Thursday, November 22, 2007
The ship was scheduled to leave Bahrain the same day I left (November 6), but a maintenance problem kept them there for almost two weeks longer. It was probably a nice break for them, truthfully. I got several emails from Rob describing nice dinners they had at local restaurants! And of course I'm sure everyone enjoyed the opportunity to go out a have a beer or two (or more!) in the evenings!
They're back underway now and unfortunately were at sea for Thanksgiving. As far as I know, they don't have any more interesting port visits planned until they start to head home. Right now they're scheduled to be at sea for Christmas, but maybe they'll be able to pull together a quick port visit somewhere!
He did call me today for Thanksgiving, but we were only able to talk for about half an hour. It was great to hear his voice, though.
I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! After going on the mission so recently, I definitely realize how much I have to be thankful for on this day.
I'm sure I'll get to go on another mission in the future, but I don't know if anything will ever compare to this first one. Hopefully Rob will get to join me on the next mission. What an awesome experience it would be to go through something like this together.
I hope you've enjoyed reading about the mission and Operation Smile in general! I encourage you to check out our website at http://www.operationsmile.org/ if you're interested in learning more about our organization!
The "men's room"
The "women's room"
We debated what to do, but finally I asked the bus driver to take me back to the hotel so I could rescue him from his confinement! However, when we got there he was no where to be found. At this point I was really concerned. We went back to the hospital, and found that he had just arrived. It turns out that he had climbed onto the roof and jumped to the ground, then walked two miles to the Sofitel where they called a cab for him! I tried to convince him to recreate his great escape later, but apparently once was enough!
By Thursday everyone was starting to hit the wall. Most days started at 6:30AM and we didn't leave the hospital until 8:00. Add a late dinner into the plan most days, and we were exhausted by this point. Imagine our excitement when it was announced that we wouldn't start until 7:30 the next morning!
I took this picture of me with one of the kids in the pre-op playroom. He was quite intrigued when I showed him the image on the camera, so I decided to show him some of the other pictures I had. He LOVED all the pictures I had of cats! He would start giggling when we came across those!
One of the things that I liked about the mission in Tetouan was that it was a "local mission" as opposed to an "international mission." What is the difference, you ask? An international mission, such as the one in Casablanca, is comprised of a team of credentialed medical professionals from around the world who travel to a mission site in one of our 25 partner countries to treat children, usually for a two-week time frame. An international mission is organized through our Norfolk headquarters with the help and support of the Operation Smile Foundation in the host country. A local mission, on the other hand, is organized by the OpSmile Foundation in the country and teams of in-country medical volunteers conduct local programs to take care of more of their children. This means that the team in Tetouan was almost entirely comprised of Moroccan volunteers. I think the team roster showed 45 Moroccans, 5 or 6 Americans, and a couple Europeans. By comparison, the team in Casablanca had about 30 Americans, and the rest of the team was made up of volunteers from around the world, including Britain, South Africa, Australia, France, Jordan, and Ireland.
Me with Ismail and Aicha, both from Morocco.
I'm sure both models provide an unbelievable opportunity to meet a variety of fascinating people, but I personally really enjoyed being immersed in a situation with so many local volunteers. They were able to provide so much insight to local culture and customs and language. It was obvious that they were proud of their country and wanted to share it with us in every way that they could. They were also very helpful in advising what a taxi ride SHOULD cost (as opposed to what the driver would try to charge us!), and in bargaining for goods when shopping in the medina! But most of all it was great to make new friends from a completely different culture than our own. I think that if everyone had the opportunity to spend a few weeks in a Muslim culture, it would go a long way toward creating a better understanding in the world.
Wednesday evening we had a pizza party and bonfire right on the beach at our timeshare! It was a wonderful evening and a great way to blow off some steam. The pizza was ordered from Pizza Hut...you're never far from America, no matter where you go! Mohammed, Ismail, me, Jemma, and Paul.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
She was so good-natured!
The view from our unit's balcony. The view on the inside? Not quite so nice!
This was also the day that the first 10 surgery patients were released from the hospital, including Mourad and Abkader (another young boy whom the film crew followed). Both boys are from the same town (Chefchaouen, the mountain village we had visited the day before), and although they did not know each other before this journey, they've now formed a friendship that will continue once they return back home.Mourad (in green) and Abkader receive their discharge instructions from a nurse.
On Monday I also wandered into the surgery rooms for the first time. At first I was a little reluctant, as it just didn't feel right to walk up to a surgery table and watch someone be cut and stitched! I also wasn't sure how my stomach would handle it! But I found the whole process to be fascinating. It was incredible to see the very mission of Operation Smile occuring right in front of my eyes. Most cleft lip surgeries are not overly difficult or time-consuming; a simple one can be done in 45 minutes or so. But that simple surgery can be the most important thing that ever happens for the child and his or her family.Dr. Handouf Abdellah performing a life-changing surgery
Monday, November 12, 2007
After the list was posted, the team took off for Chefchouan, a beautiful city in the Rif Mountains. We hiked through the winding alleys around the city, and eventually came to the Medina and all its fabulous arts and crafts stalls! I bought a couple necklaces for myself, a cashmere scarf, and a handwoven cactus silk rug. You have to bargain the prices, of course, which I actually enjoy. I probably would have bought more if we’d had more time, and if I had more room in my suitcase!
Myself and Karen in a beautiful blue alleyway.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
After leaving pre-op, I went back down to Medical Records and spent the rest of the day doing more screening. Sometimes we were totally swamped with new patients, then at other times it would get slow and we would work on prepping new packets and organizing the records we had already done.
Saturday evening we ventured to the Sofitel in M’Diq, which is a fancy resort area about 30 minutes from Tetouan. We had a delicious meal there with the whole team…I swear, I don’t EVER want to eat again! I can barely zip my pants at this point. The days are long, but the experience has been priceless!
My favorite picture so far from the mission!
Saturday, November 10, 2007
As a staff member, I don’t have a real ‘job’ during the mission, so I kind of wander around and look for ways to be helpful! For part of the morning I helped a student volunteer hand out stickers and toys to the children as they waited for their turn in screening. The children often start out being rather shy, but it doesn’t take long for them to start loosening up. The parents have been very appreciative of the attention and small gifts.
Later in the day I wandered into Medical Records and started helping out there. I was in the “in-take” area, which is the very first of the screening stations. We saw the patients when they first came in and took their pictures, filled out a little bit of info on their forms, then sent them over to the translators for them to ‘interview’ the patients and fill out medical history. It was actually quite fun. We usually don’t speak the same language, so it’s kind of fun to try to communicate things like, “Move a little bit to the left,” “Look up a little higher,” “Hold the medical folder upright so we can read the numbers in the pic,” “Take the folder and have a seat in the hallway.” At first I was a little uptight about trying to communicate these things, but after a while it just becomes funny! It’s amazing how much a smile can communicate. I just keep smiling and pointing until they figure out what I’m getting at!
A potential surgery patient and her parents are interviewed during the screening process
I really enjoyed working in medical records. I kind of wish I could have gotten the proper training in it before the mission, but learning as I go along is OK, too!
Friday, November 9, 2007
Anyway, I arrived in Casablanca very late Tuesday night; actually, more like 1:00AM Wednesday. I spent Wednesday in Casablanca, touring with a couple of my mission colleagues, and then having a fabulous lunch at a very authentic Moroccan restaurant. Before I left for Morocco, Rob was concerned that I wouldn’t find anything to eat. Well, he was very wrong! I bet I’ve gained five pounds on this trip! At least.
Wednesday evening a small group of us took a van to Tetouan, where the mission is occurring. It was about a 6 hour drive. The scenery was probably great, but I couldn’t tell you…it was dark! Plus, I was asleep as soon as we got out of the city.
Thursday morning was the first morning of the mission. I spent the morning with the film crew that is documenting the journey of three children who are seeking operations. We ‘followed’ one boy, a 12-year-old named Mourad, as he went through the initial screening process. It was fascinating to me to see the filming process and what goes on ‘behind-the-scenes’…like occasionally having to re-create a shot! Mourad and his father were very patient with the process, and were excellent at acting ‘normal’…not looking at the camera, etc.
Unfortunately, I got sent home before lunch because I was so sick! I really didn’t want to go back to the hotel on the first day, but I have to admit it was the best thing for me. Not just for me, but obviously I shouldn’t be around the kids when I’m so sick either. I went back to my room and slept until dinner time. Hopefully I can get over this quickly!!
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Since I didn’t get my ticket until two days before I left, the routing was not easy. I left Norfolk and flew into Detroit, where I had a seven hour layover before flying to Amsterdam. In Amsterdam I laid over for three hours before boarding a flight to Bahrain, but we made a stop in Abu Dhabi (U.A.E.) before reaching our final destination. All told, it was about a 30 hour trip. The only thing that made it remotely bearable was that I got upgraded to Business Class on the Detroit-Amsterdam flight (through much flirting and joking on my part, but it finally paid off!)
The travel truly wasn’t too bad. The flight from Amsterdam to Bahrain was interesting as we flew over Iraq for much of it. The flight path took us over Baghdad, and I’m pretty sure we witnessed an explosion of some sort in the city. We also flew over the oilfields of southern Iraq (at least, that’s what I’m assuming the orange lights were!)
Upon landing in Abu Dhabi we had quite the interesting experience. We were wheels-down and just about to hit the runway when the pilot suddenly aborted the landing and ascended again. It was a little nerve-wracking as the whole plane figured we were having a problem with the landing gear, but it turns out that we were ‘too close’ to another plane on the runway. We made the second landing attempt with no problems…whew!
But enough about my adventure in getting there! I got to the hotel at about 2:00AM Friday morning. Rob wasn’t scheduled to get off the ship until Friday afternoon, so I was able to sleep in for a while. Thank goodness! The hotel was literally right outside the gate of the US Navy Base in Bahrain, so he was able to walk there as soon as he got off the ship. There was a “Hail” that evening at the Officers Club for the new CO of the ship and a couple other new officers. That was fun, as I was able to meet everyone from the wardroom, not to mention some Australian Naval officers who were visiting as well. :-)
I had been warned about how crazy people get during the first night in port, and I got to witness it in full effect! Some serious drinking went down at the Officers Club, which carried over to the nightclub at our hotel. Let’s just say that not too many people could remember all the events of the night before (myself included!). But I’m sure it felt good for the guys to blow off some steam after a month or more at sea.
The rest of the visit wasn’t nearly as crazy. There aren’t a whole lot of tourist sites in Bahrain, but nonetheless it’s a fascinating place. You could almost describe it as a mini-Dubai. The architecture of the new buildings is cutting-edge, and it’s been very westernized. We didn’t run into a single person who didn’t speak English. Literally. It was easier to communicate and get around in Bahrain than in some parts of Europe. All signs were in both English and Arabic. There were more English channels on the TV than Arabic ones.
We twice went to the Seef Mall, which is as modern of a shopping mall as you’ll find anywhere. All the upper-end stores that you might find in London or New York were represented there. The food court featured MANY American fast food joints, such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Dairy Queen, and even Papa John’s. The Cineplex in the mall featured both Arabic and American movies. One movie that I was surprised to see playing was “Knocked Up.” I’ve not seen it yet, but I’ve heard it was so raunchy that some Americans walked out of it, so it was surprising to see it playing in a Muslim country. It’s obviously pretty liberal, though, as far as Muslim countries go. Apparently many Saudis treat it as a playground, almost like Vegas…an escape from the very rigid lifestyle they live at home.
On Sunday we visited the “Gold Souk,” which is supposed to be the place to go to buy jewelry and other goods. It wasn’t busy at all, so we were hustled by every merchant in the place. It got a little uncomfortable after a while, so we decided to leave. About 10-15 minutes after we left, I started feeling really, really itchy. Apparently I had an allergic reaction to SOMETHING at the souk (the fake Coach bags maybe? Or perhaps some of the cleaning supplies in the toilets?) Whatever it was, I broke out in hives in a HUGE way…all over my face, neck, chest and back. We immediately went back to the hotel so I could jump in a bath and lather myself in Benadryl cream, but that pretty much ruined the rest of the day. Some of the hives were nickel-sized and didn’t subside until the next morning. I’ve had that problem at the gym on the base at home, but this is the first time I’ve broken out in hives somewhere else. I don’t know what causes it, but it’s VERY annoying.
The whole point of the trip, of course, was to see Rob, and we had a great time together. It’s so nice to be with the one person that you feel most comfortable with and with whom you can talk about anything. We both enjoyed Bahrain immensely, and talked about the possibility of him transferring there once spouses are allowed there again. (Right now it’s an unaccompanied tour, but that’s expected to change in the next couple years.)
The visit was painfully short (only 3 full days together), and now I’m off to Morocco for the OpSmile mission. Another adventure awaits!