Sunday, 14 September 2008

Winter slump

Winter slump….

Queen of procrastination… that’s me! I’m back in the Liberia winter slump when it rains most days and I faff around all day and don’t end up accomplishing too much!  I manage to somehow let each weekend slip by and before I know it, 3 months has gone by without writing as much as a teeny snippet! Sorry for that… I still love you!

Totally blessed…

I had a great birthday on board back in June, full of lots of love and reminders of amazing people in my life. It was raining (of course) so after cake, a few of us jumped around in the puddles outside and made rain angels! It was great fun! I also had a sneaky visit home for 2 weeks in July to fit in a few cuddles with the little people in my life and to wish Mum and Dad a Happy 40th wedding Anniversary. It was too short but great to have a bit of time out. So to all of you who I continue to miss so much, I am soooo looking forward to coming home in October for 3 months. I already have a few adventures planned to catch up with friends I haven’t seen in far too long and look forward to making more! Then I’ll re-join the ship in Tenerife in mid January, before sailing to Benin where we’ll be for 2009. Benin is French speaking and home of Voodoo so I’m looking forward to new challenges ahead…


 I’m in a constant whirl of saying goodbye to precious friends in this place. It was doing my head in a few weeks ago, and still does if I’m honest. It’s incredibly draining living in a world where your friends come and go so quickly. I’m happy here for a time longer but for the first time in a while, I realised that living here is taking its toll and I look forward to a time of more stability with relationships at some point. It’s pretty painful with weekly goodbyes… one of our first questions when we meet someone is, ‘.. and how long will you be staying?’ if the answer is any less than a couple of months then the conversation tends to dwindle! It’s too draining to get involved in relationships that are so short. It’s bringing me to a place where I feel God wants me to totally surrender everything I have… and that hurts. Yet I know deep in my heart that if I give up my ‘right’ to have stable, cosy friendships, God will surely reveal even more of His goodness to me. If I don’t, it’s like I’m holding something back. But it’s a journey and I‘ve certainly not made it to a place of total surrender just yet…

Pure joy…

That’s what I felt last week as I drove out to a newly built orphanage. The orphanage I have been visiting for the last year and bit has been struggling to find the cash to pay for their rent for a while now. That’s why a couple of friends of mine were inspired and called to do something pretty amazing. They gave up living on this cosy ship and decided to go to the extreme – to build the orphanage a place of heir own. It’s been great watching the buildings go up and to imagine it full of squealing children! So last week we packed the land rovers full of excitable children, together with all their belongings and set on our way. As we approached their new home (it’s about 45 minutes drive away) they were singing, ‘Hellooooooo, we are coming…. Hellooooooo, we are coming’ and it got louder and louder… and more and more joyful the nearer we got until it was ringing in my ears and I honestly thought my ear drums might burst!! The days I go to the Orphanage to play, have my hair braided, body clamboured over and come back home feeling sticky with sweat are always my more fulfilling Saturdays!

It’s also been a joyful time on the ward these last few weeks too. We’ve been operating on ladies with VVF (problems sustained during prolonged labour due to the lack of medical help available and the baby usually ends up dying and the mother is left incontinent). Often when we do this kind of surgery it can be a heavy time emotionally because surgery is not always able to offer total healing and the ladies can go home feeling very disappointed. However, this time most of our ladies have gone home ‘dry’ and healed and the atmosphere has been full of lots of joy… I’m so thankful to God and thank you for your prayers for them.


So, I‘m just looking out of my window and can see this guy hanging off the jetty opposite with barely any part of any limb attached to keep him from falling and he’s sawing off a piece of metal that he’ll presumably be selling for cash sometime later this afternoon. Talk about desperate. I thought I’d seen desperate, but this is another sight that forces me to look at myself in my cosy cabin with my lap top on my knees… something’s not right. What is it that seems so ok to live a life that is half hearted in terms of being radical, meanwhile someone a few metres away is struggling to even feed his belly for the day? I’m convinced God has called us to live radical lives that are sold out for Him but somehow compromise seeps in so easily. I’m preaching to myself by the way… Live simply so others may simply live… it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and know I’m going to be challenged with once again during my trip home.

Well, I think that’s all for now, enjoy the new pictures too… see you very soon. Bucket loads of love, KWW

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Chocolate City

So where did you spend your Friday? Chocolate City and Chicken Soup Factory, that’s where I spent mine. I was checking out some accommodation for some of our patients who come from far away and need a few nights stop over before admission/after discharge to the ward and there’s a couple of women’s centres in these neighbourhoods that we thought might help us out. Chocolate City because when the rain comes the mud looks like chocolate of course and Chicken Soup Factory because there used to be a Chicken Soup Factory there. Nowt wrong with that, hey!

I tell you what, I’m really happy right now! There haven’t been any crazy antics here for a while and everything is settling into a nice steady pace. I’m thankful for great team mates who make it all work and for sunny Saturdays and cosy lie ins! This morning I dozed until 10am, then went up to our swimming pool on deck 8 (aka a giant paddling pool) and swam around in circles for half an hour before half dozing on deck. I catch myself at times like this and realise what a bizarre life I am leading.  Swimming around in circles on a very noisy deck surrounded by containers and a couple of cranes, lazing in a dusty plastic chair, looking out at some locals slowly dismantling the remains of a crane on the jetty opposite, so they can sell the scrap for some cash. I have watched them dismantling this for over a year now and I’m wondering how much steel there can be left. It’s a lengthy process which carries on throughout the sun scorched days. I can only imagine the relief of sinking into the cool (but dirty) sea water when there’s eventually enough to lower down and swim with it back to shore. I dragged myself out of the half-doze and went back to my cabin and to find a note with random question no.2347. One of the patients needed some help to book a flight to Senegal. So I made a call and had some semi-understood/semi-confused conversation over the phone in a mixture of French and Liberian English in an attempt to make some arrangements. He can’t fly until next Friday… I think… at least, I hope. My work days are full of half understood conversations and random questions that I have to make up answers to. Sssh, don’t tell anyone! Then back I went to sit in my cabin and check a few emails. It’s so chilly today that I am snuggled under my duvet as I write. This is Africa…. is it? Not really, it’s the crazy in-between world known as Mercy Ships and I love it.

There’s been plenty of beautiful patient stories lately and I’m reminded that the ordinary here is really pretty extraordinary. There’s so many stories that cause the tears to well within my eyes – none of them hit the BBC headlines but they’re certainly more uplifting than most of the headlines I get around to read -  Alimou from Guinea is one of the obvious specials. He’s 22 years old and had an 8 year history of a gigantic tumour growing in his mouth. 22 years minus 8 equals 14. So that’s pretty much all of his adult life that he’s had this tumour growing. The stench of the fungating wound that arrived with him was beyond imagination. Sorry if that sounds harsh but it’s true. After a few hours I couldn’t smell it any longer but could instead taste it in the back of my throat. The translators commented on our ability to not react to the smell. It’s interesting the ways in which God speaks and I’m pretty sure that’s one of them. The things that were left unsaid, the showing of love and acceptance despite physical grossness – something Alimou had not felt or received in years – spoke much more loudly than any words ever could. Anyhow, he had his 3kg tumour removed from his mouth and is now smiling from ear to ear on the ward. How our surgeons, Dr Gary Parker and Dr Mark Shrime, put their incredible skills into action every day, I’ll never know. They are beautiful artists at work and I love looking at the results of their work as they look on in complete humility like they didn’t even do anything that special. Pretty cool.

So there’s a little snippet of life from me. We’re revving up for another full on rainy season. The skies are already lit up at night with fantastic lightening shows and the rain is slowly getting heavier and more frequent. I’m preparing to be confined for the next few months, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel… I’m so excited as I begin making plans for a 3 month break from mid October to mid January. Having been away for almost 3 years, I am longing to have more than, ‘fine, fine’ conversations and spend some proper time with friends. I am hoping to catch some snow so that’ll involve a holiday I hope…. really can’t wait to switch off and do ‘normal’ life for a bit. I’ll be in touch with plans, if you’re around I’d LOVE to see you. I’ll then be coming back for another year (or so - don’t tell my mum). We’ll be spending the next year in Benin, just a few countries further down the coast so I’m looking forward to that.

‘Life is meant to be an adventure. When we cease to reach out and stretch ourselves, something in us dies.’ David Adam

All for now, much love as always, KWW xx

Sunday, 6 April 2008

I am not a machine

I am not a machine…  I make the mistake of trying sometimes but I am glad to say that I am not.

Working in the position as Ward Supervisor certainly has potential to more than fill my time and pull me in all sorts of directions. It’s a tricky weavery of self inflicted fluid boundaries that unsurprisingly fail to serve their purpose. Solid boundaries seem hard to come by in people pleasers like me. Living and working within 100 footsteps of each other is always going to be a challenge and it’s over the last few weeks that I have been forced to look more at why I am here. It’s a relentless battle where demand constantly exceeds supply and if you’re not careful, weariness ensues.

Since we arrived back in Monrovia, we’ve had over 20 new nurses arrive to join our existing team of 20 something nurses who have been with us on the ward during the last year. It’s always a challenge as people come from so many different countries as we all settle in and find out that our way isn’t necessarily the only way. We’ve also had our huge screening back in February where a few hundred people hoping for an appointment for surgery gathered at the national stadium. At the moment we’re doing maxilla-facial, orthopaedic, general, gynae and eye surgery and despite it being the 4th year running that the ship is here, the surgery schedule is almost full for the next 10 months. The need is just so great and the depth of poverty here still hasn’t quite sunk in. Screening is exhausting, both physically and emotionally. There’s lots of people we can’t help so that’s always hard. It’s also an exciting day as you see people whose lives are just about to radically change. I love it, love it, love it! Just look at this little one….

Work, work, work. People, people, people. It’s constant and I am noticing the knock on effect is that I am not always that good at being ‘in the moment’. I know it means I’m missing out on some of the joy, wonder and awe that it is to do life with some beautiful people  - colleagues, friends and patients - from all over the world. I don’t want to miss a thing. I want to be fully present. So, I’m trying to take a stand against all this clever trickery. That’s what it is. I’m here for a purpose and clever enemy number one tricks me into a multitude of other ‘good deeds’ that distract me from my sole focus and in the meantime, wears me out. It’s time to stop and take some lessons from the natural rhythms of creation. Seasons are not quite so defined here in Liberia so the example isn’t perfect, but there is still very much a time for creating, growing, producing and a time of resting and re-fuelling.  So it finally dawned on me that taking a day of complete rest is not only a good idea, it’s part of God’s amazing plan to rescue us from being human doings and call us back to be human beings. I’m enjoying taking a day of winter hibernation at the weekend to just be. Some call it being antisocial (!) – I know and feel that there’s more to it than that.

Please pray for our crew as we seek to do what God has called us to do and for protection from weariness when there are things that lay heavy on our hearts that we just can’t take on. There was a 10 year old boy who came to the ship the other day who was in acute heart failure. Treating people for a condition like this is a possibility for us – but comes at a cost of not having space to house the patients we have already offered surgery to. It also opens up the doors for hundreds of patients to turn up the following day with other medical complaints. News travels fast in a country where there are less than 40 doctors to serve a whole nation. We had to turn him away, knowing he was facing almost certain death. We’re a specialised surgical centre and medical treatment is just not something we can do. It’s heavy stuff and takes me back to looking at why we are here and knowing it’s not only ok, but it’s also right to say no sometimes. Fixing every problem we are faced with is tempting, but is also foolish. Sounds harsh doesn’t it? It feels it too but we’re not machines, we can’t do it all. Pray we would all find ways of placing some solid boundaries in all that we do.

All these lessons I’m sharing are good ones… I think/hope I’m learning to become less of a machine. I continue to love being here. I continue to miss you all like crazy. I continue to know I’m in the right place.

Thanks lovely people for your friendship and support. I always love to hear from you… keep the news coming. Love always, KWW

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Too beautiful for words

My head is spinning once again trying to take it all in and write something down that might make sense. Hmmmm… I’m just shaking my head trying to work out how I ended up sitting on a bed in a cabin the size of a postage stamp with 400 others (not in the same cabin) from 30 something different countries, sailing on my way back to Liberia? Was that ever in my plan? I don’t think so!

Yesterday I was treated to another dolphin show extraordinaire as a pod of them came alongside the ship and played for a while, then as a special treat a school of whales came by and as if to show off God’s incredible beauty, I saw 4, yes 4, shooting stars a few moments before I lay my head down to be rocked to sleep. Today I have seen flying fish and am bracing myself as I feel the air getting warmer and the humidity rise. I have missed Africa and can sense we’re getting nearer. It’s just too beautiful for words.

It has been so good to have some downtime these last couple of months. Right up until the last minute of being in Liberia, it was frantic. I thought my head was going to explode and my body was crying out with tiredness! After closing down the ward, just the day before we sailed, we ended up having to evacuate a crew member who had malaria and was getting progressively sicker. She’s doing fine now which is great, but it all added to the craziness of our supposed ‘wind down’. Just after that however, we were treated to a 5 day sail to the Canary Islands so the ship could go into dry dock. I really think it should be integrated into every job in the world! We were still working but the gentle pace of the sail calmed our spirits and renewed our energy. I was filled up to the brim with the sights of vast expanses of twinkling blue sea, dolphins playing, clear night skies pickled with stars and gentle breezes that got cooler the farther north we came. Too beautiful for words.

It was good too to spend time at home and catch up with friends. Though if I am honest, I find it frustrating to pretend to connect with people in such a short time. There’s just too many lovely people and quick hellos and goodbyes don’t really satisfy. I’m hoping in the next year that I’ll be able to take a longer period of time off and quench my longings to spend more time with you and just do life together. I’m finding I’m in two minds when I come home as well. In one sense I am literally repulsed at the utter greed of us who have so much (Christmas may be isn’t the best time to come, I know). I find myself ‘needing’ to buy things that I don’t even really need and as I do so, images of people who have nothing clash in my brain and challenge my own greed. It repulses me. And then there’s a side that really would quite like to have a place of my own and deck it out with nice stuff and have cosy times. It’s not necessarily wrong I know and I have to remind myself that the worlds are just so different you cannot compare. But then there are times when need becomes more like greed and that is where I struggle. Anyway, seeing friends and family was still great. Having cuddles with my niece and nephews, cosy nights in, frosty walks, roast turkey, cox’s apples, chocolate money, mulled wine, Christmas lights, hmmm, too beautiful for words.

After the whirlwind of home it was good to spend 2 weeks with Mum and Dad in Tenerife and for them to meet some of my ship family. That was precious and has probably added to me missing them even more – but it was worth it. My favourite time in Tenerife was meeting Mount Teide. We had lots of nice times together and I even got to climb it! It’s the highest mountain in Spain and at 3718 metres it is by far higher than Ben Nevis (1344m). I am of course not fit so the bit in the guide book that described this walk for the ‘very fit’ as it is ‘highly strenuous’ and the, ‘high potential for altitude sickness’ left me with some slight apprehension as we set on our way. My muscles hardly complained but my lungs and heart wondered what on earth was going on. Walking up and down the dock in Liberia for the last year had somehow not prepared me for such an ascent! But my, oh my, was it beautiful! Stunning scenery, clear blue sky, snow, ice, crisp air, physical exhaustion (there’s something satisfying about that, eh?), friends with a great team spirit, the satisfaction of making it to the top and the joy of walking down and just enjoying the views and not wondering if my heart was going to conk out… it was truly too beautiful for words.

As I look to the year ahead, I feel a mixture of excitement and apprehension. I have never managed a team of 50 nurses and a ward of 70 beds before, nor did I have any intention of ever doing so. It kind of crept up on me. But the lessons I learnt on the mountain, though not new or deeply profound, were precious reminders of how to tackle it.
  1. Take one step at a time – don’t look up too often or you may be daunted!
  2. Surround yourself with good friends to encourage and have fun with
  3. Take plenty of rest at regular intervals
  4. Be prepared – get fit – spiritually, emotionally, physically
  5. And as I came down the mountain, I realised I didn’t even recognise some of the paths and even began to wonder if we were on a different track. Some of them were just so long and steep… did I really climb up this? It was then that God whispered to me that sometimes He has to carry us because sometimes it is just too much on our own. There’s paths He has to protect us from seeing in case we freak out! And there are paths we just don’t have the strength to tackle on our own. God’s amazing grace. I don’t know where I would be without it. Too beautiful for words.

So that’s the story for the last couple of months. It’s been a good one. I’m feeling happy but slightly scared that the pressure of the next year might get the better of me. I know it doesn’t need to and I know I don’t need to be fearful. So if you’re the praying type, would you pray for JOY… I never want to lose the joy and just being kinda silly. I wouldn’t feel like me if I lost that.

As we return to one of the poorest countries in the world ( On the UN Human Development Index – the UK is number 16, Sierra Leone number 177 and Liberia doesn’t even register), I am excited that we can re-connect with friends there and show some love to people who have been through so much and have so little. We have 10 months of surgery ahead of us, meanwhile other teams will be re-building orphanages, building schools and clinics, digging wells, giving some basic health education, working together with local churches and anything else that comes our way! I look forward to sharing some of the excitement and challenges ahead.

For now, I best go. Thanks so much for all you mean to me. Keep in touch… with love and God Bless, KWW