This Blog serves as two things: a photo-diary of our lives between 2007 and mid 2011, when we saw some incredible things and met some amazing people; and a reflection of our more normal lives since then.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

French Navy Ship

The French Navy frigate Courbet came into the Port of Cotonou yesterday, and is still loitering menacingly outside our window. Whenever I open the curtain, there she is, staring at me. According to my new best friend, Wikipedia, "the Courbet is a second-line multi-mission stealth frigate of the French Marine Nationale. She is the third French vessel named after the 19th century admiral Amédée Courbet. The Courbet took part in Opération Baliste. On 3rd of October 2006, an Israeli fighter penetrated her 2-nautical-mile (4 km) defence perimeter without responding radio calls, triggering a diplomatic incident. Israel apologised after official protests from the French government. Throughout September the ship was involved in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, helping to recapture a yacht taken by pirates on September 2nd". Here's my top quality, non grainy photo of the Courbet taken through our salt-stained window:

And here's one of her at sea that I found earlier:

Imagine seeing this coming over the horizon in anger. Olly

The Jesus Film

Twice a week a team travels from the ship deep into Benin's countryside to show the Jesus Film to villagers. The film is available in many different languages - even in Fon and other less-used local Beninoise languages, and tells the story of Jesus, and is a powerful tool for evangelism. The Team takes a couple of Land Rovers with them, and hangs a large screen off the back of one, and projects the movie from inside the vehicle onto the screen. A little generator provides the power. Hundreds of thousands of people have seen the Jesus Film in this manner over the last few years, and thousands and thousands have made a commitment. The Team always works with local pastors who translate and encourage those who have made a commitment - sometimes this involves church planting or even church building in areas where there has previously been no Christian presence. Good job! Olly

Diving again

Yesterday was my fifth dive under the Africa Mercy, in which 3 other divers and I cleaned garbage and marine growth from the screens that cover the cooling water intakes. If we don't clean these screens regularly they will not let the cooling water pass, so our engines and generators will overheat. I love diving and look forward to my weekly dives, although swimming through the filthy water of the port is always a little off-putting - the visibility is usually very low, which makes our job extremely hard, and yesterday I got covered in oil that had leaked from an ancient freighter moored nearby. I'm looking forward to diving in the crystal clear (but cold) waters of Tenerife at the end of the year. Olly

Liberia: Rooster Soup Kills Five Pets After Making Girl Mad

After making a girl mad for 12 hour, the same rooster soup reportedly killed five ducks and a dog. On April 21, 2009, a girl went mad for hours in the SKD Community on Bushrod Island after she tasted a rooster soup which she and her colleagues were preparing for their enjoyment. The rooster was brought to their house as a gift to from Nimba County as a token of appreciation to her husband for services rendered to the people there, Mrs Janet Williams Toe told The Informer. It was tied for two days to get used to the yard – as customarily done - but died while reportedly fighting. Disposed of, girls in the house went for the dead roster to prepare 'chicken pepper soup'. While boiling, one of them decided to have a taste of the sumptuous soup and subsequently ran into madness. She became conscious after she was taken to a prayer center after 12 hours, family members say. However, after Baby Girl, as the girl is called, gained consciousness, community residents decided to give some of the soup to other animals to see what would be the effect; it subsequently claimed the lives of a dog, and five other duck fowls that ate portion of the soup. The original owner of the rooster, Mrs Janet Williams Toe, also averred that a day following the incident between the chicken soup and the girl and subsequent killings of a dog and five duck fowls, residents of the community were marveled and began to be careful of what to eat as far as chicken meat is concern, especially those from the interior of the country. When quizzed, the former mad girl told this paper that she still feels indifferent since she had the misfortune with the Chicken soup. Though she has begun seeking medical treatment at a local health center, where nurses are providing health care for her to regain full consciousness, she told this paper that nurses have yet to reveal the cause of her madness. She has meanwhile made it her taboo to venture into eating chicken. As a result of the situation, residents of the affected community are now skeptical to eating chicken, thus making chicken part sellers in the community to lose customers. Mrs Toe said she is taking her times out to glorify God for rescuing her from the 'voodoo' that was infested into the chicken to have gotten rid of her entire family. She told this paper that she has also engaged into series of prayers for the perpetrator "who planned this evil deed against me to come to light one of these days." The issue of the rooster has created fear in most residents of the community to accept chicken from the hinterland of the country for whatever purpose. She pointed out that she will not accuse anyone of the act because there is no proof of any perpetrator, but will continue to prayer for God to bring to light the doer of the act. She told this paper that prior to the rooster being brought to Monrovia she had a dream in which she was given a rooster as a present for her wedding. The dream, she said, was interpreted by a colleague, warning her to be mindful of gifts during her wedding period. Yes, beware the Voodoo! It's real! Olly

Land Rovers at work

I hope you enjoy these photos of our Land Rovers hard at work in Liberia, where the roads were quite a challenge. Benin's roads are very different, much to the disappointment of those of us who liked to use our off-roading skills.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Odecious Johns

Do you remember Odecious Johns? He was one of the Africa Mercy's loyal Liberian drivers, and worked for the ship for two years. All that time he saved up his money to buy and fix up an old taxi, which he got running a few months before we left Liberia. Last week a truck lost control and destroyed 6 cars including his, and killed several people in the process. It was only by the grace of God that Odecious and his passengers escaped the taxi before the truck hit them.

The truck driver is responsible for the funeral costs of the people he killed, and to pay to replace the 6 cars he destroyed, but he has no money, so there goes Odecious' livelihood and the security of his extended family. So Odecious intends to buy another car frame and an engine, and transfer everything he can from the wreck to make a new taxi, but even this will cost plenty of money. Can you help him? You can send money via MoneyGram or Western Union to any Monrovia branch for Odecious Johns, and then email him at odejohns@yahoo.com with the password so he can collect the money. He is a good man, and continues to do good work in Monrovia looking after some of the patients we left behind. Thanks. Olly

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

I never thought I'd see the day

After years of enduring West African music at full volume (so it's distorted and you can't even make out the words), one of my West African mechanics turned down the music I was listening to today! It was an awe inspiring CD by Paul Baloche. Can you Adam & Eve it? Olly

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Africa Mercy Dessert Challenge

Today Sally and her friend Lia entered the Africa Mercy's Dessert Challenge, and prepared a fancy dessert in the crew galley (whilst I made the ultimate sacrifice and looked after the kids all on my own). Six other teams prepared dessert too...and guess what - SALLY & LIA WON! YEAH! Their layered hazelnut pavlova (meringue/cream/caramel/hazelnuts) dessert was very yummy indeed!

Above, preparation.

Above, the international panel of judges.

Above, Sally & Lia with their finished product. Mmmm...

The things we do to entertain ourselves...Olly

Friday, 24 April 2009

Car & driver for hire

Car & driver for hire, for restaurants, hotels, beaches, Abomey, Grand Popo, Ouidah etc. Overnight or weekend trips available. Can arrange accomadation & food. Phone John Galbert (Transportation Dept Day Volunteer) on 95 81 98 43.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

St George's Day

St George is the patron saint of England (and also Catalonia, Ethiopia, Georgie, Greece, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal and Russia), and was a soldier of the Imperial Guard for Emperor Diocletian. In the year AD 302, Diocletian issued an edict that every Christian soldier in the army should be arrested and every other soldier should offer a sacrifice to the Pagan gods. But George objected and with the courage of his faith approached the Emperor. Diocletian was upset, not wanting to lose one of his best soldiers. George loudly renounced the Emperor's edict, and in front of his fellow soldiers he claimed himself to be a Christian and declared his worship of Jesus Christ. Diocletian attempted to convert George, even offering gifts of land, money and slaves if he made a sacrifice to the Pagan gods, but George never accepted. Recognizing the futility of his efforts, Diocletian was left with no choice but to have him executed for his refusal. Before the execution George gave his wealth to the poor and prepared himself. After various torture sessions, including laceration on a wheel of swords in which he was resuscitated three times, George was executed by decapitation before Nicomedia's city wall, on April 23, 303. A witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to become Christians as well, and so they joined George in martyrdom. His body was returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians soon came to honor him as a martyr. For more info on St George click here. Wow. Would I have the strength to defend my faith like that when push comes to shove? Olly
Our Canadian chef cooked us a traditional English roast for dinner, and then 40 Englishmen and women gathered in the evening for scones, jam & cream, and to drink Yorkshire Tea. We had a good time, and even sang God Save the Queen to the amusement of crew in the neighbourhood from other nationalities. Olly

Above, 40 Englishmen and women. Another 20 were missing - in bed or working shifts.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Sweat sores

Hmmm...lovely subject. I've suffered irritating sweat sores twice before - once in 2005 on the Anastasis when the air conditioning went off, and then in 2007 when we lived in Liberia, in the heat before the rains came. Now I'm suffering a third time, again in the hot weather before the rains come. The temperature on the dock where I work most of the time averages 43 degrees C, and a few times I've had to change all my clothing at lunchtime, just to dry out and cool down. But the rainy season clouds are gathering; we had a spectacular storm in the early hours of this morning, and it's remained overcast and "cool" all day - only a humid 32 degrees C. When the rains come and bring the "cool" season, they will be most welcome. Olly

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Dantokpa Market

Cotonou's Dantokpa Market is the biggest outdoor market in West Africa. It's warren of tiny crowded lanes employs thousands of men, women and children, and harbours dozens of thieves and pick-pockets. I regularly go there to find car parts and tools, and have come back unscathed so far, praise God.
Above, crowded lanes inside the market, where motorcycles and people often jostle for room.
Above, more lanes and people.

Above, a hint of the size of the market.

Above, the insanely busy roads outside the market.

I thank God for John, my translator, fixer and minder. Olly

Monday, 20 April 2009

The language barrier

Working in Benin creates many communications challenges. Sally is working with a patient (with a noma) who comes from northern Benin, who speaks neither English, French or Fon (the most common language in Cotonou). We have no translators who understand Bariba, his own language, so Sally is relying on another patient from that area to translate on behalf of the patient, from Bariba into French, which is then translated into English by a ward translator. Meanwhile, my four local staff can all speak fluent English to each other, but can't understand a word I say because of my English accent. Huh. I have to use Moses from Sierra Leone to translate into English-with-an-African accent for them to understand me. Olly
PS How I love hyperlinks, and Wikipedia!

I met a warlord

On Tuesday I met a warlord. Maybe I've unknowingly met one before in a country not far from here, but this one and his bodyguard were not ashamed of admitting to their past, and how they used to work for an even bigger warlord and his son. The guy I met wanted my help laundering gold and diamonds that he had stolen during "operations" from the country, and was surprised when I said no. He looked like a regular underweight guy in his 40s, but I couldn't help but wonder about the terrible things he had done, and the lives of the people he had tortured and murdered. I guess he will remain at large for as long as the country doesn't try to bring their ex-warlords to justice. Olly

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Sailing again

Today we sailed all of one kilometre from the dock which has been the Africa Mercy's home of 9 weeks, to the oil terminal, to take on diesel fuel for our generators and engines. The sail took all of two hours, from the moment the gangway was lifted until the moment it was lowered; refuelling will take approximately 12 hours, and we will remain at the oil terminal for approximately twenty four hours. Tomorrow we will sail back to our old berth. In the meantime, we cannot leave the ship and all the crew are enjoying a weekend of enforced peace and rest. Olly

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Happy Easter and Happy Birthday Sally

He is risen! Alleluia! This Easter Weekend is very special - not only do we get a 4 day break, but Sally is celebrating her birthday on Easter Sunday. So yesterday we went to Bab's Dock to relax and celebrate...
Above, Sally asleep in a hammock whilst I watched the kids...

Above, me asleep in a hammock whilst Sally watched the kids...

Above: today, and the real chocolate we have been hiding since we were in Europe two months ago...

Above, the kids with the "Happy Birthday Mummy" sign they made all by themselves (whilst we slept)...

Above, new outfits from Nanny for Noah, Anna, Libby & Sally.

Above: fancy Easter brunch in the beautifully decorated Dining Room.
A lovely relaxing weekend so far! And of course, we remember that Jesus is the reason for the season...we are looking forward to the Easter Day service this evening after a day of more relaxing and hanging out on the ship together. Olly

US Navy Seals practice in Liberia

DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU, Saturday, April 11th 2009: US Navy Seals land on a beach in Monrovia, Liberia. A fatal French commando rescue of hostages seized by Somali pirates Friday shows the risks of trying the same thing to free US Captain Richard Phillips. For full article click here.
How cool. Were you there? Did you see it? Which beach? Olly

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Another week in photos

Above, Anna as a 1920s flapper for a fancy dress day in school.

Above, Libby as the same.

Above, Noah in a toga.

Above, the a/c went off for the day and we enjoyed cooking in our cabin.

Above, a pallet broke and two pallet loads of food fell from the crane into the sea. The rescue boat is pulling away from the scene after salvaging as much as possible of the floating food.

Above, the clean up of spoilt food on the dock.

Above, the kids invented a new game on the wet and slippery deck, sliding across the new paint-work on their bellies like sea lions.

Above, Libby endured a 3 hour long hair-brading session (which cost 500 cfa or $1 USD!).

Above, I dived for the first time (amongst the poo poo and plastic bags) under the ship to remove garbage from the cooling water intakes. Maybe I'll dive again tomorrow to help rescue the pallet load of honey that lies on the sea bed after the loading accident. Olly

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Maison de L'Esperance

The ship's Mercy Ministries Team is working with an Italian Catholic order, the Souers Salisiennes, who are running "La Maison de l'Esperance" in town - a ministry for market working girls (sometimes trafficked, exploited or abused) who either are part of an alternative schooling programme (3 years instead of 6) or a 4-fold skills training programme (baking, pastry making, soap making and cooking), which enables them to produce products to sell and survive on the market. These 14 to 18 year old girls get an hour of literacy training in the morning and then spend the rest of the morning in their classes, learning and making their products., and they spend the afternoons selling their products on the market. They have to come up with their own evening meal and pay 50 CFA (= 10 US cents) to stay overnight. Staff of the house follow-up with them through daily visits on the market. They've just introduced a delivery service in time for Saturday breakfast, so today we enjoyed warm croissants and pastries for breakfast delivered to our cabin door at a fraction of the price they normally cost in the shops. A worthy cause to support and a most enjoyable start the weekend! Olly

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Assorted medical conditions

Most of the medical conditions that go through our operating rooms haven't been seen in the developed world for the last century. I remember that my great uncle Jack (who grew up with a poor diet and little sunshine in an industrial mill town in Lancashire) had rickets, and since he died in the early 1980s I don't think I've seen another case in the UK. Anyway, here are some of the many cases that are found in West Africa in huge numbers, which we can rectify through the Africa Mercy's 6 operating rooms:

Above, badly formed bones (like rickets maybe?)

Above, more badly formed bones - bilateral club foot.

Above, tumour.

Above, this lady is recovering from a goitre removal operation.

Above, the mother of all hernias.

Above, tumour, I'm guessing.

Above, another tumour. This lady is one of Sally's patients and has had excercises to bring her lip back into shape. She will come back to the ship in August for a bone graft onto the titanium plate that has replaced her lower jaw.

Above, oro-nasal fistula.

Above, cleft lip and palate.

This is Benin

A crewmate took this cool photo. It shows the Africa Mercy in the busy port of Cotonou, with the fishing fleet in the foreground and the larger broken down cargo ships to the front of our ship. Click on the photo to enlarge. Olly

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

An interesting bowel blockage

I met Octavia, a Liberian man, on the dock earlier this week who was sick with an stomach ulcer (or so he told me). Over the past 2 days he has got weaker as he has been unable to eat, and yesterday he collapsed at the Togolese border whilst trying to leave Benin, and was brought back to Cotonou by another Liberian. He confessed to me this afternoon that his "ulcer" is in fact a large diamond (worth $2 million?) that he swallowed 2 weeks ago in order to smuggle it out of Liberia to sell on behalf of one of Charles Taylor's generals, and he has been unable to pass it ever since. He is in agony and needs bowel surgery (which we are unable to do), but he is unwilling to present himself to a hospital because he will be arrested as soon as they realise what is blocking his bowel. What can I do? I managed to get some basic medical advice from a passing nurse who advised him to drink plenty of water and take medicine that will clear him out...so off he went to buy water and medicine. Maybe I'll see him again soon; maybe I won't. Dr Olly

Car imports

Fascinating fact: 30,000 cars a MONTH are imported into Benin from Europe & the USA; most are second-hand. 80% find their way into Nigeria, and the remainder are spread amongst Benin, Niger, Togo and other surrounding countries. The cars are carried in massive car-carrier ships, that look like floating apartment blocks, like the one below.
Here's a grainy photo of a car carrier arriving in the port, where it is about to be moored next to another one that has already discharged it's cargo.

What a fascinating fact! Olly

African soccer stadium tragedies 2000-09

29th March 2009; Abidjan, Ivory Coast: 19 fans died and more than 100 others were injured in a stampede before a World Cup qualifier between Ivory Coast and Malawi. This tragedy marked the ninth time this decade that fans were killed at a major soccer match in Africa -- and the fifth time at a World Cup qualifier:
23rd April 2000, Monrovia, Liberia: Three people suffocated as thousands of fans forced their way into an overcrowded stadium to watch a World Cup qualifying game between Liberia and Chad.
9th July 2000, Harare, Zimbabwe: 13 fans died after police fired tear gas into a crowd estimated at 50,000 during a World Cup qualifying game between Zimbabwe and South Africa
11th April 2001, Johannesburg, South Africa: 43 people were killed and 155 injured as fans try to push into an overcrowded Ellis Park to watch Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs.
29th April 2001, Lubumbashi, Congo: Seven people were crushed to death in a stampede after police fired tear gas into unruly crowd during a game between Lupopo and Mazembe, the top two teams in southern Congo.
9th May 2001, Accra, Ghana: The worst stadium disaster ever in Africa took place as at least 123 people died in a stampede after police fired tear gas into the stands in response to Asante fans who threw bottles and chairs on the field during the game between Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko.
11th October 2004, Lome, Togo: Four people were killed and another eight injured during a stampede after a power outage knocked out the lights at the end of a World Cup 2006 qualifier between Togo and Mali.
3rd June 2007, Lusaka, Zambia: 12 fans were crushed to death as a crowd rushed from the stadium after Zambia's victory in a 2008 African Cup qualifier against Congo.
1st June 2008, Monrovia, Liberia: At least eight fans were crushed and suffocated in melees outside the gates of an overcrowded Samuel K. Doe Stadium before a World Cup qualifier between Liberia and Gambia.
Huh. Olly

Second generation Lebanese

Today I met someone I've never met before - a second generation Lebanese African. His grandfather first settled in Guinea in the late 1940s, and Houssein (note the French spelling of Hussein) studied in Guinea and later in Paris and the USA. He speaks accentless English and French, and has never even been to the Lebanon. He travels on French & Guinean passports, and considers home to be Guinea, and he is very challenged by the Lebanese who come to Africa to make their fortune and send all their money back to the Lebanon without investing in Africa. An inspiration to ex-pats everywhere. Olly