Friday, 31 October 2008

The Transport Men

Here's a photo of the men of the Africa Mercy's Transportation Department:

From left to right:
Back row: Arthur Brown (Liberia), Moses Turay (Sierra Leone), Olly Peet (UK), Odecious Johns (Liberia), Abdulai Conteh (Sierra Leone)
Front row: Momo Zwannah (Liberia), Lamin Turay (Sierra Leone), John Davis (Liberia), and Tash Myers (South Africa)

Postles new baby

Many past Anastasis and Africa Mercy crew will remember Richard & Jo Postles - Richard was Chief Engineer of both ships, and Jo was a wonderful nurse. They were married in the summer of 2006...and yesterday Jo gave birth to baby James (8lb 14oz/4kg). Here's a photo of baby James and proud father Richard. Olly

Slow internet

The last couple of days the ship's internet has been painfully slow, due to a big storm over Florida where our internet provider is located. Today the internet is a little faster - I guess the storm is passing. Try as I might, I can't see the clouds from here...Olly

Happy Birthday Noah

Noah is 9 today. Thanks Aunty Claire & Uncle Ben for the Star Wars watch! Olly

Diamond Dredger Arrives

Earlier this week the Dredger Orwell arrived in the Freeport of Monrovia to prepare to dredge up the millions of dollars worth of diamonds that have been washed over the millenia into the mouth of the St Pauls River. The river silt will be pumped ashore via an ingenious floating pipe, into ponds for processing. Good luck guys! Olly

Temporary repairs to the Freeport of Monrovia

During the heavy fighting of July 2003, a mortar shell fired by the LURD Rebel Army on Charles Taylor's Government fell short of it's target and destroyed part of the dock in Monrovia's Freeport. Since then ships have had to moor next to the damaged dock, and in some cases crew have even had to crawl over the broken concrete to access their gangway...until this week. The UN's Department of Programs (UNDP) is paying for a temporary steel bridge to be installed over the damaged concrete, to allow the free-movement of vehicles and people, which will make life a lot easier for everyone. Olly

Above, the pier facing North, before the repairs.

Above and below, pier after bridge installed.

Liberia ex-leader's son convicted

A Miami jury has convicted the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for torture and conspiracy. "Chuckie" Taylor - who was born in the United States as Charles McArthur Emmanuel - faces a possible life sentence for the crimes. They were committed between 1999 and 2003, a period when he was in charge of a notorious Liberian military unit. The case was the first test of a 1994 US law allowing the prosecution of citizens who commit torture overseas. Charles Taylor is awaiting his fate at a court in The Hague - he denies 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Chuckie Taylor is due to be sentenced on 9 January. For full article click here.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Two years in Liberia

A little over two years ago, I left the UK and flew into Liberia on my own. Sally and the kids joined me three weeks later. This is the longest we have ever been away from the UK, and over the past 24 months we have only spent 6 weeks in a developed nation (the Canary Isles). Do we miss the UK? Overpriced petrol, bad weather and expensive houses? Not one bit. But do we miss the folk back home? Absolutely - its been 2 years since I saw my brother, and our friends, and our church...We miss you all terribly! Olly

Happy Birthday Madam President

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, is 70 today. May God bless her! Olly

M/V Torm Alexandra Update #987

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who returned from the United States yesterday disclosed that U.S Defense Department, through the Afro Command, has agreed to clear the sunken vessel at the Free Port of Monrovia.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

The difference between life and death

As our time in Liberia comes to a close, it seems that more and more people are contacting us for help. This weekend I took two calls on my cellphone: one from our local fuel station manager, asking if we could do a CT scan on one of his pump attendants who has just had a stroke; and one from a Catholic Sister who works up-country, where a boy has come for medical care with a big tumour in his neck that is pressing on his spinal cord and now he can't walk...Sally also met an ex-pat aid worker in town yesterday needing medical attention too...tomorrow will be busy for me as I ask our Hospital Manager if we can help in any of these cases. In this instance, my cellphone holds the answer of life or death, especially for the boy with the tumour on his neck - I very much expect I will be telling the Catholic Sister that we can't help, and thus sentence the boy to a slow, frightening and painful death...Olly

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Monrovia at night

Last night I was very pleasantly surprised as I drove to the airport and back, about how much of Monrovia's main streets are now covered by street-lights. They cover a big patch of down-town (including Board Street, Randall Street etc) and stretch along UN Drive all the way from Sinkor to Congo Town. Great progress, LEC! It makes driving in the dark so much easier. (And thank you, MPW, for filling some of the pot-holes with cruched rock to make them a little easier to pass over). Olly

My parents are here

Last night my parents flew in for 2 weeks. They will be spending a week staying with our friends Gary & Tammy at ELWA, and then a week with us on the ship. They have been looking forward to spending time in Liberia on land instead of on the ship, and will be visiting some of Gary & Tammy's projects and seeing how people manage to live ashore with all the stresses and strains of irregular water & electricity supply etc. Olly

Blue Atlantic update

Yesterday, a Deck Crew from the Port moved on to the Blue Atlantic, and started bringing out the garbage onto the decks to be thrown away later. The ship was ransacked by the French Navy when they were looking for drugs, and so pretty much everything must be thrown out before the ship can be put back into use again, including bags of half eaten flour, rice, beans and wheat, and the personal effects of the Ghanaian crew who are now in prison, plus nearly all the contents of the ship's clinic. I toured the ship again with a bright flashlight, and saw both white and brown mice running through the galley and food stores. The massive cockroaches I saw last time seemed to have disappeared - maybe they were eaten by the mice. Today I hope to run a power cable from our ship to the Blue Atlantic so their Deckies can have some light to work in the foul lower decks, which are inches deep in water in some places that leaked in through open portholes during heavy rainstorms. Olly

Sea turtles

One of the advantages of Monrovia having such a messed-up port is that traffic and pollution from ships is minimal, so there are plenty of brightly-coloured fish, and even small sharks and sea turtles (which are beautiful creatures). Noah and I watched one from our cabin window, basking in the sunshine, on Saturday morning - he had a smile on his face, and didn't seem to be in a hurry to go anywhere. So I was very sad to find that the men on the Blue Atlantic had caught a big turtle with a hook yesterday, and were leaving it to die slowly in the sun on the scalding hot deck. They were looking forward to turtle soup and rice that evening. It's such a shame that just about everything beautiful in Liberia gets killed and eaten. Olly

Friday, 17 October 2008

UN Troops seize 440,000 marijuna plants in Liberia

UN Police in Liberia have seized hundreds of thousands of marijuana plants and almost a tonne of dried cannabis in a clampdown on drug abuse in the country. The UN said the clampdown was launched as part of the fight against rising crime in Liberia. The West African nation is trying to get back on its feet after a devastating 14 year civil war which killed over 250,000 people. "Drugs are linked to armed robbery and other acts of criminality in a way that criminals mostly consume these products," a UN spokesman explained. During the civil war the smoking of marijuana was widespread among fighters who were often young, who now find it hard to kick the habit. "Before going to the front we used to smoke grass (marijuana). It makes you brave," an ex-combatant, who would not give his name, told AFP. "I have been trying to stop smoking grass after the war but I have not been able until now," another former fighter said. Observers say many of the armed robbers who have been terrorising the capital Monrovia are drugged former fighters. For original article click here. I went to a church once in Monrovia which had a poster stuck to the wall by the pulpit, showing a massive marijuana leaf and the caption "shine the light". I don't think the church was on drugs though - I just think they were a wee bit niave. Olly

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Rainy season is over!

Rainy Season ended at 11.59pm last night. We are now in Dry Season. So, on a technicality, if it rains, it'll be wet Dry Season, not a wet Rainy Season...Olly

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Bulgar Wheat

Bulgar Wheat is brilliant stuff. Its higher nutritional value makes it a good substitute for rice, hence the UN's World Food Program imports it into Liberia and other countries way down on the Human Development Index, to feed the hungry. But most Liberians hate it, because it's not rice. The guys in the prison, who are fed bulgar wheat once a day, refer to it as pap wheat. I think they imagine it is fed to them as part of their punishment, and don't realise its better for them than rice (although it is rather bland, I agree). Olly

Monday, 13 October 2008

Sally in scrubs

Sally started her job as Speech & Language Therapist in earnest last week, and started wearing medical scrubs in earnest too. Now she's joined the huge number of people walking around the ship saying "they're SO comfortable" and "I never want to wear anything else again". Sound comfy, don't they? Olly

Coca Cola Factory

As far as I know, only two decent manufacturing plants survived the war - the Club Beer factory, and the Coca Cola Factory. Here's a photo of the Coca Cola Factory (which is coincidentally next to the Coca Cola Community) with it's immaculate lawns and bright paintwork. Fascinating. Olly

Blue Atlantic update

Remember the Blue Atlantic? She was seized in Liberian territorial waters by the French Navy at the beginning of the year carrying half a billion dollars worth of cocaine, and has since been moored across the dock from us with a police guard. Today one of the policeman on duty told me that the ship, now owned by the Government of Liberia, will soon be going into dry-dock in Senegal for a $1m refit, and will then be sailing as the first ship in Liberia's new merchant navy, and will probably spend the rest of her days carrying supplies up and down Liberia's coast. Meanwhile, rumour has it that the US Government is in the process of donating three or four of their old coastguard boats to Liberia's currently dormant Coastguard, so the country's waters can be patrolled for revenue protection against foreign fishing fleets, and to try to prevent this scale of drugs smuggling again. Olly

Photo of the Blue Atlantic in the Freeport of Monrovia after she was seized in January 2008, with UN Nepalese Police on guard duty.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Musu's New House

You will no doubt remember that our attempts to build a house for our dear old friend Musu (and her twelve dependents) earlier this year were in vain - a man claiming to be the owner of the land chopped down the half-built house, and ended up in prison. Well, today we went with Musu and some friends who are helping us with this revised project, to Musu's family's land in Bensonville, half an hours drive outside Monrovia (6° 26' 06.91" N, 10° 35'56.72 W). Her family has owned the land ever since Liberia's records began, and we met Musu's cousins, nieces and nephews, and other distant but close relatives and friends, and saw the remains of the house which was built by her father in the 1930s or 40s, but which was torn down during the 1990 war. Musu's hope is that we will rebuild the house, and one of her son's has already started cutting back the thick undergrowth in preparation. She will then grow fruit and vegetables and rice on the property to support her and her huge family. Next stop - quotes for the building supplies and labour. More later. Olly

Friday, 10 October 2008

Worldwide Recession

Will the current world-wide recession affect the price of a sack of rice in Liberia? That's the bottom line as far as I am concerned - its a matter of life or death for many Liberians and the hungry of countless other poor countries. Olly

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Mercy Ship Restores Eye-Sight to 33

Statistics provided by doctors and County officials have confirmed that at least 33 persons from various localities in Bomi County have regained their eye-sight through a voluntary optical surgery service provided by Mercy Ship. The 33 persons attributed their visual impairment to communicable diseases in their environments. At a thanksgiving program in appreciation to Mercy Ships, the city mayor of Tubmanburg, Mr Gballey Karnley said the restoration of sight to anyone is a glorious opportunity. For full article click here.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

I feel terrible!

I feel terrible. Today we had to let two of my Liberian drivers go, and I can't get the image of their sad faces out of my mind as they left the ship. They both very matter-of-factly put their trust in God, and wandered back into the 85% under-employment that plagues Liberia. I guess it will be months before they find a regular job again, and in the meantime they will be scraping around for every cent they can find to feed their extended families. This is the first time I've really come across this issue - in the past I have managed to get most of my day-workers onto the ship as crew members, or we've been able to promise them employment when the ship returns to Liberia...but not this time - there are no plans for the ship to return to Liberia in the forseable future. I expect we will experience today's sadness again and again over the next 2 months as we prepare to leave Liberia and continue laying-off our Liberian staff. Olly

Monday, 6 October 2008

Liberia Ranked Fastest Improving African Nation

The island of Mauritius is the best-run country in Africa, Somalia the worst, and Liberia the fastest-improving, according to a comprehensive index of governance standards in the region. It showed that 31 out of 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa had recorded better scores than last year. The index measures governance by assessing political participation, human rights and the rule of law, transparency, corruption, development and economic opportunity. For full article click here.

139 Graduates for Police Emergency Response Unit

In an attempt to weed out the high waves of criminality in Monrovia and its environs, the Liberia National Police will graduate 139 personnel of its newly-formed Emergency Response Unit (ERU) at the Police Academy in Paynesville City, near Monrovia. The ERU will deal specifically with crime situations which may require the use of fire-arms and to arrest armed criminals who are involved in hostage-taking, violent crimes and other acts of terrorism in and around the country. The ERU will also be charged with the responsibility of dealing with riot control and provide assistance in major disaster situations. For full story click here.

28 New Officers for the Liberian Army

October 3, 2008, was set aside by Liberia's Ministry of National Defense to commission 28 of its trained and professional soldiers as Officers of over 2000 men and women of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). The 28 officer candidates include two female and 26 male, and all are college graduates who completed the Officer Candidate School. For full story click here. Photo of new AFL soldiers saluting President Bush and President Johnson Sirleaf earlier this year during Bush's visit to Liberia. The American State Department paid for the recruiting, vetting and training of the new army, and the renovation of barracks and army bases. Olly

More UN checkpoints removed

Five years after the UN arrived in Liberia, the last armed UN checkpoint on Bushrod Island (Vai Town, by the bridge) has, at last, been removed. The few remaining UN checkpoints in the city have been pushed back onto the pavements to encourage the untroubled flow of traffic. The Swedes, Irish, Namibians, Eritreans, Senegalese and Ghanaians have all left, leaving the Nigerians in charge of Monrovia and the Bangladeshis patrolling the rest of the country, with Jordanians (Medical), Pakistanis (Quick Reaction Force), Chinese (Transportation), Indians (Armed Police), Ukrainians (Airforce) and Nepalese (Armed Police) in their specific roles around the country. Olly

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Question & answer

Q: click here.

A: Processors of sand & shiny gravel ;)


Liberia's President Praises Australian Prelate

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has lauded the Life Without Limbs Ministries for its interest in Liberia as the country continues on the path of development and renewal. The President spoke Tuesday at the Foreign Ministry when she met with Australian Pastor Nick Vujicic of Life Without Limbs International. Pastor Vujicic is regarded as an icon worldwide. He was born without limbs, but preaches the word of God and draws attention to the plight of the underprivileged. He has been sharing the word of God at various crusades in Monrovia under the theme "Liberia Awake". According to an Executive Mansion release, the Liberian leader commended Pastor Vujicic for his visit and described it as timely as Liberia works to overcome the adversities of the past. President Johnson Sirleaf applauded the Australian prelate for 'bringing consciousness to Liberia,' noting that his presence in Liberia could help strengthen young people in Liberia as they strive for success in their future endeavors. For his part, Pastor Vujicic said he looks forward to developing a relationship with Liberia and assured the President that Life Without Limbs will continue to pray for Liberia's continuous progress. For full article click here.
Nick stayed on the Africa Mercy and spoke at our Community Meeting on Thursday night. Not only is he an inspiration to us all, but he is a very funny man. He told us many funny stories, one of which was about him hiding in the overhead luggage lockers on airplanes to give other passengers a fright. Olly