Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Next Step in the Journey

I spy a large eye! The boys stopped to view
the London Eye as we walked around the city
a couple of weeks ago.
Part II - Family Update

In the last post I wrote about Brodie’s schooling situation here in the UK. So you may be wondering about Jonah and Graysen and how they are getting on in school. Well, their journey has been pretty different from Brodie's. Thus far, it most reminds me of Proverbs 16:1, “We can make our own plans, but the Lord directs our steps.” Our “plan” for Jonah and Graysen in coming to the UK was that above any particular school, we most of all just wanted to get them placed at the same one, largely for their emotional stability.  So, we noted that prominently in their school application.
We always like to stop by in front of the Ugandan Embassy
 in London near Trafalgar Square. :) Good memories.

So the first day of school came and went and we had still not heard anything from the admission’s office. We were told that it could be up to two weeks into the school year before we heard anything. Fortunately, our notification letter came that very day.  Since the school closest to our home (which we’d heard wonderful things about) was full, and there weren’t any spaces available at the other nearby primary schools we have chosen (we were allowed to put down three choices), Jonah and Graysen were placed at the nearest school having spots for both of them.  This was the ONLY school that had a place for either of the boys and we were thrilled that they would both be able to attend the same school - just as we had hoped.  So, they started school just having missed the one day, and very pleased that their P.E. kits were the same color as the Oregon Ducks football uniforms. :)

After a LifeSprings Ministries retreat in Zurich, Brad's sister
Terri came for a couple of days. It was so encouraging to
have her in Colchester. We introduced her to Costa
coffee - our new favorite treat! :)
Things seemed to be going well the first day, though this would soon begin to change fairly quickly in a number of ways that probably aren't best discussed in a blog. :) Without getting into all the nitty gritty details, in short, we slowly began to feel God prompting us to consider a new path for them (still just talking about Jonah & Graysen).  In the end, this has ultimately led to our decision to pull both of them out of school at the half-term break (this week), after which I will begin the very new adventure of home schooling! There is no one single reason why we’ve decided this, but a number of factors have led us to this point.  The very large class sizes, the social challenges the boys have faced with some of the students at this particular school, some academic concerns, and the fact that we have a special opportunity this year with me not working have all led us to feel that this is what God had intended for this year. Of course, as a 'fleece' in all of this, we still do have them on the waiting list for our neighborhood school and would put them in should spots open up.

But for now, Jonah and Graysen are eagerly looking forward to having school in their home, having 2 vs. 30 kids in their class, studying about England and having mom for a teacher.   I am also looking forward to teaching these sweet and energetic boys and am thrilled to be planning and organizing our new home-schooling adventure (read: I am hyperventilating at the enormous undertaking of being responsible for their learning this year!  Brad was very kind to remind me that I am, in fact, a teacher. However, it feels much different outside the safe confines of a school, where both curriculum and structure are provided. :) ).   
Terrri and me outside the Castle in downtown Colchester.

Please pray that God will equip Jonah, Graysen, and especially their teacher :) for the year ahead. I’ve been researching curriculum and the requirements of homeschooling –and my mom arrived last week with a suitcase full of homeschooling curriculum for grades two and four from the USA.  She and my dad passed through Heathrow airport on their way to Israel (a trip with their church planned over a year ago) - I am amazed at how perfectly God fit the timing of all this together. 
There you have it – the crazy rollercoaster of life.  Just when we think we have figured out a plan, God begins something new and makes a way through the wilderness to take care of the gifts He gives us.  Before we moved here, we really thought we might end up home schooling Brodie with Jonah and Graysen enrolled in a primary school here. But now it’s turning out to be the exact opposite! Who knew?! Thanks for reading this and following along. We don't pretend to think that our little problems and dillemas somehow are special just because we're living somewhere else. Our problems seem so small compared to things others are struggling with. However, God cares about us all and wants to be a part of all of our goings-on, big and small, in North America and the British Isles!  We love you all and love the fact that we are all in ministry together. Thank you for your prayers for this new season of life.  J Alisha and the boys xoxoxo
On their way to Israel, my parents had a one-night layover in
London so we all decided to go see the Windsor Castle
(complete with a tour by audio headsets!) So fun to have
Grandma and Grandpa here for the day.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Crawford Family Update (By Alisha)

Brodie, Jonah, and Graysen ready for school
 in the UK
A view of our street in Colchester. Our house a few houses
 down on right. Though it looks like people are driving on
the right side of the road, those are actually parked cars.
You can park any direction you want here. 
When we arrived in England on August 15th, we were still uncertain which schools would have a spot for our boys.  Though we had hoped to have all of this sorted out before reaching this side of “the pond”, that wasn't the case.  Life for our first few weeks in the UK was filled with shopping, gathering, setting up a home, meeting the neighbors, getting acquainted with EMIUK, and visiting many, many primary and secondary schools.  Each time we arrived at a school, at times visiting the same school several times, we were confronted with a kind, but firm, “No, the school is all full and we do not expect any openings.”  The teacher in me was at times panicked by this response and as the days passed, I grew more and more uncertain of the boys schooling situation. 

The neighbor kids making a pyramid. The boys
have loved having kids about their age around
our house. This picture was actually taken in
September. Getting colder here now.
Leading up to our time in the UK, Brad and I both thought it might be very likely that we would need to homeschool Brodie for our time in the UK, since according to the age-based system here he would be placed directly into secondary school (AKA high school in the U.S.) at age 11! This was an unsettling feeling.  With each school we visited, (all of which seemed huge and overwhelming), it seemed that homeschooling became more and more likely.  But there was one school, St. Benedict’s Catholic College (a catholic school but free for the public) that felt different and “peaceful.”  Although the school politely informed us that there was a waitlist to get in (and that 9 of the 10 admissions requirements related to whether you were Catholic or not!), we submitted an application anyway.  With this application, we were required to attach a recommendation letter from Brodie’s youth pastor in Colorado Springs.  I quickly sent an email to the pastor, but because he was away on a retreat, it would be days before he could get back to us.  We decided to write a brief description of our family’s plans with EMIUK instead and sent in the application with the promise of getting the pastor’s recommendation as soon as possible. 
Jonah looking at the swimhole the boys later waded in.
This was September as well, in a quaint little town called
Dedham. Very fun place for a family day.
A few days later, after receiving the recommendation for Brodie via email, I printed the letter and drove to the school with the boys to personally deliver it rather than sending it to the county where we had sent our application.  When I arrived at St. Benedict’s, the lady in charge of enrollment said, “Oh yes, I have a letter about your family right here on my desk (somehow, Brodie’s information must have been sent to the school from the county admissions office).  She then added with a smile, “Brodie has been given a place at St. Benedict’s.”  I was speechless, thankful, and on the verge of tears all at the same time, excited that God had answered our prayers, but still wondering if our prayers were even the right thing for Brodie!  I thanked her profusely and headed back to the car with a very excited Brodie at my heels.  Still bewildered at how Brodie was accepted, we headed back to the school the next morning to purchase Brodie’s P.E. kit, blazer, tie, and full uniform to begin secondary school in just a few short days. Oh my!  
My mom, Karen, came to stay with us while Brad was on his
project trip to Guinea in September. We had a great time
 exploring Colchester. We spent the afternoon on Saturday
at the Castle Park near the city center. 
The following day a notice arrived in our letter box (here the mailbox is in the front door so mail comes flying into your house unannounced, which kind of reminds me of Harry Potter with the exception that the mailman is not an owl J).  Amongst the pile of mail scattered on the floor was an envelope from the county school admissions office. Assuming this was Brodie’s acceptance letter, I opened it and was shocked to find that it very clearly stated that Brodie had NOT been accepted into St. Benedict’s and had instead been enrolled at a school I’d never heard of.  UGH! My heart dropped and thoughts of confusion filled my mind.  Being a Friday afternoon, we raced down to the school again to try and sort out the predicament we were in.  Upon arriving, one of the groundskeepers (who recognized us from days before) asked if we needed help as the office had just closed for the weekend.  When I explained the problem, he paused a moment and said, “I bet my wife can help us with this.”  She soon appeared from somewhere on campus (lovely lady), listened to my panic, and quickly called the administrator who had helped us with the uniform purchase and whom is also in charge of enrollment for the school.  After conversing for a few minutes over the phone, the lady hung up and said, “As far as we are concerned, we accepted Brodie into the school, and we’ll take him.  Bring him to school on Tuesday to start with everyone else and we will let admissions know that we’re enrolling him in St. Benedict’s whether we have space or not!” What?!J 
We spent a Sunday after church with Mike and Marietta. 
Mike is the director of the EMIUK office.  This picture
was taken near Felixstowe, on the North Sea coast. In
the background, you can see the shipping cranes from
what we're told is the largest port in Europe.
Looking back on this situation, I have two thoughts:  God is unbelievably good, and His ways are far higher than our feeble minds can ever comprehend.  I’m also remembering the story of Esther – not for Esther’s role, but for what God did for Mordecai.  God has His way of stepping in just when we need Him most, and when He does, nothing can stop His amazing plans. God is definitely watching over Brodie, once again.  And as I thank God for all He’s done in Brodie’s life, I also thank each of you who have lifted so many prayers on his behalf.  We are so grateful for the team of supporters we have praying us through this journey with EMI.  Thank you for being in this together. 

Downtown Dedham is a very beautiful
place. The boys normally complain about
pictures but since this one involved
climbing, they were all too eager.
We have been amazed at how well the staff, with over 800 students, has watched over Brodie, guiding him and nurturing his growth and involvement at St. Benedict’s.  As I write this blog, Brodie is on a field trip to a retreat center with the 20 students in his “form”.  To help the students along in their years at St. Benedict’s the students have a small core group they meet with every day called a ‘form’ – very similar to the ‘houses’ in Harry Potter for those of you who have read those books. By the way, we started reading Harry Potter this summer as someone suggested we do it to prepare for coming to the UK. Whatever your opinion about those books, they’ve been an enormous help to our boys understanding and being excited about being in this culture since so much of those books is played out in our lives here – the cultural stuff, that is, not the witchcraft!  Last night was actually my parent conference with Brodie’s form tutor, who had wonderful things to say about how well Brodie is enjoying his time and thriving at St. Benedict’s.  We couldn’t be more thrilled.  God’s plan is perfect, and far better than we could have ever imagined.  Who would have thought – Brodie in secondary school at age 11, and doing so well! J 

So that’s Brodie’s situation. You may be thinking, “What about Jonah and Graysen?”  This is long enough, so I’ll pick up the story there next time. Check back in a couple of days.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Engineering Ministries International - Guinea Project trip, Sept 2012

Sunset out over the Atlantic Ocean. The land you see are
small islands that are a part of Guinea. With the routine
display of tumultuous skies offshore, it's not hard to imagine
that the powerful hurricanes in the West Atlantic and
Caribbean Seas typically originate off the West African coast.

Friday-Saturday Sept 21-22
So much has happened in the last few days it’s hard sum it up in words, so I thought I’d use the rapid fire bullet method:

Once on site, nothing seemed out of the ordinary at all. That's
one thing I've learned through living in and traveling to Africa
all these years: 'riots' always seem to sound worse in the news
than they are in person.
* We were notified early Friday morning that all off-shore activities were suspended until further notice due to an uprising in town. Ironically, the disturbances had nothing to do with the anti-American protests from earlier in the week, but instead were a result of tribal tensions boiling over between the two predominant tribes here in Guinea.

* I went down into the medical wards on board tonight and spent a little time with the patients. It’s sad to see these people, mostly children, with major abnormalities – either facial tumors or leg deformities. The really sad part is that some of the kids were awaiting biopsy results. If the results come back bad and they have little chance for long-term success, they will be discharged without surgery – there are too many people whose lives can be spared to work on people who have certain terminal illnesses. Plus, the risks of doing surgery are unwarranted when they have little time left. So if someone is terminal and the surgery won’t make a big difference, they dismiss them. One such little girl, about 7 years old, I saw down in the ward with a huge tumor between her eyes had her mom staying in the ward on the ship with her. The tumor greatly disfigured her face. The next day when we returned from being out in town, the girl and her mom were out front on the dock leaving the ship. Not good news since she clearly hadn’t had any surgery done. It was especially sad as it looked like her and her mother seemed somewhat unaware of the fate they’d been dealt as they were very smiley. It was a tough thing to see.
You wouldn't want the 3 people on the left operating on
you, that's for sure!

* Three of the team members went down in the hospital yesterday to watch a surgery. Since there are no lawyers involved keeping people out, the ship allows a small number to view certain surgeries. Our 3 EMI’ers were in there for about 3 hours – except for one of them, who passed out after several minutes and had to be helped to his own recovery bed! Of course, we didn’t give him a bad time about it or anything. And to be nice, I promised I wouldn’t mention intern Brian’s name.
* We presented our report to a small group of about 30 attendees Friday night. The presentation went very well – the team did an excellent job of presenting.
At the presentation in the 'International Lounge' on board
the ship. The room holds over 500 people, so the 40 people
in the room made what by EMI standards is a large crowd
for a trip presentation, feel more like a sparse turnout.
* We depart today, Saturday. However, around noon the uprising in town restarted. I’m currently on the ship typing this, bags packed and ready to go on a moment’s notice. The problem is, Conakry is like a long, slender finger so it is very easy for the end of the ‘finger’ (where we are) to be cut-off from the inland area where the airport is.  This bit of drama is still unfolding so we’ll see…

Sunday Sept 23
Well, we made it out safe and sound afterall. Mercy Ships took our trek to the airport pretty seriously – we had a 5-car caravan with our flashers going and the driver’s in full ship uniform to look important. Also, the ship’s Captain, the Director of the ministry, and the Purser were all stationed in a make-shift command center keeping in constant radio contact with our little motorcade. In the end, other than seeing a dozen riot police nearest to where the hot spot allegedly was, everything appeared to be completely normal.
The flights home were uneventful – which is always the best-case scenario for flying. I will say, it was a night and day difference (literally!) to be returning to the UK instead of the US. No jet lag and half the flying time. Re-entering the UK was no problem with the visa in my passport, and it has been great being back home with Alisha and the boys.

Great people make for a great team. And this was,
once again, a great team.
As I’ve reflected on this trip, once again I’m amazed at how connected you can feel to people after such a short time. Here I am missing our EMI team - people who two weeks ago I hadn’t even met yet before. It’s a good lesson to me, as I tend to resist going out and meeting people sometimes. I think God has wired us to be in relationship not only with himself, but with other people as well. And when we step out of our comfort zones and invest in other people, we find out how much other people have to offer us (and how much we have to offer other people as well). Being ‘home’ in the UK now, I realize that not having friends here is something I need to be diligent at working on. It would be far too easy to hole up and just live my nice life out here. But I don’t want to settle for that, even if it is more ‘comfortable’.  So a big thank you to Tony A., Tony S., Beth B., Clare T., John A., Brian K., KC M., and Ruedi T. for reminding me that there are some truly outstanding people out there in this world.
These two cats were so cute. The one of the left is the mom,
with the other one of her kittens now grown. However, they
were together every single time we saw them, sitting, laying
down, or walking around. The full-grown kitten still nurses
too, so the apron strings have clearly yet to be cut.
Walking around on the site, it's hard not to daydream about
what it would be like for a hospital like this to be your reality.
I imagined bringing one of my boys, sick with some illness,
to this hospital and how desperate and hopeless I would feel.
Intern Brian, holding a wad of 5,000 Guinean
Franc bills. I think the amount in his hand here
is the equivalent of around $50 US Dollars.

Touring the engineering plant in the bottom of the ship, we
came across so many knobs and buttons. I know we were
all a little curious to see what would happen if we pushed or
pulled something. The temptation got the best of me, and
clearly volunteer Tony doesn't approve.
The tide varies significantly in Conakry, so when it goes out
it leaves behind enough trash on the beach to disgust anyone
with even the slightest glimmer of an environmental conscience.

Random Shots...
Above: The section of the hospital where the hospital director
has brought 'urban renewal' to the hospital grounds, trying
to making the hospital a more sanitary environment.
Middle: The fleet of Mercy Ships vehicles. The ship has a crane
that lifts them on board when it's time to head out to sea.
Bottom: Flying into and out of Africa can be a tricky affair. It's
a rare day indeed that pilots aren't forced to dodge thunderstorms
on take-off and landing.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Engineering Ministries International - Guinea Project trip, Sept 2012

There are some big trees in Africa!


Tuesday-Thursday Sept 18-20
These days were a little quieter for us, as we completed our investigations at the site and spent the bulk of our time in front of computers, working on the report. The team has been very well organized and as of tonight, Thursday, they are pretty much done with the report and presentation. We present on Friday evening at 6:30pm so it will be interesting to see who all from the ship shows up.
Before Ruedi arrived, we really didn't even look at the local
hospital workers (nor they at us) when we were talking to
them since we were communicating with the translators.
A few things I’ve been thinking about this week in regards to being in Guinea. This is my first visit to a ‘Francophone’ country in West Africa (i.e. a French-speaking country), and I have to say it is much more of a challenge being here that I was expecting. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about visiting Africa is connecting with the people, talking with them about whatever and just enjoying hearing them talk and interacting with them. But since very few of the people we’ve run into speak English, this has largely been impossible. It’s really been a bit of a bummer as that usually is one of the things I like most on these trips.
The language barrier has also made the work side of things more of a challenge as well. I realized this more fully after Ruedi arrived (he speaks French) and our team finally had a member who could communicate directly with the hospital workers. The countenance and mood of the workers noticeably changed when they were able to communicate with us directly, instead of through an interpreter. I saw them now joking and laughing with us, and seeming to enjoy having us there – all because one of us could communicate with them. It really was a very stark contrast with their demeanor from before.
Ruedi (far right), testing out the site electric system with
the hospital maintenance guys watching on.
Another thing I’ve noticed walking through town is how similar African countries really are. Of course I’ve noticed this many times before, but again I was struck by the similarities even though the language was different. It really is incredible, when I think about it, how such a vast region with so many different cultures and people groups, could share so many cultural traits. Comparing it to Europe, where you have many different cultures and languages and people groups all within a very small area, it’s so interesting that such a large area is really so similar.
Ruedi and I have become good friends, having done two
projects in a row together.
And in that same vein, it’s amazing that the struggles and difficulties are so similar as well. The filth and poverty in Africa is staggering. On one hand, it’s fun to drop into it for a couple of weeks and experience some of the sights, sounds and smells of poverty almost as a novelty. But this is their existence, day in and day out, generation after generation. It’s all they know, and for the foreseeable future it’s all they will ever know. Thinking about it takes me right back to the theological level I was at a few days ago, where I wonder how God can care about each and every individual in this world on such a personal level, and at the particular level on which they exist. The struggles for some in this world are so basic – life and death issues lay close to the surface for the vast majority of Africans. By contrast, the struggles for Westerners in large part seem so trivial – how can God sort that out and operate in a world of such inequality? The cookie-cutter I try so hard to put God in so I can comprehend him really is torn apart whenever I’m in Africa. It’s of course good, but it’s also a little un-stabling, which I think might just be where God wants us to be given that many of His attributes are unknowable for our finite minds. Though he does want us to know him, in some ways I think he wants this to be balanced with the recognition that in large part, he is unknowable! In that way, knowing God is really to know that He can’t be fully known or understood.
But the process of leaning into Him in prayer, and learning to listen to Him throughout the day as He seeks to reveal Himself to you – that, is ‘knowing’ God. So in many ways, I think knowing Him actually has nothing to do with knowledge itself, but rather our pursuit of knowing Him while recognizing that we are fully known by him. Ok, my head is going to explode if I keep going on about this any further!
'USA Tony' - not a doctor, but a Star Trek fan.
I wanted to close this post by sharing a clever depiction that one of the volunteers, Tony Antich, wrote to describe life on the Africa Mercy ship and how it is similar to one of his first loves - Star Trek. Since I am not a ‘Trekkie’, this was largely over my head, but perhaps some of you will enjoy it:

Tony, explaining his 'Star Trek' theory to an ignorant bystander.
“Being on the Mercy Ship is like being on the Starship Enterprise for the Star Trek TV series.  The Mercy Ship is primarily inhabited by “Vulcans” (AKA Nerds).  We get permission from the ship’s Captain before we can “Beam Down” (AKA Using the gangway) to the Guineans.  The Guineans are a friendly people living in a harsh, hot and humid environment.  The Guineans speak a strange language which requires the use of our “Communicators” (AKA translators).  The Guineans will respond in a positive and friendly way to smiles, hand gestures, touching, and holding hands.  They are brightly dressed and can easily be identified probably in the same way they notice us with our “Life Support Systems - LSS” (AKA backpacks) firmly attached to our bodies. Our LSS carry a days’ worth of nutrition including a “Liquid Supplement” (AKA disinfected water) which is necessary for survival in the Guinean environment.  Failure to abide by this protocol can have deadly consequences.
The 'Starship Enterprise'
Why am I always pointing on project trips, and what am I
pointing at?!
In order to get to the hub of Guinean medical support we require a “Pilot” (AKA driver) for the “Shuttle Craft” (AKA Land Rover) in order to transport our test gear (no phasers - just a lot of equipment like metal detectors, measuring tapes, clip boards and calculators).  We always return via the shuttle craft and then beam up to the comforts of our floating vessel.  Failure to abide by the ship Captain’s rules on check in and check out protocols will result in a second shuttle craft being sent on a search and recovery mission.  Prior to entering the vessel we enter "Security Check" (AKA security card scan and photo recognition) and “Decontamination” (AKA wash your hands and wipe your feet).   In less than a week from now we will be beamed ashore again where we will enter the safety of our shuttle craft and transported to the “Central Wormhole Port” (AKA airport).  Once in the “Wormhole” (AKA Brussels Airlines jet) and travelling at “Warp Speed” (AKA a matter of hours) we return to our “Home Port on Planet Earth” (AKA the USA or UK).

I title this picture: 'Centered'
I feel like I photo-bombed these kids' one chance at
having their picture taken. #ruiningitforthekids
Just as in the Star Trek TV series there is a young cast member who wants to stay behind and improve relations with the Guineans.  In our case, it is John who is on our exploration team and wants to live with the Sierra Leoneons and Ghanaans.”

Friday, October 5, 2012

Engineering Ministries International - Guinea Project trip, Sept 2012


Sunday Sept 16
Our last volunteer, Ruedi Tobler, arrived late last night. Ruedi is an electrical engineer who was also on my trip to Sierra Leone back in February. Ruedi had to join late as he had a work conference to attend in Switzerland the past few days. He is one of our most qualified electrical engineer volunteers and travels with EMI every semester, usually to a non-English speaking country so he can practice his other languages (he speaks five). Ruedi will be taking the data that KC and intern Brian have been gathering the past few days and working with them to create the electrical assessment and design report.
Volunteer Ruedi, reviewing the electrical data gathered by
KC (shown pictured right here) and intern Brian.
Since it is Sunday, the ship is largely in weekend mode. Some of our team headed into town to attend a local church service. The rest of us stayed back on the ship, working a little, resting a little, and then attending the ship church service in the evening. After four straight days on the site, I have to say it was a nice break to be in the air conditioning all day!
I wanted to expand a bit, though, on something that I mentioned a couple of days ago because I think it’s a good example of a potential cross-cultural misunderstanding. The meeting we had with the hospital director was very interesting, and a great example of something we call ‘low vs. high power distance’ in our cultural training session at EMI’s new staff and intern orientation. The USA is a ‘low power distance’ (‘LPD’) culture, but many of the countries where we do projects are ‘high power distance’ (‘HPD’).
In an LPD like America, the power distance from leaders to their subordinates is generally small. So, for instance, bosses generally don’t act like they are more important than their employees, and if they show their power over their workers it is seen as a bad thing. Also, workers in LPD societies will often have a high level of initiative, even to the point of suggesting new ideas and innovations to their boss. In this way, power is decentralized and there tends to be a team of people that lead.
Staying on the ship has its 'perks'...such as the Starbucks
Coffee Cafe.
On the contrary, in HPD countries, workers and their bosses are on two, very separate social planes. Bosses are help up in high esteem and status and would never associate with their subordinates in a social setting. Workers see it as a privilege to be able to work for their bosses, and would never think of doing anything other than what they have been specifically told to do. Power is very centralized and is rarely shared with even another person. (By the way, you can see from this brief description how African countries that are HPD societies can be very susceptible to military coups).
So back to our meeting, we were shown into the director’s office. It was a large room that was well insulated from the general public, with a secretary seated out front. It also had carpeting (the only room in the entire hospital with it, that I saw), a large screen TV (all the stickers were still on it from the store (probably to show off all the features to his guests) so I know that it was a 43” screen with three HDMI ports!), and air conditioning. There were plush couches and chairs such that our group of 9 plus that number again in local translators and maintenance workers could all fit inside, each with a seat to sit in.
Some of the team posing with the general director of the
hospital (he's the short guy in the middle in black and white).
The director spoke through an interpreter to us and welcomed us to his hospital. He then spent the next 45 minutes telling about all the things he’d done to improve the hospital, including some things paid with his own money. But he also spoke about all the problems that they still needed help with, including help for his workers who were poorly trained. As he talked, I could see from the looks on our team member’s faces that they were a little embarrassed that this director had seemed to just brag all about the great things he’d done while downing his ‘poorly trained’ staff. And yet, the workers didn’t seem bothered at all by this.
Unrelated to the text in this blog, but nonetheless an
interesting view into the hospital's state of condition. The
picture of this operating theater actually makes it look fairly
good. But in reality, it was quite unsanitary. There was blood
all over the floor and it looked like cleaning was not a routine
part of the room's schedule - let alone sterilization. It's amazing
to me that some people are treated here and end up fine, with
no infections. And then back in the US, some people contract
serious or even fatal infections during surgeries despite the
highest standard of cleanliness and sterilization technologies .
As we left, I was thinking about what we had just witnessed and had a talk with a couple of our team members about it as well since they had also noticed this. The more I thought about it though, I realized that we had just seen first-hand a typical HPD meeting. In fact, the director was right – he really has done a lot to help the hospital. We had heard this from other people even before the meeting. So why would this leader, who clearly is doing good things here and often sacrifices a lot of his own time and money, seem to not have the social graces aspect of his job figured out as well? On the surface, it really didn’t add up. But after thinking about it some, it started to make more sense.
So let me talk about how this meeting might have gone from the hospital director’s point of view.  Knowing that we are with Mercy Ships and are a team of engineers (which, as a profession, have a lot of respect in Africa) who have international influence and financial resources to offer his hospital, he wanted us to know that he was a good leader who was worthy of our time, energy and money to help. He wanted to show that he was doing things on his own, without the help of Westerners, so that we wouldn’t think he was the average person just looking for a free handout. He must’ve thought that if we felt he was doing his best, we would be more inclined to help him.
The needle depository in the operating room
- not ideal, but much better than nothing.
But he also wanted to look out for his employees, and he did so by letting us know that they want to benefit from us being there too. They don’t have any official schooling or even training like our team members have, so he thought we might be able to give them some pointers and would be more inclined to step in and help if we knew that they hadn’t received any formal education or training. The workers, who in their culture, value knowledge above most anything else, must have felt thankful that their boss didn’t forget to use his influence to try to improve their working situation as well. He could have easily ‘hogged’ our attention and efforts for his own wishes, but instead he was thoughtful enough to think of their difficult condition by specifically mentioning them and their needs.
As you can see, what in our cultural context seemed like a very boastful leader who degraded his workers in front of visitors, was in their culture a very proactive leader who was attempting to use his influence to the fullest extent to bring about positive change for his hospital and the workers who help him manage it.  What a different perspective - I think one that underscores the importance of not jumping to conclusions and judgements when working cross-culturally.
When we finally ventured off the ship Monday, the streets
seemed quiet and normal, with no sign of the craziness
reported earlier from just a few miles away in the city center.

Monday Sept 17
Well, today brought some potential excitement. Last night after dinner, we received an email from the US State Dept. warning citizens in Guinea that they had learned of a planned demonstration at the US Embassy here in Conakry and that the Embassy and American school nearby would be closed on Monday. About 5 minutes after receiving that email, the captain of the ship came up to me and asked me about our schedule for the following day. I asked if he was asking because of the Embassy warning we’d just received, and he said yes.

Me and my brother-in-law KC Morrow -
it was a lot of fun to have him around.
He was a natural at EMI trips too - very
comfortable regardless of the conditions.
 He then went on to say that they were not allowing non-essential crew on shore in the morning and wanted to hear if we felt we needed to be off shore. I explained that our electrical engineer had just arrived and therefore was very antsy to get to the site so he could catch up with the team on his work. He said that by mid-morning they would have an idea of whether or not things were calm, so I said that we’d wait for that all-clear before heading off ship.
So that was the potential excitement. In reality – nothing materialized in town. By mid-day we still hadn’t heard of any problems in town, and we were finally given the all clear to leave the ship by 1pm. Heading to and from the hospital and at the hospital as well, we saw no signs of anything different from the previous days, though I think we were all a little on edge en route. In the end, it’s thought that the people here who follow those particular beliefs merely wanted to participate in the current worldwide movement among some muslims as a way of supporting their overall cause, even if they weren’t interested in being violent. Anyway, it was a good thing that was the case. I was never really concerned about out safety on the ship, of course. We are, afterall, staying on our evacuation vehicle!
The team members who 'risked life and limb' to head to the
site. Despite dire warnings of Anti-American protests in
response to a You Tube video posted in the USA earlier in the
week, things were generally confined to a small area downtown. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Engineering Ministries International - Guinea Project trip, Sept 2012

L to R: John, Abu the hospital plumber, me, the Director-General
of the hospital, intern Brian, USA Tony, and UK Tony


Friday Sept 14
We awoke to a rainy morning, which was a welcome sight after a couple of days of hot sun. The rain turned lighter and lighter as the morning went on, eventually stopping by late morning. We once again headed out to the hospital right after breakfast and our morning devotions. When we got there, the 3 teams (i.e. civil, electrical and structural) all got right to work. I, once again, headed out to…that’s right, more obligatory meetings! My hope was that I could somehow ‘protect’ the team from these meetings so they could do their work. Unfortunately, I was wrong. J
Ryan, our South African Mercy Ships’ host, went over to see if the hospital director was in today after his absence during our scheduled meeting the day before. Just our luck, today he was there!  He is a Lebanese man whose parents immigrated here when he was young. His dad had actually bought a ticket on a ship to go work in America, but the ship went to Guinea instead and they insisted he stay because he was needed there. Their family has lived here ever since!
He’s worked at the hospital for years, but was appointed by the President of Guinea to the position of Director-General of the hospital a year and a half ago. Since then, he has done a number of very good things to clean up the hospital and help improve it, so Mercy Ships thinks there is some real potential to work with him in the work they’re trying to accomplish on the site. The potential for working with this man is one of the reasons they pushed through an agreement to have us assess this hospital first. The government actually had been dragging its feet for some time, and our team’s visit was rapidly approaching without a deal in place to have us assess one of the hospitals. Finally, this man stepped forward and signed the agreement himself, ‘encouraging’ (i.e. forcing their hand) the government to get on board.
Looking down into one of the septic cleanouts - those are
cockroaches. I remember hearing somewhere that for every
cockroach you see, there are 100 others in the vicinity that
you don't see. Needless to say, there's a bit of a roach
problem at the hospital.
After meeting with him for about 30 minutes, he wanted to walk around to see and meet all the team members. He then mentioned that he’d also like all of us to come in the following day to meet with him as a team. So, not wanting to have yet another day taking up by a big meeting, I decided to call the team back in from the site and to get the big meeting over with sooner rather than later (note my task-oriented, all business Western mentality in full force!).
It was a very interesting meeting, though once again we found ourselves sitting in a room meeting with people instead of working! This trip is turning out to be the biggest lesson in cultural sensitivity of all my trips. One by one, the hospital director told us all about the things he’d done to try to improve the conditions at the hospital. He told us about all the challenges they faced there too, and how his maintenance staff were insufficiently trained - with most of those very maintenance staff right there in the room with us!
KC, dealing with his contact lens...at one of the last places
you'd ever want to be cleaning something with your mouth and
fingers and sticking it in your eye - near the medical waste
trash pile, which happens to be immediately adjacent to the
tuberculosis ward. You can remember him in your prayers. ;)
At first it sounded kind of funny, him building himself up while seeming to tear down his team in front of us. But as I thought back to some of our culture training material, in his cultural context he was actually advocating for his team by telling us how much they needed our help. The looks of agreement on the staff’s faces seemed to support this interpretation of his comments.
Overall, this trip really has been more challenging on the cultural level than any of my previous trips that I can recall. I think the language barrier has a lot to do with it as I have been much less able to chit-chat with the local people than normal. But also, I think the political situation here has had a big impact as well. Up until just a few short years ago, Guinea was under communist rule. As a result, though every bit as friendly as their African brothers in other Sub-Saharan countries, it seems that knowledge is held even closer to the chest here and there’s even more red tape to get through than usual.
It’s just my initial impression, and perhaps it’s primarily just the language barrier, but one thing is for sure – our team’s productivity has definitely been hampered by our lack of freedom to go and do as we please. Fortunately, the team has kept a good attitude about it all and we are still making good progress.
One funny anecdotal story from today: I was walking around with KC surveying the electrical demand on the site. We came to the computer lab but the worker who was leading us around didn’t have the key to go inside (it was closed for the day). We asked him, through our interpreter, how many computers there were inside. The interpreter relayed his response to us, “He said ‘there are somehow plenty’.” We got a good chuckle out of it, imagining inputting ‘plenty’ into the quantities column of our Excel spreadsheet file to calculate the electrical load on the building!

Saturday Sept 15
John and I playing follow the leader on site. John won.
Another full day at the hospital today as the team wrapped up their site investigations. It was cloudy, but the most humid of the days so far. Just walking around the site I was dripping in sweat. I know there are places in the USA with this kind of humidity, but something about the smoky, fermenting trash and sewage smell makes the humidity more unbearable. I can’t imagine that so many people in Africa know no other existence that this.
This is hard to fully appreciate at this distance, but this is a
hard thing to photograph without being very awkward. This
is pretty much how every hospital pathway looks - covered
with family who have taken up residence outside the ward
where their loved one is hospitalized. They spend all day here,
on the ground, eating and even cooking their meals over
charcoal fires, as they simply wait for their loved ones to
get better...or worse.
It’s these and other similar types of thoughts that really serve to challenge my pre-conceived notions of God. How can God intimately know and love and care for each and every person on the planet? When I see all these people who entire existence seems so foreign to me, it’s hard to imagine that the God I know and love and who walks with me every day as I fight such ‘difficult’ hardships as traffic and rude airport workers, is the same God who wants to work in these people’s lives too, and does so completely within their cultural context. If I’m being honest, it’s far easier for me to come work in Africa from the humanitarian standpoint – I see a physical need and have some training and a skill that can help them in their physical condition. But from a spiritual standpoint, it’s hard for me to imagine these people coming to know and serve the same God I know, and for the words of the bible to become fresh and alive in their lives just as it is in mine.
Brian and Clare, down in the hospital ward on board the ship,
where they spent most evenings! These kids had surgeries
to remove non-cancerous tumors from their faces.
Obviously, millions of people here in Africa have come to a very real and strong faith in God and do live with Him each day just as I do (albeit in a much different context), but my finite mind can’t imagine God working with them in their everyday lives and then still caring for my comparably meager concerns at the same time. When I’m at home, I pray for things like a safe car trip to drive a few hours away for vacation, or for the right school for our boys to attend, or worse yet, for a measly parking spot.
All of these requests, which often seem to account for a large percentage of my prayer requests at times, seem so trivial compared to these people’s needs, who bring their sick loved ones to a filthy hospital with contaminated water and virtually no operable equipment and truly have no chance but for their prayers to God. Is God offended by my trivial prayers in light of this? Or is He really able to handle both – the desperate, daily pleas of life and death in Africa and the ‘small’ prayers of a Westerner whose life is often consumed with nothing more than the distraction of merely managing a lot of possessions? I guess the end of the sermon on Sunday would tell us that yes, God can handle both. But for me, when I see the hopeless situation of the typical African person, it’s just really hard to believe that my trivial prayers even register on God’s radar.
Pondering what life must be like in Conakry, Guinea, which
was so ironic since at that exact moment I happened to be up
on a water tower at a hospital overlooking that very city.
No, I’m not having a crisis of faith here – or at least not one that would cause me not to believe anymore. God has proven himself to me many times in my life so I really don’t doubt his existence.  But yes, my faith is definitely challenged and my preconceived notions of who God is and what He is capable of from a standpoint of loving every person in the world have long since been shaken on these EMI trips. I’ve come to realize that the older I get, even as I feel closer to God as my relationship with him expands, I sometimes feel like I actually ‘know’ less about him and how he works.  Funny too, since I had God figured out pretty well by age 25 or so.
Writing this blog on board the ship.
Ok, enough pondering things that make me uncomfortable – back to the air conditioned ship and checking my email. I hope my coffee hasn’t gone cold.