After a long sail we pulled into port to a generous welcome by the Minster of Health, government officials and Mercy Ships founders Don and Deyon Stephens. It was exciting and emotional to be a part of a historical moment: this is the first time Mercy Ships has served in Central Africa. And Congo is just as excited as we are to be here. There are fliers and posters all over the city advertising the Screening Day, there are TV ads running twice a day to get the word out, the government is paying for transportation from the interior so even more people can be at Screening, This is country that wants us to help change their medical system, that has worked with us to renovate and create HOPE Center, the dental and eye clinics. This is country that has asked us to teach them. This is a country that has truly partnered with us and welcomes us with open arms. Walking through the port on my first day out I heard more than once, “Meci, Mercy Ships!” I’m not sure I can even convey what an honor it is to be here.
If only a photo could capture the collective cheer when the gangway touched the dock.
Zoe’s just as excited for Congo as us big kids.
I wasn’t sure how I would feel going back to Africa. I knew as we sailed away from Tenerife I was excited and was ready to go back but I wondered, would I have culture shock again? Would I remember any of the French I learned in Guinea? Would I still like Africa? Would I be able to deal with the crazy heat? But all that fell away when I woke up on Friday morning and went to deck 7 and saw the ships in the port, the overwhelming feeling I had was that I was that of coming home. The feeling of joy at seeing familiar things, small fishing boats dwarfed by barges and container ships in the port. And the feeling only grew over the next few days. As I ventured out to explore my new city, the street vendors with freshly butchered meat, baked bread or fruit, dirt everywhere, the noise of a busy city, the kissy sound to get your attention, the marriage proposals and declarations of love, the bright colors, crowded streets, children running to you begging, the fish, the beach and the smell of Africa… earthy and warm. All of it made me smile, instantly comfortable and happy to call this place my home.
Sailing into port
The nearest beach, just a short walk from the port.
And now there’s a tangible buzz on the ship these days. Reception is greeting and embarking a steady stream of new crew. Hospitality is busy organizing warm welcomes to crew a and VIPs. The cafe is humming with conversations and laughter as crew relax and connect at break time. The nurses have traded in their shipyard uniforms for scrubs and are back in the hospital cleaning, preparing and praying over the rooms. The day crew have joined the departments. Dr. Gary has returned from holiday. The HOPE Center is finished and the outpatient tents sent up.
In short, we have arrived and we are ready to make history and invest in this country and its people.
HOPE Center ready to open