Friday, 29 February 2008

Happy Birthday Mum

My Mother is celebrating her 15th birthday today (29th February 2008). Happy Birthday Mum. Olly

Unloading in the port

The Freeport of Monrovia must surely be one of the few ports in the world where ships bring their own machinery to help with unloading. Whenever NDS or Eurocargo ships arrive here bringing vehicles and containers from Europe, they firstly unload their own container handlers and trucks, forklifts and so on. Every other port I've been to, even in West Africa, has its own equipment, except Liberia. I guess its coming. Olly

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Bye bye #699 and #703

Ex Anastasis and Africa Mercy crew will remember the two Toyota Ventures which faithfully carried thousands of crew over many hundreds of thousands of miles in Europe and Africa since they joined the Anastasis in 2000. Yesterday they were retired from our fleet, as their steel bodywork had rusted away beyond repair. Praise God for all those miles travelled in safety. Olly

CDS mend road

If you've ever driven to the Anastasis or Africa Mercy in Monrovia you'll have noticed the road from UN Drive to our dock is potholed in many places, with one huge pothole the whole width of the road...But not any more! Our guys from the Community Development Services department have fixed the road, using tonnes of concrete. We can now drive in a straight line from gate to gate without the slalom we've been driving since 2005. Maybe this will help reduce some of the wear and tear on our vehicles. Olly

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Monrovia: New Bridge unsafe at night.

Observers say that Monrovia's New Bridge linking Bushrod Island to Central Monrovia is unsafe for travel at night due to increased wave of criminal activities. There are reports that the criminals are continuously disconnecting the street lights thus creating avenue to get at
Its true, violent crime really is on the increase here. Despite our dock being surrounded and patrolled by Ghanaian, Nigerian, Nepalese and Bangladeshi soldiers and our own Gurkhas, we also continue to be victims of the crimewave as swimmers climb onto our dock during the night to steel things. Olly

Buying Land Rover parts in Monrovia

Whenever we need parts for our Land Rovers that aren't available in town, we go searching amongst the ex-combatant community who looted the Land Rover dealership during the war and still have the stolen parts hidden away. We rarely go short as long as we are happy to wait a day or two whilst the ex-combatents go searching for where the parts are hidden - once, parts were buried and our contact had to dig them up before selling them to us. Even the main Land Rover dealership buys back from the ex-combatants the very parts that were looted from them in 1990, 1996 and 2003...Olly

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Liberia: Government Arrest Illegal Fishing Ship

A Marine Control and Surveillance Project, jointly launched by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Bureau of National Fisheries aimed at preventing ships from engaging in illegal fishing in Liberian territorial waters, over the weekend yielded fruits with the arrest and subsequent detention of SATA 70 and its crew who were engaged in illegal fishing. The arrest was made by the MV Rockfish, a ship operated by a private sector company called the Marine Protection and Rescue Services Limited which is the company that has been hired by the Liberian government to conduct a marine control and surveillance project off the coast of Liberia for a sixty day period. The ship was seized with 1,000 cartons of fish on board. Minister Toe of the Liberian Government used the occasion to warn that the government will not tolerate any violation of the law when it comes to illegal fishing on Liberian territorial waters, stressing that government was losing at least $12 million annually from illegal fishing. For her part, Deputy Finance Minister, Elfrieda Steward Tamba who spoke on the fine to be paid by the ship, said the ministry is in the process of estimating and from what is expected to be gathered, the cost would be between three hundred thousand plus United States dollars. She said the fish would be auctioned should the crew members of the ship fail to pay the fine, because the law provides that government can seize and auction in such a case stressing that anything to the contrary, the ministry would proceed to do just that after a one month period.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Grass that bites

Today was the first day the grass bit me for ages - yep, nasty fire ants crawled onto my foot and stung me loads whilst we were at ELWA Beach. I've been waiting for this moment ever since we arrived back in Liberia at the beginning of February - its symbolic and means we're really back! Fire ants are a pain here and many Liberian children grow up with legs that are forever scarred by bites and the scratching that follows. Olly

Thursday, 21 February 2008

President Bush visits Liberia

US President George W Bush has ended a five-country tour of Africa with a visit to Liberia, one of America's staunchest allies on the continent. Mr Bush met Africa's first female president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, whom he praised for leading Liberia's recovery from a 14-year civil war. "The United States will stand with you as you rebuild your country," he said. Mr Bush has used his six-day trip mainly to showcase US-funded projects to combat HIV/Aids and malaria. There were also strategic considerations too - countering the influence of China, which has been doing billions of dollars worth of trade deals in Africa, and allaying concerns over plans for a new US military base. Mr Bush has denied planning a US military expansion in Africa to safeguard US interests. He said the new command, Africom, would provide African states with military training and assistance so they could handle Africa's problems better. So far, Liberia is the only country among the 53 African nations that has offered to host Africom. Speaking on Thursday, Mr Bush told his Liberian counterpart that the US would continue to lend a hand to make the country a symbol of liberty for Africa and the world. He pledged US support to tackle poverty and disease, as well as an education initiative - one million books, desks and seating for at least 10,000 students by the beginning of the next school year. He also pointed out that the US, alongside the UN, was helping to train new Liberian armed forces following the country's protracted civil war, which finally ended in 2003. Despite the two countries' good relationship, Mr Bush's visit was the first by an American president in 30 years. Freed slaves from the American south began colonising the country in 1848 and they brought the habits and symbols of America with them. Liberians still speak English with an American accent; they trade in Liberian dollars; and their national flag is a copy of the stars and stripes - although the Liberian version has just one star instead of 50. In contrast to Liberia, many African nations are wary of hosting a US military presence, which some critics claim is intended only to tighten America's grip on a vital future source of oil. Photo of President Bush and President Johnson-Sirleaf.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Surgical Screening

The Africa Mercy's main surgical screening took place today, in which the medical crew selected hundreds of patients for surgery over the coming ten months. We had Land Rover shuttles backwards and forwards between the ship and the screening venue all day, carrying crew, food and water, and the last crew are only just returning now after a long and hot day. Patients will start arriving on the ship on Wednesday, and surgery starts on Thursday. Praise God for a successful and peaceful day. Olly

Another Torm Alexandra photo

Here it is. Most awesome angle. Click on photo to enlarge. See the limpets stuck all over the hull after years submerged? See the Africa Mercy in the background? Olly

New Pilot Boat for Monrovia

In 2006 we watched the Freeport of Monrovia's only Pilot Boat get trapped under a pier by rising tides, and then slowly sink over a period of three days. Since then, the tugs Bushrod Island and more recently Defender have been carrying the Pilots to and from ships, but today a new Pilot Boat arrived, a brand spanking new high-speed fibreglass power boat, which could double up as a sports-fishing boat at weekends I reckon. Olly

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Anna loses a tooth

Today Anna lost her first tooth, at the age of six and a half. She has been having phantom wobbly toothes for months, so she's very happy that she is, at last, becoming a woman. Thanks, Bev, for pulling it out for her. Olly

Feeling better

At last we are all feeling a bit better. My fever and Noah's has gone and we are sleeping properly and abundantly, and we have all started eating again in the Dining Room. All that remains is a head full of cottonwool each and a nasty cough. Thank you for praying for us, and putting up with my miserable blogging. Olly


Remember Mary? She's the 15 year old Liberian girl who had surgery on the ship last Outreach to relieve her of a locked jaw. She was our adopted patient too, and she's kept in contact with us since then. Yesterday she came to visit, and told us that her Uncle (her guardian) has gone upcountry looking for work (where her parents are already), and she is living on her own in Monrovia. Poor girl - she has basically been abandoned by her family, and is trying to live on the goodwill of her neighbours. She is 16 in a month, so too old to go into an orphanage. Our hearts are full of sorrow for her. Unbelievably, we are the nearest thing she has right now to a family. Sally and our ward nurses have been more of a mother to her of late than her real one. What a sad state of affairs. Olly

Friday, 15 February 2008

UN soldiers open fire to stop Liberia mob justice

UN peacekeepers in Liberia fired into the air on Wednesday to disperse an angry crowd who burned down a police station as they tried to kill a detainee accused of murdering a local businesswoman. Residents in the eastern town of Tappita said Bangladeshi UN soldiers, stationed in the country since a 1989-2003 civil war, opened fire after local police officers fled as their station burnt to the ground. "As I speak to you, there is serious shooting going on. The Bangladeshis are firing in the air," eyewitness Joe Dantu, a Tappita businessman, told Reuters by telephone, the sound of several rounds of gunfire echoing behind him. A spokesman for the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) said peacekeepers had only shot three rounds into the air and that a team of Nigerian UN police officers were on their way from a nearby town to help control the situation. Reuters.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Ward open evening

On Monday evening we dosed each other up with cold and 'flu medicine, and then went to the Ward's open evening. We spent an hour with the nurses, as they showed us the hospital's facilities and their many skills. The Operating Rooms are ready to start surgery on Thursday 21st February, and the ICU, Recovery Room and Wards are all ready to receive patients. In OR1 we had the opportunity to perform operations on each other - in the photo Noah and Anna are removing a tumour from Sally with really sharp knives. Click on photo to enlarge. Olly

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

m/v Torm Alexandra update

The Torm Alexandra is still in the process of being raised. Whilst we were away in the Canaries in December and January, the front of the ship was floated as the salvage crew pumped out the forepeak. They are still pumping out the engine room and aft ballast tanks, and they are quite certain we will see the ship floating in the next month. She now rests at a crazy angle with the aft section still under water and the bow almost completely out of the water. The stresses on the hull must be enormous, and many observers think the ship will snap in half if it stays in this position for much longer. Photo courtesy of Denise Miller as we sailed into Monrovia on 5th February. Olly

Still sick

I can't think straight, can't sit still, can't sleep, having hot and cold sweats, 40 degrees temperature. I'll go to the doctors tomorrow. In the meantime, Liberian TV is keeping my racing brain partially amused: Power TV is illegally broadcasting the satellite TV station Al Jazeera, and Real TV is illegally broadcasting Boomerang. Olly

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Liberian Man Flu

This Liberian Man Flu is serious stuff. Even women and children can get it. Its going through the ship like a dose of salts, and nearly every family is sick. Right now, Libby is nearly 100% better; Sally is still suffering from a blinding headache, cough and cold; Noah and I are still going through the shaking and sweating phase, and Anna has got the sore throat that signals its on its way. Last night, I had a terrible nights sleep, then crawled into Anna's bed at daybreak and slept for another six hours. Then Sally slept all afternoon. Olly

Monrovia, California -v- Monrovia, Liberia

It's ironic that after everthing the people of Monrovia, Liberia, have been through, it is still more peaceful than Monrovia, California, where according to my daily Google News Alerts, there is gangland violence and shootings nearly every day. Olly

Saturday, 9 February 2008

My blog

I found this cartoon on Eric Thibodeau's blog. Sally will appreciate it. Olly

New roads

Today, whilst Noah and Sally still lay in their sick-beds, I dosed myself up with Ibuprofen and then Anna, Libby and I took a newly arrived British family for a drive around Monrovia. Firstly we headed down-town, and then headed out to Congo Town on the newly laid Tubman Boulevard, which has been undergoing serious re-laying since September 2007, and is now immaculately smooth from outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs all the way to JFK Hospital. What a joy to drive on. Anyway, at our old house in Congo Town, Jacob the security guard was on duty and he gave me a huge hug after I'd climbed out of the Land Rover. We met the new renters of the property, American missionaries with the Methodist Free Church, who are doing a great job and have settled into the community very well. Then we drove back into Sinkor for ice cream at Mona Lisas before returning to the ship. The new road is great, and traffic has thinned out signicantly as it can now drive more than 10mph. Olly

Plague family

Today I think I will paint "Beware, Biohazzard" or something similar across our cabin's front door. We are all sick, although Libby is well on the road to recovery. Sally has been sick since Wednesday, and Noah and I since last night, with high temperatures, shivers and shakes, and coughs and sneezes, and Anna is constantly on the verge of joining us - she was sent home from school but hasn't deteriorated any more. We are living on a diet of toast and Ibuprofen. This sickess has swept through the Academy Preschool, with teachers and helpers and up to 50% of kids off sick each day. Hopefully we'll all get better in the coming week - I'm looking forward to being a functional family again. Olly

Friday, 8 February 2008

ATMs operational in Monrovia

Over a year ago, the installation of ATMs outside Ecobank on Randall Street and their new branch in Sinkor began. I remember getting very excited about it at the time, because it would make getting cash so much easier than arranging for expensive money transfers from the UK. But month by month their instalation remained unfinished until finally we departed for the Canaries at the end of November. Anyway, yesterday I drove down Randall and noticed a sign saying "ATM now open" and I looked and saw a glistening new ATM! Great. Thats a good sign that things in Liberia are on the up in the business world. Olly

Liberia: UNMIL on Troops Drawdown Plan

The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has announced that the continuous drawdown in its troops is a clear manifestation that it has succeeded in stabilizing and securing peace in Liberia. Addressing the mission's briefing on Wednesday in Monrovia, the chief of the Civil Military Coordination session, Colonol Christopher Holshek and the deputy Chief Operations Officer, Lt/Colonol Greg Tasker in separate statements, reiterated that the Security Council Resolution 1777, dated September 20, 2007 mandated the mission to reduce its forces by 2,450 personnel by September 2008. The mission officials disclosed that as a result of the Security Council's mandate, some of the troops have begun leaving Liberia to go to their various countries. They explained that the withdrawal of these troops from some counties in Liberia will follow a replacement of troops from other counties in the country.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Working buses in Monrovia

Whilst we were away in Tenerife, the fleet of buses donated by Spain in mid 2007 were bought into use, and they are now successfully ferrying thousands of people around Monrovia every day. Their licence plates haven't been changed yet, so its funny that we are seeing Spanish licence plates again so soon after seeing them in the Canaries for two months. Clearly these buses came from Madrid. I think its a great way to get the population moving, and hopefully will help the economy too. Olly

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

A short note about poo

Today I saw a naked little boy toddle out of the filthy alley that he was playing in, onto the broken pavement I was walking on next to the roaring traffic, where he squatted down and did a horribly runny poo, before going back to playing in the alley again as if nothing had happened (no toilet paper, no washing of hands...). When I'd finished retching, I started thinking about just how clever God was when he invented poo - bearing in mind that it is the source of such great illness if not disposed of correctly - so God made it bad to look at and really stinky. Which works. In my years in Liberia working with Mercy Ships and Equip, I have come across many areas where people use the beach or the bush as their bathroom, and the only indication of this is the smell, which can be experienced a long way away, I can ashore you. Nothing on earth stinks like poo poo, and it's smell immediately sends warning bells ringing in our brains. What a brilliant way of keeping us away from so much disease and sickness. Olly

Liberia - 4th impressions

This is the Peet family's fourth time in Liberia since we first arrived here in early 2005 on the Anastasis. Today I delivered a couple of the ship's non-running vehicles to local garages for repair work, and walked back to the ship past deep garbage, raw sewage, burnt-out buildings, broken pavements and desperate people which we are so used to and take for granted. It seems that little has happened to improve the country in the two months we have been away. My daily google alerts tell me that there is increasing new investment in the country, but so far I can't see it and neither can the 85% underemployed here. Olly

Back in Liberia again

Yesterday we arrived back in the Freeport of Monrovia, after a smooth and uneventful 6 day sail from Tenerife. Three of our good friends were on the tug Bushrod Island (now repaired and working again) to help us to our berth, and it felt like the whole port stopped their work for a few moments to welcome us back. It was great to see many old friends again, and it really felt like we were coming home. Unfortunately, the President and the Vice President declined an invitation to attend the arrival ceremony. Shortly after we docked, my friend Moses and I walked through the port to our warehouse, and many people in the port greeted us and welcomed us back with great gusto, shouting "hey, Mercy Ships!" as usual. Today we started the enormous task of bringing 15 of our vehicles out of storage - many have flat batteries or flat tyres after 2 months of being in store. Currently out of the 29 vehicles I'm responsible for, 11 are non-runners with significant engine problems, and we have over 40 other less significant faults to rectify. The ship's crew is desperate to get into town for supplies and to meet old friends, but it will be a while before this can happen with the vehicle fleet in this condition. Across the dock from us lies the Blue Atlantic, which was recently caught by the French Navy off the Liberian coast with 2.4 tonnes of cocaine on board with a street value of $500 million - although the cocaine has been removed and destroyed, the ship remains heavily guarded by Nigerian and Nepalese armed soldiers and Liberian police, and this afternoon three Interpol officers visited (very exciting - I've not seen Interpol in Liberia before). And so the work continues. Olly

Saturday, 2 February 2008

All sea creatures great and small.

We are now sailing just off the coast of Senegal, and it already feels like we're back in West Africa. The air is hazier, the temperature is warmer, the seas are much calmer, and even the water looks bluer. Today we saw dolphins, whales and flying fish all through the day - it is such a delight to see these creatures close up and natural. Olly

Ship with 2.4 tonnes of cocaine seized off Liberia's coast

Officials recovered 2.4 tonnes of cocaine hidden in barrels after intercepting a ship off the Liberian coast in the country's largest ever drug seizure, maritime authorities said Friday.
The crew of a French naval vessel saw people on board the ship, the Blue Atlantic, throwing barrels overboard when they went to intercept it late Thursday, said Monrovia Port Security Chief Ashford Pearl. The ship was towed to port and authorities eventually recovered 92 barrels from the ship and the sea containing a total of 2.4 tonnes of cocaine, said Pearl. "It's huge. If this had hit the Liberian market, it would have destroyed the entire country," Pearl said. With cocaine prices in Europe now double those in the United States, drug smugglers in South America are increasingly ferrying cocaine to West Africa, from where it is parceled out to hundreds of individual traffickers who carry it north, especially via Spain. Pearl said the nine members of the crew of the Blue Atlantic were Ghanaian. They have been turned over to Liberian police. "It wasn't in Liberian waters, but they towed it to Liberia because the ship was flying the flag of Liberia," said Pearl. Authorities in Liberia are not sure what to do with the drugs seized. Pearl said officials were debating burning or dumping the drugs in the water "but we are leaning closer to burning because it will have some environmental effects if we put it into the water".

Libby the Liberian Vai Girl

Libby, our adopted three year old Liberian girl, was born into the Moslim Vai tribe. This is what says about the Vai: The Vai are an ethnic group living in Liberia and Sierra Leone. They are known for their indigenous syllabic writing system, developed in the 1820s by Duala Bukele and other tribal elders. Over the course of the 19th century, literacy in the writing system became widespread. Its use declined over the 20th century, but modern computer technology may enable a revival. In 2003, a Bible in the Vai Syllabary was published. They speak the Vai language, which is a Niger-Congo language. In many aspects, the Vai are a unique African ethnicity. They are also quite musical and they play many instruments and perform dances on special occasions. Their hair texture ranges from short and curly to long and wavy, and their noses are not flat and broad like the noses of many other Africans. Olly

Friday, 1 February 2008

The sail continues

Day 3 of our 6 day sail to Monrovia. All going well. Already it seems warmer than it was in Tenerife. Today the sea is so calm we can hardly feel any movement. This afternoon we will have a combined Fire, Life Boat and Pirate Attack Drill. Olly

Schistosoma Mansoni Part 2

Yesterday we took the medicine that will kill the nasty Schistosoma Mansoni larva that are currently living in our lungs following our swim in Bong Mines Lake last August. This is what says about it: Among human parasitic diseases, schistosomiasis (sometimes called bilharziasis) ranks second behind malaria in terms of socio-economic and public health importance in tropical and subtropical areas. The disease is endemic in 76 developing countries, infecting more than 200 million people in rural agricultural and peri-urban areas, and placing more than 600 million people at risk. Of the infected patients, 20 million suffer severe consequences from the disease, and 120 million are symptomatic. Some estimate that there are approximately 20,000 deaths related to schistosomiasis yearly. In many areas, schistosomiasis infects a large proportion of children under 14 years of age. An estimated 500–600 million people worldwide are at risk from the disease. The tablets tasted so horrible that I can still taste them today. Anyway, we are thanking the Lord that we are some of the fortunate minority that are diagnosed and treated before we get really sick. Photo of Colin the Schistosoma Mansoni Worm. Oh how I will miss him! Olly