Sunday, 28 December 2014

Mirary Krismasy!

Mirary Krismasy! (Merry Christmas in Malagasy)

I am currently on day 5 of Christmas vacation and let me just say, I am unsure how and why these days have gone by so quickly! Here's the run down of all that has happened this week.

There were no surgeries last week but there were some patients in the ward so some nurses were still working. For the most part though, many people were on vacation. HR was open on Monday and Tuesday but it has been very quiet because there have not been many people coming to the ship lately. In the new year there will be an BIG influx so I am profusely enjoying the calm before the inevitable storm. Unfortunately I didn't get to go to the retirement home last Tuesday. Apparently they were having important visitors so they asked us not to come. That's okay, I signed up to go this week; hopefully it will actually happen. On Tuesday there was some trouble in town due to some difficulties surrounding the consistency of the electricity. As a result, people were protesting, or demonstrating, or doing something; I am not too sure. I can only tell you what I heard because I was on the ship and didn't see anything first hand. However, the Captain informed us that they were calling people, who were out, back to the ship and our shore leave was suspended until further notice. Well, we were allowed to get off the ship the following morning but we had an early curfew on Christmas Eve (7 o'clock). That really messed with my plan to go to evening mass. There was no way I could go to 6 o'clock service and be back in time. That meant plans had to change; it is all part of the experience. Christmas morning started at 4:30am. We put our shoes out again and it was fun to see people roaming the halls during the night, making their deliveries.

After I made my deliveries I went for a run. Yes, I am slightly deranged. However, I certainly wasn't going to do it later on in the day, after I had eaten my weight in carbs. Then I got myself to 7 am mass, which I quite enjoyed; Christmas tunes are universal so even though I wasn't sure what everyone was singing I could sing along in my head. When I got back there was free Starbucks, some pre-brunch snacks, and Trevor getting his fill of hugs:

After that I went down to my cabin and passed an open door along the way. I got to visit with the Silversteins, a wonderful couple that was in my group in Texas. We chatted for a while and then headed up for brunch. The dining room was decorated beautifully for the occasion. I was most intrigued by the napkins! Look how cute:

Then came the part of the day that I was warned about: the afternoon. After brunch is over there is a whole lot of dead time. Time to think about home, family, and potentially wallow in self-pity. Luckily I had a friend who suggested we play Scrabble. That, coupled with doing laundry, kept me nice and busy. By the way, Christmas is the perfect day to do laundry on the ship because either people are not around or they aren't thinking about doing chores on Christmas. There was also an impromptu jam session that kept us entertained.

Then we had leftovers for dinner and got ready for open cabins. Open cabins is a ship tradition where people (typically families and people who live in singles) open their doors and offer treats, a place to relax, and some great company. I really enjoyed seeing how cabins are made into homes and it was a nice chance to sit down with someone you might not typically talk to on a regular day. And with that, Christmas was over!

I hadn't intended to run on Boxing Day but I think my carbo load from the day before gave me a lot of energy, so off I went. It was a GREAT one; I love it when that happens. Then I hung out on Deck 8 and enjoyed the beautiful day; not too hot or humid.

It was also my intention to make the Silversteins oatmeal raisin cookies for Christmas because they quite enjoy them, and I enjoy making them and giving them away. That being said, the crew galley was CRAZY the days leading up to and including Christmas, so there was no way I was going to insert myself into that chaos. Seriously, I would have had to keep my elbows up just to get some personal space; not the way I like to bake, or do anything for that matter. So I postponed baking until the 26th and this is what I found:


Then the weekend came, and I got to recover from Christmas! The timing worked out very well.

Back to work tomorrow but we do have Thursday off, so it is still a short-ish week. I hope everyone has lots of fun ringing in the new year (don't get too crazy)!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

It was one of THOSE weeks...

This week has been fairly uneventful but when you are on a ship, that means lots has still happened. A public statement was made to announce our return to Madagascar for the next field service. That is a great blessing in many ways: we can take advantage of the infrastructure investments that have been made here for the Hope Centre (long term recovery centre) and dental clinic, retaining some of the 200 day crew will be a great help because the hiring/training process will be far more simple, we can really make a great effort to learn Malagasy well and know it will be helpful for another year, and Mercy Ships can make an even stronger impact by having a continued presence here in 2015-2016. All of these things are wonderful but part of me is disappointed. West Africans are still suffering because of Ebola. The teams that are try to help combat Ebola are being seen as the cause. Think about it: people in these crazy looking suits come to get your friend, mom, sister, brother, dad, uncle, and a few days later they bring them back in a coffin. It is hard; hard to understand, hard to manage, and I cannot even begin to imagine how hard to live through. Even though it is not international news anymore, please keep these countries in your thoughts, and prayers.

The ship is a little quieter than usual. Many people have departed the because their service is over, but many more left to go away for Christmas and will be back. People have been asking me if I am going away over the holiday (we have the 24-26 off). My standard response has been "No, I am going to revel in the quietness of the ship". That usually gets a smile and a head nod, because people know how great that can be.

The container that left Texas in June finally got to the ship! It went to Benin first and then had to get re-routed to Madagascar. That means I now have sunscreen! That is great news in and of itself but I also have enough toiletries to last a very long time, my huge Canadian flag, extra sheets, travel mug, and picture frames.

One of the nurses was commissioned to decorate the door of the HR office. She is absolutely amazing, as you can see. We all have our own elves! I'd just like to note that I hold the naughty/nice list; how appropriate.

The upcoming week will provide far more blog worth information that the last. I am going to a seniors home on Tuesday with Mercy Ministries and we have lots of Christmas festivities. Have a wonderful Christmas everyone. I hope that you can find the joy wherever you are, in whatever you are doing!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

What does home look like?

My week in pictures...

A very thoughtful member of the deck department knew that I was missing hockey and gifted me this "puck". Pretty close! This is the result of drilling a hole in a huge tire.

We made a friend. The Peace Boat, Ocean Dream has been keeping us company for the past few days. That means there is another boatload of vazas (foreigners) in town. 

Gingerbread House Contest

Let me tell you, this was not necessarily what I had anticipated it would be when my co-worker asked me if I would help by being a judge. Naturally my response was "I am very judgmental". Armed with that skill set I was perfect for the job! Finally all those years of being a perfectionist were going to come in handy. However, it was to be discovered that whoever signed up to coordinate was responsible for making the pieces to compose the houses. Well, I was also happy to do that as well. So April and I set to work on Saturday making enough walls and rooves for 11 houses. 6 hours, and a few near breakdown later we were done! Today we got to see the fruits of our labour being put to good use!


Transportation to the display table was a challenge for some.

Teams were required to bring their own base; this team used the shape of Madagascar!

Winner for most photogenic

Overall winner! It is a ship... seriously, people are awesome. 

Most likely to be lived in; complete with an outhouse, and well!
This was actually last week but I really wanted to share. I had an extra cupcake and my bunkmate was just getting up to work the nightshift (Bill Cosby says chocolate cake for breakfast is perfectly acceptable). I later found this note on my bed. Yes, people are actually this nice!

I hope everyone has a great week!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

'Twas Three Weeks Before Christmas

The gangway all decorated with garlands and lights!

Christmas is coming!!!

How do I know? Well besides the whole calendar thing, I got cookies in my shoe, Sinterclaas came, and we had a Winter Wonderland! Now for an explanation...

Sinterclaas (St. Nicholas) is a tradition that the Dutchies on the ship carry out. As an aside, I have been informed that Germans also celebrate Sinterclaas. Anyway, you put your shoe (only one) outside your door and Sinterclaas' assistant a.k.a. Black Peter (don't ask, it is a point of contention) delivers treats to your house. Generally kids will also put out a carrot for the horse. Typically there are huge chocolate letters and marzipan involved. There is also a big televised parade that is broadcast throughout the Netherlands (Santa Claus parade anyone?) Thanks to the serious efforts of many dedicated Dutchies on the ship we had little bags of spiced cookies in our shoes in the morning. They were baking ALL day! It was insane and smelled absolutely delicious if you went anywhere near the crew galley. Think 14 pounds of tiny, button sized, hand rolled cookies. Wow! Anyway Sinterclaas arrived to the ship via Tuk Tuk (how nice of him to embrace the Malagasy culture) and gave the children a gift, only after they sang a song, or performed a trick.

Then on Saturday, there was a really awesome craft and food fair that allowed all the crew to enjoy the hard work and talents of our fellow crew members. I went to evening mass and didn't return to the ship until 7:30. At that point there were already vendors that had sold out! It had only started at 7:00!!! Oh man, people really know what they like. There were cookies, cupcakes, chai tea, donuts, smoothies, apple turnovers, jewelry, greeting cards, a photo booth, snow cones, Christmas ornaments, and much more! I thought long and hard about signing up to have a booth and decided against it for a couple of reasons: 1. I already had cupcakes that I had been commissioned to make for that day. 2. I knew the crew galley would be FULL of people preparing treats and I don't work well with others, or in perceived chaos. 3. I really wanted to attend Saturday evening service. 4. My heart wasn't excited about making anything in particular, and without love it just isn't the same. I do intend to make some confections to distribute on Christmas Eve. That way I can make whatever I choose, on my own terms, and there is no pressure to produce anything specific. I am thinking the questionably named "Christmas Crack" because who doesn't like that? I have a ton of graham crackers that I could make it with, instead of saltines. It doesn't require many ingredients (all of which I can procure here), and it is easily packaged/stored. Whoop! Already excited about it.

Then this morning (Sunday) I went down to worship service in the ward. It was great to actually see patients and be able to sing with them and see the joy on their faces as we all thanked God together! No pictures allowed, sorry folks.

Earlier in the week we had a Malagasy cultural evening on the dock. The staff development manager had organized locals to come and set up stands to sell hats, cards, souvenirs, food, and there was even a dance team! We had our dinner set up outside (thank you to the galley and dining room staff, because that was a lot of extra work for them). I absolutely adored seeing everyone outside, eating, laughing, and just enjoying each other's company. Sure, that happens in the dining room all the time, but somehow being outside made it less stressful and intimidating, and far more fun and carefree.

Yup, the lady in the front, centre, is balancing a bottle on her head... while dancing. Skills

Sunday, 30 November 2014

'Tis the Season

Christmas already!? Well the ship got decorated yesterday and there are Christmas trees and garlands everywhere (even up the gangway). With that, the array of Christmas activities will begin. Starting with the Dutch tradition of Sinterklass the day before the feast of St. Nicholas, on December 6th. I wonder what it will be all about. I do know Santa will be making an appearance.

A report about my infiltration of the Malagasy crew: I did it! On Wednesday I sat with three people I had never met before. They were very kind and allowed me to join them. They all work in the galley (kitchen) and although the language made it a bit challenging, they were able to make it work between the three of them and get the right message back to me. They were concerned about the lack of food on my plate and so I got to tell them that I don't each fish (what they were eating for lunch) and that I am vegetarian. That always raises a few eyebrows but it is a good way to start a conversation. Now when we see each other we greet each other with more than the typical smile and head nod. This is progress!

Also, I found out there will be an outreach program at care facility for older people. I am not exactly sure what it will look like yet but I hope I will be able to participate. It is an odd concept to me because elders are so well respected in Madagascar. As such, it really surprises me that a place like that exists here. I figured that people would take care of their parents and grandparents no matter what.

As a part of my branching out I also went to the market again this week, but I actually bargained and bought a few things! I know it doesn't sound like a lot but I was always too worried about paying too much, or having the language barrier be more than I could handle. However, I was with a great group of people that put me at ease because they showed me with enough hand signals and third party assistance, great deals can be made. I was also more comfortable because I was able to get a general sense of what the cost should be for certain items. Therefore, I had a goal price to work around. I think I did alright. The very first thing I wanted to by was a really nice book with blank pages of handmade paper. I may have paid a bit too much for that considering he proposed 30,000 ariary and so I said 20,000 and he said yes right away. Oh well, I know to go lower next time!

After the market we went to the beach for lunch. Not a bad backdrop for an afternoon meal...

All in all, I'd say the branching out process is happening slowly but surely. Have a wonderful week!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Mind, land, and sky

What does it mean to be a missionary and what is enough?

These questions have been swirling around my head for a few weeks but this week I was really confronted with them. On Thursday we had community meeting where the topic was living incarnationally. In discussing it with a fellow crew member I was explaining that the speaker had emphasized the importance of really trying to get to know the people you are ministering to; see their country, learn their language, and immerse yourself in their culture. No one will want to listen to what you have to say if they can't see that you are making an effort to get to know them. So after I had mentioned those points my friend turned to me and said that I wasn't doing any of that, I never get off the ship and I need to get out more and explore the country, go to the market, and interact with the people. I hate to say it, but they were absolutely right. I do stay very close to the ship. I usually get off in the morning when I run, on the weekend to go into town and stroll around, and to go to church. I hardly interact with the Malagasy day crew that are on board, and unfortunately HR doesn't have any day crew in our department. I was trying to convince myself that it was enough for me to minister to the crew, that is how I am serving the ship. However, there is just a little part of me that is pushing back, and convicting me to do more. So how am I going to rectify this? I certainly can't be presenting myself as a missionary when I am not even making a concerned effort to know, and care about the people I see everyday. Well, as soon as Mercy Ministries starts up, I will make sure I sign up right away! Mercy Ministries are extra-curricular outreach programs that are arranged by the ship. The coordinator told me that they went to visit an orphanage that may be a prospective opportunity. They had to take a 45 minute boat ride to get there. It sounds like a trek, but a very worthwhile trek. Although that is wonderful, my heart doesn't long to play with children, rock them to sleep, and be silly. Don't get me wrong, I am happy to hang out with kids but it is not really my gift; I am scared of accidents, temper tantrums, and being hated. For some reason, having a little kid dislike me is so much harder than having an adult dislike me. All that to say, I hope an opportunity to minister to adults becomes available! I think I could also start sitting in the dining room to eat again. I have been avoiding it since we got into the full swing of things. It can be quite loud and very crowded, and it mimics your worst high-school cafeteria nightmares. Terrifying. I think that is what I will try this week. Breaking into a huge group of Malagasy people might be mildly difficult so I might need some prayer for that. I will report back next week on how that goes.

Lychee (also spelled litchi)! It is lychee season in Madagascar. What does that mean? Well, for the past week or so I get whiffs of sweet smelling lychees when I am sitting outside on deck 7 or 8. I thought I was going nuts until someone explained that the ship beside us was loading pallets upon pallets of lychees to be deliver to Europe or Dubai (unclear which, if either, was the correct destination). A few people from the ship were even fortunate enough to receive a tour of the lychee factory in town and got a HUGE basket to bring back to the ship.

Last night the group I was with in Texas went out for dinner for a birthday celebration. The restaurant was a bit outside of town and right on the beach. After enjoying a great dinner and catching up with may people I don't get to see all that often, I went out to look up at the starts, hoping I would have a good view being away from all of the lights. Oh, speaking of lights, the power went out in the restaurant! It was only for a few minutes, but it was just another reminder how much I love the peace that come with complete darkness. Anyway, I went to look at the stars, and although it was very dark, it was also very cloudy. However, I was determined to take in the peace of the moment so I found a space between the clouds and took focus. Well, that space continued to grow until there was a pretty decent space where you could clearly see a ton of stars. In that moment I just asked God to help me love everyone around me as much as he loves us. I know that is a big prayer, but if Joshua can ask the sun to stand still and be heard, it doesn't hurt to ask. As numerous as the stars in the sky, are people on this planet. How can He possibly love them all? That is not something my mind is equipped to understand, and the more I think about it the more confused I make myself. While I grapple with that I will just do my best to love the people around me, by seeing their value and appreciating all they do, who they are, and what they will become.

For those of you who have heard (or haven't) about the plague outbreak in Madagascar here is a statement released by Mercy Ships:

"On Nov 21 the WHO reported that an outbreak of Plague in Madagascar. The first case, a male from Soamahatamana village in the district of Tsiroanomandidy, was identified on 31 August. Since that time a total of 119 cases of plague have been confirmed, including 40 deaths. Cases have been reported in 16 districts of seven regions. Antananarivo, the capital and largest city in Madagascar, has also been affected with 2 recorded cases of plague, including 1 death. 
A national task force has been activated to manage the outbreak. With support from partners – including WHO, the Pasteur Institute of Madagascar, the “Commune urbaine d’Antananarivo” and the Red Cross – the government of Madagascar is putting in place strategies to control the outbreak.
This  outbreak report has received world-wide press attention.
Plague is a bacterial disease caused by Yersinia pestis, which primarily affects wild rodents. It is spread from one rodent to another by fleas. Humans bitten by an infected flea can develop the disease. Plague is endemic in many parts of the world including the Western United States. The United States has an average of 7-10 cases of plague a year.
Plague is easily treated with antibiotics, but can be highly lethal if left untreated. Plague may occur in three varieties.
Bubonic plague is the most common variety of the disease. It's named after the buboes (swollen lymph nodes)  which typically develop within a week after an infected flea bites.
Septicemic (blood infection) plague is a rarer form of the disease that can occur as the first symptom of plague, or may develop from untreated bubonic plague. This form results from bites of infected fleas or from handling an infected animal.
Pneumonic plague is the rarest form of the disease and may develop from inhaling infectious droplets or may develop from untreated bubonic or septicemic plague after the bacteria spread to the lungs. Pneumonic plague is the most serious form of the disease and is the only form of plague that can be spread from person to person. Only 2% of the cases of plague in this outbreak in Madagascar have been of the pneumonic variety.
Plague in the developing world is a disease of poverty (people living in close proximity to rats) and the diseases high death toll is the result of lack of access to healthcare.
Individuals can reduce their risk of exposure to plague by avoiding close contact with rodents or flea infested animals, by using insect repellent and not handling dead animals without proper protective equipment.
Mercy Ships current infection control and patient screening practices should prevent any cases of plague embarking on the Africa Mercy. The hospital is also equipped with appropriate medications to treat any cases of plague that might occur.
The current plague outbreak in Madagascar is not expected to have an adverse effect on Mercy Ships operations or place personnel at any increased risk.
Mercy Ships is carefully monitoring the situation and will make programmatic adjustments if necessary to protect staff and crew."
On that note, have a great week and thank you for reading!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Lemurs and... tortoises?!

Today was an action packed day, which is especially good because if it hadn't been I would have had absolutely nothing of consequence to report, except... surgeries started! I saw a little baby sporting two leg casts the other day. That means that the orthopedic team is hard at work! Apparently there are many club foot patients this year; more than they had anticipated. I really do need to make a point of getting down to the wards though because I feel so detached from the hospital. It is like this mystery two decks below where I work, where so many miracles happen. I just can't wrap my head around it. Anyway, next to that my day is kind of inconsequential but, nevertheless, I will tell you about it.

Today I went to the lemur park and saw a whole bunch of really cute and fuzzy lemurs (and a few babies too). The park helps with conservation of the lemurs, which means there are cages involved. I know, I know, it is a zoo. There are some that are roaming around and just show up for the delicious grub. Like these guys...

Our guide Denis with on of the really awesome tortoises.

The tortoises were so cool. Did you know that you can tell if it is make or female by the belly? If it is flat it is female, if it is concave it is male. Cool!

Did you know that chameleons can change colour based on their mood and what their eating? Makes sense I guess. People often change colour when they are mad and food can certainly affect a person's mood (quinoa=happy, white rice=annoyed). Oh nature, how you amaze me.

On the road with Mike and Sue

This fence is woven together. I thought it was so cool because the pattern is actually very pretty and it seemed like many houses along the road were made of the same material.

I felt like I really needed to take a picture of this construction site because it just made no sense to me. They must have been building a wall or pouring concrete because there were a ton a sticks that looked like they were holding everything up. I guess they don't have site inspectors here; I suppose that isn't necessarily a good thing. 

A new ship pulled up beside us. Yup, that little thing on the right is the Africa Mercy. Doesn't look like we are a big ship at all! The Eukor seemed to be full of cars. There is a parking lot in the port that filled up overnight... literally.

After I got back from seeing the lemurs I went to the store to just wander around. At home I can spend ages at the grocery store. That might be partially because the stores are huge at home, but also I just really like taking my time and looking around. Well, here it is not the same feeling. The stores are much smaller and although I still enjoy taking my time, there just isn't the same amount of joy derived from that particular activity. That's alright, I procured some pastina which makes me think of my Nonna, and that makes me happy. For those who don't know pastina is just a word that describe really small pasta. In this case, it is the shape of little stars. 

Then I cleaned the cabin (which takes all of 45 minutes even when you are being thorough) and worked out. My workout was funny today because I did sprints followed by push ups and squats. There was really no good place to do it so I was running up and down one of the sidewalks in the port with a bunch of men trying to do some work across from me. Apparently my fast-ish running and doing push ups on the asphalt was more interesting than whatever they were working on. There are people everywhere so it really couldn't be avoided and it just had to be done. 

After I showered I went to church. Now this is the first time I have been to mass on Saturday evening since my arrival to Madagascar so don't get mad at me as you continue reading. The church was cool (temperature wise) and not packed with people as it usually is on Sunday morning, which is great news. While the priest was reading the gospel the lights went out. Here's the great part... no one did anything. No screams, no sitting down, no movement from the congregation at all. The alter servers went to get candles and a flashlight and the priest just picked up right where he left off. This leads me to believe that the lights going off is a fairly normal occurrence. Shortly after that it sounded like a generator kicked in so the lights went back on, to my chagrin. There are so many distractions in our lives that we cannot choose to turn off. Sometimes a power outage is a huge gift. If you can, try and turn everything off for a few minutes outside of going to bed. Just soak in the quiet in each of your senses. 
This is where is gets questionable... Since the sun goes down at 6:00, it was pitch black when mass ended at 7:05. Did I mention there are no street lights? Yup, it was not the most secure I've felt in my whole life but I was singing Joy to the World, so what is the worst that could have happened? Anyway, it was a short, but very dark walk back the the port gate and then it was very well lit all the way back to the ship.

That was my day. I hope you have a wonderful weekend and if you have any news you want to share with me or prayer requests please send me an e-mail at

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Carnival ride!

Ino vaovao? (what's up?)

I've taken both forms of local transportation and I have to say that I certainly prefer a tuk-tuk over a pousse-pousse. A tuk-tuk is a little three wheeled car. A pousse-pousse is a man powered bicycle attached to a little carriage. You can't even see out of a pousse-pousse without being hunched over and you are quite squished with two people. Since I really don't like touching, it is not my preferred method of transportation. I've got some serious respect for the drivers through, they are going to be jacked when the ship leaves, from peddling us all over the place!


Pousse-pousse from behind
On Wednesday I went out for dinner with a friend and had an AMAZING lentil stew. Oh lentils, how I love your iron content. Anyway, we got there at 6:00 and they said the kitchen didn't open until 6:30. That's fine we sat and had a drink (I inadvertently order beer, but it was more like cider and it was delicious). They took our orders at 6:45ish and we didn't eat until 7:30. Crazy. Anyway, I ended up with the best thing ever because I told the waiter I was vegetarian and he made some off the menu suggestions! So lesson learned about eating out.  Unfortunately, the sun goes down at 5:30 and it is completely dark by 6 so even if you have good intentions to get somewhere early so you can start heading back to the ship early, you'll never make it back while the sun is still up. Oh well, there isn't a whole lot I can do because I don't finish work until 5 so most times I don't even get off the ship in the evening because it is already dark!

On another note, I went on a boy-powered ferris wheel today. It was mildly terrifying but mostly entertaining beyond belief. I was held in by a chain across my waist and there was no stopping mechanism; just the boys jumping on the wheel to counteract the momentum. It was funny to me because my mom would never let me go on the rides that would get set up in the parking lot of a plaza near my Nonna's house because she was worried they weren't safe. Well mom, I'm pretty sure they were safer than this...

Another reason the ship is awesome:

I was talking to one of the mom's on the ship and she explained that her son fell during gym while playing flag football. She was completely fine that he fell because she knows that kids fall. The benefit to living on the ship in this instance was that he had gotten x-rayed, had a consult from an orthopedic surgeon, and then made the physical therapists excited because they got to put a cast on him! This all happened within a couple of hours of the incident occurring. This is the opposite of home, where you often have to wait in the emergency waiting room for hours before getting seen, never-mind treated. So if people are going to get hurt this is a fine place to do it!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

There's No Place I'd Rather Be

Not one decoration, not one costume, and not one mention of the word Halloween. It seems so strange that Halloween has come and gone without it being recognized at all on the ship. It is probably for the best considering it is just a reason to eat candy and get dressed up. Let's be honest, I don't need a reason to eat candy because I just do it anyway and I'm not a big fan of dressing up.
Apart from the lack of Halloween, my experience in Madagascar and on the ship has been pretty nuts this past week or so. The ship has been in Madagascar for one week. A week, that's it. I feel like I have been in this country for ages and on the ship forever. That's not a bad thing, it is just an effect of working, living, and just being in a place where things never, ever, stop. People are working all the time. Even during the night and on the weekends there are people responsible for keeping the generators running that make the electricity work, the water flow, and a whole other list of things that I am not even aware of, even though I reap the benefits of that work everyday. Kids have tantrums, people have bad days, things go wrong; all around us life is happening all the time. I know the same thing happens at home, but for some reason here I am just so much more aware of it. I think it is because it is happening in such close proximity to me and with people I see every single day.
The Malagasy people are incredibly friendly! When I run or walk I always practice my greeting of "salama tompoko" and most people will acknowledge my effort. It is interesting because people here automatically assume that I speak French. I suppose it is because most of the white people they have interacted with in the past have spoken French and they are just going based on their experience.
There are also a beautiful array of fish that congregate around the jetty where the ship is docked. I will attempt to take a nice picture that does the angel fish justice!
Tomorrow I am going to be in church starting at 6:30 am until lunch time probably! A friend on the ship is giving a message to the congregation of a Catholic Church in town and she was told she needed to have someone with her. Please, please, please pray that I don't get antsy and that I can stay calm throughout the two masses. Right now I am trying to get in a mindset for it but I am still struggling to be excited. I hope I will give the people a good impression and that the message about Mercy Ships will be received well.

"We're a thousand miles from comfort, we have travelled land and sea. But as long as you are with me there is no place I'd rather be."

-Rather Be by Clean Bandit

Thank you for being here with me and I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's... the gangway

I saw this yesterday morning...

Which can only mean one thing... we are in Madagascar! Well, I suppose it could mean we made a stop somewhere else and set up shop, or turned around and went back to South Africa, or we stumbled upon an undiscovered land.  However, in this instance, it doesn't. Right now the starboard side of the ship has the nice view (which is pretty uncommon). It just happens that the starboard side is where my room sits. So here is what we can see from the ship (minus the tug boat):

Beach looks nice, huh? Too bad the sharks might eat you! We have been warned not to swim there but there is another beach a little farther down that is less shark infested. Seeing as I am not a big fan of ocean swimming I wouldn't worry too much about me playing with the sharks. 

My observations thus far:

1. It is hot... all the time
2. The sun comes up very early
3. The sun goes down very early
4. If you smile, people will smile back
5. This is going to be awesome!

Today when I went to mass I was sitting there with a friend and he made an interesting observation. What if you were a little kid and you have never seen a white person before? Naturally my first thought and my response, was "we're blowing their minds right now". The other thing I noticed was that even at 5'5" I felt tall in a church FULL of people. 

So here we are, safe and sound. This week we will have orientation for the Malagasy day workers who have been hired to staff many different departments on the ship. It should be challenging but oh so interesting. Have a wonderful week!

Malagasy word of the blog: Veloma! (ve-LOOMa) - Goodbye

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Adiós Cape Town

Here I am, same view, different sail. Cape Town is a beautiful place and although it takes forever to get there from home I would highly recommend a visit to anyone who is thinking about a big trip. While I was there I was able to hike up Table Mountain, go to Robben Island, enjoyed some very good company.
Table mountain is that iconic landmark that Cape Town is know for; it is one of the new 7 wonders of nature. Here are a few pictures... you decide for yourself.

A view of Table Mountain and Lion's Head from the ship on our way out

The Mountain covered with its "Table Cloth"

A view of Cape Town, Lion's Head, and Signal Hill from the top of Table Mountain

Can you see the little reptile?
Climbing Table Mountain was something that I really felt I HAD to do before I left Cape Town or I would have felt very guilty. However, I really just wanted to go at my own pace and take some time alone. The issue is that all the literature says not to hike alone. Oh well. I figured there would be lots of people around so I wouldn't have anything to worry about. Don't worry mom, I was right; there were a ton of people hiking on the trail I chose. I wasn't sure which trail I would take but I got on the City Sightseeing Bus and when I got off I took the first trail sign that I saw. It ended up being the most popular route called Platteklip Gorge. It was pretty difficult, especially since the rocks were formed like uneven stairs. I ended up seeing a few other people from Mercy Ships and since I was wearing my Leafs hat and a Canada shirt I got to talk to a few people. A couple from Edmonton gave me a hard time about my hat but they admitted that they couldn't talk because the Oilers are nothing to brag about. All in all, it was a tough hike but I have to admit going up was easier than going down. There is just something about falling downhill that makes you tense up.
When I got back down I hopped back on the bus and got to see the beautiful beaches. Seriously they are gorgeous!

Also, when I was on the bus, I got the only glimpse of snow I will get for a while...

I also managed to get to Robben Island, where Mandela served part of his sentence. The ferry ride was about 45 minutes and it was very rocky. Just think, there is no school on the island so the kids who live there have to take the ferry everyday! On the way back I asked one of the workers if people get sick on the boat and he said yes but that he thought I was doing very well. Well, of course I had to tell him I lived on a ship! So I got to talk to him about Mercy Ships and he couldn't understand that everyone is a volunteer. Anyway, the tour of the island and the prison were very interesting; it really made me want to do some reading on the history of South Africa. We got to tour the prison with a former inmate who was able to give us a good idea of how things used to look when he was there as opposed to how they look now. I didn't get emotional and wasn't awestruck but it was an interesting experience.

Have a great weekend! The sail is going well; thankfully I have managed to stay on my feet so far. Until next time!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Truth

A part of me feels like I need to make sure everyone is really clear on something: I am not spending donations on leisure activities. The generosity I have seen make me feel very blessed and I would never want anyone to think that I am taking advantage of that. So, thank you for everyone's continued support and that trip to do the safari came from a birthday gift. Being able to experience that was probably never going to be an option again so it seemed like a nice thing to treat myself to, especially among all the other changes that have happened in my life recently.
That being said, Cape Town is worth visiting, just thought I should put that out there. Yes, I know it takes days to get there by plane but there is so much to do and see it is fully worth it. I was wearing my Blue Jays cap the other day and I met a couple from Toronto that was visiting. That made me so happy and I got to tell them about the ship and they were very impressed. That is why, no matter how my hometown teams perform, I am always representing them; it brings people together.
We wrapped up the days of invite tours on the ship and all my standing outside got me a pretty nice tan. I was greeting people at the security gate and chatting with passersby who had questions or wanted a brochure. I have been told that the PR has really benefitted the recruiting effort here in South Africa; many applications have been received in the past few days. This is great news because as we prepare to get the new ship staffed, the bigger our alumni base the better!
Although I have been having a great time here in Cape Town there is a part of me that is getting a little tired. I see people reuniting with their families, and old friends and I long for that familiar face. The people on the ship are definitely becoming closer to my heart everyday but I still have to tread lightly and find myself apologizing for making a comment that people don't understand because they don't understand me, or my very odd sense of humour. As the days go by I continue to wonder what exactly I am doing here and where to direct my energy. There is so much that goes on that I feel conflicted on a daily basis on whether to engage, or to have the sense to take some time to separate myself from the crowd and sort through my feelings, or create memories on my own.
This is real life for me and that is so hard right now. There will be no Thanksgiving celebration; no stress cooking, setting the table, trying new vegetarian recipes, and the inevitable feeling that although some moments feel incredibly frustrating and hectic, I don't want the day to end. I am thankful for each and every member of my family, who they are, and how they have helped me become who I am today.
Just because I wish I were home sometimes does not at all mean that where I am right now is not where I am supposed to be. Everyday has its challenges whether I am at home or on the ship.
I am so thankful that we have phones so that I can call my mom and have the sound of her voice just turn my mood from grumpy to grateful!
I know that was a little all over the place but that's what's going on right now and that's the truth!
This weekend should be jam packed with activities before we get ready to sail next week. I'll report back soon!
Thank you to every person who reads these words; near or far, familiar or foreign, I am so thankful to have you with me.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Oh the animals

So we are in Cape Town! Not just anywhere in Cape Town, we are docked at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, where all the action happens!

We also have this view which is pretty awesome...

So this week the invite tours started on the ship. I was involved by taking names at the security gate before they entered. Port security is very tight and they won't let anyone onto the dock without having 24 hours notice. It makes for some grumpy people when you have to tell them their name isn't on the list and there is nothing we can do about it at this point. And, no, lady you cannot pretend to be someone else, especially when the name on here is most clearly a man's name. Apparently it went very well and there has been plenty of positive feedback. Since I have been spending my days suntanning on the pier I have had less time for work, which I have a lot of right now. As a result, I have been getting up bright and early and staying in the office late to make sure things get done. That is really easy to do when you live steps away from where you work, and you have a key!

Yesterday (Friday) we had a ship long weekend. I was planning to just stay near the ship; get some work done, wander around, but I got a last minute invitation to go on a little Safari. After some consideration I realized that I might never get the chance to do it again so I should take advantage. Consequently I got to see lots of beautiful landscapes on the drive there and some very big animals up close when we got there.

Jaguar that was rescued from an abusive situation that they are rehabilitating
Hippo butts
White Rhinos
Lions - he looked at us but he was too busy with his 5 women that he couldn't be bothered
Just some elephants... no big deal
So the rhinos are really in danger in South Africa because of the tremendous amount of poaching that occurs. Poachers just cut off the rhino's horn and leave them to die. If they continue to be killed at the rate they are now, it could be just three years by the time they are wiped out!
We drove right next to the lions. I kid you not. They were in their feeding area. The reserve supplements their diets so they don't eat the tourists. True story. There are strict rules about how much land is required for different animals. Each lion has to have 100 hectares! Apparently they lounge around about 21 hours a day; they really are oversized house cats. I couldn't stop thinking that I really wanted to pet them. That could have ended badly.
Their are only two elephants and they are both boys. The reserve is working on procuring some more land so that they can eventually bring in another elephant, hopefully a girl. Our ranger told us that these two elephants are both quite young; 17 and 20ish so they wouldn't even know what to do with a girl right now. He said that they would just be stupid and make her angry. Isn't it interesting, boys are the same across species.

It was a beautiful day and I was glad I decided to go. Today I made up for it and did lots of work! Now I feel better and less panicked about all the work I needed to get done.

There was also this conceited peacock at the reserve around the reception area. He was staring at himself in the window!

He was quite pretty...

Thanks for reading! Have a wonderful weekend.