Engineering Ministries International - Guinea Project trip, Sept 2012

There are some big trees in Africa!

PART IV of V

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.”

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