Welcome to the Scharrer family's real life story! Most of our story is written for, and about, our four kids and the spice they add to our lives. It's our story of happiness, craziness, and sometimes ridiculousness. We've journaled through childbirth, the terrible two's, private school (and our public school experience), an autism diagnosis, medical school, residency, and long-term mission work in Africa.

Now we're following a new adventure, which involves a 45 foot motorcoach, homeschool, and as many ski slopes as we can go down in one year.

For posts from while we were living in Zimbabwe and updates about our future plans in Zimbabwe, please see our mission blog...


26 February 2014

Hôpital Evangélique << Le Pionnier >>

It's 4 o'clock in the morning and -14 degrees Fahrenheit outside.  Erik and I are wide awake.  Erik decides to make us some eggs for breakfast while I sit in the dimly lit dining room, wrapped up in a blanket at the kitchen table.  I slowly, intently, scroll through the pictures from our last two weeks in the Congo.  As the eggs sizzle in the pan, we recall memories from our trip.  It is 9:00 a.m. in Congo right now and we think about the hospital.  They have already had morning chapel, morning report, and the doctors are probably on rounds.  Even though we have been home three days, our body is still on Congo time.

(Click on the pics to make them bigger)
The morning sunshine from inside our mosquito net
Our mornings in Congo would begin around 6:00 a.m. when the rooster would cock-a-doodle-doo amidst a background of rainforest birds chirping, whistling, and singing.  Soon we'd hear the school children arriving at the school that was located next to the hospital and eventually we'd roll out of our mosquito net and slip on some scrubs.  I never had to worry about makeup because no one else wore it and doing my hair was easy - up, because it was too hot to wear it down.  Usually by the time I was dressed, Erik or Ben would already have water boiling on the stove for some instant coffee or oats.  The night before we would have walked across the street to buy some bread from a sweet Rwandan family who sells bread on the street corner in a little shack.  And in the morning before toasting the bread over the stove, we would knock off any bugs that had feasted on the bread over night.  We never worried about getting all of the bugs off, though, because we figured that we were going to toast the bread, so it would kill the bugs anyway, and a little extra protein never killed anyone.  :)

It would only take a few minutes to toast the bread on the hot stove.  The bread was long, skinny, and a little harder than American bread, actually more like a baguette.  Some mornings I'd enjoy Jempy on my toast (a chocolate-hazelnut spread similar to Nutella, but better!) and other times I'd opt for the homemade peanut butter and fresh forest honey that was gathered a few days prior.  Instant coffee wasn't my favorite, but I have to admit I learned how to make a pretty good cup of it!  One spoonful of Folgers instant coffee, two spoonfuls of Milgro (a powdered milk kind of like baby formula, which is the only "milk" they have in Impfondo), and two spoonfuls of the chocolate flavored Milgro.  It was a little filmy feeling and the aftertaste was a bit skunky-smelling, but I learned to appreciate a good cup of boiling hot caffeine before the sun was up and hot.  Our house, "Maison Bleu," was located on the edge of the hospital campus near the chapel and we'd hear clapping from the chapel shortly after 7:00 a.m. to let us know it was time to go, so we'd grab our water bottles of filtered water and run to the chapel for the morning service.  

Our blue house - Maison Bleu
Our front windows and door looked right at the chapel and the rest of the hospital grounds.  Getting to chapel was only a hop, skip, and jump away, almost literally!

The walk from our front door to the chapel (building on right).
Morning chapel with Elliott
The hospital employees attended chapel every morning and it was a wonderful time of worship and study.  There is a hospital chaplain, but some of the men took turns teaching each day.  The singing and lessons were in a combination of Lingala and French, so I didn't understand a single thing!  Some days Dr. Harvey would translate for us, which was nice.  After morning chapel, there was a morning meeting where the medical staff meet together and the overnight staff informs the day staff about any new patients that came in during the night and any updates on old patients.  Dr. Harvey would translate this for us, too.  After morning meeting, the doctors would have a short meeting to get a game plan for the day.  Many times there were surgical cases already lined up and other days there were none.  Erik almost always went on rounds immediately after the meeting, where the doctors would see every patient in the hospital.  I loved joining them on rounds!

Hospital grounds, clothes drying on the ground
Rounds started in the emergency and observation wards.  The patients in these wards are watched a little more closely and are in a little more serious condition.  After that comes the maternity, postpartum, pediatrics, men's, women's, and post-surgical patients.  The hospital was an old communist camp, so the wards are the cabins that were built for communist children.  They are all spread out, several hundred feet away from each other, on 17 acres of land.  It isn't extremely ideal for a hospital layout, but it works well there because the families of the patients are responsible for providing a lot of the care, the bedding, and all the food for the patients.  There were several places over the 17 acres where families could gather to cook meals, wash their clothes, and hang clothes to dry.  I found the hospital campus peaceful and serene.  I think many of the patients and families did, too, because it was very typical that once a patient was discharged, they wouldn't leave!  This was because the patient couldn't pay their bill (and they weren't allowed to leave the hospital until the bill was paid), but other times I think people just genuinely liked the hospital and not just the setting, I think they liked the relationships they formed with others on the hospital campus.  I'm sure it was hard for them to go home.

One of the places where families can cook meals for the patients

Mama Lydie preparing crocodile
After morning rounds were done, Erik would either head into surgery or help with outpatient appointments.  I would usually head back to our house to re-hydrate and write in my journal about the day before.  Mama Lydie, our afternoon lunch cook, would already be in our kitchen washing our dishes and preparing lunch.  She was an amazing cook and most of the missionary staff would join us for her yummy food at our house for the noon meal.  Lunch was a wonderful time to bond with everyone and fuel up for the rest of the day. Some of my favorite meals from Mama Lydie were wild boar, crocodile, egg and avocado salad sandwiches, fish, and although not one of my favorites, we also had caterpillars for lunch once!

Labor and delivery beds
Many of the surgeries took place in the afternoon, where Erik would enjoy assisting.  I would usually hang out at home and wait for deliveries!  The midwives knew to come and get me in the blue house when a mom in labor was ready to deliver.  It was an amazing experience to watch the strong African women push out their babies with no drugs and hardly ever any sign of pain.  They are so tough!  I loved witnessing the miracle of birth and helping the mamas nurse after the baby was cleaned up and dressed.

Putting a metal plate on a man's humerus

Dr. Nastasia and the baby of our very
first delivery!

The evening would come quickly and as the sun was starting to set, we would begin coming up with a dinner plan.  It was nice when there were leftovers from lunch, but when there wasn't, we'd come up with something else. Some of our most memorable dinners included sloppy joes out of canned luncheon beef mush that was basically cat food (mixed with oats and chili powder), banana and Snickers pancakes with homemade maple syrup, and spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce on top.  I found it really difficult to cook in Congo.  For one, they don't have milk, eggs, cheese, or a good abundance of ground beef.  And for two, our oven didn't work and halfway through our stay the butane stove ran out of butane.  That left us with a single stand-alone kerosene burner, which was a pain in the butt to get lit.  Another thing that made it hard was we had no refrigerator!  Well, we had a refrigerator in our kitchen, but only the freezer worked, keeping the food about half as cold as a normal refrigerator would because the electricity was only on intermittently throughout the day.  We just used the freezer more like a cooler.  Most food items would sit on the counter and then when you were ready to use them, you  had to wash or sift the bugs out of everything.  Even things in Tupperware containers would eventually get filled with bugs.  I quickly learned that the more you worry and dwell on the presence of bugs, the worse off you'll be.  By the end of the two weeks, I even stopped screaming bloody murder every time a giant cockroach would run across my feet in the shower or chase me down the hall.  (And when I say "giant," I mean 4 inches!)  They were everywhere, especially at night, which is why I was so thankful for the mosquito net to sleep in.  I felt protected from more than just mosquitoes in there.

Cooking in the kitchen
By the evening time, we were pooped.  Most evenings I would try to check my email, which would usually take a half hour just to get on the internet and usually only stay connected for five or ten minutes before there would be problems.  About every three or four nights we would go over to the administration building where they had an internet phone with a US phone number.  Brilliant!  We could call our kids for free!  It was nice to be able to talk with them and keep up on what they were doing in the States.  On Sunday nights, there was a devotional in English at the Harvey's house on the mission compound, which was located 3.5 miles from the hospital.  There are several houses on the mission compound where missionaries serving at the hospital live.  On Wednesday nights there was a team meeting at our house, where we'd all meet together to catch up on how we were all feeling and then pray for each other.  I enjoyed this time learning from the missionaries who are there long-term and I found myself continually evaluating our life and whether or not we could bring our kids over here and do this full time, too.

Nastasia (a Med/Peds resident from the states), Erik, Joe Harvey
(the founder and director and long-term missionary of the hospital), Sara and
Elliott Tenpenny (our friends from Mayo who are now missionaries there)

This was just a short recap of our time in Congo.  There are so many stories that I hope to tell as time goes on.  Our trip was a life-changing experience and I am in awe of God's power and His working in this trip.  I can't even think about our time there without tearing up.  I absolutely fell in love with Africa and fell in love with the way I witnessed God working through Erik and me while we were there.  It was a powerful trip, teaching me how to fully rely on God and letting God empower us through humbling and sacrificing ourselves, serving in a very broken and hurting world.  The Congo was just the beginning of a new chapter in our lives and I can't wait to share more.

04 February 2014

It was a wonderful adventure and we have made it to the Congo!
There are stories I could share of our travel here, of the Hotel Bravo, the marketplace in Brazzaville, new friends, African food, or all about our new home and our roommates and coworkers.  However, tonight as I sit in front of a computer screen that seems so foreign in this setting, and with internet that is only really available at night when there isn't as much energy required to run lights for the operating rooms, I am overwhelmed.  My heart has been touched and I am slowly processing everything I have seen and done.  
I have fallen in love with this culture, with these people, and this hospital.  I find myself awake before necessary in the morning, eager to start the day and what lies ahead.  I long to know about the patients, their families, the hospital, the town, and the missionaries.  I love watching my husband in his element and I am so thankful for the gift God has given to him to practice medicine and save lives.
I can't wait to share more.

We write to taste life twice, once in the moment and in retrospection.”
~Anais Nin