The last day.
I'm not sure how I feel about that. I've never been in a hospital that closed down before. Little by little we're double bleaching wards, cleaning and organizing anything that is not going to be needed for the next week. Teaching patients how to care for their own wounds. Making arrangements for some to be seen by other doctors at other local hospitals. I'm not sure I want this to end.
At 3pm, we gathered on one of the half-empty wards, on the side where we are down to 4 patients (plus caregivers). We pushed empty beds against the wall, brought in stools, and invited all the mobile patients from the other two wards, all the nurses who didn't have to stay behind and monitor non-mobile patients, day volunteers (locals who help translate etc.), patient life (chaplain style worship leaders and counselors), doctors, and anyone else who wanted to come. We filled the ward to overflowing with people in the hallway beyond the open doors. We pulled out the big drums (and one little three-year-old at the back beat his own tune on a small djembe) and one of our great African crew members welcomed everyone in.
We were there to celebrate the end of surgeries. To celebrate all the surgeries that had happened this year. To celebrate sending people home to new lives. And we were here out of love, not religion. Relationships, not money. We were there to be blessed as we blessed others. And that's when we started the music.
I have learned a few things about West African music. 1. You need a good beat. 2. You need LOTS of enthusiasm. 3. Volume is important, the more the better. 4. Being in tune is not important. 5. You triple clap. I haven't exactly worked out the rhythm, but it's something like clap, clap, clap, pause pause clap clap clap. 6. Smile, and move... or someone will make you move!
We all stood as the music started, and voices cried out in exuberant song. So loudly that if you didn't know what they were singing, you had to watch their lips and try and lip read between the few words that made sense. One of the mamas had a baby tied to her back with a lappa (piece of fabric), and the baby was shaking so much as mama danced that I was slightly worried that it was bordering on shaken baby or that the lappa was going to come untied (no worries, everyone was fine). One of the male patients was so excited and into the music he almost drowned out the rest of the voices, though they were all very loud, and he kept wanting to dance with all the nurses. One by one, he pulled women towards him to dance beside him. I thought I might escape it, since a few were having a lot of fun dancing with him, but he spotted me and tried to wave me over. I scooted behind another patient. He sifted through the crowd and pulled me into the middle. So I danced a little too.
It was fun. To see so many smiling, praising, excited for God and what he had done. After about half an hour, the music stopped to have a few people give testomonies about healing, and to give thanks. I came close to tears at one testimony. We then had some calmer worship songs that mearly involved standing and singing with some clapping and swaying. And then I thought we were done.
We started leaving, people returning to get meds and dressings and whatnot done. I left to make sure the ward I had been on was fine and there was nothing I had forgotten to pass along. And I heard music coming from the hall! About 20 or 30 people had stayed behind (I told you it was crowded, right?), and the drums started up again. And the voices lifted in praise. I returned to check out what was up, and the party had restarted. There was an almost visible haze of heat in the room, and you started sweating almost as soon as you stepped in. And somehow, we started something similar to a conga line without touching each other. Singing "walk, walk, walk, walk, walking in the light, walk, walk, walk, walking in the light, walk walk walk walk walking in the light, walking in the light of love" We circled round and round, singing song after song, and my ears started to feel like I had been sitting by the speakers at a concert, and I realized just how loud it had all been! I slipped out to accomplish a few things after about another 20 mins, and as I walked down the hall I could hear the music right up until I went through the heavy fire door. I went upstairs, other end of the ship two floors up... and you could just barely hear the voices still raising a joyful noise to the Lord!
More succinctly, a quote from my facebook status: "What a great way to go deaf! Cram nurses/patients/translators/
I left there feeling like I couldn't be in a better place. I love this place, these people, this crazy ship life I'm living. I'm awed by the people here. So amazing. I can barely describe it.