Sunday, 31 July 2011

Another farewell...

Almost a week ago my friend Jamie, who had served in the Academy as a Summer Programme Assistant, left the Africa Mercy. It was very sad saying goodbye to her, but I am thankful for the time we had getting to know each other. I had some purser business to do at the airport, and so I was able to accompany the departures all the way across.

That's the one thing I'll never get comfortable with serving on Mercy Ships - the constant stream of farewells. But then again we aren't really called to lead a comfortable life as missionaries, are we?

The AFM is caught in a ray of light as the sun slips behind the clouds.

Sunset from Targrin Ferry Terminal.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Bunce Island...

This past Saturday a small group of us headed out to one of the most significant historical sites in Sierra Leone: Bunce Island. This is the location of an old 18th-Century British slave castle, perched on a strategic wooded island at the limit of navigation for ships sailing up the river. It was here that ocean-going slave ships met the traders from the hinterland to collect their cargo of men, women and children.

Although a crumbling ruin now, many parts of the castle are still visible and as we clambered out of our canoe and onto the island, I could really feel the dark history of the past. We were given a tour and as we walked in amongst the ruins it was easy to picture how this place looked some 250 years ago.

I could see the soldiers standing next to the cannon on the battlements, in readiness to prevent any attack from the sea. I could see many African men and women being marched into the castle, never to taste freedom again. I could hear the cries as families were torn apart - separated into male and female sections of the fortress. I could see the men and women getting flogged and beaten. I could hear the shouts and calls of traders, as they prepared slaves for an arduous - and devastating - voyage across the seas. I could smell the stench of death wafting across the waters from the waiting slave ships. I could see death and despair. Indeed, the people torn from their homes and loaded onto the ships had only a 1 in three chance of surviving the journey to (primarily) America.

But I could also see hope on the horizon. In 1807 the British Parliament made the slave trade illegal, and in the following years the Royal Navy sent out regular patrols from Freetown to intercept illegal slave ships and free their precious cargo. The tide had turned against slavery.

The ruined castle is in much need of preservation and I believe it should be renovated and saved before the decay becomes too great. The trees (pictured here) are already becoming intertwined with the structure of the buildings. Bunce Island must stand as a lasting reminder that such an ugly, destructive trade should never happen again. And as the sign welcoming you to Bunce Island puts it,

"With gratitude to God we wish to honour the brave African Men and Women who endured the Cruelty of Slavery..... This island stands as a testament to their memory and to the triumph of the human spirit."

Looking back towards the mainland and our Land Rover as we head off across the waters to Bunce Island.

The canoe (with an outboard motor) that transported us to the island.

Although having been partly submerged for centuries, a cannon is still easily recognisable on the shore.

A cannon, its carriage long since disintegrated, sits guarding the battlements.

Inside the castle grounds...

... You have to be careful of spiderwebs!

Peering out from inside the castle's powder magazine.

The island also has a couple of old cemeteries. This is the African cemetery...

... And this is one of the graves in the European cemetery. The graves date from the 1750s.

Jamie walks along a pretty path.

Heading back towards the mainland...

... Where we were met by a crowd of sweet local children!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Sunset above Freetown...

This past Wednesday I joined some friends in driving to the top of a hill overlooking the city of Freetown, from where we watched the sun set. It was so beautiful! The hill gave a great vantage point of downtown Freetown right through to Aberdeen in the west, and across the bay to Lungi in the north.

The view towards Lungi.

Lourens surveys the Freetown scenery.

The sunset was pretty spectacular.

The sun dips behind some low-lying clouds.

My friend Jamie and I.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Pastor Mark's church...

This past Sunday, as the rain poured down on Freetown, a small group of us caught the ferry across to Lungi to visit Pastor Mark and Bridget at their church. We had a lovely time worshipping with his church family and after the service they blessed us with a wonderful meal. I also had the privilege of being able to introduce the crew present and also share my testimony about how God led me to Mercy Ships. The photo here is of me sharing with Pastor Mark.

And while the transport coming back was rather unreliable - the Government Ferry was meant to depart at 14h00 but only left after 17h00 - we still had an amazing time together. We were back onboard Africa Mercy by 18h30, having left 12 hours previously. Would I do it again? Absolutely!

Sailing past the AFM on a wet and rainy Sunday morning in July.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Freetown Traffic...

Freetown traffic is something else. If it's not the other cars you're dodging, it's the pedestrians in the street! The population of Freetown has almost doubled in the last ten years, meaning that the city's existing infrastructure is unable to cope with all the extra vehicles and people. And if it's not the pedestrians or the cars, it's the physical state of the vehicles themselves which is something else - like the truck in the photos below!

Nothing like a traffic jam on Goderich Street!

Approaching a dodgy-looking truck - look at the angle the trailer is at!

Passing very quickly!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Pastor Mark & Bridget...

Meet Pastor Mark and Bridget, our representatives who do an AMAZING work over at the Lungi (airport) side of the river. They work tirelessly for Mercy Ships ensuring that all crew who arrive are met at the airport and transported to the ferry, and that those departing are taken safely to the airport. They are Mercy Ships heroes!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Bonfire on the beach...

This past weekend a small group of us piled into two Land Rovers and headed to an "undiscovered" beach an hour from the ship. We had a bonfire and roasted viennas and dough, and also had a lovely time sharing campfire stories and walking along the beach. It was a beautiful day - and refreshing, too.

An amazing chameleon Ryan found near the beach.

Ryan, fellow South African, gets the fire going.

Cooking our viennas and dough.

Our own private beach!

The clouds take on a pink tinge as the sun sinks lower.

With my friend Jamie.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Another reason why our divers are HEROES!

Yes, that is the water down there... Thank you Dive Team for keeping the ship's vents clear of all this debris!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary

Some weekends are simply perfect - and this past weekend was one of those. Eight of us Mercy Shippers headed off on Saturday morning to the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, located deep in the heart of the Western Area National Park in the hills above Freetown, for a weekend away from the bustle of ship life.

When we arrived at the Sanctuary we went and watched some of the chimps playing whilst our lodges were prepared, and then waited some more for a massive thunderstorm to subside before heading to the Eco-Lodges. These were some of the best self-catering accommodations I have encountered in West Africa, and we spent most of Saturday afternoon in the girl's lodge (the biggest one), chatting and playing Mafia while the storm raged outside. By 16h00 the rain had finally let up and we trekked out to do some exploring. We walked down to the Kongo Dam and enjoyed the beautiful scenery of this largely unspoiled area.

After a while we strolled back to the Lodge and Tim cooked an amazing Thai feast (I helped a little too) and we all sat around the table enjoying good food and fellowship together. It was the perfect end to an amazing day.

Sunday dawned much brighter than the previous day, and after a hearty breakfast we decided to have a guided tour of the Chimpanzee Sanctuary, and that was very interesting. We witnessed the rangers feeding the chimps and saw how they communicate with them too!

Our final adventure of the weekend was a lovely hike to the large waterfall in the valley. It was really picturesque. While we were finishing up taking photos and marvelling at the scenery, a man approached us holding some handcuffs. Now this could instill a number of emotions in one, but thankfully he wasn't there to arrest us. He informed us that they were about to shoot an action scene for a new Sierra Leonean movie, Digging His Own Grave, which required the police actors to chase another actor down the side of the waterfall. We were asked if we all wanted to be extras in the scene, but we politely declined, as we needed to head back to the Sanctuary. It would have also perhaps been a scriptwriter's headache having to write in a new scene with eight white people randomly standing around - at short notice, too.

Walking back we came across thousands of termites flying into the air, which was pretty spectacular. We were back at Tacugama by 14h30 and shortly thereafter our taxis arrived and we were speeding back to Freetown and the ship. And so ended a magical weekend - yet another amazing weekend spent in beautiful Sierra Leone.

The Wildlife Office at Tacugama.

The lodge where Tim and I stayed.

Really comfortable accommodation.

The rain really came down hard on Saturday afternoon...

... Which meant for fun times chatting on the veranda.

But it did let up long enough to allow us to go exploring...

This is Kongo Dam, one of Freetown's water facilities.

It's really pretty here.

The next day the weather was lovely and allowed us to see the chimpanzees!

Here they are in one of the larger enclosures.

After seeing the chimps, we went off on a hike to a nearby waterfall.

The power of the water is phenomenal!

Group shot by the waterfall. Good times!