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.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Giving blood

Friday 0.43am: Sally has just been called to give blood. When the phone rang I automatically thought it was Reception telling me I'd not scanned in. Right now she's on C Ward. I guess that means a patient is not doing well...Olly

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Non-slip Yovo legs

Some utter genius has come up with a great way of stopping plaster casts from slipping on the shiny tiled floors of the Hospitality Centre - strips of motor-cycle tyres are tied to the casts, thus providing a non-slip boot. Of course, radial and cross-ply shouldn't be mixed...Olly

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Reality check

Saturday 24th April: This morning, all 5 of our family went to the Africa Mercy's Hospitality Centre 3 kilometres from the ship, to spend time with the pre-op and post-op patients. And man, it brought us back down to earth with a bang. The only patients we see on the ship are those with dressings covering their wounds; we rarely get to see their conditions before their operations, but at the HC today I saw the worst case of burns I have ever seen - on a little boy, who had lost his upper lip, nose, left eye and left ear. How he survived these burns is a mystery for me. He tried to wear the sunglasses of one of the gals in our group, but they fell off because he had no nose or ear to keep them on. Maybe Dr Tertius will be able to give him a new nose and lip next week. We also saw a lady with facial tumours growing out of tumours - she must have 5 hanging off her cheeks and chin, a couple of them the size of footballs. Likewise, maybe she'll have a new face this time next week. Although our trips to the HC are always hot, uncomfortable and long (especially for our kids), they serve to remind us of what life is all about and why God has called us to work with Mercy Ships. Olly

Friday, 23 April 2010

Weevils

Sally opened a bag of cereal this morning that was absolutely crawling in weevils, and now they are everywhere, crawling along the worktops and shelves and even flying across the cabin. Huh. Olly

Coming and going (and croissants)

You'll be pleased to hear that our crew are freely coming and going again since flights to Europe have resumed, and last night our plastic surgeon arrived (albeit 4 days late), so plastics surgery can begin! Also our German baker Albert, whose return to Germany was delayed by a week because of "the ash", has successfully trained one of our Liberian crew to make croissants too, so EVERY DAY IS STILL CROISSANT DAY! Yippee. Olly

23rd April...

...is St Georges Day*. Jesse cooked us a fantastic British roast, with mushy peas, beef steaks, roast potatoes and proper gravy, and this evening we had a British get-together (yes, we've invited the Welsh, Scottish and Irish too so they don't feel left out) with typical British desserts - trifle, crumbles etc.


Libby, of course, is not British, so we left her alone, sobbing, in her bedroom. Just kidding. She went for a sleep-over with her friend Megan (which was much more exciting than hanging out with a load of old people eating weird food that doesn't contain rice). Olly

* St George is the patron saint of England.

Deck 8 update

The Lord has heard the cry of his servants on the Africa Mercy, and answered their prayers. The pool is almost fully painted in a most fetching blue and white...


...and today engineers Bowie and Jeff put a small amount of water into the pool to start testing the pump and filter mechanism...


I've been told the the big canopy that provides shade for us won't be put up until after our trip to South Africa, and there is still no movement on the climbing frame, but we're thankful for this huge step forward. Olly (for ONN)

Ship to shore

A very generous company in Holland has donated 15 ship-to-shore radios (like CB radios) to be installed on the ship and in half of the vehicles, so we can communicate with each other whilst driving in convoys, and we can also communicate with the ship in case of emergencies. And thus the BIG job of installing the radios begins - pictured are our electricians Michel from Holland and Phil from Canada, trying to sort out all those coloured wires. Olly

Engines

You'll be sad to hear that the timing belt broke yesterday on 973, and upon investigation the engine's valve sleeve thingies were very worn too. As luck would have it, Moses bought a new engine block in Ghana only a week ago, so Mathieu (pictured) will swap the engine components over tomorrow, and 973 should be running again by Monday or Tuesday. Good job lads. Olly

Camper van

This is Joel's legendary 25-year-old VW camper van that he drove all the way from Northern Ireland to Togo. See, I said I'd post a photo of it, didn't I? Olly

Plastic

Have you ever seen this many plastic buckets in one place? Obviously the plastic bucket industry is going well in Togo. Olly

Monday, 19 April 2010

Volcanic cloud -v- Africa Mercy crew update

I just heard about an enterprising Brit who is pulling out all the stops to make sure she's home in time for St Georges Day. She is planning on flying from Togo to Morocco; crossing the Gibraltar Straights by ferry; renting a car in Spain; driving across Spain and France; crossing the English Channel...and then will arrive home exhausted and penniless. But you've gotta do what you've gotta do, eh? Good luck lady! Olly

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Tragic

It's been a while since we were offered a baby for keeps. On several occasions when we lived in Liberia, complete strangers tried to persuade Sally to take their babies back to America with us (where they always thought we were from). Their reasoning: they had little chance of providing food, clothing, education, medicine, or a future for their children, and reckoned their babies would have a better chance living with the wealthy white family. Today John, one of my old Beninoise friends came to visit, with his wife and 3 year old daughter Shelby. Over a bowl of rice and fish, he asked me if Sally and I would consider adopting Shelby, as they had little chance of giving her a future in Benin. They were willing to say goodbye to their beautiful daughter, so that she would have a better life with us on the ship or in Europe. Absolutely tragic. Can you pray for the tens of thousands of parents in West Africa alone who can't afford to keep their children, and would rather give them away to a white family they hardly know? Olly

Doing a lot of good work for charity...

On Thursday night, two of our teachers had their heads shaved to raise funds for the whole of the Academy's staff to attend a teachers conference in Kenya. On the left, Mr Farrell (UK), on the right Mr Calvert (UK) with Paul-the-hairdresser (UK) in the middle. This event was part of a bigger Auction of Promises, which raised over $8,000 from crew alone.

Well done Tommy & Ben. Olly

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Liberia licence plates

I blogged recently about renewing our licence plates. The old Liberian licence plates are now being sold in the Ship Shop for $10 - most of the ANA and AFM plates have already gone, leaving only the old ANA plates left, which are the ones with the most history. I love these plates - they were made in 2005, less than 2 years after the war had finished, when Liberia was in total ruins and the Ministry of Transport didn't even have any spare licence plates to print (they were being made by a company in America, who wouldn't release them until Liberia paid their bill). So they found some old ones, squashed the old letters flat, and re-pressed them with our registration numbers, and then hand-painted them. You can still see the old numbers through the paint. Not only are they a piece of Mercy Ships history, but they are a piece of Liberian (and West African) history. A bargain at $10!

In the photo above, the original 2005 hand-painted plates aren't reflecting the camera's flash, whereas the newer 2007 machine-painted plates are! Another fascinating blog entry from Olly.

Volcanos and croissants

Thanks to the Icelandic volcano, a handful of crew are stuck on the ship and cannot return home via Paris, including Albert, our German baker, who has been feeding us mouth-watering croissants for the last 6 weeks. We thought that Thursday was his last day baking for us, but since all flights are grounded he baked for us again today, and maybe we'll get another day or two of croissants yet before Air France flies again (on Tuesday maybe). Thanks Albert, we will miss you, and look forward to you returning next year. Olly

Thursday, 15 April 2010

TV Chef/Travel Writer on his time in Liberia

A TV chef-come-travel-writer called Anthony Bourdain has just been in Liberia, and wrote the article below. He has captured the feel and pace of the country perfectly. And to think, that we were based there for nearly 4 years; a year of it living ashore. God kept us safe and (relatively) well throughout that time. Olly

I've been to what? Eighty, ninety countries? I've seen a lot of things. But no place has so utterly confounded me, intimidated, horrified, amazed, sickened, depressed, inspired, exhausted and shown me--with every passing hour--how wrong I was about everything I might have thought only an hour previous. This is a country, founded by freed slaves from America--and intended to be very much in our image-- but recently emerged from civil wars so brutal, so surrealistically violent as to defy imagining, where drugged gunmen in wedding gowns and wigs once shot hacked (and frequently cannibalized) their way into power. It is also a place where mothers and grandmothers stripped off their clothes and naked and unarmed, confronted those same gunmen mid-massacres, getting them to stop. It is now the first African nation with a woman president. It's a country where you find 28 year olds proudly graduating from high school--the school system having evaporated during the many years of conflict. There's a church on nearly every corner--but underneath it all, traditional "masked societies" still rule the hearts and minds and behaviors of many...

Almost nothing is left of the functioning (but deeply corrupt and unjust) society that once was. But peeking through the dust and the ruined buildings--there's something that looks very much like hope. It is a place where everywhere you look there are stories of incredible heroism and determination. Where nearly everyone must fight to live every day. It's also a place where one is reminded every day of the evil that men can do. And where vengeance..and even justice..are luxuries few can afford. Forgiveness--amazingly--seems the order of the day.
I am well aware that I am fundamentally inadequate to the task of "explaining" Liberia. I do know that it's the most difficult show we've ever done.

It's hot here. And by hot, I mean really, really, really hot. An absolutely pitiless sun beats down constantly, its skin peeling intensity in no way mitigated by the occasional cloud cover. If anything its rays are refracted--diffused--so somehow they envelop you from all sides. The air doesn't move. A puff of wind is an event. The ground is baking hot and the spaces--whether in crowded traffic of Monrovia or the dense vegetation of the bush--are close. Everybody--everybody--is covered with a thick sheen of sweat. On those rare occasions when your room does have an air conditioner or a slow moving fan, you will leave it and within moments find your clothes wringing wet as if you've just emerged from a pool.

Red dust from the roads mixes with the sweat, creating almost a paste around your collar and under your arms--clinging to everything. Even the cameras are covered with it. The air smells of burning palm fronds and I've been eating palm butter and food cooked in palm oil and drinking palm wine--and when people sweat around here--in the close quarters of the "palava hut" in Nimba Province, for instance: the whole village jammed together, or the airless scrabble club in Monrovia, or the markets, our sweat has the sharp, aromatic tang of palm oil. In fact, I'm tasting palm now--as I crawl back from the bathroom for the 50th time--soon to return. I've spent the last 12 hours back and forth, never sure which end to point at the bowl first. Utter misery.

One is never so lonely as when sick to one's stomach and far from home. What I crave between moans and prayers to every known deity is someone I love to hold a cold washcloth to my forehead and tell me,
"It's alright, baby...everything's gonna be alright..." What I've got is one of our (much needed) ex-SAS security "consultants" , who gives me some antibiotics and an emergency number to call should my condition worsen. He's got to accompany the crew into town to shoot B-roll--as personal safety is still very much......a concern. Hugs are not exactly his specialty in any case.

Later, still weak as the proverbial kitten, I'll drive down to Robertsport for a "surfing scene". I doubt I'll have the strength to paddle out--much less get up on a board. We've lost nearly two days shooting .

The NGO's and aid workers who've spent YEARS here are an amazement to me. Our new friend Dave, with a group called EQUIP, who build and maintain wells, train villagers in water purification and waste disposal, distribute mosquito nets (which save untold lives in and of themselves), provide shelters for rape victims and other vital services--has been here 25 YEARS. He's survived multiple bouts of malaria, hookworm, 2 wars, 4 mock executions--and still tears up thinking about how many kids he's saved.Still working hard every day--his family along side him. Me? I'm ready to fold after a week.

I don't know what kind of show we're going to come back with. The food, in a place where the majority survive on a diet of mostly cassava and the occasional bushmeat, is..dodgy, by Western standards. But you're going to see something. There's a story to tell for sure. I just wonder if I'm the guy to tell it.

To see original article by Anthony Boudain and all 129 comments, click on http://anthony-bourdain-blog.travelchannel.com/read/red-dust.

 

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Overlanders

I am meeting an increasing number of Overlanders - people who have driven to Togo (and beyond) overland from Europe. I have already mentioned our crewmate Joel who drove overland from Northern Ireland to Togo in a VW camper van. On Friday I met a Dutch couple who have driven here in a Land Rover - they are now shipping the Landy to South Africa, where they will meet it in a couple of weeks and then drive back to Holland via East Africa, the Middle East and Europe. On Sunday I met seven South Africans who have been living in London, but are returning to South Africa overland in a couple of Land Cruisers (which are very nice, I have to say). And I saw a Scottish Land Cruiser parked outside a local hotel recently...All very tempting, I must admit. Sounds like a lot of fun, and a big challenge. Olly

Friday, 9 April 2010

2011: Sierra Leone!

The Africa Mercy's 2011 field service is all set for Freetown, Sierra Leone. Yesterday, a protocol between Mercy Ships and the Government of Sierra Leone was signed, and a team from the ship will be heading there soon for assessment. The Peet family are delighted: for the last 6 months we have been praying that the next field service will be in Sierra Leone, and God answered our prayers. It will be great to be back in that corner of English speaking war torn West Africa again, and will also give us the opportunity to seek a visa for Libby to enter the UK at last! Please continue to pray with us that the process will go smoothly, and we will arrive in Freetown on schedule mid February 2011. Olly

Yovo legs

A couple of our Orthopaedics programmes use plaster casts as part of the treatment, which are referred to as "Yovo legs" by some of our young Togolese patients because they make their legs look white. A Yovo is a white man. Olly

Easter Day

On Easter Day, our Food Services Department excelled themselves in catering for the Easter Brunch - here are a couple of photos of some of the food. There were also a cooked option...hmmm...we didn't need lunch that day! Olly

Young people

We have a great crowd of young adults on the Africa Mercy right now. They are a blessing and a joy to hang out with. They are all very mature and responsible, and hilarious too, and keep Sally and me amused for hours. Thank you, young people, for making us feel younger again (I'm 41 next birthday!). Olly

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Deck 8 update

Mercy Ships Africa Mercy: Just before Christmas last, the kids climbing frame and awning canopy on Deck 8 were dismantled, and a new, steel, pool was lowered onto the deck. Today, the awning is still not back up again; the kids climbing frame is still not back up again, and the pool is still not open...and sadly looks like it will remain closed for the foreseeable future. It is incredibly frustrating for all the families: without the canopy to give us shade, and a pool to cool us down, Deck 8 is too hot to play on, and we have to leave the ship every weekend to amuse ourselves, which is costly. Please pray for our patience, and that progress can be made soon on re-erecting the canopy and the climbing frame and finishing off the pool, in the near future. Thanks. Olly

Kids (and teachers)

Have you ever wondered who teaches our kids? You Have? Well, here are some photos of our kids and their teachers.

Firstly, Libby and her teacher, Miss Estelle, from South Africa:


Now Anna and her teacher, Miss Amy, from the USA (who I can't get to shrink!):


And finally Noah and his teacher, Miss Haley, also from the USA (who did, obligingly, shrink!):

They are a dedicated bunch, and basically live in their place of work (or work in their home, whichever way you look at it). They are never off-duty: they are always Miss Estelle/Miss Amy/Miss Haley even in the evenings and at weekends, and even when we see them off ship. Olly

School photo

This is the latest photo of the kids and staff of the Africa Mercy's Academy, taken a couple of weeks ago here in Togo. Noah, Anna and Libby are all standing on the right hand side of the photo. Anna is not to be mixed up with another blonde haired little girl, her friend Fride (from Norway) on the left of the photo. Click on photo to enlarge. Olly

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Another picture of Anna and the President of Togo

...taken from a better angle by the ship's photographer. Olly

Thursday, 1 April 2010

What are these?

What are these? Well I'll tell you shall I? They are the two parts of a catamaran hull of a floating platform, that will be be used to service and repair the Port of Lome's many fenders (big old tyres hanging on chains) that stop ships scraping the piers and dock. The client is the Port; the contractor is COLAS, and the welders are SONACO.


The two hulls will shortly be joined together by the platform, off which two outboard engines will be mounted to propel the platform. A crane will be mounted too, for lifting the heavy tyres and other fenders. The barge will be launched "in a month", and we will celebrate, oh yes! Olly

Registering vehicles Togo style

How to register all 27 Mercy Ship vehicles in Togo:

Step 1: Fill in and submit three identical forms for each vehicle (using carbon paper: photocopies are not acceptable). Registration documents and new registration numbers are generated from these forms.

Step 2: 9.38am. Go to the Department of Transport, and collect the forms from the Chief of the Transport Division (very nice man by the way).

Step 3: 9.41am. This man fills a bit more in on the forms, and signs them:

Step 4: 9.58am. This man fills a bit more in on the forms, and signs them:

Step 5: 10.03. This man fills a bit more in on the forms, and signs them:

Step 6: 10.04am. This man fills a bit more in on the forms, and signs them:

Step 7: 10.07am. This man fills a bit more in on the forms, and signs them:

Step 8: 10.12am. A policeman fills a bit more in on the forms, and signs them:

Step 9: 10.14am. This man photocopies the forms:

Step 10: 10.18am. This man signs the photocopies:

Step 11: 10.21am. The policeman matches the photocopies with some other bits of paper:

Step 12: 10.25am: A man checks the chassis number on the vehicle, and signs the form:

Step 13: 10.33am. Another man confirms the work that the last guy just did:

Step 14: A lady generates another form on a computer:

Step 15: 10.43am. Now we're making progress. Mathieu removes #993's old Liberian licence plate.

Step 16: 11.03am. The new Togolese licence plate arrive, hot off the press:

Step 17: 11.08am. Rivet Man rivets the new plates to the vehicle. Nice:

Step 18: 11.14am. Awaiting an inspection of road worthiness:

Step 19: 11.16am. The vehicles go into a big shed for a high-tech inspection:

Step 20: 11.27am. Peter, Mathieu and Edam waiting nervously for the results:

Step 21: 11.51am. The examiner sticks the "pass" sticker in the window:

Step 22: 11.54am. We're done. Thumbs up all round:

Interestingly, all of our vehicles have passed the inspection so far, despite failing to reach the required standard by not having things like a First Aid Kit, or a defective reverse light. I wonder what it would take to actually fail the inspection.
A great morning out. You should try it some time. Honest. Olly