Tuesday, 28 October 2008

African Hoodie...

This past week I had a couple of hoodies made at the Tailor on Jamaica Road, a short 15 minute walk from the ship. They are very cool because the material I chose (from a salesman in Duala Market) is a map of Africa camouflaged pattern. I am very impressed by his work!

A Robertsport Adventure...

It had been one of my dreams whilst here in Liberia to visit Robertsport, a holiday destination north of the ship. This past weekend I got my chance and boy, was I not disappointed! Here is my account of the weekend's events. Fasten your seatbelts, this is going to be a long one!

Eight intrepid explorers left the M/V Africa Mercy early this past Saturday morning to join a group of four that had left the previous day. Our destination? Robertsport. A three-hour drive north-west of Monrovia, and just a stone’s throw away from Liberia’s border with Sierra Leone (you can actually see the Sierra Leonean coast from Robertsport). We arrived at Nana’s Lodge, Robertsport, soon after 10h30 in the morning, after a speedy journey through thanks to Lorenzo, our driver.

After settling in to our bungalow tents, and taking in the breathtaking scenery (beautiful clean beaches and placid waves – although a rather strong current), we headed down and joined the others relaxing on the beach. This was how the rest of the day played out – chillaxing on the beach, enjoying each other’s company. We played Frisbee, and also spent much time body-boarding (boogie-boarding) on the waves. It was great fun.

Having had a lovely walk by the water’s edge just after sunset, we headed back up to the tents. However, later on we returned to the beach and made a bonfire, using driftwood we had gathered on the beach. The flames leaped high into the night sky. Indeed, the sky at night was quite a sight. The stars were out in full force, something seldom seen in the urban sprawl that is Monrovia. It was awesome to see God’s beauty and majesty unveiled before our eyes.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
The skies proclaim the work of His hands.
(Psalm 19: 1 NIV)

After six or so hours of sleep, I awoke to another sunny day. Four of us (Ben from the USA, Katelyn from Australia, Holly from New Zealand, and yours truly) walked into town where we just enjoyed being able to roam around freely, meeting UNMIL troops as well as children and adults from the local community. The kids were especially awesome, following us around and asking us to “Take my picture.” The buildings are also so much nicer and the environment is definitely cleaner that Monrovia, as is the sea-water. There seems to be signs of hope here in Robertsport. There are even solar-powered street lights!

It was also interesting (walking back along the beach – going we walked along the road) to see the names of the large fishing canoes: Jesus Give It To Me, Father Forgive Them, Give God The Glory, Love Is Wicked, and God Children. Christianity certainly plays a large role in this community – or at least in the naming of the fishing vessels!

Then, after our lovely morning spent exploring the town and its surrounds, we spent the remainder of our time relaxing some more on the beach, which is where I am now as I write this. We leave in a little over two hours. It has been a fantastic weekend – good people, good times! And certainly a much-needed break from ship life!

Thinking that that was the last I’d write for this blog, I find myself having to write some more… Hmmm, well. So much for saying we leave in two hours! Our taxi was two-and-a-half hours late and so we only got underway at 18h00, Sunday evening.

But shortly thereafter we got a puncture (a flat) in the left rear tyre. Once repaired, we were soon heading on towards the main road to Sierra Leone. We did, however, pull off the road to stop and buy a catfish and it was rather bumpy and uncomfortable with four in the back of a taxi! We were stopped at the checkpoint where the road to Sierra Leone joins the road to Monrovia. A lady official asked us “Where you come from?” The answers varied from New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. We then realised she meant Robertsport – “Where you coming from today?” It was rather embarrassing!

Another few light-hearted, albeit serious, moments. A taxi pulled out in front of our lead car. They had words with each other. We then passed this taxi and one of our Liberian friends in our taxi leaned out and said, “Something wrong with you, hey?” And then he shouted, “Don’t put foot!” to a man who crossed the road a little too close to us.

We eventually arrived home at 20h30, after another speedy drive through. And so ends a great, albeit tiring, weekend!

Friday, 24 October 2008

Tenegar Revisited...

This past Wednesday myself and some of the Communications team headed out to Tenegar. Our aim was to get some shots of our Bridgestone tyres on our Land Rovers in action on a dirt road. Bridgestone donated the tyres and wanted some publicity. So I drove the Land Rover while our photographer and videographer captured images.

But more important than publicity for Bridgestone was to be able to get off the ship and visit Tenegar. The last time I was there was with the Malcolm Kelly vision trip back in July (see blog entry From Reception To Communications, Monday, July 14). It is amazing to see the progress that is happening there at Tenegar. The walls are painted, the ceilings are wooden, and the furniture has been varnished. The floors have also been tiled and it is looking pretty impressive. It made me extremely proud to be able to see what our Community Development Services (now more correctly termed Health Care Development… but you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!) guys and the local community have been doing. And to be honest it is not about us, as Mercy Ships, but it is more about the dedicated hard-working community. They are the ones who have done most of the work. They have taken ownership of this project, which is great.

This clinic was left in ruins after the civil war. All that was there were the foundations. And to now see it coming to life is a wonderful thing. It could be said that Tenegar in some ways represents Liberia. It has had a troubled past, in that the clinic was razed to the ground, but is now rising on its solid foundations to a brighter future. Let’s hope Liberia goes from strength to strength! And let’s hope that the Tenegar clinic will be a blessing to all who enter its doors for treatment.

The clinic is due to be officially opened later next month. I will be there as part of the Communications team to cover the event, so I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes!

But for now here are some then (July) and now (October) shots.

Farewell Maria...

This past Monday my good friend Maria Foxley left the ship. Maria, from New Zealand, had been on the ship since September last year and worked as a Recovery Room Nurse. She is a huge rugby fan (although, it must be said, she does support the All Blacks...) and we spent many hours watching Super 14 and Tri-Nations rugby together. It was also sad to say goodbye as she was the last of my original friends to leave. None of my friends who were here when I arrived back in November are now here. She will be missed by many here on the ship. So long Maria!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Mercy Ships 30th Anniversary...

It was Mercy Ships 30th anniversary on Saturday 18th October, and so to celebrate the occasion there were various games happening throughout the ship and on the dock. There were twenty teams (six people in each team) taking part in the competition.

My team was Jemeke. A strange name, yes, but not so strange if you see that it is the initials of the first names of the team members put together. JEMEKE = JP, Emma, Murray, Emily, Kassi, Emily. The games included bean bag throwing, broomstick balance racing, a memory game, darts, table tennis, an onion-spoon obstacle race, mini basket ball, and a couple of others. At the end all the teams' points were tallied and the winners were announced whilst we all sat sitting eating our lovely dinner on the dock. We finished a strong third overall.

But yes, let me mention the dinner on the dock. The whole ship community came together for a braai (barbecue) on the dock. It is amazing to see what a large community we actually are. You don't really notice it sitting in the Dining Room, but being out on the dock you certainly see it. And it is also wonderful to see that despite coming from 35 different nations spread throughout the globe, we are completely united! This is only as a result of all of us being here for one reason: to serve God by bringing hope and healing to the people of Liberia. It's awesome!

In the evening we had a special Mercy Ships 30th anniversary service in the International Lounge. An end-of-field service dvd, done by my coworker and videographer, Emily Adams, was shown. She really did a brilliant job. I can't wait to show this presentation to all of you back home. There was also wonderful worship led by Enoch Yeboah, also a coworker in the Communications department, as well as presentations on the various ships that Mercy Ships has had over the past thirty years. (Good Samaritan later renamed Island Mercy, Caribbean Mercy, Anastasis and, of course, my home the Africa Mercy).

It was great to see how God has blessed this organisation over the years. Yes, this was a time of reflection and a time to remember, but it was also a time to look to the future and embrace it. So here's to another thirty years of providing medical expertise, community development, and continuing to spread God's message of love and hope through all we do. Thanks for all your support. Happy birthday Mercy Ships.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Minor Job...

Crew members are encouraged, if they have time, to pick up a minor job and thus bless another department. This past week I made the decision to get a minor job helping out in Reception. I am still a Communications Writer first and foremost, but I now help out in Reception one half-day a week. It's not a lot, but it is fulfilling a need. Reception have been short-staffed for a while now. I feel it is rather fitting to give something back to Reception. I started in Reception back in November 2007, when I arrived here, and now I will be ending my time here spending some time in Reception. And it means I also get to don my uniform a few last times before I leave this vessel. I've missed my uniform working in Communications! Being back in Reception does add a rather poetic aspect to my service here on the M/V Africa Mercy. The photo here is an old one from back in November last year.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Marshall Town...

Yesterday, Sunday 5th October, I went out with a group of friends to Marshall, a town an hour-and-a-half's drive from the ship. It is a stone's throw away from Roberts International Airport.

Arriving at this beautiful fishing village, we went and walked along a pristine beach; actually, a sandbar stretching out between the sea and a peaceful lagoon. On reaching the lagoon's mouth we all, after swimming in the shallow waters off the point, bundled into a traditional Liberian canoe and went for a boat ride around Monkey Island, where there are resident giant chimpanzees. And they were out in force this day.
Having rounded the island, we reached the other side of the lagoon and then set out walking along miles and miles of unspoilt coastline. We also had an entourage of local kids accompanying us for most of our coastal trek. They also gave us fresh coconuts and caught crabs to show us, as well as swimming in the sea with us. These kids may be poor in terms of material possessions, but they are so so wealthy in that they live in such a beautiful area.

Having spent most of the morning and afternoon on the beach, relaxing, swimming and bodyboarding, we slowly headed back to Marshall, having one last swim in the lagoon after our boat crossing. It was another wonderful day in Liberia; a day I will remember for years to come.

It is amazing how God has provided so many opportunities for me to make the most of this time here. This truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I'll probably never be in Liberia again, and it is thus so important to seize the day while I'm here. God is so faithful.

Life Without Limbs...

Last week Mercy Ships had the privilege of hosting Nick Vujicic, world-renowned Australian evangelist, as part of his ten-nation tour. Nick is my age. He was born without any limbs. And he is brilliant.

He spent time interacting with the Liberian people and even spoke at the SKD Sports Complex. His story is such an inspiration. He spoke to the Mercy Ships family in our Thursday night community meeting. I was awed by his testimony, and later some of the young adult crowd had the honour of spending time chatting and laughing with him. He has such an amazing sense of humour. As well as a wonderful outlook on life. This is all due to God's hand so evidently working in and through his life.

Academy Open House...

Last Wednesday, 1st October, the Academy, the school on-board the ship, opened up its doors to the general crew. It was great to see how well-stocked it is. But more than that, how dedicated and caring the teachers are. Here is one of those committed teachers, and one of my friends here, Emily Hawk. She teaches Grade Two.

There were also opportunities to get involved in various activities. I decided to reach deep inside and pull out the poet in me. So I wrote a Haiku, a Japanese form of poetry. My subject-matter was something which I've been thinking about more and more recently: cycling. It is October. There is not too much time before I'll be back in Cape Town, in training for another Cape Argus Pick 'n Pay Cycle Tour. That being said, here is my Haiku:

Legs pumping up, down
Speeding by you watch the world
Man, machine as one.

Valletta Awards...

Saturday 27th September we also had the first annual Valletta Awards crew film festival. Crew members were encouraged to make short films in the categories of documentary, animation or comedy. The films were then screened in the International Lounge, to a packed audience.

There was then an award ceremony in the Town Square area of the ship. It was really cool. It was also great to see all the crew members dressed up in formal attire. The ladies wore stunning dresses whilst the guys wore suits and ties. It was such a great evening.
The Valletta Awards were named after our port of registration, Valletta, in Malta.

Wulki Farm - The Return...

Last Saturday, 27th September, I went out to Wulki Farm again. This time it was myself and a group of eight ladies. I decided to go primarily because my friend Becky Weinz, who's been like a ship sister to me over the past months, was leaving the following Wednesday and had never gone before.

So we drove out to the Farm and once there took an easy stroll looking at the animals and enjoying each other's company. Once back we swam and while chilling at the pool, a young man rode up on a horse and he offered to take me for a horse ride. Now I've never really ridden a horse before, and as mentioned in a previous post, I am really wanting to seize opportunities during my last few months here. So I decided to accept the offer. It was great fun. William, the horse's owner led me the first while, but then let me control the horse myself for the way back. I was happy that we stopped just around the corner from where all my friends were... because my dismount was rather awkward, to say the least. My one foot got caught in the stirrup and I ended up dangling on the side of the horse, stuck in the saddle. Thankfully a security guard and William helped me out of my predicament.

But more than that I want to share William's story with you. He is eighteen-years-old. Both his parents were killed during the war. He now has dreams of going to university and studying to be a medical doctor. That is why he is working at the Farm: to try and earn enough money to put himself through his tertiary education. Again, it won't be an easy journey for William. But one must keep hope alive.