Tuesday, 22 November 2011

A job for Sally

Today Sally had a job interview at Noah's school - for the position of Teaching Assistant in the English Department. And she got the job! Starts Monday! Yeah! Now I can retire. Olly

And here she at the Lyme Regis Cobb earlier this year.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Here's a cool photo...

...of Liberians hauling a fibre-optic cable ashore in Liberia, which will effectively bring broadband to the country for the first time EVER!

Yeah! Olly

Saturday, 19 November 2011


We love Sherborne. A small city with a population of only 10,000, it still feels like a small town from days gone by. It has an abbey over 900 years old, and the one shopping street is made up almost solely of ancient stone buildings. At this time of year, the whole town smells of fallen leaves and woodsmoke from hundreds of wood-burners and open fires. Lovely!

Photo of the abbey, taken by Dr Keith Chapman.

You wanna come stay? We're having our garage converted JUST FOR YOU! Olly

Please pray...

...for Liberia. Elections have been and gone, but the opposition boycotted them and thus won't recognise the fair election results and encouraged demonstrations leading to riots and a couple of deaths. Please pray that peace is restored soon, and that the current president can start her second term well and get on with re-building her country again.
...for the Africa Mercy. Thursday was the last day for surgeries in Sierra Leone; now the pace changes as the hospital is packed away, the Hope Centre is closed down, and the ship is loaded and prepared to sail.
...for Sierra Leone, as the population is left to manage their own health care without help from one of the most effective aid organisations on the planet.

Sunday, 13 November 2011


Oh dear, such a lot has happened since I last blogged. We moved into our own house on 10th October - here it is:
We have been very blessed by an awesome God: 5 bedrooms, three bathrooms and a MASSIVE kitchen/dining room, for way less than our three-bedroom ex-council house in Harpenden.
The kids are doing really well in school - in fact they are thriving - and Sally is getting to know the mums at drop-off and pick-up time.
My work at the stone-splitting factory ceased about 6 weeks ago, so I took up gardening and DIY until the weather got wetter and cooler. Last week I got a temp job in the warm and dry office of a local cheese company. It'd be great if the job became permanent and I could stay on after Christmas.
I'm still listening to KLOVE - my daily dose and inspiration!
Now that we are settled and praying about being here, God is leading me to volunteer with Yeovil Street Pastors one or two nights a month - see www.streetpastors.org.uk - they patrol the city centre streets every Friday and Saturday nights, bringing Christ's love to the revellers...
What else? Oh yeah, we've had a steady procession of ship-mates visiting us: Keith, Alison, Jesse, Barry & Cheryl. It has been simply great to catch up with ship news.
Bye for now, gotta go iron some shirts. Olly

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Catching up

It's been a while. So I'm catching up. TWO WEEKS AGO the kids started at British schools - and here they are in their new uniforms. It was great to know that people all over the world were praying for them (and we certainly surrounded their first day in prayer): all three had a great time and continue to do so, praise God.

I am still adjusting to life in the UK and am amazed at how long it's taking me to get over being home-sick for the ship and West Africa (anyone else still suffering right now?). My therapy is listening to KLOVE from the States in the evenings (isn't Amanda brilliant?). We are attending a good church in Yeovil that has a few West Africans in it, who all adore Libby, and one of whom has already cooked us rice and chicken and beans (and another has promised Jollof rice!). I am still building stone-splitters, and still asking myself what my new life's all about. Sally is trying to renew her registration as a British speech therapist. Hopefully this week we'll finalise selling our house in Hertfordshire and buying one in the South West, although we won't be able to move in until early October (by which time we will have been living with my parents for 3 whole months, God bless 'em).

Ooh - did I already say that it's the coldest British summer in 20 years? How I long to be hot and sweaty again!

Bye for now, write soon. Olly

Monday, 22 August 2011

Monday 22nd August

Here's a cool photo of Libby (on the right) holding a little patient with Noma, taken in the Mercy Ships' Hope Centre in Freetown, earlier this year (thanks Jodie!). I forget that Libby isn't the smallest kid around any more...

In other news, Sally bought winter dressing gowns for our kids today, and they wore them all afternoon - Libby even wore hers in the shopping centre - despite it being the hottest day since we came home. Periodically they would have to remove them to cool down their dripping bodies. Huh. Olly

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Two weeks later...

Making great progress. Managed a whole shop at big supermarket without crying or getting flustered! And have made contact with the local West African community too - we enjoyed chatting about plantains and cassava for a few moments (and of course they LOVE Libby!)...Today a big article on Mercy Ships appeared in the Sunday Times - you can read it online of you are willing to part with £1, go to www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/mercyships. We are mentioned by name, and there is even a photo of Noah (and Anna's right foot) jumping into the ship's pool with other ship kids! Made us proud once again to have been part of such an amazing org for so long, and sad of course that we are no longer on the front line. Still praying about what God has in store for us next - we are willing to GO! but need some UK-time, so need to hear from him about what we can get involved with in our local community...Olly

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

How the UK has changed

Here's what I've noticed about changes in the UK over the last 5 years:

G4S: the new name for Group 4 Security.
No more Woolworths.
No more Abbey National.
Milk in bags.
Food products "proudly British"
Chocolate products "fair trade"
Beer £3.50 a pint!
Bread £1.30 a loaf!
Trees have grown
Houses have shrunk
More coffee shops
Less slim people
Roads are longer
Traffic jams more common

This is an ill-founded work in progress. Olly

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Living the "normal" life

After just over a week back in the UK, we only today ventured into a BIG supermarket for the first time, and were immediately overwhelmed. Quick retreat back to our lodgings. Back to square one. The kids are unable to adjust to the long British summer days - it's lights from 4am to 10pm - and are missing their friends on the ship terribly. And the weather stinks - cold, wet and rainy - typical British summer weather! Slow progress. This is harder than I thought it would be. Olly

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Farewell Mercy Ships

From the day one joins Mercy Ships, one thing hangs heavy over you: the day you will have to leave. And that day came on Thursday 30th June, when after nearly 8 years with Mercy Ships we became civilians once again and walked down the gangway for the last time. Thanks Murray for the great photo of us all with Tim (left) and Murray (right) in uniform as we are about the get on the ferry to get to the airport.

We had an incredibly good journey home, making all the connections and arriving at Heathrow on time. Praise God that nothing went wrong. And now back to life; back to reality...Olly

Monday, 27 June 2011

Handover - 2.5 days to go!

Today was a huge day for me: I handed over my keys, my pager and my phone to Transport's new manager, Jeremy (from Deck. You know him?). We only found out on Friday that his transfer had been approved, so it's been a crazy time for him as he tries to learn the whole job in 2 days, but he's done very well. I reckon I must weigh about 90 tons lighter now, with the weight of the workshop and all 28 vehicles and 110 drivers removed from my shoulders. Good luck Jeremy.

Meanwhile, packing and sorting is going well. Sally is delighted that it looks like we probably won't need all of our ten-bag-allowance on the flights home. Most of our clothes are packed, and all the kids toys, but even so our cabin looks like the scene from a war movie, with every surface covered in fallen piles of stuff needing sorting before passing to neighbours and friends.

Meanwhile meanwhile, we welcome back to the ship our very good friends the Zupke family, who have lead Summer Program for the ship kids in 2004 in Europe, 2005 in South Africa, 2007 in Liberia, 2009 in Benin and now 2011 in Sierra Leone. It's great to see them again, and it's only too bad that we won't get to spend much time together before we leave on Thursday. God's timing as usual is perfect: the Zupkes and their team of helpers are keeping our kids amused whilst Sally and I pack and throw out all the precious things they've collected over the last 7 years...

Huh. Bye for now, Olly

Friday, 24 June 2011

My last, and 100th, dive

This afternoon I completed my 100th, and last (I hope) dive under the Africa Mercy. Visibility was amazingly good - the best I have seen yet in Freetown - but floating garbage was the worst I have ever seen - we had to enter and exit the water through a 2 foot thick floating island of trash that contained a dead rat and a dead cat amongst other things:

I leave the Dive Team in Dan's capable and energetic hands. Olly

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The saddest time of year again

Yes, it's that time again. School finished last week for the summer, and since then we've waved goodbye to many good friends, as they leave the ship forever, or travel on vacation. Today all our kids teachers left after their 2 year commitment: goodbye Miss Danae, goodbye Miss Orman, and goodbye Miss Estelle.

And this time in two weeks, we will have left too. 2 hours after takeoff from Freetown we'll probably be coming into Banjul en route for Brussels...Olly

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Rebuilding Land Rovers...again...for the last time!

With a little over 2 weeks to go before we leave the Africa Mercy, I have begun my last big renovation project - that of replacing the bulkhead and door supports on #482 (a year 2000 model). Here is the original bulkhead which was rusted through in many places and had such big holes in the front footwells that you could see the front wheels going round:

Lamin, my new mechanic, found a good bulkhead on a scrapped police Land Rover, which is already installed in the photos below. To do so the wings had to be removed, the doors, windscreen, steering wheel, dashboard, seats, wiring, roof lining, rear windows...a huge amount of work, done by a gang of young ex-combatants in a local workshop which is little more than a patch of mud surrounded by wrecked cars...all for about $600.

I am confident that before I leave, #482 will be back on the road again as an ambulance ready to face the next 5 years of hard labour in West Africa. Olly

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Badly burnt boy...

...died 2 weeks ago in hospital. Olly

Monday, 30 May 2011

Insane photo

This is one of the most insane photos I have ever seen. How many bullets did it take to pulverize this van?

Click on photo to enlarge. Taken in Vai Town, Mon, Lib: 2003. Olly

Friday, 27 May 2011

Life goes on...

The water company's engineers worked tirelessly to fix the broken main, and water is flowing once again into Freetown. Hallelujah. Water is running in the streets again - literally - and the local population can cook and wash again at no cost. on the Africa Mercy the laundry is open again and hot water is back on.

The President and Vice President of Sierra Leone are here right now, visiting the ship. Sally was on stand-by to make them a coffee in our Starbucks Cafe, but they went on a tour instead.

The International Board of Mercy Ships is also here, having jetted-in from all over the world for a Board Meeting this weekend.

And an assessment panel from the Association of Christian Schools International is here, finalising the accreditation of the ship's Academy after 3 or 4 years of work.

Meanwhile, life goes on. Just up the road, not even half a mile away, I saw a man carrying his dead baby out of a maternity hospital, wrapped up in a prayer mat. Olly

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Another water shortage

Imagine a city of 1.2 million people without water. Well, that's Freetown right now. The city water supply has been irregular since the war, but at least there was some water; the population got used to waking early and queuing for hours to fill their buckets and "gallons" from public taps and leaking fresh-water pipes.

Above, children carrying "gallons".

Yesterday the main water supply into Freetown was damaged leaving the whole city dry. 1.2 million people have no water for washing, cooking or drinking. The wealthier ones are able to buy water from trucks for 2000 Leones a gallon, but as the poorer people live on only 4000 Leones a day, they can either afford water or food. Please pray for them. Meanwhile on the Africa Mercy we have limited reserves so are back on rationing: cold showers, laundry closed, disposable crockery and silverware etc. Please pray that the water company gets the pipe repaired and water can flow again! Olly

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Temporary buildings

This, below, is a pre-fab building, made in Iowa and shipped to the Africa Mercy in Sierra Leone and assembled on the dock. It is very well insulated so lovely and cool when the a/c is on, and is used by the Eye Team. Also shipped and assembled are two bathroom buildings used at the Hospitality Centre, with state-of-the-art plumbing and a/c. Temporary buildings? I think not. They all took two or three weeks to assemble, and are all scheduled to be disassembled at the end of the Sierra Leone field service, shipped to the next location and reassembled there...

Sadly, my ten year old tent was finished by a monster rainstorm last week. It's original canvas was recently stolen from the dock here in Freetown, and we used local tailors to sew a new one, but it didn't fit well and collapsed under the weight of rainwater. A tent is a non-negotiable item for our dockside workshop - it gives us shade from the brutal sun and keeps the torrential rains off us, so my ever resourceful local staff made this new beauty out of locally bought timbers and spare canvas.

Temporary tent? I think so! It took a day to build, and will only take a few hours to demolish when a new purpose-made tent is shipped over from the US or Holland. Olly

Saturday morning on the Africa Mercy

This morning Sally and I awoke at the crack of dawn to watch the latest Disney movie, Lemonade Mouth. Surely we should have been sleeping-in whilst the kids got up early... something's definitely weird here in our upside down world. Sally and I sat and watched the whole movie on our own whilst the kids went out to play. Great movie though. Olly

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

New dive gear

We have just been supplied with a crateload of new dive gear: new masks, flippers, and flashlights. These will all make diving in these awful waters so much safer.

Above, Dan and Timo wearing the new full-face masks with built in radios. Olly

She got it!

This afternoon the British High Commission in Freetown issued Libby with a UK settlement visa!

PTL indeed. We are thinking of leaving the Africa Mercy at the end of June so we can head to the UK to work on her UK re-adoption and application for citizenship. Thank you for your prayers. Olly

Friday, 13 May 2011

Farewell Omega Tower

Since we first arrived in Liberia in 2005, I have been fascinated by it's Omega Tower. Built by the USA in 1976 as part of the Omega Navigation System (made up of 7 towers around the world), it was a 417 meters tall radio tower (the same height as the World Trade Centre) and the tallest structure ever built in Africa. The station was turned over to the government of Liberia in 1997 after the introduction of GPS and the closure of the Omega Navigation System, and sat disused for the next 14 years. I climbed the first three levels in 2007; some crazy (and suicidal) ex-pats I know climbed the whole thing without any safety equipment. Anyway, on Tuesday the Tower was demolished by explosives. It will be missed: it was a landmark that could be seen for many miles, and countless thousands of people lived in it's shadow. Below, a man with some of the massive cables used to support the tower:

...and the tower from a distance:

Funny story: I once drove past the tower after a rain storm. The cloud level was lower than the top of the tower, so all I could see was the top and the cables coming from it...it looked all the world to me like an angel. Huh. Olly

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Garbage diving

Click on photo to enlarge. Olly

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Are you a designer?

Feeling creative? Can you design a new logo for the Africa Mercy's Dive Team? The logo could include images of ships, scuba divers, commercial divers, the blue-and-white "alpha" dive flag (not the red-and-white recreational scuba flag), full-face divers masks, Africa, etc. You are welcome to email a jpeg image to me - peeto@mercyships.org - or let me know where to look for it. There are now ten divers on the team, and between us we are having to dive DAILY! Thanks in advance for your help. Olly

Friday, 6 May 2011

The luckiest girl in the world

Two year old Josephine must surely be the luckiest girl in the world. Two weeks ago she choked a small pebble into her lung whilst playing. Her parents took her to one of Freetown's government run hospitals, where she sat for five days waiting for treatment, whilst the pebble began to cause infection and her lung collapsed. In frustration, her father went to the Ministry of Health to beg for help, where by chance he met Mercy Ships' Ann Gloag, who intervened. Ann arranged for Josephine to be taken to the Africa Mercy, where surgeons supported by top paediatric anaesthesiologists tried to remove the stone through her windpipe by key-hole surgery but were unsuccessful. Josephine's condition continued to deteriorate, and she twice needed resuscitation. Finally, Ann persuaded one of Kenya's top thoracic surgeons to fly to Freetown, and he removed the stone earlier this week. Josephine made a quick recovery, and today went home. Praise God. It lightens all our hearts to hear of such miracles right here on our ship. Olly

Me and Jay

Here's a photo that Alex took of Jay and me in the engine room yesterday during a fire drill. We were trying to look cool and heroic...guess it didn't work eh? Olly

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Us and the High Commissioner

Yesterday evening we had a visit from Ian Hughes, the British High Commissioner here in Freetown (who is also the British Ambassador to neighbouring Liberia). He was accompanied by Sam Bethel, the British Vice Consul. Sally and I gave them a tour of the ship, and then we had dinner together. Lovely people. Here is Ian meeting Anna and Libby...

...and Sally showing Ian the door to the operating rooms:

And Sally, Samantha, Ian and me (looking vacant) on the ward with Memuna, one of Sally's patients.

Great. Olly

PS The British High Commissioner is the same as an Ambassador, but is the term used for the role in a British Commonwealth country. In a non-Commonwealth country (like Liberia) the role is referred to as Ambassador.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Islands in the stream

Sierra Leone's rainy season has begun. We've had a couple of short showers which washed away the dust and cooled the air, and also partially cleared Freetown's clogged sewers and drains straight into the river, resulting in this:

...a MASSIVE island of garbage. If this thing hits the ship, our cooling-water intakes will clog and our generators will shut down, despite every effort by me and my colleagues in the dive team. Huh. Olly

Friday, 29 April 2011

The Royal Wedding

I understand that Royal Wedding fever has been consuming the UK for the past few weeks or even months. Here on the Africa Mercy we were only vaguely aware of the event as it slowly approached, but we managed to get sorted today and everyone stopped to watch the wedding ceremony this morning. It was very kind of Will & Kate to plan it for during our morning break time. Even the kids were able to join us for a bit.

Long live the Queen. Long live Will & Kate. Etc etc. Olly

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Noah's work experience

Another photo of Noah in the Navigation class:


Badly burnt boy

I've seen some bad burns in my time with Mercy Ships, but today I saw the worst yet. Eight year old Ibrahim Kamara was burnt in a farm fire on Sunday, and was brought to the ship today seeking help. I saw the boy at the gate, on a cardboard stretcher, wrapped up in dry sheets with his mother fanning him. He was unconscious and covered in dry blackened cooked flesh from his face to his knees, much like the guy in the photo below...

One of our nurses took a look at him, but he is beyond even our help. I got one of our drivers to take him to the childrens hospital around the corner, where he will most likely die. It will be a miracle if he survives; if he does he will be badly scarred and need numerous skin grafts and operations to free contractures. Who knows, maybe we'll see him back here in a few months for those surgeries if he pulls through. Please pray for him. Olly

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Happy 50th, Sierra Leone

50 years ago today, the red white & blue of the Union Jack came down and the blue, green and white of the Republic of Sierra Leone went up. Happy Birthday, land of the free. Olly
PS I got bored with the depressing black and greys on this blog's background so changed it to this lovely summer blue.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011


A film crew from the Oprah Winfrey Network were here last week, filming a pilot. Here they are being driven round town by our own bearded photographer, Tom Bradley. Olly

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Happy Easter

He is risen.

RIP Chris Hondros

In 2007 I was emailing this guy about his work in Liberia. He replied a couple of times, and even recommended a Nigerian electrician to me. He took some incredible photos of the last Liberian war in 2003 - see http://www.chrishondros.com/images.htm - in fact here he is photoed in Waterside, Monrovia...

...and here is one of his world famous photos:

Since the late 1990s he has covered conflicts in Kosovo, Angola, Sierra Leone, the Lebanon, Afghanistan, Kashmir, the West Bank, Iraq, Liberia, Libya and more. He was one of four photographers killed in Libya four days ago. Olly

Friday, 22 April 2011

Chimp Reserve

We're having a bit of an Anastasis reunion on the the Africa Mercy at the moment. The Blackburns have joined us for 3 months from Texas, and the Chapmans have joined us for 3 weeks from Liberia. Today Brian organised us to go to Tagugama Chimpanzee Reserve for the morning - about an hour's drive from the ship. The place exists for chimps rescued from homes in Sierra Leone - chimps that have been living with humans after being orphaned and captured by hunters as babies etc. Many starving West Africans would be very happy to eat chimp meat if they could, so the reserve is am important place for rehabilitation of chimps back to the bush, and education of locals about the impact they are having on wildlife as they hunt and eat "bush meat".

A lovely day out. Olly

Tesco in Freetown?

Tesco is a global grocery and general merchandising retailer headquartered in the UK. It is the 3rd largest retailer in the world measured by revenues after Walmart and Carrefour, and the 2nd largest measured by profits after Walmart. It has stores in 14 countries across Asia, Europe and North America...and apparently also Sierra Leone. Today we drove past a Tesco petrol station on the edge of Freetown.

If you look closely at the photo (click on it to enlarge) you can plainly see the whole place is hand-painted to look like a Tescos. But of course it isn't one. Hah. Another example of West African ingenuity? Olly

Monday, 18 April 2011

Sally at work

Here is a lovely photo of Sally with Mariama, one of her patients... Olly

Diarrhoea of a Wimpy Kid

There is always someone on the Africa Mercy with diarrhoea. It's part of life, and something we all learn to live with. So imagine our mirth when Libby picked up Anna's book "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" and read out-loud "Diarrhoea of a Wimpy Kid". How we all laughed! Olly

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Grande Congo

This evening I visited the neighbouring ship, Grimaldi line's Grande Congo, which is only 6 months old and still in immaculate condition. Built by Hyundai in Korea, it is nearly 4 times the size of the Africa Mercy, can carry up to 1000 cars and trucks and 300 containers, and has only 26 crew of Italian officers and Filipino...err...non-officers.

Some of the cars on Deck 12 destined for Lagos, Nigeria:

Some of the containers on the forward deck, taken from the bridge:

The ultra-modern bridge:

The Africa Mercy, taken from deck 12:

Engine control room, Deck 1:

The main engine. Only one engine; one propeller shaft and one propeller. Two bow thrusters and one stern thrusters. Three generators.

She sails between the UK, Holland, Germany and Belgium, picking up cars and trucks and containers, and then calling at Senegal, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ghana before heading back to Europe. Another fascinating blog entry (with a cool photo of the Africa Mercy) by Olly.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Noah's work experience

This week the Academy's Junior High and High School kids did 3 days of work experience around the ship. Noah chose to work with our Deck Officers, and shadowed them as they were on duty, and he assisted them in boat operations, the paint locker inventory, and then learnt all about navigation. Here he is in his issued gloves, safety boots, glasses and hat.

He assisted me yesterday when I dived: he was our safety watcher, and stayed on the dock ready to assist me if necessary. Good job Noah! Olly


Today we drove across the Freetown peninsula to the beautiful beach at Bureh Town, a tiny village of no more than a handful of mud huts with this view:

Paradise, eh? Sadly, this is the very same beach that our friends Ruth and Keith drowned at in 2004. Olly

Friday, 15 April 2011

Rainy season begins

In Liberia, 15th April is the first day of rainy season. Just a few hundred miles away in neighbouring Sierra Leone, my friends tell me that rainy season starts "soon". Either way, today is the first dry day of rainy season, just as yesterday was the last dry day of dry season (as, I suppose, if it had been raining it would have been the last wet day of dry season, and so on). Since we arrived here on 27th February, there has not been one drop of rain - in fact, this is the driest dry season I have ever come across. We can't wait for the rains to come to wash the dust away and clear some of the drains of clogged garbage (into the...err...sea, I suppose). Olly

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Fab new book

I bought this book during our last days in South Africa in January and gave it to Sally on her birthday on Tuesday. It is lovely, and a great reminder of our time living on the East Coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Mouth watering recipes, lovely photos, and many reviews of places we spent many happy hours: Ballito, Salt Rock, Dunkirk, Gateway, uShaka...

Buy it if you can. Olly

Diving photos

I borrowed an underwater camera on Monday and took these photos. Blow, chicken-wire baskets have been made to cover the cooling water intakes, in the hope that they will keep garbage out of the intakes. What you can see if the basket covered in plastic bags, so it is working to a degree - we now need to dive to clean the basket (not the intakes themselves)...

Below, an intake without a basket, covered in garbage which restricts the flow of water and will cause the machinery that needs that water to cool to overheat.

Below, Dan Bergman picks garbage off the intake.