Saturday, March 11, 2017

the months ahead, and the moments now

We have this wooden map on display in our cabin, we bought it in Madagascar last year.  Lately we've spent quite a few hours getting our flights booked for the coming months (and after lots of price comparing, emailing, and internet searching, I think we're mostly set)...we'll be flying over a few of these oceans in the not-too-distant future.  

What's happening now:

The first months of 2017 have been full for both of us, but in a good way.  

Our days are filled with doing what we came here to do- Nick is fully invested in seeing the clubfoot clinic planted on a very firm foundation before the ship leaves.  The clinic is still doing great; they are beginning the process of discharging the patients who were treated together with mercy ships into the care of the local clinic for follow up appointments.  Soon, the clinic will start treatment for more children, and they will be the primary treatment providers.  Nick will spend less and less time at the clinic during treatment sessions, and will provide input for more complex cases.

I am working in the ophthalmic operating room, and have the privilege to help return sight to those blinded by cataracts. We are treating about 60-70 people per week depending on the schedule, so it is a busy operating room!  We also have 4 local partner surgeons who have been coming on board for training in the MSICS (Manual Small Incision Cataract Surgery) method.  One of the four local surgeons joins us each day in the OR. 

God is at work in marvelous ways within both of these projects.

What's coming up next:

We have just over 6 weeks left in Benin.

We have committed to continuing with the ship to the next country, Cameroon.  We will both continue in our roles, myself in the operating room and Nick running the ponseti clubfoot clinic.  However, we will get to do something new and exciting as well.  We will both be going to Cameroon ahead of the ship's arrival to help with preparations.  More on that in a moment....

I wrote down a few key dates....

18 April - We go to Australia for one month.  We will see family, work for some weeks, and reconnect in Brisbane.

19 May - We go to the United States for one month.  Last time we were in the states was October 2015, so I am feeling ready to see my family!  We are also in need of rest and time off.

Mid June

Suzanne  - I go from the states to Cameroon to join the Advance Team (the team responsible for going ahead of the ship to make necessary preparations) as the Medical Capacity Building Liaison. 

This is so exciting for me, and I am thrilled and honored to take on the role.  In future posts I will tell more about what that means exactly, but in a nutshell it means that I will make preparations so that our MCB (Medical Capacity Building) department can get going as smoothly as possible once the ship arrives.  This means lots of relationship building, and communication with the local healthcare system- something I really love doing!  Check out this video if you'd like to learn more about our MCB department.

Nick - At the same time I head to Cameroon, Nick will go from the states to Switzerland for continued French language immersion/study.  There is a language school very near the Mercy Ships Swiss office, where the organization will be sending him.  We are very happy for him to have this opportunity.  Speaking french has changed so much about Nick's ability to teach well and build strong partnerships.  

In July, Nick will also come to Cameroon ahead of the ship and make preparations for the Ponseti program.  More on that in future posts as well.

August 2017 - The Africa Mercy arrives in Douala, Cameroon for 10 months field service

More thoughts on...

...our time here in Benin: 
 We love this country.  I don't think I'll be ready to say goodbye in 6 weeks, there so much more to see and experience in this place.  The hospital won't actually close till May, and the ship will head to the Canary Islands for annual repairs in June.  Because of upcoming plans, Nick and I need to leave a bit earlier.  
We are also not only saying goodbye to Benin, but to many fellow crew members (some of whom have served alongside us for years) who are moving on to a new season of life back home or taking a break from the ship next year.  
The upcoming six weeks means wrapping up work projects, saying goodbye to local friends and partners, and soaking up as much quality time with dear friends and fellow crew as we can.  For Nick, (among many other things) he will be writing final reports and making sure the handover from Mercy Ships to CURE International goes well for the clubfoot clinic.  In addition to working in the OR, I am attending Advance team meetings and also wrapping up some projects from the sterilization mentoring program.  These weeks are going to fly by.

...our upcoming time in Australia and America: 
We are ready to reconnect and also rest.  We are looking forward to seeing our sweet little almost-one-year-old niece in Australia, and also my youngest brothers in the states (and of course, the rest of our families as well).  :)   During our time in Australia, Nick is able to work at his hospital for a few weeks, and we are grateful that he is able to stay connected there.   

While we are in the states, we are thinking of hosting an open house at my parent's home in Fort Wayne so that we can have an opportunity to say hi to many friends and also share some stories from the last few years.  If you are in the Fort Wayne area stay tuned to future blog updates for more details.

...some prayer requests:
That we would say "goodbye/see you later" well as we head into a season of transitions.

That the Ponseti clinic would continue to develop into a strong center for clubfoot treatment in Benin.  We have big dreams for this place, and believe they will be a source of hope for many families in the future.

That details of our upcoming travels would continue to fall into place.  There are still some logistics to work out. 

Thank you for keeping up with our journey!  We are blessed by you!

Below are some recent photos... I've been taking more photos lately.  Wanting to capture lots of memories before it's time to move on.  Also - don't miss the amazing video at the end of the post from our ship's videographer!  (There are even a few clips from the clubfoot clinic in it)

Here's me at work - recently we operated on a few young patients.  Brave 10-12 year olds who laid perfectly still so that we could take their cataract out under local anesthesia, just like we do for the grown ups.  As a present, they each got a hand-knitted teddy bear, complete with an eye patch matching theirs. :)  Each one of those kids had completely won us over by the time they walked out of the OR.

Zemidjan (motor-taxi) traffic at a stoplight downtown.

One of my favorite places - fabric market...oh the colors.

My friend Amy, always ready for an adventure.  She tells the best stories.

Superheroes on the wall at the Ponseti Clinic...

Nick and Melchior plan out a busy day of seeing patients at the clinic.

My favorite veggie market.  
Love chatting with these ladies, and they always ask me how the surgeries are going on the ship.

These sweet ladies let me take a few photos while they were cooking.

Evening time in the cabin, nick learning chords for a new song.

Melchior and his sweet 5 month old baby at his in-laws home in Ouidah.  They made a feast for us when we visited!  So much delicious food and such a warm welcome!

A djembe drum craftsman in Adjarra shows us each step of the drum-making process.

Canoe visit to a village up river.

Home sweet ship after dark.  Our cabin window is just hidden behind the tent on the left side of the photo.

Here's the video from Kat, one of her personal projects.  Amazing!  See if you can find the shots from the Ponseti clinic. 

Mercy Ships Benin Field Service from Kat Sotolongo on Vimeo.


  1. Congratulations on your appointment to the Advance Team, Suzanne! We're so blessed to have you and Nick continue with us in Cameroon. If you have time while you're back in Brisbane, feel free to drop in for a visit. We'd love to see you both and hear more of your stories!

  2. Wow, you've been very busy, and the year's not even half over! You're an inspiration to everyone, especially for those who lost their sight. Hoping that all goes well with your plan for the next few months!

    Jamaal @ Eye Clinic London

  3. It was SO nice to meet you in Brisbane! We look forward to following the blog and praying for you along your journey 😀