the eyes of his short stature when he stood behind it, so he stood next to it instead. He spoke with great passion and conviction. He spoke of the need for Liberians to have pure hearts before God. He spoke with such hope. He prayed for the needs of the people in the congregation. That they would have food and work. That their children would be able to go to school.

Food, work, school. I’ll add those to the list as well.

When the service ended I met a beautiful sixteen year old girl. She told me she went to school. I asked what she was studying. She listed several subjects. I stopped her when she mentioned literature. I love to read so I naturally inquired what her favorite books were.

“I don’t have any books to read.”

Barnes and Noble is one of my favorite places. It’s where I gravitate whenever I have un-owned time. Isles of book that can satisfy a curiosity, teach a new skill, or encourage an ravished imagination. I was so sad for her. No books to read. A true tragedy.

Add books to the list.

The church has property to build I new church. It needs to be built because apparently some unhappy things occurred in the current building during the war. A sad reminder of how fresh the sadness is here. And how deep the wounds must go.

Saturday, July 7, 2007


I am experiencing a rite of passage at the moment. Travelers diarrhea. Not really very fun but I am surprised it took three weeks before deciding to overtake my body. So my weekend plans got cancelled and instead I am sitting on my bed drifting in and out of sleep and wiping the fever sweat from my body. Being sick always refreshes my compassion for my patients.

Yesterday I participated in an orthopedic screening. Becoming a Mercy Ships patient is a bit of a process. First, general public screenings are held and potential patients are given a yellow card with a date to come to the port for a secondary screening. Community physicians and Mercy Ships crew can also hand out yellow cards. Patients arrived on the prescribed day and have a nursing history and physical exam performed. They then sit and wait in the outdoor tent to be seen by the surgeon. Some sat in the African heat for nine hours with small children. The surgeon will decide if we can help them. If we can, they are given a green card with a date for surgery.

We saw about 70 patients and were only able to schedule 12 for surgery. Many of these patients have injuries that are so old, they are beyond repair. It’s very sad to watch someone’s hope of physical restoration wither and die.

Many children came to the screening and I felt at home. I love taking care of the VVF women but children will always be my favorite. They had club feet, miss-healed broken arms, and strange burn-like skin deformities. There were a series of questions I’d ask the family via the translator. I always asked “do you smoke” and it would make the parent’s laugh. One 2 year old girl got really scared and started freaking out when I tried to take her blood pressure. We were stationed in the back room of a tent which was crowded and dark. And I am a weird white person trying to touch her. I would have been scared too.

We took little Janet outside and finished her vital signs there. I distracted her with stickers. She did much better. She had acted just like my 2 year old patients back home.

Around 10:30 two women approached our tent. One a full figured women wearing a beautiful orange and blue dress, the other a delicate withered frame which had a large piece of green fabric wrapped around her head. She held a piece of the cloth in front of her face so that she remained completely veiled. Only her exposed eyes were visible and they were glistening with shame and embarrassment. Her posture was cowered over. I lead them to the back room of the tent.

Once we were out of the general publics sight she unveiled her face. You could see her nerves and feeling of exposure. A dense pink tumor about the size of a softball was protruding from her left jaw. It was the width of her face and carried a foul stench. The left shoulder of her white t-shirt was covered in puss-like drainage.

Pictures of these tumors look horrific. But meeting her I didn’t see the tumor.

I saw a woman.

A woman who was in pain. A woman who weighed only 95 pounds because she could barely eat. A woman who covered her head so that people wouldn’t stare as she walked by. A woman who laughed at me when I asked if she could be pregnant (she was almost 60). A woman who was never touched.

As we went through the screening questions she became a bit more relaxed. I tried to touch her hand as much as possible. But this was not a maxillo-facial screening. We were looking for orthopedic patients. A surgeon who could help her won’t be here until September.
Her vitals signs were notably off, so I grabbed Ance, a lovely Dutch woman who is in charge ( I forget what her official title is). She has been with Mercy Ships for 6.5 years and has seen these tumors before.

Ance assessed the tumor. It had only been growing for a year. Not a good sign. Because we don’t have a maxillo-facial surgeon here at the moment there was not very much we could do. We gave here malaria medication and Tylenol for the pain. And a yellow card to come back in September.

The woman wearing the red and orange dress was the daughter. The woman with the tumor was her mother. They came from an IDP camp. IDP stands for internally displaced person which Wikipedia defines as, “someone who has been forced to leave their home for reasons such as religious or political persecution, war or natural disaster, but has not crossed an international border.” These camps are over crowded and dirty (if interested, you can read more about IDP camps at the end). They had traveled five hours to get here. Now they’d travel five hours back. In disappointment.

Only the daughter spoke English so Ance began to tell her our plan. Her face became painted with distress and tears filled her eyes. The mother could not understand the words being said but sensed they were not receiving good news. Her tired eyes made an unsuccessful attempt to withhold tears. I moved my chair closer to her and grabbed her hand. I began to rub her emaciated back feeling every bony prominence of her spine.

Honestly, her heart rate was 145. She weighed 95 pounds. I wouldn’t even want to know what her hemoglobin was. She might not make it until September. I wanted to make the most of this small window to show her God’s love.

Once the daughter regained her composure she translated our plan to her mother. They would come back in September. Four nurse’s gathered around and we prayed for her before she left.
Ance and I gave her a ride to a local market where they would catch a cab to go home. Before leaving the tent she carefully re-wrapped her head and covered her tumor. We had to walk down the port and past several groups of people. I put my arm around her shoulder. In return, she placed her arm around my waist. We walked together. Past the people. I think that meant something to her.

I hope she comes back in September. And we can help her.

From Wikipedia
“Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are people forced to flee their homes but who, unlike refugees, remain within their country's borders. There are as many IDPs in Africa as in the rest of the world put together: around half of a global total of 24 million, though exact figures are hard to establish. While the case of IDPs in large camps such as those in Darfur, western Sudan, are relatively well-reported, little attention is paid to those IDPs who escape conflict or political violence by fleeing to larger towns and cities. There they are faced with a grim prospect of survival in an unfamiliar and threatening environment with little or no support from the government for their immediate needs or to allow them to return to their homes when the situation allows it. As one IDP woman still living in Luanda five years after the end of the conflict explained to delegates of the UK based advocacy organization IDP Action [2]:
“I’m from Huambo, we came here because of the war, we’d like to go back but there is nothing there, we lost our families, all our houses and possessions. If there were no mines and houses and services I’d go back. Or if I was given the materials I’d rebuild my own house, but we have nothing. I live here with my seven children, my children go hungry because there is no food, we need to buy water is we want to drink and wash, because we have no access to water, sometimes people give us some water. We don’t have money for food or clothes or anything”.
This woman lives, with 330 other families – a total of 1558 people – in a camp 105 meters by 65 meters in size, smaller than a soccer field. There is no running water in the camp and only two toilets, sanitary conditions which encourage the spread of disease. The one school classroom acts as the mortuary because of lack of space. Lack of income and livelihood forces many women and girls as young as 13 into prostitution.”

Friday, July 6, 2007

Thursday, July 5, 2007

the half filled glass

Vibrant purple African-patterned fabric showcased a youthful face. Her wide, deep browns eyes lit a smooth sea of creamy skin. Long beaded earrings hung delicately above her shoulders. Joy radiated from her shy smile. She looked like a princess. Her beautiful face and sweet spirit forced tears to migrate towards the corner of every eye in the room.

It was the best of times.

Three VVF patients went home today. Their catheters came out. Their sheets were dry. So we celebrated.

At 10 AM I attended my first dress ceremony. Dress ceremonies are a Mercy Ships tradition. When a VVF patient is ready to go home they are given a new dress as a symbol of their new life. Crew from throughout the ship attended. The drums came out. We sang to the rhythmic African beats.

And the three women danced.

They danced in joy. They danced in freedom. They danced in hope. And for the first time in many years they danced without leaking. Restoration had occurred.

Each woman was given the opportunity to sing their own song. To dance their own dance. They testified of what God had done for them. They shared their story of life before they came to Mercy ships. Rejection. Embarrassment. Pain. Suffering. Endurance.

But these words have been replaced.

Today they spoke of Joy. Thanksgiving. Hope. Friendship. Love.
Everyone in the room was proud of and we excited for them. It was indescribably joyful.

When the ceremony was over, we all went back to the business of nursing. My patient in bed seven was coming back from surgery. Her baby face looked about fourteen but in reality she was 20. Her smile always stretched from ear to ear. She been in the ward for almost two weeks waiting to have her surgery.

Today was her day.

The PACU nurse brought her stretcher into the ward and we prepared to move her onto her bed. Before doing so I inquired about the Foley catheter’s whereabouts.

“She doesn’t have one. Her fistula was inoperable.”

It was the worst of times.

For two weeks she waited on the ward to have surgery. She had taken a plane from up country to reach the ship. Today was a dream she had hoped an prayed about for many years. But the dream was over.

I could not tell if her solemn affect was sleepiness from anesthesia or sadness from the bad news. I tried to believe it was the anesthesia. What can you possibly say to someone in that circumstance? It was the same feeling I felt in the PICU when Neurosurgeons tell the parents their child has an inoperable brain tumor and will probably die sometime this month.
I grabbed her hand as she drifted to sleep. I asked Clenentine, the ward chaplain, if she could speak with her later. The nurses prayed for her at the end of our shift.

It is an incredible emotional dichotomy to experience in only an hours time.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

happy fourth of July

Today Michelle, my roomate, and I organized a Fourth of July celebration. About one hundred people came. We ate ice cream, said the pledge of alligence, and sang a patriot song. I made indoor sparklers. Everyone who came recieved a red, white, or blue star sticker.

The weather even cooperated. It's rainy season and we have had very little sunshine. THe sun that shone yesterday and today was greatly appreciated. It was soul-lifting. The bright hues felt radient against my skin. Africa is full of bright colors and they gain a new vibrance in the sunlight.

Finally, today I picked up my first authentic African dress from the tailor. I was quite excited.

Sleep is calling my name. I hope you had a great holiday.

july 3

“Say your prayers in the garden early, ignoring steadfastly the dew, the birds and the flowers, and you will come away overwhelmed by it’s freshness and joy; go there in order to be overwhelmed and, after a certain age, nine times out of ten nothing will happen to you.”
C.S. Lewis

Writing is so cathartic. I left America three weeks ago and I am still regularly having moments of “Where the heck am I and how did I end up on a floating hospital ship”. I assure you they are moments of amazement rather than distress.

Today I had a lovely talk with our ship photographer. She was kind enough to let me ruin her evening walk along the deck. While in Africa I am writing on a monthly basis for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Nursing Advance magazine. Debbie has been a photographer for over 30 years and was giving me some advice on story writing. She has been with Mercy Ships for 1.5 years. She has met and befriended many patients.

“You need to have the patient’s tell you their stories. They have so many layers. They deeper your relationship (with the patient) the deeper they will go.”

Tonight I watched a documentary on Liberia’s civil war. It was tragic, graphic and horrific. And it was made three years ago. A bridge I walked under today was featured. (There is a summary of Liberia’s recent history at the end if you are interested)

When we think of the third world we use catchy words like poverty, war, injustice and starvation. Our senses long for the incredible and we often listen wanting to be overwhelmed. But as sad and tragic as statistics and fact’s may be, nine out of ten times we will listen and nothing will happen.

But when we come looking at the delicate our hearts are broken.

The tears of a mother who has watched her child die of starvation. The shame of a teenage girl who was raped by rebel soldiers. The helplessness of a father who can’t provide for his family. The confusion of a child who has no parents.

I have only been here for 2.5 weeks. My knowledge of Liberia’s stories is very superficial. But I want to listen.

Today I went the ward to visit the VVF ladies. I found a few sheets of material and ripped it into long pieces. We braided the fabric into headbands. A very silly and cheesy craft but the women all sat on their beds, some using their toes to hold the material, braiding their fabric. They smiled and laughed. You would never guess their tragedy’s.

Here is a summary of Liberia’s recent history which is taken from Encarta

“In December 1989 a group of dissidents began an uprising against the government. The National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), a rebel group led by Charles Taylor, soon had an ill-trained army of 10,000 men, and within weeks they controlled much of the countryside. A split among the insurgents only increased the violence as fighting continued into 1990. An Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) monitoring group (ECOMOG) was sent to Liberia as a peacekeeping force, but failed to halt the fighting. Doe was captured and executed by a splinter group of the NPFL in September 1990. The destruction of Liberia’s economy begun by Doe was completed by the war.
The war spread through Liberia, as the NPFL battled ECOMOG, the Liberian army, their splinter group the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), and the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), composed of former allies of Doe. By early 1991, ECOMOG held Monrovia and the NPFL controlled the rest of the country. In October 1991 ECOWAS and the NPFL agreed to disarm and establish an Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU). The NPFL began to disarm in early 1992, but clashed with ECOMOG forces, and in August was attacked by ULIMO from Sierra Leone. In September the NPFL launched an all-out assault on ECOMOG forces in Monrovia, recruiting boys as young as eight to fight, and executing civilians who refused to join. The siege temporarily shut down all transportation in or out of the capital and killed thousands of civilians in the crossfire. ECOMOG succeeded in pushing the NPFL back into the countryside by January 1993. In the meantime, ULIMO had captured much of western Liberia, but had split along ethnic lines into two warring factions, ULIMO-J and ULIMO-K.
At a peace conference in July 1993 the leaders of IGNU, NPFL, and ULIMO-K drew up a plan for a Liberian National Transitional Government, led by a five-member Council of State consisting of one NPFL leader, one ULIMO-K member, one IGNU representative, and two other civilians. A cease-fire was implemented but progress towards lasting peace was hampered by the appearance of a new armed group, the Liberian Peace Council (LPC), and by the refusal of ULIMO-J to disarm. By mid-1994 the cease-fire had completely failed, and fighting raged between the LPC and the NPFL, between ULIMO-J and ULIMO-K, and between ULIMO-J and ECOMOG. The United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) was deployed to cooperate with ECOMOG in March. At this time the United States issued a report condemning widespread human-rights violations in Liberia.
The leaders of the factions secretly met in August 1994, and negotiated a timeline for disarmament and the institution of a Council of State based on the 1993 plan, but with six members. A cease-fire in December was interrupted by skirmishes until a formal peace accord was signed in August 1995. The peace was broken in April 1996 when an uprising by ULIMO-J in the outskirts of Monrovia quickly spread into the capital, sparking street-to-street fighting and looting. Another cease-fire was declared in August, and Monrovia was reclaimed by ECOMOG forces. In all, more than 150,000 Liberians died in the seven-year civil war, and well over 1 million people were displaced.
An ECOMOG disarmament program was initiated under the August 1996 peace agreement. Despite some minor skirmishes and an assassination attempt on Taylor, the disarmament proceeded relatively smoothly. ECOMOG forces cleared land mines and reopened the country’s roads, allowing refugees to begin returning from neighboring countries and humanitarian aid to reach the previously inaccessible interior. The disarmament program was declared a success in January 1997. Under considerable international scrutiny, presidential and legislative elections were held in July. Charles Taylor, the man who instigated the Liberian Civil War eight years earlier, was elected president by a landslide, and his political party, the National Patriotic Party, won a majority of seats in the National Assembly. The elections were judged free and fair by international election observers.
Taylor pledged to forge national reconciliation and appointed leaders of rival factions to various government positions. After the last ECOMOG forces withdrew from Liberia in 1999, however, Taylor’s security forces were criticized by international groups for alleged human rights abuses against members of the opposition. Beginning in 2000 government forces shut down several independent newspapers and radio stations.
In 2001 the UN imposed economic sanctions against Liberia for aiding rebel groups in neighboring Sierra Leone. Taylor’s administration also allegedly aided rebels in both Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire. Taylor accused Guinea of supporting a new Liberian rebel group called Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and retaliated with several attacks on Guinean border towns. LURD rebels gained control over significant amounts of northern Liberia by 2002, soon limiting Taylor’s authority to little more than Monrovia. After months of fighting and international pressure (notably from the United States), Taylor agreed to step down in August 2003 as part of an overall peace agreement, and he went into exile in Nigeria. A Special Court, jointly administered by the United Nations and the Sierra Leone government, later brought war crimes charges against Taylor, and in June 2007 he went on trial in The Hague (see War Crimes Trials). In October, Liberian businessman Charles Gyude Bryant was sworn in as Liberia’s new president, charged with overseeing a two-year power-sharing transitional government. The bicameral legislature was replaced temporarily by an interim National Transitional Legislative Assembly. Under the 2003 peace agreement, the United Nations Security Council formally established a peacekeeping force known as the UN Mission in Liberia.
In November 2005 elections Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, an economist and longtime political dissident, was elected president. She became the first female head of state of an African nation. Elections were also held for the restored bicameral legislature. Johnson-Sirleaf defeated George Weah, a popular former soccer star, winning more than 59 percent of the vote. “

Monday, July 2, 2007

views from the dock

rain on my parade

Today I felt misunderstood.

Wednesday is the fourth of July. I love the Fourth of July. I have so many nice memories.

Like sitting on Burger King eating a cheeseburger with my Nana and Poppop as we waited for the Feasterville parade to start. Or the thrill of catching a piece of stale candy thrown off of a float. Eating hamburgers and hotdogs with my fourteen cousins. Playing wiffle ball and volleyball in the backyard. And the awe and wonder of a fireworks show’s grand finale.

On Wednesday my family will spend the morning cleaning and hanging out. All my aunts and uncles and cousins will come over in the afternoon. Large amounts of pasta salad will be consumed. My Nana might make her most beloved bread-salad. Later, my brothers will come close to injuring themselves by setting off a backyard fireworks display. Ben might even bring out the potato gun and glow sticks.

I will be in Africa. I thought it might be nice to celebrate with the on-board Americans.

I bought candy today. After talking to the ship academy teacher we thought it might be fun to have s ship parade. The kids could dress up and hand out candy. It would be fun for them and fun for us. An African independence parade.

But we are not allowed too. I’m not really sure why. But I am a little sad. I want to be culturally sensitive but I don’t see the harm in a small parade.

Red and blue are two different colors. Not better or worse, just different. Red looks nice on lips. Blue looks nice on jeans. Red jeans look silly. Blue lips look kind of scary.

Everyone aboard the ship shares the thread of humanity. But we are all different. Not better or worse, just different. And it’s okay to recognize that. I appreciate they way red looks on lips and blue on jeans. I appreciate the strengths of the different cultures around me. The diversity makes us better equipped.

But I do think it possible to appreciate the differences around me without forgetting who I am.
I am an American girl. I am proud of that. It’s not a negative statement. It’s not an agenda.

It is who I am.

So I am a little sad that we can’t have our parade.


“And other’s had trials of cruel mockings and scourging, yea, moreover bonds and imprisonment…being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy)…” Hebrews 11:36-38

Today was Sunday. So we had a ward church service.

Local Liberians are paid to work as translators in our hospital. English may be Liberia’s official language but it’s Liberian English. I can’t understand it. The translators also serve as nurses aids, meal staff, environmental services, and apparently worship leaders.
This morning they came dressed in their beautiful traditional African dresses. They brought their drums, gourd shakers, rhythm and strong voices. African church should be experienced rather described. It is a joyful expression which involves simultaneous moving, clapping, singing, speaking, and praying. I worked up a sweat from the amount of focus it required to clap to the beat.

African beats are fluid. Suburban white people just don’t get fluid.

Most of the songs were unfamiliar but I did recognize the hymn “I Surrender All“. We sang it acapella. I looked around the room and saw women who have suffered. Many were holding a Foley catheter with one hand while they lifted the other in praise.
It takes a great amount of courage for these women to step foot on the ship. Many of them have never seen a toilet. The hospital is a totally new and unfamiliar environment. Many have been emotionally and physically abused. Depression is common. They have all experienced rejection. But they still hope.

My eyes stopped at bed two.

Bed two had surgery earlier in the week. She had been leaking for the past 24 hours. Sometimes the fistula’s are in repairable.

Her 4’10 frame was cowered over. Her eyes were tightly shut. You could see the anguish mixed with determination.

“I surrender all, I surrender all, all to Jesus I surrender.”

The words were not carelessly sung. She had been stripped of every dream.
The world is not worthy of her faith.

I cannot describe how humbling it is to be with these women. They have every reason to be filled with bitterness and self pity but instead the exude joy. They are lovely. My heart breaks for them. We pray for their physical and emotional mending.

After the church service, bed two was noticeably upset. Clementine, the ward chaplain, and Dr. Steve, the VFF surgeon, sat at her bedside. Clementine put her arm around her. Dr. Steve held her hand.

“We Aren’t going to leave you like this. We are going to do everything we can to leave you dry.”

Please pray for their mending.