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