Monday, November 8, 2010


We are more privileged than we allow ourselves to acknowledge. 

 So much of our lives are wasted on things that don't matter.
Think of the things that cause you stress.
I think of my world, and it's like "seriously, andrea?"
It's so easy to get lost in the unimportant.

I'd much rather live for the broken
Live with a purpose
To make a difference and change lives

I like to keep perspective.
This is the world we live in.
And how much of the damage are you contributing to?
In denial about that? Fine.
But how much are you doing to help?
Just sayin..

Monday, October 11, 2010

Beautiful Chanel.

This is Chanel.
Ohmygoodness she's just so dang cute!
And this is her after her operation...

I cant say enough how adorable she is.

She's five years old now, and insanely active! She just runs and jumps and spins, and has an appetite like no one else I've seen! The first time we met, we drove to where she was standing, and before our mothers had even established whether we were the right people, before I could even get out of the car to say hi.. She had run upto the car, jumped into the back, and was hugging me! And spent the rest of the drive playing with my bracelets, tickling me, showing me her injuries and supergirly clothes *silver pumps with hearts all over them..a frilly candycane-striped top.. ah, girls clothes are the best*... Then we raced around the waterfront and played crazy games.. And ended the night with city lights and colourful dessert.
Today's event, a fashion show at Zevenwacht, was wonderful!
The venue was beautiful, great music, incredible clothes, Top Billing presenters (and what is an event without them.. haha) And (wait for it...) over R81 000 was raised!!
 R81 000!!! *whaaaat* Yes, that's atleast 16 surgeries.
16 lives changed forever. 16 people who wont have to hide their faces from the world. 16 people who can smile and laugh with everyone else, and not be ashamed. Oh, above is Braam Malherbe, who did a cool 'nothing is impossible, dream big, i ran the Great Wall of China with David Grier, BOOM' talk and played a video of it.. It was the first time I watched a mission clip after being home. Yeah, I cried more than I've cried during a mission video before. It's so much more real, so much more... I know these kids! I spent a week with his mom! I felt their pain and their joy. Every smile feels so much more magical, every moment bringing back my own experiences.
Flip, when that first dress got sold for R20 000, (the lovely dress that Chanel got to model, that the buyer donated back to her!!!) the tears just started flowing.. I just.. I'm constantly blown away by the generous hearts I've come into contact with. And wow, having been on a mission, seeing the effect of the surgery on peoples' lives, and knowing how deserving each and every one of the patients are (and how deserving Chanel and her mom are of this wonderful weekend away, and their moment in the spotlight) --it just makes it so much more emotional for me. I heard R20 000 and all I could see was those four children's faces lighting up, the moment their parents realize things will be different now, ahh it's like my heart bursts with anticipation! I wonder if the buyers will ever understand the difference they're making..
The food was sooo good :) And so beautiful* I'll go through my pictures and get actual nice ones of the event, but for now, how cool is this headdress?! And gosh this lady is soo beautiful! (Thankyou Muse Model Management *sponsor shoutout haha*)
Anyway, this was a wonderful weekend, filled with many "I'm so so blessed to have Operation Smile in my life. To have met such incredible people. To be inspired by their big dreams. And to have shared these life-changing experiences with them." moments.
To you I say, keep dreaming.
They definitely come true.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Here doesn't feel like home.

I never cry. Yet here I am with tears running down my face, at a single memory, a split-second thought. I miss being there, with everyone. And more than everything, I've been struck by the simplicity with which one can completely change someone's life. Not just the patients; gaining insight into the lives of the other people on the team.. I really understand the concept of something you take for granted being the world to someone else. I am drowing in a sense of gratitude, not only for my material wealth, but the people in my life, my ideals, my mindset, the way I've learnt to deal in certain situations .. I feel so privelidged. And I'm finding it difficult to feel .. settled.. back here. it doesnt feel like home. It doesnt feel like it's meant to be. It doesnt feel like anyone here understands what I'm feeling, who I am now. I want to share my experiences, but I'm still trying to process it all. I'm kinda just.. sitting. Embracing the moments I have to contemplate. I'm home and yeah everyone is here, but all i want is to be back in Tana. All i want is to be back spending long days changing the lives of the most gentle grateful kind people I've ever met. I want to wake up to the breathtaking view of the most beautiful town I've seen. I want to be walking through that hospital, smiling at the parents, being a symbol of hope ,learning malagasy words, sharing stories with the locals... I dont know what to do with myself here; I don't know who to be. My heart feels like it's being pulled a million different ways.. but the only way it wants to go is the direction of Tana. I feel lost, but the kind of lost that is caused by knowing exactly where I'm meant to be. Nothing here seems to matter as much. -Not in a mean way. More like I need to find my place here again. I felt like, my heart was at home. They call it 'tamana' in malagasy, -when u feel comfortable, at home in a place.  everyone was my family, everyone was love.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tana has captured my heart.

The student team is really lucky, bc we are one of the few who actually get to see the town. We spend time travelling to schools (where we do healthcare presentations) and get free time to go to markets (wow, such an experience! and bargaining.. hectic!) it's been GREAT! Chloe always laughs at me in the bus bc I keep going "wow, that's so beautiful!" -about almost everything. But honestly, I've never seen a town this beautiful. The buildings, wow. I wish I could photograph every single one of them. -That I wasn't rushing by in a bus every time I saw them. The colours, the way theyre deteriorating, the doorways... INCREDIBLE. I've never felt this way. I look around as we drive through the village, and my heart feels like it's bursting. I can't help smiling, I almost want to cry at the beauty. The people here are so kind, so friendly. And absolutely gorgeous! The music is so much fun! And what I love about the 'touristy things' here is that it's not just touristy here. The hats, the baskets -it's what the locals wear. We see them all around the hospital, and the colours brighten the area.
[We're SO sure this statue was in the amazingrace at some point!] 
 We have the most breathtaking view from our hotel room! (Please note that Hollywood-style Antananarivo sign.. I didn't until the second day) It's spans so wide, it takes like five landscape photographs to capture it all. And even then it's nowhere near as wonderful as the sight I am blessed with every day. At each time of the day it looks different, and each time seems more beautiful then the last. The hotel is in such a central place. We can literally walk to the hospital in five minutes, and to the biggest market I've ever seen. Ever. (Like, it spans down hundreds of stairs, down a street, up a steep hill and down the otherside.) Rightnow though, I'm going to allow myself to be distracted by even more CNN. -I'm kind of addicted now.- And to fall asleep, yet again, to French TV..

Please have a look at anton's blog. He's a superfun guy, creative director at Saatchi&Saatchi, and his blog is just wonderful! Been reading it all night :) ALSO, David and Nick have the miles for smiles website. up and running! They've been updating it with clips daily! Amazing footage! -Click on the YouTube link to watch them!
[The sunset as we walked back to the hospital today, after being at the Public University of Tana. *so beautiful* With a group of men doing their PhD's in Economic Development. -They're coming to UCT in November, doing research on disaster management! Mom and dad, you're gonna love them!]
Tomorrow we go into the countryside, where the people are apparently much more poor (difficult to imagine) and we will do healthcare presentations and play some games with the kids. The Italians brought a cool volleyball kit, yay! And then to the market again.. Aaaand dinner with the Peace Corps volunteers!
SUPER exciting

Post-op Contemplation.

I spent quite a bit of time today in Post-Op. It's the most beautiful thing to experience. Jo spoke to us a few days ago about how in the DRC it's mostly the mothers who bring their children to screening. Here, the people arrive in big families. -The dad's as interested and heartfelt as the mothers. Both parents stay, play, console. And today, after the first day of surgery, there was a huge bunch of people coming to visit the patients from yesterday. Three, four, five family members per patient! When we walked into the hospital this morning, there were crowds outside the hospital, queues outside the rooms, behind the doors..

People here seem to understand the need for order, and trust in the instructions from the team. Besides the occasional crying baby, things here seem to be calm. (I didn't realise how much the panic and distress affected me until I was in pre-op mixing antibiotics and I felt relieved by the quiet. It's exhausting, if only subsconciously, wanting to be a source of calm amongst the chaos during the long days we have.)
I've seen some of the most beautiful women here. They were bright colours, and interesting textures. They smile and almost exude friendliness.

Nadia and I have discussed how amazing it would be to follow families home, and see as they go back to their villages. It would be even more amazing to travel to the mission site with the family, and go through screening and the operation experience with them.. Maybe someday! -If I'm ever fluent in French..
This is Florence and her daughter, Valimbatavaka, who is three years old. Whenever I saw them during screening, she would smile at me. With grateful, friendly eyes, completely trusting of me. -That I would return with her bottle refilled, that I wouldn't keep my flash too close to her daughter's face, that we would do our best to help their family; as I was completely trusting of her. With my belongings, and my heart. She laughed as I attempted to compliment her in Malagasy. "Tsara enao" -You are beautiful. Our smiple conversations confirmed with my broken french, -the few phrasses I remember from highschool lessons.

I would have loved to have a translator to myself. To communicate.. not necessarily more easily, but more deeply. To understand their fears, their excitement, their background, their seemingly boundless love.

Some things you can't express in words, though. Some things only your eyes sing, only your heart shines. And those are the things I've been blessed enough to experience here. -A capacity for love I never knew possible. Love for their children, love shown towards me, the kindness in their being.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rwanda Video. Watch it.

this is the video from the Rwanda mission this year. watch it. it's fiveminutes that will change your life. make you cry. warm your heart. restore your hope in humanity. and it's set to coldplay's 'fix you' .. you can't go wrong with that! but really. it's an incredible compilation.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Who even IS this kid.

okay seriously this kid is the CUTEST! all the girls are inlove with him, really. and we have no idea what his name is.-he's so mischievious, he's been telling everyone a different name, a different story... haha and he's super naughty! he stole water and broke toys and wouldn't share his soccerball... but then he just comes and hugs you or kisses you or cuddles you, latches on and wont let go, and suddenly everything is forgiven. and ohmygosh he's obsessed with cameras. -taking photos, looking at photos, being in photos... ah he's GREAT* he''s not getting surgery though, i guess he just saw there's a vibe at the hospital he'd like to be a part of... haha. but really.
yes. he is the BIGGEST BOWSSE.

Stories in their eyes.

Firstly, yes chloe and i are both on my hotel bed. both with laptops at 'critical power levels'. one powerpack. much to do on the internet. THIS is life. haha we're really living on the edge, it's hilarious.
Anyway, since it's crazy busy and I'll never be able to say everything I want and feel without being a complete zombie in the morning, I thought I'd share some photos with you from screening.. Screening is the first two days when hundreds of patients (we saw over 400) come to the hospital and get evaluated.. We establish which and how many patients we will be able to operate on this mission. (There's a whole priority system, I'll explain later) We spent most of our time playing outside with kids, going sticker and bubble crazy. And we've really kinda taken on the role of... childlife therapy assistants. Jo (the childlife therapist) is AMAZING! Honestly brilliant. Been learning so much from her. From proper telephone manner to what lifelessons i should learn from an evening with the ambassador..
(The crowd on surgery announcement day. The most hearbreaking of them all. When we announce those who will be getting surgery this week -FLIP their faces when they hear their names, the parents' excitement sparkles in their eyes!! a light shines through like none ive seen before- and which people can't get surgery this year, but will definitely be first next mission.. Jo and Carin (psychologist) have counselling sessions with them after the announcement to console them and answer any questions. It's slightly easier here in Madagascar bc people know us here, and they know we actually will come back. And they know beforehand that it's not confirmed that they'll get surgery. It's still difficult though. It still makes your heart ache when this little girl's mom was pleading in a language I couldn't understand, for her daughter to be operated on. Bc many people who had been scheduled hadn't arrived today, she said. Bc she travelled from another town days before and had no where to stay. Bc she only had this one lil bag (the size of an A4 page, maximum 2inches deep..) of their belongings.. And bc it breaks her heart for her child to live like this.. She began to cry and all I could do was hug her. All I could do was smile at her daughter, make her feel like everything would be okay.. Like the delicious lolipop that her mom told us "she can only lick" is all that matters rightnow, that someday things would change.
Tamlin handled it wonderfully. She organised with Lilena (YouthForChrist and translator co-ordinator) for them to stay at the patient accomodation we arrange, and for her daughter to get an obturator.. to atleast provide temporary relief. She always says how important it is to make every person feel heard, and cared for.
So many of these kids arrive, like this little girl in her most wonderful princess dress, with her filthy tattered clothes underneath.. It's both heartbreaking and heartwarming. The life of poverty from which they come is devastating. Yet the fact that her mom put on her best dress for this gives us insight into how much this surgery, the possibility we present for them, really means to them.

Fastforward to Today.

it's 20h45 and it feels like midnight. we just played the name game. -latenight sheet edition. so much fun! we were all kinda hoping itd be cancelled bc we stayed so late at the ambassadors cocktail party! (SUCH a cool house. amazing food. random music.. including "red red wiiine" haha even without kfm, that song found it's way through.. had a great time*)

sorry i've been terrible with blogging, i have so much to say though, the days are full and long. and whenever i have a free moment, there isn't a laptop available.. *sigh*
tomorrow surgery begins. it's SUPER EXCITING! I'l get the correct numbers from Tamlin in the morning, but it's something like 900 surgeries that we would have done in total in Madagascar since we first began doing missions in 2007. Ruben and the dental team are breaking records (literally i think..) with the amount of obturators they're making. (Obturators are plates that fill the gap in the palate, it means lives can be changed even if they don't get surgery this year..amazing!)
In one of Tamlin's brilliant speeches tonight (flip she blows my mind with her passion) she said told us of a boy who, when asked what he was most excited about for after the surgery, answered "to be a man. because now i can blow on a fire"
moments like that.. for a little boy to be aware of the fact that if he didn't get surgery he couldn't make a fire to cook food and provide for his family.. a thing that never even crossed my mind.. i really don't think we'll ever grasp the difference opsmile truly makes in their lives.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The First Supper.

JThe bus ride was good. I sat with a Canadian named Jackie. she's cute and blonde and supersweet! and there's this hilarius american named jane. i havent seen her much since though..
on the way we saw this gigantic sparkly building. no idea what it is.. looked like those buildings in vegas! SO cool. and when talking about the things jackie should see during her extra days in SA after the mission, someone was sayin there's a park where you can see lions and rhino.. and jane interjects "--and bears..?" but for real. #greatestmoment. no jane, not bears...
other observations on the journey to the hotel: it almost always smells like incense or burning. jackie said seeing the vibe outside at night reminded her of india (where her last mission was). brooke (PIT trainer, from the usa) disagrees.. "it's clean and quiet, NO!" there are no streetlights, but people are walking around and chilling all over. and ohmygosh you just see piles of what looks like those white woven plastic bags (the big ones, for like sand? do you know what im talking about?) but actually it's hundreds of people sleeping alongside the road..
This is the first thing you see when you enter The Carlton (and by enter i mean, when the french doorman opens the door for you and carries all your luggage..) WOW. And all over there are the most incredible chandeliers! It's an AMAZING hotel. WOW. and everyone is just so welcoming and friendly and willing to go out of their way to help us. We went straigth up to a dinner that the Lions Club and The Carlton had thrown for us. So wonderful! Firstly bc the dinner was just... the most delicious food in the world. And a buffett. But mostly bc the prevalent feeling in the room (the rooftop room to be specific..) was gratitude. There were the most heartwarming speeches. About how our previous missions have gone.. In four missions we've changed the lives of 730 patients! And about how thankful they are to have us in the country to help the children of Madagascar. It's just... wow. Blown away by these wonderful people.

Inside joke: Christof went to the dessert buffett..
"What's this?"
Malagasy cake."
"And this?"
"Malagasy cake"
"And this?"
"Malagasy cake."
*all completely different types of dessert*

haha it's a bit of a running joke now... which maybe isn't as funny to all of you.. *awkward*

The night was filled with a sense of family, and great anticipation.. and a feeling of community, of working together for the common good.


[this is one of those photos i always take. and the security guards almost always look like theyre gonna shoot you. or arrest you. apparently in the DRC they actually do. you know, as you get off the plane at night, goign into the airport, armed men everywhere.. but filled with the excitement of being in a new country, and wanting to photograph ever moment of it.. yeah.]
as soon as we walked into the (cute, homely) airport in Tana, everyone lit up. And seeing Meagan and Tamlin (who had arrived a few days before us, to get everything ready) made it all very real. We'd spent hours talking about being on this mission, and here we all are, in the airport together! CRAZY! Aw and the first thing they did was hug us all, with their bright smiles.. And gave us each hats to choose from! Chloe spent ages fitting them on, tryin to pick the right one. As soon as I went to get one, Meagan told me that they'd picked one out just for me! Tamlin said they saw it in the market and both said "that's so andrea" and had to get it haha it's the cutest!
oh gosh and WE MET NADIA! She's GREAT! We're having so much fun* With all of us being thrown into the deep end, it being our first mission., we've had awesum times finding our way together! 
(christof and chloe. they both look kinda scary here, i swear theyre nice people hahaha)
-aand this is jo, scarlett's mom. she's the childlife therapist. she has the best job in the world! she plays games with kids. and she's SO BRILLIANT. and hilarious!!!
we took two trolleys by acccident, and just couldn't get them apart...
[TOTALLY shouldve invested in a blackberry! haha now all you BBMers know where you can come* YES i just said BBMers.]
We got our luggage (all of it YAY) and our visas and we were OFF to the hotel... (I have no idea whats going on in this photo! But it's showing us in the busses.. so here haha)

The Road to Tana..

this is the first photo i took. of chloe. who is looking over my shoulder right now. she's saying how amazing i am. (okay okay i may have twisted that a lil...) we were in the jhb airport. minutes after we both realised it had been hours since we left home, and neither of us had been taking photos. then we saw this GIANT tabasco sauce and our cameras were never the same...
what else? chloe went into every stationary shop looking for sillybandz. and EVENTUALLY(after Christof and i had rejected her. "you can go by yourself to this one, meet you at spur" --yes mom, we made sure she'd be safe first. CAMP RULES APPLY.
she found them, and bought so many she couldnt buy food haha (THATS dedication. especially from chloe..)
"there must be twentyfour letters in the pack" -chloe, about her alphabet sillybandz
"you know there are twenty six letters in the alphabet, right?" -andrea

aaand we had a wonderful team vibe, anticipating GREAT times with our new family.. OH and they all realised how weird i am when i spent half an hour figuring out what i wanted.. changing my mind a hundred times.. (WHO doesnt have cranberry juice and a kiddies grilled chicken combo?! come on. OBVIOUSLY life gets complicated after the greatest meal ever has been denied.) and then eventually decided to satisfy the craving for a chico the clown. #mostdelicious
At Spur, we also spent some time asking Genevieve a ton of questions, bc she was the only one at our table who'd been to Tana before.

The rest of the journey was good... sat opposite Scar for the onetime journey CT to JHB.. on a tiny tiny plane. I haven't entered a plane from the back before.. that was interesting.. Aaand I met Dawid the Anaethetist. and Christof became our LEGIT BRO. we got lost in the airport. well, not lost. ALL the airport staff gave us incorrect directions. HOW do so many people not know what's going on?! gosh. In the end though, we ended up exactly where we started, and all was fine. "I just couldn't do any of that by myself. I have to travel with a man. -or Chloe." -andrea
We had a really long wait in the airport before our flight to Tana. Spent most of it at Exclusive Books, a group of us set up camp there. #great times
(Oh Tim, the lady on the plane intercom speaks French, you'd love it. -And all the stewardesses are French. Even here in Tana, everyone has that cool French accent!)

LV bag update: It KILLED me. KILLED ME. Bc yes, it is beautiful. But yes, it's me. And ofcourse the rolly thing didnt work. AND ofcourse it was way more full than ideal. "put EVERYTHING youd need into your carryon bc your luggage may not arrive" Anyway. My arm was slightly swollen for a bit, and i have legit scars on my shoulders. But it's alll good.

Kept having these 'Ohmygosh this is real. This. Is. Happening.' moments. So much time knowing it's gonna come, so much theoretical knowledge, so many stories heard. But this is ME. Here. Now. Whaaaat.

Other news: I had my first canned pawpaw experience. And they gave us HUGE cashews. They eat so much eggplant here, its divine. I end with a quote I got from Britt's goodbye letter:

"Remember that nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion"

More to come.

okay so we're sitting in the bar, with jazz in the background (dad it's like exactly what you play during.. all the time. lol) aaand dinner has been pushed back by an hour. and christoff (who IS christiaan! IT'S crazy!) doesnt need the PIT laptop so im gonna try blog atleast the first few days worth of photos and stories.. *drumroll please*
OH this photo is from this INCREDIBLE dam.. lake? haha i dont know.. that we visited in the botanical gardens today. -more on that later :)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Love Beyond Words

i have so much to say, ive got it all ready to get onto a post. but we just got back to the (AMAZING) hotel. have tons of photos i'll blog tomorrow. rightnow though, we're going out for dinner to a place that apparently doesnt have a roof. oh and this girl, im in love with her.. she's just. wow. the cutest :) her name is clara. FINALLY the only three sentences i remember from frenchclass came into use. haha but moer on that later aaah must go must go. anyway, she spent all of todya with me. but i didnt see any of her family and she didnt go through screening. she just kept looking at me. and sitting by me. we don't speak eachother's languages, but we communicated perfectly, joking around about the people around us. she kept posing for photos and wanting to see. and asking chloe for stickers. then when i had to leave she followed me up the stairs and took me to room 209 in the onchology ward. where her whole family is sitting. and smiling at me. we had a ten minute 'i have no idea what youre sayin' laughing moment, and concluded that id come by tomorrow.

i haven't cried yet, i thought i would. there were two moments i almost did, you know when youre just overwhelm withe motion? when we first walked into the hospital there was a sea of faces, hundreds and hundreds of people, who had parted this pathway for us to walk through. they were all smiling and just wow so friendly and welcoming and so grateful for our presence. -we hadn't even set up yet, and there wer 'thankyous' from all over. i was just struck by the welcoming hearts of the people here. -The Carlton Hotel's generosity (more on that later aah sorry im tryna rush here, i just really wanan give you guys an ideea of what im feeling) Also, I'm really truly experiencing the power of a smile. Beyond words, beyond understanding what's going on.. The smiles the team and the patients, the families share.. Priceless moments. Feelings we couldn't describe even if we had a language in common.

I promise I'll blog properly tomorrow! Bye xoxo