Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Another Mercy Ship being scrapped

Hard to believe eh? My commiserations if you were one of her crew. Olly

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Libby's visa

We have successfully applied on-line for a UK visa for Libby, and have an appointment at the British High Commission in Freetown for next Tuesday (5th April) at 8.30am, to provide paperwork, pay the fee etc etc. Please pray that they will accept the application (ie won't give us grief for not being Sierra Leone residents) and that they ask us the right questions if they don't understand our complicated circumstances. It may take up to 3 months for a decision to be made, and the paperwork will be sent to Ghana and maybe London during the process. Olly

Sunday, 27 March 2011

More Freetown old houses

We've got three Abdul Conteh's working for us at the moment, two of whom are drivers! Gets very confusing. Anyway, Abdul (Sr) was driving me through town yesterday (here he is)... I had plenty of opportunity to take more photos of the fantastic old colonial buildings that are found all over the city. Nearly every one is in poor condition, and many are in total ruins with nothing left but the ground floor wall and doorway, but I can imagine how they were once.

Below: stone and timber loft rooms with sliding sash windows still intact:

Below: timber. A miracle it has survived the war:

Below: more stone, with a shop conversion now occupying the ground floor, adjacent to a more modern concrete building (yuk):

Below: brick with cement render. Under each window you can still see carved stonework. The sash windows on the second floor have been replaced by more modern steel framed windows. now occupied by squatters:

Another fascinating blog entry by Olly.

Diving from the rescue boat

I reckon I'm currently spending nearly as much time diving as looking after the vehicles. Thankfully my new mechanic, Lamin, and my new day volunteers are all excellent and I am happy to leave Transport in their capable hands. Diving in Freetown is so different from diving in Benin and Togo that we have had to re-invent the whole procedure. The days of jumping off the dock are long gone: we are now lowered to the water in one of the ship's rescue boats which remains on hand in case the current takes us away... and Jana (my first ever dive buddy in Benin 2 years ago) on Deck 7 next to the rescue boat:

Getting our dive gear on in the boat:

Up and away, as the crane takes us out from the ship's side...

...and down to water level:

And then into position ready to dive! Makes the dive much longer and more complicated, but it's much easier being lifted up to Deck 7 in the boat instead of climbing all those stairs with heavy gear.

On this occasion, the water current was so fast that we were swept 40 meters away from the dive boat as soon as we entered the water, and the dive had to be abandoned. We have now learnt to dive only at slack tides. Olly

This one's for you, Margo!

Moses Conteh is delighted to receive his Africa Mercy admission card.

Mr Spaghetti Head has left the building! Olly

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Successful screening

Today we had our second medical screening in Sierra Leone, and it was a success. Our leadership has spent the last couple of weeks studying the lessons learnt at the disastrous screening at the national stadium nearly 3 weeks ago, and today ran like clockwork. We had people at the screening site from mid afternoon yesterday, and the majority of crew joined them before dawn this morning.

Above, an orderly line, patrolled by nurses and security crew.

It was a long hot day, but 500 patients were examined and given appointment cards. Sally worked with the maxillo-facial surgeons, and found several patients that she will be able to help with, and I was the logistics coordinator and oversaw food, site facilities, electrical supply, drivers and vehicles, tents, table & chairs etc etc - in fact, everything needed for 200 crew to operate a successful screening off-ship. Our doctors saw one guy with an infection in his mouth that had spread to his jaw over the last 4 days, and he literally had only 24 hours to go before he would have died. One of our drivers collected strong intravenous antibiotics from the ship's pharmacy, so hopefully he will recover after his emergency surgery tomorrow at a local hospital. Anyway, thank you for praying for us and this day. Olly

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The spaghetti game

What crew do to pass the time: Tom Bradley from the UK demonstrates how much spaghetti he can carry in his beard and hair. Huh. Olly

Libby's visa blog entry #1

We have started the process of applying for a UK visa for Libby. Today I phoned two phone numbers I had for contacts in the British High Commission in Freetown: the first one was disconnected, and the second was answered but I was referred to the Accra visa section in Ghana. So, please join us in praying that in the next few days we will be able to speak with someone who will be friendly and helpful and will be able to help us in our application (which is complicated). Olly

Friday, 11 March 2011

Settling in to Freetown

The Africa Mercy from the neighbourhood:

Potato greens for sale outside the port - hmmm!

The ruins of the Queen's house (she used to stay here apparently) also just outside the port:

Freetown architecture - including many old beautiful colonial buildings - and Freetown traffic:

More mental traffic. It takes hours to get anywhere in the city with regular gridlocks and people yelling at each other:

An old British post box:

(I've also seen an old British phone box, a London Taxi, and loads of ex-UK right hand drive cars, mini-buses and trucks).

Below: the local beach. We will not be playing here. Many of the out-houses discharge straight onto the beach.

So, in summary: imagine Cape Town. Then double the temperature and humidity. Increase the population ten fold. Shut off all running water, electricity and sewerage. Stop garbage removal. Remove all pavements to leave open gutters. Arrange for a couple of wars. Encourage thousands of market traders to block up the streets, and bombard the already overcrowded streets with more cars than they can cope with. Build everywhere. And you've got Freetown! This is the first city I have been to in West Africa where I have absolutely no intention of driving anywhere. Fortunately I have a handy reserve of local drivers at my finger-tips. Olly

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Sierra Leone screening

This is not an easy blog to write, so I'm letting the following websites write it for me.

Old man killed in Sierra Leone stampede: An elderly man was trampled to death and a dozen people hurt in a stampede in Sierra Leone for free medical screening from the Mercy Ship floating hospital, doctors said on Tuesday. Click here for more.

Patients injured in Mercy Ships medical screening: Mercy Ships is deeply saddened by the tragic events that occurred today during medical screening at the Freetown National Stadium when a crowd stormed the gate resulting in several injuries and one life lost. Click here for more.

Stampede at Stadium: 1 killed, 12 injured: Doctors at Connaught hospital have confirmed the death of an aged man after a stampede at the National Stadium in Freetown following a mad rush for free screening from the medical charity, Mercy Ships. Twelve people have also been hospitalized. Click here for more.

Many of our crew are still shocked and shaken by the event. Please pray for recovery, and that we can quickly make contact with those who need the specialist surgery that we can provide. Olly


I copied this of Tim & Hannah Alexander's blog. They have been in Sierra Leone since last September or October, so had plenty of chances to take these great photos.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Ship scuba diving in Freetown

Freetown's Queen Elizabeth II Deep Water Quay (8°29'38.81"N, 13°12'57.58"W) is in a tidal river estuary that flows at up to 6 knots except at slack water. Since our arrival here a week ago, our cooling water intakes have been constantly choked by garbage. The current makes it almost impossible to dive under the Africa Mercy for 22 out of 24 hours a day, so every time we dive now, we need to be accompanied by a rescue boat to stop us being swept away. Micah and I managed one semi-successful dive on Thursday when the tide was coming in but visibility was limited and we found only 2 out of 4 intakes. But today we had a disastrous dive as the tide was going out - the engineers called us to say every single intake was blocked, but two attempts and an hour later we still hadn't managed to dive - we were repeatedly swept away every time we left the rescue boat, plus we had to contend with delays caused by two big ship movements from neighbouring berths. We returned to our cabins utterly exhausted from hauling ourselves in and out of the rescue boat and trying to swim against the current. Slack water will be around 3pm this afternoon, so we'll have another go then when hopefully I'll have regained some of my strength...Olly

Tuesday, 1 March 2011


That's what I feel. Ever so. To be honest, the last 2 years in Benin and Togo have been a challenge for me: different languages, different foods, different markets, different police, different cultures, different sea, even a different sky. Now we're back, and I feel immediately at home again. Sally, Anna and I went for a walk through the local market outside the port - how I had missed the sounds and smells: stinking fish, crabs, shrimp, and chicken all crawling in flies; kids selling rice, maize, flour and sugar from enamelled trays balanced on their heads; yams and potatoes and cassava roots and onions; over-ripe bananas and tomatoes; piles of greens; chilled bags of water and orange drink; trays of groundnuts; bowls of garlic; piles of herbs and spices; and the constant clatter of generators. The people chatted in a language we understood; the police were charming and proudly showed us their tear gas guns and canisters. Shouts of "Mercy Ship" again and again. Everywhere sand, rubble, broken concrete, boarded up windows, walls worn black and shiny by dirty hands, open sewers filled to the brim with stinking garbage, and people trying to make enough money to survive. We are back amongst the poorest of the poor. Just our presence here brings them hope. And demons flee. Olly