Dispatches from the Africa Mercy # 1: The End of the Earth
Distpatch # 1: The End of the Earth
If there is ever such a place as the end of the earth, Madagascar would be a good candidate. Leaving Montreal February 24th on a night of freezing rain, I arrive in Paris a few minutes too late to catch my connecting flight to Madagascar. Air France gives me a choice of staying three days in Paris or connecting through three different airlines and two African cities to reach Antananarivo almost 2 days later. Neither option is reasonable. I settle on paying an extra fare to reach Tamatave, the port of the Africa Mercy, through a new route, St Denis de la Reunion, a small French territory in the southern Indian Ocean. I arrive in Tamatave 36 hours after leaving Montreal, tired, sleepless, and jetlagged, only to find my luggage missing.
However, my fatigue immediately starts to dissipate on the first glimpse of the Ship. As I climb the gangway, I think of thousands of patients who climbed these same steps to find hope and healing. I embark to a genuinely warm and welcoming environment. Everyone from the receptionist to the Managing Director greets me with warmth, love, and compassion, expressing their gratitude for my decision to join them. All those I meet in my first few hours are resident volunteers on the Ship, who have been here for months to years. And they are thanking me for coming for two weeks – a truly humbling experience.
Within a few hours, I settle into my cabin, take a tour of the ship, and complete the embarkation paperwork and emergency training. I already feel like part of this community of several hundred people from over forty countries, representing different professions, different cultures, different races, different languages, and different Christian denominations, united by only one purpose – serving the least among us. “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40.
Dr. Sherif Emil is a pediatric surgeon and Director of the Division of Pediatric General and Thoracic Surgery at the Montreal Children's Hospital. Over the 2 weeks, he will be part of the volunteer crew of the Africa Mercy, currently docked in Tamatave, Madagascar. The Africa Mercy is the world's largest civilian hospital ship dedicated to bringing hope and healing to tens of thousands of the world's impoverished populations.