Sunday, September 29, 2013

One Monthiversary!

One month down.  And it seems like I just arrived yesterday!  The past month has been filled with exciting adventures, so many laughs, hundreds of "firsts," and so much love.  Although I am still settling in, this place has quickly become my home.  I am excited for the adventures that lie ahead in the coming months.  

Sr. Merilyne and I at the conference
This past week has definitely been a test of my flexibility and patience.  For any of you who know me at all, you know that I love being on time and organized, having everything planned out and scheduled, and having list after list of things so I won't forget anything.  But this is South Sudan--the land where a meeting that is supposed to start at 8am doesn't actually start until 2 in the afternoon and the land where you are supposed to be somewhere on Sunday and don't actually reach there until Tuesday.  So last Saturday night, Sr. Merilyne called me and informed me that I would be leaving the next morning to go to Yambio (a town about 3 hours from Maridi).  She said we would be going for a medical conference on case management for 4 days.  I quickly became excited for so many reasons.  #1. I've never been on a business trip before--so I'm thinking this is the real deal and #2. Not only is it a business trip, but it is a business trip in South Sudan which makes it instantly so much cooler and #3. I get to explore a new part of this amazing country.  My mind quickly began to wonder what this "business conference" will consist of.  I'm thinking a fancy hotel conference room, business suits, Powerpoints, people taking notes on their laptops and smartphones, the whole nine yards.  Surprisingly, some of my predictions ended up coming true.  Anyway, I definitely was not prepared to leave in less than 10 hours, so I quickly packed my bag and got everything set and ready to go.  Sunday morning after Mass, Sr. Merilyne and I ate breakfast and waited for the vehicle to come pick us up to go to Yambio.  And we waited.  And waited.  Finally by evening I realized we weren't going to Yambio that day.  Okay, fine--we were told the car would get us on Monday morning instead.  The communication wasn't the best, and we weren't really sure who was actually supposed to come pick us up on Monday.  So the next day I repacked my bags and Sr. and I waited by the road for a car to come get us.  After many phone calls back and forth to various people and many questions without answers, we realized we weren't getting picked up that day.  I finally realized that we were not going to go to the conference at all.  It was supposed to be Monday-Thursday and we already missed the whole first day.  So I unpacked my bags and continued on with planning my classes for the week.  Monday night, Sr. informed me that our driver for our site here would be picking us up at 5:30am to make it to Yambio in time for the second day of the conference.  Although I doubted that we would go the next morning, I repacked my bags for a third time and sure enough we left the next morning.  

The conference-Powerpoints and all!
We got to Yambio and pulled into the parking lot of a fancy hotel, and then proceeded to the conference room (My predictions started to come true, minus people taking notes on laptops and smartphones).  The conference was put on by the World Health Organization and it covered management of different diseases (Viral Hemorraghic Fevers, Malaria, Measles, Meningitis, Neonatal Tetanus, Typhoid, Cholera, HIV, just to name a few).  It turned out to be an extremely helpful conference, and I learned much more about treatment and management of common diseases that I will be seeing throughout my time here.  Even though the travel plans were hazy and a bit frustrating, things worked out.  I am trying to let go of the structure and organization that I am used to, and really just go with the flow!  Because this is South Sudan--where time is not a concept, but everything always finds a way to work out.  I got back to Maridi late on Friday night, and it sure is good to be back.  Saturday morning I was greeted after Mass by my precious little kiddos whom I missed so much!  Overall-successful week.  

To top everything off, Victoria, a woman that I met one of the first days after I arrived, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl on Friday.  So Saturday, Cait, Grace, Ariel, and I took a little trip to visit the new baby.  I got to snuggle with a newborn baby--not even 24 hours old.  She is very healthy and mama is doing really well, too!  It is tradition here to wait 4 days before giving the baby a name, so on Tuesday we are going back to their house for a big party and naming ceremony.  

Looking back on the past month, I can't help but smile at all the incredible experiences and people who have become a part of my life.  Everyday I wake up and have a reality check--I live in South Sudan.  I can only hope and pray that the rest of my time here goes as well as this first month.  One month down--One month of memories.  One month of joy.  One month of love.  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bless the Rains Down in Africa

The aftermath of the mud fight

So far, my schedule the past two weeks has been very fluid and there hasn't been much consistency in my daily routine.  However, there is one thing that has been consistent throughout my time here so far--daily rain showers.  I can always expect an afternoon or evening rain shower each and every day.  It ranges from a short sprinkle to a torrential downpour.  Most of the time I look at the rain as a hindrance because I don't want to have to walk outside and get wet and muddy.  A couple days ago; however, Grace, Ariel, and I decided to make the most out of the afternoon downpour.  We ran through the rain and loaded up with ammo (handfuls of mud), and we waited for Cait to come out from a meeting.  Minutes later war erupted, and it turned into a huge mud fight in the middle of a large soccer field.  All the kids and locals were taking cover from the rain and laughing at us crazy people!  It was such a great afternoon and such a great bonding experience.  We are already planning to have many more mud fights in the future!

A lady we visited during outreach
My daily routine over the past week, like mentioned, has been a bit scattered, but I am slowly finding my fit here and I am loving every minute of it!  My morning are dedicated to the clinic.  I have been doing a variety of things like taking vital signs before the patients see the doctor, giving injections, bandaging wounds, and handing out medications.  Gradually I have started to explain to patients in Arabic how to take their medications.  Sometimes they actually understand what I am saying, but most of the time they just look at me like I am speaking a foreign language!  I spent a couple days this week in Maridi town at the main hospital to look around and see how it is run.  The nurses and doctors invited Grace and me back to work there a few days, so hopefully we will get that opportunity in the coming months.  I also went with one of the sisters to inquire about the hospital's Maternal and Child health (MCH) program.  We are hoping to get a program and maternity ward started in the next month or two so it is up and running for the new year.  I am so excited for this new addition!  So far, the clinic has been a nice way to ease back into the nursing role.  Next week will being a different story, though, because Friday was our doctor's last day.  So for the next couple of weeks to months, Sr. Meryline (a nurse), Grace, and I will be running the show.  Things will definitely pick up, but I am ready for a little bit of a challenge.  Classes have also been going much better than expected.  Somehow I survived my first week of teaching---thank you, Lord!  The students in my science class were supposed to turn in their first homework assignment on Friday, and I only had 4 out of 37 kids turn it in.  Over 10%, so I am taking that as a success!  Yesterday I went for community outreach with some people from the clinic.  We did a short health education talk then had a "mobile clinic" with basic supplies and care.  We are planning on doing this outreach each Saturday.  It is the perfect way to serve those who need it the most--those in the most remote villages who don't have access to any form of healthcare.  

After a downpour!
Life here is busy, but yet so simple.  I am constantly amazed at the sense of community and joy shown by the sweet kids each and every day.  I already have seen how I take so many things for granted--things as simple as a rain shower.  Although somedays I see the dark clouds rolling in and feel cool breezes against my skin and think "not again", I know after the downpour there will always be a bright rainbow shining above.  Such a simple reminder that God always brings beauty and light after a difficult class or busy day at the clinic.  Beauty and light through the kids, through my site partners, and through the community here.

Source--The title of this blog is from a song by Toto called "Africa."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Road Less Traveled

After almost three full days of traveling, I finally arrived at my new home in Maridi, South Sudan.  The journey to get here was not the easiest, but I am so thankful to be here and be able to make this place my home.  I traveled to South Sudan with my site partner, Ariel, and two other SLMs who are placed in Juba, S. Sudan- Mike and Pat.  Ariel and I stayed the night with the Salesian community in Juba, and started our long trip to Maridi the next morning.  The trip took just about 9 hours, but we only traveled 180 miles.  Yes, it was a slow and bumpy ride.  The "road" was filled with pot-holes and rain had washed out other parts of the path.  We truly were driving on the road less traveled.  We finally turned onto the road where our compound is contained, and I immediately felt at peace and at home.  I was warmly greeted by hundreds of small hands and wide eyes--and I immediately fell in love with those sweet smiles and voices shouting, "Hi Sister, How are you?"  At that moment, I knew this is exactly where I am meant to be.   

The clinic where I will be working
The past week has been an absolute whirl-wind of overwhelming excitement, little sleep, many laughs and smiles, lots of playing, and even more love.  I have hit the ground running here and jumped right into the daily routine.  There are two Salesian Lay Missioners here, Grace and Cait, who volunteered last year and are staying until December.  They have truly been such lifesavers-answering hundreds of questions each day, sharing their experiences, and showing Ariel and me the ropes.  They have helped make this transition so much easier.  This week has been mostly for getting to know the kids and spending time with them.  I have been going to the clinic each day with Grace who is showing me how things run there.  I am excited to be there and to be able to get back into a nursing role.  The clinic is fairly new, and I am excited for all the possibilities and growth that can happen there during my time here.  Patients usually are finished by early afternoon, and so after I am done at the clinic I will be teaching at the school.  Going into mission, I knew of the possibility that I would be teaching, although I was secretly praying that I wouldn't have to!  But sure enough, the first day here, I was assigned to teach science and handwriting to third graders.   It will be a very different experience, but I know the school needs more teachers and I am more than happy to help out as best as I can!  I just wish I would've paid a bit more attention to the "How to Teach" lesson during orientation!  Luckily, the entire student body knows varying degrees of English.  So far, language hasn't been as much of a barrier as I expected.  I'm sure that may change soon.  The tribal language spoken here is Zande.  The kids teach me Zande during lunch and after school.  I have mastered the basic greetings and a few other words.  For the clinic I am also learning Arabic.  Most of the population that we serve there speaks Arabic, so Grace kindly gave me a little Arabic medical dictionary that she made up for me.  Slowly by slowly I am studying and learning those words as well.     

Ariel, Cait, Me, and Grace
Overall, I am so incredibly excited for the next year and all that is in store.  The community here is overflowing with joy and love.  There is so much energy and positivity that the kids emit daily.  It will still take a while to get all settled in, but the transition has been much easier than expected.  As things start to progress with my daily duties, I will report back to you all and keep you updated as best as possible!     
The road to Maridi
Although the road to get here seemed like it is less traveled, I know there have been thousands and thousands of footprints that have made lasting impressions on the ground.  Not just any footprints, but Christ's footprints.  It is so easy to see Christ's presence at work in the people here--in their smiles and words, in their love for each other, in their selflessness.  It is my hope and prayer that I will be able to leave only a small footprint, a small impression on the kids' paths throughout my time in this amazing place.