It isn’t that hard

 Posted on Aug 7, 2015 by aprilborninjune

 

A lot of people at home and short term people that visit the ship always make comments to me about how lucky I am that I can take a year off and volunteer in Africa.  And they are right, I am incredibly lucky to have this opportunity.  I know that most people have too many responsibilities to do this.  But the truth is that I am not doing one thing here that you and everyone can’t do at home.  All I do here is try to treat others with love and kindness.  I smile at people and say good morning, even if I do not know them.  I try to be a happy face when times are tough and others are down.

See, it really isn’t that hard.  Hope you will try it today and see how easy it really is and what a huge difference it can make in the world.

April

Baobabs of Madagascar

 Posted on Apr 12, 2015 by aprilborninjune

I went on a 6 day road trip over Easter weekend to see a tree. Yes, you read that right. It sounds crazy but these are very special trees. The trees are over 800 years old. There are nine species and six of those are native to Madagascar. Everywhere I look there are photos and souvenirs of these trees. I was not going to leave Madagascar without seeing them. The problem is they are on the other side of the island from where I am currently living. There are not many roads here that connect the cities and the few that are here are not in great shape. One lane in each direction with lots of pot holes and rocks and very windy while going up and down mountains. I was still determined to see these freaking trees so I planned a 6 day road trip with 4 other girls. I located a great tour company, Exode, that drove us there in a comfy Landcruiser and off we went. The trip was not always comfortable. We were swerving a lot to avoid the huge holes, rocks and broken down trucks. Luckily for us, Madagascar is a beautiful country and we were always in awe of the beauty around us. Every shade of green you can even imagine exists in this country. We drove through countless villages where the majority of people walk around barefoot. I saw a woman walking down the street while breast feeding and carrying a bucket of something on her head. Talk about multi-tasking! By day three, we were driving thru villages where I would guess not many white people have been. The people looked at us like we were aliens. Village children would call out, “Saloma vassa” as we drove by. That means “Welcome white person” in Malagasy. All of the trip was worth it once we got close to the baobab trees. They are everything I expected and more. There is an area called the Avenue of the Baobabs. The area is not protected by a gate and there is no charge to enter which seems crazy to this Westerner. There is a tribe of people that live in the area and walk down this beautiful dirt path doing their daily tasks while visitors take photos. We were fortunate to be there for a rare occasion. We were able to see the sunset and then a full moon. Bari, our driver, told us that rarely happens. We headed back to Tamatave the next day and after another 3 days of driving arrived back to the ship. We all loved the trip but have no desire to be in a car anytime soon. While it does seem crazy to drive 6 days to see a tree, it is absolutely worth it. Seeing the amazing beauty of Madagascar was worth every bump, rock and swerve of the car. I will remember this trip for the rest of my life and the great laughs I had with my friends. 

A Story I Have to Share

 Posted on Feb 26, 2015 by aprilborninjune

In October when I arrived in the capital city, Antanarivo, my group had dinner at a friend of a friend’s home.  She invited several of her friends to join us for dinner.  One of the women, Mamy, mentioned to me that there is a homeless woman that has a large facial tumor and Mamy was curious how the homeless woman could get surgery.  The homeless woman is typically by the grocery store begging for money.  I wasn’t sure at the time how the process works so I told her I would be in touch once I arrived to the ship.  I saw the homeless woman the day I was leaving Tana.  She is very young and had a small infant in her arms.  Her face was severely disfigured because of the tumor and I was moved to tears thinking about this woman and small infant.  I found out the process to submit a possible surgical candidate and e-mailed Mamy and another woman I met with the instructions.  Honestly, I was a little annoying about the situation because I wanted to know if they had a chance to get in touch with her.  I have wondered a couple of times if the woman was screened.

Fast forward until yesterday.  I was talking to a good friend at lunch about how it can be hard when you are sitting behind a desk and not actually taking care of patients.  At times I wonder if I am actually making a difference.  This morning I woke up incredibly homesick and seriously wondered if I should go home.

Side note of importance, we currently have a famous Belgian photographer visiting the ship taking photos of patients.  I know nothing abut him but he is kind of cute.

A Department Head came to me this morning about an issue with a day crew worker and the photographer.  I went outside to the dock where the photos are being taken to help the problem.  AND the homeless woman is here!  She was having her photo taken by the photographer with her infant!  Can you believe it?!  I did make a huge difference in one person’s life even though I sit behind a desk and help with volunteers on the ship.  And you made a difference in her life because you have supported me while I am here.

Thank YOU for being part of this experience!

xoxo,

April

One of Madagascar’s Problems

 Posted on Feb 15, 2015 by aprilborninjune

I remember years ago being at brunch with a friend in Austin and the topic of sex trafficking was raised. The Formula One track was about to have its first F1 race and there were several concerns the community had about the race. One was sex trafficking. I was ignorant on the issue and blew it off like it was incredibly unlikely to happen in my hometown. A couple of years later I read about a sex trafficking bust that happened in Austin. Several young women that were being held as sex slaves were released. I was in shock and very confused how this could happen. Much less that this could happen in the city where I lived. I learned that young girls will run away from their homes and can end up as sex slaves. Sometimes women and men will actually offer the young girl a safe place to stay and then hold her against her will. I can’t even fathom how another human being, much less a woman, could do this. 

I recently read Half the Sky. Not sure why I decided to read it after it was on my Amazon wish list for over a year but I decided to finally read it. I had no idea what it was about. It is about young girls and women and the issues they face poor countries (and rich countries but mainly poor ones). I I was sick to my stomach while reading the book. Thousands of young girls that are kidnapped and taken to another country to be sold to the highest bidder for their virginity and then held against their will for men to have sex with. Some of the girls are kept drugged so that they can’t fight off the men. 

It happens everywhere. It happens in Madagascar.

The city where the ship is in port is known for sex tourism. You don’t see it during the day but once it is dark the city drastically changes. There are few street lamps and the sidewalks are dark. This is why the ship imposes a 9 p.m. curfew. Last night I was sitting outside while eating dinner. It was maybe 7:30 p.m. It was so obvious that there were things going on all around us. A car would pull up and a young woman dressed very provocatively would immediately walk from the restaurant to the car. She then walked inside and another woman walked out with her. They both got in a pousse pousse (a rickshaw type contraption) and left. The city was full of very young looking women dressed in clothes that are way too tight and short. It is tough to see. Parents will tell their daughters that the only way to escape poverty is to find a vazaha. Vazaha is the Malagasy word for white people. These young girls are encouraged to find a white man so they can escape poverty. 

The problem feels so overwhelming. I don’t want to leave the ship at nighttime because it is so painful to see and I am not be able to help. A lot of people on the ship are wanting to help but there are very few groups fighting the problem and we don’t want to start something that will be end when we leave. I have suggested we find a local school where we can tutor. It won’t fix the problem tomorrow but providing them some education so they can find other jobs might help them one day. Education is not guaranteed here but that is a post about another one of Madagascar’s problems. I found out about an English club that is associated with a local church so I am praying that will work out this week. I ask that you join me in praying for a solution to this worldwide problem. This could have been me or any other woman you know. How many of us got mad at our parents when we were teenagers and could have easily been coerced by opportunistic people into running away to a better life? 

Being sick on a ship SUCKS!

 Posted on Jan 25, 2015 by aprilborninjune

It was bound to happen to me. There are so many germs here that I think something new is passed around every other week. I was very proud of myself for not having any illness since I arrived in early November. On Monday of last week, three co-workers were sick with a stomach bug. The other co-worker was off for the day so I had the HR office all to myself. Eventually on Thursday I got it. Know what isn’t fun? Needing to throw up when you sleep in a top bunk. Yep, that isn’t fun at all. Luckily I felt much better the next day and was back to myself by Saturday morning. I figure we all need to be sick sometimes to appreciate how great we feel every other day. 

I have a fun update from last weekend when I visited a lemur reserve on the Pangalanes Canal. Will send once I have collected all of the photos from everyone.

Have a great Sunday!

New Year’s Resolution-Being Brave

 Posted on Jan 1, 2015 by aprilborninjune

I love New Year’s! I know it is silly but there is something about starting a new year that feels like anything is possible. I love it and resolutions. This year my resolutions are going to be a little different. Losing weight and being healthier are not resolutions. Those are goals that I am always striving for. I hope to never make another resolution that involves my physical health and wellbeing. My fortieth birthday is in six months/181 days. This year my resolution is to be brave, be courageous and put myself outside of my comfort zone every day until my birthday. I love the words brave and courageous because they are unique to each individual. What I consider being brave may be your favorite hobby. I don’t expect to be sky diving every single day because I know that isn’t possible. I want to do something small, and sometimes big, that will make me feel that tinge of being uncomfortable. A lot of days that will probably involve talking to someone I don’t know on a day when it would be easier to eat breakfast by myself. Or attempting to only speak French when I am interacting with local Malagasy. It will be silly like sleeping upside down in my bed. Please send any ideas you have!

I hope that your 2015 is filled with nothing but love and happiness!!

xoxo

Christmas in Ile Sainte Marie

 Posted on Dec 31, 2014 by aprilborninjune

A couple of weeks ago, I realized that I have not had a full day to myself since August 28th. With a long weekend coming up over Christmas, I decided some time away by myself was in order. There is an island that isn’t that far off of Madagascar called Ile Sainte Marie and it sounded like the perfect place to relax. I set off for the island at 5:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve. From Tamatave, you take a 4 hour bus ride. Then a 1.5 hour ferry ride to Ile Sainte Marie. There is some time before the bus ride and before the ferry ride so the total travel time is about 7 hours. My hotel happened to be an hour off road ride from the port. You can only imagine how exhausted/tire/cranky I was when I arrived to the hotel at 1:30 p.m. However, the view from my bungalow quickly put me in a good mood.

 

View from bungalow

After a quick bite to eat and a nap, I was back to my happy self! The sound of waves is so consistent. It has to be where companies that make sound machines record the ocean sound. It was a beautiful sound to wake up to from my nap. After the nap, I spent a couple of hours until sundown reading on the porch. Because it was Christmas Eve, the hotel had a special event to celebrate. We had cocktails on the beach mingling with the other hotel quests and then a local Malagasy choir came to sing local Christmas carols. It was very cool. All of the other guests were French and spoke very little English. The hotel owner is Italian and also doesn’t speak much English. I think everyone felt sorry for me because I was by myself and kept trying to talk to me. I tried to politely explain that I was enjoying my time alone. After the Christmas carols, the hotel treated the guests to a delicious Christmas Eve dinner that included foie gras, duck and sweet potatoes and a French Christmas cake. It was delicious!

 

Paradise

The best way to begin Christmas is to wake up and watch the sun rise over the Indian Ocean. It was beautiful and reminded me that sunrises really are much better than sunsets! 

 

Sunrise on Christmas Day 2014

Christmas day was spent walking along the beach, reading in a hammock and reading on the porch. It was perfect! I felt reenergized after a half a day of self-reflecting.
I am terrified of open water. Not sure why but I think watching Jaws when I was 6 made me a little unrealistic about sharks. I eventually learned that my fear of a shark coming into the bathtub or the pool isn’t going to happen. I haven’t quite figured out how to get over my fear of the ocean. I decided that it is time to get over the fear or at least pretend that it doesn’t exist. I went snorkeling! I still can’t believe that I did it and didn’t get attacked by a shark. I didn’t go out terribly far because I was by myself and the area I went to is surrounded by a coral reef so it probably isn’t that big of a deal to you but to me it is huge. I saw a couple of fishes that were very pretty. I also heard a couple of noises that scared the crap out of me and I knew I was about to die but they didn’t turn out to be anything. It really inspired me to take more risks in my life. Who knows what else I am missing out on because of my irrational fears!

 

Look how far I am from land

Friday afternoon a friend from the ship met me. She explored the beach while I continued to enjoy the sound of the waves and read. A crazy storm rolled in on Saturday so we spent most of the day sitting around the hotel area and reading. Yes, I read a lot over the weekend. A total of 1.5 books actually.
Sunday we returned back to the ship. We had to be at the port at 5:00 a.m. That meant we needed to leave the hotel at 4. So, we drove to the port in the rain which meant lots of mud for one hour. Oh yeah, in the dark. Fun times! Then we had the 1.5 ferry ride followed by 4 hours in the bus. It wouldn’t be an adventure without a flat tire so everyone had to exit the bus so they could replace the tire. I was impressed they had a tire. During the ride two young girls needed to go to the bathroom so their parents pulled down their pants and had them urinate on the bus floor. When the bus tire was being fixed, another bus drove by with large pig tied to the top of the bus. I had several live chickens and geese on the ferry to the island and we met this sweet goose when the bus took a break. Just when I start to feel like I am in a first world country these things will happen to remind me that I am definitely not home.
Overall, it was a perfect weekend and I am incredibly grateful for the time away from the ship. I hope you all had the merriest of Christmases and a very very happy 2015!

P.S.-Here is a photo of the goose I saw in a bus on the trip. Poor guy was probably Christmas dinner soon after this photo.

P.S.S.-This entire experience was what two nights in a hotel in the US would cost. Traveling around the country is very reasonable so you should come visit me!

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Ch ch changing

 Posted on Nov 26, 2014 by aprilborninjune

I realized that I am terrified of change. I crave growing and changing but at the same time it is my worst fear. Maybe not worst but close to it. FYI-sharks are my worst. Anyways, I truly want to be my best self but I find myself going back to my habits because it is comfortable. Moving to a ship in Madagascar doesn’t feel like a huge change to me. But studying the Bible and growing my relationship with God feels like the biggest change I could make and it scares the hell out of me. What if God wants me to be someone completely different?! I don’t know what that looks like! I know what my life is like now and I like it BUT God could completely disrupt that! What if my family and friends don’t like how God changes me? I don’t want to be the person that preachy to others but what if that is what God wants and I annoy everyone talking about God and Jesus all of the time? But deep down I want the change. Not only do I want it but I need it. Can I just go halfway? My guess is no so I find myself holding back because I am too chicken to take the plunge. As mentioned above, sharks are my worst fear and I plan on going shark diving next summer for my 40th birthday. So, basically I would rather go shark diving than dive into the Bible and grow my relationship with God. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense… 

 

A Post About Nothing

 Posted on Nov 22, 2014 by aprilborninjune

I haven’t had much to write lately but everyone asks how I am adjusting, what is it like, etc. so I figured that was a good topic!

Probably the main reason I haven’t been inspired to post anything is because I am in a very strange adjustment phase. I don’t love it and I don’t hate it. I know that this is where I am suppose to be right now but I am indifferent, most of the time, regarding my surroundings. I like my co-workers and I like my cabin mates. I still hate my top bunk. The food is way better than you would expect but still nothing compared to home. I love being able to see the ocean everyday. I am never ever alone unless I am in the tiny bathroom. Most of the people are very nice. There are still people that are rude that you want to slap. The weather is very similar to Texas in June. My cabin is freezing so I am typically wearing long sleeves and pants when I am in the room. 

I have taken on a couple of projects. I want to find a love seat to put in the “sitting area” in my cabin. Just so you know, the sitting area is tiny tiny but most have a little love seat there but my cabin doesn’t. I am on a mission to find one. If anyone has a friend in Tamatave, Madagascar with an extra club chair or love seat, let me know! 

I am participating in 4 Christmas events on the ship. I figure this will be an unique Christmas on the ship and I should be as involved as much as I can so I am Ms. Christmas this year. I also signed up for the Befriend a Patient program on the ship and there is an outreach program called Mercy Ministries that is going to start soon.

So, that is all I got. I have moments where I am homesick and want to stay in my uncomfortable room all day but I always make myself get out even if it is to sit in the lounge and read. 

I will work hard to have something more interesting in my next post!

-April

 

Top Bunk Living

 Posted on Nov 12, 2014 by aprilborninjune

My room on the ship has four beds. It is referred to as a four berth. Berth doesn’t sound like a pleasant word to me. It reminds me of a refer for some reason. Anyone else? Yeah, I have no idea why I think that but wanted to share. I digress. I entered a room with three other lovely women. Marilyn is late 60’s and is a nurse from Idaho. Alice is dental assistant from Canada that is probably 25 and Hannah is in hospital administration and is early 20s. Hannah is from California. And then me. 39, from Texas and works in Human Resources. Quit a mixed group we are. All is fine now but I have only been here for one week. I am sure I will ruffle some feathers very soon. So, I have a top bunk because I was the last person to enter the mix. I have never lived in a bunk bed. The few times I slept in a bunk bed I had the lower bunk. And nobody was above me so it isn’t really like sleeping in bunk beds. Poor Hannah has the bunk below me. Bless her heart. She really is going to be tired of me soon. One morning she found my eye mask on the floor beside her bed. She was a little unsure what it was. Night before last, I woke up at 2:00 a.m. to go to the bathroom. The ladder to climb down is maybe a foot wide. Also, I am not able to sit up in my bed without hitting the wall. So to get out of the bed I have to shimmy down to the ladder and attempt to go down the ladder with my back against the ladder because there is not enough room to turn around. The first time I did this one end of the ladder left a very large bruise on my butt. So imagine how hard this is when it is dark. Yeah, I am lucky I didn’t break a limb. I somehow did it and returned to be uninjured. Around 4:00 a.m. I somehow dropped my pillow from the bed. I don’t know how. It does have a satin case and I must have turned over or something. Anyways, I left the pillow on the ground and slept with no pillow for the night. It wasn’t the most comfortable solution but I didn’t want to bet on the likelihood I would be able to get out of the bed and back in. Here are some photos of the room so you have a visual. I am definitely betting that I have an injury before I leave here. And I cannot get a different room no matter what I offer to pay. The ship doesn’t have enough rooms for everyone as it is. Fun stuff!

 

Entrance to cabin

 

Top bunk is mine!

 

Closets. Lots of space as you can see!