Saturday, 27 June 2009


Cotonou's fishing fleet is based only a stone's throw from the Africa Mercy. The fleet consists of hundreds of wooden canoes of all sizes which come and go at all hours - I even see them heading in and out in the wee small hours - powered by outboard engines or sails or paddles. The crews are very brave - none have life jackets or radios, and sometimes they fish miles away from shore with waves breaking into their canoes constantly. I imagine that many fishermen perish every year in this way. But when storms are threatening, they wisely fish in the waters just outside the port: this morning I counted over 70 canoes fishing together, as grey storm clouds loomed at sea. Click on photo to enlarge. Olly

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Sick again

2009 has been a bad year so far for the health of many of the crew of the Africa Mercy, as sicknesses go round and around, time after time. Sally and I have both had flu twice, and a stinking cold each. And today Noah, Anna and Libby all came down with it - all three now have high temperatures and plenty of snot, and are very miserable. So they aren't enjoying their summer vacation, and Sally is having to stay in the cabin to nurse them, instead of spending more time on the ward. As for me, I was unable to dive this week or use breathing apparatus during today's fire drill because I'm recovering from the stinking cold I had last weekend. I hope we are all well by Tuesday, when my parents arrive for a week on the ship with we'd appreciate your prayers. Thanks. Olly

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Ships at anchor

From Deck 8, I counted 39 ships at anchor outside the Port of Cotonou this evening. That equates to millions of dollars of lost (or delayed) revenue, as these ships are either waiting to come into a berth in the port, or are waiting for a job elsewhere. Olly

Monday, 22 June 2009

More photos of new hypermarche

Sally and I enjoyed exploring the Erevan Hypermarche this morning at a leisurely pace whilst the kids were in the ship's Summer Program. It really does stock everything that an ex-pat in Benin needs, and all at reasonable prices. Enjoy the photos.

Below, from the outside.

Below, the entrance foyer.

Below, the fresh fruit and veg stall: small but perfectly formed.

Below: everything you can imagine.

Below: the car-care items.

Below: flat-packed furniture.

Below, some empty shelves still waiting their stock.

Below: fancy a bbq?

Below, one of several deli counters.

Below: a huge variety of ice cream.

Below: a huge variety of wines.

OK - so you are probably reading this blog from the US or Europe, and thinking "so whats the big deal?". But if you are familiar with West Africa, you will probably be as amazed as we are that a store like this has opened in Benin, of all places. With the occasional exception (like Abi Joudi supermarket in Monrovia), most supermarkets in West Africa are small and maybe smelly, and crammed full of dusty stock from America, Europe, South Africa and the Arab world, some of which is a long way out-of-date. If a store like Erevan had opened in Liberia when we lived there, our lives would have been so much easier. Olly


In Cotonou alone, there are approximately 80,000 zemidjans (motorcycles for hire, much like taxis). The whole economy depends upon zemis - people rely on them for everything from the day they are born until the day they die. Here, another crew member managed to take some photos of zemis on the streets of Cotonou, and what they can carry. Olly

Saturday, 20 June 2009

New hypermarche opens

Today, Hypermarche Erevan opened near the airport in Cotonou. Oh my gosh - I have never seen ANYTHING like it in West Africa - it is something straight out of Europe selling everything a European hypermarket would sell, only with less fresh fruit. I didn't have my camera with me, but I found these photos on the internet of the hypermarche under construction, which gives you some idea of the size of the place:

If I remember rightly, opening hours are 1000 to 1400 and 1600 to 2000 weekdays; 1000 to 2100 on Saturdays and 0900 to 1300 on Sundays. I'll try to take some photos and post them asap. Olly

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Sun burn

On Saturday we spent the day at El Dorado beach, enjoying the top quality and beautifully maintained (ha ha) beach huts. Despite the rain clouds we all got a little sun-burnt - even Noah, who had three applications of sun block to his face. In the photo you can plainly see the line left by his swimming goggles, and four days later we can still see the mark (poor lad). Olly

Libby grows up

Hot on the heels of Anna, Libby has started losing her teeth. On Monday night I was washing her face and inadvertently poked a tooth out! Whoops! Two big teeth are already here, which are pushing out her baby teeth. She may actually be six months older than the four and a half years we think she is. Yesterday our good friends Ken & Caroline in Tenerife emailed to point out that it was the International Day of the African Child - and we didn't even know it. Sorry African children everywhere. Today I will make a point of celebrating our very own African child, and thanking God for her! Olly

Il pleu

Yes, rainy season is here. It seems to have come later than I expected, and will apparently be shorter, but the rain in Cotonou is just as thick as we experienced in Monrovia. During the last week we have enjoyed many spectacular rain and thunder storms at night, but now they are moving into the daytime too. A welcome break to the suffocating heat of the weeks before but badly timed: this is the second week of the school vacation. Interesting fact I heard today: BENIN'S RAINY SEASON HAS LESS RAIN THAN LIBERIA'S DRY SEASON. Olly

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

I'm in print!

A brief news item I recently wrote has been printed in Land Rover Owner International Magazine (the world's best selling Land Rover magazine). Here's kind of what I said (after the PR guys and the editors had re-worded it): "Mercy Ships, the charity that provides medical care and humanitarian services to the people of Africa, is looking for spare parts for 300 Tdi Defenders, as well as volunteer mechanics to help its vital work on the world's largest charity hospital ship, the Africa Mercy...which embarked on a ten-month outreach in Benin this February to provide vital surgeries that will save thousands of lives. The outreach project was (is?) supported by a fleet of 21 Land Rovers run by Olly Peet, the charity's transportation manager. Peet said "our medical crew and construction teams rely heavily on our Defenders for driving deep into the bush. It is a challenge keeping the Land Rovers in good working order with limited spare parts, when they're continually being damaged by some of the worst roads in the world"...For full article and a photo see page 16 of the June LRO magazine, available at all good newsagents, out now! Olly

Thursday, 11 June 2009

The Galley

Last week, Anna's class had a trip to the galley. Jesse-The-Cook had help making his burgers, and Eddie-The-Baker had help making his bread. Olly

Fantastic recycling programme

Whilst visiting our construction and agriculture sites on Tuesday, I was shown a brilliant recycling project that Bethesda (our partners in Benin) were running, but which has lost funding and so has come to a halt. The City's garbage trucks carried mountains of garbage out into the countryside (below, which has mercifully been recently covered by vegetation)...

...Then the Bethesda guys sorted the mountains of garbage. Metals were sold for their scrap iron content, and plastics were melted and mixed with sand, and poured into molds to make...paving blocks!

What a brilliant idea, and a great way to recycle the billions of plastic bags that are wasted every year in Cotonou. Shame the project couldn't continue. Most of Cotonou's streets are paved with interlocking concrete paving blocks: I think these recycled plastic ones would have been a good alternative. Olly

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Agriculture project

Yesterday I visited the Mercy Ships agriculture project, located an hours drive from the ship. Mercy Ships has partnered with Bethesda, a local NGO: we are building an accommodation block for agricultural trainees, and training a dozen trainers in agricultural techniques, and Bethesda will continue the project when we sail away. Below, Ken Winebark from Mercy Ships shows us his demonstration garden where corn and beans are being grown.

Below, Ken & Jean-Claude (also from Mercy Ships) training Beninoise trainers.

Below, construction of the 25-bed accommodation block for the students.

A great and long-lasting project! Olly

Diving again

Yesterday was my tenth dive under the Africa Mercy. Visibility was not as good as the day before, but I got some good(ish) photos with our camera that is waterproof to 4 metres. Enjoy the photos. Olly

Below, me!

Below, me and my dive-buddy, Jana.

Below, again.

Below, the side of the Africa Mercy, thick with marine growth. It's been 18 months since the bottom and sides were cleaned and painted, and our long months of being moored in one spot are beginning to show...

Below, a big scary jelly fish.

Below: me climbing out after the dive.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Goat abuse

A fellow crew-member took this photo. What an ingenious way to carry a goat (unless you really object to having goat poo down your back). Obviously Benin doesn't have a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Olly

Saturday, 6 June 2009

End of school

Yesterday the kids finished school for the summer. Yippee! They now have a nine week vacation (although the excellent and fun Summer Program will be running for six weeks of those nine). For now, they've got two whole weeks to rest and play after over five solid months of lessons: they have only had 4 or 5 days of holiday since January. We are all looking forward to the change of pace over the summer. Olly

Above, all the kids cheering the end of school at a party on Deck 8 (and Libby showing off her flat belly button).

Above, it's also the saddest time of year, as Libby says goodbye to Miss Sandy...

And Anna says goodbye to Miss Emily.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Diving again

In Liberia, the arrival of the rainy season produced poor diving conditions as millions of gallons of muddy water were washed into the port. Bizarrely, in Benin the opposite is happening - the dirt washed into the port seems to settle the sediment. I dived after rain on Tuesday and today, and on both occasions visibility was excellent. On Tuesday I dived right under the Africa Mercy, and could even see light coming from the other side. Below us was what can only be described as a fog of sediment that was hanging low to the seabed. Today we swam through a shoal of small fish which glimmered in the was just like diving in a resort (except for the floating garbage that was clogging our cooling intakes). Next time I'll try to take a water-proof camera down with us. Olly

A week in photos

A new family photo...

Heads for sale in the market for voodoo practice...

Construction team hard at work...

Dennis cutting off the port side skirting around the pilot entrance...

The last day of school: the kids in their graduation outfits...

Libby graduating from Preschool into Kindergarten...

Anna graduating into Grade 3 (I think)...

And Noah graduating into Grade 5 (maybe?)...

Sally & Libby having a kip...