Sunday, August 8, 2010

Psalm 84

I just love this Psalm. Kind of sums up this summer living on a ship full of hope.

Psalm 84 (The Message)

1-2 What a beautiful home, God-of-the-Angel-Armies!

I've always longed to live in a place like this, 

   Always dreamed of
a room in your house

      where I could sing for joy to

3-4 Birds find nooks and crannies in your house, 

      sparrows and swallows make nests there. 

   They lay their eggs and raise their young, 

      singing their songs in
the place where we worship

God-of-the-Angel-Armies! King! God! 

      How blessed they are to live and sing there! 

5-7 And how blessed all those in whom You live

      whose lives become roads You travel; 

   They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks, 

      discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain! 

 God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and 

      at the last turn—Zion!
God in full view

8-9 God-of-the-Angel-Armies, listen: 

      O God of Jacob,
open Your ears—I'm praying

   Look at our shields, glistening in the sun, 

faces, shining with Your gracious anointing

10-12 One day spent in Your house, this beautiful place of worship

      beats thousands spent on Greek island beaches. 

I'd rather scrub floors in the house of my God 

      than be honored as a guest in the palace of sin. 

All sunshine and sovereign is God

      generous in gifts and glory. 

He doesn't scrimp with His traveling companions. 

It's smooth sailing all the way with God-of-the-Angel-Armies.

600 pink sheets

Ali and Alison are two nurses that I've gotten to know first through their blogs, and now through living with them aboard. I've enjoyed reading their blog posts in recent weeks; learning about nurse life and seeing regular crew life through their eyes!

Surgeries stopped two weeks ago. The hospital shut down this past week. And there are 600 pink sheets left. Each one of these sheets represents a patient that we were not able to see, could not get in contact with, or was not a candidate for surgery. And when I read both of their blog posts I started to cry.

There is something that YOU can do for these 600. Go to either of their blogs and comment with your email address. They will email you one of the names for you to pray for. At this point, we cannot help them physically, but we can join with the nurses aboard and storm heaven on behalf of these 600.



When in Africa... dress like the Africans!

Wolanyo is a day volunteer who worked as a translator with the eye team for the first few months of the field service; now he works in the galley. He is an incredible tailor and he is the one who made my dress.

Because I had plans to go to Kpalime this past weekend I was sad that I wouldn't be able to wear my dress to African church. But on Friday Kathy said that we could wear African attire as we served for the day volunteer thank you reception! :)

(Kathy's my adopted mom...)

(the entire Hospitality department!)

(Julie and me... the only two girls left in 3420!)

(Gabriela and I sat down to rest for a second, Julie snapped the pic, and then Gabriela proceeded to try to shove me off the piano bench!)

Kpalime and Mt. Agou/last weekend in Togo!

This past weekend has been quite a weekend to remember! Early this week Abi asked if I wanted to go back to Kpalime with her and hike Mt. Agou, the highest place in Togo. I said sure, but we didn't make concrete plans knowing that even the best laid plans usually don't work out. After all, TIA. (This is Africa)

We had been thinking about leaving Friday evening after I got off work, but we decided to wait until Saturday morning. At breakfast we each packed several PB sandwiches and made sure everyone was ready. The group: Scott, Aleah, Rachel, Abi, and me. We met Emmanuel, a day volunteer who worked as a translator in the hospital, at the port gate and then caught a taxi further into Lome.

From there, the 6 of us (and 7 others) piled into an 8-passenger van for the drive to Kpalime. I was so happy to get out finally and stretch my legs! We were dropped off outside the Hotel le Geyser, and from there Abi led us to Jeff's house. Jeff is a good friend of Josh, another Mercy Ships crew member that Abi and I met in January when we went to the Introduction to Mercy Ships conference. Jeff routinely takes groups of people up to Mt. Agou, and Abi met him when she was last in Kpalime.

At about 1:30pm we finally left for the foot of Mt. Agou. Then we started walking up the paved road while Jeff explained that we could take the road all the way up (12km) or we could take the "shortcuts" that cut straight up the mountain and through the many little villages built into its side. We opted for the shortcut...

...which turned out to be about a 3-hr workout on a stair climbing machine. Try hiking/scrambling up the side of a mountain on wet/mossy stones that create steps about 1' tall. (think Gollum from Lord of the Rings and you've got a good pic of what I must have looked like!) I had a tough time in there... I made it all the way and I tried to not complain, but I had to rest fairly often.... grrrr.... that made me mad. Especially since my backpack probably only weighed about 20 lbs and Scott was carrying the entire 3-man tent in his pack! Mt. Agou has an elevation of 986m (3,234ft) and I doubt that the foot of the mountain was too far above sea level, but I don't know exactly how much elevation we covered. :)

The view from about halfway up. The haze is partially fog due to how moist the air is and partially because of all the cooking fires.

We finally got to the top and stopped at the security/army post there. Jeff and Emmanuel talked with the main guard for almost an hour as the 5 of us broke out the cookies, PB sandwiches, and ate our first sugar cane. (aka the walking sticks that Emmanuel and Jeff had picked up in the last village)

And after all of the discussions the guard told us that because we didn't have the necessary permit we could not spend the night on the mountaintop--and he wasn't interested in a few thousand CFA to let us through. But in the hour of discussion the sun had started to set. We packed up and started our trek down the mountain via the road. At some point Jeff and I started walking faster than the others and we walked by the light of my little keychain flashlight powered by 1 AAA battery. :) He and I got down in 2 hours--but the last 45 minutes were pretty much sheer torture because my wonderful tennis shoes decided that they hated me and thought they should get their revenge on my feet. But all those blisters did was convince me to leave the shoes here in Africa so I can bring the rest of my souvenirs and stuff home!

Jeff teaches English at a secondary school in Kpalime. He's never been anywhere outside of Ghana, Togo, and Benin, but he is an avid reader and has made many friends from around the world. He knew quite a bit about the States and we had a wonderful conversation as we trudged along in the dark.  I kept having to remind myself to talk slower and use simpler words and ask if he knew what certain words meant, but his English is quite good! He told me about his children; Leah, Christian, Emerald, and Onyx, and his wife Shalom. (His surname means "stone" so his last two children's names are perfect!)

We arrived back at the main road and sat down to wait for Abi, Aleah, Scott, Rachel, and Emmanuel. A while later a taxi driver stopped to ask if we needed a ride. We told him we were waiting for our friends and asked if he would drive up the road and pick them up. We did so, and about 15 minutes later he returned with them all--they'd paused for a rest and made a mini campfire in a pothole on the road.(thanks to Abi's iPhone for the pic!) :) We packed 8 of us into the taxi--a regular-sized sedan that's meant for 4 passengers but often holds many more!

He dropped us off back at the Hotel le Geyser, and that's when Aleah noticed that her flipflops were missing out of her backpack. That led to a search throughout the back of the taxi before we finally agreed that Kojo must have stolen them--we have no idea who took them/if they fell out/when someone could have opened her backpack and taken them. Oh well.

We ate supper at the hotel's restaurant. Their omelette sandwich for 1,000 CFA was a pretty good steal! And I'm officially addicted to Fanta orange soda again... remember, Mom? The hotel didn't have any rooms (there went plan B), but Jeff offered to let us stay at his home which is just behind the hotel.

We traipsed back to his house and collapsed. Abi and I got the bed, the other girls got the floor with their air mattress and yoga mat, and Jeff and Emmanuel staked out the tent on the front porch. We joked that since Scott carried that heavy tent up and down Mt. Agou he HAD to at least put it up! :)

We woke up this morning, had PB and honey sandwiches (thanks to Abi's stash), said goodbye to Shalom, and went back to the hotel to get a drink and use their restrooms. Jeff and Onyx came to say goodbye and then we caught rides to the "bus station." We had to get Fan Milk (ice cream in a sealed bag. Super good. And only 150 CFA/~$0.30)  from the guy on the bicycle before all piling into another taxi for the 3-hour ride back to Lome.

It took FOREVER to get home! I don't know how fast we were going (speedometer was broken... a common occurrence in Africa), but since the taxi was probably 15 years old and stuck with 37,000km on the odometer, we didn't expect much from it! But we got back to Lome safe and sound.

First stop: dining room for cold lemonade. Then a shower. Then unpack the backpack and throw everything in the laundry. Then up to Deck 8 to finish a book and relax. Then dinner ("man cannot live on PB sandwiches for an entire weekend"). Then IMing with friends and watching NASCAR up in the Midships lounge. Then BED!!!!

This weekend was so much fun and I'm so excited that I finally got to do stuff the real-African way. I'm super sore from the hike and I'm not looking forward to work tomorrow with the blisters on my feet, but such is life!

*I climbed the highest point in Togo!*

Thursday, August 5, 2010

6 days left!

So yeah... I'm flying back sooner than originally planned. I'll be wheels down in DFW this Tuesday evening. Wow. 6 days.

Turns out that one of the graduate schools I'm applying to emailed me to tell me that both of my recommendation forms had to be from physical therapists I'd shadowed for at least 40 hours each. I've skipped around from clinic to clinic getting all sorts of experiences, but I've only been with one place for over 40 hours. So... I'm headed back to a clinic near Dallas to finish up with a therapist there and get the 17.5 hrs I need for her to re-write the form for me.

In order to get two full work days in before school starts and the application deadline passed for this particular school, I had to move my flights three days sooner. Which means I'm leaving in the midst of the packing-up and securing cabins in Hospitality... and since Caitlin and Sarah left last week it's just Kathy, Gabriella, and me! I feel really bad about leaving...

But I cannot wait to fly back. Ever since I finalized my class schedule, ordered textbooks, and have started receiving emails from my new boss in ResLife, I'm super excited about A&M. OK, I'm also freaked out that it's my senior year and that the GRE test is sneaking up on me!

The sail is coming. Today I packed up and secured 6 guest cabins. Took down all the pictures on the walls, packed the guest dishes under the beds and tucked them in between pillows, mattress covers, and duvets, ziptied all the cupboard door handles together, defrosted and propped open refrigerator doors.... and weighed all the items that weren't screwed to the wall... something about needing to know weight distribution for when the ship undergoes engine tests while it's in dry dock in Durban, South Africa. And you know the easiest way to weigh bulky items: the whole subtract your weight from your weight+the items.... not cool. All the stairs and walking and manual labor I've been doing hasn't kept up with all the carbs that sneak into every meal the galley makes and all the cookie dough that's a necessary part of the job. Oh well... good thing I'm a Kinesiology major!

So... I have 6 days left. This is my last Thursday on board. Tomorrow evening I'm headed back to Kpalime along with Abi for the weekend. This is gonna be a low-cost, real-Africa, kind of trip. Complete with hiking Mt. Agou (the highest point in Togo), and camping out on top. Swimming in the waterfalls, and spending as little money as possible. We leave tomorrow night after work and are going to catch a bus to Kpalime as the locals do.

Pictures to come.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sarakawa, Sparks, sunburns, and sights & sounds

Today was heavenly. Woke up at 9:30am, grabbed a piece of leftover banana/chocolate chip bread from the dining room, and a double vanilla white americano from the Starbucks cafe. Amazing devos.

Went to Deck 8 to journal some... ended up there for 2 hours and got kinda burnt.

At lunch Abi said she wanted to go to Sarakawa this afternoon so we went to the Ship Shop to buy passes for the pool. Met up with Jenny at 2pm and walked the ~1.5 miles to Sarakawa. Spent 3 hours in the sun studying for the GRE and reading one of Nicholas Sparks' novels. Learned several things: SPF 30 doesn't cut it, girls can sometimes be loquacious (GRE vocab word), and all of Sparks' books are completely predictable!

We got back just in time for dinner. Mexican food. So happy. 

Then I got a tour of the engine rooms on decks 1 and 2. Michele, the Chief Engineer. We became friends a few weeks ago when I noticed his A&M baseball cap at the same time he noticed my Aggie ring. His two children go to A&M Galveston and are studying Marine Engineering Technology. Anyway, I've wanted to see what it was like on deck 2 aft (forward deck 2 is the weight room and a few cabins) and deck 1. Here's what it looks like!

(this cracked me up... living at ALERT I know all too well about sewage treatment plants)

(don't mess with these things. Watertight doors are NOT cool!)

(the engine room shop... "the hospital" for sick engine parts) 

(I think a few kitchens could use the warning to disable the smoke alarm before cooking!)

(there are 6 engines, but two of them that look like this have been hooked up to the generators to provide all of the ship's electricity)
(the lovely incinerator for all the hospital trash, waste oil, and oily rags. The hospital trash--including sharps--cannot be taken to the local landfills where people scrounge through the rubbish. So, everything is burned at 1000C)

(one of the two harbor generators. VERY noisy and hot.)

(one of the four other engines used for propulsion. Now resting quietly)

(the fuel intake centrifuge. The fuel we get here is fairly dirty and often has a good bit of water vapor... death to engines)

(the fuel injection system)

(control panels in the engine control room--Deck 2)

(only one harbor generator running now... we're using 1000 kWh per hour right now... those units sound weird... kWh^2?)

(guess who makes the air conditioning system?)

(the chiller for the AC system)

*good day...*

Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Have a safe trip home" & "Welcome home to the Africa Mercy"

I've said those two phrases a lot today. We had 47 crew leaving today. That means 47 pager beeps, 47 sets of sheets/towels to pick up, 47 mugs to collect, 47 disembarkation forms to sign off, and 47 people who are going to experience "reverse culture shock."

This evening I welcomed 3new crew members. That means 3 dinners to reserve, 3 beds to check one last time, 3 cookie packs to place on their beds, 3 people to sit with over supper and make conversation, 3 people to introduce to their new roommates, and 3 people who are in for the experience of a lifetime.

Those 3 new crew are SO young. Two of them are from the same Norwegian maritime engineering school and will be aboard for 8 months as "engineering cadets." The other girl's from Germany and will be replacing some of the Housekeeping girls who left today. I think they're 18, 20, and 21.

They all looked like scared rabbits. Granted, Reception throws a ton of paperwork at them, I give them more papers at supper, there are papers on their beds, and there are even more papers taped on their doors. It's a bit overwhelming when everything is at a different time because we're on a weekend schedule... and then with the blackout everything has changed times once again. They're tired from the flights, nervous about being here, unsure of their new roommates, and the 18 year-old girl will be in a cabin alone until after the ship reaches South Africa. How's that for welcoming?

Oh, and we have a blackout scheduled for tomorrow; the engine cooling systems are going to undergo a major cleaning in preparation for the sail--which happens to be 15 days away. So, tomorrow morning at 6am the ship will become deathly quiet and the emergency lights will be the only thing lighting up the corridors of deck 3. And with no windows down there, it's gonna be pretty dark.

The blackout also means no toilets or showers (they both run on a vacuum system), cold meals from the galley, no phones (and that means no pagers either!), no wifi, and no air conditioning. Decks 5 and 6 are going to be fine with all the windows, but the rest of the ship will be somewhat creepily lit.

And I'm stuck on board. The rest of the crew will be heading off for a day at the sports complex and a free BBQ cookout. I'll be here. But I think I'm gonna get up at 5 to take a shower and get a cup of coffee while it's still hot, go watch the sun rise from deck 8, and then make my way down to breakfast at 7am. Spend the day studying for the GRE--one of the few things I can do without any power, reading a book--it's been a while since I did that, and catching up on some much-needed sleep.

I was just thinking about it all as I was cleaning up from the new arrivals' supper. I love my job on days like these. I feel needed. I AM needed. Ok, the pager beeping is REALLY annoying; especially when you're in the middle of a good book, trying to catch some sun on Deck 8, just settling down for devotions with a great cup of hot coffee, or you're sitting down for 2 seconds to rest your tired feet. But I get to be one of the last crew members that people see and as I leave their cabins with pillowcases full of dirty linen in hand I call back, "Have a safe flight!"

And just now I ran into a group of girls playing Settlers of Catan in the dining room. Most of them lived in the 8 and 10-berth cabins (there is only one of each on board.. the majority are 4 or 6-berths), and are used to lots of roommates and making new friends quickly. So I told them about the new girl alone in cabin 4338 and asked them tomorrow to stop by and say hi. Take her out to the sports complex for a hot BBQ lunch, or at least sit with her over cold cereal tomorrow morning. Make her feel welcome because there's only so much I can do. I'm known as one of the faces in a white uniform shirt/black skirt--just part of the system. I give them papers, take them to their cabins, tell them about the 2-minute shower policy, and say goodbye. I've come across so formally that it's often hard for the younger new crew members to realize that I want to be their friend. Only 6 weeks ago tonight I was in their shoes. Just as lost and confused and turned around as they were. It's gonna be OK. And no, not everything will be fixed with a hot dinner, a shower, and a clean bed. I'll be around all day tomorrow for them to ask questions, but they need some friends. And with 47 people gone, the ship seems a lot more empty.

But I can smile at them, slow down when I talk, and eliminate American phrases from my vocabulary. I can make things easier for them. And sometimes a plate of cookies and an offer for them to join me for a movie night can make me magically turn from someone who's part of the system into someone who's a fellow crew member.

And I think I can do that.

What about you?

There are new faces everywhere. Open up your eyes. Yes, I get a nice little list of who's coming and going. I have to say goodbye and hello. But you don't. There's a lot that you don't HAVE to do that would really make someone's day if you WOULD do.

So how about it?

*Go make someone feel like they're gonna be missed. Go make someone feel welcomed. Go drop your formalities and be you.*

Crew-wide Photo

I'm way over on the left side in front of the group of people standing on top of the land rover. :) Click the picture to open it in a new window and look for me standing between the two people wearing greenish-blue shirts, all you can see is my face. BTW, the lady in the greenish-blue polo is Kathy, my boss.

Ultimate Frisbee--African style!

Every Friday afternoon at 5pm a group of people go out to play Ultimate as a sports complex about 10 minutes away. I've been either working on Fridays or doing something with friends and so this was the first week I could go. It was quite an experience!

The complex was pretty ghetto... think one soccer field that was half mown--the other half had grass/weeds about 18" tall. And there was a 10' wall around the place, but when the frisbee went over the wall there was always a little child ready to scramble the wall and throw it back over!

There were several groups of men playing football (soccer) going on when we got there, and a bunch of little boys were playing the dirt, maybe waiting for someone to bring a ball. When we started playing they quickly picked favorite players to root for! Sometimes when a crew member dropped the frisbee or missed a catch we'd hear a bunch of scolding--in French. But how they cheered when someone scored, made an amazing catch, or dove and caught it!

Eventually Ali and one of the staff family girls took the other frisbee and started up a game with the kids. They had so much fun trying to pick up on the rules and learning how to throw it! :)

We all came back totally exhausted, totally soaked (the mini water fight that happened on the dock as soon as we arrived back did contribute some!), and our feet totally sandy! But it was so worth it!

(Becky was leaving for the airport just as I arrived back)

(and Kristyn leaves today. We've spent many happy hours sitting on my bed together watching movies or talking... gonna miss her tons!)