Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry and Bright 2015 - Christmas on the Africa Mercy

Christmas is a BIG deal here on the Africa Mercy. I believe it serves two purposes. First, it keeps us too busy and distracted to be homesick. Second, they try to cover most Christmas traditions, even from different countries, so everyone feels included. There’s an event happening nearly every day of December! I’m pretty sure it would be almost impossible to be a part of every event – but what’s great about it is even if you miss a few (like for work shifts) there will be something else to make up for it later. The variety is amazing and each event becomes its own special AFM tradition. I picked a few to highlight so you could get a glimpse of what celebrating the birth of Jesus looks like on a ship in Africa!

Deck the Halls – the weekend after Thanksgiving, a large group gets together to decorate pretty much the whole ship! There are lots of Christmas trees, lights, garland and decorations to go around transforming this place in just a few hours. I wasn’t able to participate because I was working but it was fun to see all the boxes coming out as they prepared. Just like at home, there’s a special magical feeling once things are decorated and the season can officially begin!

Door Decorating Contest - To add a little cheer to the rest of the ship, many people decorate the doors of their cabins or offices. It became such a thing that they started making it into a competition and there were some really amazing contenders this year. I helped design and build the door of our ward at work. We were taking care of orthopedic patients so we wanted the theme to include something along those lines :) Even though our door didn't win, it was fun to see all of the creative decorating ideas and it made the ship so festive!

Cookie Bake – We have an amazing social activities coordinator (KJ) who puts together all the Christmas season events (and pretty much all the activities on the ship the rest of the year as well)! This is a huge job, which she does very well; however it’s way too much for one person. So each event has volunteers who help coordinate things. I volunteered with my friend Kathy to run the Christmas Cookie bake! Trying to get all the pieces together in the days before was a bit nerve wracking but we had some great helpers who made a huge difference. We couldn’t have done it without them! It turned out to be tons of fun and people seemed to really enjoy themselves.

Christmas Concert – One of my favorite parts of ship life is living in community with families. Some jobs require a commitment of several years and a whole family will move together to fulfill these needs. There’s an academy onboard the ship and they do all they can to make life as ‘normal’ as possible for the kids. Several of the Christmas activities have special parts just for them. One evening there was a Christmas concert with choirs (adult and children), instrumental pieces, and special music. Felt just like something I might go to at church back home!

Winter Wonderland – One of the most anticipated events of the year is Winter Wonderland. Imagine a Christmas craft fair and a bake sale combined with an African twist and that’s pretty much what Winter Wonderland is! I was working again for this one, but I did stop by for a few minutes to get some delicious treats and beautiful Africa ornaments. 

Gingerbread House Contest – I was not able to participate in this one but I did see the final products (and tasted some of the losers). Teams signed up to decorate a house out of REAL gingerbread pieces and the top 3 favorites were chosen to display. It’s hard to see in the picture but 1st place was a Cabin in the Woods, 2nd place was Malagasy Christmas and 3rd was Wizard of Oz Christmas (complete with wicked witch crushed under the house!).

Advent Services – I never knew what advent was growing up as it was not something our family or church mentioned very much. As I’ve gotten older, I love the idea of spending the month of December in ‘expectation’ of Christ’s birth and it seems much more meaningful that just celebrating one day. I like to imagine that it helps to take the focus of all the ‘Christmas stuff’ and put it back on Jesus and what the season is really about. This year, the focus of our advent was God: the Giver of Good Gifts. Each Sunday we’ve been talking about a new gift that God has given to us including Power, Peace, Purpose, Provision, and Promise.

Carols by Candlelight - Another one of the most anticipated AFM traditions is Carols by candlelight. Many churches have some sort of candle light service usually on Christmas Eve, but this one was more unique than any I've seen before. Usually, it is held on the dock outside the ship. Rain forced us into our warehouse instead. Lots of people came, including the few patients who are left in the hospital over Christmas. This year, it was put together by our Australian crew who added a lot of fun and Southern Hemisphere Christmas humor (including an appearance by the AFM Wiggles!).

Christmas Shoes - One of my personal favorite events new to me this year was Christmas shoe gifts. On Christmas Eve night, everyone leaves a shoe outside their cabin door and then goes around in the night to pass out gifts! We don't have access to a lot of 'stuff' here so this tradition focuses on small or handmade gifts that may not be worth much but mean a lot to receive. I didn't think much of this one until I was actually a part of it. As I went around passing out gifts, there's such a fun atmosphere around the ship. Families, couples, groups of friends all spreading love, cheer and surprises to wake up for on Christmas morning! 

Coffee and Pastries/Christmas Brunch - And finally, on Christmas morning, I had the pleasure of helping in the cafe to serve pastries and coffee while everyone waited for Christmas brunch (the most celebrated meal of the year, I'm told!). It was so fun to wake up early and greet everyone Merry Christmas! There were children in pajamas, friends opening presents together and the beauty of community far from their own families but creating family together.

Guys, that's not even all the events that happened. I figured that was long enough though! I wish I could say Merry Christmas to each of you in person but if I cannot be home, there is no place I would rather be than living in this amazing community with friends I've grown to love. That baby born in Bethlehem was the first "missionary" who left his home in heaven, and I am honored to continue that tradition serving in Madagascar! And as a final surprise, here's a quick video I made as an update to my church in Florida. Hope you enjoy! 

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Let me interrupt these fun holiday posts for just a second to talk about something that's been on my mind the past few days.
In our weekly Community Gathering on Thursday, the speaker talked about this word 'Kairos'. I don't believe I had ever heard of it before but it's an important concept that I wanted to share.

Kairos is a Greek word used many times in the Bible. It is one of the two Greek words to describe time. Most people know 'chronos' which is Greek for minutes and seconds time. Literal and straightforward passing of moments like on a clock (chronological time). Kairos, however, is very different. The Webster's dictionary definition of kairos is "right or opportune moment". In Greek, it is used to describe an opportunity, season or fitting time. Kairos is qualitative and not easily measured.

Here are some examples of Kairos in scripture:

  • Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity (kairos), because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16
  • Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time (kairos) we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity (kairos), let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:9-10
  • And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time (kairos) as this? Esther 4:14

On his blog, Pastor J.R. Briggs puts it like this:
"Kairos is pregnant time, the time of possibility – moments in our day, our week, our month, our year or our lifetime that define us. It is a crossroads. It has the ripe opportunity to make you bitter or better. It is a teachable moment. It is the right or opportune moment. They are rarely neutral and always leave an impact on us."

So what does this have to do with Mercy Ships? I wish I could explain it better but I'm not that great with words. Basically, there are a lot of really big things happening with Mercy Ships right now. Most of them involve the building of a brand new ship specifically made for our purposes (instead of remodeled into a hospital like the current ship) and the capacity in the next few years to have 2 ships operating to reach many more people than currently possible! We also have a prime position in the future of global health because providing safe surgery is becoming a huge goal for many developing countries.

But of none of these things would be possible without God who shows Himself to us in so many miraculous ways each day! The right people, the right places, the right time...there's a million little stories of things that many would call "coincidences" but I would prefer to call them God's kairos moments.

I love how Briggs said in the above quote "pregnant time" because that feels so true. There's this sense of expectation all around. Like we've been waiting nine months for a baby to be born and the time is coming near. Every update on the new ship, media story or financial partner feels like one step closer to the kairos God has in store for Mercy Ships - and it's the coolest feeling to be a part of right now!

And it feels extra special during this season of Advent - waiting for the Christ child who came at a kairos time in history over 2000 years ago. The world did not know a baby would be the way to salvation. But God knew. Mary did not know that the little boy she carried would be crucified and resurrected to redeem a sinful world. But God knew. The shepherds did not know the infant they worshiped that glorious night would one day return to fulfill the longing and waiting of all these years. But God knew.

My prayer is that this Christmas season, as we look expectantly toward that baby and all that his birth represents, that we would trust God's kairos time. May we lay all our questions and fears and insecurities about the future down at that tiny manger and believe that He knows. And may we look for the kairos moments in our lives each day...moments that define us and leave an impact on the world around us.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving AFM Style

One of the most common sayings on the ship is "It's not wrong, just different" and I have decided this is going to be my motto for dealing with the holiday season far away from home. First up this week, was (American) Thanksgiving Day!

Back in October, the ship had a 'Friendsgiving' to celebrate all the countries Thanksgivings together. The idea was to not show preference to one country's holidays since it would be impossible to celebrate all the holidays of every country represented onboard. While we were sad at first, those of us from the United States decided to have our own Thanksgiving instead. We planned a little get together/potluck and gave into the idea that we wouldn't have Turkey...except that we did end up having turkey for dinner and it turned into a multi-national everyone eat all the food event! In the end, it was a great day spent with lots of friends cooking and having a delicious meal and stuffing ourselves until we couldn't get off the couch. Here's some of the highlights:

A few nurse friends and I after our trip to the local grocery to buy the ingredients we needed. There is a small shop on the ship where we can buy some basic foods and snacks, but anything more than that we have to get from one of the 2 shops in town (it's a very interesting experience!). Notice the large "pumpkin" Anne is holding on the left. We aren't really sure what it actually is but it worked very well for pumpkin pie and sweet potato casserole! 

Here I am picking out all the seeds from the pumpkin. I just couldn't have a pumpkin and not roast the seeds! They came out delicious and were a lovely fall treat. We needed something to do while we waiting for the pumpkin to roast...

Here's is one portion of the food assortment we ended up with. These tables kept getting fuller and fuller with all kinds of amazing treats - all homemade with ingredients found in town! We sure do have a talented and creative bunch of crew members :) Some of the highlights included several pumpkin and apple pies, a pumpkin cake roll, pecan pie, corn casserole, mashed potatoes, baked brie and (my 'unbiased' favorite) sweet potato casserole!

And finally, a group picture - there was about triple this many people in total. The rest are in another section watching a rerun of last year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!
I'll leave you with a short list of what I thankful for this Thanksgiving:
Health and healthcare when I need it
Family and friends (new and old)
Mercy Ships and the opportunity to live and work on this ship
The beautiful people of Madagascar who have welcomed us to their country and entrusted us with their healing
Surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, lab techs, pharmacists, radiologists and so many others who are giving their time to take care of our patients
The rest of the crew who tirelessly work to keep the ship running and never complain about being out of the hospital 'spotlight'
So many legs healing straighter on A ward (and all the other incredible patients too!)
A sweet, beautiful, healthy new niece back home
Fast internet and Skype that allows me to see her and talk to the rest of my family pretty much anytime
God- for His love and provision of all things
For amazing donors and supporters (like YOU!) who allow me to be here witnessing all these awesome things. Thank you!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Healing bones, healing hearts, healing futures

Two work posts in a row! Whoa, watch out!
I know I haven't written much about the details of what I do at work. But I really wanted to share some new things that are happening so all of you out there can be praying for some very special patients that will walk through our doors soon. 
Up to this point in the field service, I have been primarily working with plastic/reconstructive surgery patients and a few general surgeries. It has been lots of fun to see the transformation in each patient and I've learned so much! However, next week we will change our focus to orthopedic surgery. I've been looking forward to this for a while after hearing other nurses talk about how exciting it is to care for these patients and see the dramatic results, and I'm so happy they will be coming to A Ward where I work! We will see all kinds of orthopedic problems such as club feet and bowed legs. 

Here are a few of the incredible patients from last year: 

Even more exciting, I had the opportunity this week to take part in Orthopedics Evaluation Day. We invited each of the patients from last year to come back to see how they are getting along. My job was to ask a list of questions about if they are happy with their results and the difference it's made in their daily life. They also met with physical therapy and the Orthopedic surgeon to make sure they were healing properly.
Many of the patients seen in the video came back to visit and you would hardly know they just had major surgery about 1 year ago. They were running around playing, riding toy cars and getting into trouble just like any small child should. In talking with the parents, so many were overjoyed with the difference these surgeries have made in their children's lives. They could not say thank you enough and were excited to tell how their child can go to school and play with the other kids instead of feeling left out or unable to keep up. 
Taking part in this follow up day only increased my excitement for the new patients coming next week! Each of them is loved and important and deserves to live their life free from the shame and disability that these conditions bring.

Just a little bone humor for you :)

Orthopedics prayer requests:
~ Minimal pain after surgery
~ Bones to heal quick and strong
~ Patience and distraction for many small children who will be on bedrest and with limited mobility for some time
~ No infections post-op (a bone infection can be a death sentence in a place where there is no long term treatments available
~ Good rehab (can take months of frequent physical therapy to recover function)
~ (and a personal request) Confidence as I transition into being a charge nurse...when I feel like I don't know enough to answer all the questions yet!

Monday, October 12, 2015

I really do work in a hospital, I promise!

A lot of people on the Africa Mercy (and some at home) get the impression that us ward nurses never work. I do see how it can often look that way, especially to others who work every day 8-5 type jobs...and to those at home who only see pictures and stories of the fun activities I've been able to take part in since arriving in Madagascar. For a few weeks, it actually was kind of true. Since it's easier to train a whole group of new people at once in the beginning, a group of about 60 nurses came to open the hospital in September. But because of how our system works, we can only bring in about 10 new patients each day. That meant that for the first 1-2 weeks, the hospital was only partially full and slowly filling. Since I am here for 10 months and some others are only here for 2 or 3 months, they let those shorter stay nurses work first. I didn't actually start working until the 2nd week the hospital was open! This was hard for me to justify, since all my previous overseas trips were short and busy. They had us running from dawn till dusk every day we were there. I had to keep reminding myself that those trips were like a sprint and this whole year will be a marathon. It won't help anything to wear out in the beginning and be useless at the end.

It can also look like I have a lot of time off because we work 8 hour shifts, five times a week. So I may randomly have a Tuesday off, but it's probably because I worked all weekend. Or I can sleep in late and skip breakfast, but that's because I work evenings and don't go in until 2pm. After working 12 hour shifts for the past few years, I expected to hate 8 hour shifts and having to work 5 days a week again. Surprisingly, I've actually come to like it in a lot of ways. 8 hours flies by very quickly and it's nice to have a few hours off before or after work to get things done or have a social life. And 8 hours of night shift is not nearly as daunting as 12!

See look, I really do work!
This was taken before my second shift at work a couple of weeks ago.

All that is to say, I promise I have been working and it's been great! However, I don't talk about it a lot because it's harder to describe and not as interesting to share. It's really easy to write a whole story on how I spent my weekend or post a picture of what I had for dinner in town...but it can honestly be really hard to put into words how a patient's smile touched my heart or the joy of mother seeing her baby without a cleft lip anymore. We also have restrictions on how much information we can put out to the public and we aren't allowed to take pictures of patients (and what's a good blog without pictures!). I can only put pictures that the media team takes and puts on our share drive as public. So I will occasionally try to share about work and the surgeries we are doing here; and I will try sometimes to push past the superficial to dig deeper into the emotional side because there are some really great stories being shared. But know if you don't see as much of that, these are the reasons why and it's not because the work going on is not's more that the healing happening on is so great I feel unworthy to put it into words.

I do have one small story to share. This is one of the first little boys I took care of in the hospital:

He had a cyst on the side of his abdomen that had been growing for several years. The surgeon said it was about the size of his head. Imagine walking around with something that big hanging off of you for years! Especially a little boy who loves to run around and play with balls and chase his friends. But through all of this, he kept his sweet little smile. Just one look at his bed from across the room and he would give that big grin or sometimes a little shy smirk. Just too cute! And he was so brave with the pain and medicine and dressing changes. During the first few weeks when most our patients were adults, this little guy brought laughter and brightness to our ward, and you couldn't help but fall in love with him! (and that big hat hung on the wall behind his bed the whole time!)

And if that wasn't enough, his caregiver was his Grandpa. I love watching the male interaction with children here in Madagascar. They are so sweet, loving and caring with their children or grandchildren. It's beautiful to watch. We joked that this Grandpa was the overseer of the ward. He was always watching everything happening and would occasionally walk around making sure all was well. Welcome to village life here on the wards of the Africa Mercy. After this pair had been here about a week, we found out their story. Grandpa was in his 80s and the two live on the other side of the island of Madagascar. They walked for several days to a bus station and rode a bus for a few more days to get to the city where the ship is located. Nearly a week of travel each way for the opportunity to have this life-changing surgery!

This is just one of many stories of hope and healing happening every day on this ship. Each patient is on their own unique journey and I wish I could tell you all of them. Some would break your heart and some would make you smile, but all are stories of people that God loves and we have the incredible privilege of sharing that love with each one.

Thank you for making this possible and continue to pray for each of those stories that are still being written. We've had a bit of a rough stretch on the ship the past few weeks. It started with several busy and unexpected ICU patients that kept the whole hospital on it's toes. Then there was a annoying cold/sinus bug that went around. And now we are struggling with "the plague" (a very contagious GI bug that currently has about 10% of the crew sick). Everyone has been working overtime for those who are sick and cleaning everything in sight to get rid of the germs! Your prayers would be greatly appreciated. So far I've avoided the worst of the plague, but I did suffer through the cold last week which was more a nuisance than a real sickness thankfully. We think we're on the tail end of it all, but there are still many recovering and I'm sure the whole ship is ready for it to be over for good!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

I'm Jenny and I'll be your tour guide today...

Please keep all arms and legs inside the vehicle and no flash photography! Don't want to scare the crew ;)

Welcome to the MV Africa Mercy (that's 'motor vessel' for ye land 'lubbers!)

The first stop on our tour is the gangway:

This set of stairs is the first thing anyone sees who comes on the ship. When the ship arrives in port, there is great fanfare for the setting up of the gangway! At the top of the gangway is a check in area where every person must show their badge to be allowed on and off the ship. This is where our ship security (Gurkhas, soldiers from the Nepalese Army, we don't mess around with security here!) stands guard and keeps an eye out for any potential problems. We love our Gurkhas!!

Next stop is reception:

Reception is the central hub of the ship. All phone calls, emergency calls and pretty much any issue can be dealt with here. This desk is open 24 hours a day and the receptionists work very hard to keep things running smoothly around here. "Quiet in Reception" is a phrase heard frequently in this area. Reception is very strict on noise since they must listen for any emergencies, radio calls or fire alarms, but it's also the entrance to the ship and a gathering place for outings so they have to remind us a lot!

The entrance to ship is actually on Deck 5 out of 8 total decks (the numbers count up so the bottom of the ship is Deck 1 and the top is Deck 8). Also on Deck 5 is the Dining Room:

This room is very rarely empty. The work that goes into feeding the over 400 crew plus patients three meals a day is seemingly overwhelming, but the galley and dining room team of volunteers and local day crew does an amazing job keeping everyone well fed and happy! The room is open all the time and there are often gatherings here for meetings, card games or skype/facetime sessions. The drink station is also open 24 hours with water, juice, coffee and tea so we never go thirsty!

For each meal, there are two lines open with a variety of hot selections and always salad and sandwich options, The food here is amazing, nothing like what you'd expect from cafeteria style. While sometimes the options can get repetitive, I've already been learning the secrets from returning crew of how to mix things up! There's a reason that the phrase "Mercy Hips" is common talk around here.

Continuing along Deck 5 on the other side of reception is the very popular (and my personal favorite) Starbucks Cafe:

Starbucks generously donates the coffee and supplies to Mercy Ships to keep us well caffeinated! We joke that it's the cheapest Starbucks in the world since all we pay for is the shipping costs. Lattes, mochas and Frappucinos for less than $1! How will I ever pay full price again?? There is also a daily pastry made by our wonderful ship baker (turnovers, croissants, cakes...Mercy Hips anybody?).

Next to Starbucks is the Cafe area full of tables and windows and music. I love sitting here on my days off to people watch and chat with friends. There's always something going on here.

Up this lovely Grand Staircase (I don't know if it really has a name or not) is Deck 6. This houses the internet cafe, which used to be the only place to get internet but thanks to great service in Madagascar we have WIFI all over the ship. Praise the Lord! Across the way is an area we call Midships:

This is like the ship living room. Comfy couches, TVs, places for puzzles and card games...a little taste of home. It's also the coldest area of the ship which I greatly appreciate after being hot most everywhere else around here. Literally the best place to 'chill out'.

On one end of Deck 6 are some family cabins and the beloved laundry room:

We are allowed up to 2 loads of laundry per week and it's free, except for soap. There's a book where you sign up for a time and the laundry room is open 24/7. I hear some people working night shift like to do their laundry at 2 or 3 AM but I haven't tried that yet, haha!

And the International Lounge:

This is the biggest room on the ship and serves as a multipurpose room for meetings, training, and gym classes. Even the academy uses it sometimes. All crew are required to attend two meetings a week - Monday mornings there's a Community Meeting where the captain or director updates on operational things happening on the ship and Thursday nights is Community Gathering, which is more of a prayer and worship time with updates on other ship activities.

Also on Deck 6 is the Crew Galley, where crew are allowed to use the refrigerators and cook/bake if they would like.

Just past the galley is the Mercy Ships Academy:

We aren't really allowed to go back there, but I did have the chance to visit the classrooms during the Academy Open House last week. This school serves the children of long term crew on the ship. Every teacher and student I've talked to loves the academy. It's small but has lots of resources and huge heart! These students are learning so much more than they could in a normal classroom. It's even ACSI accredited so students can go back and forth from schools at home and graduate with full credits.

Upstairs from here, we go to Deck 7.

Most of Deck 7 is open air with just a few larger cabins (highly coveted ones). This area is where the academy students have recess/PE and the hospital uses it for afternoon outdoor time for the patients. The hospital wards don't have windows so it can feel stuffy and claustrophobic for our patients who mostly live outdoors and are not used to A/C. Most of them love this time to get out in the fresh air, play games, and talk with other patients or parents. (I'm pretty sure all the nurses love taking them here too. Definitely one of the highlights of the day!)

Deck 8 is completely outdoors and leads up to the Bridge (where they run the ship) and the pool deck.

Now to go all the way back down to the lower decks. There's not a lot on Deck 4. Crew cabins and I believe maybe water and air conditioning sections? But Deck 3 is jam packed. One half is cabins and offices.

This is my cabin from the hallway (The one with the flag picture. We really need some more cabin decor!) Most crew that are not a couple or family are housed in similar cabins with 4 or 6 berths. There's sections of 2 bunks each together with one shared bathroom for the cabin. The space is tight and definitely took some adjusting, but after a few weeks, I'm feeling much more at home in my tiny space. Probably the hardest parts are having no where to sit except my bed and figuring out a bathroom system for 6 people. Luckily, I have great cabin mates and we've worked things out pretty well so far! 5/6 of us are here either the whole year or at least half with one leaving in a few weeks. They say that's pretty good considering most cabins have a high turnover with up to 10-12 crew per field service! We have a lot of bare walls so if anyone wants to send me some decorations to liven things up, feel free :)

Just down the hall (about 10 sec commute) is the hospital! One whole side is the 5 Operating Rooms.

And the other side is the 5 patient wards (A, B, C, D, E).

We will be using all but one of the wards this field service for different surgical specialties and I work in A Ward. Each ward holds between 10-20 patients, except the ICU in D ward which holds 5. They are also small and can get crowded quickly with 20 patients plus a few caregivers/siblings, 4-6 nurses and 4 day crew. We are constantly saying excuse me (or 'Azafady' in Malagasy) and trying not to step on small fingers or toes! The hospital also has a full radiology area with x-ray and CT scan, as well as a pharmacy, lab and biomed department.

And last but not least, Deck 2. We jokingly call Deck 2 the dungeon since it's actually below the water line and only houses a few short term crew along with the tiny gym and a place called the Boutique. Here crew can donate items they no longer want and take items for free. It's basically like Africa Mercy Goodwill. Usually, you have to dig through a lot of junk, but sometimes there's some good stuff!

The rest of Deck 2 and Deck 1 are the engine rooms, generators, water sanitation and other facilities. Not so fun, but very important stuff!

And that concludes our tour. I hope you enjoyed your stay on the Africa Mercy. Please visit again soon!

Friday, September 11, 2015

From Tana to Tamatave to the Ship!

So what about that epic journey I hinted at the previous post? As I said previously, when we arrived in Antananarivo, we soon found out we would wait there for 3 days and take a bus for the 8 hour ride to Tamatave where the ship will be docked for the next 10 months of field service. Little did we know that our journey would begin bright and early at 4:30 on Monday morning! I was not awake enough to think about getting a picture, but let’s just say it was very early and still dark out. 

Our group loaded our bags onto a smaller van and drove a few minutes away to meet the other 40 or so people traveling with us in our caravan. Just to comment on the speed of life in Africa, we were ready to go by about 5am…we didn’t end up leaving until 6:30. Conveniently, that was actually when we needed to leave, but it took planning almost two hours in advance to leave on time, haha!

This picture was taken near the end of the journey, but if you look closely you can see the two vans in front of us loaded with luggage that made up our caravan.
Off we went driving about an hour through the city of Tana then we hit countryside and mountains for most of the rest of the trip. We were warned that there would be many winding roads and a lot of people get motion sick so most of the people in my group took Dramamine to prevent any problems, which meant a lot of sleeping going on for much of the trip. I was just enjoying the views as we drove. This is a spectacularly beautiful country with such a huge variety of nature and there was always something new to look at.

The area near Tana is filled with city streets mixed with rice fields. It's a beautiful and intriguing sight to see.

Between Tana and Tamatave, there is a large mountain range we had to pass over. Here we are in about the highest section before we started our descent. Breathtaking!

We stopped once for a bathroom break and later on to eat the lunch we had packed (baguette, Laughing Cow cheese, apples and cookies). Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a rest stop in Madagascar, so each of our stops with our group of 60 people took no less than an hour for each of us to take turns using the 1 or maybe 2 bathrooms available. By about 1pm when we stopped for lunch, we were all getting anxious to arrive in Tamatave. There are kilometer marker signs scattered occasionally along the road so we were trying to estimate how far we’d gone and how long we had left. 

As we got closer to the coast of the country, there was green, tropical plants everywhere! That white post is one of the mile marker signs we were watching for.

I knew to expect a longer than 8 hour trip, but in the end our journey took about 11 hours and we were all more than happy to get off those buses! This is my first view of the ship from the bus as we drove through the port:

It was surreal to finally be seeing the ship in real life. Most of us in my bus have been waiting to do this for many years and the atmosphere in the bus as we got closer was giddy! We were like children on Christmas morning, so excited to see what was waiting for us and to step foot on this ship that will allow us to fulfill our dreams. We were joking about passing around the tissues because some were tearing up at the sight. It touched my heart to see this first sign of the passion Africa Mercy crew members have to be volunteering for this organization and fulfilling our goal to bring hope and healing to the forgotten poor! 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

3 Days in Antananarivo

Well, I have officially been in Madagascar for one week! I am writing this sitting in the Africa Mercy dining room eating breakfast on Saturday morning. It has been an exhausting but exhilarating week of meeting new people, seeing new places, trying not to get lost in this giant metal box and setting up the hospital to be ready for surgeries next week! As much as I would love to tell you all about the last few days on this ship, I cannot do that until I write about the exciting things that happened in Antananarivo (Tana) while I was there waiting.

I had found out a few days prior to leaving that the ship was delayed a few days, but no one knew what they would be doing with us who were waiting in the meantime. Once we arrived, the staff here let us know we would be staying in Tana at this house until Monday when we all take buses down to Tamatave where the ship would be docked.  Since we had some time and not many scheduled activities, the group of us here decided to make the most of our 3 days. Tana is the capital city of Madagascar and the largest. As I learned over the several days driving around there, it is very widespread and differs a lot from place to place. Our guest house was in a “suburb” a little ways outside the city. We were surrounded by lots of homes and farmland, and we could walk about 15 minutes to a busy street area with shops and restaurants.

View from the deck of Chez Jeanne guest house overlooking mostly rice fields with some tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables mixed in.
On Friday morning, our first day in Tana, we met up with some other Mercy Shippers who had been in the country for a few weeks already. (The arrival of the ship was delayed about 2 weeks due to a mechanical problem on the ship before it left South Africa. Many people could change their flights to the new arrival date, but some kept their original flight and came to Madagascar to wait for the ship a few weeks early).  They knew their way around so we walked to town with them to visit some shops and exchange money at the bank. Later that night, all the Mercy Shippers in town (about 60 of us) were invited to a local house for dinner. The ladies who live in the house were from South Africa and are in Mada working with an organization that trains locals in occupational therapy. 

Saturday we spontaneously decided to hire a bus to take us about an hour outside the city to the local Lemur Park. Yes, Lemurs! I mean, you can’t come to Madagascar and not see some lemurs! There is another park closer to where the ship is in port that also has lemurs that I plan to go to eventually, but we figured you can never have too many of these intriguing little monkey/sloth-like animals. The park was great; pretty small, but with a variety of lemurs and a few other animals. It also has some examples of plants from all over Madagascar.

These guys came up near us while we were waiting for our tour guide before we even entered the park!

Hello there, Mr. Lemur! They looked so fluffy and soft, but we weren't allowed to touch them at this park.

Certain species of lemurs make up a group called "dancing lemurs" because the get around on the ground using this dance-like hopping motion that is pretty entertaining. The other types rarely touch the ground and stay hanging in trees.

Lemur fact of the day: they are afraid of water!
This river runs along the border of the Lemur Park to act as a natural barrier.

A view of some of the plants that are native to the South of Madagascar (desert region)

Ravinala (Traveler's Palm), popular emblem of Madagascar

We went to church Sunday morning at a local church also run by some South Africans. They had a Malagasy (the language of Madagascar) service and an English service. It was a great sermon by a visiting youth pastor who was here running a camp, but I was partial to the music as my favorite part. They had a really good worship band and I just love being able to worship with so many people from all around the world, who are here to love Jesus and share His love with this nation! It reminds me of this verse from Psalm 57:9-11 that says, “I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.  For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.” It was truly inspiring and a great start to our time here in Mada.

Group from our guest house at Tana City Church

Later that day, I was able to Skype for the first time with my parents; then spent the afternoon relaxing and preparing for our journey to the ship on Monday. That trip was pretty epic and deserves its own post so look for that to come soon!