Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Patiently Waiting

As we are coming to the end of this season of Advent, we are finishing a time of anticipation and waiting.  This season has taken on a new meaning for me this year.  After being away from home for 16 months, I have been getting anxious and very ready to visit.  Yes, seeing friends and family on Skype and texting back and forth helps ease the actual distance apart; however, there is just something about home sweet home…actual face-to-face conversations, sights and smells that are familiar, being wrapped in your mother's arms.  For the past few months I've really felt like I need to go home and get recharged and renewed.  But, come to find out, that is easier said than done.   

My new friends after Sunday night Bible study
Usually I am a pretty patient person; however, in this specific case, my patience was running thin.  I had my flight booked since October, but my passport had been in Kinshasa (the capital) since I arrived in Congo in September.  I had to send in my passport to process my missionary visa.  This is all fine and good, but as time got closer and closer to my December 21st departure date, I began getting a bit nervous.  Everyday I would call to check up on the status of my visa, and I got the same response: "Courage.  Ton passeport va venir la semaine prochaine."  (It will come next week).  Yeah, yeah.  After that same response week after week I started to lower my hopes and expectations and decided to start planning my Christmas in Congo.  But then on December 16th, 5 days before I was supposed to leave, I got a call saying it was back in Lubumbashi, and I would indeed be able to go home for the holidays.  Praise the Lord!  I should have known that God's timing always works out.  And a big thank you for all the generous people who were storming the gates of Heaven with prayers for me!  They worked!

Feast day celebration with my coworkers
So here I am, sitting on a plane back to the States…474 days after I originally left American soil.  I've had a lot of time to think on this flight from Ethiopia to DC (17 hours to be specific!).  I have been thinking back on my mission in Maridi and now in L'shi, recalling my personal mission, and comparing to see if I have been fulfilling that mission or not.  There have been so many joyful moments and beautiful memories have been made, but along with that, many obstacles and challenges have come up.  Some days I feel like I really am living out Don Bosco's mission of being a loving presence to those around me, especially children.  But there are plenty more days where I feel like I am missing the whole point of mission, where I am perfectly failing.  I was reading an article the other day that discussed the hardships of mission life.  We were warned about this during orientation, and I discovered this in many ways in South Sudan.  And now, the reality of this statement is coming to light again during my mission in Congo.  Something that really stood out to me in the article is the following statement:

"We gladly assumed hardships for the sake of mission.  We viewed the discomforts as necessary in order to win the lost.  We pushed and pulled, we strove and struggled, we gave everything we had and took only loads of responsibility.  If things are hard it is because we care about something.  We can look at what we seem to care about so deeply that is requiring this great force of effort from us and we can decide if this is actually where we want to put our energies.  If we do think it is worth it, we will work for it.  We'll assign creative energy towards it, and we will suffer hardships for it."  (http://www.angiewashington.com/2014/12/life-is-hard/)

Learning some Congolese dance moves with the kids!
My three months in Congo have been challenging, but a good kind of challenging.  I can tell I've been going through the exact same stages as I did in S. Sudan.  For the first 2 months, life was great- the honeymoon phase.  I made some amazing friends, I was doing the exact work I want to be doing, I was discovering a new place and a new culture.  I truly was loving Congolese living.  Now, don't get me wrong, I still wake up every morning and think to myself how blessed I am to be doing what I'm doing, but the honeymoon phase is definitely over.  Congo has been hard.  I haven't had Ariel with me to share every moment of every day with.  I'm still struggling to learn a completely foreign language (thankfully it is getting so much easier!), and it's been a struggle to find a good balance between my mission life and my personal life.  Even though many days I feel so overwhelmed and want to just break down, I try to step back and look at the wider picture.  Mission life is not easy…it's not meant to be.  However, I've found out over the past year and a half that this work is exactly what I am passionate about.  And this is the type of work where I want to place all my energy.  I love living in Africa, learning about tropical diseases and African culture, and helping sick kiddies get better day by day.  Yes, some days are really hard, but mostly because I make it hard for myself.  I try to be available to help wherever needed and whenever needed.  Although some other nurses take advantage of me for that fact, the ultimate outcome is definitely worth it…so I am going to continue to put all my energy towards doing that.  But we all need some breaks, too, and that is exactly why I am so excited to go home and take some R&R!

Helping out with the Christmas market
This Advent period, this time of waiting, has reminded me of something so important.  God places these periods of waiting in our lives for a reason.  It is a time to prepare ourselves mentally, physically, and spiritually for what is to come.  And this year I was reminded that often we can be impatient.  I wanted instant gratification.  I wanted my visa and passport back right then and there so I knew I would be able to come home.  But God's timing always works out.  I am looking forward to spending the holidays at home this year.  Three weeks in the cold, snowy USA with my friends and family is just what I need to recharge and get renewed to continue next year in Congo.  God always makes everything come together in His own timing...all we have to do is patiently wait.                     

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Here, There, and Everywhere

It is long-overdue for an update on my mission--leaving South Sudan, traveling to South Africa and Uganda, and finally getting all settled in my new home in Congo.  Life has been a bit crazy (Hence my lack of blogging) with traveling, jumping on and off planes, meeting new people as well as old friends, exploring new cities, and learning new languages.  But it has been an exciting and memory-filled time!

Spending my last day in Maridi with my favorite kiddos
Let me begin with the end of my mission in South Sudan.  I left my sweet kids and my home there at the end of August.  As I expected, it was not easy.  I had to answer questions from the kids like, "Why do they even send people here from America?  We become friends with you and then you just leave us."  Some kids were angry, some indifferent, and some were grateful for my presence there.  But I was able to say good goodbyes, and I really felt a sense of completion and peace with my decision to leave when I did.  Those kids will forever hold a special place in my heart, and not one day has gone by without remembering a funny moment I had with them or a cherished conversation that took place.  They taught me so much about living a simple life following God's call.  They taught me so many life lessons and made me re-evaluate my priorities.  I am forever grateful for my time there, and who knows, maybe one day I'll be back.  But after many tears and hugs, it was time to leave.  As usual I was dreading the 300km (180 mile) drive from Maridi to Juba.  We left at 6:00am and arrived in Juba at noon….Noon the next day.  Yes…it took us 30 hours to travel 180 miles.  I'm not the best at calculations, but I feel like I should've been able to walk faster than that.  But God blessed me with one more South Sudanese travel experience.  Because it was rainy season, the trip was miserable.  We got stuck numerous times and had to help other people get unstuck.  We got to a river that we needed to cross, but in typical South Sudanese style, there was no bridge that went over the river.  The river was too high to drive through, so we had to sleep in the car and wait for it to go down.  It was an adventure, but needless to say, I was happy to reach Juba the next day!  

Sunset hike in Cape Town, South Africa
Ariel and I then spent 9 days in South Africa.  It was a nice time to spend with her…A great way to end one mission and begin another.  It was a much needed break and allowed me to process my time in South Sudan and prepare for a new journey in Congo.  We spent 2 days in Johannesburg and a week in Cape Town.  Cape Town was absolutely gorgeous.  We explored the city, met so many new friends, and had some really great discussions about our experiences over the past year.  After our little holiday in Cape Town, Ariel and I split ways.  It was tough.  We have been together each day over the past 13 months.  We didn't go a single night without talking, sharing our experiences from the day, followed by a goodnight hug.  Knowing I wouldn't have my dear friend right by my side for the next journey was difficult to take in, but that also is part of mission life.  I'm so grateful for her support, and even though we will be apart, the support will continue--just in a different way.  Ariel flew back to South Sudan, and I stopped through Uganda for a week.  I have many friends in Uganda that I have met over my visits there, so I wanted to see them and catch up for a couple days.  And once again God's timing was perfect.  One of my friends from University just arrived in Uganda the week prior.  I went to Gulu, Uganda to visit her where she will be working for the next year.  It was such an amazing feeling to see somebody that I knew.  Over the past year I've met so many new people which is great, but there is just something about seeing a familiar face.  Then it also worked out that one of my nursing instructors happened to be in Gulu for a week.  Each year a team from Kansas comes for a week-long mission trip, and it happened to be the same week I was in Uganda.  I met up with Lana, my teacher, and we shared our experiences over dinner.  Once again, seeing a familiar face and talking to somebody who really understands was such a blessing.  

With my new coworkers in my new white scrubs!
After 2 weeks of adventures, I was ready to make the big move to Congo.  I've been in Lubumbashi for just over a week now, and it has been an extremely busy transition.  As soon as I stepped off the plane, the French began.  I fortunately made my way through the airport and was greeted by Br. Jules who I worked with in South Sudan.  He is a Congolese Salesian and is now studying theology in Lubumbashi.  It was such a relief to see him because he speaks English and French really well and could translate for me.  I got to the Salesian community where I will be staying for the next year.  It is extremely nice….I am spoiled with hot water, a washing machine, and so many other unexpected surprises.  It definitely is a bit different from the village life in Maridi.  I live here with 6 priests ranging in age from 65-92, so I bring the average age down significantly.  I jumped right into work and have been working at the hospital for a week.  My days start at 8am and end at 4pm.  The hospital is absolutely beautiful.  There are so many resources, it is well stocked with medications, and the nurses and doctors actually come to work.  There are 7 different departments, and the plan is for me to spend a month in each place (Dispensary, Pediatrics, Maternity, ICU, Internal Medicine, Medical/Surgical Unit, and OR).  Then I'll spend the rest of my time in one of those departments where I am needed the most.  This past week I've been in the outpatient clinic, the Dispensary.  The work has been very similar to what I did in Maridi.  We get about 100 patients each day, and I take registration, vitals, give injections, start IVs, do ECGs, and other various nursing tasks.  It is a bit slow, but it has been good because I've been learning French with the other nurses and trying to figure out the way the hospital works.  I still have so much to learn, but the transition has been surprisingly smooth.  I am so excited for the experience I'll get in the hospital here.  On the weekends I am supposed to go to a nearby Salesian community to work with the street kids.  Since I am still getting settled in, I'll start going there next weekend.  I am looking forward to that because I will be surrounded by kids again.  I can't wait to bring that aspect of mission back into my mission here.  With all those wonderful things being said, I am struggling greatly with the language.  My 5 years of French in school is helping, but I still have so much to learn.  At the end of each day I am exhausted from concentrating so hard to listen to others and understand them, and also from flipping through my dictionary every other minute looking up words I don't understand.  I just hope and pray it gets easier.  

 Other than that large obstacle (which I was expecting), life here has been wonderful.  The people I work with are great, the other volunteers I've met are so welcoming and inviting, and the spirit and charism of the Salesians is extremely clear in the hospital and community where I live.  Even though the past month has been a wild and crazy ride, I'm so blessed for all the experiences that have taken place, and I'm looking forward to the year ahead!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

One Chapter Ends, Another Begins

Our First day in Maridi one year ago! 

It is hard to believe I've been living in South Sudan for one year now. Some days it feels like I just stepped off the plane in Juba last August. But other days it feels like I've lived here for a much longer time.  Thinking back on the past year, I see how much has really happened in the short amount of time I've been here.  It's been a year of invaluable experience and personal growth. However, those aren't nearly as important as the relationships that I've developed with my friends here. One year ago, they were strangers. But today, they are my family. In a couple days I will be leaving this amazing village..leaving behind my friends and family who have taught me more than I could have imagined over the past year. 

I don't pick favorites, but if I did, these two would take the cake!
As hard as it will be to say goodbye to my favorite kiddos I know it's time to move on. Something I've struggled with is knowing that I've done something here in Manguo, South Sudan. Yes, I've lived here and worked here for a year, but did I actually do anything? If I stay for another year will I finally feel fulfilled? Or what about 10 years...would it make a difference? On the grand scheme of things, one year is a very short time. Even though some days I get angry and frustrated with the kids, I hope they have realized and felt the effects of my mission here--to love them. And I think some have. I tell them everyday that I love them and try my best to show it through my actions. Although many times I fail, I hope they truly know how much I love them and how much they mean to me. There is no good way to explain that I'm leaving and probably will not see the majority of these people again, and it breaks my heart just thinking about the goodbyes I'll have to say in a few days.  But as much as I adore these people and the life and culture here, it's time to go. I feel called to start a new adventure..a new journey.  And I am doing just that. 

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Next month I'll be moving to the Democratic Republic of Congo to start another year with the Salesian lay missioner program. It is a new site and a new placement so I don't fully know what to expect. When I came to South Sudan a year ago, Cait and Grace were here to show me everything and help me adjust. But I am going there alone. I am nervous, anxious, scared, but so ready and excited and hopeful at the same time. The details are still being worked out, but I know the general gist of my work. I'll be posted in a 125 bed hospital in Lubumbashi (Congo's second largest city). I'll work part time there and part time taking field trips to the surrounding villages. My main job will be to do needs assessments and survey the villages so that I can then create health programs based on the needs that I find. I will have much to learn, but I'm ready for the challenge. 

The red dot is Lubumbashi--my new home!
Life will be so different. I'll be moving from a small village to a city of 1.5 million. I'll be leaving behind the small clinic where I've been working for a big, city hospital. I'll no longer be one of the only two white people in the village, but I'll be in a place with over 5,000 expatriates from all over the world. And I'll be trying to figure out life and work and everything else completely in French.  I'll be expected to speak only French in the hospital and from what I understand, the Salesian community where I will be staying also only speaks French.  It will be a challenge, but c'est la vie! (That's life).  I know that moving to Congo is the first step in a new, exciting chapter.

In 10 short days, I'm leaving this village, but the experiences and the many, many memories from Maridi will never be forgotten. I'll always remember these kids and all the love and joy they bring to my life everyday. I'm so grateful for their example in my life and for the way they have taught me to view the world differently.  Thank you all for your continued thoughts and prayers. Please continue to keep me in your prayers as I say my goodbyes here and transition to life in Congo, and also keep in prayer the new SLMs who will be departing for their own missions next month. I'm excited to continue to share my journey with you all from Lubumbashi, Congo!
My P8 class--they have stolen my heart.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Beautiful Life

After school selfies with the kiddos!
As I sit here on this Sunday afternoon, I find myself scrolling through Facebook.   I've seen a pattern in my Facebook newsfeed lately.  It seems like I am flipping endlessly through countless photos of weddings, bachelorette parties, engagements, and babies.  It must be something in the water back in the States, because every day Ariel and I walk out of our rooms, meet each other, and murmur the words "Another one..."  We both know exactly what that means-another one of our friends or people we know from home got engaged, got married, or had a baby.  You see, that's the problem with the time difference.  We get all the good news (via social media) bright and early the next morning.  Ariel and I have had many, many conversations about this exciting time in our friends' lives.  They are young and in love and moving forward with their lives like they should.  And we are in South Sudan.  I don't remember the last time I wasn't pouring sweat from the hot African sun or the last time that I've actually had clean feet.  Our biggest worries are trying to remember if we took our malaria pills for the week or if we actually have to shower or if it can wait another day.  I've joked many times with my friends at home that they better save at least one good guy for me when I get home because everybody else is already taken (but really-save me a good one!) :) 
Supporting the US Soccer Team in our Red, White, and Blue!
Seeing these things on Facebook have become the new normal over the past year, but today, moving from one wedding photo to the next left me feeling a bit different.  Usually after seeing my gorgeous friends in their wedding dresses with bright, radiant smiles on their faces, I question my life.  Should I just move home and get started with that life I have always dreamed of?  What would my life be like if I stayed in the states for the past year instead of moving to Africa?  Would I have found my prince charming?  Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would I be in the position I am right now.  I had a timeline for my life.  I always thought I would be married at 24 (haha what was I thinking!?), kids at 26, living in my cute little house with the perfect husband (preferably a handsome doctor).  And I was kindly reminded by my mother as we were laying and talking last month when she visited that "You know, by your age I was engaged and planning my wedding."  Thanks for that kind reminder, mom!  But instead of having a ring on my finger and looking at bridal magazines, I am just about to finish my first year working in South Sudan, and am working on confirming my plans for a second year in Africa.  And today, as I looked at wedding photos, I just smiled to myself.  I realized how different my life is, so much different than the life I imagined for myself at this time in my life.  But as different as it may be, I truly am happy with this current life.  That's the beauty of life--the beauty of God's timing, of His will.  You just never know where he will lead you next…maybe it will be to your perfect soul mate, or maybe it will be to the African bush.

These kids make life beautiful
Instead of asking myself those questions that usually pop into my head, I was overcome with such certainty that this life that I am living is exactly what I am supposed to be doing and where I am supposed to be living it.  I dreamed of that married at 24-kids-husband filled life in the past, but my current dream is the one I am living.  God has laid down this path for my life, and he truly has made it a beautiful journey.  He has allowed me to learn so many new things, grow in ways I don't fully understand, and meet the most incredible people along the way.  Sometimes it's hard to trust in God's timing, but I am a firm believer that if we put our trust in His plans, He will lead us on the most amazing journey and will sprinkle meaningful relationships, events, and cute African kiddies on our path along the way.  And it is these people, places, and adventures that ultimately show us His face and His will even more.  At least at the present moment that is what makes life beautiful for me.  Yeah, of course I still dream of my wedding dress, of the perfect father-daughter dance song, but that's not what God has planned for me right now.  He fills my days with big brown eyes, sweet hugs and cuddles, and so much love and wisdom from the smallest nuggets that I get to squeeze and love on all day every day!  

We all have different people and events that happen that make our lives truly beautiful.  And my current definition of a beautiful life most likely is completely different than another person's view of a beautiful life.  But ultimately, the same underlying truth is present- God gives us this life, these unique experiences each day, these moments of true happiness.  So now it's finally time to throw my own timeline out the window.  God is in control, and He has shown me true happiness (of course with the natural struggles that come along with everyday life) in following His plan and His time.  Our happiness lies in different experiences and people, and if we allow God, He does make it a beautiful life for each one of us.  And I am so grateful to have realized this more than ever in the past year.  

Side Note:  If you haven't seen it already, check out this video my previous site partners, Cait and Grace, put together of our kids in Maridi.  This video shows the true beauty of life! Enjoy! 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Best of Both Worlds

They actually are here!! 
Last week my two worlds, two things that I hold close to my heart, met.  These two worlds came crashing together and resulted in so much joy and happiness.  My family finally got to experience a place that has held my heart for so many years now.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think my parents would ever come to Africa, but sure enough, they hopped on a plane and came to meet me for a week.  It was a week full of memories, laughter, and plenty of love.  A week that I will always cherish and remember.  

Eating some African food at Mama Africa
 As much as I would love my parents to see where I've been living and working for the past year, the reality of that was a bit harder to figure out.  With the current situation still being so unstable and the village where I work being so remote and difficult to get to, we decided it would be better and easier to meet somewhere else.  But that's okay because I still got to see them.  So my parents and sister came to meet me in Zambia.  We spent a few days in the capital city of Lusaka just walking around and exploring.  Although it's not the rural Africa where I live, it still gave my parents a taste of typical life in Africa along with some startling realities of daily life here.  It was interesting to hear some of their comments and observations about the environment and people because those things have become so natural and normal to me.  

Celebrating my 23rd with a half marathon
After a few days in Lusaka we traveled to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.  It was an absolute beautiful little town.  So quiet and peaceful with the most friendly people, and we all really enjoyed spending the majority of our time there.  We explored the magnificent Victoria Falls, went on a safari in Botswana, ran a half marathon, and celebrated my 23rd birthday.  It was a jam-packed week, but I was able to see and do the most amazing things with the people I love he most.  And I enjoyed every minute of it!  

Exploring Victoria Falls with my dad!
Spending this time with my parents and sister after almost a year of not seeing one another really gave me so much perspective and appreciation for their presence in my life.  It's not easy to go a year without a face-to-face conversation with your dad or a warm hug from your mom.  While it has been difficult, I've realized that the empty space I've felt in my heart by missing their presence in the past year has been replaced.  The empty space has been packed and overflowing with love from my new family- my new family complete with over 800 kiddos.  Their hugs, their actions of love, their kind words, their smiles and laughter have reminded me of the true meaning of family-being there for one another and loving each other unconditionally.  And that is exactly the relationship that has developed with many of the sweet children in Maridi.  I'm so blessed to be able to leave my parents and sister and return back home to be with my South Sudanese family.  Its in the times that they call me their mother, when I wipe away tears from a child's face at the clinic, when I snag babies to hold and love, when the kids bite me or chase me with bats as a sign of affection, when they reveal their hopes and desires to me…it's these little moments each day that make me know this is my home and these kids are truly my family.  

Hanging out with the Elephants in Botswana
Getting away for a week to spend with my parents and sister came at the perfect time.  It gave me a chance to step away from this mission and reflect and process the past 11 months.  I am refocused, refreshed, and renewed.  I cannot wait to get back to Maridi and hit the ground running again for my last couple of months.   

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Another Angel in Heaven

          I do my best to find God in all situations around me--in the people, the environment, and the places where God leads me.  And I know, through these interactions, that God is constantly surrounding me.  But I also know that God constantly surrounds me with extra help- with angels…guardian angels to look down from Heaven and watch over me, protect me, and walk this path of life with me.  I know for a fact that my guardian angels have been working overtime to guide me and keep me safe on this journey so far.  And earlier this week, the angels took a sigh of relief because they got extra help.  The Heavens and angels rejoiced because another angel entered the Eternal Kingdom, my loving grandpa. 
Meet the newest angel in Heaven, my grandpa, Anthony.  He is the most loving, caring, hard-working, and incredibly stubborn people you would ever meet.  But he is my dear grandpa, and his example has taught me so much about living a simple life and staying focused on what is really important-faith, family, and farming.  You see, ever since I could remember, visiting grandpa always meant heading out to the farm.  He was a farmer and sure knew how to entertain his grandkids.  From fishing in the pond, to seeing the animals, to rides in the cherry picker, to four-wheeling around the farm…we were always guaranteed to have a blast at his house.  I could always count on a warm, loving hug from him as well as a handful of jelly beans as I entered his humble home.  Those two things were always a constant at grandpas.  But above all, he cherished and truly valued his faith.  And I am so blessed to have his example in my life of how to live a life for the Lord, putting full trust in his works and timing.  
"With" my grandpa on Thanksgiving
On Friday, on the 
feast of St. Anthony of 
Padua, my beloved grandpa will be laid to rest and will ride his big, red tractor up to Heaven.  Although I am definitely sad that I can't be at home with my family, I'm happy to have spent time with him before coming here, and I even got the chance to talk to him several times throughout this year.   It is also comforting to know that he will be reunited with and happily greeted at the Gates of Heaven by my sweet grandma.  I can only pray that this newest angel in Heaven will watch over me, all his other grandchildren, and children and help us to live a life led by his example.  Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.  And let perpetual light shine upon him.  May he rest in peace.  Amen

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Out in the Bush

On the "path" to Gongoli Village
For the past 9 months, I've considered myself to be living in "the bush" of Africa--middle of nowhere, a good 45 minute walk from the nearest "town" aka bigger village, rural Africa.  But on Saturday, I was introduced to the real bush.  Sister Meriline and I went for mobile clinic in a place called Gongoli village.  It was a full, busy, exhausting nine hours, but one of the most rewarding days I've had since I've been in South Sudan. 

Washing and fetching water at the multipurpose water hole
The day started by walking just under 2 hours through the bush.  I spent the whole time trekking on a narrow path, pushing grass that is taller than me out of my face.  We had to carry the medicines and all our supplies because there was no way of taking a vehicle or motorbike on the path.  It was so beautiful though, peaceful and serene.  We finally reached the thatched roof church where we set up our clinic.  Before we began I walked to the water hole where the people get their water just to check it out.  And it was just that--a hole that collected rainwater.  The water was extremely dirty and kids were bathing right where the other people were collecting water for drinking.  No wonder so many people there are suffering from water-borne diseases!  I made my way back to the church area, and some kids started kicking around the football.  So naturally I had to jump in and play for a few minutes before we started the clinic.  It caused quite the scene.  A white girl who actually knows how to play football--unheard of!  

Some patients waiting in line
Then we started the clinic.  I played doctor for the day and recorded the patient's symptoms, assessed, diagnosed, and prescribed medications.  The supplies we had were very limited because we had to carry everything, but we made due.  We had just over 90 patients come, a pretty good turnout for 4 hours of seeing patients.  The most common illnesses that I saw were intestinal worms (no surprise there), malaria, fungal infections, anemia, and musculoskeletal pain from working in the fields all day.  Sister and I took a break about half way through and gave a health awareness talk about the water they are using (after I saw the hole where they were fetching from and the quality of water) and how to properly filter or boil it to prevent sicknesses.  Then we started to ask about the demographics of the area and what access they have to resources.  There are over 200 families in the village--making well over 1,000 people, the  majority of whom are children.  These people have no access to healthcare, no schools in the area, and no support from the county.  If the kids want to go to school, they have to walk 2 hours each way to our school which is the closest to their village.  So the vast majority of kids there were just running around all day not attending school.  It was interesting to see because most of the places I go here, usually a few people speak English, but here nobody spoke a word of English., obviously from a lack of exposure and formal education.  The same issue occurs for healthcare.  They would have to walk to our health center to get any medical attention at all.  And when you are sick, a walk 2 hours each way just isn't feasible.  I was speaking to the chief, through a local translator who came with us, and he was telling me that they are petitioning the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health to get these services in Gongoli village; however, the county has yet to respond or provide any kind of support.  It was interesting to hear about their problems and struggles, but then to see how they are coming together as a community to try to fix them and improve their quality of living.  

Many people we saw were small kiddos
The clinic ran smoothly, but it wouldn't be an African day without heavy afternoon rains.  We had to take cover under the leaky, thatched roof Church.  We finished the last few patients and waited for the rain to stop.  This made for an interesting walk back to "civilization."  We moved back through the bush in the mud and with wet grass hitting us the whole time.  I was so dirty, but it was a fun adventure.  That is the mobile clinic that I want to do…those are the type of people I want to work with--those with absolutely no access to healthcare.  Although I was only with these villagers for a short day, I learned so much from them about living a simple and happy life.  They make due with what they have, and they have next to nothing.  Sister and I are already talking about making this a more regular mobile clinic site, maybe once a month or every other month.  Hopefully we can build a relationship with these people and at least make a small impact on their health.  It was a long, but incredibly fulfilling day.  The whole day I just felt in my element and so happy, and it is then that I knew this is what I am truly called to do.  One successful day in the bush complete and hopefully many more to come!
Getting lost in the bush!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Year of Nursing

This past week was National Nurse's week, and it also happened to be one year since I graduated from nursing school.  It made me reflect and think back on my first year as a registered nurse, and I quickly saw all the joys, struggles, rewards, and challenges that came along with my first year of nursing.

Around April of last year, I couldn't even count how many times I heard, "Do you have a job?" "Where will you be working?" "What unit will you be working on?"  My answer for all these questions was a bit different from the typical graduate nurse's response-- "Actually I'm moving to South Sudan to work at a clinic for a year."  This decision was not an easy one.  I felt as if I wasn't qualified enough (or at all) to go abroad.  I thought maybe I should get experience for a year or two in the states and then go do global nursing.  I went back and forth so many times, made many pros and cons lists, and said countless prayers for guidance and wisdom.  Ultimately, I couldn't ignore God's call and knew that I had to do what I was passionate about in a place that I always dreamed of working- Africa.

Waiting to get their wounds cleaned.
This past year of nursing has taught me many things about myself and also has reassured me of the reasons I studied nursing in the first place.  The clinic here has very basic services as I've mentioned before.  It is not the busiest of clinics- usually 30-50 patients a day.  And the resources and supplies we have are very, very minimal.  I spend 5 hours a day in the clinic where I bandage wounds, give medications and injections, and occasionally sit in for the doctor when he is on leave.  I don't call physicians, give blood transfusions, spend hours charting in the computer, or many of the other tasks and skills that I learned in nursing school.  But I didn't enter nursing just so I could do those tasks.  I started nursing for the relationship that nurses have with their patients.  They are the ones who get to know the patients, who spend all day in and out of their rooms, who really get to see each patient progress day after day.

A "balloon" can brighten any day!
This nurse-patient relationship is so much different here.  First, because I work at a clinic instead of a hospital, patients come one day and I rarely see them again.  I don't get to follow them to see if they get better or if the medicine works.  Secondly, it's hard to form a relationship with somebody when you can't verbally communicate with them.  However, it's not impossible.  I've realized, more than ever, that this relationship is the very reason I love nursing.  Even at a clinic.  Even in South Sudan.  I make do with my broken Arabic, my patients' broken English, and plenty of motions.  Even though I only see each person for a couple of hours in a day before they leave, it's still plenty of time to let them know that they are loved and to try to provide them with the best care that I can give.  I get to snuggle with sick babies while they wait to see the doctor and blow up gloves to make balloons to give to the kiddos.  Every time I'm at the school and a child comes to find me to show me their wound or to tell me what part of their body is paining, I can't help but smile.  That's when I know that they trust me enough to share their concerns and know that I will help them.  It might not be the nurse-patient relationship I learned about in nursing school, but it's just as rewarding and fulfilling. 

Snatching babies to play with every possible chance I get!
Reflecting back on my first year as a nurse, I am so thankful to be in such a rewarding and loving profession.  I probably couldn't list off the pathophysiology and signs and symptoms of Cushing's Syndrome or Glomerulonephritis like I could in nursing school, but ask me about tropical diseases and I could talk for hours!  I don't think any amount of post graduate nursing experience could have prepared me for the types of diseases and conditions that I find here.  It definitely has been on-the-job training, but the same core aspects of nursing and the purpose of nursing are still present.  I am so grateful for all the things I have learned and for the opportunity to do what I love for the past year.  I can't wait to see what experiences this amazing profession has in store for me in the future!

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Thousand Words

         They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so if that is true, I have 14,000 words for you right now!  Here is a look at the Easter celebrations in Manguo, South Sudan.  It was a beautiful time to celebrate the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus with the community and so many of my students.  Sometimes pictures tell a much better story than words, so enjoy a look into a South Sudanese Easter!

Before the Palm Sunday Procession began.  All the kids brought their own crosses to be blessed.

The blessing of the palms.  Then we all walked to the church for Mass. 

Holy Thursday washing of the feet.

After Mass we had Adoration.

Good Friday Stations of the Cross.  We walked for 5 hours on the main road, stopping at each station to pray. 

So many of our students came and carried their own cross along the way.

Lighting of the Easter Candle at the Easter Vigil Mass.

Each person brought their own candle to light during the Mass.

Hanging out with our friends after Easter Vigil. 
All ready for Easter Mass!

Easter Day--the Church was packed!

Baptisms on Easter.  They lined up and the Priest went down the line baptizing each baby.  It was the quickest I've ever seen 30 kids be baptized!

So many Easter blessings this year!

Enjoying the Easter celebrations with Ariel.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Officially Initiated

As of last week, I have officially been initiated to Africa.  This initiation came in the form of malaria.  One of the priests here says that you are not truly living in Africa until you get malaria which is the most common tropical parasite seen here.  I had been doing my absolute best to avoid it- taking my prophylaxis religiously, perfectly tucking in my mosquito net every night, and spraying on layers and layers of bug spray most evenings.  But somehow, despite all those things, the pesky little mosquito still found a way to deliver its sting.  And let me tell you, it was not a fun journey.  

My Sweet Silla
After laying in bed for almost 8 days, receiving IV medications because I couldn't keep pills down, and sweating out what seemed like half of my body weight, I am finally good as new!  It's amazing how many people truly care for you and pray for you when you are sick.  I am absolutely convinced that was the reason I got better so quickly.  Thankfully, I had the best nurse I could ask for, Ariel.  She constantly brought me cold water and towels, tried her absolute best to get me to eat, and even gave me my malaria injections.  I really think I'm going to make a nurse out of her yet! She was such a blessing and helped me to feel so much better even when I felt miserable.  The kids were also amazing.  I'm pretty sure most of them thought I was dead because I didn't leave my room, and they didn't see me for over a week.  But after a few days, I started getting knocks on my door and it was some of the kids coming to check on me.  One day, the kids were gathered around my bed and one of the girls, Silla, said, "Let us take this time to pray for our sister."  Then she led us in prayer.  It almost made me cry.  It was the sweetest and most thoughtful thing somebody could have done.  The next day I got a pile of letters and prayers from my P7 class with the cutest messages.  My favorite was when one boy said that he was sad I was sick, but he was even more sad that since I was sick he couldn't take the vocabulary quiz that I was supposed to give to him and the class.  Such good students!  Although most days I just didn't want to see anybody, when I heard the knock on my door I couldn't help but open it to see my kids standing there smiling.  And I am also so grateful for my family, friends, and strangers at home who prayed for me.  One day my mother informed me that the checkout lady at Staples was even praying for me.  Leave it to my mother to inform the checkout lady of my sickness! But really, thank you dear friends, family, Ariel, students, and Staples lady for your help and prayers.  God definitely heard them and placed his healing hands on me.  

So happy to be back in my "Office"
Now I definitely have a better appreciation for people who come to the clinic with malaria.  I knew malaria was serious, but I didn't know the extent of it.  I just handed patients their medicine and told them to get better soon.  But malaria is no joke.  And people here get malaria like it's a common cold-- over and over again.  I can't even imagine.  Maybe I'm just a huge baby, but one time with severe malaria is more than enough for me!  With the help of your prayers, some great meds, an even better site partner/nurse, and lots of sleep, I am back to the crazy, busy life of Maridi, South Sudan.  I still can tell that nasty parasite isn't completely out of my body.  I still need frequent naps and my appetite still isn't back to how it was before.  One student came up to me the other day and said, "Sister…you are just so….so…not fat anymore" to which I laughed and said that is what being sick does to you!  But just give me a couple of weeks, and I'll be back to my big, healthy self again.  

Slowly but surely I am recovering and starting back to work.  The clinic has been running as usual.  The number of patients has been increasing again which is keeping us busy.  There is nothing new to report in the school.  The first term will come to an end in about a month, so I am looking forward to a little break at that time!  Well it only took 7 months, but looks like I am officially initiated to Africa!  And I can easily say that I would have been perfectly fine if I was never initiated in the first place.  But, again, thanks to you all for your prayers and good thoughts, because now I am ready to get back in the swing of things and refocus on this mission and my personal mission.  

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Blindly Running

As part of our Lenten sacrifice, Ariel and I have been getting up early to do physical and spiritual exercises each morning.  Our routine has actually turned us into 95 year old grandmothers--bed at 9:30pm and waking up at 5:00am.  Our days are so jammed packed with the clinic, school, and after school activities that we don't have any time to fit in exercise during "normal" waking hours.  So we have created a schedule that allows us to do various exercises-running, yoga, strengthening-and morning prayer during our only free time before mass begins at 6:45am.  Although I dread the sound of my alarm most (more like every) mornings, I couldn't think of a better way to begin the day.  It is a peaceful time, a quiet time, the only time in the day when I don't have a hundred kids screaming at me all at the same time.  It gives me a chance to really take in the peace and quiet, clear my mind, and get ready for the day.

40 minutes into my run--the first sign of daylight 
Easily my favorite activity that we have been doing is running.  I like running and have enjoyed getting back into it, but running in Maridi, South Sudan is such an interesting experience for a few different reasons.  #1-People just don't do it.  They work all day, every day in the field and don't need extra activities to get their exercise.  So when they see me do it, they find it strange.  #2-I already stick out enough as a foreigner, but a white person running really makes them laugh.  Even though it is pitch black when we run, somehow they still know I am white.  I hear people on the road conversing in Zande, but I pick out the words "white" and "Ah, MAMA!" which is an expression that so many people here use when they are surprised.  And #3- Potholes, goats, and mangoes.  Let me explain this last point that makes running a completely different experience.  There are so many obstacles, and when you are running in complete darkness, it makes for an interesting run.  If I run on the main "road," I risk falling into human-sized pot holes.  And If I run around the compound, I risk tripping over goats and getting hit by falling mangoes.  And yes, all of these things have happened to me.  Even though I carry a torch with me while I run and stare at the ground to try to perfectly place each step, I still fall into these huge potholes and eat dirt at least two times each morning I run.  And yes, I actually did trip over a black goat one morning that I obviously didn't see, and it didn't move out of the way in time.  And one windy morning I was running under a mango tree, and a mango fell and hit me straight on the head.  So needless to say, my morning runs are definitely filled with excitement, sometimes too much excitement.   
Our small victory of the day- finding the Ice Cream Man!

But this morning as I was running, I started thinking.  This is exactly what this journey is about.  I am running in the darkness, I am blind in a sense.  I am trying my best to see the big picture of this adventure and really figure out my purpose here, but only God knows.  He alone is in charge.  He obviously called me here and had a reason for that, and now it is my job to just blindly follow Him and trust in his plan.  On days where I struggle and think to myself "what the heck am I even doing here?", on days when I can't stand to look at or smell another wound, on days where my classes are extra loud and rambunctious, I just try to remember that kind of blind obedience.  God is leading me, and the only thing I can do is run to follow Him.  I might not know where He is leading me or with what purpose, but no matter what crazy or tough things happen, there are always so many small, funny, sweet moments in each day that keep me running and following His path. 

Sunrise as I finished my run this morning
Each morning as I stumble down the road trying to avoid the obstacles, I am so boldly reminded of God's constant presence throughout this mission.  When I get the courage to take my eyes off the road in front of me, I look up and see the most magnificent sunrises.  It is such an amazing experience to see the dawn break.  To see that first glimpse of daylight.  I know that the obstacles of yesterday-the potholes, the goats, the mangoes- are behind me, and it is a new day, a new chance to blindly run by faith.