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