Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Kidney thefts update

I heard on local radio yesterday that three people have just been arrested in Margibi County (which includes Monrovia) for stealing kidneys to supply the "kidney trade" (whatever that is). This is good news for Mercy Ships, because for a while some of the local media were accusing us of abducting people and stealing their kidneys. Hopefully the masses will now work out that it wasn't us all along. Olly

Rainy Season continues

According to Liberian tradition, the country's six-month long rainy season finishes in 16 days time, on 15th October (precisely). Maybe the rains are trying to have their last say - the last couple of days have seen torrential rain falling all day, and once again everything is flooded and everyone is cold and dripping wet. Come quickly 16th October! Olly

Nick Vujicic is here

Ever heard of Nick Vujicic? I've been walking past his video playing to patients on the dock for months, but I didn't realise until this morning who he was, and that he has no limbs! He is an Australian motivational speaker and evangelist, and is beginning a ten-countries-in-ten-weeks tour, starting in Liberia. Tomorrow he is speaking to a thirty-thousand plus crowd, and on Thursday he is speaking at the Africa Mercy's community meeting, which we are all looking forward to. He is staying on the ship for the next 5 days, so we should all get to know him a little better. He is the founder of Life Without Limbs, an organization that is for the physically disabled. What an incredible guy. Olly

Chinese company launches new malaria drug in Liberia

A Chinese company, Kunming Pharmaceutical Corporation over the weekend launched a new malaria drug in Liberia. An official of the company, Mr. Huang Qiang Yon told reporters at the launching ceremony in Monrovia on Sunday that the medicine named ARCO, is taken as a single dose and is capable of flushing out malaria immediately. “The tablet is used in a day’s time to effect treatment,” he added. The company’s local agent, Third Rock Chinese Pharmacy officially turned the drugs over to the Liberian Ministry of Health. The Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bernice Dahn, who received the drugs on behalf of the ministry, lauded the Chinese group for the donation and said the issue of malaria is very critical to the government of Liberia. The head of the Malaria Control Program in Liberia, Dr. Joel Jones said the introduction of the new drug is a boost in the fight against malaria in Liberia. Liberia was recently listed as one of the highest malaria-affected countries in West Africa and malaria remains the number one killer disease in the country. For original article click here.

Holding hands

In West Africa, men holding hands is not an uncommon site. It just means they are good friends - and I know that - but I still find it very uncomfortable to have my hand held by another man. Yesterday, one such incident occured, when one of our Liberian staff walked up to me and started holding my hand...and what a shock it was to me! I inwardly struggled for a few minutes whilst trying to look cool, but then had to point to something (with both hands) just to get myself out of the situation. I wonder if I will ever feel comfortable with this...Olly

UN Security Council extends UN presence in Liberia for another year

The UN's Security Council today extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) through to September 2009, and authorized Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to proceed with the planned reduction of the operation’s personnel. In his recent report, Mr Ban stated that, despite its economy showing significant improvement, the struggle with the rule of law and competition over natural resources threatens Liberia’s fragile stability. He recommended repatriating almost 1,500 personnel – including troops, officers, observers, and engineering and administrative units – leaving a troop strength of just over 10,000 by September 2009. In a unanimously adopted resolution, the Council endorsed that recommendation, as well as the proposal to increase the number of UNMIL police officers from 605 to 845 “to provide strategic advice and expertise in specialized fields, provide operational support to regular policing activities and react to urgent security incidents”. For full article click here.

BBC News in picture

There's a great news-in-pictures article on the BBC about women rebuilding their lives in Ganta, way up north in Liberia, where Equip works and Sally, Noah and I visited when we lived ashore. Click here for full story. Photo of Yah (pronounced Yay) who helped start the project. Olly

Happy Birthday UNMIL Radio

Yesterday, UNMIL Radio, the official voice of the United Nations Mission to Liberia, celebrated its 5th anniversary since broadcasting began. That obviously means that the country has been at peace for five years. And long may it reign. Olly

Saturday, 27 September 2008

The Valletta Awards

On Saturday evening the Africa Mercy hosted the first ever Valletta Film Awards (named after Valletta, our port of registration in Malta). Over the last few weeks, crew have made short films and 11 were shown to a packed International Lounge and a panel of judges which included me. I have never laughed so much in my laugh - my face was aching for hours. Some of our younger adults are very gifted, imaginative and bold enough to make themselves look really silly in front of the camera - one of the winning films was a comedy about an orange eating competition between two girls; another was about the ship's Crew Services Department and their Dust-Busters vacuum back-packs; and the third was an animated stick man who danced to "Y M C A" and "The Can-can"...Each of the winners received a spectacular Valletta Award made by our very own master craftsman. Photo, left to right, of Bates (winner of the award for Animation); Emily & Emily (winners of the short comedy about orange eating) and Timon (winner of the "Dust Busters" comedy), all holding their very nice awards. Olly

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Liberia gets funding for a 50-megawatt power plant for Monrovia

The US based Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has approved a US$112 million loan to Buchanan Renewables Energy for the construction of a 50 megawatt steam-powered electricity plant for the supply of power to Monrovia. Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who attended the meeting in which the loan was approved, welcomed the announcement and reiterated the need for the speedy implementation of the project. The power plant will be fuelled with wood chips from Liberian rubber trees that are no longer productive. The electricity provided from the renewable sources will be sold at much cheaper rate than current electricity rates, and will be transmitted to the Liberia Electricity Corporation’s grid by the end of 2010. For full article click here. Olly

$500 million cocaine trial begins in Liberia

The trial began today of nine Ghanaians who were arrested earlier this year attempting to bring 2.4 tones of cocaine worth $500 million US Dollars into Liberia, which was likely to be re-packaged and then trafficked into Europe or the USA by couriers. For full article click here. Meanwhile, the smuggler's ship, the Blue Atlantic remains abandoned and moored across the dock from us with a Liberian National Police guard on it. It reminds me of the Marie Celeste - it remains exactly in the state that the French Navy left it in after searching the ship for more drugs, with the crew's clothing and personal effects still lying around, and even food in saucepans in the galley. Olly


On the Anastasis, floods were quite common when the old pipes broke. But not so on the Africa Mercy, which is effectively a brand new ship...except the other day when one of our unfortunate sterilizer ladies broke a sprinkler head as she washed the ceiling, resulting in a mammoth flood, the likes of which have never been seen before on the Africa Mercy. Photo of the many doctors, nurses, sterilizers and translators that were needed to clear away the flood waters. Olly

Monday, 22 September 2008

Who are Subsea Resources?

Who are Subsea Resources, and what are they doing to the Freeport? They've been bulldozing for days now and making mountains of soil; I can't even begin to imagine what this site will eventually look like or be used for. Olly

Friday, 19 September 2008

My mum driving a big truck!

Recently, when my Mum retired as Chairman of a local choral society, my Dad suggested that instead of buying her a gift they should sponsor her on a Ladies' Driving Day (which raises funds for Marie Curie Cancer Care). Here she is driving a Royal Mail articulated lorry which she had to reverse between bollards. She also drove a digger, a 40 ton truck, a tractor, a double decker bus, a Dalek (how do you drive a Dalek?), a Land Rover 101 Forward Control, and a 1905 car without steering wheel (just a stick to steer with, a break and an accelerator). 240 women took part and raised between them £30,000 for the charity. Olly. (Original article by my Dad).

What happened to the Pilot boat?

The Freeport's Pilot boat has been in and out of the water over the last few days with engine problems. I talked to a couple of Seaport Police this morning who were guarding it, and they said it had "too heavy fuel and oil" in it - I guess that means dirty fuel and oil, or the wrong type. They said its been fixed now and is ready to go back into the water. Hurray. Olly

Johnny Africa

Johnny Africa is the biggest small-time criminal on Bushrod Island, and he's been a thorn in my side ever since he became my "friend" in early 2005. He spends every last penny he begs, borrows and steals on alcohol, and is usually drunk by late morning. Years of abusing his body is paying its toll right now - he has both tuberculosis and pneumonia, and needs to be hospitalised, but what does he do with the money people are giving him for treatment? That's right, he spends it on booze. There is no hope for the poor wretched chap. Olly

Liberian Anteater

This is a Liberian Anteater (a Panguilla, I think). A man bought one to the dock yesterday, and one of our Liberian dayworkers referred to it as "meat walking around" - I understand it tastes great. It's a lovely creature, covered in thick scales, with big claws for digging, and a long tongue, and a long scaley tail that it can hang from, and best of all IT EATS ANTS! Anyone who knows ants as well as we do will be an instant friend of the Panguilla! God save the Panguilla, and may its ant-eating be bounteous! Every home in Liberia needs one. Olly

A baby is born

A couple of days ago, one of the caretakers for a patient (who was 8 months pregnant) had pains in her stomach but thought nothing of it...until her waters broke. Lucky her - she happened to be in THE best medical facility Liberia has to offer - the Mercy Ship Africa Mercy - and our nurses managed to find a mid-wife amongst them, who delivered a little girl! I understand that both mum and baby are doing well. The baby has been called Nancy. In 2006 a similar thing happened on the Anastasis, and the baby was called Noah. Olly

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Channel 4 programme

This afternoon I was interviewed over the phone from London by a researcher for the UK's Channel 4, which is hoping to produce a series about cities experiencing extreme climates - and they want to feature Monrovia as it is the wettest capital city in the world. The researcher wanted to know all about rainy season here, and how the population copes. If the programme is commissioned, they'll come and film here next rainy season (2009), so you will have to wait quite a while before the TV programme is aired. Olly


This afternoon I pierced my arm with a broken drill bit (by mistake, you understand). I had to go to the Crew Clinic for the Nurse to wash out the large, deep and jagged wound, and dress it properly. I've now got arm ache, not from the injury but from holding my bandaged arm gingerly. Huh. Olly

Monday, 15 September 2008

Ships riding at anchor

Right now there are no less that 6 ships riding at anchor outside the Freeport of Monrovia. This is the first time we have ever seen such a number in all our years here - I guess its a good sign, as it means Liberia is opening up for business and supplies are rolling in. Sadly, the poor condition of the Freeport means that only 2 ships at a time can be unloaded in the port instead of the possible 8, so I guess these ships will remain at anchor for a while longer. Olly

Waterborne waterboy

Here's an interesting photo (really it is!) of an innovative young man carrying drinking water from Bushrod Island to Waterside in his canoe, instead of struggling with a hand-cart through busy traffic. Olly

Old Bridge reconstruction to begin soon?

In October 2006 a section of the old bridge linking central Monrovia to Bushrod Island collapsed. Two years on, the contract for rebuilding the bridge has just been signed (I think), and today I talked to some market stall holders at the base of the bridge who were having to move their stalls in preparation for the construction work that will begin soon...maybe. My question is: will the Old Bridge be known as the New Bridge after it is rebuilt, and if so, will the New Bridge become the Old Bridge? Olly

Early 2005: open-air market on the bridge.

Early 2005: heaving with humanity.

Today: the bridge seen from the river bank.

Today: the bridge seen from the...err...bridge.

JFK Hospital, Monrovia

The second worst place in Monrovia (after Monrovia Central Prison) is in my opinion JFK Hospital, which was built by the Americans during the 1960s, but was abandoned and looted repeatedly during the war. It is a massive building - four floors high with two wings on each floor, with a smaller two story maternity hospital adjacent. The main building is currently abandoned, and only the smaller maternity unit is now used (as a general hospital) - I visited a Liberian colleague there a couple of years ago, and it was extremely hot and full of mosquitoes (there were no nets on the windows or over the beds) - the kind of place where if you weren't sick when you went in, you probably would be by the time you went home. But hope is at hand in the form of Scotland's wealthiest lady, Ann Gloag, who is personally paying to renovate three floors of one wing of the main hospital, which increases the capacity by 300% and will provide hundreds of additional beds and even a couple of operating rooms. I visited the hospital today with one of her project managers who is staying on the ship. The renovated floors are fabulous - bright and airy, with nets at the windows and new electrics and lifts. What a wonderful gift for the Liberian people. Please pray for good medical staff and wise managers so that this valuable asset will remain operational for the foreseeable future. Olly

Inside the current facilities - hot, dark and full of mossies.

The current facilities from the outside.

After the looting of the main building.

The HUGE main building.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

A pleasant weekend of the ship

We've just had a most pleasant weekend staying at our friends (Jody & Paul's) apartment. Sally and I were able to sleep in a real double bed (not a sofa bed) and were able to have a very relaxing time without the stresses of living on the ship. We had a late start this morning, and then spent most of today in Jodie & Paul's swimming pool. Must do it again some time! Olly

Now I've seen everything

On Friday morning, I got quite a big shock. Dozens of Liberians were unloading sacks of sugar from a neighbouring ship, and one of them clearly needed to relieve himself, so he casually dropped his trousers around his ankles and maneuvered his rear end over the side of the ship and emptied his bowels into the water - in just about the most public place in the port. I got quite a shock when I looked up and saw his bare bottom only a few meters from our dock. One of my Liberian drivers started shouting at him, which panicked the local Nigerian UN soldiers, who came running with their guns, and also the sugar ship's Thai crew...so the guy (still with his trousers around his ankles) found himself being shouted at by a growing crowd. Now I've seen everything. Olly

Monday, 8 September 2008

Morning sickness

One of my Liberian drivers asked me for $80 US this morning for medicine for his wife, who is in the very early stages of pregnancy and is suffering from morning sickness. He took her to a local clinic, who said the baby was positioned wrongly and needed medicine to move it into the right position - hence the $80. I told him that the clinic were talking a load of rubbish and were trying to cheat him, and that nothing can be done about morning sickness or about moving a fetus around the size of a peanut. This is a perfect example of how many private clinics (staffed by semi-qualified "medical" staff) work in Liberia. I think even I know more about medicine than they do. Olly

Sunday, 7 September 2008

How to mentally prepare yourself for living on a Mercy Ship

This was written about the Anastasis. There is no rust or cockroaches on the Africa Mercy (yet), or overhead announcements (boo-hoo!), but the rest of it still applies...

1. Sleep on a sofa in the garage.
2. Replace the garage door with a curtain
3. Three hours after you go to sleep, have someone whip open the curtain, switch on all
the lights and mumble, “Sorry, did I wake you.”
4. Renovate your bathroom. Take out the bath and move the showerhead down to chest level.
Keep four inches of soapy cold water on the floor, let everything rust and rip the tiles out. For a more realistic ship bathroom experience, stop using your bathroom and use a neighbour’s, who lives at least a quarter mile away.
5. When you take showers, wear flip-flops and keep a supply of two inch cockroaches handy.
6. Don’t watch TV except for films in the middle of the night. Have your friends vote on which film to watch, and then show a different one.
7. Leave a lawnmower running in your living room 24/7 for proper noise levels. Have random kids bang on pots and run around.
8. Keep moving locations. Drive to a new town once a week and give yourself two hours to find a supermarket.
9. Get 50 friends to come live in your house for a weekend. Have them line up for food at exactly 6:30, 12noon and 5pm. All food should contain carrots.
10. Spend 48hours in an airport lounge, and listen attentively for your name on the overhead page system. When you hear your name sprint to the nearest phone and wait for a familiar voice from home.

Author unknown

Happy Birthday, Anna!

Anna is 7 today! Yesterday we took a Land Rover full of her friends to Jodie & Paul's pool, for a Pool Party. Here Anna is blowing out the candles on her beautiful flower cake made by Sally. It was a lovely sunny day after a week of torrental rain (and its raining again today!). Praise God for the good weather yesterday! Olly

Bath time

Over the years of living on ships without bath-tubs (and in our attempts to keep life as normal as possible for our kids), we have experimented with many "baths" including big washing-up bowls, dustbins, and a Rubbermaid trunk (below), just to let the kids have a splash and a soak. Olly

The blind leading the blind

Anna and I were in a Land Rover yesterday with Cat, a British photographer, who took this photo of three blind men walking along the side of the busy four-lane highway leading into central Monrovia. I don't know what the life expectancy of blind men is in Liberia; if I had to guess I'd say it's not very high...Olly

Friday, 5 September 2008

Oh, no! Liberia could strike oil

Liberia is in a bad neighborhood to be finding oil. West of troubled Nigeria and with a history of resource-funded civil war, the country might do well to worry about local press reports that the small West African nation might soon strike it rich. Just five years ago, Liberia ended a long-running civil war fueled by timber, diamond, and rubber exports. Those funds bought weapons and power in Liberia -- and neighbors Sierra Leone and Guinea -- throughout a decade of embroiled conflict. Charles Taylor, rebel leader turned president, is now on trial in The Hague for his crimes. Following Taylor's ouster (and his ominous promise to return), some 15,000 U.N. peacekeepers flooded the country and democratic elections brought to power one of the region's most respected leaders in 2005. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (pictured above) has worked tirelessly to bring the years of corruption to a close, her first act annulling all timber contracts. The United Nations took note, repealing long-held sanctions on diamond and timber exports. Liberia, in short, got a fresh start, and it would be a shame to throw oil into the picture. Just look at Nigeria, where management of the oil sector has been famously poor. There, pollution and poverty have stoked a rebellion in which combatants use black-market oil to fund their violence. Corruption is massive. There is good reason to worry that some in Liberia (including the son-in-law of Charles Taylor, now speaker of the house) might see the Nigeria model as "change we can believe in". Alas, there probably are oil reserves off the Liberian coast. Northwestern neighbor Sierra Leone has them, and Ghana discovered the stuff in June of 2007. Handled with care, oil revenues could rejuvenate a bankrupt Liberia, funding infrastructure and services that are desperately needed. Yet most successful oil countries (think: Norway) have had transparent, democratic institutions long before the oil gets flowing. Liberia's young democracy is on that road, but years off from arriving. Start planning for the black gold rush now, Ellen! blog.foreignpolicy.com (For original article, click here)

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

So much for global warming

I understand that the UK has just experienced its wettest August in 120 years, and its coldest summer on record. Here in Liberia, things are only a little better - the last couple of days we've had constant rain all day long, and lower temperatures than we've ever experienced in West Africa. Many Liberians are walking around in thick coats. On the ship, the air conditioning is still working and the temperature is definitely chilly (compared to what we're used to) so we are all walking around in jumpers and fleeces...its very weird. Olly

Monday, 1 September 2008

Another Mercy Ship

This is the USNS Mercy, a United States Navy hospital ship that has just completed a 4 month field service in the Pacific. At nearly 70,000 tonnes she is nearly 4 times the size of the Africa Mercy, but does similar humanitarian excercises, all paid for by Uncle Sam, and sometimes in partnership with NGOs. According to the Captains Blog, during the ship's recent visit to Micronesia they saw 17,709 patients, carried out 204 surgeries, filled 27,892 prescriptions and gave away 9,168 pairs of glasses. They even provided a veterinary service for 793 animals. The ships has a full crew of 1214 - a lot more than ours of 400 - and boasts 80 Intensive Care beds, 20 Recovery beds, 280 Intermediate Care beds, 120 Light Care beds, and 500 Limited Care beds (total 1000 beds). Her helicopters allow medics and construction teams to fly way inland, and carry patients back to the ship for treatment of surgery. I wonder if Mercy Ships will ever be able to operate on this kind of scale...Olly

New passport for Libby

We have just had Libby's passport re-issued in her English name (Liberty Kiawen Peet) instead of her Liberian name (Luquata Kiawen). The whole process only cost $50 USD via the Passport Office, by providing her adoption certicate which shows her new name. A local firm of solictors previously quoted $1,500 USD to do the same name change via the Liberian courts...Olly

Torm Alexandra sinks again!

Last night the Torm Alexandra sank again, after being partially afloat for 8 months. This morning a group of National Port Authority officials stood on the dock looking sadly at the fore-peak sticking out of the water, wishing they hadn't cancelled the contract with the Ghanaian salvage company now, I'm sure. Before it sank again, only the ship's propeller and rudder were caught in the silt - the ship could have been towed away from the dock and beached on the other side of the port...but not now! The word on the street is that the ship was sabotaged by friends of the salvage company, who literally pulled wooden plugs out and let the ship sink. Olly

Above, the salvage company's flood-lights show above the water.

Above, mooring lines still in place.

Above the fore-peak, still moored to the dock in case the ship should float away when fully floated.