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!