Monday, 28 September 2009

Long haired Libby (again)

Monday 28th September, 6.30pm: Since 1pm Libby has been sitting still, watching movie after movie, having her hair braided by Lattie, a 20 year old Beninoise apprentice hair braider. A long process, but the finishing results look great, eh? Olly

Bye bye dredger? NO!

Yesterday I thought the dredger Argonaut I was departing Cotonou having finished her I heard that she had stopped dredging operations only because a fishing net was snared in her pumps. I had the opportunity to walk on the dock alongside her whilst her engineers were working on clearing the net, and could clearly see the 60ft long arm that is lowered to the seabed, which scrapes and sucks up silt. Today, she's dredging again (5 weeks and counting). Another fascinating blog entry by Olly

Chicken abuse

Further to my blog entry "Goat abuse" of 8th June, herewith Chicken Abuse! This is a popular way to carry chickens around town whilst trying to sell them. Poor chickens though. Olly

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Dive article

There's a badly written article on the Mercy Ships Alumni Website about the work of the Africa Mercy's Dive Team. Click here to read it. Olly

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Johnny Mad Dog

A few weeks ago my good friend Eric emailed me to say he had just found a bootleg copy of the movie "Johnny Mad Dog" on the streets of Grenada. The movie was filmed in Monrovia in 2007 and is about a rebel army's advance upon their capital city with a view to removing the president from power and to kill his supporters. Eric saw the filming of the fighting on the old bridge, and I saw the filming of fighting in the burnt-out tower block off Broad Street (the Roe building?). Today I found the movie on the streets of Cotonou, and bought a copy, and have just watched it. It contains a continuous stream of four letter words and depicts many brutal murders at the hands of child soldiers. I could try to describe it more myself, but thought I'd use Eric's words instead: "While this movie is an adaptation of a Congolese book, the movie never names which country it is, preferring it to be a symbol for all of the countries that experienced a civil war in the 1990's, I guess. But not only is this movie filmed in the country where much of this happened, it also films where the exact same battles took place. New Bridge and Old Bridge both saw serious fighting on them during the war, and the many bullet holes in the light posts remain there to this day. Between the drug use, the child soldiers, the raping and pillaging, scenes from this movie seem to be lifted directly from accounts of Liberia's 14-year civil war, and since many ex-child soldiers were used, it has an air of authenticity you may never see so strongly in another movie. Case in point...even Liberia's most famous soldier, Joseph Duo, has a major part in the movie. If you've spent time in Liberia and developed as much of an interest in the country as me, or if you'd just like to catch a glimpse of the Anastasis, I would highly recommend this movie. It's raw, but it is undeniably realistic". Click on to see some shots from the movie which include the Anastasis in the background. I guess some people will think the film was made in an expensive and realistic set; we know better - every shot shows Monrovia as it was at the height of the fighting and how it remains today. And clearly the movie was made in Monrovia - the Lone Star flag can be seen in several scenes. Tragic. Olly

Tuesday, 22 September 2009


This is Eliana (carrying Libby). She worked as a cook on the Africa Mercy for 4 weeks in the summer holidays, and we were her "parents" during this time. She was such great fun, and we all loved her! She was a wonderful big sister to our kid, especially Libby.We miss her still! Olly

Monday, 21 September 2009

Cotonou's concrete jungle

One of our Chaplains sent me this photo, of Cotonou from the air. The city is home to 1.2 million people (and their 80,000 small motorcycles) and seemingly sprawls on and on forever. Our 2010 Field Service will be in Lome, in neighbouring Togo, which is apparently a much smaller city geographically, and has a population of only 730,000 (and less small motorcycles too); I am already looking forward to being closer to the countryside than we currently are. Olly 

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Coolest hazardous materials sign!

I found this sign on a truck from Tennessee which is for sale, here in Benin. The sign's leaves turn over like pages in a book, so the one sign actually shows six plus warning signs which can be changed to show whatever hazardous load the truck is carrying. Maybe these signs are common in the US and UK now, but I've never seen one before and think it is the coolest thing since sliced bread. Modelled by Anna. Olly

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Speech Therapy on the Africa Mercy

Here's an article about Sally's work, written by Megan Petock, one of the Africa Mercy's PR team: “Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). The ability to communicate is powerful, allowing us to share ideas and engage in relationships. There are many mediums through which we communicate, including imagery, touch, and the written word. But our most frequent and arguably most powerful channel of communication is speech. Speech allows us to quickly articulate emotions, opinions, and thoughts. It’s a powerful ability. Some patients onboard the Africa Mercy are discovering this power for the first time. Maxillofacial operations are an integral part of the surgical schedule during Mercy Ships 2009 Field Service in Benin. Many maxillofacial patients, particularly those with cleft lips/palates, have spent their lives communicating with impeded speech. Facial malformations of the oral and nasal passages, in conjunction with weakened lip muscles, make it impossible to articulate normal sounds. Impediments can range in severity from difficulty producing a few sounds to a complete inability to form understandable words. Living with a speech impediment is embarrassing and frustrating. Often children are not sent to school because they can’t properly communicate. This lack of education stagnates their mental and relational development, causing problems that will follow them into their adult years. Restoring speech to a child can spare him or her from a lifetime of anguish. Surgically correcting the facial anatomy is the first step to restoring speech. However, even after the facial anatomy is corrected, many still have difficulties speaking. Post-operative speech therapy is needed to retrain the mouth and throat to correctly form sounds. “Even though the surgery is complete and successful, and they look more normal, it’s the therapy that’s going to make them sound better,” said speech therapist Sally Peet. “Just because the anatomy is corrected doesn’t mean they are able to use it to speak properly. Therapy is a huge part of making the surgery a success.” Sally Peet of the United Kingdom has been a licensed speech therapist since 1994. Since 2004, she and her family have served with Mercy Ships. Currently, she provides speech therapy for patients onboard the Africa Mercy. Sally described her work: “I work with the maxillofacial patients, mainly the cleft lips and the cleft palates. However, any surgery that’s interrupted the facial muscles may have a need for therapy. For example, when a patient has a large facial tumour removed, their skin and lips become flaccid, affecting their speech and their ability to control saliva. I work with them, as well as the cleft lip patients, to make sure their lips are strong.” Patients with speech difficulties are referred to Sally post-operatively by the Africa Mercy nursing staff. She works individually with each patient, evaluating their needs and providing exercises to strengthen weakened muscles. Also, she encourages the proper usage of restored facial anatomy. “Many patients have found a way of ineffectively talking around huge malformations and have spoken incorrectly for years. The initial goal is to ensure the anatomy where the surgery has taken place will now be functional,” said Sally. She works with patients throughout their time on the ward. When they leave the hospital, they come back to the Africa Mercy for outpatient appointments – sometimes for several months after their surgery. “I can achieve more with the ones who live closer, because I can see them for a longer period of time,” said Sally. She describes a memorable patient she worked with for over three months during the 2008 Field Service in Liberia: “There was a beautiful little girl with a cleft lip and palate. She spoke without using any constants sounds, and you could not understand her when she talked. She and her mum worked incredibly hard in therapy. By the time we finished, she was totally intelligible and making every sound correctly. Her mother said all her aunties in her village were dancing because now, not only does she look beautiful, she sounds beautiful.” Providing speech therapy is just one example of Mercy Ships commitment to holistic care for patients through the partnership of various professional skills. Sally Peet is thrilled to be partnering with the Africa Mercy’s surgical and nursing staff to provide hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor. “I love providing speech therapy. It’s great to be working in my profession onboard the Africa Mercy,” she concluded.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Diving again

On Friday I dived with the best ever visibility I have ever seen in Cotonou (all of about 3 feet!). We took an underwater camera with us...hope you enjoy a couple of the shots we took (which show me, some fish and some underwater vegetation). Olly

The streets of Cotonou

Here are a load of photos I found (also on the ship's transfer drive) of motorcycles, cars & trucks on the streets of Cotonou, with their heavy loads. Look out for the guy carrying furniture and another guy carrying a fridge/freezer, both on the back of their motorbikes. Olly


Here are some photos I found (on the ship's transfer drive) of a couple of patients receiving surgery for nasty looking tumours. Ouch. They'll be glad to have got rid of them! Olly

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Construction project finished: Agriculture centre opens

The Africa Mercy's main construction project has just been completed: the agriculture training school, which will be run by Bethany, a local Christian NGO, was opened in a ceremony on Thursday (10th September). The centre includes sleeping accommodation for 25 students and a classroom, and is surrounded by sufficient land to allow each student to have his own plot to experiment and learn with. Photos of the construction site when I visited in early June, and during the opening ceremony last week. Olly

Dredger STILL here!

Sunday 13th September: This morning it took 30 men (engineers, deckies, linesmen and a pilot) and two tugs over three hours to shift the Africa Mercy 200 metres along the dock, so the dredger Argonaut I could dredge in our usual berth...we had scarcely re-opened the gangway in our new position when a message came back from the dredging company that their survey ship reckoned our berth was deep enough and didn't need dredging after all! (I could have told them that! I know precisely how deep the water is under our ship)...anyway, we're schduled to move back to our original berth in the next couple of hours. A very pleasant way to spend a Sunday, eh? Olly

Friday, 11 September 2009

Eye eye

The Africa Mercy's eye team has recently been fitting prosthetic eyes, which are (so I gather) more like giant contact lenses that cover the patient's dead eye (not completely artificial eyeballs), as the photos show. I understand the benefit is that the prosthetic cover and dead eye beneath can still move with the good eye. Olly

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Liberian president in Benin

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia is here visiting President Yayi Boni of Benin. Yesterday one of her sons came to the Africa Mercy. Today I saw her high-spead convoy heading towards the airport, surrounding by Beninoise police and army, past Liberia and Benin flags hanging from the street lights. Its a pity she couldn't find the time to visit us on the ship. Photo of both presidents on Boni's visit to Liberia in 2007. Olly

Monday, 7 September 2009

Happy Birthday Anna

Anna is 8 today! We had a party for her on Saturday night (with games, a cake and a movie), and another cake today. Olly

Wanna buy a car?

I blogged a while ago that every month 30,000 used vehicles come into Benin from Europe and North America. They are sold from massive vehicle "parks" which are run by Lebanese, for use in Benin and neighbouring West African countries. Here are some photos you might find interesting. I saw every kind of modern car and van; big trucks, dump trucks, cement trucks, break-down trucks, garbage trucks, mobile cranes, diggers, excavators, road-rollers and skip trucks...everything, in fact, except snow ploughs. I even saw a handful of ex-British army trucks. Olly

Sunday, 6 September 2009

North Koreans

Today we met some North Korean seamen, who were from the bulk carrier Jip Sam, importing cement into Benin. I've met plenty of South Koreans before, but never any North Koreans; in fact I was astonished that they were even allowed out of North Korea such is the image of the country as we see it on the news. They were nice guys and we had a chat; they said they were happy with their president Kim Jong-il who is the commander of the fourth largest army in the world (5,995,000 soldiers) and just a wee bit scary if you're from South Korea (with 5,210,000 soldiers). Olly

Friday, 4 September 2009