A lot has happened since we got to Benin. The hospital on the ship opened September 11th, and the HOPE Center was supposed to open today, September 23rd, but we went to work and finished prepping for patients to get there this afternoon and then were told by the hospital we weren’t going to get any patients this weekend, so now we have the weekend off, which I don’t necessarily mind because over a week period, we would have worked like 65 hours if we did open. Now we can have one more relaxing weekend before the chaos.
During the 5 weeks we have been in Benin, we have been setting up the HOPE Center, being trained, training our local crew of 30 who will be doing most of the cleaning, cooking, and driving patients to the ship,helping with patient screening, and doing various other things. Five weeks is definitely more time than was needed to get ready, so we haven’t had a single week where we have had to work 40 hours yet, which is weird because all the other people on the ship are working lots. But starting Monday we will be working our 13 hour days, and then on our days off we have the option of going to volunteer at orphanages and with other local nonprofits with our Mercy Ministries team.
The day we went to screening was really hard and rewarding all at once. Basically Mercy Ships had 3 weeks of screening days in Cotonou to find patients for surgery. We can only do around 1500 surgeries in the 10 months we are here and can only do certain types of surgery. They had a set number of slots to give out in Cotonou for each type of surgery: Orthopedics for kids 15 and under, Plastics for people who have lost mobility due to severe burns, MaxiloFacial which is for all types of things on the face like tumors and cleft lip, General Surgery for a bunch of other random types of surgeries, and Obstetrics for women problems. So during the first few days of screening, they have to say no to a lot of people because they have problems that can’t be solved with surgery (ex. Cerebral palsy) or problems we don’t have the ability to fix (ex. a malignant tumor because we don’t have chemo or radiation), but then after like 3 days all the Ortho spots were completely full, so then the last 2 weeks we had to say no to so many people who we could help if we had more surgeons staying longer or had more space in our hospital. Also, during the first week, we could only see like 300 people a day, but there were thousands in line so some people were there for days. I went on the second to last day, and I think only 5% of the people who came and waited for hours in lines are people we are able to do surgery on. It was so sad watching people go through the line knowing the answer would be No. It was even worse when I stood by the exit gate when all their hope was taken away. There were a few people whose conditions were so bad they had to be carried. One lady didn’t have anyone with her and literally crawled (more like dragged) herself around. We tried to help, but she wouldn’t let us. It was heartbreaking. A lot of the people we can’t fix probably could have been fixed a lot earlier on before their condition got so bad, but there are no surgeons here to help them. So many people who have the face tumors walk around hiding their face ashamed because people are disgusted by them and have shunned them. While its heartbreaking that Mercy Ships can’t do more like I so desperately wish they could, it shows how much we are needed and even more it shows how badly these poor countries just need more help to get at a level where they can do these things for themselves.
Now on to happier things:
Because we haven’t worked a ton, we have been doing a lot of fun activities. One weekend everyone on the ship was invited to the wedding of a crew member who is from Benin but has been working on the ship for several years. It was interesting, but definitely not my cup of tea. First, there is the civil wedding at the court house, and it took a long time to start. Then it was all in French, so we just sat there. Then, we went to the church wedding where there were so many people, at least 100 from the ship. That was also super long. Someone translated to English, but the microphones were so bad, I couldn’t understand any of it, so I just stopped listening. By the end our carload of 9 people was too tired to go to the reception, so we went back to the ship. Even without going to the reception, we were gone like 5 hours. Oh yeah, and on top of giving a money gift to the couple, we were asked at the court to make an offering to the courthouse and then again at the church to make an offering to the church, but the couple stood there taking the money, so it was weird. It seemed like people were giving to them, but they were actually giving to the courthouse or church so I didn’t understand why people kept going to the front to give anything. I was very confused.
One Sunday a group of 9 of us went to Bab’s Dock, which is the closest thing to a resort here. It was a very bumpy 1.5 hour drive on Unnamed Road (according to Google Maps) along the beach to the dock. At the dock a boat on this little lake picks you up and takes you through some mangroves to the place, which is a restaurant/bar/a few cottages/recreation area(they have canoes, a little playground, and a volleyball net in the water but we were told its unsafe to go into the water of this lake because of diseases or parasites or something). So we just chilled, canoed, ate, played games. It was great. A very relaxing day. When we left, we stopped at one of the beaches and watched the huge waves.
Another weekend I put together a Board Game Olympics since I’m a nerd, but other people were nerds with me. Ten of us played 4 different games, and we scored a certain amount of points for each 1st, 2nd, and 3rd and totaled them. I won but it was pretty close.
Then a couple nights ago I hosted a Murder Mystery Dinner Party at the Team House. It took a TON of planning, and I couldn’t have done it without the help of my two awesome roommates who did all the cooking, and they also participated of course. There were 20 of us. The theme was Cold War Britain in 1965 at a college where a girl who was possibly a spy was murdered. Everyone played different characters, many of whom were spies. It also helped that everyone got really into it. They dressed up and got in character. And it was perfect at our huge house. Everyone was able to stay all in one room most of the time and still have private conversations. If you ever have the opportunity to do a murder mystery, I recommend it, but do research first. A lot of the ones you buy are pre-scripted which is lame. This one people had goals and people they needed to talk to, and everyone knew different things pertaining to the murder and other storylines.