One single good-bye is like death by a thousand swords.
Thus ended my last day on board the Africa Mercy. The final lesson learned…there is never enough time for good-byes. I fear I have done an awful job at saying “good-bye”. No time, no energy… no cards left to write in. I feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of my farewell. Several dinners out with friends…a formal thank you at the Thursday night Community meeting (which happened to be a BBQ outside on the dock including the Day Workers)….Frank and George’s families traveling from Sierra Leone to say “thanks”…and then the final wave off!
As one person after another stepped forward to say “good-bye”…I felt like I was dying and my life (at least as it had been on the Africa Mercy) was flashing before me. Alice from the Galley who after waiting three years to become a sterilizer, will be joining out department in my bed space…Ibrahim who was rescued from being denied as a Day Worker in Togo, and who then went on to become crew….Francis who was forwarded a micro credit loan to continue with his Seamen’s schooling…. James who was financially assisted to stay on as crew when his funding ran out, and who subsequently met his fiancée on board-wedding in two weeks…a phone call from Dennis who was back home in Ghana trying to apply for his student visa ( for the fourth time)… multiple OR Staff members…two male crew members (one a Chaplain, the other an Anesthetist) brought to tears…my three dear cabin mates…John ( whom I did nothing for, but we had such a great “passing in the hallways”-type of relationship…and the BIG one, Frank and George. The pain was deep, cutting and very real.
What has been amazing about being in West Africa is the huge difference that you can make with very little money and very little effort. It becomes almost addicting. One life changing surgery after another…a family helped with schooling fees…another helped when their home burned to the ground…West African Crew supported, cared for and advocated with. And then there is the story of George, the Day Worker from Togo.
I have withheld the story of George Ebbia from all those except close family and friends. I have no idea why. Perhaps it just felt too personal, too close to the bone. I met George in the OR in Togo. If you have been following my adventures, you will possibly remember the story. He invited a group of us in the OR to visit his farm. We ended up planting trees, and I was so impressed with what he had accomplished…yet felt overwhelmed with what he had yet to do. I met with George the following Monday at lunchtime to ask what would make the biggest impact to him with his work on the farm. His answer? A motorcycle. Our time was then up…we had to get back to work, but the thought of George and his motorcycle would not leave my brain.
Later that day, a thought flashed into my head. John had never had a funeral (by request) and there had been an amount of money in an insurance policy for that purpose that had never been used. I would use it to buy George a motorcycle. That night I wrote George a note…telling him about John and offering to help him.
This offer was a seed, which when planted yielded a crop of virtual miracles. At first I told a close friend Jim, who offered to buy a helmet for George to keep him safe. I then emailed my family and a few friends who I thought might be interested in what I had done. Immediately I heard from my sister Judy and brother-in-law Clare who said that they had not had a chance to do anything in memory of John, and wondered if there was anything else George might require for his farm? George and I met again, and this time I asked him to create a list of needs from which they could choose. Judy and Clare chose a custom –made cart which could be attached to the motorcycle in which George could haul supplies to the farm.
Next I heard from my friend Petrea and her husband Paul who choose bags of cement to build his animal shelter. Then Jim got back in touch and said he wanted to email his friends about this project…he was sure they would be interested. That netted a metal roof for the animal shelter…complete with some animals. And so on….and so on. By the time I left Togo, George had everything he needed to set up his animal farm.
I never asked him to do so, but in the end George decided to name the farm after John. ‘The John McIntosh Memorial Farm Animals’. It was at this point that Catherine, the Chaplain on board developed a logo for the farm-complete with a motto scripted by George… Ensemble Aujour d’hui Pour un Bien-Etre de Demain …translated as “Working together today for a better tomorrow”..
Not having a funeral for John left me feeling a lack of closure. When George and his farm entered my life, closure happened. Who would have thought that a solution needed in British Columbia, Canada…could be found in Togo, West Africa? My own personal miracle. As I write this last entry, I received an email from George telling me that his first sheep has given birth to a baby male lamb. I know John (a former sheep farmer himself) must be looking down on the farm in Togo, and smiling with satisfaction.
I owe each of you a huge debt of thanks for all of the emotional, financial and moral support over these past two years. I simply could not have made this journey without each of you. It has been impossible for me to share all that I have experienced in West Africa during this time. I hope that the postings I have written have given you a glimpse of the life, challenges and joys of this part of Africa and her people.
I wish each of you every blessing of the Christmas season, and a new year filled with peace, joy and love.
Ever gratefully yours,