I thought I should share some thoughts as we wrap up our field service here in Togo. In about two hours I’ll be taking a bunch of friends to the airport to say goodbye. That will be repeated a few more times in the couple of weeks left before we sail. But rather than focus on the sad, why not focus on the impactful and happy? (Of course after my initial draft of this, during said airport run, I was actually taking someone to the airport to medevac and the land rover broke down on the way – classic African adventures ensued)
I made it down to the wards for a couple of dress ceremonies before they were all over, including the last one. 60 Minutes was filming, which made it a bit awkward, but aside from that it’s a really cool experience. It’s hard to imagine what these women have been through, essentially leaking urine and/or feces for years. Decades even.
Every woman is given an opportunity to share her story. One of them had been suffering for over 20 years! That’s most of my lifetime, and is practically unimaginable to me.
One of the coolest threads that found its way into almost every story was how well they had been treated while on the ship. None of them had expected to be fed, and were surprised to find that not only were they given free meals every day, but that the food was good! Meals were even prepared for their caregivers, friends or family members accompanying them for the duration of their recovery. Our nursing staff does a fantastic job, and the smiles on the women’s faces combined with all the hugs serves as proof.
One lady said she had been treated “like a queen.” Like I said, the smiles on their faces says everything. So with their new dresses and freedom from their affliction, they were sent back out to claim their lives. In essence, that’s what we’re all about here: helping people reclaim their lives. Even if the surgeries we do don’t save them from death, they often save them from ridicule and exclusion from their communities or restore necessary functions (like sight) so that they can contribute to those communities again.
It’s a noble thing to be involved with, even though I’m not the one directly interacting with the patients. I get to go celebrate with them, and that’s pretty cool. Celebrating sight with a bunch of people who were blind only weeks before, or singing along with women whose families had rejected them and who can no go back to claim their place is pretty great. It helps you to remember why you’re here, especially when you can feel so disconnected.
I mean really, how cool is it to be surrounded by a bunch of people who have been blind for decades, or were born blind, and can now see? Not only surrounded by them, but dancing with them in a circle because now they can see the circle and stick with it. That’s not something you do every day.
And now we’re off to the next port, Conakry, Guinea – by way of the Canary Islands to refit the ship (and redo some of the air conditioning we just had put in). It’s been a whirlwind. I honestly feel like I’m just starting to settle in, and after 10 months in Sierra Leone, 5 months in Togo feels like nothing. It’s time to say goodbye to more friends, goodbye to the country that has hosted us so well, and hello to the next horizon.
If nothing else, I’m looking forward to sailing – as always.