December 17, 2014

Mercy Ships: Making Friends, Missing Others

international travel nursing on medical mission

12/17/2014 –

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been on the ship for three weeks already. In some ways, it feels much longer – not in a bad way but in a familiar way. I’ve already had to say goodbye to two separate groups of people, and that gets a bit hard on the heart. I can’t explain how one can get attached to another in such a short time, but it seems to happen time and again.

Something that is a challenge for us here on the ship is finding alone time. As a travel nurse, and for those who know me, one would think I’d thrive on the constant interaction with others, but I’m finding that I have a personal goal to have absolute alone time every day. It’s a way for me to regroup, recharge and refocus my energy so I can keep my mind and spirit healthy.

One way I take care of myself is to go running 3-4 mornings each week. I also make sure that I take a long walk into town when I’m not working. I now have Malagasy faces that have become familiar and constant for me. There is a woman, Momma Bey, who sits with her daughter and granddaughter on the side of the street selling fruits and now extends her hand as I walk by so that I can give her a sideways hand slap, which is a common greeting here in Toma. It started out with her asking me for “1 mil” when I first walked by her two weeks ago. I simply said, “I have no money” and kept walking. The very next day she saw me, her face lit up and we started the hand slapping ritual.

In the early mornings when I head out for my runs, I see another woman setting up her juice stand. Since we are at the port, there are many, many port workers who pass by her. We have a wave and head nod ritual we do, and we both share a smile. I know if I didn’t see her one morning, I would wonder what might have happened. It is these quiet connections with people on the ship that also help keep me present and grounded.

I was speaking with a friend the other night and sharing some of my feelings about this adventure, and he asked if I would do it again. Without a moment’s hesitation, I said yes! It’s not for the faint of heart, nor is it all rainbows and butterflies. But it is absolutely where I belong.

Lee 🙂

In May 2014, Travel Nurse Across America (TNAA) announced a partnership with Mercy Ships, as part of its ongoing philanthropic activities. TNAA sponsored four nurses to volunteer on a healthcare delivery mission in Africa. Mercy Ships, a global charity organization, uses ships – floating hospitals – to provide free surgery and dental care in impoverished countries. Mercy Ships has been in operation since 1978. The nurses sponsored by TNAA worked for eight weeks each on the African mercy ship docked in Cotonou, Benin. Follow the TNAA blog for Mercy Ships updates.