Mercy Ships

Mercy Ships
The largest NGO hospital ship in the world providing free medical care to the forgotten poor

Sunday, October 30, 2016

This Month in Benin

As October comes to a close, here is a glimpse into life in Benin and what I have been up to.

There is a large outdoor produce market within walking distance of the ship. My favorite thing to buy is pineapple! 

This is a typical street view of Contonou - it is a bustling city with lots of cars, zemijans (motocycle taxis), and people everywhere. 

Benin - the place where nothing is too big to carry on your head. 


I have gotten out of the city a few times to enjoy a little bit of nature. Unlike Madagascar, the beaches here are not generally considered safe, so it is harder to find places to spend time outside.  There is a portion of beach in a town called Grand Popo about 2 hours from the ship (almost to Togo) where we were able to visit. 

Beach at Grand Popo
Yay for trees!
             Some fishermen off in the distance             

There is also a restaurant with a dock on a lake where you can swim and kayak. That is my favorite place so far and I hope to go back sometime soon.

It's a 10 min boat ride to get there.

There were donkeys so of course I had to pet them!

Meanwhile, on the ship, we still have routine fire drills (every other week) which involve sitting on the dock (in whatever bit of shade you can find) while the fire fighting team practices their drills. Fortunately, these drills happen after school gets out, which means the fire drill becomes a nice afternoon reading break. 

On Friday afternoons, you can find the Academy staff celebrating Frappuccino Friday in the cafe on board. Behind us on the wall, you can see the portraits of our fistula patients from Madagascar.

My absentee ballot finally came in the mail and I was able to vote! One of my students gave me this awesome henna tattoo. 

Living on the ship means having to say good-bye. Some people come for as little as 2 weeks, while others are here for years. This month I said good-bye to my friend Penelope. She has been on the ship for 5 years! I can't imagine how hard it must be to leave this community after so long! From left to right, this is Heather from Canada, Penelope from South Africa, Jenelle from Seattle, and me.  I can always count on these gals to stay up late doing a puzzle or play a board game! 

This year on the ship has a very different feel. It is much harder to get off the ship because we are not allowed to walk through the port. Last year I could hop on my bike and be in town in less than 10 minutes. Going into town here means waiting for a bus to shuttle you the short distance to the port gate. The cost of living is also much higher here, which means most of us stay on the ship much more than last year.  The upside of this is increased community on the ship and time to develop other hobbies.

I have been taking time to pursue art, something I used to do back home, but didn't do much of last year on the ship.  I decided I wanted to teach myself hand lettering. After watching 3 YouTube tutorials, I went crazy practicing and I surprised myself with what I was able to accomplish. It reminds me that I'm not too old to learn something new and makes me wonder what else I might like to learn. 

Lines from my current favorite song, No Longer Slaves

And of course, school keeps me very busy as well.  In addition to teaching, we have been quite busy planning a 2 1/2 day retreat for our junior high/high school students. The retreat was on of the highlights of last school year and I can't wait for this year's retreat. It provides a wonderful opportunity to get away from the ship with our students, for team building, and drawing near to God. 

Teaching 5 different math classes challenges me constantly, but it has also been a gift. I can see the connections between courses and how the topics build on each other from year to year in a way that I didn't before. It is very satisfying to know I am preparing students to be successful in future math courses. 

My treasure-map-distance-formula-geometry-lesson still lives on even on a ship in Benin.  Ironically, dressing up as a pirate is even more fun when you live on a ship.

The crew is thinking hard during the Academy Open House this year. 

I love getting people engaged in math. Academy Open House 

And here is my favorite view from the ship.  This is from the pool deck at night when the cranes on the dock across from us are all lit up. This is where I go for introvert time. The weather is balmy and hot, but the cool ocean breeze makes it comfortable. It's the perfect way to end a day on the Africa Mercy. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Lake Village of Ganvie

In the midst of the hospital opening and the daily comings and goings of school and life on the ship, I was able to visit Ganvie, a stilt village on Lake Nokoue, a large lake north of Cotonou. "Village" is actually misleading, this city of over 30,000 people is constructed entirely on stilts in the lake, several kilometers from shore.   Here the only mode of transportation is by boat.  The men are primarily fishermen and the women take the fish to shore each day to sell.

According to our guide, a native of Ganvie, the village began 300 years ago in the 1700s.  At that time, the powerful and numerous Fon tribe sought to conquer other smaller tribes for the Portuguese in an agreement to keep their own people out of slavery. The Tofinu people, in a clever move to protect themselves, built homes in the middle of a lake, knowing that religious practices of the Fon forbade them from pursuing an enemy on water.

Market Day

Typical Ganvie Home

A pirogue with a sheet of plastic as a makeshift sail

It took about 30 minutes to get to the village by boat. And our boat had a motor!

A beautiful and peaceful way to see more of Benin

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A New Cabin and A Classroom with Windows!

This post is especially for my friends back home so you can see where I'm living and teaching this year. So let me give you a tour...  As you enter my cabin, you'll see a long hallway with 3 sections or pods, as we call them.  Mine is the first pod.  No more bunk beds this year.  I have my own little space all to myself.  I loved decorating it and making it my own. 

Even more exciting then my new cabin was my new classroom. Every day I am grateful for the windows! Even with the small space, I managed to set up the desks in my traditional U-shape. My teacher friends in the States will remember how much I love my U-shaped desk arrangements. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Waves, Mountains, & Penguins!

After a fun and restful summer break I headed back to the Africa Mercy for my 2nd year. I arrived in Durban, South Africa to join the ship as it finished its preparations for the epic two week sail around the Cape and on to Benin. Armed with a supply of Scopoderm Patches (for sea sickness), I enjoyed every minute of the sail and our weekend stop in Cape Town. We started our voyage in winter and as we traveled North, gradually the weather grew warmer as we approached and then crossed the equator. 
The beginning of our voyage with Durban skyline in the background
 (Floor from Holland, Sveta from Russia, me, and Shea from the US)
I made this contraption so my students and I could see the angle measures of the ship's rolls as we sailed.  Our biggest roll hit 20 degrees. Last year I always heard people talking about the sail when plates slid off the table and people fell off their chairs in the dining room and now I finally got to experience it myself!

After 4 days of rocking and rolling, all of us were so glad for a short weekend stop in Cape Town.  I just wanted the world to stop moving around me.

My cabin-mates this year: Stefanie from Germany and Shea
The sunset one night on the sail

Arriving in Cape Town with a view of Table Mountain

Train ride to Simon's Town about 60 minutes outside of Cape Town

African Penguin Colony at Boulder's Beach, Simon's Town, South Africa

 My favorite part of stopping in Cape Town was getting to see penguins up close. There is a colony of several hundred African penguins that in South Africa.  We saw penguins up close - swimming, waddling on the beach, sleeping under bushes, and with their babies. I loved seeing penguins in the wild.
A penguin just walked by me while I was on the beach

My other favorite part of stopping in Cape Town was hiking Table Mountain. It was a pretty challenging 7 hour hike but the views were amazing.

At the top!

We were all super excited to cross the equator. The captain announced our approach on the P.A. system and we all rushed up to Deck 8 to countdown to the big moment.

Below is the ship as we crossed the equator.  Can you see the equator line in the picture?

And finally, after 14 days at sea, we arrived in Cotonou, Benin on August 18!

As you can see in the pictures, we are pretty excited!  All the while, school was in session this whole time! Next blog post: new classroom, new cabin, and the start of the Academy.