Sunday, 27 December 2009

Bye for now

We shall be away from t'interweb for two weeks from 28th December to 11th January as we take a vacation in south, in the meantime HAPPY NEW YEAR! Olly

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Christmas in Tenerife

Christmas Eve, 10am: We toured a Russian sailing ship...

...home to 200 plus eighteen year old Russian merchant-navy cadets...

Christmas Eve, 5pm: The Africa Mercy Christmas Dinner: a Christmas tree made of green and black olives...
...and Noah chowing down on turkey, ham etc.

Christmas Day, 8am: These are gifts left outside our door by other crew, a Mercy Ships tradition.
Christmas Day 2pm: An afternoon on the beach - beautifully warm (25 degrees) but windy.
A very pleasant and relaxing day. Hope you had a great day too. Olly

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Fire Watch

Whilst Tenerife's best welders work on securing the new pool to Deck 8, we must stand Fire Watch on Deck 7 below the pool, to make sure the welding doesn't start fires. Here, Colin (from London Fire Brigade by coincidence) and Dag (from Norway) are on watch...

Below, the deck begins to smoke and glow red-hot...

...and BOOM...a real fire!

In this incident I was sprayed with sparks as the weld burst through the deck before setting fire to the insulation. Colin casually put the fire out whilst I ran around screaming like a girl. I now smell of singed hair. Olly

Welcome Danique Eveleens!

Tuesday 22nd December, 9.30am: Danique Elisabeth Eveleens has been born, third daughter to our good friends Annette & Marcel and sister to Joyce and Norah. Congratulations you guys. We miss you! It's been over a year...Olly

Cruise ship visit

The P&O cruise ship Oriana came into Santa Cruz port this morning - and on her was our good friend and crew-mate Third Officer Matthew Parker from the UK, who served with us on the Africa Mercy for a month in Benin. He invited us onto the ship and gave us a 4 hour tour of the leisure facilities (seriously, VERY impressive!), and even fed us twice (breakfast and lunch) and treated the kids to a few minutes in the hot-tub and pool before he had to go back on duty.

What a fun time we had. We've never been on a fancy ship before (having lived on more basic ships for over 4 years), so it was a treat to see how paying customers live, and how a commercial shop operates! Thanks again Matthew! Olly

New swimming pool

When plans for the conversion of the Dronning Ingrid into the Africa Mercy were drawn up in the late 1990s, they included the installation of a swimming pool on Deck 8...and yesterday, the pool arrived! It was fabricated in Tenerife, and lifted onto Deck 8 by a monster crane...

Here it is, below, being craned into place: longer, wider and higher than a 40 foot shipping container: I think it'll be 16 meters long and 6 meters wide when it's properly installed and operational.
Below: it's final resting place. The climbing frame will be re-erected on the site of the kids paddling pool.
Days of welding, fire-watch, and re-installation of fire-proof insulation and ceilings on the deck below are still ahead of us. The pool will have a staircase, and platforms and handrails surrounding it at water level (ie 3 meters above Deck 8), and the whole thing still needs liberal amounts of paint...but hopefully in the next month or so it will be finished and ready for use once we reach Togo. Olly

Happy Birthday Libby

Our beautiful Liberian girl was five yesterday! We had her birthday party a week ago on the sail (before all her little friends left on their Christmas holidays)... we celebrated yesterday with two meters of German sausage. Yum!

Happy Birthday Libby! Olly

Monday, 21 December 2009

Carol service in Silencio (and the best British fry-up in the world)

Yesterday (Sunday) we took two Land Rovers of Africa Mercy crew and headed down the motorway to join our good friends at Silencio Christian Fellowship for their annual Christmas carol concert. As you can see from the photos, the service was in a shopping centre surrounded by bars, cafes and even a tattoo parlour. Many of the British ex-pat congregation joined us on seats where the bars usually do trade, but others joined-in from the comfort of the cafes and continued to eat their traditional British fried breakfasts whilst heartily singing carols and thinking of home. And what a service! The guys in SCF don't do things in halves: the service was very hard-hitting and thought provoking, and nobody could ever say they came away from it without being challenged! This is what church should be like! We heard testimonies from two people who have recently become Christians - one of whom had been a heroin addict - and we were all challenged in our lifestyles and walks with God by pastor Bill.

Above, the Avenue Cafe (traditional Scottish grub) and Stella's Cafe (traditional English grub); Starlights Nightclub (where our kids usually have Sunday School when we attend SCF) and Tommy Todgers Bar.
Above: Tattooing & Piercing and the Euro Bar.

After the service we all went to Stella's cafe for the best British fry-up in the world. Each chip had been lovingly hand-made. Even our American and Canadian crew-mates were impressed!

I can't even begin to describe the good works that SCF does amongst the British ex-pat population in Tenerife. They work tirelessly with alcoholics, drug addicts, the homeless, sex-trade workers, vulnerable girls, young bar staff, broken families, the bereaved, the friendless, and the unloved. Many of the church have serious histories and shocking stories, and their commitment to the Lord is a great testimony of his love and the love of his people for the vulnerable ex-pats in Tenerife! Olly

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Tenerife YEAH!

The pilot came onboard at 7.30ish yesterday morning, and we were at our berth by 9am. I was part of the sideparty team - we lowered the gangway etc, and I was the first crew member to step on Spanish soil (and I was so grateful that I knelt down and kissed the ground!). What a relief it is to be here, after such an uncomfy sail. We spent until about mid-day unloading our vehicles, and then I got the afternoon off and we spent it in Santa Cruz's beautiful parks with the kids, sucking-in the coolness, the green trees, the green grass, the beautiful flowers and plants, the deep blue skies, and the mountains in the background. It's so good to be here. Our batteries are beginning to charge already. Today we're off to the Christmas carol concert with our good friends at Silencio Christian Fellowship, and then a leisurely day hanging out of the beach in Los Christianos. Tenerife weather is a bit iffy at this time of the year - sometimes sunny and hot; sometimes cloudy and windy and cool, but today looks good! Its currently cooler in the ship than outside. Photo of Captain Tim on the bridge wing during the arrival. Olly

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Land ho!

2.30am, Saturday 19th December: We could see the light pollution from Tenerife and Gran Canaria at about 8pm last night, but still continued to rock and roll violently...until I awoke just before 2am to an almost calm ship. We are now on the leeward side of Tenerife, and slowly sailing up the east coast. The sea is like a mill pond, and I am enjoying watching the island's villages go by as we move slowly to meet the pilot at Santa Cruz around 7am. Hopefully we'll be berthed by 8am, and all the vehicles will be unloaded by early afternoon...then we can take a well deserved break ashore. The last 3 days at sea have been the most trying we have ever experienced. Olly

Friday, 18 December 2009

Tenerife tomorrow!

Today me and Anna were just saying "I can't believe that we are going to be in Tenerife tomorrow!" We are just so excited, it is just so nice to come from a developing country, to a developed holiday country. We also can't wait for the 28th of December, that is when Nanny, Grandad(my mum's step dad), Uncle James, Auntie Amanda, Alex, Grace and Natasha come for a weeks holiday down south in a villa with them. Noah

Benin presentation on Picasa

Our Polish Chief Officer, Marcin, has just produced a presentation of the Africa Mercy's 2009 Field Service in Benin. It is absolutely fab, and a must-see for any recently departed crew. Marcin has posted it on his Picasa website - click here to view. Please, have a look! It brings a lump to my throat every time I see it! Olly

Thousands Gather to Protest Against Global Warming

Thanks, Chuck in Texas, for this very amusing photo. Olly

Last day at sea

The last couple of days have blended into one long, sleep deprived and rarely vertical discomfort. I guess we're getting more used to things crashing and sliding around, but we can't wait to get into the lee of land where hopefully the water will be calmer and we can start tidying the ship. This time tomorrow we'll be docked in tenerife, hopefully. Even typing this blog entry is a challenge, as my chair keeps on rolling away from my desk...anyway, we've had a couple of things to take our minds of the rolling: more beautiful sunsets and the presence of a couple of French navy ships a couple of nights ago (very exciting - they started following us, and some of us thought they were going to board us and search for bad guys or bad stuff); more dolphins on the bow; and the school musical - Bethlehem Express (adapted from the movie Polar Express), where all the kids danced and sang as well as had roles - Noah was one of the main characters, Anna did a duet with her friend Jana and Libby was a cow (again). Olly

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Day 9 at sea - big swells

2am, Thursday: we hit big swells late last night, and the ship is wallowing so much that I haven't been able to sleep yet. Everything has fallen off our shelves, and even our Christmas tree has fallen over in the regular rolls (that must reach 20 degrees). Not a happy bunny. There will be some tired and miserable crew at breakfast later today. Olly

Monday, 14 December 2009

Day...erm...whatever, at sea

Maybe it's Day 6? Sail still going well: calm seas, clear blue skies etc etc. We are keeping busy with Christmas activities - cookie bakes, craft making etc. Today I started work as the ship's carpenter - which will keep me busy for the week until we arrive in Tenerife and unload the vehicles. I've really enjoyed fixing cupboards and doors, and the day has sped by! Big meteor shower last night and tonight. Spectacular! Bye for now, Olly

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Benin statistics

I know, it's not all about numbers, but here goes: during the Africa Mercy's ten month Field Service in Benin, the following was achieved:
996 reconstructive and plastic surgeries;
185 cleft lip and palate repairs;
1161 general surgeries;
2 local surgeons trained;
3,521 cataracts removed;
570 other eye surgeries (pterygia and stabismus);
2 local eye surgeons trained;
33,851 eye evaluations and other treatments;
7,083 pairs of sunglasses distributed;
5,689 pairs of reading glasses distributed;
18 community eye field workers trained;
154 obstetric fistulas repaired;
4 local surgeons trained in fistula repair;
231 orthopedic operations;
10,175 dental patients seen;
794 dental hygiene patients;
13,174 oral health education;
25 oral health teachers trained;
2 dental assistants trained;
28 patients received palliative home care;
6 Burkitt's Lymphoma patients received palliative support;
19 families trained in wound care;
10 agricultural staff trained;
23 local agricultural trainees;
1 hostel constructed for agricultural college;
19 mental health workers trained;
119 church & community leaders trained in mental health;
50 prison officers and workers trained in mental health;
2 church leaders conferences attended by 602 attendants;
and 12,000 people watched the Jesus Film and many made a commitment to Christ.

Wow! That's a whole lot of people. Nearly 80,000 have been directly exposed to hope and healing brought by the medical facilities of the Africa Mercy, and a great many of them made a personal commitment to Christ as a result of the love and care they were shown whilst receiving medical attention onboard or at our mobile clinics. Praise God! Olly

Praise God

Praise God for a safe and successful Outreach in Benin. We didn't have to go to anchor; we didn't have to move to let a palm-oil ship into our berth; and we didn't get covered in cement dust from neighbouring ships - these were the three major fears I had of the port in Cotonou. We had only 3 or 4 cases of malaria in ten months, and no fatal road traffic accidents (and Chitra, our Gurkha who was badly injured by a motorbike has made a full and speedy recovery). We had a good relationship with the local police and army, and saw no swimmers attempting to board the ship to steel from us, and we had over 200 local staff come on board every day with no thefts. And we as a family have been well throughout, with no significant illnesses and only a couple of coughs and colds. Praise God indeed! Olly

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Winter Wonderland

This evening we had our Winter Wonderland - an evening when the Mid Ships Lounge was transformed from a place of relaxation and snoozing shift-workers into a Christmas bazaar, with stalls selling home-made crafts and snacks and decorations...

Sally ran a stall selling items sewn by the young girls from Cotonou's La Maison de l'Esperance...

...and Anna, Jana, Fride and Esther did a Christmas dance (three times) to the delight of the hundreds of people in attendance.

A very pleasant evening, with a lot of money raised for good causes! Olly

It's raining

It's raining, would you believe. I've never experienced rain before at sea in West Africa. I guess that means we're probably somewhere near one of the wettest countries in the world. Olly

Day 4 at sea

Still calm and overcast. A lazy Saturday so far - a lie-in and a late breakfast whilst the ship showed Ice Age movies to the kids. We are preparing for Libby's birthday party later today, which we'll have tomorrow even though her birthday isn't until 22nd December (when many of her little friends will have gone home for Christmas). The ship has been much cooler over the last couple of days - the second compressor on the air conditioning plant has been started plus we're away from the heat of Benin, so we've all dug out our jeans and sweatshirts, which we'll live in until we return to West Africa in February. Olly

Work permits in Liberia

In September, Liberia's Ministry of Labor issued Regulation #17 of the Labor Practices Law of Liberia, increasing the fee for a non-Liberian Work Permit from US$450 to US$1,000, in a bid to keep non-Liberian "store boys" out of the country and provide jobs for Liberians only. I'm not sure that's the best way to help their economy...maybe Liberia should be attracting more foreigners to open more businesses...For full article click here. Olly

Britain Contributes US$22M toward Rebuilding of Liberia’s Infrastructure

Great. Need I say more? Click here to read full article. Olly

Friday, 11 December 2009

Day 2 and 3 at sea

Day 2 was as perfect as day 1; calm waters, clear blue skies and a deep blue sea. Conditions have ever-so-slightly deteriorated so far on Day 3; the sea is slightly less calm, the sky is slightly more overcast, and the sea is slightly less blue. One of the great things about sailing is that we can see the sun setting into the sea again, which we couldn't see it for all our time in Benin. The sunsets are wonderful around here! Olly

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Planned Land Rover disposals for 2010

Following my recent blog entry about recent Land Rover disposals and some comments from ex-crew; I plan to dispose of a couple more in 2010 - namely 1997 models #077 and #376, which are still going strong (but are getting very tired). BUT I can only dispose of them if we have funds to buy replacements - so if you have $40,000 US burning a hole in your pocket, let me know! Olly

Black and blue

A couple of things have struck me as we're sailing along: just how BLACK it is at night at sea, with no lights from a port or neighbouring ships, or even our own spotlights (which is quite scary - I suffer from a mild form of nyctophobia). And just how indescribably BLUE the sea is by day, away from land and pollution and garbage and dust. Simply beautiful. Olly

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Day 1 at sea

17.55: A beautiful day: clear skies, calm blue seas and a cooling wind despite the heat. We've just sailed close to a water spout (pictured) and within ten minutes of that saw a school of dolphins, and within five minutes of that saw whales! (And no, dolphins and whales can't push our ship over, Libby!). Olly

Day 1 at sea

What a pleasant sail so far! Very smooth, with clear skies and deep blue sea. No sea-life yet so far though. Olly

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Land Rover disposals

For all ex-crew interested in the shape of the Africa Mercy's fleet of vehicles: this year I sold #743 (a 1993 Land Rover 5-seater pick-up) and #557 (a 1995 Land Rover 10-seater). The fleet is now made up of 20 Land Rover Defenders (yes, still including #077, #376, #333 and #482), and 7 Nissan Patrols. We are sailing to Tenerife with 5 Nissans and 10 Land Rovers, and the remainder are waiting our return to West Africa in Togo. Fascinating stuff, eh? Olly

Stinking rotten fish

There has been a strong smell of fish on Deck 8 for a couple of days, which I mistook it to be the smell of cooking fish from the Crew Galley. Today, however, my colleague from Sierra Leone sheepishly admitted he had tried to dry fish in the back of a Land Rover (such is his passion), but they had started to rot instead. We opened the Land Rover (#998)...and it was CRAWLING with maggots happily feeding on stinking rotten fish. He is still up there now, repeatedly washing out 9#98 whilst the maggots are all fleeing across the scorching hot deck. Tonight I look forward to smelling freshly deck-roasted maggot instead of rotting fish. Olly

Bye bye Benin

Tuesday 8th December, 11.40am: The Pilot came onboard surprisingly early, and the gangway was lifted by 10.30. We are already in the open sea, and rolling ever so slightly. Leaving the port sent a shiver down my spine - the dock contained many cheering well-wishers, some of whom we didn't even know, but also including the Togo Advance Team, the Togo Mercy Team, and the Togo Water & Sanitation Field Coordinator - all of whom will now drive to Togo to prepare for the Africa Mercy's arrival in February (please pray for them - Brenda, Joan, Chris, Michaell, and Mark & Nari & their family). Thus begins day one at sea. Olly

False alarm

Last night we heard a rumour that we would have a surprise fire and lifeboat drill at 6.30am this morning...ever mindful of the drill we had at 6am in 2007, we were all up at 6am and dressed and well ready by 6.30...and now it's 7.15, and the alarm still hasn't sounded yet. The source of the rumour knew that the Captain wants to do another drill sometime before we sail, and put 2 and 2 together to get 6.30...Still, at least we'll be ready in time for school (although I wouldn't have minded another hour asleep). Olly

Monday, 7 December 2009

Why we had another black-out

On Monday 30th November I blogged that the black-out on Saturday 28th had been successful - it took a team of Engineers all day to rod-out the thousands of little tubes that make up the main coolers - click here to see the blog entry and photo. But engine tests on Thursday revealed that one of the the coolers was clogged again - and this is what it looked like when it was opened again on Friday afternoon (see photos above) - full of barnacles, bits of plastic and even a crab. Had someone not replaced the sea strainer properly? We'll never know. The cooler was cleaned again in record breaking time whilst the ship once again lay dark & silent. All OK now though, and ready to sail! Olly

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Fish & Chips

Sunday 6th December, 4.50pm, Cotonou, Benin: Tonight we're having fish & chips for dinner. We can smell them cooking in our cabin, which is only a few feet away from the galley. Yum. Olly

Gifts from West Africa

Every year, as we pack the ship in preparation for our departure from our host country, our local staff and friends ashore bombard us with gifts (which must cost them one or even two days wages!). This year I have been given two full African outfits (suits of clothes in African fabrics); two beautiful carvings (that will remind us of Benin forever), a drum, two tambourines, a couple of papaya fruits and coconuts, and a framed picture of the Dove of Peace. The generosity of the gifters are humbling! Olly

Congratulations Keith!

Congratulations to Mercy Ships' very own Dr Keith Chapman, who came second in the 1st Annual Surf Liberia Contest. He also came first in the BodyBoarding division. For full article on the contest, click here. There he is, on the right of the photo. Olly

Friday, 4 December 2009

Brown-haired Sally

Remember blond-haired Sally? Well, she's now brown-haired Sally. Great eh? Olly

This Blog...

Mercy Ships have redesigned their website, and it now includes a contents index on the front page which includes THIS BLOG! Wow - I'm humbled! Click here today to see our (tiny) smiling faces, before they are replaced by someone else's. Olly

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Swimmer Watch update

Tonight is my last night on Swimmer Watch. I've been on duty from 10pm to midnight for a whole week, and am looking forward to an early night tomorrow already. God bless the guys who man the watch throughout the wee small hours - they make way more of a sacrifice than I do! Olly

Engineering (and black-out) update

Today our Engineers ran some pre-sail engine tests, only to find out that they were STILL overheating, despite the coolers being cleaned last Saturday. So guess what...yes, this coming Saturday we'll have ANOTHER black-out, as all the generators are turned off and those poor guys spend the day rodding out the coolers yet again. Please pray for them - for their strength and their patience. It's the time of year when the ship's engines are awakened from their ten-month slumber and weaknesses and breakdowns are found. Plus we're aware that our time in Benin has been a great success by all accounts and our enemy doesn't like that - I'm sure his followers are praying for our failure (like last time we left Benin on the Anastasis, when we had not one but TWO engine fires on the sail). Olly

Loading update

With only a few days left in Cotonou before we sail, loading is well underway. My workshop and trailer are now on Deck 8, along with 9 Land Rovers. The remaining Land Rovers and Nissans will be loaded tomorrow. The Deckies are really working hard, in tremendous heat - please spare a minute to pray for them. Olly

Togo convoy - update

The drivers returned from Togo at 11.15pm - over thirteen hours since they left Cotonou. The journey should have only taken 6 hours max, but they lost an hour changing a wheel bearing, and another hour at the border, and could only drive slowly because of the size of the convoy and the age of the vehicles. I met the drivers on the dock as they climbed out of the two vehicles that had brought them back, and each one of them said they'd had a great time and they'd do it again! Bless 'em all! Olly

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Convoy to Togo

Several weeks ago I was asked to coordinate a convoy to take our oldest Land Rovers from Cotonou (Benin), to Lome (Togo), where our next Field Service will be...and today the convoy left the ship at 10am. In theory the journey should only take 3 hours, but it actually took our 8 oldest vehicles NINE HOURS! As I write (8.15pm) the drivers are probably still in Lome, and even at top speed in two new vehicles they won't be back on the Africa Mercy until gone 11pm. Those poor guys! They had two breakdowns on the way there, plus a lengthy border crossing. What an absolute disaster. Photo of me and the convoy just before they left the dock this morning. Olly

My colleagues

Here's a photo of the guys who work with me: Moses (from Sierra Leone - the guy kneeling on the right with the hammer) is a crew member and Head Mechanic. Mathieu (from Togo - sitting on the tyre) is also a mechanic; Luke (from Benin, standing on the left of the photo) and Adrien (also from Benin, standing on the right) are both car-cleaners. Together they have done a great job in keeping the fleet of 28 vehicles presentable and on the roads of Benin over the past ten months. Mathieu will serve again with us in Togo next year, whilst Luke and Adrien will remain in Benin. Olly

Vultures feast on Liberia!

The Vultures have struck again! Their latest prey: Liberia, a country that ranks in the bottom 15 for basic living standards. With life expectancy at a shocking average of 45 years, the country's democratic government has been making concerted efforts to address the legacy of the civil war and crushing poverty. This morally reprehensible news is even more shocking in the context of Liberia’s recent victory in April, when the country reached an agreement canceling $1.2 billion of its commercial debt.  This past weekend, while Americans enjoyed their turkey and mashed potatoes, Liberia had little to be thankful for when news hit that two Vulture Funds were awarded $20 million from a 30 year old loan and that was originally only worth $6 million.  The UK Court’s settlement of $20 million represents all of Liberia’s 2008/2009 education budget and 150% of the funds allocated for health expenditures.  In total, 25% of Liberia’s poverty reduction spending will go to two Vultures located in tax havens.

To read more on Blog The Debt click here. Olly

Monday, 30 November 2009

Black-out day

Saturday 28th November was the Africa Mercy's third Black-Out Day. All the sea water used for cooling our generators and main engines go through two big coolers, but they needed cleaning after getting filled with mud and silt from the dredging operations earlier this year. And to clean them, all the ship's generators had to be turned off (with the exception of the small air-cooler generator on Deck 7 which runs our emergency systems). So at 7am the ship was plunged in darkness, and our engineers spent the next ten hours rodding out the thousands of little pipes that make up the coolers (as you can see in the photo). It was a long, hot and dirty job for them, but power was back on by 5pm. As for us and the rest of the crew, with no power or light or even flushing toilets we had no option but to camp out at local hotel pools for the day with the rest of the crew. Suffering for the Lord, eh? Olly

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Preparing to sail

This coming week will be a busy one. Our Deckies and I will load five containers, fifteen Land Rovers & Nissans, a digger and several trailers, a generator, three big Yokohama fenders, a couple of hundred metres of security fencing, two forklift trucks, several tents, and the contents of our off-ship dental and eye clinics and the Hospitality Centre. On Tuesday half of our vehicles will drive over the border into neighbouring Togo to await our return in February (please pray for the safety of our vehicles and drivers). Meanwhile, our nurses and other medical staff will finish securing the hospital for our sail north - everything will be corralled and bolted to the floor, including beds, operating tables and anaesthetic machines. And I will do at least two dives - there is currently no wind to blow all the garbage in the port away from the ship, so the water is thick with plastic bags and spilt diesel. Plus we will have fire, lifeboat and collision drills...but by this time next week we should be over the worst of it and left only with preparing our cabins and offices for sailing. Olly

Swimmer Watch again

With only a week to go before we sail away from Benin, Swimmer Watch has begun again. Crew take it in turn to do highly visible patrols of the open decks in order to deter swimmers from becoming stowaways, and since I'm going through a phase of insomnia I have volunteered for the 10pm to midnight slot every night until we sail. And it's just amazing how hot it still is at midnight! Fortunately there are virtually no swimmers in Benin (compared to Liberia) - I haven't seen even one since we got here in February.Olly

Friday, 27 November 2009

Farewell, Day Volunteers

Today was a sad day. We said goodbye to the 200+ local staff (we call Day Volunteers) who have worked with us so hard over the past ten months. They were a great bunch who worked at cooks, cleaners, translators, engine and deck hands, security guards and dining room staff. I found the Celebration we had together before they were disembarked to be very moving, as I looked around and saw all the people we had grown to know and love and rely upon over the past ten months. What faces them now? They will all struggle to find work now, and will no doubt have to rely on their extended families until they are earning again. And what faces us? With so many vital roles previously filled by them now vacant, crew are being re-employed as their departments close down as we move from Field Service mode to sailing mode. Many nurses will become cooks and cleaners for the next couple of months until we return to West Africa and can hire the next bunch of Day Volunteers next year in Togo. Olly

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Pirates kill sailor off coast of Benin (yikes!)

Pirates have attacked an oil tanker off the coast of West Africa, killing a Ukrainian seaman, the commander of Benin's naval forces says. Cdr Fernand Maxime Ahoyo says the Cancale Star's chief engineer was killed and one other crewman wounded. The pirates attacked the vessel some 18 nautical miles (33km) off the coast of Benin, in what correspondents say is the country's first such attack. One pirate was overpowered by the crew, but the others managed to escape. Benin-based journalist Esther Tola told the BBC that the pirates were thought to be from Nigeria. The commander said naval forces had rescued the crew from the tanker and brought them into port. There were 24 seamen of different nationalities on board the Monrovia-flagged vessel, including Filipinos, Lithuanians and Ukranians, Cdr Ahoyo told AFP news agency. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) says piracy in the waters of west Africa is on the rise, with 100 such incidents recorded last year. The IMB has previously warned of heightened piracy risks along shipping routes in Nigeria and Ghana, to the east and west of Benin. It said attacks usually took place while ships were at anchor or close to coastal areas, unlike in eastern Africa, where Somali pirates strike ships hundreds of miles out to sea. For full article click here.
Hmmm...two weeks today we'll be sailing through those pirate-infested waters. Please pray for our safety. Olly.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Propeller cleaning

Today we started cleaning the Africa Mercy's two propellers. Each one has four blades; each blade is about 7 feet long and the bottom of the lowest blade is about 18 feet below sea level - just a couple of feet above the silt of the harbour. Visibility was the best I've seen for ages, and the sun shone through the water onto the multicoloured fish that hung around waiting for food. After 85 minutes of hard work with scrapers we'd managed to clean 3 blades sufficiently; if they remained uncleaned the covering of barnacles would create more drag as we sailed, and reduce our fuel efficiency. More tomorrow and Wednesday mornings! Olly

Above, what propeller blades look like after they've been "parked" for ten months. Olly

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Angels Amongst the Sons of Men

This poem was written by Prince Eddie Daniels from Ghana, a patient aboard having skin grafts on his hands. He wrote it about our nurses, I'm sure. Olly.

The day the Big White Whale landed on the black shores of Africa was a blessed day to the Sons of Men.

It came with Angels to walk amongst the Sons of Men.

Why do I call them Angels? Let me tell you of my time with them.

I came on board the White Whale with rooms filled withthe lame
the maimed
the formed
the deformed
the wrong
and the rough.

And deep into the darkest part of the night, I saw men and brethren,
maidens and ladies, though flesh as us, yet with hearts as Angels.

Sleeplessly and tirelessly they toiled through the night,
through the pains and aches of men;
they with hands to heal and mend,
bringing from above the Father's love to the Sons of Men.

Some they cut. Some they tie.
Some they seal, and yet others
they fix with tools untold.

Like messengers of the Most High they came.
Not thinking of their own, they risked their lives
and sailed the seas to lands beyond the endless world,
to shores of Men afflicted and in pain.
Their hearts and lives they came to share,
as Angels walking amongst the Sons of Men.
Some in this life are born to pass,
and some are born in life to live,
yet these Angels are born to preserve humanity.

Though some may see lives as waste,
yet with speed they move to save.
With words of love and touch of peace,
they endlessly toil to make right the wrong.

You were born as Men to your lands,
and yet as Angels you served the earth.
Gold is digged from earth beneath.
Treasures are hunted on high seas.
But love so pure and true
can only in hearts like yours be found.
Your labor in the Lord shall not be in vain.
For every life you touch and every soul you save,
For every bone you mend and every face you straight,
The Lord of Life and Light will light your path and guide your life.

For you are truly Angels amongst the Sons of Men.


Eight year old Alba comes from a village in rural northern Benin. Two years ago a tumour started to grow in her mouth, but her family didn't have the money to pay for an expensive operation in Cotonou. Her mother, Ankosua, tried less expensive local medicines, but to no avail...and in their poverty there were no other options. All she could do was pray that the herbs would begin to work...
"When the tumor first appeared, my husband and I took Alba to the hospital, but we didn’t have money to pay for it, so they wouldn’t treat her. We had to use traditional medicine,” said Ankosua. Alba was taken out of school so her mother could give her the traditional medicine daily. When asked how the community treated Alba, Ankosua stared at the floor and remained silent. After a 10-second pause, she looked up, her eyes filled with tears, and she painfully replied, “Some people received Alba with good hands. They prayed for her and encouraged me. But others shunned her. They said, ‘Go away, we don’t want to see you.’” Whenever it was time to eat or drink, Alba hid herself from other people. If she went out in public, she kept the tumor covered with a rag. It served as a disguise and caught the foul-smelling and constant drainage." After two years of watching her daughter struggle, a woman in her village told Ankosua of a hospital in Benin that was performing free surgery. Finally – a glimmer of hope! They scrounged to get enough money for transportation and traveled to the hospital, which was hours away. However, Ankosua’s new-found hope quickly morphed into deep disappointment. “We were there for two days, and nobody attended to us. I asked a woman who worked there why we weren’t being helped. She said, ‘They don’t do surgery for free, you have to deposit money.’ I trembled when she told me that. I had come with nothing,” said Ankosua sadly. After Ankosua explained that she had no money for treatment, the woman told her about Mercy Ships. “This woman had heard Mercy Ships was in town, helping people and healing people for free. She gave me directions to the Africa Mercy, and I immediately went,” Ankosua added.

Still attached to noisy monitors and IV fluids, Alba had been dozing in and out of sleep since returning to the Africa Mercy ward. Finally, a few hours after surgery, she opened her eyes and sat up. Seeing she was awake, Becca, her nurse, came to Alba’s bedside and handed her a small mirror.Alba looked down, paused in a state of bewilderment, and began touching the empty space on her mouth. The tumor was gone.
After 20 seconds of staring, a single tear rolled down her cheek. With great determination, she tried not to cry. But another and then another tear soon followed. Finally, she gave up trying to hold them back and cried freely. Alba’s tears were earned through years of heartache and rejection. They were mature and raw – heavy tears for an eight-year-old to cry. Ankosua stood next to her bed the entire time, carefully observing her daughter. When Alba began crying, she turned away. Ankosua couldn’t bear looking into her tear-stained eyes. After two hopeless years of discouragement and depression, healing had finally come. The mixture of joy and pain in that moment expressed itself in tears. When Alba regained her composure, Ankosua returned to the bedside. Carefully, she wrapped her arm around Alba, who then buried her head on Ankosua’s chest. As Alba’s tears collected on her shirt, Ankosua did her best to be strong. But her heart was too overwhelmed with joy. Tears of relief and joy flooded her eyes as well. They sat and cried together, each tear serving as a testimony to the transforming power of God’s mercy.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Packing up again

With only 18 days left before we sail, we are beginning to move from operational mode to pack-up mode. Today is the last day of surgery, and on Monday we start packing-up and securing everything for the sail. As you can see, the ward nurses have begun already: every inch of all 5 wards and six operating rooms (even the ceilings) will be cleaned in the next week. Olly

Say Hi... Captain Tim, Miss Orman and Noah and his class, on a trip to the bridge. Olly

Thursday, 19 November 2009

My photo on National Geographic website!

I made the National Geographic Daily Dozen recently! Photo and caption by PJ Acceturo (click on photo to enlarge). Olly

Did you know...

...that more than half of the crew of the Africa Mercy are aboard for less than 8 weeks? Olly

Say Hi... our hard working Engineers. Olly

Say Hi... some of our hard working Ward Nurses! Olly

Photos of dinner with Mr President

Above, the President's dining room, with the spotlights facing the guests (not at all intimidating!)

Above, the President of Benin meets Don.

Above, traditional Beninoise dancers with the President and VIP guests in the background.
We weren't allowed to take our own cameras into the Palace, hence the limited number of photos. Olly