Saturday, August 22, 2015

It's nice to meet you, Madagascar!

We've arrived in Madagascar!  It was really cool to fly in and see all the rice paddies and mountains from above.  Madagascar is a beautiful country.  

We spent the first few days in the capitol city, Antananarivo (Tana).  We both really enjoyed Tana- it's big, busy, full of people and a mix of cultures unlike any place I've ever been.  It's not hard to see the european influence in the structure of the buildings, but culturally it feels more like a mix of African and Asian and Islander cultures all rolled together.  We like it here already.

See the cool "Antananarivo" sign on the hill?!

What did we do in Tana?
We went to meetings- mostly with the Ministry of Health to introduce ourselves and the plans for the Ponseti program.  Everything has gone really well and we are looking forward to working together.

This is Andrea...a dear friend and the leader of the Advance Team (the team that goes ahead of the ship and makes preparations in the next country).  She happened to be in Tana at the same time as us, and we got to see a bit of what her job looks like.  She's pretty amazing at what she does!

We tagged along to a press conference- the three major phone companies in Madagascar are partnering with each other to support the work of Mercy Ships in a really cool way!

Now people here in Madagascar can easily help  cover transport costs to get patients to the ship. When people in the country text "Fanampiana" (which means help/support in Malagasy) to the number 353, a donation will be taken from their account and put towards patient transport. 

We heard Andrea give a speech in French (she did really great!)

We've also been speaking lots of French since we arrived, I love being able to communicate so much more easily!  
My first conversation in French in Madagascar was with two old men at the airport.  I was waiting outside for a little while until Nick's plane landed, and we would get picked up together.   People are very friendly here.  I talked with the two men about the weather, about Tana, and about Mercy Ships (they both already knew that the ship was coming back).  
What they really wanted to know was "What do you think of Madagascar??"  
And I reminded them "I just got off the plane, I've only seen the airport."
And they said again "Yes yes we know, but what do you think?"
So I told them that I appreciated how welcoming and friendly the Malagasy people had been.  They also wanted to know what I thought of their cold weather (it's "winter" here at the moment, which just means wearing a light sweater in the Tana area in the evening).  I told them I would be happy for this weather to continue all year. :)

Early yesterday morning we got a ride with another mercy shipper headed to Tamatave in one of the land cruisers.    

It takes about 8 hours on a winding road to get from Tana to Tamatave...but I loved (almost) every minute of it.  I (Suzanne) don't do too well with curvy roads, but for the most part it was great, and I watched the changing scenery out the window:

Thank you everyone for your prayers and encouraging words.  We're looking forward to getting to know the city of Tamatave, and eagerly await the arrival of the Africa Mercy!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

One more week till Madagascar!

One week from today we will be in Madagascar!  We fly in to the capitol (Antananarivo), and will quickly get started with meetings for the Ponseti program.  We will spend a few days in the capitol before heading to the port city of Tamatave.

Where is Nick?
Nick is currently in Brisbane, Australia for a quick work related visit.  He left the summer camp by train last week, and flew to Australia from Paris the following morning.  I'm pretty jealous that he gets to catch up with our friends in Brisbane, but I'll have less jet lag when we arrive in Madagascar.  :)

Where is Suzanne?
I'm still here in the Provence region of France, helping out as a cleaning lady in the summer camp.  As much fun as it was to be around the kids as a camp counselor, being on a new team for these last two weeks is a good thing.  I have a bit more time during the day to prepare for next week's travels, and I also have many many opportunities to speak French with the other ladies on my team, who are really awesome to work with!  

We will meet back up in Antananarivo on August 18th  
(If all goes according to plan with our flights, we will arrive within a few hours of each other.)

Where is the Africa Mercy?
The ship is currently still in dry dock in Durban, South Africa.  Unfortunately, due to unexpected repairs, the departure date was delayed.  The original date to arrive in Madagascar was a few days ago, but there was some damage to the propellers that needed to be addressed.  Many arrival plans have been adjusted, but since our work is primarily off ship with the local clinic, we are able to go ahead and arrive on the same day as planned and get started, even though the ship won't be there just yet. The Advance Team (the volunteers who go ahead of the ship to prepare for its arrival) is there now, and they will help us with arrangements for where to stay.  

Other news from Madagascar:

The screening team is already in the country and hard at work finding patients for the ship!  Please pray that God will lead those who we can help to the screening sites!  The screening team is visiting cities all over the island, so that we can offer surgery even to those who are far from the port city.

Remember this blog post, with the before photo of the clinic where we will teach Ponseti?

Here it is now!  The team has been very hard at work over the summer months, and now there is a newly renovated Physical Therapy department to teach in!



Here's an overview of all that was accomplished in the Mada Part One visit.  We are thrilled that we get to be part of Mada Part Two!  Please pray for us as we travel next week!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Nick and Suzanne go to summer camp

Hello friends...
We left Albertville by train early last Saturday morning, and headed off to summer camp!

Our language school instructor recommended this several months ago as an excellent way to put all the French we have been learning into good practice and serve at the same time.  So, we are here volunteering in a Christian summer camp here in France (outside of Marseille).

And oh's been a very busy first week here!  We were camp counselors for the 8-10 year olds (Animateur and Animatrice is what we are called in French, which is more like "host" or "organizer").  Basically, that means that we (along with our team members) were the ones with the kids all day- from getting them up and going in the morning to making sure they've all brushed their teeth at night.

The first few days were very exhausting for us (it was basically sink or swim).  There were already kids here when we arrived, so we needed to quickly figure out our roles, and it was also the first time we've needed to rely on our French so heavily.
It's way different than being in class!

Some views of the main building where we are staying right now...

A few funny moments from last week:

* How to use the shower:  On our tour the first day, the director took us around the campus and explained a few things (in French).  One of the things he explained was how to get hot water in the shower we use...Nick had a cold shower that night...Suzanne had a hot shower. You have to turn the sink on to hot and the shower towards the side marked "cold" and leave it for a few minutes.  We had a good laugh about it afterwards.

* The real French language test is being handed a bunch of kids and not losing them... we thought all our exams in Albertville were hard... but then we were given five 8-10 year old boys each for the whole day at a theme park and needed to keep them all together.  We also did the same thing at the pool and at a waterpark.  We didn't lose anyone :)  The kids did really well, and we both had good days.

The theme park was called the OK Corral...lots and lots of American themes and decorations :)

* We have long days: After spending the whole day at the waterpark, one 9 year old girl was so tired she actually fell asleep with her head on her plate while she was waiting for dinner...we thought about joining her...

* We spent lots of conversations trying to sort out which kid said what and to whom when they were upset with each's tricky enough to sort out in English!  I (Suzanne) resorted to asking just yes/no questions because it's usually too hard to understand the story they are telling me about what happened. (I'd just ask, "Did someone call you a name?", "Did someone do something unkind?", "Would you like to talk to them about it?")

* Our progress: We are definitely making real progress in our speaking and comprehension, which is awesome. It really is getting a lot easier to speak.  But, sometimes what we are saying comes out all wrong.  Nick and one other Animateurs shared responsibility for one room of 11 boys.  Getting them to be quiet and sleeping each night wasn't easy.  One night, Nick finally said to them "If no one talks, I will send them outside!" when he meant to say "anyone", and all the boys had a good laugh, and repeated it back to him for the next few days.  I (Suzanne) also got corrected by the kids several times on my pronunciation of the word "queue" while leading a game, because the way I was saying it sounded more like "make a bum" than "make a line".  I was saying it really loudly, too. :)

We did a "big game day", and our team's game was a treasure hunt with a western theme...I made the treasure map...

* Friday and Saturday, we got the kids ready to go home.  We needed to oversee the packing of the suitcases, and try to make sure they didn't leave half their stuff behind.  When they had arrived, someone filled out a checklist of all their clothes and belongings so that we could tell what was missing and get them to look for it.  Nick was going through this list with an 8 year old, and said "ok, it's marked that you have 5 pairs of shorts...can you count your shorts for me?"  The boy counted 6 pairs, and when Nick asked how he ended up with more than when he arrived, the boy looked down at his body and said suddenly "Oh- these ones I'm wearing aren't mine! I don't know who's they are!"

* Other thoughts- French kids often stay at camp a really long time.  Even for the young kids, it's normal to spend a full month of summer vacation at camp.  Also, the food is WAY better than anything I remember eating at camp as a kid in America.  They actually get everyone to sit a long tables, and a team comes out and serves the meal in courses.  At every meal there is bread, salad, then the main dish, then sometimes cheese, then dessert. It's long days, but they feed us very well. :)

All in all, it's been a great adventure so far!

We've been really impressed with the leadership here.  They have such a commitment and love for the kids.  The others on our team were mostly teenagers who came here each summer as kids themselves, and now they are back to help out.

What touched us the most was how the staff taught scripture and talked about God with the kids. They are so passionate about sharing the truth of the gospel through this camp, and the woman who lead our group was amazing.  She would give the lesson, and then let the kids ask her any questions they wanted- and many times the questions lasted for nearly an hour.  The kids were really thirsty to learn!

The next few weeks:
This week we are working on the service team rather than directly with the kids.  Mostly, we'll be mopping and cleaning.  The days are not so packed, so it's a good break for us.  Nick heads to Paris on Wednesday, and then to Australia on Thursday, for a work related visit.  I stay another two weeks, and then we'll meet back up in Madagascar on the 18th of August.

A few prayer requests:

* We are still waiting on the final outcome for my nursing license in Australia.  I applied over a year ago, and they got back to me a month ago saying that they intend to deny my license on the basis that the amount of clinical hours I did during my bachelor's degree is not equivalent to the Australian requirement.  We were pretty caught off guard by this, since my degree is a very recent four year degree from Purdue.  Apparently, the system has undergone lots of changes in the last year or two, and it is now very difficult for foreign nurses to work in Australia.
I had the chance to submit an appeal, and I added as much additional information from my university and prior positions as I could.  We're asking God to move a mountain for us, and open the right doors so that I can still get my license.  We know He can, and we will trust Him no matter the outcome.  We would appreciate others joining us in prayer for this!

* We have lots of travel and flights in the weeks ahead, and then we need to hit the ground running with the Ponseti program in Madagascar.  Please pray for our travels and the start of this program!

Thanks for keeping up with our blog!  We appreciate you!