Friday, 30 April 2010

Another day of lifeboat training...

This past Wednesday my lifeboat team of Boat 4 had the chance to do some training. I was the Brakeman for the training and, once given the command from the leader, am in charge of pulling the lever to lower the boat. It is never easy to lower the boat out of its davits and down to the embarkation deck. The winch can be rather "sticky" and thus jolt a bit when you're lowering away, but it went well this time round. Once I had lowered the boat to the deck I was able to go for a ride in the large 150-man craft.

After a short, smooth descent down the falls we touched the water, broke free of the davits, started the motor and headed out into the clear blue waters of the harbour. Once clear of our dock we practiced rowing the lifeboat (which is not an easy task, due to the size of the boat) and other manouvres, such as ensuring the bow is kept into the waves - to avoid capsizing.

Once ready to head back to the ship, we were ferried to the dock via one of the ship's smaller MOB (Man Overboard) boats. We were taken back in this craft because the large lifeboat is not designed to be lifted up the davits with so many people in it.

So that was how I spent my Wednesday morning. Never a dull moment when you're serving on the Mercy Ship!

Here are some more photos from our morning of lifeboat training.

Artemio secures the aft bowsing tackle.

Inside the lifeboat.

Lowering down the falls.

The bow of the Africa Mercy - note our port anchor is lowered.

The Captain and Chief Officer observe proceedings from the port bridge wing.

The port side of the AFM.

Trying my hand at rowing - it's harder than it looks!

AFM docked in Lome.

Leaving the 150-man lifeboat and speeding back to the dock.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Life onboard a commercial cargo-ship...

This past weekend a small group of us visited a cargo-ship berthed on the other side of our dock, the Chennai-flagged BMC Genesis. This vessel sailed from Pakistan to Togo via Durban, South Africa, with a consignment of rice.

The BMC Genesis is crewed by Indian sailors who gave us lovely chai tea and took us on a tour of their ship. The Genesis, like many commercial ships, has no Internet connection and no TV and thus the crew spend their spare time playing cards and reading. They are often short of supplies and have to fashion make-shift solutions to rather complex problems. There are difficult issues in the engine-room that require attention. Despite these challenges, the ship does have a bridge equipped with all the crucial navigational aids required on a modern ship, and safety equipment such as lifeboats and fire-fighting gear.

Our tour of the Genesis gave us a glimpse into the tough life onboard a commercial cargo-ship in the merchant marine, and certainly made me very thankful to work and serve on the Mercy Ship.

It also made me even more thankful for all our day volunteers and crew in the Deck and Engineering departments, who work so hard to ensure that the Africa Mercy is well-maintained and in ship-shape condition. Without these departments, we'd just be an empty shell, incapable of providing our patients with life-changing surgeries.

So thanks to the technical departments who keep our lights burning, toilets flushing and air-conditioning flowing! You are a blessing to all of us.

Here are some more photos of the BMC Genesis.

This is the rather dirty main engine.

Passageway in the Genesis.

The bridge.

The Fire Panel of the Genesis. Naturally I found this rather interesting.

A lovely reminder on the bridge.

One of two lifeboats that this ship carries.

Indian-flagged vessel.

Africa Mercy (in background) as seen from the BMC Genesis.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Togolese Independence Day!

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Togo's independence from France in 1960. So it was somewhat fitting that we celebrated it here on the Mercy Ship. There was a party organised for day volunteers and crew in the Dining Room. A large crowd of crew members and day volunteers marked this day with joyous singing and dancing. On another point, it was also lovely to see the Togolese Navy flying their festive colours today.

Also reason to celebrate as a South African is that today marks the 16th anniversary of South Africa's first democratic election back on the 27th April, 1994. It is Freedom Day (a public holiday) back home!

May God bless both Togo and South Africa as we celebrate this special day.

Togo Navy patrol boat Mono flying its colours.

High-speed motorboats also flying flags in celebration of Togo's independence.

Seven Seas Voyager...

This past weekend the Regent Seven Seas Cruise liner Seven Seas Voyager pulled into the port of Lome. She was visiting Togo on her voyage from Cape Town to Fort Lauderdale. Cruise ships are rare visitors in West African ports, but it is good to see them visiting here as they do bring in much-needed capital for the local economy.

Seven Seas Voyager across the harbour.

Lifeboat drill onboard Seven Seas Voyager.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Losing Scruffy...

This isn't an easy post to write, but I feel it is one that needs to be written. You see, this past Wednesday I received some bad news. My beeper went off with the message "please come to Reception" and when I got there, the receptionist on-duty told me that my parents were on the line. At this my heart sunk. My parents have never called the ship before. It's too expensive to call a US number from South Africa. It is in fact much cheaper for me to call them (which I do, quite regularly). And so even as I picked up the receiver I knew it was bad news. There was a great fear in my heart.

My Dad told me that my beloved Scruffy-dog had died that day. I headed back to my cabin shell-shocked and in tears and called my family right back, to find out the details. It was very sudden. Tuesday night she was breathing rather deeply and my parents set an appointment with the Blue Cross (our local veterinary clinic) for 11h00 Wednesday morning. By the time Wednesday came around Scruffs was very apathetic, not wanting to move from her spot under the table, and at around 10h30 she let out a sound which my Dad described as the "sound of death itself". She didn't die then, but held on as he carried her into the car and drove to the Blue Cross. But by the time they reached the vet (a mere ten minute drive away) she had passed on. The doctor reckoned her lungs had given way. This news floored me.

Throughout this conversation I was in tears, wanting answers. Why? Why? WHY? And I don't know why. As it says in Job, the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. God gave us Scruffy to look after and love for her life - which is what we did. Although the shock is great to us, I do know that I would have rather had her died suddenly and painlessly than lingered through some tragic illness. Now that the initial grief is over, I am able to remember the good times I had over the past eleven years with my lovely Scottish Beardie/Old English Sheepdog cross.

Scruffy came to us in 1999. We took in this bounding bundle of joy from The Emma Animal Rescue Society (TEARS). She was around one at the time, and had lived a tough life in the townships. As a puppy she had been beaten by men armed with sticks, and the psychological effect of this stayed with her throughout her life. These early experiences made her intensely protective of her family and territory at 6 Norfolk Lane, and deeply suspicious of strangers - especially men.

But there was so much more to Scruffs than these qualities. She was also deeply loyal and always obedient. I have many wonderful memories of Scruffy. I remember the play-fights we used to have all over the house and in the garden. I remember her playing with her frisbee, ball or rope. I loved her tricks she would do such as shake-paw when receiving a treat. I'll cherish the walks we had on the slopes of Table Mountain and on the Common, as well as the cold winter mornings when she would come into my room and jump onto my bed to keep me warm. I'll miss her spinning around in circles at the prospect of a walkie. I'll miss her bark signalling the arrival of the day's post. I'll miss Scruffy, my friend, faithful companion, and very much a part of the Crawford family.

I'll miss you so much my Scruffy-dog.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Cycling (Crashing) in Kpalime...

Before I start this blog post I'm showing you this photo. It is evidence that it is always necessary to wear gloves and a helmet when biking. The story of this glove is related below.

This past weekend I joined a group of crew members in heading up to Kpalime, a three-hour drive north and a little west of the ship, close to the Ghanaian border. The drive there was uneventful - I wish I could say the same for my time in Kpalime. Third Officer Eric and I were going to be biking (and staying at Hotel le Geyser) in Kpalime, while the others were staying at a campsite in the hills above the town.

Eric and I went out biking into town on Saturday afternoon and came across the start of "Le Tour du Togo" cycle race, with cyclists from Togo, Benin, Ghana, Burkina Faso and other African nations taking part. After a hour or so we headed back towards the hotel but I decided that I hadn't had enough cycling and carried on into the hills above Kpalime. My intention was to meet up with the group camping in the hills near the waterfalls. However, I took a number of wrong turns and by the time I was on the right track it was time for me to head back to the hotel. There was quite a long uphill that I had cycled up and thus had to cycle down again and it was on this descent where trouble struck.

Three cars were coming towards me as I was speeding down the hill at around 40 km/h. There was a stationary car parked on the right (on my side of the road). Between the oncoming cars and this parked car was a narrow strip of road, full of potholes. There was no way to avoid them and no time to slow down. I hit the potholes hard (the impact caused my chain to jump off the back cog and wedge itself between the frame and the cog) and I lost control and hit the tarmac. I skidded along for several metres, cutting and scraping along the left side of my body, including my knee, hip, elbow and chest. My left hand would have been shredded badly had I not been wearing my cycling gloves. They quite literally saved my skin (as the photo here shows).

I lay dazed on the tarmac for a few seconds and the first thought to go through my mind was "Oh no, I've crashed my poor bike!" Then my mind turned to my scrapes and grazes and how I would get back the 10 or so kilometres to the hotel. As I was slowly getting up and checking my bike, a motorbike stopped a few metres ahead and gave me (and my bike - awkwardly balanced on my lap) a lift back to the hotel.

When we arrived at the hotel my legs had gone into shock and I couldn't bend my knees - a natural shock reaction, I am told. Eric and the hotel staff helped clean the wounds with water and then alcohol (which stung like crazy). Eric then left me to re-clean the wounds while he went in search of medical supplies in town. So I was able to get clean and bandaged up (with the help of some insulation tape to hold the bandages in place), and have now been checked out and patched up fully by the Wound Care nurse here on the ship. I am thankful to say that although I came out of my accident beaten and bruised, my bike was completely unscathed - which is a minor miracle considering the speed I was going!

Anyway, let’s return to the weekend… I then spent the vast majority of my time away from ship relaxing at the hotel. At lunchtime on Sunday the other group arrived and we bundled into two vehicles and headed back to the ship - only to get caught for an hour or so behind the leading peloton in "Le Tour du Togo" - which was quite exciting for me, being somewhat of a cycling enthusiast myself!

And so ended my rather eventful weekend off-ship… Would I change it for anything else? Nah, it all adds to the adventure of serving with Mercy Ships!

Our two vehicles in Kpalime.

Outside Hotel le Geyser.

The dining area at the Geyser.

The pool.

Outside a large church in Kpalime.

A pretty convent.

Stuck behind "Le Tour du Togo" headed back to Lome.

Burkina Faso cyclist.

Passing the main peloton.