Out my window, the port water of Conakry, Guinea laps up against cargo ships and colorful fisher-boats, their rusty frames creaking in time to the calls of the seabirds, laundry draped lines, swinging in the sea breeze,
“bonne chance” scrawled across their aft sides like a plea, “good luck” which is an apt phrase for a rusty holed ship full of superstitious fishermen, not one of whom can swim, hoping the winds of change will bring them the next big catch.
I’m not sure if I should feel mirthful, laugh at the hilarity of it all, or just be encouraged by their unblinking optimism. This applies to not only the fishermen & taxi drivers here, but the entire country (and mine?) and all it’s joys and curses, hopes and troubles.
The soft sound of a ukulele lullaby brings it all back to the calm, the sun shining, people who love you, the good things.
Our international hospital ship, like a playful whale, pulls gently at it’s moorings with the tide and bright sunshine,
and smiles down on the medical tents on the dock and their inhabitants who will soon be gracing it’s hospital beds.
Lines of people speaking French and every local Babel’s tongue,
flock like colorful birds and just as orderly,
herd together looking for a scrap,
of hope that they might reach inside the building to get the doctors’ help they need.
Many turned away with a sorrowful sob, many that we cannot help.
There are no hospital wards on ship or in country for terminal patients or surely dying children,
Only a dirty floor at home and their family’s burdens and rags, waiting for their other shoe to drop.
For the funeral procession the entire family is dressed to the nines in patterns and colors that would make a blind man dance.
The taxi hearse parts the bumper to bumper traffic with blaring horn like Moses parting the red sea, casket on top like it’s going out of style.
Time, tide, trolley, and traffic break for no man – only for death and we all watch on. Dignity here is not a human right on banners to wave, but like caviar, a luxury afforded by the affluent few.
We just try to focus on the few we can save, our shining starfish.
The days turn and we stretch and strive to make ends meet and fill all the many gaps. Everyone works together and everyone wears lots of hats when the whole ship has a need and you’re the only one within 10,000 miles who can fix it. Don’t complain about what you don’t have, “Be the change you want to see,” Gandhi says and I chant on. Many on board learn new trades or stand in the gap and fake it until they make it. We do the best with what we have and that is enough for today. Tomorrow will bring in another plane load of sunny energetic nurses who’ve never set foot outside their hometowns, and another bus load of weather-worn patients with terrible medical problems that they’ve suffered with for years and years. We mix these ingredients together with some offshore donor funding, diesel fuel for the generators, and after baking in some hot hot jungle-growing Equatorial sunshine & humidity for several months (and putting in some back-breaking work) – out comes some healthy patients.
Voilà! C’est bon!