Not all Kumbaya or plain sailing, but definitely worth it

One week ago, today, I landed back in Johannesburg, after two short months onboard the Africa Mercy. I don’t want to romanticise my experience, as of course it wasn’t all “Kumbaya” or plain sailing  living in close confines with many others comes with its own set of challenges. Still, I definitely was not ready to leave Senegal when I did. And am sure that this sentiment is shared by many fellow crew members, who left that same week. But the world was changing. More rapidly than we realised.

While I was onboard, I felt a real sense of purpose. Somehow on this ship, many of the puzzle pieces of my heart and soul, were almost fitting into their right places. I’m definitely not ready to sweep that puzzle off the table and into a box yet, and I aim to pick up where we left off. And hopefully in the not too distant future.

As South Africa counts down the final hours to its 21-day lock-down, the ship and its remaining crew are getting ready to set sail, sometime soon. I saw a news piece on Aljazeera a few days back, saying that Mercy Ships was leaving Senegal, with its four-hundred nurses and doctors onboard, at a time when the country needs it most. I was taken aback at this uninformed and incorrect portrayal of the organisation (including the number of medical staff the journalist said were onboard), and thought I’d set the record straight…even if it is just to my friends who read my blog. The below is from the New Zealand Mercy Ships website:

Why can’t the Mercy Ships be deployed to help against Coronavirus Spread? 

Although the Africa Mercy is a hospital ship, it is essentially a surgical specialist unit. The vessel is not suited to take care of patients with a highly contagious respiratory disease.

Mercy Ships relies on a volunteer staffing model using professional medical volunteers from around the world. The current unprecedented situation has presented a unique operational challenge as many of our medical volunteers have been asked to assist with the COVID-19 crisis in their home countries. In addition, the global air transport shutdown has resulted in our inability to continue to operate the hospital facility safely.

Mercy Ships is also evaluating how the organization, given certain operational limitations, can be utilized to assist in the global COVID-19 response.

Earlier today, I found myself wondering, if I should have stayed onboard. Then I considered the prospect of a twenty-one day lock down on land, versus setting sail on rough seas. I’m probably suffering from a bit of FOMO, although I do suspect that given the opportunity, some of those who remain onboard, would have flown home too. I’m quite sure the past ten-odd days have not been easy for them, as they pack up and do the work of many. I’m sure they are tired and I hope and pray that they have a chance to rest soon.

Meanwhile, back in Centurion, while I have a million-and-one things on my to-do list (like learn French; write my Mercy Ships stories; write for as many competitions as I can find; video-con with my mates; possibly edit a Masters for a friend; bake more banana bread; eat; read; sleep and so on), I’m struggling to find that same intuitive sense of purpose that I experienced for nearly eight weeks.

Nonetheless, I’m still aiming to make the next three weeks (and beyond) count, in whatever way may evolve. So many of us just go through the motions, perhaps doing what we love, but so busy self-editing, that we edit our own voices out of our own stories. I’m aiming to drop the self-editing even further, so, if it gets a little awkward, you’re welcome to step away.

In Senegal I discovered a different joy in writing. I was definitely challenged by the language barrier and the fact that I had to rely heavily on our awesome translators to get to the true essence of a story. In the end, I think we definitely got there! It was such an amazing team effort!

Meet Fadel, one of the amazing day crew in Senegal, who speak multiple languages. He, and so many others, facilitated our communication with the patients. Here he is with Satou, who is from the Casamance region of Senegal and spoke only Mandinka.

Many of my stories haven’t been written yet, but I thought I’d share a photograph of a special memory. You met six-year old Satou in one of my very first blogs – she came to the ship with windswept legs. The photograph below was taken not even an hour after her final casts had come off and her legs had been x-rayed and given the all-clear. I wonder what could be going on in that little head of hers, after the hectics months that lay behind her? After her op she spent months with Mercy Ships – in the hospital, in casts; at the Hope Center in casts and with a little zimmer-frame learning to walk again; in the physio tent, in casts. And then finally the casts came off, she could do her final weeks of rehab and then really start enjoying her new legs. She was discharged the day before I left.

Her journey was for sure not all Kumbaya or plain sailing. She probably didn’t understand a lot that was happening around her. Still it was definitely memorable, and worth it. Gone is that little girl, who could not run with the other kids!

And the same goes for a world in lock-down – it is definitely not going to be Kumbaya or plain sailing, but it will be memorable. And it will be worth it, if we do it, to the best of our abilities.

Stay @ home. Let’s flatten the curve.

All photographs in this post were taken by John Seddon, photographer onboard the Africa Mercy. 

Everything communicated here reflects my own personal opinion and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships.

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