Thursday, July 30, 2009

Leaving Something Behind

Waiting for us in Porto Novo today was this:
It is completely impossible to work through the seemingly endless mass of patients. I have no idea where they keep coming from, but in the last few weeks the crowds in Porto Novo have been growing. 
So.  The schedule for eye surgery on the ship is completely booked for the duration of our stay in Benin. What happens to all these people after the ship leaves? Are we leaving ANYTHING behind?
Well, Yes. Let me tell you about it.
The bright green card pictured above is an appointment card for Cataract surgery at Porto Novo Hospital. The head of the Ophthalmologic Department there has spent some weeks onboard with our head eye surgeon receiving hands on training in a sort of mini surgical fellowship. She has become quite good at the procedure and will no doubt be the catalyst that the costal regions of Benin need to move forward in he realm of Eye Surgery. She has agreed to perform 200 Cataract surgeries on patients screened by us in our Porto Novo Clinic. 
All we have to do is screen them, and provide the equipment and supplies. What does this mean, you ask? This means that Benin now has a competent eye surgeon who the public can Trust. The 200 free surgeries are a start... and when the patients experience positive surgical outcomes... the public will hear about it... and then they will head to Gran Hospital de Porto-Novo for their surgery. Building confidence in local facilities means leaving behind something long term that is not dependent on external resources. I think this is probably the single most important thing that we have done here. This is what is going to count 1o years from now.
Entrance to Porto Novo Hospital:
This is the face people give me when the clinic s full and I can't receive any more patients:
Now, take this woman's face and multiply that by 300... and add a few crying babies like this:
And you will see why I am really excited to be LEAVING SOMETHING BEHIND THAT WILL LAST.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tragedy Strikes the Africa Mercy

Last week, something very serious happened onboard.

I ran out of Marmite.

You may think this is a joke, but this is no small matter. Marmite is a very critical part of my day. Without Marmite on toast for breakfast, the whole system breaks down. Nothing works the same, and the outlook of the day/week/month/year is very grim.
Miraculously the dining room has produced one container of Australian Vegemite. Though not Marmite, this container of Vegemite has been an appropriate substitute for the last few days and has prevented the deaths of many crew aboard the Africa Mercy. 

I received a much welcomed email yesterday from Mercy Ships New Zealand informing me that a certain young woman will be joining the ship in Cotonou at the end of the month and is more than happy to provide me with my very own supply of Marmite. That was a close call. I almost left early.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Lunis et Vendredis a Maison du Peuple de Cotonou II

Today was our first day at a new location: Maison Du Peuple de Cotonou II. The need for this new location has become increasingly apparent due to the security issues at Ganhi, and the road conditions on the way to our Friday clinic at Avotrou in Akpakpa. 
Maison Du Peuple is just off of the main road in Cotonou and provides a safe and central location for the Eye Field Team to do their work.

It is a large facility with plenty of room to keep all of our patients inside and out of the rain.

Pictured here is the front door...with Willy and Moise getting the patients registered and ready for a Visual Acuity examination.
This kid showed up and wanted his picture taken...

Needs some smiling lessons I think :)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Le Weekend. (Google it. That's really how you say "The Weekend" in French.)

Every six weeks, the crew are given a 3 day weekend. This time it fell on the 4th of July, and I decided to head over to Ghana for the weekend with some friends... We left Cotonou at about 3pm Friday in a taxi along with 3 random people. 
Our destination was just on the other side of the Volte River which you can see labeled just below the word GHANA in the center of the map above. It looks quite close on the map, but it took us about 9 hours of travels to get there...
...but worth it, don't you think?
We stayed in small bungalows on the beach...serenaded by the waves (and bothered by large lizards unfortnately) I watched this guy fishing for a while. See the bungalows in the background...
On the way back, we paddled across the Volte River. It took a little longer than we expected...
No one paddling looks very happy in this picture...I don't seem to mind though. 
In Togo we stayed at Le Galion Hotel in Lome...
Now Back to WORK! :)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sunset over the Port of Cotonou (Again)

Sometimes the sunsets are... like this.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mardis: Ganhi

On Tuesdays we have a clinic in Ganhi, approximately 2 km from the Port of Cotonou. Last Tuesday, we were accompanied by a photographer from the ship, Deb. Deb kindly took a great deal of photos, some of which I will share with you here. 

The crowd was quite feisty last Tuesday, but Robert knows what to say...

I have learned a few important phrases in the local dialect from Robert. "Ay-o" means "No", "Minotay" means "Wait"... the most important of all, "YI RA ME!!" means "Get in the back of the line!!"
Notice the hand going for my left arm... my mobile phone was stolen on this particular Tuesday... I need to keep keep my eyes open while distributing tickets in the crowd...

I distribute tickets to the elderly and blind because they are unable to wait in line like the rest of the patients. One thing I have noticed lately are people pretending to be either blind or extremely old and unable to walk. Robert and I have come up with a few little tricks to test the legitimacy of one's claim to blindness/age. I'll share the tricks with you when you get here. 

This is very serious buisness... :)

Does the megaphone help, you ask? No, not's just there for looks.

Some of you may be wondering why I have chosen to post my pictures here in Black & White. I find that when I convert the pictures to black & white, and adjust the contrast... it is more difficult to see exactly who the people in the crowd are. I do this mainly because I do not have consent from these people to invade their privacy and post pictures of them all over the internet. Any portraits I post on this blog have been taken with consent, and I therefore have no qualms about sharing them with you.
For example, these two young gents waltzed into the clinic and were overjoyed to have their picture taken:

Africans treat the elderly with a great deal of respect. Words like Sir and Madam are seldom used, though. They prefer to address them as Papa or Mama. "Papacheh" (my father) and "Ee-Ach-eh" (my mother)... are two words I have grown accustomed to using.

I hope you enjoyed the photographs. Many thanks to Deb for the ones in which I am pictured... Until next time, Au revoir!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Porto Novo

On Thursdays, the Ophthalmic Field Team travels to Porto Novo Hospital. Porto Novo is about a 45 minute drive from Cotonou and is Benin's Capital city. 
The crowd at our Porto Novo clinic is notorious for being a tad rowdy, and today was no exception. It is difficult to capture them all in one frame, but here is my attempt:
This Clinic is run in the same fashion as Godomey...children first, then the elderly and totally blind, then the general population. Pictured here is Robert (left), my right hand man and translator, trying to control the angry crowd:

For some reason, the women are much less compliant than the men. They push, shove, scream, slap, punch, and mob. The men are generally well-behaved, keeping themselves in nice straight lines.
 Here you see Robert in between the lines, distributing numbered tickets:

I met a young lady who claims to be 100 years of age. I am not sure whether or not this is true, but she was a sweetheart and was very happy to be scheduled for cataract surgery: