Monday, 30 November 2009

Salt Water Pool...

This past Saturday (28th November) was blackout day on the Africa Mercy. This is when our hardworking Engineers shut down the main generators and spend the day cleaning the engines ahead of our sail north to Tenerife. And so the ship is a dark, unpleasant place to be with no flushing toilets (our toilets operate on a vacuum system), no electricity and no air conditioning.

Which is why a group of good friends headed off to the Salt Water Pool on the Beach Road to spend the day. We had a lovely time in each other's company - playing games, chatting, swimming and sleeping. It was a pretty relaxing day and a great break from the normal routine of ship life.

When we returned to the ship some eight hours later the Engineers had restored full power and the cleaning of the engines had been a great success. So all in all it was a great day - a wonderful day of relaxing with good friends and a really successful day for the Engineers and Technical crew. And another reason to be thankful here on the Africa Mercy.

The whole group - Me, Jess, Richard, Meg, PJ, Liz & Jesse.

The model photo shot. Hot. Real hot.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I may be a (very patriotic) South African and thus not celebrate Thanksgiving Day, but I would just like to wish all my American friends (and blog readers) a very Happy Thanksgiving! There are so many things for which I am thankful - and right at the top of the list are my wonderful family and friends. Some of my closest friends here are American and I am so thankful for them. But regardless of nationality, you guys are all blessings to me. Seriously, love you all.

In celebration of American Thanksgiving, my good friends Jess and Liz put on a special Thanksgiving meal for us. Well, our awesome Galley and Dining Room staff took care of the food - but Jess and Liz did a great job with decorating our table and making all of us feel special! Thanks guys!

Our table (minus yours truly) - my family here on the ship.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Giving the Gift of Life...

I have been on the blood donor list for quite some time now, but with the Field Service winding down, I didn't think I would have the chance to donate blood for a patient. I was mistaken.

The Lab called me while I was working at Reception this past Wednesday (18th November). They needed my blood for a patient who had been readmitted after surgery on a goitre. Her haemoglobin was a low 6 and after the two units of blood (my unit and another crew member's blood) her haemoglobin count went up to 9,2 - which is much healthier.

The process of donating blood is painless and it is always an honour to give blood for another person. And the Africa Mercy's blood donor programme is special in that the patients are receiving healthy whole blood - the blood is actually still warm as it has just been taken out of the donor's body! It is also a privilege being able to meet the patient who has received your blood.

This was my third time donating blood and all three times have been for patients onboard the Africa Mercy - twice in Liberia and now once here in Benin. And I wouldn't bet against another donation in Togo. It's just another small act of service onboard the Mercy Ship.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Lifeboat Training...

Earlier today I found myself the Bowman in one of the Africa Mercy's 50 person lifeboats. How - and why - did I get there? Well, I was asked by the Training Officer if I would like to join a lifeboat crew for the sail. Although there were some difficulties - because I work in Reception and am automatically part of Muster Control - my boss, the Purser, has allowed me to join a lifeboat team for the sail north to Tenerife. It will be a good experience and will allow me to gain invaluable training in another aspect of Maritime Safety.

And so it was that this morning at 08h30 I went up to Deck 8 and assisted in the lowering of the boat - learning how the davits and pulleys work. Before embarking the lifeboat from Deck 7, we all donned lifejackets and safety helmets. Once safely onboard, we lowered away into the dirty water of Cotonou's harbour and went for a short ride. It was good fun to learn about the Africa Mercy's lifeboats and to gain some practical knowledge. But let's hope and pray that we never have to put this knowledge to use in a real emergency.

Tomorrow or Thursday I will have a chance to learn about our bigger boats (capacity of 150 persons each) and go for a ride in one of them. I'm not sure I'll blog about that, but stay posted in any case!

Sunday, 15 November 2009


The fuel tanker Energizer docked alongside the Africa Mercy this past Friday. We bunkered enough fuel - around 800 tons - to see us safely on our sail up north to the Canary Islands next month. The process of bunkering is one fraught with safety concerns (due to the volatile nature of the tanker's cargo), but thankfully the refueling went smoothly, thanks to the Energizer's crew and our own dedicated Deck and Engineering Departments.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

French Naval Visit...

The French naval ship L 9012 - also known as Siroco - pulled into the Port of Cotonou last week. Benin, being a former French colony, has a close relationship with France. The Siroco is an amphibious assault vessel and carries eight troop landing craft as well as four helicopters. She is able to carry over 450 troops, along with a crew of over 200 naval personnel. My Internet searching brought up an interesting fact in terms of Mercy Ships and that is that the Siroco also has a 47 bed hospital and two operating theatres. The visit of this ship brought back memories of the USS Fort McHenry, which was in Liberia last year. Both ships are comparable in terms of size and look.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Crew vs Day Volunteers Football Game...

The Benin Marina Hotel hosted a football (soccer) game of some importance last Sunday (8th November). It was the Mercy Ships Crew vs the Mercy Ships Day Volunteers. Day Volunteers are local people who are hired by Mercy Ships to assist the various departments - we have wonderful Beninoise engine-hands, electricians, mechanics, translators, deck-hands and hospital staff.

There was a wonderful atmosphere at the Marina Hotel as the game kicked off shortly after 15h00. Many supporters - both Crew and Day Volunteers - made the short journey from the ship to watch the game. The game itself was an even affair, although the time the referee played was far from even. A 37 minute first-half, followed by 67 minutes of second-half action! The result after full-time was a goalless draw, but the match was decided on penalties, in which the Crew won 4-1.

I was the linesman for the whole second-half and called a few offside calls. I enjoyed the experience, but don't think my calling is as an Assistant Referee!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The Dive Team...

Due to the fact that the Africa Mercy spends ten months of a year docked in port, there is much sea growth that springs to life on the ship's hull. The underwater vents for cooling the ship's engines and air-conditioning systems can also become clogged with pollution and marine growth. It is here where the Dive Team comes into play. The Dive Team are all crew members who have specialised roles onboard the vessel (there is a nurse, a Transportation Manager, a photographer and a receptionist, amongst others), but they all volunteer their free time to clean the ship's hull. And dive in some pretty dirty water as well!

The next few weeks they are focusing their efforts on cleaning the forward part of the ship, in anticipation for our upcoming sail to the Canary Islands. This will save fuel in the long-run, as there will be less resistance through the water.

It is volunteer roles such as these - in an entirely voluntary organisation - that often go unnoticed. So thanks to the Dive Team for the great work they do!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Academy Open House...

Last night was the Academy Open House here on the ship. For those of you who don't know, the Academy is the school onboard the Africa Mercy. And last night they opened their doors for the whole crew to get a taste of what the students are learning. There were science experiments, Judo demonstrations, and many examples of writing and artwork.

With around fifty ship-kids (children of long-term crew members) onboard, the Academy plays a key role on the ship. It is staffed by teachers from many different countries, including South Africa, Scotland, America and Canada. And today I want to focus on five of those teachers.

Ben Calvert is from Scotland and is the PE Specialist in the Academy. Through the sports and games he teaches, the children improve hand-eye coordination, as well as learn motivation, ball skills and healthy competition. Ben enjoys the fact that "with so few kids, you really get to know them." It's always nice having small classes that facilitate a solid teacher-student relationship.

"The most special thing [about working on the ship] is just the fact that all the kids are from all over the world and they all come with very unique, interesting experiences." This is what Danae Johnston of Canada enjoys about teaching 2nd Grade on the Mercy Ship. It certainly is the many different nationalities that make the Academy - and indeed Mercy Ships - such a special part of God's kaleidoscope. Danae (left) and Christina, Science teacher (right).

Christina Orman of California, USA is the Junior High and High School Science Specialist onboard the Africa Mercy. Christina also sees the value in a small class, and when asked what she finds most special in working here, she stated that it is really enjoyable "working with multicultural staff and students in a small environment and being able to build relationships that inspire and influence them to draw closer to the Lord."

"Being able to talk about Jesus without having to guard my words." This is what Haley Nichols of Alabama, USA enjoys about working onboard the ship, when comparing teaching here with teaching back home. Haley is the 4th and 5th Grade teacher onboard, and also teaches 6th Grade Social Studies. For her, being able to pray with her students is also very special. Haley is at right in the photo here.

Kindergarten teacher Estelle Pretorius from Cape Town, South Africa, also sees the value in being able to speak freely about her faith. "You can relate everything back to God - in terms of their behaviour and social interaction, their values."

With such dedicated teachers and Academy staff, it is clear that the students are receiving an education which meets the highest standard and level when compared to schooling in America, Europe, South Africa or any other country, for that matter. The students - and the crew - are truly blessed to have such wonderful teachers on this Ship of Mercy.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Another Thursday Fire Drill...

Last Thursday we had another Fire Drill... except this Fire Drill had a twist! We had to evacuate Reception as part of our response - because the site of the "fire" was here. Muster Control successfully relocated aft and the crew evacuated via the aft gangway.

I was sent to Reception halfway through the drill to answer external phone calls - because there were no trained receptionists left there. I opened the main fire door leading into Reception to discover a whole team of firefighters, fully kitted out in SCBAs, sitting behind the Reception desk. It was quite a sight! Click on the images for a larger view. Photos here courtesy of Ben Rosson.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

A Rare Visitor...

Several weeks ago we had a rare visitor come into the Port of Cotonou. She was the 30,277 GRT cruise ship Tahitian Princess on her world cruise, sailing from Europe down to South Africa and on to Asia. Although comparatively small as cruise ships go, she still makes the Africa Mercy, at 16,572 GRT, look rather small!

Photos here courtesy of the Transfer Drive (where crew members can share photos onboard the AFM).

Africa Mercy at centre in Cotonou, Benin. Tahitian Princess is just out of shot to the left.