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.

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.

Alba

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...

...to 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...

...to our hard working Engineers. Olly

Say Hi...

...to 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

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Bugs

The decks of our ship are covered in bugs right now. Flies, mosquitoes, acid bugs, big grasshoppers, praying-mantis', all kinds and shapes of beetles and moths...it is an extraordinary plague of Biblical proportions (well, almost)...Olly

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Dinner with Mr President

Tuesday 17th November, 11pm: This evening we had dinner with His Excellency Yayi Boni, the President of Benin; just me and Sally and our kids, oh and 320 other Africa Mercy crew. He invited us all to the Presidential Palace, which is rather...er...presidential (in a 1970s kind of way). The evening was mixed: 2 hours of sitting in a suit in a very hot big room whilst buses ferried the rest of the crew from the ship to the Palace; then a stampede for drinks (where both glasses and soft drinks actually ran-out), followed by half an hour of speeches in French, repeated in English, and an award ceremony where he recognised some of the crew...followed by an excellent buffet meal whilst we watched some traditional Beninoise dancing. The kids (in fact, all the ship kids) were awake and well behaved and with us throughout...they have only just fallen asleep now (11pm)...A long evening, but quite pleasant, and very special; it is not often that all the crew are in their best clothes and on their best behaviour, and tonight was that night! Thank you Mr President! Olly

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Liberia Electricity Corp's customer base to reach 2000 by year end. Alright!

MONROVIA – Efforts by the Government of Liberia to improve the expansion of electricity to Monrovia and its environs through the Liberia Electricity Corporation received a major boost recently with the arrival of four HUGE transformers, which have been set up at four key Monrovia sub-stations: Kru Town, Bushrod Island, Capitol Hill, and Paynesville sub-stations, thereby increasing the number of electricity users in the capital when made operational. The equipment is a deliverable of the European Commission-funded Monrovia grid rehabilitation project being implemented by ELTEL Networks AB, a Swedish electrical company hired by the European Commission at a total cost of about 13 million Euros. ELTEL has also been rebuilding 27 kilometers of 66/22 Kv transmission and distribution lines from Bushrod Island through Vai Town to central Monrovia, parts of Paynesville and in Gardnersville along the Somalia Drive. The expansion drive by the LEC will see the distribution network increase from 12 kilometers to 45 kilometers to include building additional medium and low voltage lines. LEC's customer base is expected to grow from 700 to more than 2,000 customers by the end of this year. As part of the improvement of the transmission and distribution system, ELTEL Networks is replanting the tubular poles on Somalia Drive, which were uprooted at the commencement of the project, but was erroneously reported in the media as being sold to scrapped dealers. Meanwhile, the Government of Liberia has made available more than US$500,000 to the LEC for the purchase of low voltage materials, some of which have already arrived at the Corporation for the connection of customers. Taken from http://www.liberianobserver.com/node/2899

Friday, 13 November 2009

Another photo...

...Presentation of five-year anchor pins to six crew members on the Africa Mercy on Wednesday. Left to Right: Alison Briesman (OR supervisor) - New Zealand; Lena (seated) - Sweden & Lars Kristensen (1st Officer) - Denmark; Don Stephens (Founder & President of Mercy Ships, seated); Kevin Yangas (Chaplain) - USA; Ann & Ken Berry (Managing Director, Africa Mercy); Deyon (co-founder, seated); Olly & Sally Peet (Transportation Manager & Speech Therapist) - UK.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Five-year awards

This evening Sally and I received our 5-year awards from Don & Deyon Stephens, the founders of Mercy Ships. Photo by Noah. Olly

Another big grey French war-ship

Three days ago another French Navy ship arrived in the port of Cotonou. I understand it's called an amphibious something-or-other: it carries landing craft and high-speed launches, and can lower itself into the water so the smaller boats can sail out of it's hold (as I've tried to show in the photos below). Olly

Anastasis painting

We were given this print of a painting of the Anastasis earlier this week. Nice eh? Thanks Marcel & Annette. Olly


Happy Libby Day

Today we celebrate Libby being part of the Peet family for four whole years! Olly

Sunday, 8 November 2009

First diving injuries

I've now dived under the Africa Mercy 49 times without any sickness or injury...although on our last dive both Shawna and I got some kind of irritation causing a nasty rash...


...we were scraping the hull in preparation for our sail north, and both got something into our wetsuits - maybe it was bits of jellyfish or those red spongy things we scraped off...Next dive we'll wrap duct tape around our wrists to keep the stuff out. Olly

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Making salt

Across the lagoon from Babs Dock is a very weird landscape:

Dominique told me it is where locals make salt during the dry season. The sand is rich in salt - it is placed in the baskets, and fresh water is poured through to wash the salt out into the collecting bowl below. The salt-rich water is then boiled away over cooking fires, and the salt is collected. Very resourceful, eh?

However, like most ingenious things in West Africa there are drawbacks. The cooking fires use up huge amounts of wood, resulting in local deforestation. And the "home-made" salt is iodine-free, so many local people suffer from conditions due to a lack of iodine in their diets, such as Thyroid conditions and goiters. Olly

Remembering Guy Fawkes

Last Thursday night, 5th November, we remembered Guy Fawkes along with a few other Brits, with a packet of sparklers on the dock. Fawkes belonged to a group of Roman Catholic restorationists in England who planned the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 - their aim was to displace Protestant rule by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. Fawkes was arrested a few hours before the planned explosion, during a search of the cellars underneath Parliament in the early hours of 5 November prompted by the receipt of an anonymous warning letter. To this day many people still believe that Fawkes in the only man to enter Parliament with honest intentions! Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire Night, is celebrated throughout the UK every year with bonfires, fireworks and sparklers. Our attempt was a little feeble, but not bad considering...Olly

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

More goat abuse

Thanks to Murray for this photo of live goats tied to this guys motorbike. Poor little things. Olly

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Our cook

Introducing Jesse, our Head Cook, from Canada. He has a passion for serving good quality food, even if the ingredients aren't always very inspiring. Food standards have risen amazingly since his arrival earlier in the year - we are very blessed by having him here. A well fed crew is, indeed, a happy crew...Olly

Castles in the sand

Our Canadian crew doctor and I (and other dads from time to time) recently built two big sand castles on Benin's only safe beach (El Dorado). The first photo is of a mythical cathedral-style castle (of ancient England maybe?), and the second is a faithful reproduction of the Citadel in Halifax (Canada, not West Yorkshire). Sand castle building is a strange concept in Benin - one beach security guard needed a lot of persuading that the sea would level the castle very easily (and it wouldn't need demolishing), and as soon as we had turned our back on the last sand castle we built, it was occupied by fully grown Lebanese men, who continued playing in it like children. Olly

Last Fire Drill

Our last fire drill was in Reception. S'funny, people just can't understand a word you say when you answer the phone wearing breathing apparatus! That's me on the far right of the picture. Olly

Monday, 2 November 2009

My latest purchase

I try to purchase a painting in every port city we operate in, that will remind me of that city in years to come. My choice for Cotonou is this one below; cheap and badly drawn (in fact, Sally hates it), but unique to Benin, and slightly humorous too. Olly

M/V Sharon

One of our favourite little ships that visits Cotonou is the M/V Sharon - the blue freighter on the right in the photo below. Registered in Guinea, she is crewed by English speaking Ghanaian and Nigerian crew, who are very nice guys - their bosun even knows our bosun, and I enjoyed taking Anna and Libby for a tour of their ship a few weeks ago. The Sharon survives by taking charters to carry freight along the West African coast (in fact, they used to work the coast of Liberia until they arrived in Cotonou last month). Their most recent charter has, however, got them into very serious trouble - they were chartered to take cargo and over 300 passengers from Benin to Gabon (further down the coast of West Africa) but weren't allowed to land the passengers because they didn't have the right documents and weren't a passenger-carrying vessel...so they were sent back to Cotonou and the ship was promptly seized by the authorities. Our friends the Captain and the Chief Engineer are now in prison in Cotonou, but will be released soon, I hear. The real culprit is the charterer, who is facing prosecution and imprisonment. Yesterday a TV crew from Canal 3 turned up to film the vessel; today it is heavily guarded by armed soldiers and various Police divisions...



Below, a senior Marine from Benin's Armed Forces talking to the Police...
Below, Immigration Police standing by...
Below, an army gunboat standing by...
This investigative report was brought to you by Olly...

Sunsets

Berthed almost north/south, we don't get to see many cool sunsets in Benin - the sprawling port lies between us and the horizon. But last week was an exception - we had absolutely spectacular sunsets on a couple on nights. Wow, eh? Olly