Wednesday, 30 April 2008

30th April - Queens Day

Today we celebrated Queens Day with our Dutch crew mates. They all wore Orange, and painted the Dutch flag on their faces. They had a fair on the ship, where they sold cookies and bits and pieces, and off the ship they played weird (but traditional) Dutch games like Trouser Hanging and Land Rover Pulling (?). It was all very good fun, and it was great to watch ten little girls (including Anna and Libby) pulling a Land Rover the length of the dock. Olly

Caustic Soda Injuries

Dozens of children in West Africa accidentally drink from soft-drink bottles, not knowing that the contents are Caustic Soda (which is often used in the production of soap at home). The injuries they sustain often lead to a long and painful death. If they survive the immediate injury, they are unable to eat, and they survive by drinking milk or having a feeding tube installed, but remain very sick and undernourished. In recent years, several of these children have travelled to Europe or the USA, where they have undergone successful surgery to re-line the oesophagus with stomach lining. They change from living skeletons to normal children in a matter of months, and can eventually learn how to eat again. Praise God. Please pray for the Caustic Ingestion children of West Africa, especially Liberia. Olly

Sunday, 27 April 2008


Today we gave 5 year old Garpo and his aunt a ride into town. He'd been on the ship for plastic surgery to one of his feet, which had been badly burnt in a cooking accident some time ago, and is now heavily bandaged. He can walk with the aid of crutches, but today the poor little chap had no shoe for his other foot, and his aunt expected him to walk a long way on very hot roads, bare foot. So as he climbed out of our car to catch a taxi to his neighbourhood, Sally gave him Libby's flip-flops. It was the least we could do. Libby wasn't too happy about it, but we've promised to buy her some replacements soon, and she got to spend the rest of the afternoon being carried around on my back, which she was very happy about. Garpo will come back to the ship on Tuesday to have his dressings changed and see how his foot is healing. We hope to see him again then. Olly

Saturday, 26 April 2008

The Freeport - three years on.

Three years ago, I took an almost identical photo of this one, only it showed the Mercy Ship Anastasis instead of the Africa Mercy. The port still remains unchanged since the war finished: the dock is still damaged from a mortar bomb explosion; the capsized Torm Alexandra still restricts commercial ship movements, and the warehouses are still dilapidated and leaking. And sadly, the port has been deserted for most of this last week. There has not been one commercial ship here for days. How can an economy hope to recover if it's "gateway" remains in such a condition? Click on photo to enlarge. Olly

Torm Alexandra update

The Torm Alexandra is actually floating! She remains at a crazy angle, with her aft submerged and her bow out of the water, but only her rudder is sitting in the mud. She is now moored loosely to bollards for when she actually floats free of her muddy resting place. The salvage team reckon she will be floating fully on Monday coming (but I remain less positive). Photo of the ship's forward mooring lines. Olly

Rice Crises Update: Liberian Government Links Rising Food Prices to Conflict Risk

A surge in rice prices in 1979 contributed to Liberia's descent into chaos, sparking riots and a political crisis that led to the coup that brought Samuel Doe to power. Now the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has identified Liberia as one of 37 countries facing a hunger crisis as a result of food price hikes. In the meantime, the Government of Liberia says it will tackle the escalating food crisis by securing access to commercial imports and appealing for international food aid. Opposition parties are also calling on the government to reduce the government tax on rice, currently US$2 per bag. A 50kg bag of rice that will feed a family of seven for two weeks currently costs US$34 - the average monthly salary for a security guard in Monrovia. The cost of a plate of traditional spicy dishes such as jollof rice at traditional restaurants has shot up to around US$2. People are increasingly turning to alternative staple foods such as cassava, yam, plantain and even imported spaghetti to lessen the impact on threadbare pockets.People say they are becoming increasingly worried that food price hikes could lead to instability and slow Liberia's progress. Aid agencies working in Monrovia say malnutrition rates are increasing. As poverty thresholds change, families are spending less on medical treatment, housing and education. "The guns are no longer firing in Liberia, but economic hardship is killing the citizens," said Spencer Page, a taxi driver.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Rice is life

Rice is the staple food of Liberians, who tend to eat only one main meal a day which consists of a massive bowl of rice with "soup" which contains the protein and oils. Rice is currently about $26 US dollars a sack, but is rumoured to be doubling in price when the next shipment arrives, which will make it impossible for most families to purchase (thats more than most families earn in a month). Currently 18% of Monrovian children are seriously malnourished, and if the rumour of the price increase of rice is true, many more will join them and the emergency feeding programs will have to re-open. Olly


Here is a photo of Sally's 11 year old patient Fatu with her mum. She was born with a cleft palate, but her lip was OK. She is making wonderful progress after her operation and speech therapy, and when her aunties heard her improved speech this week they danced for joy. Olly

Another dead guy

Yesterday evening at dusk there was a lot of commotion on a beach inside the port. There was a large crowd, some UN Police, some Liberian Police, and three of the Port's divers who kept on climbing in and out of one of the half-submerged wrecks looking for something. Sure enough, at dawn this morning we could see the body of a drowned man lying on the beach - he had obviously been pulled out of the wreck last night and dragged to the beach. The body was removed after a few hours without ceremony. Olly

Pool open

When we lived ashore in Liberia we ordered a pool from th USA, which was shipped to us and arrived after we'd moved onto the Africa Mercy. So we donated the pool to the ship...and today it was opened to the families, before being opened to the rest of the crew tomorrow. The kids had a lovely hour, splashing and shouting in the chilly water (it still hasn't had time to warm up yet). Photo of Sally trying to look warm. Olly

Monday, 21 April 2008

Ban Ki-Moon

Tomorrow, Ban Ki-Moon of the Republic of Korea, the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations, will be in Monrovia visiting his Special Representative and other UN leaders here, and Liberian leaders. Security is extremely tight, and for the first time in a long time today we had UN helicopter gun-ships flying over the city, just to let the Monrovians know of their presence. Olly


Odecious is one of our Liberian drivers. He is a great guy and always full of humour and laughter. He works as many hours as possible to earn money to feed his extended family and to save up to buy a new engine for his taxi, which will become his only source of income once the ship leaves Liberia in December. Last Saturday his mobile phone fell out of his pocket and smashed. It will cost him two weeks wages to replace it, and a days wages just to buy a scratch-card for the new one. So sad. Olly

Friday, 18 April 2008

Nutritional "crises" in Monrovia

Moderate hunger has been endemic in the Liberian capital for years, but as the effects of soaring global food and fuel prices have doubled rice prices, the aid agency Action Against Hunger says thousands of city children are increasingly at risk of acute malnutrition. A February 2008 survey showed "extremely disturbing" results that indicated a "significant nutritional crisis" in the Liberian capital. ACF says 17.6 percent of city children weighed by its nutritionists are suffering from acute malnutrition. These figures surpass the 15 percent World Health Organization threshold that defines a nutritional crisis, ACF says, citing lack of health facilities, difficulties of access for the poor and deplorable states of hygiene and sanitation in many areas as contributing factors. Rising food prices are exacerbating the situation, estimating that Liberia is likely to be hit harder than its West African neighbours by rising global prices for rice and grains. The country imports 90 percent of its rice - the national staple - and in the last year, the price of a bag of rice has almost doubled.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008


Amadu Zwannah is an old friend of mine, who runs a back-street garage and paint shop in Clara Town, just across the bridge from downtown Monrovia. Together we have decided to run an auto-mechanic apprenticeship scheme for young Liberians – they will come to the ship after school for a couple of hours each day to learn auto mechanic skills, and continue their education from Zwannah when the ship leaves in late 2008. Our first apprentice is 16 year old Momo, and it is great watching him learn about servicing and repairing our Land Rovers and seeing his skills developing and his knowledge growing. I hope it will be of benefit to him in the future. Olly

Monday, 14 April 2008

Monrovia's suburbs

Some of the neighbourhoods surrounding Monrovia have brilliant names. Red Light, Battery Factory, Chicken Soup Factory, Coca-Cola Community, Smell-No Taste, Day Break Mouth Open and Chocolate City are just some of them. (Imagine living in Chocolate very cool). Olly

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Torm Alexandra update

The capsized ship Torm Alexandra is still not floating, but in the last day the salvage team has started pumping again, her bow has risen even further out of the water, her stern has sunk further into the water, and she now lists slightly to starboard. I really think something will happen in the next few days! (Have I been saying that for the last ten months?) Olly


Sally's latest patient for Speech & Language Therapy is 11 year old Fatu from ELWA, who recently had surgery for a cleft palate. Until last week she was unable to pronounce consonants and her speech was unintelligible, but due to the exercises she has been working on with Sally in the last week or two, she is able to pronounce "p","b","d","t","d","k","g", "m" and "s". She is now a lot closer to being understood than before. She has a long way still to go, but is working very hard, and Sally is very pleased with her progress. Olly


Have you ever wondered where Mercy Ship kids have their PE lessons? Here in Liberia they walk to the UN Fields at the end of the dock, which are probably the most secure playing fields in the world, where they play under the watchful eye of Nigerian and Nepalese soldiers surrounded by armoured cars and trucks. And the kids take it all for granted. The same fields are used in the evenings by crew playing frisbee and volleyball, and sometimes the Nepalese soldiers join in. Click on photo to enlarge (to see Anna on the right). Olly

Ceilidh time again

Last Saturday night we had another Ceilidh (Scottish dance) upon the dock. The highlight was real bagpipes played by Peter from Scotland - and he let me have a go. Despite trying to learn them for a year back in 1995, I couldn't get any sound out of them without wanting to fall over from lack of air...Olly

Friday, 4 April 2008

Our old house

We heard today from some guys that are staying in our old house (here in Monrovia) that a night-club has opened up next door which blasts out music until 5am. It is so loud that they need to sleep with ear-plugs. Praise the Lord that we don't live there any more. We are so sorry for John and Melinda and their guests. Olly

Wednesday, 2 April 2008


This is Joseph, one of Sally's Speech & Language Therapy patients. He has had a cleft palate repair, and is now coming to Sally for therapy weekly, which is a huge commitment for a Liberian. He is making great progress and is now able to use his lips in his speech for the first time ever (he can now pronounce "Paynesville" where he comes from, and his last name). Sally is very proud of him, and he is very proud of himself. Olly

Amunckin update

Baby Amunckin is recovering well from his surgery. As you can tell from this photo taken by Sally two days ago, his post-operative swelling has gone down and he is looking great. He will need more surgeries which will most likely be done in the USA and not on the Mercy Ship, but in the meantime his is no longer at risk of catching infections through his gaping palate and is back with his Liberian foster family. And he can now use a bottle for feeding! Olly