Sunday, September 30, 2007


This week has been a bit sad and goodbye filled. Four out of the six "Hope Ward girls Club" was discharged, including my lovely friend Esther. Crystal, who was pretty much my BFF on the ship, also left on Friday, as well as many of the people I had arrived with. Goodbyes are hard. Even for someone who doesn't like to be emotionally vulnerable.

But there was also a very sad hello this week.

Little Manja is a one year old little girl whose big brown eyes and wide delicate lips make her reminiscent of a beautiful porcelain doll. In July, she received surgery to correct her bilateral club feet.

Manja had two casts on her legs when she was discharged which would render most adults immobile. But being a curious, energetic 1 year old girl, she was still trying to use her legs. Her mother had a pot of boiling water on a table. She looked away for a moment.

A moment is all it took.

Curious Manja had grabbed the table top in an effort to stand and her force caused the boiling water to spill onto her leaving her small body covered with 2ND and 3rd degree burns. Her stomach, arms, and feet are covered with large oozing boils. Thankfully, her casts kept most of her legs from being burnt and her face was also missed.

We currently have a plastics surgeon on board and have been performing many burn contrature release surgeries. Burns among are a common problem in the third world. No electricity means that fire is the primary source for light, cooking, and warmth. This coupled with small, confined living conditions is the perfect medium for accidental burns.

I took care of Manja on Friday evening. When I arrived her mother's eyes were red and you could see the pain and guilt she was experiencing.

My heart had broken when I heard Manja was burned and I hardly knew here. I can't imagine how painful it must have been for her mother, no mama wants to see there baby in pain.

I offered her mother some comfort. I assured her that accidents happen and it was not her fault.
It really wasn't. It's just the way it is in the third world. If I was a mama here, the same thing could have happened to my baby. There are no safety locks of safety gates.

At the end of my shift both Manja and her mother were feeling mush better. After a long dressing change, which required sedation (it made me feel at home to sedate a patient), Manja woke up and was playing and laughing as if nothing had happened. It was rather remarkable.

As sad as some of the stories we hear in Liberia are there is a deep seated joy in being able to love people. To touch the untouchable. To encourage the downcast.

The children here are so beautiful. I really love them. And it's so happy to love.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


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Originally uploaded by megan_petock
joanna was one of our surgical patients. I was walking back to the ship and saw her as she left. she let me take her picture. isn't she amazingly beautiful?


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Originally uploaded by megan_petock
girls at the orphanage playing a hand clapping game.


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Originally uploaded by megan_petock
my friend becky playing a game with children at the orphanage. they taught us several african games today.


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Originally uploaded by megan_petock
joseph stands in front of the building as crew members from mercy ships paint it.


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Originally uploaded by megan_petock
Mixing these nuts over a fire produces an oil that is sold in small plastic bags and used for cooking

Friday, September 28, 2007

goodbye Esther

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Originally uploaded by megan_petock
Discharged patients need to leave before 1:00 PM. Our hospital is currently filled and we need bed space, so it's important that the patients leave on time. When I received report this morning I was told that Esther's sister would be coming for her after lunch, presumably before 1 Pm.

After two months Esther was going home. Her sister was picking her up after lunch. We would be saying goodbye.

Yesterday Esther told me should would cry when she left. I told her I would cry too. As I listened sat in report my generally dry eyes began to fill with tears.

Esther was going home. Her sister was picking her up after lunch.

I didn’t' want to make Esther sad. This was a big day, an exciting day. Esther can use her hand now. She used it to paint her fingernails and braid hair last night. Two of the many things she could never do before.

No one ever wants to be in the hospital. Esther had said goodbye to many other patients. She longingly watched as they were discharged. Now it was her turn, it was her big day.

But her sister was coming after lunch and that meant I would only have a few more hours to hold her hand and laugh at her insanity. And who knows when I will ever be in Liberia again. Goodbye was really goodbye.

I got myself composed and began my morning nursing care with a little less enthusiasm than normal. I borrowed Esther's flashing princess crown and wore it all morning to cheer myself up.

Several nurses stopped by to say hello and to find out the time of Esther's departure, sometime after lunch.

Around 12:30 I left the ward to take my lunch break. Seeing that I was Esther's nurse, I was not going to miss saying goodbye. If her sister came while I was gone they would have to wait for me,

When I returned to the ward, Esther's sister still hadn't arrived. But the new patient was coming and we needed the bed. It was time for Esther to pack up. I had her assemble her belongings and asked her to change into her clothes.

I was use to seeing Esther in hospital gowns. Boring, drab hospital gowns. She went into the bathroom to get dressed as a patient and came out a lady. A vibrant royal purple dress embraced her thin frame and accentuated her beautiful smile. All day Esther was being referred to as "The Africa Mercy Queen."

Dressed in her royal purple I attire I would have believed the Africa Mercy really had a queen.

Esther grabbed her bags and sat on a stool by the door. I pulled up a chair next to her and gently rubbed her back. Her eyes started to fill with tears and she buried her head on my knees.

Then I lost it.

We sat together in the front of the ward crying for almost ten minutes. No words were said for there was an understood silence. When she finally lifted her head my scrubs contained three large wet spots.

I'm so glad this is the way it was because it's the way it should be.

I'm glad that I wasn't just Esther's nurse, and she just wasn't my patient. We were friends. I really love Esther. I care about her.

Her sister came after lunch and we said goodbye. And Esther left.

But she left with more than just a fixed hand. She left with two months of being loved. Two months of being accepted. Two months of being shown how special she is. Two months of seeing the love of God.

Every time she uses her hand she will be reminded of the time she spent on the Africa Mercy. And I say with confidence that it will be a sweet memory.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Esther's leaving

Tomorrow Esther is going home. She has been a patient on our ward since July. I'm going to miss her dearly.

Esther and I have become good friends. She has made me laugh. I've been to her house. We have eaten chocolate and drank soda's together.

Today I was her nurse.

Every day we take the patients up to deck seven for dome fresh air. I sat in the ward next to Esther and commented that this would be the last time I took her upstairs. Her eyes began to fill with tears and she slowly sunk her head down towards her knees and eventually buried her head in my side. We sat their as she tried to hide her tears and I gently rubbed her back. And I tried to hide my tears.

I asked Esther what her favorite thing about begin on the ship was. She said "everything" and told me she would cry when she went home tomorrow.

I'm happy for Esther that she's is going home simply because no one really wants to be in the hospital. I know Esther is exited to be going home. She's talked about it fro weeks. But Esther has made many friends on the Africa Mercy. And friends never like to say goodbye.

It's bittersweet. Everything in me is so excited for Esther. After 14 years of having a crippled extremity she can use her hand. She can platt hair and hold open a book.

But friends don't like to say goodbye. And tomorrow will be a bit sad.
For both of us.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I don't want to forget

If there were more than 24 hours in the day, I could probably spend five hours every night writing about the days events. But there are only 24 hours in the day. Too bad.

A few moments I want to remember...

Benjamin walked in the room with his head drooped and his shoulders shyly leaning on his uncle's arm. He was seven and had a cleft lip.

I sat on his bed and introduced myself. I asked him if he knew what his name meant. It means
"Son of my right hand". I know that because my brother's name is Benjamin.

I really miss my brothers. They make me laugh, they listen to music with me, we write silly songs together and just generally always have a good time. If I don't have to get up for work the next morning I can always count on Ben to stay up until the early morning and solve the worlds problems with me. And make fun of oursleves for not dating anyone.

I told little Benjamin that my brother shared his name and decided that he would have to be my Liberian brother. This made him smile. He was too precious.

Later I talked to Benjamin and his uncle, who was taking care of hm. I asked Benjamin if it was scary to come to the ship. He's only seven and hospitals can be very scary places.

Benjamin wasn't scared. He was excited. The children he knew were mean to him. They teased him and called him names. He didn't want to be made fun of anymore.

His uncle told me Benjamin was upset after the first few hours ward. He didn't understand why everyone else was fixed and his lip was still opened. He wanted his surgery at that moment.

Calmly, his uncle explained to Benjamin that he just needed to be patient. He would be fixed in the morning.

The next morning Benjamin received his surgery and joined the ranks of "fixed" patients.

Rosalind's right arm if held in a 90 degree angle by a stiff splint. The entire right side of her body is burned and she has undergone and extensive contracture release.

She is a teenage girl who was very quiet and shy when she first arrived.

Apparently Rosalind likes to dance. I had been singing a song and she started moving her free left arm and shaking her upper body to my song. When my voice was hoarse and my hands tired of clapping she still wanted to dance.

I love dance parties. My friends and I can throw a pretty intense dance theme party. Look at my zombie pictures on flickr if you don't believe me :).

A peace ward dance party seemed like a pretty good idea so I went to my room and grabbed my laptop and ipod. We cornered off a section of the ward and danced. The other patients laughed and told us "I enjoy you".

Rosalind found me while I was walking through the hallway and with a wide inquisitive smile told my she wanted to dance and asked when I was going to bring the music again.

Congo Town School School Opening

For months our community development team has been building a school for the Congo Town community (just outside of Monrovia). In July had spent a day painting the building. Today the school was opened. I was privileged to attend the opening ceremony.

Before, the children had been attending school in a small, dirt floored stick room. As many as 50 children would pile into the room each day. Some of the students are ex-combatants who fought in Liberia's civil war.

The new building has eight classrooms, cement floors, and room for growth. It's beautiful.
Way to go CDS.

Monday, September 24, 2007

my privilege

Proverbs 25:21

If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink

Sometimes working in West Africa can be frustrating and seem a bit hopeless. You feel small next to massive problems. You can be frustrated by people constantly asking you to give them something. You can be saddened by those who have no desire to work.

The problems here are so complex. Women and children are oppressed and abused. Rape legal until last year. An entire generation was uneducated. Mentally, many have be traumatized from the war. There is so much to think about.

But love is very simple. It asks no questions and it demands no answers. It gives of itself because that is the only thing it knows to do.

The Bible commands us to love even our enemies. Therefore, can we not look past politics and frustrations and love those who are not our enemies but are simply impoverished? Should we not give them bread to eat and water to drink, if we should be doing that for our enemies?

Mary is a 15 year old patient on the ward. She is hear alone. Her jaw was locked shut and we performed surgery that will allow her to open her mouth.

Mary has the sweetest spirit. She is gentle and shy. When the other girls talk she sits on the perimeter, wanting to be apart of the group but clearly expressing through her body language that she feels like an outsider. But out wards are filled with the worlds outcast's.

Tonight, after saying goodnight to the other members of the hope ward girls club, I made Mary's bed my last stop. I sat next to her, rubbed her back, and held her hand. She told me about her family and where she lived. I told her that she had a beautiful smile and was a very sweet girl. I told her how special she was to God and how much He loved her.

She soon threw her arms around me in a full out bear hug, and buried her head into my shoulders.

Mary is an outsider. I don't know how often she hears that she is special and loved. I don't know how often she is hugged.

It is so humbling to be able to love Mary. To be the physical hands that bring hope and healing. Politics, problems, ambitions, convictions, attitudes, being right- none of that mattered at that moment.

I was able to simply love Mary and it was my privilege.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

happy birthday Crystal!!

happy birthday Crystal!!
Originally uploaded by megan_petock


"You should write your name on the sign."
"I can't write my name."
"Here, I will help you."
"No, I didn't go to school and get an education. I can't write my name. You write it for me."
"I will help you, but I am not going to write for you. You can do it Musu, I know you can."

Tomorrow is Crystal, my Friends, birthday. The hope ward girls club and I were making birthday signs to decorate Crystal's door with. I placed some scrap paper and crayons on the floor and we were soon busy making decorations.

I wrote the first sing. It simply said, "Happy Birthday Crystal."
I wasn't sure if all the girls could read and write so I placed it in the center were it could be easily copied.

Each girls worked hard on their signs and I told them to write their names on each one so that Crystal would know who they were from. Musu wanted me to write her sing for her. Fair enough, but I wanted her to sign her name.

She refused.

I wrote her name on another pieces of paper and showed it to her. I told her I would help her write her name.

She still refused.

You could see in her eyes a lack of confidence and a fear of failure. She new that she was uneducated, never taught to read and write, and therefore was not qualified for the job of writing her name.

I could relate to her fear of failure having felt that same fear many times myself. I am a perfectionist. Often I don't like to publicly try things I am not great at. If I know I am around a person who can do something better then myself I'd rather divert to them then try at all. When you aren't fully confident in something and you put yourself out there anyway, you make yourself very vulnerable. I don't really do vulnerable so well.

I have an associate degree from Bucks County Community College in Nursing. Sometimes I have been labeled as uneducated because of where I went to school but I loved community college. I had wonderful teachers and classes and currently have no student loans, which makes it possible for me to spend a year volunteering in Africa. Where I did or didn't go to school makes me no more of less a person and is not a determination of intelligence or personality. It's just where I went to school.

Musu didn't get to go to school because she grew up in the middle of a war. It doesn't mean she is unintelligent or dumb. She was just never given the opportunity to learn.

I grabbed Musu's hand and helped her form the letters of her name. M. U. S. U. Musu.

When we were finished I made a huge fuss and a valiant smile broke across Musu's face. She was very pleased. I told her to never say "I can't", she can do anything she put her mind too.

We like to take so much credit for who we are. Our sense of style. Our witty humor. Our intelligent minds. But so much of what we become is only because of the opportunities we have been given.

We are all just the same human beings. I grew up in Bucks County where I was well loved, cared for, fed, and educated. Musu grew up in a civil war and received none of these things.
I taught her to spell her name not because I am smarter or more intelligent, but simply because I was given the opportunity learn to read and write. Musu never got that chance.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


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Originally uploaded by megan_petock


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Originally uploaded by megan_petock
Last night I had my hair platted by Elisa, one of the patients in the ward. There are a group of six ladies in hope ward, ranging from ages fourteen to 23 that have been begging to platt my hair for the past week. After I worked my evening shift, I got changed and came back to the ward for my hair appointment.

My hair is soft and difficult to platt. African’s platt their hair against their foreheads in rows. For soft-haired people like myself, they often use a different style, lovingly referred to as “American platts”. In this style the hair is divided and braided in small braids that follow the natural falling of the hair. It is not tight against the forehead.

Elisa is a bit of a perferectionist. She would see an error midway through a row of braid and start the entire row over. Several times she remarked, “Your hair is soft. It’s hard to platt.“ Halfway through the platting process she told me when these plats were out, I should save the rubber bands and come back for American style platts.

“They are easy.”

As Elisa platted my hair, the other five members of the girls club hovered around Elisa’s bed and watched with wide eyes as their white friend got her hair platted. Someone found a mirror they had brought to the hospital and handed it to me so I could view Elisa’s fine work. There was a lot of “you look nice” and “your hair is platted fine” accompanied by wide smiles and big eyes. It was sort of like being at a sleepover.

The girls love to laugh. They are always joking with each other and being sassy. Just like American teenagers. Sometimes when I work I feel like I am both a youth group leader as well as a nurse.

It took an hour and a half for my hair to be completely platted. We started and 10:30 pm and didn’t finish until midnight. I had a very busy shift that evening and was tired. I really didn’t feel like getting my hair platted but the girls were so adamant about it that I could not say no.

Sitting in a circle, on the ground, while my hair was being poked and pulled provided and very good time of talking with the ladies. I have been here long enough that I am finally starting to develop real relationships with the patients. Several of the patients have been here for a few weeks and we have gotten to know each other. They call me “megee”. It’s my official Liberian nickname.

I have been trying to learn more about Liberia. I have bought Liberian textbooks and read through them. I always talk to the taxi drivers and find out their stories. It’s one thing to learn about a culture from an outsiders perspective via the news or print and it’s quite another to learn from the people who are the culture.

I started to ask the girls questions. They told me about living in the bush. They have small farms and carry their own water. Mardemor lives with her three brothers, two sisters, and her mother. Her father died when she was small. Justinas‘ mother told me that her mother -in- law has 16 children and all of hem are alive. I cannot even imagine. She had four children, two were living and two were dead. It is normal here to explain how many of your children are dead and alive because most mothers have lost at least one child.

I asked Justina‘s mom if she gave birth by herself. She looked at me rather strangely as if I had asked her an obvious and somewhat stupid question. Of coarse she gave birth by herself. I explained to her how people give birth in America. They go to the hospital and are surrounded by doctors and nurses. They put monitors on you and place your legs in the air. She was amused by my words and laughed when I told her women had to put their legs up.

Liberia‘s president is Ellen-Johnson Sirleaf, and she is Africa‘s first elected female leader. She has a huge job to do. I asked the girls what they thought of the president.
Musu, a vibrant 21 year old, gave me some answers that were very insightful to the culture.

“Things are so expensive. She (the president) said things would be less expensive and they are not.” Musu picked up a small plastic cup from her bedside and waved it in the air indigently proclaiming that a cup of rice of this size was 15 LD (25 cents). Mardemor joined the rant and started listing all the things that were expensive in Liberia.

Musu has voted for Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf twice. She doesn’t think she will vote for her again. When Ellen was campaigning she promised to make things less expensive and they aren’t. Musu said she thought Liberia would be stronger when things were less expensive.

If only it was that simple.

I interjected that making Liberia string is a hard job and will take time but the girls insisted that if things were less expensive then Liberia would be stronger. I asked the girls how they were going to make Liberia stronger when they went home. What were they going to do for their country?

Diverting the question, they asked me how many children my mother had. Three.

“Women in Liberia have plenty, plenty children. Many have ten children. It’s expensive to feed ten children and send them to school and we have no money. How can we make Liberia strong when we have no money and things are expensive?”

While Liberia has many physical needs it’s emotional and physiological needs are just as overwhelming. Poverty is often cyclic, which is why it can be so hard to alter. There is no NGO or government regimen that can heal Liberia’s wounds and make it’s country strong. The people of Liberia are the only ones who can do that.

With my hair still being pulled, I told the girls the story of my country. That people came to the land with nothing. They had only a belief in God and a hard work ethic. Hey farmed the land, trusted God, and worked very hard, and became a strong nation. The same can happen in Liberia. And I told them that.

“When you leave the ship, you must work hard to make Liberia strong. You are the only people who can make Liberia string.”

All of the girls are sweet. They are smart. They like to laugh. They have had hard lives and they have hard futures ahead of them. Their childhoods have been stolen by war. They know what it feels like to be hungry. They have never been educated. But in the end they are just girls who like sleepovers.

I left are conversation saddened. Sad that poverty is cyclic. Sad that 15 LD is “expensive”. Sad that the girls have so little. Sad that women in Liberia have been oppressed.

But I enjoyed their company and my hair looks so fine now. Our humanity is the same. They are not people in a fictional story. They are people. They are daughters, and sisters and friends, the same way I am a sister and daughter and friend. If I had been born in Liberia and they in America I’d probably be platting their hair.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

momma's and babies

momma's and babies
Originally uploaded by megan_petock
Yesterday in report I was told that a patient of mine might be discharged that day. It was 1 year old Alita, whose cleft palate surgery was cancelled due to a positive malaria test. It was the second time she had been cancelled because of Malaria.

My heart sank as I heard the word “cancelled”. With only two months of surgeries left in the outreach, there are not a lot of opportunities to reschedule. And the free surgery we offer is the only chance many of our patients will ever have at a normal life. It is far more complex than just having surgeries. I wanted Alita to have her miracle.

When I met Alita I was immediately taken by her charm. She was petite and wore tiny gold hoop earrings and wobbled around the ward on her tiny legs.

She loved to smile. I would picker her up and dip her head backwards towards her mother and she would break out into a fit of laughter that was like a refreshing, merry stream of water. As we were watching The Jungle Book she began to shake her body and wave her arms to “the bear necessities”. Being a nurse, I had a list of things to do, but they were all non-urgent and I love to dance. So I grasped her thin arms and for the song’s duration we danced together in the middle of the ward.

Dancing with a beautiful little girl. It was an opportunity I could not pass up.

As soon as you walk into the room you notice a child’s cleft lip deformity. It as if someone melted away part of their face. The deformity makes it difficult to eat and many of these children are very malnourished. Also, they are most often rejected by their communities and sometimes by their own mothers. They are outcasts. But a simple surgery can change their entire lives.

Malaria is a common problem in West Africa and there are two blood test that we perform to detect it in a patient’s bloodstream. The first is a quick test that can be read in Minutes. Alita’s had a positive quick test. The second is a smear which takes longer to read but is more accurate. Alita had both test’s sent.

I dreaded having to tell Alita’s mom that she could not get her surgery that day and I desperately prayed that we would have a slot for her before the end of the outreach.

Around mid-morning, the two laboratory technicians confirmed that Alita’s smear tests were both negative for malaria. It made sense seeing that she was a febrile and running around the ward quite happily. We were able to perform her surgery today. Alita got her miracle.

I went down to the ward to see how she was doing. Steri strips now replaced the hole that was previously on her face. She was laying on her mother’s lap fast asleep. She had no idea that her life was just changed.

But I do. And so does her mother. It’s a very happy thought. It makes me happy to be in Africa.


Originally uploaded by megan_petock
Esther holding her red ball. She could not even open this hand before her surgery.


On Saturday night I went out to dinner. 13 crew and I ate Liberian sushi at a restaurant that was designed for Westerners. It was called "The Living Room". The inside was furnished with couches, large coffee tables, exotic drapes, and candles. Our food was brought to the coffee tables and we ate our sushi on the couches. You felt like you were at a trendy city restaurant. A friend commented that, "It's hard to believe a place like this exists in Liberia".

While we were eating, I noticed to western White men in the room next to ours. Their are no indigenous white skinned people in Liberia, other than Africans with Albinism. When you see light skin you know the person was imported from another country. The first question that come to my mind is, "I wonder what they are doing in Liberia".

It would be interesting to know the final number of foreigners currently residing in Liberia. Monrovia is filled with NGO's. Vehicle form The Red Cross, Mercy Ships, Samaritan's Purse, and the Geneva convention can regularly be seen in the streets. Also, there are over 15,000 UN soldiers, who carry very large guns, meandering the roads and ensuring Liberia's safety. Seeing the constant tension of Monrovia, if the UN was not here, it is very likely Liberia would still be at war. Liberia boasts the UN's second largest peacekeeping presence in the world.

A few weeks ago, a kind UN worker gave a few friends and I a ride from the city to the ship. On the ride home, he told us that the restaurant we were at fills with prostitute's every night. Prostitution is on the rise among teenage girls in Liberia. They specifically target western men, knowing that these men can easily afford to pay 5 to 10 dollars for their services, which is not a large sum of money for a westerner, but is a very good days wage for the girl. It's one of the few opportunities she has to make any money at all.

The white men I noticed in the sushi restaurant were accompanied by two young Liberian girls, who were probably half their age. I could clearly see a gold wedding band's on both men's ring fingers.

I don't know who they were or where they were from, but as I watched them feed sushi to their guests, I felt disturbed. I wondered who their wives were. I wondered what the girls were thinking. I wondered if the men had children at home.

Rape is a terrible problem in Liberia. In some area's as many as 3 out of 4 women have been raped. I cannot even imagine what that would be like. Men who prey on women are true cowards.

But I find western men who come to Liberia and employ teenage prostitute's equal in their cowardliness. They know the problems of the country. They know that these girls have very little and many prostitute themselves simply so they can survive. They are suppose to be here to help. They use their high economic status to fulfill their lusts at the expense of young girls.

As a woman, I cannot imagine selling my body to a man for any price. But these girls give themselves to strangers, who care nothing for them, for as little as 5 dollars. My heart breaks for them.

Women are meant to be treasured and treated with respect.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Laura inside the shop

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Originally uploaded by megan_petock

fire and light

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Originally uploaded by megan_petock
I don’t really think much about light, until it’s dark.

I have a habit of staying up until the early hours of the morning. My five roommates would not appreciate the lights being turned on at 3:00 am, so I often resort to using the night glow feature on my travel alarm clock to navigate my way into the top bunk In the back of my six birth cabin. It can be both annoying, dangerous, and frustrating to stumble around in the dark. I've nearly fallen off my ladder en route to my top bunk several times.

Currently, on the Africa Mercy, we are performing burn contracture release surgeries. It is amazing how many pediatric burn patients we are caring for. Every Wednesday, we have continuing education and at the last session, I was told that burns in children are a common problem in the third world. Most of these burns occur from fire or hot liquid.

Liberia is a country without electricity. On Friday, I went to a craft market in Monrovia with friends and we stopped at a local shop to eat lunch. It was a cloudy, overcast day. Their were two tables on the porch that were occupied with other guests, so our group headed inside the shop, which was a small room with painted concrete block walls and doors that acted as windows. Inside, it was almost completely dark. I had to strain to recognize the faces of the people I was with.

Seeing we were stranded in darkness, the shops owner lit a candle and placed it on the table next to ours. The small light allowed some vision. The candle was the solution.

In that moment, I had a new appreciation for darkness and a small, deepened glimpse of Liberian life.

When the electricity goes out at home it is a nuisance. You can’t flush the toilet. You cant’ see your bed. You can’t use the computer or read a book. It’s even hard to talk to your family because you can’t see their facial expressions or their eyes. Life get’s a bit slower and less productive.

That’s what every night is like for the Liberian people. There is no electricity, so the city is always dark at night.

On Saturday night, as I drove back to the ship in a Land Rover, I noticed the flicker of candles from the houses along the road. In five minutes of driving I counted almost a hundred lit wicks. It made it obvious why burns in children would be a common problem. When you have a large number of people living in a small room with a dirt floor, and fire is your only light source, you are setting yourself up for an accident. Lighting candles in an over crowded space with children in close proximity is not safe.

But living in the third world isn't exactly safe.

Tomorrow, as you go through your day, think about all the times you use electricity. Can you imagine if it just wasn't ever there?

Welcome to Liberia.


Today I took care of my first cleft palate/cleft lips patients. They were great.

Anissa is 1 1/2 and was terrified of me. I think it was my white skin. She had a fuzzy little afro, delicately formed ears, and porcelain lips which curled in horror when I move to close in her general direction. I went though my entire bag of tricks to make kids like me, and they were, one by one, shot down.

But I persevered. I gave her space but I was determined that we became friends by the end of my shift. After lunch, I sat on the end of the bed, not holding a stethoscope or thermometer, and let her small, dark hands examine the contours of my face. I gradually moved closer until I was sitting right next to her and she was smiling. I made funny noises at her and tapped her nose and she smiled. I think were friends now. Maybe tomorrow she will even let me hold her.

Bendu went home today. Bendu was a beautiful, tiny two year old girl who whore little gold stud earrings. She had a skin graft placed on her nose.

Bendu was very outgoing. I had taken for several trips down the hallway to visit the other patients without any signs on separation anxiety. Her small head would nuzzle under my chin and she would melt into me. It's so wonderful to snuggle with babies.

Bendu had been very vocal all morning. When kids start to talk and be mildly cranky, it's time to go home. You know they are feeling better. Today her mama strapped her on her back with a large towel and they were gone.


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Was an artist holding his work at the craft market. I loved primary colors and vividness of the painting.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


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Riding in taxis is a regular part of a Mercy Ship outing. You can't always find a Land rover to drive or someone to drive it. I love taking pictures from the inside of the taxi's.

The taxis are all old and yellow. Many of them look like they belong in a junkyard rather than the road. I have had one break down while I was in it, but it does happen. Since the roads of Monrovia are primarily unpaved and filled with giant holes, the care are rather abused. It's no wonder they look the way they do.

The taxi's are often painted with phrases such as "No food for lazy man" or "Surrounded by God's blessing." Some phrases are much more colourful. I really need to start writing them down.

Most taxi's are meant to hold five people, including the driver. However, the generally carry no less then seven and sometimes as many as nine. Two people share the front seat and the rest pile in the back. You really just feel the love.

And the bumps.

I always try to strike up a conversation with the driver. It's an interesting way to learn more about the culture. Many of the drivers aren’t from Liberia and come from neighbouring countries.

Today I learned our driver has four "fine" children who he lives in Monrovia with. He and his family have always lived in Liberia and they did not leave during the war. I asked if it was scary to be in Liberia during that time. He told me it was, but he lived in the bush and was able to hide from the rebel soldiers. The taxi were rode in did not actually belong to him. He worked for someone. Many of the drivers own the cars they drive.

A ride in a taxi is always an experience. The only rule of driving that seems to apply here is to look out if you hear a horn honking. Someone is probably about to hit you.

Horns are so valuable.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Lucy's soup

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Lucy cooks Liberian soup from ingredients we bought at the market this morning. For more photos from the orphange, and to see the pigs feet before they were in the soup, click the Fatima Flowers photo link.

be happy

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Children at the orphange in front of a large, colorful mural. Don't their forheads look so kissable?

sally h.

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Sally getting her hair adorned by African flowers. The flowers are lovely. And so is Sally.

princess flowers

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The kids at the fatima orphange putting flowers in my hair. They made me a princess.

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This is my favorite

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the Scottish dance

good. clean. fun.

My shins are a little sore and I am pretty certain I am missing a toenail.

Tonight on the dock we had a ceiliah, Scottish dance party. The word ceiliah means, “to visit.” They were conceived so that friends could spend time having fun together. We had fun tonight.

For almost three hours, our crew danced to the rhythms of Scottish music. The dance style was similar to line dancing in that there was a pattern which we would learn and perform repetitively. A pa system was set up on the dock and Kate, a Scottish crew member, held the microphone and called out the dance steps.

All departments of the ship were represented on the dock. There were doctors, engineers, kitchen staff, receptionists, nurses, housekeepers, writers, dentists, moms, and teachers. There were preschool children and their were grandparents. Nations from all corners of the globe were represented. All dancing together. All having a good time. My roommate, Michelle, said it was the most fun she has had since she has been here.

At the end of the night, we were all covered in sweat. Although it was a cool night, the air was still think and sticky. And swinging, spinning, clapping, and doe-cee-doeing is quite the workout.

We ended the night with a traditional Scottish dance, of which I cannot remember the name. We stood facing one another in two long lines which from the end of the dock to the almost the tip of the gangway. Each person went down the center of the lines with a partner and spinned with every person in the line.

There is nothing quite like good, clean fun.

Friday, September 14, 2007


A sympathetic pediatric charge nurse has placed me in Peace ward for the past two shifts. It's been about a month since I have worked there. While I love our adult patients, it's been nice to remember how much I enjoy working with children.

We currently have a plastics surgeon on board and have been performing many burn contracture release operations. In the third world, burns in children are fairly common. Living in a place without electricity makes fire your primary light source. Children and fire is never a good combination. Accidents are bound to happen.

Miriam is a nine month old little girl. She has tiny rows of platted hair and two small gold earrings. Her mother's name is Massa. She is 17 years old and incredibly sweet. Last night she offered me some of the food she had brought. It was a very kind gesture.

I was told in report that Miriam was happy until any member of our staff touched her. A very typical reaction children have when hospitalized. In order to minimize her fear, I very gently approached Miriam during my initial assessment. I let her touch my hands and play with my stethoscope before attempting to obtain her vitals signs. I tried to make her laugh by raising and lowering my voice as well as gently touching her nose. She would give me a hidden shy smile.

The left side of Miriam's body is completely burned. The right side of her face is soft and baby like, while the left completely scarred. The skin looks as if it is melting off. Her left arm is equally burnt. She had a burn release contracture done on that arm.

Today, I sat at Miriam's bed and talked to her mother, Massa, while I was assessing her. Massa told me that Miriam had been burned by a candle.

"It was an accident."

I could see the pain in her eyes. It was like she was admitting to a terrible crime. I believed her, that it was an accident, and my heart broke for her.

Gently, I commented on how hard it must have been for her to watch her baby go through so much pain. I told her that sometimes it is harder for mama's to be sick then it is for the children, because the mam's would rather take on the pain themselves then watch their children bear it. Her eyes began to brim with tears.

"It was hard. And it will be hard later."

It will be even harder later. Later in the night I carried Miriam down the hall to visit the ladies in faith ward.

"What happened to the's sad to see this happen to such a fine child."

Her scars are comparable to a real life phantom of the opera. It's the first thing people noticed. Someday when Miriam goes to school, the other kids will notice. They will probably laugh and tease her. Kids can be cruel.

"It will be harder later..but I am happy she has her life."

Miriam has her life. And she is a beautiful little girl. I call her beautiful as often as I can.

I sat on Miriam's bed and told her mother how much God loves Miriam. How beautiful He thinks she is. How He has good thoughts towards her and good plans for life. How He makes beauty form ashes and derives good from evil.

I told Massa the story of Joni Erickson. How she was able to write books and effect millions of people across the globe from her wheelchair.

It is such a privilege to take care of Miriam and to speak to Massa. I can't imagine bearing the weight of so much at the age of 17. It is a beautiful experience to love those the world shudders from.

As I looked at Miriam I could only think of how much God loved her. Of how special she was to Him. At how His heart breaks for the sufferings of His children. And I get to be the arms that hold her in His stead. Amazing.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

happy is he

Proverbs 14: 21

He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.

Being on a hospital ship in Africa has made me feel the tension of life in ways I have never felt it before. The tension of the third world and the western world. The joy of helping vs the pain of suffering. Embracing the unknown while longing for the familiar.

I have very little figured out. At the end of the day there are always more questions then answers. More conflict than peace.

But such is life on earth. It makes us yearn and question and long for hope that which does not disappoint. For the day when eternal justice will reign. What a day that will be.

I've had difficulties in discerning my place with the people of Liberia. How to help in a way that doesn't hinder. What to say and when to say it. What to give and how much. When to be tender and when to be stern. When to be empathetic and when to be instructive.

I realize that I cannot actually define these lines or really make a difference in the overall scheme of Liberia's growth. I am just megan. I am small small.

So why even try? Why pay to clean up vomit and empty bedpans? What would make people from all over the world leave their comfortable 9 to 5 lives and pay to work long hours when in reality, the most we can hope to do is make a small difference?

The answer I have found is love.

1 Corinthians 13: 4-8

Love suffers long, and is kind; love envies not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Does not behave unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, think no evil: rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

That is the whole of the story. Today God showed me in His Word His heart for the poor. He loves them. With the same love He has for me. The same blood was shed for us all.

Happy is he that hath mercy on the poor. I feel happy right now. I really cannot believe that I have been granted the privilege of spending my life in this manner. To hold the hands of those that have been forgotten. To kiss the foreheads of the outcast.

It's not about solving the worlds problems. It's about loving people. And love never fails.

love, meg

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

the market

African Ladies

I have been learning how to carry things on my head. Strictly because J Grow said that it is the skill he is looking for, and boys only want girls with great skills. When I come home, I think you will be slightly impressed at my proficiency at head-carrying.

Also, carrying a baby on your back is so wonderful and practical. If I ever have children they will be placed on my back. African mama's know what they are doing.

Esther @ home

I only slept for four hours today. I had just worked four nights in a row. I averaged 13 patients a night and even had a little drama in the early morning hours today. I was plenty plenty busy. And plenty plenty tired

But I had big plans today that were more important than sleeping.

Esther has been on our ward since late July. She is 14 and had a burn contracture release. She has had to stay in the hospital for dressing changes and to avoid infection.

Last week Esther was very sad. Sometimes, like any teenager, she has mood swings but usually she will laugh and smile with small small prodding. But last weeks all of my best efforts produced nothing in the way of smiling. Esther was tired of being in the hospital. She was sad that the friends she made here kept getting discharged while she had to stay. I really cannot blame her. If I spent six weeks on a ward with non windows, I would be sad too.

At home, sometimes our stable, chronic patients will receive passes to go home for a weekend. Kids are not small adults. They are not equipped with the same coping mechanisms that adults possess. Spending some time at home is very therapeutic.

I asked our ward supervisor if it would b e possible to take Esther home for a few hours. She said that was fine. I talked to my friends Melenie and Crystal, who are friends with Esther, as well as Kim Anna, Esther's adopt a patient, and the arrangement was made to take Esther home.

No one told Esther we were going, in fear that something might not work out at the last moment. It was a total surprise. Kind of like waking kids up and whisking them to Disney world, but on a much smaller scale.

Kim Anna's mom graciously drove us to Esther's sister's house and we spent the afternoon there. As soon as we arrived, Mary, Esther's sister, retrieved two plastic chairs to accompany the large wooden bench that sat in the front of the tin porch. It was a gesture of hospitality. We were to make ourselves comfortable.

Mary has 20 years. She is married and has two babies, Princess, age 3, and Ellis, age 1. Several other family members lived in the surrounding small, tin-roofed rooms. The women gave us "African Lady" lessons. We practiced carrying babies on our backs, water on our heads, and I received platts in my hair.

It was a great afternoon. Esther, who is normally crazy and loud, was a little shy and quiet. I think she was really happy and possibly slightly embarrassed, in a good way, by the attention.
I hope her week was brightened.

Monday, September 10, 2007

hey mama

Last night Esther was carrying Winnie the Pooh like an Africa mama would.
She is so cute.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

night shift

I am in the middle of a 12 hour night shift. The patients are sleeping and pain free. Praise God.

Here is a list of small small ways my shift has reminded me I am on a hospital ship in Africa

1. Their are two bathrooms in Hope and Faith ward, which are shared by the patients, and not always functioning. We keep signs by each bathroom door that say "do not use" and "toilet not flushing". The hospital keeps our plumbers plenty plenty busy.

Tonight when I was getting report I heard number 6 (there is not "number" sign on my keyboard, this £ is there instead) of the top ten things a ward nurse on the Africa Mercy does not want to hear

"Are the toilets working now?"

Thankfully they were.

2. Everyday we take the patients up to deck 7 (outside) to get some fresh air. Their are no windows on the 3rd deck where the hospital is located and it can be mildly depressing. A somewhat reliable elevator is used to transfer the patients from deck 3 to deck 7.

James, a cute 1 year old boy (I have met so many cute little Liberian boys with that name) went outside today. His mom also went with him.

When I came to assess James tonight his mom, with hand motions and all, she told me about the elevator ride she took today.

"It was the first since I was born."

It's not everyday that you hear about a grown woman's first elevator ride. She told me she was scared to take "the lift". I told her that I had ridden in plenty plenty lifts, and that lift scared me too.

3. Tonight, before the patients went to bed, we sang a few African songs. It was convenient that Jam bay drums and a gourd shaker were located in the corner of Hope ward. I played the drums, Musu played the gourd. Good times.

4. After I turned our the lights, some of the patients did not want to go to sleep. One was a 32 year old woman. I did not think I could really tell a grown woman to go to bed. And then I saw why she didn't want to sleep. She was busy coloring in her Mercy Ships coloring book. She totally stayed inside the lines.

5. AN ICU patients was trying to pull out his ETT tube. I suggested soft wrist restraints. Great idea except that we don't have them.

But we did have two kotex pads, four tourniquets, tape, and coban dressing. And a little creativity.

We made our own restraints. The patient can no longer reach his airway.

6. A ten year old boy had a biopsy of a tumor that is occupying the 25 % of is face. I had to wake him up at 1 am to rinse his mouth with chlorohexidine.

I felt terrible waking him. And I felt sad that he even had to be here in the first place. Sad that he had a large, disfiguring mass on his face.

As her drank the mouth wash, swished it around, and spit it our, I almost started crying. It's just wrong that kids suffer. It makes you realize how fallen the world is.

I use to have these moments with regularity when I worked in the PICU at home. I hated seeing kids be uncomfortable. They are suppose to be playing and carefree.

I felt the joy and the pain of the moment.

The pain that this boy has a tumor. The pain that he couldn't just sleep thought the night. The pain that he will require more medical intervention that will mean more pokes and prodding.
The pain that we live in a world where children suffer.

But I felt so privileged to be the one waking him up. That I got to tuck him in when he was done. That I got to rub his forehead as he fell asleep. Those are the moments that made me become a nurse. It's a joy to be able to care for people.

Sick kids will always have a place in my heart. Two years in the PICU granted them permanent residence.

I hope as long as I am a nurse that the suffering of my patients always effects my emotions. That I would experience empathy. And that I would realize the privilege that caring of someone is.

Friday, September 7, 2007

goodbye Jo

the bumpy bus ride. the journey is half the adventure.

Rachel Munn and I

These are my cabin mates (from left to right): Jo (UK), Michelle(USA), Sarah (Australia/ Enlgand), me, Dorathy (Canada/Scotland), and Joy (Ireland)

On Monday my roommate Jo is leaving. She has been here for two months and I cannot believe she is already leaving! We are getting a new cabin mate the day she leaves. Bed space is in more demand here than it was at my hospital at home!

Tonight we said goodbye by going to Mona Liza, a restaurant in Liberia. Our initial plan was the Royal hotel, but one of the embassy's was hosting an event there and the restaurant was closed to the public. So we settled for the Mona Lisa next door.

Going anywhere in Liberia can be a bit of an ordeal. There was a total of 21 females and three males in our group (the usual male to female ratio). We all met at the dock at 5pm, and every one finally made it to the restaurant at 6:30 pm (the usual time it takes to hail cabs, make plans, and find people). The restaurant is only about fifteen minutes away when there is not traffic.

This was the first time I was able to go out with all my roommates. 5 out of the 6 of us are nurses, so our schedules rarely align. I'm glad they aligned tonight.

I need to get back to caring for my fourteen patients.


this is the picture I was taking

a view from the middle of broad street

On Saturday I was stopping to take a picture on Broad street, the road that runs through the center of Monrovia. You have to use your camera cautiously as it is an easy target and people have had theirs stolen from their hands.

While trying to take a picture, I heard a voice coming from a near by taxi, yelling,

"Sister, Sister".

You get use to people yelling at you here. Whether they are yelling, "Mercy Ships," or "You marry me," or "White girl, White girl," makes no difference. I generally use the same technique I use at home when I walk past random groups of men, I just totally ignore them. I find it is the best strategy to avoiding unwanted interaction (perhaps that is why I have never dated...).

As I heard the woman yell, I tried to ignore her and quick snapped the picture and hurried to catch up to the group.

The taxi stopped, pulled over, and the woman jumped at her car, the entire time yelling, "Sister, Sister". She leaned over and picked up a small, black camera case that contained a usv cable.

Apparently I had dropped it when I grabbed my camera. She had chased me down to return it.

It was very nice of her. I'd be short one USV cable if she hadn't.