Saturday, 26 June 2010

TIA: Traffic In Africa

"Traffic Jam, noun: a long line of vehicles on a road that cannot move or that can only move very slowly."

That is the definition according to the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, my dictionary of choice when I was a University student. However, I feel this definition is somewhat lacking in the details when one applies it to the West African context.

"Traffic Jam, noun: a myriad of vehicles, anything from large trucks to small motorbikes, heading in any random direction without care for consequences. Throw into the mix a number of pedestrians walking around, the mandatory hawker selling his goods, and perhaps a goat or two for good measure, along with a two-lane road quickly transformed into a six-lane congested mess, and you have a recipe for chaos!"

That would be my definition for a traffic jam here in Togo - one of which I experienced earlier today. Now any Mercy Shipper worth their salt knows that Friday is Ultimate Frisbee day. And any friend of mine knows that I'll do anything not to miss a game of Ultimate. But today we were forced to give up our frisbee aspirations.

So it was that we headed out to the field which is usually a short five-minute drive from the ship. An hour and a half later we were about 500 metres from the ship in gridlock traffic full of all sorts of vehicles driving in random directions looking for shortcuts away from the chaos - which, of course, increased the chaos. Traffic jams can be a source of much frustration to driver and passenger alike, but I was blessed in having some close friends with me for the journey, and we had some fun times playing games and keeping up the humour in a stressful situation.

We ended up parking the Land Rover at the local Seaman's Mission and walked back in the gloaming, arriving back at the ship later than had we gone to frisbee, played frisbee, and driven back from said game of frisbee. Back home in peak traffic I'd get frustrated. Here I laugh it off with good friends. It's just another way God is shifting my view of life while I serve here on the Mercy Ship :-)

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Another French Naval Visit...

Last week the French navy's Force Projection and Command Ship Mistral pulled in to the Port of Lome. She docked on the other side of our dock and were offering tours to Mercy Ships crew. And, of course, I went and joined one of these tours this past Thursday.

The Mistral was built in 2003 and commissioned in 2006, and as such is a very modern vessel. She has many different specialised facilities onboard. The ship carries amphibious landing craft and can flood the well deck in order to allow these craft to manoeuvre out. She is also able to carry many helicopters and has a large flight deck, resembling a small aircraft carrier. What was of specific interest to Mercy Shippers was the hospital that boasts 69-beds and two operating theatres onboard this ship. This can be expanded to 100-beds if necessary.

The Mistral was visiting Togo to drop off humanitarian aid and maintain the relationship between France and Togo. France always has a military presence - usually in the form of a warship - on this side of Africa.

Here are some photos of this amazing naval vessel.

The well deck where the amphibious craft are stored.

The helicopters onboard the ship.

The flight deck and main superstructure of the Mistral.

Looking down on the AFM.

Looking forward from the bridge.

The ship's large, modern gym.

Hospital waiting area.

One of the wards in the ship's hospital.

The two ships side-by-side.

Friday, 18 June 2010

More contagious World Cup fever (pity about the result, though...)

This past Wednesday South Africa played their second group game, this time against Uruguay. And although the result did not go Bafana's way, with a 3-0 loss, there was still one fan on the Mercy Ship unashamed and totally proud of being South African!

I had my face painted in the South African colours thanks to my friend Ali, who did a great job. It all added to the amazing atmosphere that is soaking over the Mercy Ship during this World Cup!

Ali and her great artwork.

Blowing the vuvuzela was all in vain this day.

My friends getting in on the World Cup spirit!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Kpalime Adventures...

This past Saturday (12th June) a group of some of my closest friends went up to Kpalime for the weekend. It was especially special as Ali's parents, Al and Fi, staying onboard as guests, were able to come and experience some of life far from the Mercy Ship. We left the ship early (for a weekend) and travelled in a minibus taxi the three-hours to Le Geyser Hotel just outside of Kpalime.

In the afternoon, after we'd settled in, we caught zimis (motorbike taxis) and drove to the top of the mountain range to catch the view. From here one could look right across the border into Ghana - and the view was simply stunning. But as the storm clouds were gathering, we decided that it would be wise to head back down to the hotel. The road we drove was the same road that I cycled back in April - and where I met the tarmac at speed. But this was a distant memory as I enjoyed the scenery as we sped through the tropical forests and lush vegetation.

The rest of Saturday we spent browsing in town at the market, before coming back to the hotel to catch the England-USA game in the evening. Even a power failure during the match did little to dampen our spirits as we enjoyed each other's company. It just added to the atmosphere of the weekend. After the game (that ended 1-1) we swam and relaxed in the hotel's lovely pool. It was what could only be described as a perfect day. Wonderful friends and memorable experiences together are always a recipe for a good time.

Sunday dawned with the prospect of more adventure on everyone's mind. And so it was that we caught zimis and a taxi to a place deep in the mountains where you can hike to a picturesque waterfall, Cascade D'Agbatoe. We passed little goats tethered by a village, and were shown the bountiful crops growing freely on the slopes of the hills and valleys in this area, including cassava, maize, coffee, pineapple, and many more. At the waterfall we swam and sat in awe of the powerful beauty of God's creation. A cascading waterfall is certainly an awe-inspiring sight.

But soon it was time to head back to the hotel and from there make our way back to Lome. Although this trip provided even more adventure. Initially there were ten of us yovos (white people) along with the driver and his 'wingman' (who is there to lend support to the driver should he need it - such as opening doors and collecting taxi fare) in the minibus taxi. But our number soon swelled to twenty as we picked up passengers along the route - making for a rather squashed ride. It was a truly African experience.

By suppertime we were safely back onboard our home, the Africa Mercy. This weekend ranks up there as one of my best weekends here on Mercy Ships - and I am so thankful for the amazing friends that God has blessed me with here. Here's to many more times of fun and fellowship in God's creation!

Some of the photos here thanks to Big Al and Ali - and check out Ali's blog for more on this weekend.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Mercy Ships World Cup Fever...

Last Friday (11th June) the World Cup kicked off in South Africa as the 83rd ranked host nation faced the might of Mexico in the opening fixture at Soccer City in Soweto, Johannesburg. Here on the Mercy Ship, with so many different nationalities onboard, any sporting event - especially a World Cup - stirs up great emotion and patriotism amongst the crew. People who aren't ordinarily football fans become engrossed in the beautiful game.

We watched the opening game in the Midships Lounge and, as I was the only South African watching at that venue, I had to go all-out for my country. I donned the Bafana Bafana jersey, had a FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010 cap and blew my vuvuzela (a plastic trumpet carried by any South African soccer fan) in support of our boys back home. It was a great occasion and it was lovely to watch an entertaining match in which the spoils were shared as the hosts held Mexico 1-1.

So, with that said, I hope wherever you are you enjoy the football and South Africa's warm welcome to the world during this coming month!

Friday, 11 June 2010

Rocking the Reception desk...

Over the last few weeks we've had some new technology being moved behind the Reception desk... One of our newest acquisitions is a wireless headset for answering the phones. This means that the on-duty receptionist can be on the other side of the desk laminating or doing other work and can answer the call without having to stop what they are doing. It is also going to be incredibly useful in drills and emergency situations. And not to mention the obvious that we get to look like rock stars behind the desk! So, who wouldn't want to be a receptionist on the M/V Africa Mercy?!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Family Dinner...

This past weekend a group of my close friends held a joint Christmas/Thanksgiving dinner here on the ship... simply for the sake of getting together as a family and sharing a meal together. And of course being thankful for each other!

The food was prepared in the Crew Galley and we held the dinner in the Queen's Lounge - which was decorated for the event. It was a lovely evening that included a game of Cranium, and culminated in us all together on Deck 7 watching an amazing West African rainstorm.

It made me realise how thankful I am for the friends who have become family here on the Mercy Ship. Here are some photos from this fun evening.

The table was beautifully decorated - as were the people!

The Peet family who open up their cabin to us young adults week-in and week-out.

With Jenn and Liz.

The boys serve the sparkling grape/apple juice.

Liz with the boys.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Maison Bethel Orphanage...

Over the last few months I have become quite involved with an orphanage here in Lome. A group of us visit the Maison Bethel Orphanage every Saturday, as part of the Mercy Ministries programme. We do a Bible story (with the help of a lovely translator), a craft which applies to the story, and then play games such as Jenga, Memory, blow bubbles, and play football (soccer). It's always loads of fun and I am blessed to be a part of this ministry. Here are some photos from our visit yesterday.

The orphanage building - it's a really nice facility.

My friend Ali with some of the children.

Playing ball games with the children.

He's probably a little too young to ride a motorbike... But isn't he just precious?!

Playing football (soccer) with the boys.

With one of my little friends.