Thursday, 26 March 2009

Sally and the Sisters of Charity

Today Sally and her friend Ines entertained Cotonou's five Sisters of Charity (Mother Teresa's order) on the ship. They are incredible ladies, who have committed to serve the Lord selflessly by living amongst the poor and loving and serving them. They also have a great sense of humour. Sally and Ines take twenty crew each Wednesday to the orphanage run by the Sisters, where they help them in their work – cleaning, feeding the children, playing and loving the children, and also singing and presenting Bible stories. The Sisters are totally inspiring women, said Sally. Olly

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

My brother Ben

This is my brother, Ben:

He's a professional musician trapped inside the body of a man who works for a bank in London. Some say that he looks like me, and sometimes if they see us together they shout "twins!". He's husband to Claire and father to Thomas (7) and Sophie (3), and lives just north of London. Here he is playing to the Queen in the Royal Albert Hall recently. Olly

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Cement ship hell reprive

Last night four more cement hoppers and some grabbers were brought to our dock. I don't mind admitting that when I saw them my heart gave a lurch and I started to panic. I find hoppers very sinister as they sit, patiently, waiting to ruin our lives - which indeed they would have done, if cement was being unloaded right now. But praise God, the bulk carrier that arrived to fill the waiting trucks was carrying wheat, not cement! The dock is even now busy with trucks, and spilled wheat is beginning to spread everywhere, but it is a billion times better than having a cement clinker ship discharging next to us, covering us with grey cement dust! So, keep the wheat carriers coming! Olly

Above, cement hoopers. Don't they look scary?

Above, the grain ship unloading.

Happy Mothers Day

Happy Mothers Day to all you British mums, especially Jenny Peet & Wendy Mortimer. From Ol 'n' Sal

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Tooth sticks

To the east of Benin, on the otherside of the countries of Nigeria, Cameroon & Equatorial Guinea, lies the country of Gabon, which does a great deal of trade with Benin via small old and very overloaded passenger ferries and old cargo ships. One of Gabon's big exports to Benin is wood (see photos) which comes in massive quantities, and is cut up to make...unbelievably...tooth-sticks. This wood is apparently quite fibrous, and when chewed becomes brush-like and is used to clean the teeth much like a regular toothbrush.

Surely, thousands of tooth-sticks must be made from each piece of wood. It takes two strong guys to carry each log, the end of which is painted with the owner's colours for identification - yellow stripes in the photo above, and blue-and-white in the photo below.

I never dreamt that this massive and highly organised industry would produce a product that would be in such demand. Olly

Hospitality Centre

For the 2009 Field Service, Mercy Ships has opened a Hospitality Centre in a warehouse about 2 kilometres from the ship, in which patients can be screened and stay a night or two in the 38 beds before and after their operations. The Centre also houses our two old dockside tents, which are still used for Eyes and Physical Therapy. The place opened for business earlier this week, and is already very busy place with all 38 beds full with patients (and often their carers) and with many more patients attending daily for appointments in the tents. A brilliant and very successful idea - it has made a futher 38 beds available on the Africa Mercy's wards!

Above, the Hospitality Centre from the outside. Two Land Rover ambulances drive between the ship and the centre every 15 minutes, ferrying patients, supplies and crew.

Above, the inside of one of the air conditioned rooms which sleeps nineteen.
Above, the familiar shape of the old dockside units, used by the Eye & Physical Therapy Teams. Olly

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Do I really want to swim in this?

In January I took my PADI Open Water SCUBA training whilst in Tenerife. I can now dive under the ship to clean garbage out of the water intakes, and scrape barnacles off the propeller. But look at the quality of the water here in Cotonou's port. Its absolutely filthy - you can almost walk across it's surface on the floating garbage, and who knows what's in it that you can't see - all manner of nasty diseases I expect. It's a far cry from the beautiful clear waters of the Freeport of Monrovia, where we saw brightly coloured shoals of fish, sea turtles and small sharks. Olly

Monday, 16 March 2009

Monday morning

We have been in Benin for five weeks already. Slowly, word is getting around about the free specialist surgeries, and people are coming to the dock in ever increasing numbers seeking our help. This morning I counted over 150 people lined up (see photo below). Walking through the crowd is quite an experience - I see mums with babies, blind people, crippled people, leaking ladies, big facial swellings, massive goiters, arthritic old hands, and missing limbs. Please spare a thought for Ans and her colleagues who spend hour after hour in the sweltering sun, examining patient after patient to see if their conditions are operable. Olly

Doctor Who

I am obsessed with Doctor Who (to the extent that I'm even blogging about it). I have borrowed all 4 seasons, and am working my way through nearly 40 episodes. They are, without exception, all excellent and full of great effects, suspense, humour and emotions, and so different from the Doctor Who of my youth which all seemed to be filmed in a dusty quarry in Kent. But one thing strikes me: wherever the Doctor goes, he runs into trouble. Maybe the TARDIS takes him there, like that guy in Quantum Leap who always found himself in trouble (even though he didn't have a TARDIS) whenever he fell lept through one quantum to another or whatever he did. So I've added the Doctor to the list of people I hope I'll never share a hotel with (which obviously includes Miss Marple, Angela Landsberry, Taggart, Columbo, Monk, anybody from the tiny village of Midsummer Whatsit, and that man from Quantum Leap. Olly

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Shopping in Cotonou

We went shopping again this morning, as is our Saturday morning routine, to buy fruit and other essentials that aren't available in the Ship Shop. First the magnificant, no-hastle, fruit market in Haie Vive...

And then to the Mayfair Supermarche somewhere near the new bridge, which was a bizarre experience. A lot of their supplies seemingly come from England and we were surprised to see many of our favourite chocolate bars (Kit Kat, Milky Bar, Bounty, Picnic, Maltesers, Snickers, Crunchies, Penguins, Lion Bars,Whispas, and various Cadburys bars)...

AND many traditional English biscuits, with their price still on them in Pounds...

As I said, quite bizarre, but a most welcome surprise. What a shame it's Lent. We bought a bottle of washing-up liquid made in Manchester and a bag of flour made in Bolton. Big spenders eh? Olly

Friday, 13 March 2009

The Bible in Lego

Our friends Ken & Caroline have just told us about a website where Bible stories are portrayed for kids out of Lego. Absolutely brilliant. Go to

Moses with the Ten Commandments.

Mary & Joseph with the baby Jesus

The Last Supper.

How very cool. Didn't have that when I was a lad. There were trees all around here then too. And aren't these new 5p pieces fiddly? Olly

Rainy season in Benin

Benin's rainy season is due to start this month. Clouds have been gathering ominously over the past few evenings, and today we had our first typical early rainy-season storm - a darkening sky followed by high winds which brought choppy seas (which sent all the little fishing boats scurrying back to the safety of the harbour), and then a torrential downpour which only lasted half an hour but washed the dust off everything and cooled the air down beautifully. It is still cloudy now, an hour after the storm, with the occasional rain drop; we're not sure what the afternoon will hold - more rain or the scalding sun and suffocating heat that always follows the rain. Olly

Above, fishermen head for home in the rain.

Above, patients seeking shelter.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The changing face of Anna

Anna has lost three more teeth in the last 36 hours...

Above, 7.30 am Wednesday, after losing the first of the day.

Above, 5.30 pm Wednesday after losing the second of the day

Above, 7pm Thursday, after losing the third. Olly

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Nice photo, & not-so-nice photo

Here's a lovely photo posted (by Colleen) on Facebook of Sally and our friend Colleen.

And here's a not-so-lovely photo of me posted on Facebook by Emily. Taken in late 2004 (wasn't I skinny?), when I was working in the Anastasis accounting department; I had to count all the cash at the end of each day. Olly

Bab's Dock

Yesterday we drove 20 kilometres or so away from the ship to Bab's Dock (about 10 kilometres along the beach road just before the Swiss Hotel, 6°21’7.89”N, 2°15’59.93”E ), run by Dominique & Dominic from Belgium (very friendly and hospitable, and speak excellent English). It is the coolest place in Benin!

To get there you take a motor boat through mangrove swamps (2500 cfa per adult; kids free), and across the brackish lagoon.

Here's the dock - beautifully made by Dominic.

And he made the canoes too, which are free for use.

Noah & Anna enjoyed the canoeing, and we all enjoyed swimming in the shallow lagoon.

Lovely decking! Great for sunbathing. Plenty of shade too if you need it.

Great food. Burgers & chips were 3500cfa for a good sized portion. The kids drank juice made from some local flower (looks like red wine in the photo).
What a great day out. Thanks again to Rob Baker for recommending the place. We'll be back again before too long, for sure! Olly

Friday, 6 March 2009

Now I've seen everything (yet again)

I was just driving through town, and a man flagged me down (thinking I was a doctor). He proceeded to drop his trousers and show me his thingy, which was covered in huge white warts. Huh. For once, I neglected to shake his hand before I drove away. Olly

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Now I've seen everything (again)

Early this afternoon I saw a lady letting her toddler have a poo on the dock, not even 3 feet away from the bottom of the gangway. Huh. Olly

Monday, 2 March 2009

Unluckiest journey

This weeks Unluckiest Journey Award goes to the crew of Land Rover #333, who had not one but two punctures on Saturday, with no working jack or wheel wrench in the vehicle. Sorry guys. Olly
PS I fixed the jack today and replaced the wrench.

Above and beyond the call of duty

This week's Above & Beyond the Call of Duty Award goes to my colleage and good friend Moses Turay from Freetown, Sierra Leone, who dropped everything on Thursday morning to travel upcountry to rescue a broken down Land Rover. He took only a handful of tools and the clothes he wore, and travelled 6 hours north, stayed in a local guest-house overnight, and then towed the Land Rover south for 8 hours before he got back to the ship late Friday. And Saturday saw him off on another rescue mission to a stranded Land Rover on the beach road with a broken jack and wrench. What a good guy! Olly

Sunday, 1 March 2009

A week in photos

Above, zemidjan drivers have mastered the ability to sleep on their bikes (thanks Rob Baker for the photo).

Above, my containerised workshop and tent is now open for business.

Above, the President of Benin visited the ship on Friday evening. Here, fellow crew try to negotiate with the soldiers guarding the President to be allowed to leave the dock in one of our Land Rovers. Score: Scary men with machine guns one; crew with Land Rover nil.

Our fruit basket is almost as full as it was in Tenerife (again, a far cry from Liberia). The local fruit & veg market sells everything: apples, oranges, lemons, pears, bananas, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, courgettes, onions, garlic, avocados, pineapples, yams, breadfruit, mangos, name it, they've got it!

Above, the M/V Albatros (last seen in Tenerife) arrives in Cotonou harbour whilst cruising the West Africa port cities. One of our old Gurkhas is on board. To see their itinerary and the view from their bow click here.

Above, International Day at the Academy: Anna as the Queen of England...

...Libby as a Liberian mama...

...and Noah wearing the Union Jack and the red, white & blue of Great Britain. Olly