Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Happy Christmas!

This year our Christmas cards read...
This Christmas may God open our minds to His wonders...
our hearts to His love...
our lives to His presence.
I don't think I could say it better.
On board we celebrate the season of Advent for the 4 weeks coming up to Christmas. Are we celebrating His first coming or anticipating His second coming? Or both...
Regardless, in thinking this through, I have been thinking...
if Jesus was actually coming this December 25th, and we knew it for sure,
what would I do differently?

Just a thought....

As we sailed from Liberia after being there 4 times in the last 5 years (we were there for 2 of them) many thoughts went through my mind. Eddie, the 4 month old baby we left behind who had his whole face burned by a mosquito net fire, the wells dug in the villages so that now the women and children do not have to go so far, Joseph who had no nose whatsoever from an infection as a child, now at 56 years old, has a nose, the VVF woman who had been leaking urine for 45 years and is now dry, toddler Joseph who had been left to die on a pile of banana leaves and now is healthy and happy.
And so many more….Yes, we are privileged to be here.
Joseph and his new nose!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Sunrise off the Western Sahara

This is the view out of my window this morning before I left the cabin to go to work.
It was beautiful. The last couple of days have been a mite choppy and it is the topic of the day everywhere you go. Some of the crew have decided they are not cut out for this bit but it is only 2 weeks of the year. Personally I sail rather well, if I do not have to be in the Engine Room with the fumes, and so I really enjoy the excitement. And honestly the Engineering department does not want me down there!!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

A New "Chief"

During this time in Liberia, we have been working on a clinic in the local area. It had been almost totally demolished during the war and the president asked if we might be able to help rebuild it. So we have had a team working on it everyday with a group of about 17 local people. It has gone from a broken shell with trees growing inside to a beautiful clinic. It looks wonderful and they had the opening ceremony about 3 weeks ago. The President of Liberia attended and Ken was “gowned”. A gowning is when as a special honor an outfit is given to someone. So, he received a great outfit. Said it would fit the whole family! Very impressive, I must say. As he returned to the ship, one of the West African crew greeted him with "Hi, Chief!"

I know he was quite pleased!

Starbucks, Anyone?

One of the special things about our ship is that we have our very own Starbucks Café. Lattés and Cappuccinos and Frappuccinos and Macchiatos. I cannot even spell them. But it is a real treat. A few weeks ago the US ambassador to Liberia, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, came with a group to tour the ship and to have dinner on board. She asked not to eat in the special room we have for special occasions like that, but to eat with the crew. And so we did. It was a very special evening, very relaxed, and easy. In talking with her, she shared that this time in Liberia this is her dream job. I have never met with an ambassador and was not sure how it would be but I need not have been concerned. She and her husband were a pleasure to spend time with.
A toast to all!

This is a drill, this is a drill, this is a drill....

This is a picture of my muster station. As we prepare to sail, we have lifeboat drills. In case of an emergency, these are the people who will be in my lifeboat. So at this point in preparing for a sail, we occasionally hear the alarms and the captain saying, "This is a drill, this is a drill, this is a drill..." And we report to the "muster" stations. Names are called. Absent people are looked for and instructions are given. A very serious part of life on board. The last time we sailed we had another drill just after sailing which then turned in to an actual situation with the possibility of a man overboard. Fortunately, all were accounted for and there was no one overboard but for a few minutes, we did not know.

Below is a picture from another muster station. In this picture we have children from Holland, Ghana, Liberia, Sweden, the UK, Germany and the USA. Thought you might like to see it....

Up, Up and Away!!!

Yesterday most of our vehicles were loaded on board. There are 30 of them and they will be lifted up and placed on the top deck and fastened down for the sail.
What it means is that we are getting ready. Getting ready for a 6 day sail to Tenerife in the Canary Islands where we will spend 5 weeks in technicle mode, fixing, maintaining, surveying...
I love a sail. All crew is on board, a new venture to come.
So, the dock has been cleared of all the dockside units where patients are admitted and cataract patients come for their patches to be removed and patients come to be screened for surgeries. An amazing place during our times in Africa, now dismantled and stored on board. Drills and checks and engines tested and stowaway searches and bicycles loaded on and last departures and arrivals, though more departures than arrivals at this point.
Scurrying, Scurrying......

A new roof for Garmeh

This is a very special woman we are visiting. Her story is alongside this blog on the right. Garmeh.

We helped her to get a new roof and she had asked and asked us to visit and to see her house now. When I first saw her house, there was a bad thatched roof over one room and over the bath room. The rest had been completely destroyed. So, a question....do you help with schooling or do you help with a roof. I did not know the answer to that, so I spoke to a crew member who had had the same problem when she was raising her own children in Africa. She did not hesitate. The roof. So here it is. Garmeh is someone who people go to for help. She is taking care of numerous children. Garmeh has none of her own. Her yard is carefully swept and the house is clean and empty with sand floors. We were privilegd to be able to help.

Flowers for Madame President

What a thrill to have the President back on board and to spend some time with her. She is a very gracious woman. One who could be living a life of ease elsewhere but who has chosen a difficult path to help re-build her country.
The following is a transcript of her address to the crew here on board.

26 November 2008

Transcript of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s speech at the Thank You reception
onboard the Africa Mercy.

I know you know that Liberians are good at making speeches. We are good at giving some of
those very good addresses. We are good at taking positions and conveying them. We are
good at the talk shows.
Today, I don’t want to make a speech because I am too touched. What we have seen, what we
have experienced, what we have benefited from, what we have worked with, what the Mercy
Ship family is beyond what I could speak to. You know from whence our nation come: health
services three decades ago, when we had the John F. Kennedy hospitals as one of the best
referral hospitals in the West Africa sub-region, when we possessed hospitals in all of our 15
counties, clinics, medical services, as with so many of the other sectors; what happened to us
during those years of turmoil and tragedy and what it reduced us to; to where we are now, to
a few years ago. I think if I have the numbers right, one doctor to 61,000 persons.
In the midst of all of this, the Mercy Ship offered its services to our country. It came for a few
months, to be a help to a nation desperately in need of medical services, to a population so
impoverished and deprived that there were no facilities for them, and even if there were
facilities, far beyond their reach or their income to be able to take advantage of.
And the Mercy Ship came and spent several months in their first tour, did so much. Many of
us came and went through some of the operating salons and visited the beneficiaries, saw
such a transformation in the lives of many people who would not have had a life otherwise.
And then we asked them to come back. The service was so, so appreciated. And this time
they responded not only to come back, but to come back from a longer period of stay and to
go beyond that which was their core activity and their core objective of providing medical
service to our people.
You’ve seen what they’ve done to touch the lives of Liberians who could not be reached by
their own governments because of the lack of resources—human, financial, technical. To go
into communities and give those communities a chance for self-empowerment, a chance for
dignity, to restore in young people a hope for the future, and in their ability to rise to their
potential. What effective partnership.
And those who render this service do this as a sacrifice. They are not paid for it. They do it as
volunteers, the majority of them. Many of them contribute their own resources, human and
financial, to be able to serve humanity, to be able to share with others, to be able to lift
someone and give them an opportunity to have a better life, to be competitive. What effective
We have lots of partners—bilateral partners, multilateral partners, private partners. And so
many of them have so many more resources to give us. We talk about the $200 million
agreements that get signed, the $50 million agreements that get signed. But $11 million, I
daresay, has touched the lives much more than those $200 million.
Because it’s not so much the size of the assistance, the magnitude of the resources. It is what
comes with it. Whom it touches, whom it reaches, whom it changes, that is what true
partnership is all about. And I want to thank you.
We can only commit to you that we will try to ensure that that which you have started will be
carried on, will be sustained, so that it can forever be remembered that this came from a
partner who brought to the task resources, but also the caring and sharing that comes from
great Christians, because that’s what they are.
Tenegar and Royesville and all of those places whose lives we’ve touched, we will be
working with them.
We don’t want to see you go. I wish we could reverse our acceptance of saying, “Thank you.
We know you have to move on to other places because you’ve done so much.” But you’ve
left behind those who we hope can carry on, and a government who would remain committed
to be able to give support in those areas where they are due.
Many of you were commissioned chiefs at the Tenegar ceremony when you were gowned. So
remember you are part of the Liberian society.
We are going to lose Bill Martin. I think you know that your name in circles is a well-spoken
name. Every time we ask about the Ministry of Health, somebody says, “Bill Martin is there.”
But your contribution, working with Dr. Gwenigale and his team, has made today the
Minsitry of Health and Social Welfare one of the better performing ministries in this
government, to the point where the confidence of our partners is such that they can say, no
longer do we have to do our individual programs. We can all come together in a pool fund
that respects the priorities of the Ministry and the government. And we can sit with those
colleagues in the Ministry and we can disburse funds collectively, thereby scaling up the
results in any activity. We want to thank you, Bill, for all that you have done, with that help.
I don’t know where you go next, but I do know the country which you now move on to serve
will also be blessed by the things that you have done. They are our neighbors. So we’ll
continue to benefit from that service. Because a strong Liberian or a strong Benin or a strong
Togo or a strong Cote d’Iviore or a strong Sierra Leone also makes a strong West Africa, and
that’s good for us.
I’ll end where I started. We speak a lot, we Liberians. We love to make speeches. So we are
going our time to give our speeches for you .It won’t be today. This is your day. We came to
thank you. We came to show appreciation, but be prepared, when we have our program,
that’s when we do it our way and you will have to sit through those long speeches as we
honor you and your colleagues, all of you in the Mercy Ship family.
I know that there are so many of those out there, the young ones, the old ones, the afflicted
and the affected, who will be there praying for you, who will be there remembering what you
have done for them. And some of them tomorrow will become leaders of this community.
And they will be able to look back and to say, “I am what I am today because of the caring
and sharing of the Mercy Ship family.”
I hope that I am around when I can join them in their ascendency, to be able to continue to
give you the appreciation that you so well deserve. Thank you all for serving our country.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Closing down the Wards

This week we close down the wards.
That means that the patients are leaving. Some are not finished healing yet and so we are scurrying to find places that will take them so that dressings can be changed regularly. Also there are people praying 24 hours a day for the ones still here as they prepare to leave. A few years ago, as the wards closed down on the Anastasis in The Gambia, a nurse wrote the following poem. Though the ship is different and the country is different and the names are different, the emotions are the same and I cry each time I read it. Here it is....

It doesn't seem possible that
the chatter of foreign tongues
the clapping of tiny hands
the clanging and banging
the coughing and snoring
will cease in a few days.
That by this time next week
the ward will be a large empty room
in need of a deep cleaning.
There will be no need
for translators
for nurses
for oxygen saturation monitors.
There will be no wandering children
with stuffed animals tied
to their backs
like little mothers.
The Jesus Film Jesus (speaking Wolof and Mandinka)
our constant companion during these months
will return to his shelf in Hold 2.
At the same time, the idea of cruising to the finish line merely on momentum seems impossible.
"Winding down" for the ward is more like an all out sprint to the end
"Closure" means making sure sutures hold and infections clear
before the line handlers man their stations.
"Wrapping up" means arranging followup for bottom of the ninth patients.
The END is so nearly tangible
Yet with shocking suddenness we will stare at
empty beds
empty chairs
empty shelves
while we celebrate completion.
We will soon discharge ourselves from our own little hospital. On our way out the door, we will take the hand of The Gambia in that familiar
Two handed handshake...
and thank her for teaching us dignity and compassion.
Fatoumata, Mohammad,Smiley...
Mariama, Ebrahima, Yahara...
Abdul, Amadou, Isatou...
Kaddy, Louis, Lamin...
Lalo, Dawda, Saiku...
Awa, Ebou, Ancha...
Janka, Binta, Ousnu...
We thank you.
You have been excellent teachers.
Last one to leave the ward:
please unplug the coffee maker
and turn off the lights.

Poem by Kristy Layton

Friday, 31 October 2008

Redemption Road

A new book.

I just love a new book. And when I heard of this one, I was excited.

Redemption Road is a novel dealing with people dealing with those things done to them during the 14 year civil war here in Liberia and also dealing with the things they themselves have done. A civil war is an awful awful thing. And the person who has done things to you may live nearby. I think it was brought closer to me as a woman shared with me how her 21 year old son was gunned down during the war. The man who did it lives a couple of streets over and people have asked her, Do you want us to go get him? But she says no. The things people just have to forgive are amazing. I know there was a civil war here and I think it was mainly tribal in the end, but the power and willingness to forgive is also great here.

Anyway, the other evening the author of this book, Elma shaw, came on board. She read a chapter, told her story and signed books for us. It was a delightful evening. Truth and Reconciliation. It is going on here in Liberia. What does happen to those people who have done terrible things? And how do you deal with those things you may have done? And perhaps you were a child or forced or drugged to participate.

This book is going to be required reading here in Liberia in the older grades in school and at the university level. And because illiteracy is so very high, mostly due to the fact that there were no schools during most of the 14 years of war, there are plans to make an audio edition in Liberian English to be read over the radio so people can hear.

The author has said one of the main things she would like to see from this book is that people begin to talk…and talk…

Monday, 20 October 2008

A Walk to the Dumpster

This morning I took my trash out.

That may not sound big but on the way to the dumpster I have to pass probably 30 people, some coming to have their eyes checked and patches off from the previous day’s eye surgeries and some are carers who have helped them get here. And it is no small thing to come for early appointments. There are long long lines of people waiting for taxis. tThey have been up for hours to get here for 8am. Then I stopped to practise a little, very little French, with a couple from the Congo who are crew and work in Agriculture and Community health. Then, as I came back from the dumpster, I saw a very excited man having his picture taken with the eye surgeon. He is so pleased that he can see. And in the background, there was a young woman, looking no more than 20 but probably older. Feeling her way along the gangway, obviously she could not see as she was feeling along with her feet and guided on board by one of our day workers from the area. She will come away with sight in one eye. Isn’t that amazing? Waiting by the gangway to be admitted was a young man with an ear that sticks out about 3 to 4 inches. His life will be changed. I stopped to talk with another day worker who is our security person at that aft gangway. His name is Sam and he is a local pastor with a family and he is a most gracious man. We are so blessed to have him there. As I came up the gangway I passed Arthur, an older gentleman from the area who works with our vehicles and also Marcel, our other Agriculture person. He was heading out for the day. I walked down to the hospital deck. To weigh myself as I am trying to lose some of this excess weight, and went by the patients waiting for their eye surgeries. This morning there is an 11 year old girl who has cataracts on both eyes. She has never seen. Never seen. Can you imagine that? We do not know at this point if she will see but we will find out. And I saw all this just because I chose to take my trash out early this morning.

I know I have said it before, but it is such a privilege to be here. It makes me cry.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Long Day's Journey

One of things I love to do on board is to take a group of the crew out to see the Community Development sites. I call it seeing the "sites" not seeing the sights. But there are a lot of those along the way. Most of the crew do not have the opportunity to see where the wells are being dug, where our construction teams are working and where the agriculture team is. So, we head off around 10:30 in the morning and have a very bumpy, sometimes very muddy hour long drive out to Tenegar. The first place we stop is at the Clinic our team is building. the president of Liberia has asked us to rebuild this clinic. It was destroyed during the war. I mean destroyed. No roof, nothing but the walls and trees growing inside when we saw it. It is now beautiful. We have 2 people there and 17 local men who work every day on it. In a country with 80% unemployment this is a blessing for them and for us.

Then we walk over to the Agriculture site and see the amazing plaintain farm and compost heaps and lettuce, etc. It is a community farm and sometimes there are 50 people working and learning. Our agriculture man took his 3 year old daughter one day. I saw her standing in reception ready to go with her shovel under one arm and her dolly under another. She had a blast, her mother told me. Then we stop under the Palava hut for our sandwiches.
Last time we were then visited by about 15 children on their way home from school. It was a bit uncomfortable and so now I have at least put a supply of juicy fruit gum in my backpack so I have something to offer them.
From there we head out to see where our Community Health teams are at work. You can see the church where they meet. The area consists of 11 villages and the villages chose 3 from their village to meet 2 afternoons a week to learn about water, health, malaria, etc. and then these students will teach their own village. Check out the neat Church bell. I had no idea why that rusty propane tank was hanging in the tree! A bit farthur up the road a new well was being dug. The villagers and instructed and encouraged and helped to dig about a 40 foot well. Then we supply the cement, and pump and supplies and the learn how to cap it off and to maintain it. By that time it is time to head back which we do, visiting the Dental team that has set up in a local hospital. The hospitals are in a bad way and struggling to improve. We have met wonderful people who are wanting the best for their country but it is a battle. Our Dental team heads out after breakfast each day and spends long hours on their feet, seeing things they would never see in their countries.

It is a great day and one that blesses me every time I go out!

Friday, 26 September 2008

Floating Blood Bank

Today I gave blood.
On the ship we are rather like a floating blood bank. It is truly unique. If you wish to be a blood donor, you can sign up, have your blood tested and if it is O.K., you can choose to be available. So I knew this month I was rather 'on call'. Yesterday I found out they would need me today possibly, so I stayed on board. This morning, when a certain patient went in for his surgery, I was called. we do not have a way to store it, so pretty much it went from me to him. A young man in his 20's named Jacob.
When else can you do something so important by doing nothing except lie there?
Truly amazing!!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Three in a Bed!

Three nights ago at around 4 in the morning a mother of a young patient went into labor and a baby girl was born. Despite a little pressure to name her baby Mercy, she is called Nancy and she is beautiful. She weighed in at around 4 pounds 9 ounces.
Now there are 3 people in the bed!

Monday, 15 September 2008


This is Garmeh.

She is an amazing woman. She has been on board at least three times for the VVF female surgery that we do. Vesico Vaginal Fistula surgery. For 27 years she has been leaking urine continually. Today she is dry. Her problem was due to obstructed labor, when she was in labor for days and days. Her baby was born dead. During those 27 years, she also spent one entire year in the local hospital. I cannot tell you the hazards of that alone. She thought she was the only one with that problem.

Garmeh found out we were doing surgeries for women just like her when she brought her uncle to the ship for a cataract surgery and that very same day, we were screening women for the VVF surgery. A coincidence? I do not think so.

Recently on PBS, Nova showed a documentary about women just like Garmeh, called A Walk to Beautiful. You can find our more about that at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/beautiful/program.html
I believe you may be able to watch it online.

I had the privilege to be part of the team that took Garmeh home. Her home is blue, the only painted home in the village. And she has flowers growing around it which is very, very rare. It seemed a shining light to me.

Scissor, bags and Madame President.....

Today I was reading a book and found this great description of fabric. It could just as well have been written about the great fabric I see here in Liberia.

“…the patterns were loud or subtle, anything could be on them: patterns of fashionable shoes, perhaps, or a mobile phone print – this was very popular, as were sky scrapers, electric irons, kettles and radios. Flowers, animals and trees were rare – the preference was abstraction or abstract impressions of modern things. Like lawn mowers. Then there were travelogue prints – Sacré Coeur patterns, Saint Peters, the Statue of Liberty, Big Ben, Arc de Triomphe…There were the special celebration prints; you could tie the Pope’s face round yourself, or (in Liberia, the President) or you could have a run of cloth specially made celebrating your grandfather’s seventieth birthday or funeral, or your son’s graduation, or praising your candidate for local office.” From a book on Benin titled Show Me the Magic by Annie Caulfield

I have seen here electric fans with cords, here in a country with no electricity. Lipsticks, Madame President, Cups of coffee, coffee tables with lamps, Jesus saying Come to me…, Mary saying she is the Immaculate Conception. Sometimes I think I should not drive in this country as I am fascinated by all the fabric that I see. I do enjoy it.

Ken's Mom

STRATHAM — Marjorie Edith Cleary Berry, 91, died Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2008, at Exeter Hospital.

She was born in 1917 in Dorchester, Mass., the daughter of Charles W. Cleary and Gertrude (Brayden) Cleary. She grew up in Wollaston, Mass., and graduated from Bridgewater Teachers College in 1938. After moving to Stratham to teach, she met and married Robert S. Berry in 1941.

She is survived by four children, William S. Berry of Bristol, R.I.; Gertrude B. Guth of Wallingford, Conn.; Kenneth R. Berry of Mercy Ships, now serving in Africa; and Donald B. Berry of West Springfield, Mass. There are 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

She was predeceased by her husband, Robert S. Berry, and a daughter, Kathy Laurin.

The Berry family would like to extend its appreciation to the staff at the Exeter Hospital and Exeter Health Care, who took exceptional care of Marjorie, and to the community of Langdon Place, where she made her home.

WE REMEMBER: "Marge" was a past member of the Stratham School Board, a trustee of the Exeter Hospital and a member of the Board of the Rockingham Co. Community Action and Head Start Program. She was instrumental in bringing child and family services to the Seacoast region, serving on its board for some years.

As a communicant of Christ Church in Exeter, Marge served in many capacities. She taught Sunday school, served on vestry and altar guild, and was the first woman lay minister. On the Diocesan level, she was involved in leadership training, was an Episcopal Church Women officer, and was the first woman to be elected to the Standing Committee for the State of New Hampshire. She was also one of the first women elected as deputy to the General Convention.

SERVICES: There will be no calling hours. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 20, at Christ Church, 43 Pine St., Exeter. A luncheon at the church will follow the service. Burial will be in the Exeter Cemetery, Exeter. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the Christ Church Memorial Fund, 43 Pine St., Exeter, NH 03833, or to Mercy Ships, P.O. Box 2020, Lindale, Texas 75771. Brewitt Funeral Home, Exeter, is handling arrangements. To sign an online guest book, visit http://www.brewittfuneralhome.com/

Friday, 11 July 2008


Wheelbarrows –

I have been thinking a lot about wheelbarrows…thousands of them being pushed about Liberia…mobile store fronts for flip-flops, clothing, fabric, tools, bras, toilet paper, eggs, tapes and DVDs, baskets, towels, Chiclets, candy, charcoal, head bands, coconuts; a means of delivery for a host of purchased goods; even recliners for sleeping men…but I think one thing that has shocked me and that is common here is when I first heard of a child dying in the wheelbarrow on the way to the hospital. I thought “Surely not!” But then a pastor friend of ours in a village said his wife was so sick in the middle of the night that they thought they would have to put her in a wheelbarrow and take her to the clinic. So, yes, it is a common means of transportation when you live way out in a village and it is the rainy season and there is no other way to get to the main road. Shocking. I find it shocking.

There is so much I need to think about here.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Sensory Overload

Last week I saw a cobra.

I went out to the village with the community health care team. What an afternoon it was. Sometimes I think it is all the sensory overload that can be overwhelming. First stop Duala market because we needed some peppers and onions for the meal provided for the participants in the class. While waiting in the land rover, there were so many things to see. UN vehicles, taxis, taxis, taxis….So, after the buyers got back into the vehicle, I reach in to the bag to see what they got and pulled out……chicken feet. Wow!! Not expected. Then on our way to the village, watching from the back of the vehicle - A beautiful young pregnant woman hurrying through the crowds. What must it be like to be her? What does she see. I know as women, our dreams must be the same.
As we travelled along to the village we saw a large black stick in the road which, of course, started to move and crawl along the road. And it raised its flat little head. Cobra! The picture here is not the one we saw but - it looks like it! It was about 5 feet long.

Reaching the village, something is amiss. We find out that the baby our team took to the hospital on Tuesday died of malaria on Wednesday. Today is Thursday and she is already buried. It is her 4th child to die. They think all died of malaria. We got started late with the class, held in a small Catholic church which functions as a school in the mornings. We talked about nutrition and they coloured and played a game. It was a review day and they seem to know their stuff. Rice is the main thing they eat. And in talking to our crew, we learn that if they have not eaten rice they have not eaten that day. A crew member from Guinea told me that he might eat potatoes, carrots, and corn but if he had not had rice he would not think he had eaten. And I have also heard that if rice is hard to come by, it is considered a desperate situation, like a war time situation. And we know that right now rice is hard to buy. It is expensive everywhere. It poured while we were there. It rains so hard during this rainy season that if you are in a building with a zinc roof, which most public buildings are, it is so loud you cannot hear the person beside you talk. All teaching stops. It was like sheets of rain. On the way home, we stopped to see the young mother to offer our sympathies. Losing 4 children I cannot imagine. And from Malaria?? Next week the team begins handing out mosquito nets, training in the villages at the same time and then the teaching and hanging of the nets will be continued by the participants in the class. They will go from house to house in their villages and teach at the same time.
Here is my latest little song, sung to Happy Birthday…

Use your net every day.
Keep mosquitos away!
Use your net when you’re sleeping…
It is the best way!

Saturday, I went along to a meeting of various NGO’s with a friend. I was just observing but it was interesting to hear the difficulties of obtaining the tests to rapidly diagnose malaria. Malaria is a very big problem here. Right now I cannot imagine being back in North America and getting bitten by mosquitos and knowing you do not have to be concerned about malaria. What a privilege that is and I do not even think about when I am at home.

Anyway, it was five hours of sensory overload.

And again…..so much to think about!

Monday, 7 July 2008

Breathless Tales

Breathless Tales

I would rather
clutch my invitation
and wait my turn
in party clothes
prim, proper
safe and clean.

But a pulsing hand
keeps driving me
over peaks
and spidered brambles.

So, I’ll pant
up to the pearled knocker

and full of tales.

by Janet Chester Bly

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Courage and Desperation

Let me share a few stories. We do a lot, a whole lot, of cataract surgeries on board. Sometimes 30 a day. One older woman came on board with fear and trembling. Her people told her that if she came on board, we would sail away with her. She came anyway. Another woman came with a shaved head. Her village had told her that we would cut off all her hair when we operated, so instead she did it herself. And she came anyway. Then I heard last week of one young man who was agitated in the OR and fought the nurses we then found out that he had been told we would circumcise him if he let us operate on his eyes. It is amazing to me the courage it takes to come to a Mercy ship. And the desperation that brings people here.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Where do our eyes come from?

I was talking to our eye surgeon at breakfast and casually asked, impressed, if he was going to be doing his usual 30 cataracts today. He said no, as he also had some other surgeries today including crossed eyes and eye removals.
So, of course that got us onto prosthetic eyes and where they come from. In more developed nations, when a crossed eye is fitted a great deal of time, expense and trial goes into finding the right color, etc and so there are extra eyes available for people like us who can use them for our patients.
Don't you think it is interesting?
So much goes on that I am totally unaware of and a casual conversation at breakfast may have me pondering it many times during the day.
Another changed life...

Friday, 13 June 2008

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

What a privilege. A couple of weeks ago we met President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. She had
graciously invited us to come. We wanted to express our appreciation to her for all her help with our times here over the last few years and to update her on the progress of the field service, in particular the reconstruction of a health clinic she had specifically asked us for help with. We presented her with photos of the clinic, showing the whole process and where we are at present. She was thrilled to see the changes. We also shared stories of patients on the wards who have particularly touched our hearts.

In the past few weeks, we have undergone various screenings in the rural areas of Liberia, looking for people who may be helped. As our surgery schedules have been filling up, we still have openings for maxillo facial patients, patients with cleft lips and large facial tumors. With the help of the UN we have been to Greenville and they have already transported patients up to Monrovia. One was a young boy with a rapidly growing cancer. We have supplied Chemotherapy to a local Catholic hospital here and they have agreed to supervise the treatments while the child stays in Monrovia with a grandmother.

When asked if there was anything more she might like us to do, she thought, only for a moment, and then replied that she had recently met a man with swollen legs. What did she do? She did what we, as crew, are supposed to do. She had a picture taken and now we can give the photo to our Health Care Services department and they can determine if we can help. It says to us – one person counts to her. Later she asked if we might help a local clinic. We are looking into that.

She talked about some of the needs she sees, specifically among the women in the rural communities. She has a great task ahead of her still.

I was impressed… with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf herself, for the incredible job she is doing, with her heart for her country, for her concern for the poor in the rural communities, for her courage, for her gentleness, her compassion, her graciousness. I was reminded of a title of a song I heard recently, “Mama Liberia”.

She is indeed an amazing woman!

Where We Are

Thought you might want to know where our cabin is.
We are in the middle row of windows, Deck 5 it is, and our cabin has the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th windows from the back.
Very light and great to watch the lightning from at night!

Monday, 9 June 2008

From My Desk...

From my desk this morning I see so much going on. A new receptionist is being trained. The Palliative Care is going out for the day. Theirs is a very emotional job, visiting the dying who we cannot help much physically. They change dressings and play and encourage and pray with them. Weekly they see their new friends die. The water and Sanitation team is setting out for the day. they have identified villages needing a well or needing a well rehabilitated. I hear our Hospitality people go by. They will be setting up cabins for new crew and guests. Our Security people are on duty at the gangway. One of our Agriculture trainers is on his way out. the other day he took his 3 year old daughter out with him to the village. She was standing waiting to leave with her dolly and her shovel. Very cute. She had a blast and came back to the ship very happy and just filthy, her mom told me. The plumbers are getting their job list for the day. the day workers that we hire locally are showing up. The chief Officer has just been by to see Ken regarding the play area up on our top deck. There is a visiting media Team on board at the moment and the PR dept. is preparing to take them out for the day. I see some Dining Room crew. They have just finished cleaning up from breakfast and will soon begin setting up for lunch. Soon the Housekeeping Crew will be coming by to empty trash and vacuum the offices. The Dental team has already gone out to a local hospital where they set up everyday. there will be a long, long line there this morning. The Eye Team has also already left. they go out 4 days a week to various local clinics to screen for surgeries and to train on eye Care. Someone is working on the CCTV camera. Oops, there are the Housekeeping crew, just like i thought. they have vacuum cleaners that are backpacks. And the Cafe leader just came by to see if I could help out making coffee this morning for the crew in the cafe at Break time. Ken has a meeting going on in his office. People arein and out all day long. He is enjoying the various challenges.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

A New Face

Alimou has a new face...or rather, he looks very, verydifferent.
How I would love to be in Guinea when he arrives home. After 8 years with a growing tumor, it has been removed. He will return in a few months for a second surgery and also to see if he needs to have some of the skin removed if it has not shrunken back to the original size.
I just think it is a remarkable thing.

Friday, 16 May 2008

I was just thinking...

Things are going well here in Liberia. I was just thinking this morning...

Surgery schedules are almost full...wells are being dug...Community Health is being taught...the dying are being cared for...eyes are being seen...food is being prepared...engines are being maintained...watches are being kept...nurses are on duty...waffles are being cooked as I write...coffee is being prepared...applications are being reviewed...the bank is working...copiers are being fixed...bathrooms are being cleaned...cookies are being made...children are being taught...containers are being unloaded...phones are being answered...vehicles are being worked on...a clinic is being built...agriculture is being taught...

Wow! And that is just a portion.

Thank You!

Thursday, 15 May 2008


His name is Alimu and he comes from Conakry, Guinea, in West Africa. We first met him when a team of us went from the ship to Guinea to see if there were people there who needed surgery. We had slots still available for facial tumors and cleft lips. He is 22 years old and he has had this tumor growing for 8 years. All of his teenage years. He had come 24 hours to see if we might be able to help. He carries a towel around for whatever reason...to hide the tumor…to wipe his mouth as the tumor stretches his mouth open…or to cover up the odour. He is very social, or at least he was with us.
The clinic where we saw him was in a village called N’Zao. A great place, run by the Christian and Missionary Alliance. A wonderful place with very caring people. The World Food Program flew him down here to Monrovia for free for his surgery and will fly him home to Conakry when he leaves here. With a new outlook on life…
I left there on a great high. People we met were wonderful. We felt like we were with old friends. People with great need would be coming for help. The team I had just spent 4 days with was fun. The 20 hours of travelling together had gone quickly and interestingly. But I also had thoughts that were not quite so comfortable. I had just seen at this clinic some people with great commitment. I read recently that a refugee is not just for Christmas and the thought kept running through my mind last week as we travelled. I had seen people whose doors are open 24 hours a day…yes, they have to set some boundaries but it is because they are willing…willing to be there for the people they serve all the time. Learning all the time…teach me to pull teeth, tell me what you are feeling, what does that lump feel like, what are you looking for. Yes, I love being here, and I love development issues and all I have learned here, and yes, I love being out in the village and yes, I love getting to know the patients and the people I meet here... but I do not think I want it 24 hours a day. Am I weak? Am I not committed enough? Am I spiritual? These are questions I wrestle with, that do not make me feel comfortable.

Alimu is in surgery right now as I write. One of our team is a young man who I know will visit him in the ward many times through out the days as he recovers. He will take him back to the airport and see him personally onto the plane that will take him home. I wish I could be there to see him arrive back home. I wish I could see what he does next and what his life holds. I think it will be different.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

To Guinea we will go!

Last week a team of us drove north to the country of Guinea. For most of our operations the schedules are full, some with waiting lists, but we still have openings for facial tumors and cleft lip surgeries. So...off we went for a small screening. A great team of 5 of us drove 10 hours there and 9 hours back. It was wonderful. We stayed at a great clinic run by the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
The hospitality was amazing, the people were like old friends and we saw a lot of patients, 21 of whom will come for surgery.
This young man is Alimu and he is 22 years old. He has had this tumor for 8 years. Yesterday he was flown down from Guinea for free by the World Food Program and today he will have his surgery. I am looking forward to seeing him tomorrow to see how he is doing.
Needless to say, we returned very excited, refreshed, and ready to go!
Again, what a priviledge!

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

This little Piggy....

Lots of babies this week for cleft lip surgery. A nurse this morning says they cried all night long. She said it was quite distracting. An understatement. I am sure it is a strange place to be. And she is the nurse for the job. We have such great, compassionate nurses here.

Also, many young patients are in for clubbed feet correction. I saw 2 young boys the other day on the dock, leaving to go home. They were probably 7 or 8 years old, hobbling very fast on new crutches, walking casts on, big grins, happy family members, just as if it were all so normal. Made me smile. a life can change so quickly!

Wear Your Slippers, Wear Your Slippers!

Two weeks ago, I was visiting one of the villages where some health care teaching was going on under a big tree. The teaching was on Hookworms and wearing your shoes as a preventative measure. It looked like attention was wavering. I remember praying for a missionary family with SIM in Burkina Faso who wanted us, as a Sunday School, to pray that their young son would keep his shoes on to prevent hookworms. So, this brought back memories for me As I watched, I thought, can we sing about it? Really, God is so faithful. Right away the tune for Frere Jacque or Are you sleeping? came to mind, so here goes…

Wear your slippers (flip flops here are called slippers)
Wear your slippers
Every Day
Every day
When you wear your slippers
When you wear your slippers
The worms stay away
The worms stay away

Of course, all this with motions. They all started to sing it. And a couple of days ago, while walking through the same village, people saw me and started singing. My favourite scripture lately has been Psalm 121. Our help cometh from the Lord who made Heaven and Earth. Why don’t I fgo to him more often. It was so fast, so direct, so practical and the ship people who are out there everyday, say that the people young and old are still singing that little piece of wisdom.

I am excited!!

Friday, 11 April 2008


This is Princess. She is one of our VVF women and I got to know her last year. She has been on board three times now, so we have spent a lot of time together. She has learned to knit and to crochet and this time we played lots and lots of card games, with her beating me soundly at Crazy Eights many times. Princess was identified and brought here by the International Rescue Committee and they will bring her back for check ups until she is considered ready to go back to the Interior. Her plan is to continue selling from her wheel barrow and return to school in the fall. These women are amazing.
Check out the documentary called A Walk To Beautiful, airing on Nova May 13th in the States. It really shows the plight of women with fistulas.



How exciting to see the first harvest of honey from the women's projects from last year in Liberia!

Friday, 28 March 2008

What a privilege!!

I am reminded so often of what a privilege it is to be here...like when I was sitting under some trees the other day during a village meeting to see what some of their needs are...like when I visit "my" patient in the ward...teaching her to plat "Fish"...like when I donate blood(we are a floating blood bank, after all)...like when I am dodging the tubes and catheters during the worship service on the ward...like when I visited the Women's projects from last year and...saw them harvest their first ever honey from their bee hives. So many things. Last week a baby came on board for a surgery and had, not a cleft lip surgery but a whole cleft face surgery! Amazing!

This photo is not an easy one but it does show one of the little ones who came to our Screening Day for help, Yes, it really is a privilege to be here!!