HOPE Center

Baby Bignon with her sister Mary and mother, along with Anna and me
It gets a bit difficult when it rains at the Hope Center

It gets a bit difficult when it rains at the Hope Center

We've got lots of amenities. You may swim while dining.

We’ve got lots of amenities. You may swim while dining.

We opened the HOPE Center almost a month ago, and its been great so far. Currently, we have about 50 people staying with us. Our full capacity is 120 plus babies. That includes patients and caregivers. Some days it is chaos at work, and some days it is really slow, so we hang out and play games with patients and stuff. Every day looks a little bit different, so it is hard to say exactly what my job is. We have some daily tasks and then we are just putting out fires and figuring out how to solve problems.

At least they were able to have some fun with the flooding

At least they were able to have some fun with the flooding

There are 4 Facilitators. We work about 13 hours a day, so 2 of us will work 2-3 days, and then the other 2 will work 2-3 days. We have 4 teams of 7 local day crew who work 12 hour shifts. They clean, prepare breakfast, play with patients, drive patients to appointments at the ship, and bring any problems to us. There are also 2 administrative day crew who work M-F for 8 hours a day. They tend to be our go-between and translators for patients. They help with a lot of things and are really great.

One of our biggest issues we have is that not all of the day crew speak English really well, so there is a lot of miscommunication, especially with the drivers. Usually we will send a driver in with several patients to take to appointments, and we need them to also drop off our bread box so we can pick up our bread later, or we need them to pick up patients that went to earlier appointments, etc. The funniest thing that occurred was when we asked the driver to go pick up the chaplains from the ship because we pick them up daily to come spend time with the patients. Well, 40 minutes later the chaplains come in our office and say Hi and that they made it, so its like cool, the driver picked them up. Then 5 minutes later the driver comes to our office and says the chaplains weren’t ready. Anna and I looked at him confused because clearly they were ready because they are here. So we spend a few minutes confused and questioning him, and he says he went to the Laundry room on the ship and asked if the Chaplains were ready to be picked up because he thought they were some kind of laundry we pick up. It turns out the actual Chaplain people asked him for a ride, and he said he had a specific task and couldn’t pick anyone up, so they got a different ride even though his task was to pick them up. We laughed and showed him that those people were the Chaplains, and he was like Ohhhhh, but later that day when I asked him to take the Chaplains back to the ship, we said “To the laundry room?” I thought it was a joke and laughed but then realized he was being serious.

Dr. Gary with a potential patient. This dude is a baller. He's been volunteering as a MaxilloFacial surgeon for Mercy Ships for like 30 years. There's pix of him mopping the room at midnight after a 13 hour surgery. He's hardcore.

Dr. Gary with a potential patient. This dude is a baller. He’s been volunteering as a MaxilloFacial surgeon for Mercy Ships for like 30 years. There’s pix of him mopping the room at midnight after a 13 hour surgery. He’s hardcore.

Miracle is a little 2 year old boy who is now staying with us who is just adorable

Miracle is a little 2 year old boy who is now staying with us who is just adorable

Most of the patients we have had stay with us are ones who have already had surgery and need to either stay in Cotonou for dressing changes and rehab because they don’t like there or because they are Plastics patients who require A/C with their bandages, and they don’t have that at their homes. We have gotten a few pre-op patients. They are people who travel from far away for surgeon screening or something and get their surgery scheduled for a few days later and need somewhere to stay.

Baby Bignon with her sister Mary and mother, along with Anna and me

Baby Bignon with her sister Mary and mother, along with Anna and me

One of our first patients was a 3 month old baby Bignon who needs the cleft palate surgery but because of her cleft palate she has not been able to latch onto her mama’s breasts so she was very malnourished, and they can’t do the surgery until the baby is healthy and a certain weight, so the dietician from the ship put the baby on small amounts of formula several times a day. The patient and mom lived far away so instead of having them go straight back home, they stayed with us so the dietician could weigh the baby a couple times over a week to make sure the baby was gaining weight, and she did great while at the Hope Center! So they sent them home, and hopefully in a couple months, they will be doing the surgery and will come stay with us again.

I still get plenty of time to have fun with friends. :)

I still get plenty of time to have fun with friends.🙂

This is a very sad story about a patient. A 16 year old boy came from far away with his grandma a week or 2 before his surgeon screening so they let him stay with us. Basically all patients do preliminary screening and most of the time they will get surgery, but when the surgeon flies in because they are usually here for only a short time, they do surgical screening when they first get here, and schedule all of the surgeries they will do. Well, this boy had the worst tumor ever on his face. It was huge and made his eye be on the side of his head, and he had recently gone blind. The tumor was relatively new. The sweet grandma showed someone a picture of the boy at 13 and he looked completely normal. When someone was talking to the boy in French, he was so excited about the surgery and was asking if they thought he would get his vision back. Well, when he went to the surgical screening, the doctor discovered the tumor had grown too fast and gone all the way into his brain, and surgery was impossible. It was devastating. Such a sweet boy and sweet grandma, and they had their hearts broken. And its all because there is not surgical care available here. Two years ago, removing the tumor probably would have been a fairly simple surgery, but instead he is going to die within a couple years.

Our very first patient was this older lady Mathe. She has really bad burns all over but it has made one of her arms basically immovable. They haven’t done surgery on her yet. They wanted to do rehab a while first, so she stayed with us so she could go to rehab every day at the ship. The first day when she was the only patient, we felt so bad for her because it would be boring, so we taught her to play some games, and it didn’t totally seem like she was enjoying it, but the next day when we got more patients she was so excited to teach them to play. She has become like the Hope Center Grandma. She tells kids to behave; if our day crew mess up on giving the right meal to someone, she corrects them. She’s the best. She was only supposed to stay like a week, but each week the ship asks if we would mind if she stayed another week, and we are obviously happy for her to stay.

We have this one 5 year old little boy who has been staying with us almost as long as we have been open, and at first to me he seemed like a little terror. He doesn’t follow rules, he used to come into our office even though he wasn’t allowed, he cheats at games and then gloats when he wins, he throws temper tantrums sometimes. But the longer we have had him staying with us the more he has gotten my heart. His home life doesn’t seem very good, and his caregiver here with him can be mean to him, so all that shows why he has become a terror, but he can be very sweet and funny, and he’s so smart for his age, it’s crazy. He beats adults at Memory multiple times a day. He does better at trying to communicate things than most of the patients (and myself) who don’t speak the same language. His hand had been sorta fused together by burns, so they split it, and it is healing, but he keeps getting sick and vomiting (maybe malaria), and this morning he just looked so miserable. It broke your heart.

(Sorry there aren’t many pictures. It’s a very sticky situation of what we can and can’t take pictures of, and it has to be with a specific camera, so I usually just don’t take any pictures.)

First Month in Benin – Before the HOPE Center Opening

The 4 HOPE Center Facilitators and Roommates: Me, Caroline, Anna, Rachel

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.

Washing the dishes for the Hope Center

Cleaning some of the mattresses that had been in a container for 3 months.

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:

Civic Wedding

Church Wedding

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.

The cool little playground at Bab’s Dock (featuring Anna)

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.

On the boat headed to Bab’s Dock

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.

Some of the Murder Mystery crew in their costumes after they got back to the ship

Sailing to Benin

Sailing to Benin
This sail has been much more pleasant. It has been very smooth. You feel the boat rocking a bit but you get so used to it you barely notice it. I only got sea sick one day. I have been working in Housekeeping this whole sail, which is a strange job for me because I’m not the cleanest person, and I used to hire a maid to clean my own apartment, but it hasn’t been a bad job. We are off work by 2pm every day because we work together to get everything done quickly. It is satisfying to be accomplishing something, but I am very excited we have gotten to Benin, and the real work can start.

Photo Credit: Timmy Baskerville

We passed the equator one day, and when you pass it by boat you officially become a “Shellback”. Everyone was sad we didn’t pass the coordinates (0,0) like we were supposed to, but I was told it was to avoid a storm that would cause rough waters, so I was totally okay with it.

Luckily the sail has been smooth enough that we can play games without the pieces flying everywhere so I have played a couple new ones that other people on the ship have, plus all the ones that my friends and I already have. It’s been kinda cool being free most evenings and all weekend with nowhere to go. I have learned to solve a Rubik’s Cube and can do it in under 5 minutes. Also, Mercy Ships has put together shipwide activities for anyone who wants to take part. There has been movie night, community worship outside on the bow, trivia night, coffee and convo time Saturday morning. 

One night we had a big sock golf tournament. It was the coolest thing. They set up a whole course on 4 decks of the ship. There would be a paper sign that was the “tee” for a hole and you would have to throw your ball of socks toward another little sign that was considered the “hole” that you had to hit. You had to go around corners and up stairs. It was so much fun.

Our Housekeeping Sock Golf Team

I helped another guy put together a scavenger hunt for everyone on the ship on the last day. At the beginning of the sail they sent out an email with a list of activities and there was a question mark by the scavenger hunt because they didn’t know if anyone would put it together. As soon as I saw that I knew I had to do it. I love scavenger hunts, and I put one together a few years back for my ex’s birthday, and it was awesome. It turned out the other guy who said he would help with the scavenger hunt was a guy I know and have played a few games with, and he had put one together on the ship a few years back. There ended up being over 60 people who participated. We had 3 sections. The first were these obscure pictures from different places around the 8 level ship, and people had to find them and put what room number it was nearest to. Then there was a section where people had to photograph themselves with someone or something or doing something funny. They had to take a picture of their whole team working out in the gym or in front of the dining room clock at 7:30 (some people changed the clock and cheated but we allowed it) or video themselves singing a love song to a stranger (my idea mainly because I knew I did not have up participate). Lastly they had to find several items to bring back to check in. One of the items were these little oragami things that I got a 10 year old kid who has been with us since Texas to make because he’s always making these cool little things. They also had to find different currency, Benin flags, and a motorcycle helmet. It was a huge success. Most people loved it. I loved it. I would love a job where I could just make scavenger hunts and mazes all day.

As much as I’m looking forward to my new job I am very sad that I’m moving off the ship, partly because I am in an awesome room with friends, and partly because it’s just so much fun living on the ship, and I’ve loved it so much. But I’m sure all the people I’m going to start the Team House with are awesome too. And I’m so excited to start really working and helping people.

The Ship, Durban, Sailing, Cape Town

The Ship

Our side of the cabin

So the ship is a cool place to live (when it’s not sailing). I only get to live on here a few weeks but I’m enjoying it. It really is like a big dorm. Our cabin is 4 people, but each side has a curtain for 2 bunks, so I’m only in really, really close quarters with one other person. I got lucky with my room assignment. All 3 roommates are people who did training with me over the summer. We are literally the only room that has more than 2 of us in it. Most people went into a room with people they don’t know, which is fine, but I just really like all my roommates. It’s a fun room. I’m sad I have to move out.

Let’s see. There are 8 decks, the top 2 you can go outside. There’s lots of public space, couches and tables, for reading, gamings, getting coffee with a friend, etc. The dining room seems fairly large now when there’s only like 150 people living and eating on the ship, but it seems small when you think there will be over 400 people living on the ship, plus like 200 local people working with us daily. It’s really cool that during our 2 month training and volunteer project we all got so close because now there’s 25 people I could feel comfortable going to sit with in the dining room. Also there’s a lot of people who like to play games on the ship. We played every night before we started sailing. There’s a fairly decent sized library with books ranging from all different types of nonfiction to fiction and you can check out movies, but since June started I’ve barely made time for reading.



Ok so the ship was in shipyard in Durban for 2 months for repairs and stuff. After every 10 month field service they go to somewhere for shipyard for a couple months with a much smaller crew, so that’s a good time for most crew to visit home or leave. We got on a few days before leaving Durban and most of us didn’t have much work or meetings until we sailed. I’m one of the only ones who didn’t get reassigned to like housekeeping or something during the sail since my job doesn’t actually start til Benin. I might be on housekeeping on the 10 day sail though. So we got to have some fun in Durban for 2 days after doing all our orientation type stuff. I organized a group to go eat at the beach and walk around and there ended up being like 16 of us. It was fun but just a short day. The food is fairly cheap in South Africa but you can get a glass of wine for $2, and it’s usually larger than an American glass of wine. The next day a few of us went to the aquarium/Sea World which is supposed to be the largest aquarium in the Southern Hemisphere. It was okay. I started feeling really sick midday so didn’t really enjoy it. I laid in bed sick all night just to get sick the next day on the sail.


So when we left port we all went out on deck 8 and watched, and it was crazy when we really started moving because you had to hold on so tight not to go flying. We all thought it was really fun …. But then after an hour or so we went inside. I started feeling sick very quickly even with sea sickness medication. I honestly didn’t think I would get seasick. I’ve been on plenty of boats and even one cruise and never had a problem. But this was so different. We would keep our level app open and saw the ship was turning up to 15 degrees, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is. It looks and feels like the ship is gonna tip over. For perspective on the cruise ship I went on I feel like at the very roughest points it may have been 1 degree. Most people felt sick at some point in the first day but we’re fine the second day because it was so “smooth”. Or that’s what the alumni said. They said that was about as smooth as it ever gets, but I still clocked up to 8 degrees several times.

We were warned on Day 2 that we were going into a storm and we were gonna go from “gently rolling to pitching” on Day 3, not only because of the storm but because the Cape is known to be one of the roughest places in the world because it’s where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. It was insane! We had 18 degree rolls. Everything was flying everywhere even more so than before. When we went out on deck 8 and looked out at the waves they were like 8 feet tall. It’s like you could surf in the middle of the ocean. I was starting to get my sea legs or so I thought and wasn’t feeling that bad early in the day. So we tried to play a game by using sticky tack to keep the pieces on the board. But our chairs and the table and the game all repeatedly almost tipped, rolled, wiped us out. And focusing my eyes on something made me feel really sick again so I spent the rest of the day in bed.

The worst part was that when you are sea sick you need a little something on your stomach to make you feel better, like crackers, but you had to go to the dining room to get the crackers. And they didn’t have packaged crackers so I couldn’t really take a big stash back to my room because they weren’t wrapped and would prolly go flying wherever I put them. Well the dining room for some reason seems to be the absolute worst place on the ship for sea sickness. I don’t know why. Maybe its location or something. I always felt really bad every time I went in there, and then without my telling anyone that people kept telling me to get my food and go eat it somewhere else, so I know there’s something to that. So for this next 10 day sail I bought some crackers for myself here in Cape Town.

Cape Town

On our way to Benin the ship stopped in Cape Town for a few reasons. 1. Gas and a part way point for a long sail. 2. Mercy Ships recently opened a South Africa office here and the woman running it really wanted us to stop so they could do tours with important people here. Global offices basically raise donations and find volunteers for the ship and since there will soon be 2 ships it’s really important to help get this new office off the ground. 3. They wanted to spoil the crew for a weekend because Cape Town is this amazing place with a million fun things to do, and we are about to be spending 10 months volunteering in a place where there really isn’t anything fun for us to do.

I am so happy they let us stop here. This city is soooo amazing! It’s definitely the most beautiful city I’ve ever been to with the most variety of stuff to do. I don’t know if I can call it my favorite city since New York has my heart but it’s very, very close, and it’s a place that everyone would love. Seriously! Visit here if you can. It has everything, nature-wise, activity-wise, amenities, shopping, etc.

The Little Thieves

Friday a group of like 7 of us went on a bus tour around all of Cape Town which was really cool, just to see everything and hear some history. We also did a 2 hour walking tour downtown, part of which was called District 6, where there is just open space in the middle of the city sorta in remembrance of all the awful things during Apartheid. Basically back in the day in this neighborhood it was one of the only places where racism didn’t exist and an interracial family could freely live and black people could just live and exist without white people messing with them. Then in the 60s during Apartheid a law was passed that basically said no black or mixed race people could live in the cities and they could only live in black slums outside the city. So all these people were forced out of their homes. And it was really sad. Apartheid didn’t end til the 90s so they have basically only been free from the awful racist laws and such for like 20 years, so racism here is still way more evident than in the US. Then, we also went to this place with lots of monkeys. I saw several kinds I had never seen before which was really cool. Also they had this little area where they had tons of little monkeys and you could go in there and you weren’t supposed to touch the monkeys but you could let them climb on you. Before we walked in an employee said not to have anything in our bags that they could get to because they like to steal. And sure enough they tried to take the headphones out of a friend’s purse, and another girl had a purse that was basically empty but with pockets, and a monkey felt around in the pockets. It was awesome. I was sad I didn’t have something for them to steal so they would climb on me more.

Saturday 8 of us had to wake up at 4am to go Great White Shark cage diving. This was pretty expensive but I know I probably won’t do much else expensive over the next 10 months and this is like a once in a lifetime experience, and it seems terrifying so that’s way more reason to go! So we go out on this boat, and I yet again don’t think I will get sea sick because I’ve been on lots of boats that size and snorkeling excursions and stuff, but when you take a boat like that into the ocean and turn off the engine in a place where the waves are like 10 feet or larger (the Cape Town area has the biggest waves I’ve ever seen) it’s gonna be bumpy. So several people were throwing up off the side of the boat the whole 2 hours. I did not throw up, but felt miserable. And we didn’t even see sharks. We weren’t guaranteed to see them. They had a 98% success rating and had seen sharks every day since February. When we got back they gave us vouchers for a return trip which we will probably never get to take, but there was one seat on their next boat going out, so one of our group went, and that boat saw 6 sharks and all got to go in the water with them.

These birds flew super fast right along our boat to get fed

We were all very disappointed but we got back to Cape Town by like 2 with nothing to do, so 4 of us got an Uber to Boulders Beach over an hour away to see the penguin colony that somehow ended up in South Africa. It was the most gorgeous drive. Then since we got there at like 4 and the place closed at 5 the Uber driver offered to wait for us, which was awesome because the train station was a couple miles away. Well 5:00 came around and the Uber driver was not there. Luckily there were some Mercy Ships people there, but they had a full van and couldn’t take us home. They were nice enough to take us to the train station though, but for some reason the train wasn’t going to that stop, but a bus was there. So we waited to take the bus to another train stop. We got there and the ticket office was closed, but they were nice and let us get on. Then we had to take the train to the last stop, which was downtown Cape Town and we would get there after 7pm when it was dark. Apparently this area is a little dangerous so we were told not to go there after 5pm. So we were a little worried what we would do when we got there. If there weren’t taxis would we have to walk a few miles to the ship from there? Honestly though we weren’t really worried. We were 4 chicks with brains, no working cell phone, and only a few hundred rand left to pay all our costs. We lucked out. There was one taxi there as we walked out. We had to pay him but didn’t have to pay for the bus or train. So a trip that cost 500 rand to get there by Uber cost us 50 rand on the way back.

Sunday we got to sleep in. Then 4 of us went to Lions Head Mountain to hike up it, which was exactly what I needed. A lot of people hiked Table Mountain in one of the previous 2 days, but that’s a very intense and long hike, which normally I would be all over, but I tend to get bad headaches sometimes when I hike, especially long all day hikes, and the last time I did like a 6 hour hike I had a week long “feel like dying” type headache, and I was really scared to get that when I’m about to start a 10 day sail where I’m already expecting to not feel so good. But when so many people around me are going hiking and I’m not when that’s like one of my favorite things, I was feeling like I lost a piece of my identity. So Lions Head changed that. It’s fairly short but a lot of elevation gain, and the last third of it is this really intense bouldering/scrambling/hands and feet type hiking which is my favorite. There were places you went straight up and had to hold on to chains or handles on the side of the rocks. It was definitely the best quality hike I’ve ever been on. Like if I could only hike a 3 mile section of trail ever in my life I would want it to be that. It was absolutely incredible. I probably told my friends 8 billion times how amazing it was or how happy I was. It was a little scary in spots but I’ve done way way scarier. It was the most crowded trail I’ve ever done. There were lots of areas where only one person could go at a time so you would have to wait. And a lot of times those people were freaking out and terrified (and I have been that person on some hikes) so we tried to be encouraging.

So that’s Cape Town. Perfect except for not seeing sharks, but on the bright side no sharks ate me. Now onto a 10 day sail that I am praying will not be miserable.

Winterton, SA Field Service


IMG_6630 IMG_6694

Arrival: We got to where we were staying in the Drakensberg mountains after a million hours of flying, layovers, waiting, driving. I actually think I was awake like 54 hours or so minus a few short naps where I was never really asleep or was woken like every 2 minutes. The place we are staying is like an old air force base so we stay 2 to a room in their dorms and go out in the cold to the bathroom.IMG_6689
The first night 3 of IMG_6698the rooms were locked so some of us stayed upstairs in a dorm room with like 50 beds where it was freezing cuz it was wide open (we now have a family staying up there and the kids made forts out of all the mattresses around each of their beds, which keeps them warm).IMG_6589 It’s cold everywhere at night but especially there, so the first night of sleep wasn’t the best. Every night after we were a little warmer, and in our common space/living room we had a fireplace so we spend most of our time when we aren’t working hanging out there, which is awesome. Despite the long commute and cold, this trip has been wonderful.

On Sunday we went to church. It was very charismatic. I’ve been to fun black churches where they dance and sing and all that, but an African church is a whole new experience. Lots of dancing and singing but there would be people singing different things at once while other people were praying out loud, several of these people on microphones. It sounded like chaos. Then there was this one time where people would go to the front to do this kicking thing that was supposed to be a dance. I don’t know. I didn’t get it. And you would sit down and someone would start singing another song. Worship lasted 1.5 hours. The message 1.5 hours as well, and there was a guy translating but the dude preaching would talk over him before he finished, and a keyboard was playing really loud the whole time so it was so hard to hear or understand so I really struggled to stay awake (during the sermon obviously, it would have been impossible to fall asleep during worship). It was an interesting experience but African church is just not my thing.

Work week: On Monday my roommate and I were on kitchen duty at our dorms and also spending the day working. We had to be in the kitchen by 6:20am to get breakfast ready for everyone. We headed out to work from 8-4, then we had to cook and clean dinner from 4-7pm, then our daily evening meeting til 8:15pm. Very full day, but a great day (minus waking up early).
Our first job was at a school tearing some weird big structure down. It wasn’t really hard work, just tedious, and we all worked together and knocked it out by lunchtime. It was big, and we had to untie all this string from wires and mesh so they could save all the items, rather then have us demolish it to pieces. Then we drove to where we will spend most of our time. This organization called Isabani does so much with this community, mostly people with HIV and AIDS who were run out of their own communities or orphaned or something, to end up here. Isabani recently got a little plot of land in the middle of the community where they have their office and place for kids to come and people to get water, and they want to make their extra space into something for the community so they can go there to be in a safe place, like a garden, playground, or just nice ground and benches. So we went there to dig holes to build a fence. The holes had to be insanely deep, yet narrow, and the ground for some other people’s holes were just dirt, something that can easily be dug up. Another girl and I started a hole on ground that was essentially rock and so hard to break and dig up (and it turns out almost the whole property is this super hard, rocky ground that we have since dug up all over the place). Over a few hours we had to use a pick ax, a shovel, a chisel, and some weird big heavy pole thing that actually worked better than everything else.
While we were doing this there was a big commotion around a lady a little down the street from us. It looked like something might be wrong with her, and we had nurses, so one of them went with a local worker to check what was going on. Apparently the lady had swallowed some poison trying to kill herself after a big drunken fight with her boyfriend. The lady looked terrible. Marina got her to throw up a lot and drink water and after a couple hours she looked fine and walked home. It was crazy.
I signed up to go with the construction team every other day this week. My other option was to go on home visits with the nurses and talk to and pray for people. I’m more of a doer. I would get bored. I know nothing about construction but I know if I work hard stuff gets done, so I like it. People’s stories about the home visits have been intense and so sad though. One example is of a 30 year old woman who had a stroke because of her HIV and is being taken care of by her mother who’s health is also terrible. The woman is confined to a bed all the time and is only picked up and changed twice a week. She sleeps in her urine and excrement. So the 3 awesome people who visited her offered to give her a bath and clean her up. She said no at first because she was ashamed but ended up agreeing. After getting cleaned up she wanted to brush her teeth and put on makeup and she felt pretty for once…Others on our team have gone to teach at schools, teach nutrition, etc. Everyone has really just used what skills they have to do what is needed. It’s amazing.

But let me tell you, a few of us construction workers have been hardcore. We work and work and dig and dig. We are so tired and sore at the end of the day. A lot of people are going to bed before 9 because they are so tired. It’s a little later for those of us who play some kind of game but not much.

Day 2: We dug more holes for fence poles, mixed concrete and placed all the poles, dug out a whole big porch full of dirt plus a trench on the side (probably 50 wheel barrows of dirt)

Day 3: Cleared out dirt on a long pathway, mixed and poured cement along the whole pathway, built a fence, dug a grave size trench for part of our indestructible tire playground for the kids (because apparently they tear up everything and would destroy a normal playground)

Day 4 and 5: Finished our porch and pathway by laying gravel, spent most of these two days designing and building our tire playground (digging and digging, painting, bolting tires together, cementing and rebarring them down), another group spent a day at a home of an older couple who use wheelchairs building them a really good ramp, at another site people built bookshelves and painted window frames and weed whacked a big play area.
It was so exciting to finish the tire playground. On our first day here we looked at all the sites and found out all the projects they need done, and we said we would do whatever we could get to but probably not all of it. But we did all of it! Plus we had our awesome nutritionist, graphics person, IT person, teachers do all this extra stuff.
The weekend: On Saturday afternoon we went to a nature reserve. It was a safari but we only saw like 4 different types of animals: lots of zebras and giraffes included. Sadly no monkeys. But close to where we are staying there are usually a ton of monkeys chilling near the road, but we never got to stop and take pictures or get out of the car. Also, on our last day a group of like 20 baboons came and ransacked our trash cans outside our doors. I only saw 3 of them out the window as they were walking away. One girl said she came out of her room and a baboon was walking toward her so she just turned around and went back inside.
What else? One day we drove through a fire. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but not much. There are lots of fires here in the fields, usually controlled fires but it seems they sometimes get out of hand. So one of our team, an Aussie, was a designated driver of one of the vans since he’s used to driving on the left side of the road. We came upon a crazy fire where there were flames coming from both sides of the road, and the street was covered in smoke and you couldn’t see through it, so you had no idea if there was fire on the other side or a car that’s going to run into you. Another girl and I freaked out and suggested turning around, but everything was so fast and he had to make a decision in a split second, so he drove us through it, and we didn’t die!

We played games every single night. Over this whole training the last 2 months, we have played Bang, Coup, Settlers, Avalon, Puerto Rico, Monopoly Deal, and Dog about 8 million times each.

This has been such an amazing two weeks. I’ve had so much fun and have become friends with some of the coolest people, and I have gotten to help people in need. The only bad part is knowing that people have to live through so much disease and poverty, but I already knew that. This world is harsh. I just hope I can inspire others to do more to help the people in these countries because if more people cared maybe we could change the world.