Friday, September 28, 2012

Engineering Ministries International - Guinea Project trip, Sept 2012

Back on the Africa Mercy!


Tuesday Sept 11
At the immigration counters in the Conakry airport upon
arrival. I was really surprised how nice the Conakry airport
was compared to other African airports. The departures
lounge was fully air conditioned, which was a major blessing
at the end of the trip!
Flying out for this trip was very different this time. Leaving out of the UK, the day after all the volunteers left the USA, was very weird, in a good way! I felt like I got a bonus day, and when I arrived in Brussels to meet up with the team, I wasn’t jet-lagged. I can’t tell you what a huge difference it was, physically and mentally.
It was also a lot easier to leave Alisha, bizarre enough as that may sound. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but then it started to come to me that I kind of felt the same way in Uganda. To contrast, in Colorado, it was always very hard to leave because I was torn completely free of my comfort zone, leaving behind Alisha and the boys to carry-on with normal life, sans me. But in Uganda, and now the UK, we have already left our comfort zone behind in the USA. Of course, the UK is plenty developed and in many ways is a comfortable place to live. However, it’s not ‘home’, and especially after just 4 weeks, we don’t have many of the emotional creature comforts of friends, routines, and familiar faces and places.
So in a bizarre way, leaving behind Alisha and the boys in a far away land makes me feel like we are all in this mission together. No longer am I just leaving home, I am leaving for my part of our mission work, but she is staying home to do her part by taking care of our family in a faraway place where we moved in order to do God’s work. Of course, another major point is that Alisha’s mom decided at the last minute to come help manage the fort while I’m gone, so that brought a lot of comfort to the situation too.
Anyway, Alisha drove me to London Heathrow early in the morning (we live about a 2 hour drive from LHR when there’s no traffic, which was the case today). We met up with volunteer Clare, who was a former intern of mine in the Colorado Springs office and traveled with me to Haiti back in June of 2011. Clare is British and lives in London working as a structural engineer. We had time for coffee and a croissant before Clare and I headed on through security. The timing of our departure was perfect, as Alisha went straight over to receive her mom who was arriving from the USA at the same time.
The flight down to Guinea was just over 6 hours – what a difference between what the USA-based volunteers had to endure! We got to the ship at around 8:30pm. Once again, walking on the air conditioned ship was such a morale boost to the team after the very warm and muggy air of Guinea on the 30-minute ride from the airport. We ate a late dinner, checked into our rooms and went to bed.

Wednesday Sept 12
We learned early in the morning that today would be somewhat of a waiting day. We had a meeting scheduled for Thursday morning at the hospital with the Hospital Director, so before then it would be inappropriate for us to start walking around the site in depth.  So we did end up going to the site, but we only got to walk around a bit unguided and weren’t able to do much.
Going around the site, every doctor, surgeon or nurse we
saw wanted to give us a detailed tour of their portion of the
hospital! They were quite eager for us to see the poor
conditions they were working in...sometimes a little too
eager. We were led through the room of examinations
underway, and even once passed through a room where a
surgery was in-progress!
Before heading to the site, we heard a presentation from the managing director on the ship. It was very inspiring and I think got our team really looking forward to jumping in and getting started. However, right after the presentation, one of the representatives from the Ministry of Health in Guinea dropped in on the ship to meet with us. It was an interesting cultural experience. Guinea has only been out of communistic rule for a few years, so there are plenty of fingerprints from communism still around. Apparently, Mercy Ships had a real time getting the proper people in the government to sign off on the project, constantly being shifted from one person to another with no one willing to really say what was going on. In the end, it resulted in our team only assessing the one hospital – Ignace Deen (said, “Inn-yus Deen’), which actually turned out to be a blessing as the other hospital we had planned to assess was enormous, and would have forced us to generate a far more surface level report for both hospitals. Now that we’re doing just the one, we’ll be able to do a much more thorough report on that facility.
Getting the rundown on the ministry of Mercy Ships from
Director Donovan Parker. It was very inspiring to hear
about the great work Mercy Ships does!
Our team this time includes 9 people, plus the two UK interns back in the EMIUK office. My brother-in-law KC Morrow is on the team this time, helping with the electrical assessment. It’s a real treat to once again have family joining my trip. KC and I are actually rooming together in the same cabin my other brother-in-law Joe and I roomed in last year. KC is assisting our electrical engineer, Ruedi Tobler. Ruedi is a Swiss-born American who also traveled with me in February to Sierra Leone.
Next is John Agee, a civil engineer and EMI staff member who is based in our Colorado Springs office. John joined me on my last trip to Sierra Leone in February as well. John is also looking at a longer term role working with Mercy Ships to begin implementing our first assessment report in Freetown, Sierra Leone. John and I have become good friends working together with EMI and it was a real treat to once again be doing a project with him.
Front, L to R: John Agee, Beth Brueggen, Clare Taylor, me,
and Tony Sykes. Back, L to R: KC Morrow, Tony Antich,
Ruedi Tobler, and intern Brian Kreidle.
John is joined in the civil work by Tony Antich, a civil engineer from Southern California. Tony used to be the city engineer for Santa Monica and is a great asset to the team. The third civil engineer on the team is another Tony – Tony Sykes. Tony is a civil engineer from the UK who lived in India with his wife for 11 years working on various hospital water projects. Tony’s developing world expertise is invaluable to our team. He is a person I am really looking forward to learning from on this trip.
Beth Brueggen is one of our structural engineers. Beth lives and works in Texas, and also recently received her pHD in structural engineering. Former EMI intern Clare Taylor whom I mentioned before, is the other structural engineer.
Two of our interpretors, Daniel (on the left) and Abu (on
the right). Abu was actually the plumber on site who was
Sierra Leoneon, and thus could speak English very well.
Brian Kreidle is a mechanical engineering graduate (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo) who is an intern in the Colorado Springs office this semester. Brian joined our trip less than a week before departure to help out in the absence of the two EMIUK interns who were unable to travel for immigration issues. And last but not least, EMIUK interns Alyssa Pizarro (electrical engineering) and Jaspreet Dhillon (civil engineering) will be helping with the lion’s share of the project work after the trip. Both Alyssa and Jaspreet are Canadians and will be in the UK office with me until mid-December, working primarily on finalizing this project report. They were definitely disappointed to not have been able to travel on the trip, but given the circumstances, I think they understand that God has His reasons for why things happen and they are excited to contribute to the project after the trip. I'll be keeping them informed throughout the trip so they'll feel a part of what's going on.

Thursday Sept 13
As we toured the site documenting the electrical system, we
came across several locked panels that we asked to have
opened for us. In this case, they left briefly and came back
with a big tin can full of keys that they started trying, one
at a time! You can see from the reaction on KC's face that
we weren't exactly expecting that. We ended up leaving as
it was clearly going to take a long time! But the next day, we
walked by here and saw that they must have found the key!
Today was the first full day on the site. We had waited to be able to meet with the hospital director before snooping around the site. However, we stopped in his office three separate times during the day and weren't able to find him. So, we set off around the campus anyway. The morning was a real practice in cultural sensitivity and patience for me. We were led around the grounds by a number of people who each felt compelled to take us into nearly every room of every building to meet every doctor and nurse (or so it seemed). We were fortunately able to split off the civil and electrical teams fairly early on, but the entire morning for the structural engineers was lost as they got stuck going around with me doing these ‘meet and greets’! It's always very important to follow such protocols and cultural norms when first arriving on site. Once you've met them properly (according to their standards of a proper meeting!), they typically will leave you alone to get on with your business. In this case, the meet and greets were spread out over the first two days on the site. I tried to let the team peel off and get to work while I walked around with the hospital personnel. For the most part, after the first day, this worked.
I was laughing (on the inside) at the number of doctors and department heads we were being introduced to, interrupting their busy schedules and work (saying nothing of the long lines of patients waiting for them). It seemed that the language barrier was really adding to the confusion as well, as I’m not sure many of the people we met really understood why we were there. They kept telling us about every little problem in the hospital (i.e. not enough equipment, this and that piece of equipment that was broken, etc.). I felt that on some level they saw us as some sort of ‘Wizard of Oz’ team, able to solve any and every problem!
It may be a little hard to see, but this towel has a bunch of
plastic gloves laid out on it drying. Can you imagine
showing up to your doctor's office and seeing him take
out a pair of used gloves to  put on his hands?
It’s funny, I talk about interacting in different cultures all the time, and even taught the culture training at EMI’s orientation for a couple of years back in Colorado. But actually living out the experience of trying to get something done in the face of another culture’s customs and expectations is quite another thing. Even though I knew what was going on – it is well known that establishing relationships and making proper greetings is vital to being successful in Africa – I still had a hard time following through on what I know is the culturally appropriate thing to do. In the end, regardless of what we learn in a class or a book, until we truly engage our minds into the culture we’re visiting, we will spend a good deal of time being miserable and frustrated. I got a good chuckle out of it later, looking back on the ridiculousness of the situation. Ridiculous that we had to meet so many people for no apparent reason, but also ridiculous that we expected anything else to happen!
The team, walking around the site with a few of the hospital
workers. We appreciated their willingness to show us around,
but at the same time were eager to be turned loose so we could
get about the business of our work!
Finally, after lunch, we were let ‘free’ to do our work, and in the end we had a very productive day despite the slow start in the morning. The weather is very warm and muggy here in Conakry – about the same as Sierra Leone, except warmer and sunnier. It’s amazing how sunny/humid weather zaps your energy. (Reading back through this after the trip, I should point out that this was really the last sunny day we saw during our trip! Ha!)
Me and two of the maintenance department heads. The guy
in the white coat is the #3 man in charge at the hospital. We
thought he was just in charge of the facilities, but then when
we went into his office he had a patient on an IV drip in there!
We still weren't sure if he was a doctor as well, or if that was
just one of the maintenance guys recovering in his office!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Guinea trip - Sept. 2012

(Note: I didn't get a chance to post this prior to departing. But we have landed here in Guinea and are on board the ship, safe and sound. The team is enthusiastic to dig into the project and that will begin tomorrow. It's great to be back on the ship and being a part of the impressive work Mercy Ships is doing in West Africa.)

On Tuesday, I’ll be heading out for my next project trip. I’m leading a team of 9 EMI staff, volunteers and interns to Guinea to work with Mercy Ships at the local government hospitals in the capital city of Conakry. This is my third such hospital assessment trip with Mercy Ships in a row. Since Guinea is a French-speaking country however, there will be an additional element of challenge in gaining an understanding of the situation at the hospitals from the maintenance workers.

We’ll once again be staying aboard the ‘Africa Mercy’,the largest non-governmental floating hospital ship in the world. It’s a real treat to get to partner with Mercy Ships again, and to get a short peek into the great work they do in West Africa on board the ship. During the days, we’ll be out in town at Ignace Deen Hospital, one of the government hospitals in Conakry, observing and evaluating their water, wastewater and power systems as well as determining the structural adequacy of the facilities themselves. Our team consists of 2 electrical engineers, 3 civil engineers, 2 structural engineers, a mechanical engineering intern and myself. I’m also excited that my brother-in-law, KC Morrow, is joining this trip to help with the electrical evaluation (KC trained and worked as an electrician years ago).

Back on the home front, Alisha’s mom has decided at the very last minute to fly over and stay with Alisha and the boys! It is a huge relief to both of us as we were both realizing the reality of me being gone for two weeks so soon after arriving here in the UK. We have settled in very well here in the last 3 weeks, but we realized the full impact of having a limited support base here was going to be a real challenge for Alisha, both practically and emotionally. So, we are both feeling much better about this trip.

Also on the home front, this past Friday, Jonah and Graysen started school! We were notified on Wednesday that they had been placed in the same school, about 1.7 miles from our house. It was a school we hadn’t looked into at all and new nothing about. However, as we looked into it, it seemed like it might be a good fit. Alisha went down on Thursday morning to meet the headteacher (principal) and tour the school and her gut feeling about the place was very good! They seemed to care for the children very well and it appeared to be a very nice environment for the boys. Jonah was placed in a year 5 class (equivalent of 4th grade back home) and Graysen a year 4 class (i.e. 3rd grade). We were concerned about Graysen being in year 4 since he was heading into 2nd grade in the US, however, after looking at the level of instruction for year 4 here we felt that it might actually a better fit for him.

So, today was the first day that all aspects of life here in the UK have finally settled into ‘normal’ mode. I take the bus to work at just after 7am, leaving Alisha and the boys to get ready for school by 8:35am (Jonah and Graysen) and 9:00am (Brodie). So Alisha finally feels like she can actually start to think about what exactly she’s going to do here! It really is the first time since before we had kids and she wasn’t teaching (our first two years of marriage) where she hasn’t had a clear role. We are considering a few different options - more on that later as we figure things out.

It’s really amazing how life has picked up and carried on so quickly here. Thanks for your prayers for the past month - it’s been crazy but somehow, God has worked so many things out for us we are really dumbstruck at how quickly the dust has settled and in some ways it’s like we’ve lived here for years. I suppose this being the 3rd time in 5 years that we’ve done a move like this (Uganda, Colorado Springs and UK) tends to help with making us more mobile and able to settle in without going through the emotional torment of leaving our prior home behind. In some ways, nowhere feels like home anymore, other than where we are at that moment. I’m sure there are positives and negatives to that, though considering our line of ‘work’ it is definitely proving to be helpful in our current situation.

We would appreciate your prayers for the next couple of weeks as I travel to Guinea and Alisha and the boys (and her mom!) go about settling into life.