Beginning of the Year in Cameroon

Ulrich (Junior), orthopedic patient, before surgery.

I have never been so stressed or busy in my life! The Hope Center team arrived in Cameroon over a week before the ship arrived because we would be opening almost right after the ship got here. So we got here, did an orientation with our 40 local Day Crew, did what training we could, and started setting up everything that arrived in the Advance container.  The problem was that we only had some space in the Advance container, so we couldn’t put a lot in it. We were also supposed to get another container that had 100 of the beds we needed before the ship arrived, but it got locked up in Customs, so we didn’t end up getting it until 2 days before we opened. We just kept hoping and waiting and waiting some more. We couldn’t do anything else until the ship arrived, and then we knew it would be craziness.

The ship arrived Wed, Aug 16th, but they wouldn’t be able to get our container off of it until Saturday. Then, we were supposed to open Tuesday, but that weekend, they said we were going to receive 166 people on Monday instead of Tuesday! So we had Saturday and Sunday to set EVERYTHING up, and we have a lot of stuff. We also had to set up 226 beds, and that takes a long time. The problem was that Saturday morning we had to take all of our Day Crew to a Mercy Ships orientation on the ship, and they had church Sunday morning. So basically we had half a day Saturday and half a day Sunday to set up. Nope! Not possible. It wasn’t gonna work.

Patients didn’t end up arriving until Tuesday, and it was only like 70 of those 166 on the first day. The rest of the people came on different buses every day for a week. We had a million things to organize, patients to tend to, and I had 4 other Facilitators and 40 Day Crew to train. For 9 days straight, I worked at the Hope Center from 6:30am-8:30pm, and then I would go home and do at least 2 hours of computer work before sleeping for 5 or 6 hours. Some days I was so stressed by the end of the day that if someone talked to me, I would have cried. At the same time, it was such an amazing experience. I love being busy if it is for a purpose. All of this absolutely had to be done! I didn’t have time for sleep or for free time. I think I even lost some weight because I didn’t have time to eat, which was okay by me. My adrenaline was pumping constantly. When I would try to sleep, I kept thinking of what I needed to do the next day and would be grabbing my phone every two seconds to write it down.

Our Patients

On the first couple of days, when we got the Ortho kids, it was the most shocking thing in the world. All of the kids last year had really messed up legs, but I have never seen anything this bad. When some of them sit down, their legs are bent up to where their feet are resting on their shoulders. It’s crazy. Some of their legs look like they are on backwards. How this is even possible is beyond me.

Junior: This boy is like the coolest kid ever to me. His legs are shaped so that in order to walk, he either walks on his calves, or he leans forward and uses sticks to walk around like a spider. He has adapted so well he can do anything. We have these little toy Tonka trucks, and he would rest his legs on the truck and roll around. Watching him play soccer is the craziest thing ever. He can actually do it even though he’s done on all fours, and he does this thing where he bounces his legs around. It’s incredible. He still has so much fun. He’s my hero. It’s funny because he was probably made fun of his whole life, but here he is like a movie star. Everyone has heard of him; everyone wants to take pictures with him. He gets embarrrassed.

We were really nervous about whether he would be approved for surgery because it doesn’t seem like it would be possible to fix his legs. I was so excited when I saw on his badge that he had an Admission appointment. That meant he would definitely get surgery! Since his case was so bad, they decided to do each leg separately. He had the first surgery last week and the second one is today. I went to try to see him in the hospital several times when I was off this weekend, but he was always asleep. I think he was in a lot of pain. He will probably have months and months of rehab because the muscles he has developed are totally different than the ones you use to walk with normal legs. I just pray he can develop them and walk normal.

 

Youssoufa: I don’t have any pictures of this little cleft lip/palate baby yet because her mother is just now opening up to us more, even after being with us for a few weeks, but the mama has taken pictures of me with her phone, so I think she is getting pretty comfortable. This little girl is 7 months, and I think she was around 8 pounds when she got to us. She is definitely getting bigger though. We have her on a very strict feeding schedule. If the mom doesn’t come to get her formula 8 times a day, we hunt her down. Youssoufa is sooooo cute and always so happy. Its so easy to make her smile. She seems a little behind developmentally because she is always bundled up and sleeping, but we keep trying to get the mom to let us take her out to play. I was hoping we would get to keep her a long time to fatten her up for surgery, but they already plan to do her lip surgery next week. Then, she will need to fatten up more for the palate surgery, but I don’t know if they will go home during that time.

Paul: I also don’t have pictures of this cleft lip/palate baby, but he is the tiniest, most malnourished baby I have ever seen because his cleft palate is so bad that he could not really suck to get milk and the little he did get just went out his nose. Now he is fed with a syringe, and it was really scary at first because they said if he was fed too much his little body wouldn’t be able to handle it, and it could kill him. Thankfully, they admitted him into the hospital for over a week until he got a little bigger. He just came back to us last night. He still looks like a little alien. His skin is all wrinkly because it is stretched bigger than his body because he has lost weight since he was born. His arms and legs are literally sticks. I’m too scared of breaking him to hold him. I’m amazed by his mother for taking such good care of him even though he probably seemed like he was going to die. She is a very strong woman. This little guy is constantly looking around and is so observant. You would think a 2-3 month old baby who was on the verge of dying his whole life wouldn’t seem so aware of everything, but he just seems so smart.

As always, thanks sooo sooo much to everyone who is supporting me. This year is definitely more of a struggle financially than last year. I literally couldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for all of you who sponsor me, so it means so much to me.

If you would like to support me financially here, you can donate through Mercy Ships HERE.

 

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Time Off + Starting out in Cameroon

I made it to Cameroon! We are about to start the biggest, most intense Field Service Mercy Ships has ever had. Same length of time, more patients, more surgeries, more Medical Capacity Building, more volunteers, and a Hope Center almost twice as big as last year. I’ll split this up into 2 sections: My Summer + Cameroon. Each section is long, so if you don’t want to hear about my summer, skip ahead.

My Summer

I left the ship in the Canary Islands on June 20. Because that’s in Europe, it was super cheap to fly elsewhere in Europe. It was actually cheaper to fly to Italy and fly home 10 days later than just to fly home June 20. So basically it felt like my flight plus half my hostel nights were free. I ended up still having to spend more than I would have liked, but things don’t always go as planned.

Italy was beyond amazing. I just had a lot of problems late in the trip. I fell in love with the country and enjoyed everything I did and wished I had more time in each place to do things, but by the end of the trip I was just desperate for home and my mom. The problems started small with finding out there was no AC in any of the hostels, someone stepping on my flipflop and breaking it so I was walking around on hot pavement over an hour trying to find a place to buy new flip flops, showing up to my hostel one night and all my stuff on the ground and someone else on my bed because the hostel randomly decided to move me.

Stuff didn’t get bad until I was going to my third hostel in some tiny town in Tuscany. They said there were always taxis at the train station, so I assumed I could get one. I waited like an hour and no one showed up so I had to walk. It was over a mile with my huge, heave backpack plus a 50lb rolling suitcase. A few minutes into the walk, a wheel on the suitcase broke. I carried it the rest of the way, stopping every minute or so for a break. I was crying by the time I got there. Luckily I went to a winery right after, so I could relax. That hostel was super cool, but I started getting bumps all over and found a tick in my bed, so I assumed they were bug bites.

Then, in order to get the hostel’s shuttle to the train station, I had to go an hour later than my train ticket. I thought it was fine because I thought all of my tickets said you could go at the listed time or up to 4 hours later. I took my first train from there to Florence with no problem, but when I was gonna get a train to Venice, I found out that rule didn’t apply to that ticket, so I had to buy a new ticket because I missed my train. Tickets were twice as expensive, and I had to wait several hours because the next few trains were sold out. Then, I got there, and cars aren’t allowed in Venice, so there are no taxis. I took a water bus but got off at the wrong stop, but it didn’t take me very close anyway. I walked up and down lots of stairs with my 50 lb suitcase and huge backpack and arrived at the location my hostel was supposed to be, but it was nowhere to be found. I walked around forever and eventually found someone who let me borrow their phone. I called the hostel, and the guy told me to wait where I was and someone would come get me. I waited and waited, and no one showed up. Then, I found a shop and asked a woman to look it up online, and the only mention of this hostel was on HostelWorld, which is what I booked it through. And she must have thought I was stupid and just couldn’t find the address, but we went there, and it looked like someone’s home, and we even rang the bell again. Nothing. She called back for me, and the dude said there was no one available to come get me for another hour (after I had already been waiting an hour). I kept asking him to either give me the correct address or instructions, and he refused, so I decided it seemed a little sketchy and not to stay there. The woman who was helping me pointed at a different hostel nearby. I went to stay there, and the next morning a guy in my room told me there were bed bugs in his bed and showed me his arm, and it was covered in bites. The number of itchy bumps on my body was still increasing daily, but they looked nothing like his. Also, we looked at his and other beds, and I saw multiple bugs in each. But I saw none on mine. I told the guy at reception, and he moved me to a different room. By this point the bumps were itching like crazy. I ended up throwing away my nice backpack, suitcase and like 1/3 of my clothes to avoid transporting bed bugs to my mom’s house, and when I eventually got to Lubbock 2 days later, we sealed all of my things I still had in a bag and deep cleaned it all, but the bumps were still multiplying for several days. I probably had like 300+ at some point. Eventually we decided it was probably an allergic reaction to something. I don’t know, but it went away after a while. It was just super miserable for about a week.

During the whole thing, I experienced a lot of generosity and felt like God was taking care of me. A few people who care about me were just doing lots of nice things to help me along the way. One cool story was that in the Venice airport a woman saw my Mercy Ships water bottle and said she volunteered a few years before, and we knew a few of the same people and talked until the plane boarded. The flight left super late, and we arrived in Turkey right before my next flight was supposed to leave. I was about to start running to my gate, and she and her husband found me and gave me $20 and a Starbucks card. I ran about a mile to my gate (I haven’t ran a mile in like 13 years), and thankfully they were running a little late and let me on. This gift from this couple became a huge blessing because I had no American money or credit cards, and I ended up staying at a hotel in Houston, so I wouldn’t give bed bugs to my friend if I had them, and the hotel was supposed to have a free shuttle which didn’t show up, so I had to take a taxi. That cost exactly $20, so it was like God sent me an angel.

My time home was wonderful. I spent most of my time with my mom and nephew. I didn’t think I could love my nephew as much as I loved one of our little patients last year, but I loved him more and more each day. At first, Wyatt didn’t seem very affectionate or want to be held, but by the end he would never let me put him down. A lot of the time I was actually regretting my decision to come back to the ship because he will be a whole year older next time I see him, and its hard to leave my mom for so long, but everyone has to make sacrifices to do overseas missions, and it is almost always worth it.

Cameroon

I made it to Cameroon last Sunday evening. My bags did not. It was a bit scary because I desperately needed some of the stuff in it by Wednesday, but thankfully I got it Tuesday. I moved into the Team House when I got here. It is where I will live all year. Currently we have 19 people living here, but once the ship arrives, that number will go down to 11-14. I’m sharing a room with 4 other girls and a bathroom with 6. Laundry is a challenge. The Hope Center team came last week, but the rest of the people came here to do Advance work before the ship arrives and have been here a few months. I’m friends with a few of them, so it’s been fun, but it will be nice when there are fewer people here. Also, we have a pool!

The Hope Center is so nice. It is going to be amazing. It is obviously much bigger since we will house up to 220 people (probably more occasionally) as opposed to 120, but the arrangement of it all is nice. All of the storage areas are near the office. There are more places for us and the patients to hide from the rain. It is super cool! We have high hopes for the year. So far we have done orientation with our 40 local Day Crew, tried to get to know them a little and already had them working a little. We have set up everything that we put on the container that arrived before the ship (basically 120 beds).

The ship gets here Wednesday, and that’s when everything gets crazy. I’ve been super nervous (or scared) about the next 2 weeks. We will be able to get our Team House stuff off the ship then, but our containers with all of the Hope Center stuff won’t be available until Friday. The Hope Center opens the next Tuesday, and we are supposed to receive 168 patients the first day (potentially some the day before but hopefully not). That means we only have Friday-Monday to set up a whole lot and train all 40 day crew (plus the 4 other Facilitators since I’m the only person who has done the job before). That in itself seems like it will be so hard, but the fact that we have 168 people coming the first day when I am the only one who will know what I am doing. Last year we never had more than 125 people staying at the Hope Center total, and our busiest day we maybe got like 38 new people. We are quadrupling that on our first day. Crazy! But as long as we work hard and have faith, God will make it all work out. But yeah, the Hope Center could definitely use some prayers. I could also use them. We will work as much as possible on Thursday, but starting Friday, I will probably work like eight 10-14 hour days in a row. I know I’m absolutely gonna love the adrenaline and craziness of it all and of having new patients to love, but I’m still just nervous.

We are helping even more suffering people this year, and it will all be worth it. If you would like to walk alongside me to serve Cameroon, please pray and/or consider donating here. I would appreciate any support I can get. I don’t get paid for this work, but I pay to do it. I am thankful to all my supporters, especially because I would have used much more of my savings last year and wouldn’t be able to afford to be here now without y’all.

2 Roosters and 77 Eggs

IMG_8237Two live roosters, 77 eggs, a meal, several sodas and bottles of water. These are the things we were given when a couple friends and I went to visit a bunch of our patients up North, even after repeatedly telling people that no, no, we don’t want or need anything, especially when they are mostly all extremely poor. The patients’ family and village just heard there were white people here from Mercy Ships, and they are all soooo thankful for the healing of their relative that they just want to give us everything. They would also tell us thank you in whatever language they spoke a million times. It’s crazy to have seen most of their conditions before and see that most of them are completely healed and normal now. It was really awesome to see some of the MaxFac patients who had big tumors removed because they were still really swollen even after their surgery, and I kept feeling sad that they still didn’t look normal. But they always tell those patients it takes months for the swelling to go away, and I got to see first hand how true that statement is.

Being a Missionary in the Bush

I go back and forth on whether I would like to be a missionary out in the bush like this woman Sara. When I come to a place like this I see all these things I want to try to make better in these impoverished communities, primarily with nutrition and education of children and equality of women, and when I went to Samsdine’s village, even though they were all Muslim, spoke an obscure language, and the men creeped me out with their multiple wives, I would love to just move into my own little hut and start feeding and teaching these skinny little kids, but I feel like you need to commit to like 5 years or something to truly make differences and not just be like you are forcing your ideas on people.

A scorpion horse spider

Sara, who hosted us, is beyond amazing. It was even a challenge to live there for a few days, and she has done it for like 25 years. No AC (and its super hot all the time). Her only electricity was some battery that had to be charged daily, so one or 2 lights could be on, and we could turn on a tiny fan at night, but at night we were always doing things by flashlight. There were occasionally these huge spiders called “Scorpion Horses” going across the floor, and she had to kill one scorpion while we were there too. There’s also lots of poisonous snakes up there so she said in rainy season, you have to wear closed toed shoes anytime you go outside. There were constantly people showing up at her door with problems or asking for things or just saying hi. Water was a challenge. Running water was off a lot, so you have to go outside to get buckets of water to shower or flush the toilet and everything. Also, she has to boil any water she drinks. I think her internet access was very limited. To fly anywhere, you have to take a 12 hour bus ride to Cotonou, with very nasty bathroom stops on the way. Most bathrooms were just a tiny, flat room with a pipe in the back, and the attendant would just splash the ground with water before you go in to wash out the pee. So you just squat and pee on the ground, and then later someone goes and stands in your pee (mixed with water) to do the same. On top of that, to communicate with people, she’s had to become fluent in 2 languages and has learned some of another (which I could never do). She does it all. She wears an African dress all the time and a headwrap, which is expected of all women to wear. She just wants to love people, save lives, and saves souls. She is such an inspiration!

Adjidjatou

Our first stop on Saturday was to Adjidjatou’s house pretty far out in some tiny village. Her dad was so excited for us to come even though Adjidjatou had just gotten discharged from the hospital to home on Thursday morning, so we had just seen her, but we really wanted to see her at home with her family and everything. We were greeted by all the kids and the men at first, even though the kids mostly just stare and don’t want to get to close to you. Then, the men set up chairs in the middle of the village for us to sit in, and then like all of the men of the village sat by us (like 30 dudes), no women allowed. At least at this place Adjidjatou and a couple other kids were allowed to come to where we were sitting. I guess we don’t count as being women. All of the women and kids stood on the outer edge of the village, so I was gonna walk around and greet everyone. Once I went to greet one set of women and kids in front of one house and turned to go to the next, all of them were inside. It was like the women weren’t even allowed to talk to me because we were “important guests”. It made me mad. Otherwise, everything was awesome. We were able to hang out with Adjidja and try to play with her shy sister too and all the other kids. Then, when we were leaving, they insisted on giving us 2 roosters, and we protested some, but in this culture to refuse would be rude even if it was done because we know they are poor and need those roosters more than us. The problem was we still had a long journey ahead the rest of the day, and the roosters would have to stay in the hot car but thankfully they survived.

Samsdine

We were off to see my little man next since he was basically 80% of the reason I wanted to come on this trip. His village was only 30ish minutes away from Adjidja’s, but it was much bigger, and we could not get ahold of his mom, so we had no idea where he lived. We drove in and looked for the local clinic because Sara said they would definitely know who the Cleft Lip baby who went to the Ship was. When we found it, no one was to be found at first because it was a Saturday, but then there were people in the back building, but the nurse we delivering a baby, so she and Sara were screaming a conversation to eachother through a wall. The nurse knew of Samsu and told some dude where he lived, so he drove ahead on his motorcycle as we followed. We got there, and it turned out to be his mom’s father’s home, but we were told they were at the husband’s house. So then the dude led us there. We got there and were asking, and someone went to find his mom, and she came running out of a house so happy and surprised to see us. But still no Samsu, so she asks his 5 year old sister to go find him, so she comes back carrying a very grumpy, tired looking Samsu, who did not look to care one bit that I was there to see him. Normally if he isn’t tired and sees me, he runs to me clapping or hands me whatever he is playing with, so that was very disappointing. His mom made him take a bath, which made him more grumpy. We only got a few smiles out of the little guy, and after a while I just rocked him to sleep, which was a first because he always just gets whiney when he’s tired so at work, I just took him back to his mom and she put him to sleep. Also, earlier when we got there, the women put us in some room in chairs because of course we need to sit and not be in the sun (which I still don’t get. Samsu’s mom always saw me get on the ground and get dirty with him and always thought I needed to get up and stay clean because I’m white or something). Most of the kids were too scared to come in the room near us, but would stand just outside staring. After Samsu fell asleep, we gave his mom a lot of healthy supplements and formula (for her newborn niece or nephew whose mom died in child birth). Then we had to wait for his dad to come because he was working out in the fields, and someone went to find him. When he got there, there were some things about him that bothered me and made me worry about Samsu, so please pray for his life and future. Once the men came, women no longer came into our room except to bring us food. They brought us porridge, bottled water, and a large meal. We left after being there a couple hours with a whole bunch of eggs as well (which was got at most subsequent home visits). This visit was probably the only negative aspect of my trip to me. I was so sad we happened to get there when Samsu was tired and not being fun and playful and that it had to be so short. I wish our trip could have been a couple days longer, so maybe I could have spent a night there with his family and had more time with him and to see what his life at home is like. Its so hard to me to know I will probably never see this little boy I love so much again, especially when I see so many things in his world of poverty that could hurt or kill him, but I try to remember how much healthier has gotten thanks to all the nutrition he got and his surgeries. His malaria hasn’t recurred since before his first surgery, but before that surgery he was treated for it 3 times in under 3 months while he was with us. But the job I signed up for is to care for all these patients who need us for a short time and send them away to live their lives. Its hard, but its worth it.

Alfan Kourou

We went to see this little girl on our way back to Sara’s house for a quick visit. She’s the one who got chicken pox the day before she was supposed to have her cleft lip/palate surgery, which was supposed to be the last day they could do that surgery. She was sent back to the Hope Center to be in Isolation, and the ship agreed that if she had healed enough 5 days later and didn’t appear to be contagious anymore, they would do the surgery, which was cutting it very close because chicken pox is usually contagious for 6 days after getting symptoms. Lots of people were praying for her, and she got the surgery and healed so fast and so well. When we went to her village, we again didn’t know where she lived, so we asked if people knew her, and someone went to get her and her grandmother. Alfan Kourou switched from hot and cold to us all the time. Sometimes she would run to me full speed to hug me, sometimes she seemed mad at me, sometimes she seemed shy and scared of me. This time she was very shy. She opened up some while we were at her village but not a lot, but I could still tell she was happy to see us, and of course all of the other adults and children (even though they are usually scared to come to close) are always soooooo excited we came.

Church/Bake

Kids After Church

The kids who walked us home and sat staring at us almost an hour lol

The next morning we walked to church from Sarah’s house. Luckily it was only 2 hours instead of 3-5 like most African churches, and it was a challenge for me to stay awake since I had no idea what they were saying. The fun thing was that after church all of the kids wanted to carry our stuff and walk with us home. They all came in and sat on the couches staring at us. There were 16 of them. We got them to sing some, but mostly they just sad there quietly, and anytime I would catch one of their eyes when they looked at me, they would get embarrassed and cover their faces. It was really cute.

One of the kids who walked us home was 14 year old Bake, a little girl we had as a patient for a short while who was in a fire when she was 3 days old. She was brought to Sara’s house, and she basically nursed her back to life for months, but she has severe physical problems. She has no hip bone on one side, and that leg is a few inches shorter so her walk is messed up. She’s got burns all down from her head to her butt. All we could do for her at the ship was put in a metal plate where the back of her skull should be but was destroyed in the fire because if she ever hit it really hard without that protection, it would cause brain damage or potentially kill her. She was so sweet, and her dad said she is in school, but none of the other kids acknowledged her, and her dad says everyone at school just makes fun of her.

Roger/Mutakyu

Sara called this boy Roger’s parents to say we would come visit and to also tell this woman patient we had to come and to bring her 1 year old Downs Syndrome baby Mutakyu with her. Roger is a teenage boy who had a snake bite on his hand that contracted his wrist to where he couldn’t really use his arm, so we fixed that. I didn’t remember him, but Nicole did because she was a nurse on his ward, so she got to see him. The other patient was a woman who stayed with us about a month waiting on biopsy results about her tumor (which we can’t operate on because it is cancer, so we don’t know how long she will live), and she said its been hurting her a lot lately, so that’s a bad sign. I feel so bad for her and her family. Mutakyu is her baby who is a bit older than Samsu who we decided probably has Downs Syndrome, plus a lot of the other problems that usually comes along with that. At the Hope Center we were able to put him on the Infant Feeding Program even though he wasn’t the patient, and I spent a lot of time playing with him and he blossomed. He got to where he could hold himself up when sitting. When we got there, he was his fun, cute, happy self, but it took me several minutes to get him to start clapping like we used to at the Hope Center, and his mom told Sara that he only does those things for me and that he only has eyes for me and I only have eyes for him. It was cute and funny. She used to say I was his wife, and she even asked me to come home with them when they were leaving. On this trip, she offered to give him to me, which could have been a joke, but I’m not sure. She obviously loves him very much, but maybe she doesn’t know what his future will be when she passes. Sara will keep in touch with the family, and if he gets neglected, she is going to see if an SOS Village will take him in.

Many others

We saw at least 4 other patients the rest of the day, mostly by just showing up to close by where they lived and asking around, and people would go find them. It was really cool seeing everyone, mostly because they were just soooo happy to see us, even if we didn’t have a super close relationship to them. And they were all super, super grateful. It felt weird being on the receiving end of all this gratitude when we are only a teeny tiny fraction of the volunteers and donors and everyone who made it possible for them to be treated. So to all the Mercy Shippers out there, all these people are super grateful for everything you have all done!

Baawaeno

An old woman named Baawaeno who had a tumor removed from her face who was sooooo happy we came

Bouba

I loved Bouba, who had an extreme double cleft lip and palate and looked so goofy before. He was scared of us this day, which I kinda expected. He was scared of us a few days when he first came to the HC, then again right after coming back from surgery, but after a couple days he was so affectionate and cuddly and giggly towards me. We saw him less than an hr on this trip because he didn’t like us, but when we were in the car leaving, he was waving with both hands like he loved us so much. Despite how she appears in the photo, his mom was so happy and grateful that she traveled to a different town and waited quite a while just to see us.

Oumou

A sweet, hyper little girl named Oumou who stayed with us a long time before and after surgery. She had a very large tumor on her face and is so beautiful now.

 

Ahh! Chicken Pox! + End of Field Service

Wow! Its near the end of the field service, and although I have had a range of emotions over the last couple of months (mostly of sadness because I will miss so many people and fear that next year won’t be nearly as amazing), the last week has just been pure exhaustion, and currently I am just feeling relief that my work is over as of a few hours ago. For the rest of the time before I leave the ship on June 20th, I am on PTO, which will consist of a 4 day trip up north to visit patients, then chilling out and planning a couple of the nightly activities for the crew on our 10 day sail, then a few fun days in the Canaries, then I peace out til August.

The last month at the Hope Center was amazing and devastating and crazy all in one. First, my little man was here until a week ago, and if he hadn’t stayed so long I don’t know if I could have handled it all emotionally. Samsdine and his mama came back in early April for his cleft palate surgery, but he had lost so much weight, they scheduled him for one of the last days they could do that surgery, which was in early May. I was so grateful because I got to spend so much time with him. When he had surgery, he took a while to wake up from the anesthesia, and he had to remain intibated (?) until the next morning. I was able to spend quite a bit of time in the ICU with him and his poor mom the day after surgery. The day after that I had to work, but I had multiple people text or call me to say he was back in the Ward and was playing and making noise and back to his normal, amazing self.

He had surgery Wednesday, and I worked alone Friday-Sunday. Sunday I got to work, and baby Djaliou and his mama were sitting outside my office waiting for me. This was the little baby who came to us at 5 lbs at 3 months old with what looked like a tongue tumor. Our doctors saved his life a few months ago, but he had to come back once he had gained weight for surgery on a hernia. He had gotten so much bigger and even cuter but was still super tiny. At his appointment they decided the hernia wasn’t life threatening like they initially thought, and he was still too small, and it was too risky to do another surgery, so maybe next time we are in Benin they will get a 5 or 6 year old Djaliou coming for surgery. It wasn’t a waste for them to travel all the way to the ship though. Our dieticians hooked them up with a lot more formula, and they got to be reunited with Samsu and his mama. It was awesome. Samsu came back from the hospital they day Djaliou got there, and last time they were here the mamas became very good friends. I was up in the clouds, two babies I loved so much back at the Hope Center!

Samsu keeps getting more and more fun as he gets older. He was the most awesome, cutest little guy ever. Saying goodbye wasn’t as hard this time as before because I’m going up north to visit him soon. I cried so much last time, and I feel like I love him so much more now than I did then, but I know its not the end yet. I’m also hoping to find a water filter before going to visit, just in case his mom doesn’t boil the water he gets, since we think lack of clean water is why he got so sick last time he went home.

Meanwhile, the day Samsu had his surgery, another girl who had been staying at the Hope Center got admitted to the ship, and Sarah (the missionary who has been bringing patients down from the north all year for surgery and translates for them) pointed out to me that the girl had all these bumps on her arm, like she had broken out in a rash. Sarah was worried that whatever it was would prevent her from getting her Cleft Lip and Palate surgery the following day because it was the last day the doctors were planning to do any palate surgeries because they wanted a long enough recovery time before our hospital closes just in case there were complications. The next day I got to the ship in time for lunch (before checking on Samsu in ICU), and I got texts from a couple people at the HOPE Center saying CHICKEN POX! Then, I see my boss Martha running up to me (literally) to ask if I have had chicken pox before. I find out that a child who had been discharged from the hospital the day before to the Hope Center has chicken pox (who had been at the Hope Center for a few weeks prior to surgery) and that they figured out that the little girl who was supposed to have surgery had chicken pox. She was currently in the Isolation room in the hospital and was not going to have surgery. They needed to get her off the ship ASAP! They sent her to the Hope Center.

So normally chicken pox wouldn’t be such a big deal. Kids get chicken pox. Then they get over it and never get it again. Who cares! But it creates some complications here. You do not want a person with a weak immune system or who is recovering from palate surgery to get chicken pox. There were a few children we could think of at the Hope Center or on the ship who might not survive if they got chicken pox at that point in time. In addition, we are about to sail to a new country. If a bunch of our crew have chicken pox, they might not let us in. So a lot of drastic measures were taken. An email that afternoon said no one except essential personnel was allowed to go to the Hope Center for the rest of the year. Mercy Ministries, which is just a bunch of crew who go to play and sing and dance with the patients every Tuesday and Thursday, was on their way there and had to turn around. We had to move people out of one of our rooms so we could isolate all chicken pox people in there. They were not allowed to leave the room except to go to the bathroom for 6 days! Additionally us Facilitators and the day crew were only allowed to go into the room if needed or to bring food, so we put some colors and toys in there and barely went in the room for 6 days. The kids were either cold and angry at us or would try to hug us and we would have to back away. We explained the situation and tried to say they were just temporarily contagious and we couldn’t risk spreading it to other patients, but in a place where community is everything, it was so, so sad. We had one little 3 year old patient whose caregiver was her 16 year old sister. She came to the office crying one day because she had chicken pox, and I think she felt like it was her fault, and she knew she would have to stay in that room for 6 days before they could go to their next appointment at the ship, instead of 2 days, when they were probably going to be discharged to go home. Apparently chicken pox has a 2-3 week incubation period, meaning that the people at the Hope Center who had it had been infected with it 2-3 weeks before. One caregiver had it a few weeks prior and never told anyone, so like half of the people who shared the same room at that time got it a couple weeks later. After isolating people, no one else new got it after a few days, but I kept having a fear that they had infected others in those first couple of days before they had a lot of pox, but the 3 week incubation period is almost up, and so far so good!

The last few weeks were mostly hard because I felt like we were surrounded by death and darkness and bad news, but there was plenty of good news and good outcomes with patients. It just gets easy to feel like the bad piles down on your sometimes. One day we got to work and within 5 minutes we heard screaming outside. We went outside and a woman was crying and screaming because she had just received a call that her husband died. This woman had just brought her baby to get surgery the night before knowing her husband was terminally sick but had no idea he would die so soon. This woman was so amazing and strong she stayed to get her baby’s surgery even though she was obviously devastated. I can’t imagine having to choose between staying by my husband’s side when he could die any day or taking my baby to be healed. About 10 minutes later we received a call with some very bad news about a child who had stayed with us a little while that we wouldn’t be able to help.

Another day the caregiver of a sweet, obviously traumatized little girl was sweating and freaking out, and I thought he was sick and needed to go to the hospital, but the other people said the hospital wouldn’t fix his problem. Apparently he was going crazy because he has these little “idols” or statues that he “feeds” by sacrificing animals, and he wasn’t there to sacrifice anything, and he believed they were mad at him and trying to pull him back (according to him and many others). The craziness came and went throughout the day. He would randomly freak out and try to run out of the Hope Center. Benin is the birthplace of Voodoo. Most people here believe its a real thing but think its evil. I don’t believe it, but the effects of it still exist. If people practice an evil religion and believe it, then they will imagine and do bad things. I think this dude was either on drugs or insane and has been sacrificing for his idols, so of course he would freak out if he believes they would be mad about it. When it happened, everyone was just trying to get him to calm down and to diffuse the situation, but I went to find the traumatized little 3 year old girl as she stared into space as she often does. This poor little girl has gone through so much, between her ginormous tumor on her face and family practicing voodoo. Some days she just stands outside (or even in) our office and just starts crying and screaming for no apparent reason, and nothing will make her stop.

Then, the day before Samsu was supposed to leave, someone came and said your baby’s mom is crying. I went and found her sitting alone silently crying, which is crazy because Bariba people are taught from childhood that you do not cry. If a kid cries, they just hit them. Apparently her sister died during childbirth, but the baby lived. I felt so bad. I don’t know if she will end up raising the baby (on top of her 3 children) or if she baby will even survive unless there is another woman in the village who can breastfeed it.

This past week has been a combination of packing and moving everything at the Hope Center, packing and moving the Team House stuff to the ship, planning and having our Day Crew end-of-year party, unpacking and getting situated on the ship, and helping one of our Day Crew to become Crew and helping him figure everything out and shop with him and move onto the ship and all that. It has been so exhausting, but there was the light at the end of the tunnel because now I can just chill!

Tomorrow 2 friends and I will take a 12 hour bus ride up north to visit Samsu and a few other patients that touched our hearts! It is only for 4 days, 2 of which are travel days. Normally I wouldn’t think that it is even worth it, but I would probably do anything for this little guy.

 Infant Feeding Program: The 3 babies who stayed with us the most while trying to gain weight and seeing our nutritionists regularly.

Bignon: Came to the ship at 3 weeks old with a double cleft lip weighing around 4 lbs. She was discharged after receiving surgery at 8 months old weighing 17.7 lbs.

Djaliou: Came to the ship at 3 months with some kind of rare tongue thing that mad it hard for him to eat or breath, weighing about 5 lbs. We tried to help him gain weight for over a month at the Hope Center before he had to have emergency surgery. He left us only a week or 2 after surgery with lots of supplements. He came back to see us at 8 months weighing 10.5 lbs.

Samsdine: Came to us at 10 months weighing only about 9 lbs with cleft lip and cleft palate. He stayed at the Hope Center 3 months to gain weight and got up to over 15 lbs before his first surgery. He went home after surgery at 14 months weighing 17.5 lbs. He came back 2 months later about an inch taller but weighing only 15 lbs because he got very sick back home. In the 6 weeks he was at the Hope Center or Ship for surgery, he gained 3.5 lbs, ending up at 18.5 lbs at 17 months when he left.

 

If you would like to partner with me in helping patients next year, please consider donating. I can only do this through the support of all the incredibly generous, awesome people who have supported me this far.

Less than a month at the HOPE Center left

Three of us Facilitators. Im so glad I got to spend the year with these two, but sad that Ive already had to say Goodbye to one of them and will soon have to say Goodbye to the other along with several other amazing people I have gotten to know this year.

I can’t believe our Field Service in Benin is almost over. There have been many stressful or difficult moments, but I have loved this year so much and feel so blessed that I get to be part of everything Mercy Ships does. Once the Nat Geo show The Surgery Ship starts airing in the US, I hope everyone watches it. It gives a little glimpse at what life is like for so many of these patients. Its so cool to see so many of our patients who spent months staying with us at the HOPE Center and to know the whole world is going to see their story.

It feels kinda surreal to me that the year is ending. One of our longterm patients, Gifty, left yesterday morning, so its really hitting home that soon I will probably never see any of these people again. My favorite little patient who I love more than anything, Samsdine, came back a couple of weeks ago, and even though I was so happy he was back, I’m so aware of how little time I have left with him. I have so much joy every time I see him laugh or smile. I literally spend every second I can with him. I think half of my day is spent working and half spent playing with Samsu. All of the patients and day crew joke that I’m “Mama Samsu”  which I found disrespectful to his actual mother at first because she is a wonderful mom who loves him so much, but that seems like a common joke here and doesn’t seem to offend her.

*Click on an image to see them fullsize*

As a recap on Samsdine’s time with us, he came to the HOPE Center when he was 10.5 months old and was super skinny and tiny, but you could tell he was a fighter. He spent 2.5 months with us so we could fatten him up for his cleft lip surgery. I think he wasn’t big enough at the time for the cleft palate surgery too, so they just did the lip, and then he was only with us another week or so, and they sent him home with a date in early April to come for Surgeon Screening for his palate. He was gone about 2 months, and he came back pretty skinny again (around 15 lbs). He had grown about an inch but had lost about 2 lbs, so they wanted us to spend 3 weeks fattening him up again, and his surgery is scheduled early May. He was a little skittish when he first came back and didn’t seem to remember me, but after a couple days he was more and more like his old self. By now he’s fully come into his personality and is just so fun and awesome (and thankfully loves me again). He’s almost 1.5 yrs old, and he has even walked around half the HOPE Center and showed up right outside our office. I just recently found out that back home he has a daddy and 2 siblings waiting for him. (Its always been difficult trying to communicate with his mom because she speaks a local language from up North that we can only sometimes find a translator for). His mom invited me to come to their village before leaving Benin. Its like a 12 hour bus ride, and then it sounds a little complicated from there. I’m actually hoping I can figure out a way to go.

There’s an American missionary lady named Sarah who speaks their language and lives up north in the community and runs a clinic. She has brought several patients down here all year long and translates for many of them because she speaks 2 of their local languages. She is hardcore, dresses like an African, speaks their language, everything. I feel like everyone from any community near her goes to her with their problems and she figures out if she can help. She’s awesome. A lot of the patients she has brought here were people other people sent to her, so she doesn’t even know many of them and has become invested in their lives. You can tell she is stressed out to the max, but she is still here and still cares so much about all of these people.

A 40ish year old woman came down with Sarah with a neck tumor. It just seemed like another run of the mill West African tumor that our surgeons take care of all the time. She brought her still-nursing baby with her who I thought was adorable and would try to hold him when they first came, and he would flop into my arms and couldn’t hold his head up like he was a month old baby, but he appeared to be about 8 months but very malnourished and weak. Our nutritionist happened to be here to visit our cooks and a baby patient we had, and I asked if we could put this baby on a feeding plan even though he wasn’t the patient, so we got a translator and talked to the mom, and she tells us the baby is actually 1.5 years old, and he’s always just been really slow at developing and not normal, and she didn’t know why. The more I investigated online and talked to nurses or people who had seen him, it became apparent that he has Downs Syndrome, but he only kinda looked like a Downs baby. He had some struggled with breathing sometimes and seeming tired like there may have been a heart problem (a symptom of Downs) and he was really floppy and his muscles are so floppy, which Downs babies in America have but they usually receive therapy to help them fix it.

They were here a little over 3 weeks. I fell in love with this little baby, and he loved me. His mom kept saying in her language that I was his wife. During the time they were here, the ship was waiting on biopsy results from her tumor, and they discovered that they couldn’t do anything but maybe extend her life a few years but that the surgery came with really big risks to paralyzing her face, so they recommended her against it. She decided not to get the surgery, and they went home. I was so sad. The little boy flourished while here, just getting good nutrition and so much attention. He got to where he could sit up and hold himself up without falling over. I had just researched ways to work with a Downs Syndrome baby to teach them how to crawl right before we found out we couldn’t help her. I’m so scared that when his mom dies, this little baby will just be neglected by the rest of the family because people here don’t know how to deal with special needs kids, and who knows if he will even survive. I’m grateful that Sarah brought them here because I think she will stay in touch with the family and look out for the baby. I’m also hoping that if I go up north to visit Samsdine, I can visit him too.

These stories just represent a couple of the people who stay with us, mainly the ones who I have become closest to. All of the Facilitators go out and play with the kids and talk to people when we aren’t busy with our daily tasks, and we all have different patients who touch our hearts the most. We have between 70-120 people who stay with us at the Hope Center, about 2/3 of which are patients while the others are caregivers or babies of patients. Below are some pictures and a little bit about some more patients:

Oroumere: Such a sweet 12 year old boy who has such a playful spirit but couldn’t walk right or play with other kids normally most of his life because he got bit by a venomous snake when he was a toddler that infected his leg up to his knee and caused his foot to be contracted, kind of similar to some of the burn patients we have seen. He speaks French and Bariba (the local language of many of the patients from up North including Samsu’s mom), so he has even helped me with translation. He’s so adorable with all the little kids. He wants to play “big kid games” with us, but when all of the little toddlers come running up to play, he includes them all.

Gifty was what you might call a handful. She could be a huge challenge and drive you crazy, but you still have to love her. She and her mother came from Liberia, so they knew English, which is always helpful. Gifty has a lot of things wrong, only some of which Mercy Ships could address. Her brain wasn’t properly formed so she’s mentally handicapped along with all of her physical deformities. She didn’t talk. We heard her talk a little to her mom (but she can’t pronounce things right, so its very hard to understand her). She stayed with us a few weeks before surgery, and at the time I was so glad for her to be going to the ship. She was super clingy and one of the kids who just didn’t obey the rules and would come into our office constantly. On top of that, she hit me all the time, and hard too for a 6 or 7 year old! If you google “Noma” and look at the images, that is what her face looked like before surgery. Her face is still not normal but so much better. They had to remove an eye and did a few other things and plan to do more on our next field service in a country near hers.

When she came back to the Hope Center, it was like her personality had changed. She was very shy and kept to herself, wouldn’t come near us. It was nice but also kinda sad because she just seemed scared. Pretty soon she became very close and clingy with one of our Admin Day Crew guys, and it was really cute how she would follow him around, and he could ask her questions, and she would nod or shake her head. Then eventually, all of us Facilitators started trying harder to get through to her because she was so sweet, and it didn’t take a lot. Immediately, Gifty turned mostly into her old self (but not as violent), and then she sorta blossomed and grew on me. She even started to talk to us. I hardly ever knew what she was saying, but it was still really cool to have her talk to us when she wouldn’t talk with most people on the ship. I learned to have a lot more patience with her. She did drive me crazy a lot, but I really enjoyed spending time with her and trying to have conversations with her. One day a few patients and Day Crew and I were in Reception with her, and they started asking if she knew this person or that person’s name. And she would say it, even though it sounded like how it sounds the first time a baby learning to speak might say your name, but then they pointed at this baby and not only did she say his first name, but she added HER last name at the end. And then for me, she also said my first name with HER last name. It was really sweet. Some of the funny things that drove us crazy were: During the day, she would go around and turn on all the outdoor lights that didn’t need to be on. She would come in our office and turn off our light and AC. She would lock the reception door on the weekends when the admin day crew were off, but the Facilitators or Security Guards would need to get in there to log visitors or do other things, but she would lock that door from the inside, and we would have to go all the way around to its back door to unlock it.  Because her surgery involved her brain they had her stay with us a very long time in case there were complications because if there were, and she was back home in her country, she wouldn’t have a chance. But that very long stay has already come to an end. It feels so crazy.

Ichaou is another little guy who we have had at the Hope Center a long time because his surgery involved his brain. He’s one of a few little kids we have at the Hope Center currently who had an encephalocele, which means his skull didn’t form all the way during pregnancy so brain matter came out and formed a little tumor looking thing right above his nose. Not being a medical person, I’m not sure but think that if these go untreated long enough, they will kill you, but after having surgery I think he will lead a normal life, which is awesome. Ichaou is just a bundle of energy. He isn’t even 1 but is very big, and if someone is holding him, and he sees someone he likes, he just kicks and kicks. It’s so cute. He cannot stay still.

Clarisse is such a cute and tiny little girl. She came to us for the first time a few months ago after surgery for her encephalocele as well, but she immediately kept having problems and having to be readmitted to the hospital for a few days or weeks. Every time she came to the Hope Center, she was terrified of everything and everyone, but mainly us white people. She wouldn’t leave her mom’s side and would look down if we tried to say hi to her. On top of that, the hospital started making her wear a helmet any time she was out of bed that covered most of her face to protect her surgery site since there kept being complications, and maybe it was from her bumping it. Luckily the most recent time she got out of the hospital, there is no more helmet, and her whole personality completely changed. Now she likes us and is so happy and excited all the time. I never know what she’s excited about, but it’s so cute. And she’s so ticklish. She’s just so sweet and adorable. I hope we have completely fixed her and she has a great future ahead.

This little fatty is Bignon. I dont think this picture is even one of the recent ones that show how fat she is now. What is so awesome about how fat she is, is that she was the little 3 week old baby I talked about in my first HOPE Center blog post that everyone was unsure if she was even going to live at the beginning because she was so starved and weak because her cleft lip prevented her from latching on. She has been on the feeding program ever since and has surgery in a week or two!

Heres another baby named Aniba who is in our Infant Feeding Program and will get surgery next week. She was only a little malnourished when coming to us and now shes a fatty too after only a few weeks.

That’s all for now. If you would like to partner with me in supporting Mercy Ships mission in helping all these people now and next year in Cameroon, please Pray and/or consider donating here. I’ve got a few really really amazing supporters who I am so grateful for. I wouldn’t be able to continue to serve next year if it wasn’t for you, so THANK YOU! I’ll be in Texas and Oklahoma is July, so if you want to see me, let me know. Maybe our National Geographic show will be out by then too, so you all can see!