"ATITALA" Goodbye for now

Its been an amazing 3 1/2 months on Mercy Ships. Filled with old and new friends and lots of great memories. I hope these pictures capture some of whats so special about this ship.

VVF dress ceremony to celebrate the women's new lives and re-entering into society, no longer leaking urine since childbirth:

(The surgeon giving her patient a present at the ceremony to represent she is now clean)

Time for celebration and dancin'!

Thanks to family and friends that supported me financially, emotionally, and spiritually. I couldn't have been here without you all!


Three Blind Children

These three little brothers and sisters were all born with congential cataracts. This is a picture of them all waiting with their mom the day before sugery on the ship!

Natatingou & Pendjari Safari

Hettie, Laura, and I headed up north to the backcountry for a 2 day safari adventure. Living IN the ship is a whole world of its own, so it was nice to actually be off the ship and enjoying being IN Africa and being completely immersed its in incredible culture and people. We took a 8 hr bus ride complete with a full 8 hrs of blaring African Pop music and soap operas, ha. and a 4 hr off roading drive into the Pendjari National Park.

Considering we had "speed racer" as our chauffer we didn't scare off all of the animals! We saw baboons, elephants, antelope, alligators, buffalo, hippos and much more. Lions and cheetahs have not been seen in the park since Feb. The early morning time when they may be seen, our car broke down (luckily not in the field!) so if you know the scene from "Little Miss Sunshine" when the whole family is running behind the car and trying to jump in after it starts.... well my friend...that would be us ;) and we missed them possibly coming for a morning drink at the watering hole.

( this particular elephant SUPRISED us as he came up from the river and we got a little too close , My head was out the window mind you at this time until I heard its trunk making a charging trumpet sound. yIkes!)

Other fun was had as well, with the right connections you too can illegally enter Burkina Faso for a short ride and eat FuFu with the security guards!

On the way back to Natatingou we stopped to swim in some beautiful waterfalls and we picked up all sorts of people for the ride back into town!; kids, men and women that needed to get to school, market, or home.

On our way back to Natatingou we got to stop and see inside one of the traditional SOMBA tribe houses. Almost 30 years ago they were almost totally unknown to the Western world and remain one of the most untainted tribes left. For hundreds of years they have been building their mud fortresses in the Atakora Mountains. These huts are 3 stories tall, the first level being to hold storage and their livestock at night, as well as the elderly of the family as they cannot easily climb the stairs. If anyone tries to attack them the elderly can yell up to the rest of the family and warn them before the enemy climbs through the kitchen and then out to the roof where the children sleep, food is dried, and up another level into the tower where the parents and babies sleep. There was a 3 day old baby inside this one when we climbed up :) The grandparents were almostly naked and passed out for their siesta to the side of the house when we came, and stayed that way the whole time! The small lump with bird poo and feathers on it at the lower half of the above picture is the voodoo shrine where they sacrifice their chickens to keep the Gods happy.
I think you might find this entertaining, this is an excerpt from my Benin Travel guide related to these villages: Entitled Kinky Wedding Nights: " When a Somaba man marries he must visit the family of his bride-to-be and dance in front of them for hours on end, whilst the men of the house whip him over and over again. Any flinching or acknowledgement of pain on the side of the groom and he will lose his bride!"

The last night we watched an amazing thunderstorm come across the town. It was the first sign of rainy season coming and I can't tell you how felt it good to be cooled off by the fresh rain. On the bus ride home we saw tons of children going to and from school in there little uniforms, not only are they adorable to watch, but encouraging to see as its a sign of the importance of education they emphasize in the country compared to other areas of W. Africa that are more underdeveloped. The more I am here in W. Africa, the more I see education really is there key here to rise above the poverty that surrounds every city and every village here.
It was a great trip and I am refreshed to finish my last 2 weeks on the ward with Mercy Ships.


Girls Roadtrip- Our Tales & Trials of Possotome :)

Hop in and fill up the gas tank....we are going on a roadtrip!

( A typical gas station)

Suzanne, Lauren & I are sitting in our chairs about 6am watching the sun come up over Lake Aheme in the small village of Possotome. Its one of 45 tribes around this fresh/salt water mixed lake. Canoes are gently gliding along the shiny, glass water. Fisherman checking their lines to see what the night brought in the baited traps. They teeter around the edges of the lake's circle of sticks, outlining where the lakes "divinity" lives " a spirit hippo" the guide yesterday said, like its common knowledge of course. If one casts his net in there, it is sacred and will upset the God, causing the Chief to have to heavily tax him & put a curse on him. Once a year each of the surrounding villages adds their own sacrifice to the whole to please the God so he will continue to provide fish.

This morning as we sit and sip our coffee we hear canoes first from the loud chanting and then from the sights of large huts they have built into the canoes loaded with as many people as they can possibly fit. It is a "game" they say... that is only done when there is a robber or dignitary in town. The game is played by the adults of the villages in which one man goes into the canoe's hut and is said to cause magic and turn into a snake!! Others are celebrating by dancing around with pillows. Thats about as much as I could understand of this story told to me by a Beninese?

(Canoe going past the lakes Divinity in the 'circle of sticks')

With a little more concentration I can tune into many more sounds around me...roosters crowing for the last of the members to wake up, laughter of staff, palm trees being swept on the ground to clean, birds chirping, water gently lapping as the locals go into bath and check crab traps near shore. It is so peaceful this morning.

Looking back, the past two days have been perfect. None of us speaking French and many charades later, we took a moto, got a taxi, and then foot arrived at our nice hotel. We spent the first afternoon passed out under a palm tree from the busy week. We woke up to drumming and I decided to see where it was coming from. We followed it to the village right next door and found a great delight... 20 some kids in their underwear from 2-6 yrs old dancing like freebirds!, older boys drumming and giving them their beat. Their round bellies and beaming faces COVERED in sand from their sharp, joyful dance movements on the beach. 20 soon turned to 30 kids and we took the beat and turned it into a swirl of "wear the kovos out" (kovos pronounced YoVos- is white person) ha. We played tag, duck duck goose, head shoulders knees and toes, and mass tickling sessions. We ended back in the drumming circle where we started - now time for the younger ladies to show off and perfect their dance moves. Every once in a while they took my hand and led me in the middle of the circle to try to imitate. Complicated feet patterns puzzled me and after several minutes of goofy attempts I sat back to watch in wonder again.

We sat that night, us three girls, with the full moon rising over the lake, a glass of wine, african food, and good conversation until our candle burnt to the bottom and mosquitos came buzzing.

Friday we wondered around the village road passing some children practicing their special dance for their Easter service. (Videos on Facebook) Their moms sat underneath the tree practicing for the church choir.

(This goat was tied to a sleigh of rocks underneath the tree where they were practicing. He is literally the "lawnmower" for the church courtyard. He does a darn good job eating the leaves that fall off the tree above as soon as they touch the ground. The poor goat hobbles over to it, and not a scrap is left!)

We were found by a eager teenager entrepenuer who is working with the French to start ECO-BENIN tourist excursions. We glady decided to be the guinea pigs as they were offering exactly what we were looking to try....catch some fish.

The next Usher himself- Our tour guide

We head out on Piroques (boats) to the middle of the lake. Instead of paddles we are pushed by long palm tree sticks that hit the shallow lake's bottom. HARD WORK! Each of us gets our turn learning how to properly wrap the long net in our hands before casting...1....2.....3....and we give it our best arm. Waiting several minutes for the weights to sink to the bottom and the fish hopefully entering, we are cheered on by the sweet old African men in the boats as though we were pros. They offer to cook us a meal with whatever we catch.

(Whadd think Pops?! :) Thats my throw- thank goodnes for softball throwing sessions in the backyard!)

Unfortunately we all strike out, but the Africans don't! Suzanne and I jumped in the water with them to cool off and they are even catching shrimp, crab and fish WITH THEIR HANDS! and dumping them in the boat for our lunch.

After an amazing meal we took a tour of their Hotel they are building in hopes of helping them along and promoting it to our lot of shipmates back in Contonou and increase business. Its exciting and hopeful to see the progress being made in the country to generate income, even in a little village.

As we checked out of our Hotel Monday morning, my friend realized sometime in the past day around $60 was stolen out of her purse, leaving our ability to pay our bill extremely short. We knew this was not good..... in Africa there are no credit cards, ATMs, etc, We explained our story to the owners, prayed, and told them we were women of our word...we would be back with the money somehow. God is good, and the day before on the boatride we had met 2 French men working with the NGO - ECO BENIN. We took a chance to visit them to see if we could borrow the money from them and pay them back when they came to our city next week to fly out. Not only would it have been extremely difficult for us to get back to the village again, but we knew it caused the hotel managers much stress as they simply can't take the chance on absorbing the cost like in the US worst case scenario. The 2 wonderful French men happily consented to lending us the money and every one cheered when we arrived back at the hotel. God provided and we were SO thankful. We had a great trip.
.... Other adventures are better left untold for awhile mom! ha. We are back safe and sound :)


WaRd PaTieNTs

Clubfeet, Rickets, Lipomas, Goiters & Hernias.... Oh mY! These are some of my patients during the first 1/2 of my time here:

Facial Tumors, Cleft Palate, & Cleft Lips.... This is the world of Max-Fax a.k.a. Ward D. This is my newest area of patient care. This is less pain control, and more airway control! I really enjoy this area, as I did my last time on the ship. Its alot of wound care which I love, and you get to know the patients as they are on the ward much longer the patients shown above.

My Sweetheart

Soon to come is Plastic Patients which we screened for this past Monday afternoon!!! ...... This includes burn & injury contracture releases, keloids and some pretty crazy stories of how it all came about!

The Tasks at Hand...

Many of our little ones that have been coming in are undergoing some pretty big operations. Many of my patients during my first few weeks on the ward have been clubfeet repair or femoral/tibial osteotomies to help their feet grow from bend... to straight again. This includes breaking, shaving, adding hardware and/or bending bones!!! Not the most fun as you can see from one of my little girls below. Pain control is a big issue and a daily battle, especially for the first 3 days. Ward A is hustling and bustling daily with many nursing tasks to keep these ones healing and comfortable.

Being one of a few pediatric nurses in our 4 wards, my patient assignments include getting the majority of the "trouble-makers" ( I would be too if scary white man broke my bones and made me not able to move and play in a big, scary cast!), so that the easier kids can go to those nurses who have never worked with the children patient poplations before.
Not only have these kids not seen many white people before, but many have never been in a hospital setting before, thats scary even for a mature adult!

Naturally I like a challenge, but I must be honest, these first few weeks have been very challenging at times. There are many hurdles to overcome here that I don't normally face in my job back home, a big one being trying to communicate things to the children and mothers through a translator. "Lost in Translation"....ha..... i've had some real doosies! Feeling run down by my crappy immune system lately, and a whole lot of crying and screaming children... i was feeling pretty down and really worn out.

I hit a wall last week and really started praying that God would restore my joy for working on the ward again. Thats when I really felt like he layed on my heart, Steph "SEE THE PEOPLE, NOT THE TASKS!" I am anal in my natural nursing nature and thrive on being one step ahead of the whatever may come next. With many other nursing hurdles that I won't go into, my BEST effort, sometimes is not enough or can't produce what I would like it to or get it done in time on my shift. I've had to learn when to let go of certain things so that I can really spend quality time with my patients as well, and find that needed time to laugh, rock, play, draw, blow bubbles and play games with them.

I think we all feel frustrations like this sometimes in our jobs. Even when we put everything we got into it, it doesn't seem enough. But I encourage you as well, to take the time out in our daily lives to not get so caught up in our duties, that we don't focus on the little souls right in front of us that need a little TLC. When our souls are content and cared for, many times the other little details work themselves out.