Before I forget, there are now photos in the photo gallery.
Mercy Ships advise us to include a disclaimer in our diaries, so here it is:
I serve with Mercy Ships. Everything here, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted.Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships.
Charcoal burning... the aroma of which will always remind me of our trip to Bong mines. The deeper we got into the countryside, the stronger the odour seemed. Now I knew the answer to why so many Liberians transport around bags full of leaves - palm leaves, I was told. People cut the leaves, pack tham tightly in sacking, than either carry 1 on their head or transport them in lorries with alot of the load hanging over the sides. There are usually a few men hanging over the sides too. The Liberians use old rubber trees, or other trees, and burn them to produce charcoal, slowing the burning by covering the fire with the leaves. They than have a product to sell. We saw new rubber plantations on our ride.
Bong mines was a huge operation (see previous diary), and has lain idle since the war. Apparently several countries, including China, are interested in buying it. The area we travelled through to it was wet, near most streams we crossed there were huge (5 foot diameter) concrete pipes, probably ready to divert the stream prior to road building. Around alot of the streams were gathered both adults and children washing themselves and their clothes. It felt almost intrusive to be there, though the Africans don't seem to mind. It reminded me of one of the wards, which was obviously short of beds. A mother of a one year - old baby, still nursing him, was having an operation. The baby stays with her on the ward, sleeping in her bed. The ward comprises mainly men but with 2 ladies; this Mum thought nothing of feeding the baby in front of the men, and they took no notice too. Can you imagine that in Britain!
The eye surgeons arrived this week - 2 of them, plus Lord Ian McColl, who is a general surgeon (retired), he does some eye operations. I watched him perform a pterygium operation (non-cancerous growth which spreads over the front of the eye. It was very impressive watching him perfect it by using a 'rollerball' type instrument, complete with 'sandpaper' to smooth off the area. Both his wife and the wife of one of the other surgeons have been in working clothes, escorting patients to and from Theatre. Dr Ian's wife was also a Surgeon. About 30 operations are carried out every day, apart from Fridays presently, when we do about 70 Yag capsulotomies. I keep telling everyone that at home we need a nursing staff of about 45 trained and un-trained nurses to carry out a similar workload!
There was another female patient with an eye ruined by a punch, this lady was trying to save a child from being whipped - she was successful, but unfortunately her eye has had to be removed.
In the clinics we are still seeing patients and continuing to give out the 5500 glasses that we've had donated. Word soon gets around about these glasses!
Am updating this on 19th October.
At Clinics we are now running out of the weaker strength reading glasses, these are the ones we generally use. Though we have alot of dark glasses left, people are becoming fussy about the type of glasses they take, not liking the larger ones! So we may soon see shorter queues when we arrive in the mornings; alot of people have nothing physically wrong with their eyes apart from the need to wear specs for reading as they age. There is alot of eye hygiene advice to tell patients, our voices are nearly hoarse by the end of the day! We are still seeing patients with eye conditions of all kinds though. As I said, the queues are lenghtening - one day last week we saw 167 patients. Also last week a new eye team member joined us, an Australian Orthoptist; he's a very welcome member to the team. This week the 16 year-old daughter of a new maxillo-facial surgeon from England is joining us on the eye team; I think she'll be a good person to transmit the eye-health education, to save our voices!
I don't know if I'll have time to visit the prison before I leave next week; I've written to the lady named Blessing who we have been trying to release for over a year. We've told her that money hasn't worked and she needs to put her trust in God for her release. Amazing things continue to happen there, such as an old lady on a lifetime-murder charge being released.
It is so easy to become imprisoned in Liberia, apart from the fact that anyone with money can ask a corrupt Police member to imprison you just for the fact of disliking you. We heard of one case where the father of a family of 4 children took out a Bank loan to fund the childrens' educations, (no education is free here), at the same time setting his wife up in business with a vegetable stall to pay the interest. She became ill and needed hospitalisation. This immediately burdened them with the extra expense of hospital fees, and they became unable to make payments on their loan. Someone needed to go to prison until they had caught up. As the wife was the one with the least earning potential she agreed to go to prison. This is how they address such problems here; in such cases it is just a fact of life that someone in the family must go to prison, and the family decide between them who it will be.
We are so fortunate, although we often don't realise it! Count your blessings!
I felt very priveleged yesterday to be on board as Mercy Ships celebrates its' 30 year anniversary. Practically everyone joined the children (there are 48 aboard, including a 2 week-old baby) in games on the dockside and on the ship. That took most of the afternoon; after that we had a barbecue on the dockside as the sun set, and afterwards there was a thanks-giving service for the 30 years.
Talking about thanksgiving - one day last week it was Canadian Thanksgiving, and I had my first taste of pumpkin pie - delicious!
There's a dark side to alot of things, and when I went to an Orphanage recently one of the children brought up a rumour about Mercy Ships that has been going around. The children had been acting out the story about David and Goliath, seeming to enjoy it immensly, when the lady who had taught them started to ask about their fears, in relation to David appearing to have none about facing the giant. They all came up with something - rats, snakes etc. One child then said he was afraid of having a kidney taken out. I hadn't heard this rumour, that Mercy Ships people remove peoples' kidneys to send to America for transplant on people there. The teacher obvoiusly had, because she was able to put them at their ease. Thank Goodness! Also there is a rumour that, if you're a patient on the ship, when you come out all your family will have gone. I'm glad that these rumours come out to be dealt with. Our fears always centre on things that are precious to us and the person/persons who started these rumours knew where to hit. I just pray that not even one person will be prevented from having treatment by these, or any other rumours.
Life in Liberia is still pretty grim; apparently human sacrifice still takes place here sometimes. I hope that is just a rumour.
Recently I was fortunate enough to be able to watch Gary Parker (here on Mercy Ships over 20 years!) performing an operation to remove a huge cyst from the front of a man's shoulder. It was very delicate as he had to avoid with his scalpel, as well as blood vessels any nerves to his arm. The cyst came out intact and Gary was able to prove that the hand worked perfectly by stimulating the nerve!
The 'baby' on the ward still being fed by his in-patient mother rules the roost on that ward! There are several children running around, they used to spill out into the corridor till the nurses pleaded with everyone to shut the doors. Today I was there; Mum was calling him for his feed, which he didn't want to obey. One of the male patients was laughing that you don't normally call a breast-fed baby to come for its' feed! The baby's name is Larry; he always has a most determined look on his face, and wants whatever the other children are playing with. He's only one! At the ward service on a Sunday morning (an albino man palyed the drums this morning) we ladies normally have a small child to care for while Mum dances!
A very fond memory I'll keep from my time here is when a few of us have been on the ward singing and playing games with the patients. Many of them come from a long way, spend a month or so here and often have no visitors. A real camaradrie builds up between them, and between them and us too. Anyone who can play a guitar is very welcome, and also anyone who can sing, whether in tune or not! Spontaneous songs often burst out when the patients sit in the evening in the stairwell. They don't sit there to smoke either! We see very few people smoking in Liberia. The patients love any small present, such as paper and pencil, and last week the children enjoyed making things out of coloured pipe cleaners.
We continue to be well-catered for with lovely food, and no washing up! Phone calls are cheap for us; they're subsidised by Pinplan; I've phoned people in the UK about 3 times each week and it's only cost me about £5 so far!
One Saturday recently the whole shipload of us were treated to film shows made by various teams of workers on the ship, including engineers, children and the housekeeping team who presented 'dustbusters' - a spoof on ghostbusters. It was judged and awards were presented in a similar fashion to TV and film awards would be. It was an extremely enjoyable evening; often after these types of evenings we have ice cream in Starbucks cafe and wind down amongst friends.
I think this may well be the last diary I write here, as it's one week today till I leave. Can't belive it's gone so fast; I've learned an awful lot from being in the field team, and in other ways too. So, God willing, I'll be seeing you soon!
Au revoir (people here are learning French in readiness for Benin next outreach, February '09)