This month I traveled back to Madagascar for a friend’s graduation. You can read his story here. For a quick recap, he worked with me as a translator in 2015. Before the ship arrived in his city, he lost his wife; became a single dad; and was in a pretty bad road traffic accident. Working in the Medical Capacity Building team opened his eyes to the medical world and how it doesn’t have to be about death and corruption. He decided to be a nurse. Some nice people on the ship and at home helped sponsor him through his studies and a few weeks ago he graduated. I traveled across Africa and the Indian Ocean to be there because I promised I would. I left my baby and my Husband and that’s where the story begins…
Mamassa, Mammanda, Aisha and Mohamed tend to their produce, stacking oranges, washing green beans, organising tomatoes and filtering through zips and plastic bags. This is the Market. Everyone wants to greet the blonde haired and blue eyed boy on my back. They all know his name. The success of our market trips is now judged on what we manage to get for free. Last week that boy was given 1 banana, one sweet potato and 3 doughnuts. That was a good day. In Guinea they are still pretty active in chopping hands off for stealing (so i’ve heard). The walk ways are narrow and sometimes he manages to accumulate things in his hands that I have not given him. A few weeks ago a women started shouting at me in sousou, I thought there was a problem with the herbs I was trying to get into my shopping bag. But she was actually shouting at my son, chilling on my back with the banana in his mouth that he had managed to silently snap off of a massive bunch on my right. I had no idea. I apologised to the lady and bought some of the bunch to keep the peace. Louis, has since charmed that mamma. He now gets a free banana every time we see her. And he has both hands. For now.
5 Thousand miles away from my ship home, 5 thousand miles away from my country of birth I find myself in a tuk tuk in Tamatave, Madagascar. Alone on the back seat, zooming around bicycles and speeding past rickshaws with the occasional off road moment. the police call and we stop. White person noted, bribe paid behind the tuk tuk so that I am none the wiser. A man in a shirt and chinos stands by the side of the road and gives a nod. We stop and he joins me on the back seat. He acknowledges me with a dip of the hat, unsure what language this stranger may speak. I greet him in Malagasy and he happily and quickly responds. A lady this time, beautifully dressed with high heels and a little handbag swinging from her upturned wrist . We stop. We greet. We dart in and out of traffic. The man picks up the conversation with an air of confusion and many questions; Do you live here? Are you with Peace corps? Where do you come from? England, you come from England? Brexit! He exclaimed with a knowing smile. And suddenly I don’t feel 5 thousand miles away.
Guinea is hot and often wet, colourful and loud.
A glimpse of the people, the dolls, the sunglasses, the coffee shops on wheels, trees, water and the managers vehicles that occasionally breakdown when filled with dirty fuel.
A hospital ship quite rightly focuses on patients. An organisation with a vision of bringing hope and healing to the worlds forgotten poor, quite rightly focuses on African patients. But sometimes we close our eyes and narrow our dreams. Because that’s not it. That’s not the end. Some of my favourite stories are actually the byproducts of our mission. The unexpected joys.
The last time I saw the ship I was 7 months pregnant, concentrating on my Malagasy shopping basket and the passport that was lying on the top of carefully folded items, each with their own purpose. I glanced up to the people and back down to the basket, up to the ship, back to the ocean. With tears gradually building in my eyes, I held Mamma Comforts’ hand tighter. She didn’t want to let go and neither did I. I wanted to hold her hand forever. We walked the line, looked brave and held back the all emotion that we could inside our little collapsing walls of normality. This was our home. Our people. Our church. Our work. Our life. Continue reading “Back to the Ship”→
The woman at the toilet block,
The woman in the dark room, silenced by shame,
The woman who sings her papaya song at the port gate,
The long conversations with Ettiene about n’imports quoi,
The chats with port workers about the holes in their teeth,
The visit to Stephane’s clinic and homemade weight room,
I became an Intensive Care nurse because of a blanket. One single blanket.
I had been working in an emergency department. Whilst trying to remove the bathroom light chord that was tightly wrapped around a teenager’s neck and simultaneously explaining that hanging herself in the bathroom was really not the best idea, a beautiful and slightly confused woman asked me for a blanket. I was understandably busy. Suicidal tendencies don’t tend to be something that you can brush under the carpet well. I ran around making phone calls, taking bloods and alerting doctors of the ongoing trickle of unstable patients at the door, whilst all the while keeping a fixed stare at the bathroom light chord and the patient opposite that kept fitting.
She asked me for a blanket several times.
She never got one.
Over the last few years I have seen many come and go. I have stood on the dock of which ever country we happen to be residing in and I have waved; waved off buses, land rovers and coaches: Waved off orphans, surgeons and accountants, VIP’s, engineers and a small Chinese woman who will one day change the world.
I have said goodbye to single people, couples and families and sometimes