Preamble

We are a family of three; Andrew, Jodie and Jessica (aged 17) from Tasmania, Australia who are currently serving in Cotonou, Benin West Africa on the M/V Africa Mercy, the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world, through Mercy Ships International. God has called us on a journey that has been many years in the making. For this season we call West Africa home as we seek to bring hope and healing to the poorest of the poor.



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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Double, Double, Double.....

I knew as soon as I met her that we would be friends. I noticed her warm smile first but almost as quickly I noticed her protruding belly. Meet Grace, the very special women who has woven her way into my heart. It is so easy to form a unique bond with our day workers as we stand alongside them performing our duties, our cultures bashing and crashing together to meet somewhere in the middle, where deep friendships are forged and mutual respect develops.
 
It has been a privilege to journey alongside Grace, one of the dental day workers, and watch her belly swell with the infant inside her, finally giving birth to a beautiful baby girl and this Sunday, being present at baby Rosemary Francoise's dedication.
 
But rewind several months! Grace came on board the ship where the dental girls threw her a surprise baby shower. What started off a your typical charade playing, gift unwrapping baby shower of the west quickly dissolved into an Africa shower of blessing. Grace, overwhelmed with her gifts, began to sing a traditional West African song about your blessings being twofold, lifting her head to her heavenly Father....... "Double, double, double...". Quickly she was joined by the other dental day workers and they stood and danced with joy. If only we could all be this free to thank God for his blessings!


Grace looking very shocked as she enters the room!

Trying to explain charades to the West African ladies was almost as much fun as playing it!

Grace opens her numerous gifts until she became so overwhelmed that we had to help her out.

The room erupts into spontaneous dancing and singing.
 
You can't wipe the smile off Grace's face as she cuts her cake.

I have never been to a baby dedication in West Africa but it has some similarities to home apart from the fact that the pastor's wife holds the baby. Grace sat with her husband John and their other daughter, Sharon. They got a chair because nothing is ever short in West Africa!!! Many prayers were uttered, giving thanks for the precious life of Rosemary in a mish mash of English and French. Suddenly members of the congregation rushed forward and started throwing money at Rosemary. Very quickly an offering box was placed before her and we began what could loosely be described as a conga line past the offering box. After being introduced to Rosemary's namesakes and many photos later, Grace and John gave thanks to God for the life of their new daughter proclaiming her as a very special gift from God.

Presenting Rosemary Francoise who slept peacefully throughout the whole dedication.

Rosemary, meet Rosemary!!! Baby Rosemary with her namesake, head dental sterilizer Roses (Rosemary) Wall.

Grace was overjoyed that so many of the crew were able to help celebrate the dedication of Rosemary.

Grace and I......."Hey Grace, the camera is over here!" Love you lots xo

My turn to hold this sweet sleeping bundle.

Beautiful Grace in her amazing dress. Grace, the blessing of meeting and knowing you is "double, double, double...."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Yaya

A red blur comes tearing down the hall of the hospital of the Africa Mercy. "Jodie, Jodie", I hear his voice call out to me. His face is mischievous, his smile wide, almost engulfing his other features. I say,"Are you ready?" He knows what that means. Eagerly he races his red bike back to his bed and I follow along behind, hurrying to keep up. I left him gently onto his bed and get his "sac" for him ready for his English lesson. Yaya is like a sponge, soaking in each and every word I teach him.

My eyes well up and my heart swells when nurse Laura tells that after his surgery, Yaya says, "Thank you" to the staff in the PACU. I nearly burst with pride when I saw Yaya recently in the rehab tent and I had a wonderful conversation with him in English, without the aid of a translator. You can't help but fall in love with this kid!

Get to know Yaya and his story, as written by Africa Mercy writer Joanne Thibault and edited by Nancy Predaina.

                      Yaya Relies on a Grandmother's Love

Rather than joyous celebration, the reaction to Yaya’s birth was broken family ties. Yaya’s mother, Salematou, and his father, Abdulaye, were not married when their son was born. The tradition that Salematou’s father lived by did not make room for a child born out of wedlock. Despite Salematou’s pleading with her father to allow her to keep her child, his decision was final. As soon as Yaya could leave his mother’s breast, he was sent to live with Kadiatou, his grandmother on his father’s side.

Living with his grandmother turned out to be a wonderful blessing for Yaya. Kadiatou personifies the bottomless heart and limitless space that African grandmothers offer their children and their children’s children. She assumes whatever responsibility comes her way, no matter the burden. Kadiatou explains, “There are many mouths that I feed in my family. In addition to Yaya, five of my children and their nine children need my support too. Everyone shares in the work of the household, but earning income in Conakry is very difficult. My husband now, Mamadouba, is very old. He gives what money he can, but he has family to support too.”

Yaya stole his grandmother’s heart from day one. His ready smile and eagerness to be close to her formed a thick bond. When tragedy struck Yaya, Kadiatou was distraught. “Yaya started walking when he was one year old, but after taking a few steps he would fall. We tried many traditional medicines, but his condition grew worse. At eighteen months, his legs started to twist and curl up. They failed him entirely.”

Yaya’s uncle, also named Yaya, remembers this as a time of many trials for his mother.  “Kadiatou was so afraid for Yaya. He often had a high fever, and his legs would cramp up terribly. He would cry for hours from the pain. Kadiatou tried everything to soothe him. She held him for hours. Then my father and sister died very close together. My mother’s heart was broken into so many pieces.”
Kadiatou, who had taken in her daughter’s five children, decided that moving the family to Conakry, the capital of Guinea, was best for Yaya. “I hoped that the medical care Yaya needed was in a big city. As well, I knew that Conakry had schools for handicapped children that Yaya could attend.” Another important reason for the move was that Kadiatou was protecting Yaya from the villagers who thought that children with disabilities were cursed. She would not stand for her grandson being tormented, ridiculed, or forced into hiding.

When Yaya reached five years of age, he started attending the school for handicapped children. “I was so happy for Yaya. He started to learn his letters and bring home things he made,” Kadiatou says. Although there were no school fees and transportation was provided, Kadiatou still had expenses to cover, like school supplies. She made ends meet by going to the Grand Mosque daily and helping with cleaning and cooking. After a full year of being a volunteer, she was finally included in the group that received a weekly stipend, plus donations of money and food from appreciative people attending the Mosque.

Yaya often joined Kadiatou at the Mosque after school, and he soon became a favorite with everyone. In the Muslim faith, people are eager to help the needy as a way of observing sadaqah, the duty to overcome miserliness. Many Muslims wanted Yaya to join the group of handicapped people who begged, so that people could give to him. Kadiatou was against Yaya’s doing this, regardless of the enormous struggle she had to support the family. “I faced so much pressure to allow Yaya, in such obvious need, to help people fulfil their duty to sadaqah. I finally relented,” she explains.
Kadiatou continued to be distressed with Yaya’s participating in sadaqah. She prayed that Yaya would get his education and find an occupation where he could use his sharp mind and very able hands. Kadiatou had many doubts about her prayer being answered, but she remained faithful, clutching that thin bit of hope to her heart.

Yaya himself dared not hope. But then an incredible set of circumstances unfolded around him. Nick Veltjens, who worked with orthopaedic patients, saw Yaya at the patient screening location the day before consultations began. “I waited all screening day for Yaya to come because I thought we could help him. We didn’t see him that day, so I sent an email around asking if anyone knew where he was.”

According to Yaya, “I did go to the screening with my friend, but I lost my courage.” Yaya left without being examined.

The next day, Dan Bergman, a long-term hospital volunteer, came to Nick with a video of a possible orthopaedic patient that he had just seen outside the Mercy Ships Dental Clinic. According to Nick, “What a coincidence that Dan found the same little guy that I was looking for!”
For Dan, this series of events said loud and clear that, “God wanted Yaya to find Mercy Ships. He kept putting him in front of us!” Dan tracked Yaya down at the Mosque and delivered the news that he had an appointment at the hospital ship.

But Yaya missed his appointment. As he says, “I did not believe I could be healed, and so I did not want to tell my grandmother to bring me. She would be too disappointed.” But another divine coincidence occurred that finally put Yaya and Mercy Ships together. A government official, Cellou, who had befriended Yaya at the Mosque, was at the Mercy Ships Dental Clinic that same week. He casually asked what a young boy with deformed legs needed to do to get an appointment. It was quickly realised that the boy in question was Yaya and that he just needed someone to bring him to his appointment.

Cellou immediately went to Yaya’s grandmother with the news about Yaya’s appointment. They agreed that Cellou would go to the hospital ship with the boy. When Kadiatou received the telephone call from Cellou telling her that Yaya was accepted for surgery, she experienced a mixture of emotions. “I was so grateful that Yaya could be helped. It was all that I had prayed for. But I was also very uncertain and afraid. I wondered how it would be possible to fix Yaya’s legs and what he would go through.”

Dr. Frank Haydon, volunteer orthopaedic surgeon, was able to fix Yaya’s legs. According to Dr. Frank, “The condition that Yaya was born with caused his bones to be very brittle. As he started to walk, the pressure on the bones caused multiple fractures. The surgery he had aligned his leg bones properly, and the two rods I installed will give his legs the needed strength and structure so he can walk.” 

Each day Yaya does grow stronger. He is starting to take his own steps with the help of a walker, and he has progressed to simple below-the-knee leg casts. But at the same time, each day wears on Kadiatou. She shows the strain of being away from family and being indebted to more and more neighbours. She has borrowed money from them for food and malaria medication. However, regardless of the hardship, Kadiatou’s commitment to see Yaya through his healing journey is unwavering. “I would endure anything so Yaya can do what he longs to do more than anything else – play football. By suffering for Yaya and my family now, I know that there will be great happiness in the future,” she says.

According to his uncle, Yaya’s journey to hope and healing is summed up in a few words: “Yaya is so loved by everyone on Mercy Ships.” And, still, even with so many kind hearts embracing Yaya, there is one who continues to occupy the most special place in his heart. As clear as a bell, Yaya declares, “I love my Grandmother so much! She has done everything for me.”

After three months on board the Africa Mercy, Yaya and his grandmother relocated to the Hope Centre where they remained for several more months, returning to the ship often for Yaya's rehab appointments. Now the little boy with the big grin can finally do what he has longed to, play football! After winning hearts on the ship with his kind nature and cheeky attitude, Yaya has finally returned home!
 
See Yaya's journey in the photos below............


Yaya and his crooked legs; with his orthopaedic surgeon, Frank.


Yaya and I hang out on deck 7 before his surgery.

Yaya and his grandmother meet the President of Guinea Alpha Conde on his impromptu visit to the ship last year.

I love this photo. Yaya and my other ortho English student, Aisha became firm friends and were involved in each others cast changes. Above Aisha had her old casts removed and replaced with new ones, with the "assistance" of Yaya. Initially,after Yaya's surgery he was unable to bear weight on his legs so he rode around in a wheelchair or this red wagon.

Yaya in his first set of casts after surgery number one. He finally stands!!

And there is that wonderful smile! Grandma Kadiatou looks on with amusement as Yaya plays his favourite game, Ludo.

 A momentous occasion-Yaya's first casts are being removed and he is about to see his legs straight for the first time

Yaya's look of wonder captures this moment so well.

Yaya worked so diligently at his English. Above he is practising his words. He is in love with Dr.Seuss!

Yaya and his friend, ortho patient George practice their rehab together.

Look I can stand on my own two feet!! No crutches for me!

I am done with casts too!

Yaya wearing his new leg braces that will continue to support his straightened limbs for months to come. Above a nurse helps him with his walking on deck 7.

Yaya zooms around on the famous red bike.

Grandmother Kadiatou was beside Yaya every step of the way, sleeping under his hospital bed and keeping him company during the day.

Yaya became pretty comfortable during his stay on the wards. The patients are free to wander the halls of the hospital, other wards and surrounding offices, a far cry from hospitals in the West. Many of the kids spend time in the hospital admin office above, where Yaya answers the phone.

Despite the dire circumstances of his life, Yaya was full of joy and the hospital staff and crew delighted in him.

The famous red bike makes a last appearance as Yaya chases crew members down the halls of the hospital just before he is discharged.

Time to say goodbye. This is a time of great emotion-the joy of healing clashing with the pain of loss. Ward Admin. Assist. Catharine carries Yaya down the gangway.

One last goodbye hug! Me and my buddy Yaya.

Yaya in the patient transfer land rover with his gift bag that I filled with things for him, including a huge photo memoir of his journey with us. Yaya would have to be one of the most photographed patients ever!!

Yaya at the Hope Centre. His cheekiness didn't stop at the wards!

The face says it all!

Yaya walks along the dock during a rehab appointment. Legs straight and body upright, he stands proud and tall!

What a long way Yaya has come!! From the hesitant little boy, with the crooked legs, who doubted he could ever receive healing, to a confident, happy-go-lucky little man with straight legs, who can bounce and kick a ball!

Yaya, you have touched so many lives with your effervescence and we pray that your healing continues and that you become all that God has designed you to be! It was no coincidence that God brought you to the big white ship. He had it planned for you all along. It was destiny!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Other Side

As I enter D Ward, late one evening, patient Aboubacar's mama calls out to me and waves, her smile bright. But I signal to the ICU beds and say, "My husband is sick". Her broken English allows her to understand and her smile quickly vanishes. She shoos me away, understanding that I need to go. She knows.
 
For at least one night Andrew and I got to experience the life of a patient and caregiver on board the Africa Mercy after a very nasty bout of gastro left Andrew dehydrated and doctors unable to control his vomiting and diarrhoea without stronger medication administered through an IV. Luckily after several bags of fluids and a few days off work her was feeling much better, unlike many of our patients who endure weeks, even months in the wards often followed by visits to rehab and outpatients.
 
 

 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Roome Island


There are no shopping malls, coffee shops, movie theatres or Maccas in west Africa so sometimes we need to get a little creative and adventurous with our leisure time. Many West African nations are blessed with stunning, postcard beaches. Unfortunately the beautiful beaches in Guinea are not located anywhere near the ship, which is berthed at the tip of a boot shaped peninsula. So in order to get to the nearby islands we have to take a canoe with a spluttering outboard motor attached that (mostly) works. After about an hour and a lot of water bailing we arrive at Roome Island.

Above one of the canoes leaves the dock under the shadow of the bow of the Africa Mercy.

Jess and her friend Deborah. Jess wasn't too fond of the rickety boat ride and was rather glad to reach terra firma again.

Me, I liked it.

Approaching another nearby island, which we rounded to get to our final destination.

Some local kids and ex-pats enjoy a ride on their quad bike. No rules on the beaches here!

Jess and Deborah digging to China.

The kids had great fun building a hermit crab pool. I don't know if the hermit crabs had fun.

What does one do at a beach all day in West Africa??? Why shopping, of course! You don't even have to get off your butt, the shopping comes right to you! Fabric you say? Jewellery? Wooden statues? What about a nice cold drink or some fries? No problem!!

 

 

How to balance your coke in the sand....

If you get bored of shopping, swimming and sunbathing, there is always plenty of fascinating people watching to be had. Above a local man is fishing, a major form of livelihood in West Africa. 

Getting out of the canoe at the dock was a bit more challenging that getting into it. Jess climbs the ladder up the side of our dock space after we all step off the canoe onto a tug boat parked alongside.

Can't say it's your typical trip to the beach but it is one for the memories! Going to a beach anywhere else will pale in comparison! I think the conversation will go something like this......."Remember that time we went to an island in a canoe in Guinea......?"