Thursday, 31 December 2009

Goodbye 2009

Happy new year!

A friend from the ship made a slildeshow of pictures from our year in Benin which we hope you will enjoy. It's certainly been a very different year for us. We are enjoying a break with family and catching up with friends but are excited too that we will return to West Africa before too long and continue to be part of the work of Mercy Ships as we serve the people of Togo.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Happy Christmas!

Miss Amy thought all Brits say 'Happy Christmas' and never 'Merry Christmas'. Unfortunately it wasn't me that broke it to her that it is not strictly speaking true- it was all  the big merry Christmas signs in Tesco. either way we hope that our friends are all having a lovely day wherever they are.

This Christmas we have learnt that Away in a Manger has a different tune on the other side of the world, that there are no candy canes to be found in the local area much to Toms disappointment and that it is possible for someone in their twenties to have never tried a mince pie before.

We are enjoying celebrating Christmas, spending time with family and friends, eating food we have missed this year and driving on the left side of the road. But we remember the reason for the season, the One who without which we would not have Christmas, and give him thanks.

Saturday, 19 December 2009


We are docked in Santa Cruz de Tenerife and are so happy to be here. It is so nice to finally stop rocking about, we are putting our cabin back together, which is no small task! Then we wait for the country briefing and to clear customs and then you won't see us for dust, be will be at the park - finally a park just up the road - we are very excited :-)

It is amazing to come back, to see the man playing the trumpet there on the dock to welcome us, just as he did when we left. To know that we have come full circle, that we have completed a whole outreach with the ship, that we have survived our first year. We can look back and see all the God has done in Benin and in us during the last year and are amazed.

Friday, 18 December 2009

The Bethlehem Express...

...was the school play last night, which would have blown you away, had you been here braving the big swells with us. The children have spent the last week singing, acting, dancing, producing sets, costumes and publicity. They should be so proud of themselves, it was fantastic, properly FANTASTIC. Having a school with all ages does provide a nice mix of the small and cute with the bigger and talented making an all round brilliant performance. The play was loosely based on the film the Polar Express, but the children on this train rode to Bethlehem to discover about Christmas, ending at the nativity. All the bigger children started on the train in their pyjamas and then did a bit of dancing. Tom got off the train at an earlier stop to be able to go and change into his Kings outfit. We were really proud of him, he had about as much rhythm as either of us would have had trying to dance, but gave it a good shot! Josh had never been totally convinced about the idea of being a sheep, preferring the idea of being a lion or helicopter in practices. He wasn't any more convinced in the actual performance having been trying to fall asleep on my lap while watching the start of the play, and continued his stance of 'i don't want to be a sheep' throughout. I think he really wanted to be big Josh as the conducter, he keeps standing on the sofa shouting 'all aboard'! Kind of funny that after the 'i don't want to be a sheep, i dont want to be a sheep' last night,  today it was all 'i want to be a shepherd, i want to be a shepherd'.

Tom dancing in his pj's

the hot chocolate song

Ok so most of my pics were blurred, so if I get any good ones I'll add them, dancing children on a moving ship is not the best combination for crisp photography, at least not with my camera!

Christmas themed dress up day

You might have to bear in mind that we had been awake most of the night, moving our bookcases at 3am and all sorts. A post similar to how I am feeling can be found at

We didn't let the boys up until 7.30 (school at 7.55!) and then temporarily failed to remember it was dress up day. Tom almost went in his dinosaur t shirt. Anyway. Here's some pics...

Our little shepherds

Tom the Shepherd, Libby the angel and Megan the reindeer with Miss Estelle

Miss Amy and most of grade 3

Thursday, 17 December 2009

big swells=big movements

As we progress with the sail, the nice gentle waters are a thing of the past and the large westerly swells are rocking us all over the place. Unfortunately we can't shut our bedroom doors at night - our cabin is so noisy we wouldn't hear the boys in the night with them shut- so we spent some time taking the sofa apart to try and get them to the point of not banging. There is nothing breakable on our shelves or anything, but we have got complacent with the sail being so smooth with other things bieng left on the side. The water jug was the first to fly across the room, so we got up to mop up the water and then moved our plastic plates and things so they didn't disturb us as they flew in a similar fashion later in the night. There were still the unindentified crashes, one of which we have since identified to be some shaving foam which made us a little paranoid about whether anything was going to fall on us or whether anything would wake the boys. We have been sleeping sideways on our bed for the sail, which was a great plan (until last night) to go with the motion of the ship, but last night to be honest it wouldn't have mattered which way we were lying, it was impossible to sleep. We will be sooo pleased to dock on Saturday. And if we don't blog anymore we are probably just rocking about too much or too drugged on sea sickness pills again :-(

It seems similar views shared by others! :

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

how great....

This morning we saw orca whales swimming near the ship, and then some different kind of whale spouting a little further out. Some friends told me of how they had seen dolphins dancing next to the ship this morning, so I thought I would have half an hour on the bow while Josh was out at nursery and I didn't have work to do. And I prayed some dolphins would come by. So I unfolded my chair, got out my music and sat down and watched the waves swell, it was quiet and beautiful. And then there were dolphins, a little way out, that I wasn't entirely sure what they were at first, until they swam closer and then alongside the ship right under where I was sat. And they were amazing. So I took some photos and watched them until they swam off. At which point I sat down, put my headphones in my ears only to hear the words 'how great is our God' singing to me. Quite.

You can see the side of the ship at the bottom of the photo, there were about half a dozen dolphins playing right next to us
This is one who jumped just at the right time!!

I then told my family at lunch and showed them my pictures, and we all saw some dolphins together swimming past our window while we ate :-)

Still in the ocean

We are doing well, more than halfway now, scheduled to arrive a day or so late, probably on Saturday. The school has been busy this week, the teachers haven't had many minutes to enjoy the sail like the rest of us. They are trying to get things ready for the school play tomorrow and finishing lots of end of term things like Tommy has been getting the timetable ready for next semester. But the sailing is going well, it has been smooth which has made it easier to spend all those hours in the Academy without windows.
So what else have we been up to? There have been lots of ship activities to keep us all busy in the evenings, each of which I kept meaning to blog about, and maybe will about some of them. We have had Santa Lucia, which I had half blogged about - but which needs some photos added, a Scandanavian festival of light. We have been to the Winter Wonderland, a night to feel festive with Christmassy smells in the air from the punch, eating popcorn and where people sell crafts and cookies. We have been to the kids craft night and made a Christmas wreath for Nanny out of African fabric and made a few decorations. The boys have had Daniels pirate party and Libbys birthday party as they will both soon turn 5, in addition to Josh turning 3. We have visited the bow and watched the green flash at sunset (as if seeing a water spout and meteor shower haven't been exciting enough on this sail), seen wildlife swimming by and watched stunning sunrises from our cabin.
We can't complain the sail has been bad at all, but we will be pleased to arrive, pack our bags and then come back in time for Christmas.

Monday, 14 December 2009

learning new things every = geminids...

When you have a very questioning five year old tools like wikipedia become very useful to quickly pull up answers to questions about water spouts and sperm whales, that quite frankly I don't have a clue about. Well the latest discovery I have made is that the meteor shower we saw last night actually has a name - geminids. Meteors from what is thought to be an extinct comet can usually be seen at this time of year and it turns out that being in the middle of the ocean is like a front seat view. 

Imagine being in the middle of the ocean. It is very dark, there is no light pollution as no land is in sight. Imagine a million stars all twinkling over your head. Now imagine that every few seconds or every minute or two one just shoots across the sky. Awesome.

Brings to mind this song:

From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea
Creation's revealing Your majesty
From the colors of fall to the fragrance of spring
Every creature unique in the song that it sings
All exclaiming

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing God
All powerful, untameable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God

Who has told every lightning bolt where it should go
Or seen heavenly storehouses laden with snow
Who imagined the sun and gives source to its light
Yet conceals it to bring us the coolness of night
None can fathom

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name
You are amazing God
All powerful, untameable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God
You are amazing God

[Indescribable by Chris Tomlin]

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Summary of the Benin Outreach

It is surprisingly easy to get caught up in day to day life. Even here on a ship in West Africa. I can easily forget why we came and just see the hour-to-hour work that needs to be done. However, at the end of a field service it is an opportunity to be reminded of the work that is done by the crew of the ship, including the parents of the students I teach each day. Crew members with children in the Academy include the Captain, Chief Engineer, Chief Officer, Chief Medical Officer, Chief Dental Officer, Chief Steward, Finance Director, VVF Coordinator, Operating Room Supervisor, HR Manager, ... and many other functions within the ship - each of which is important. One of the clearest lessons I have been shown this year is how each part of a body is needed for the body to function.

Mercy Ships, as an organisation, is focusing the resources of the organisation towards utilising the donations and time given to them as effectively as possible. Now that is more than just numbers and cannot be captured in a spreadsheet, but since I like numbers and they are an easy way to see one aspect of what we have done in Benin here is a summary:

33,851 eye evaluations and other treatments;
13,174 oral health education;
10,175 dental patients seen;
7,083 pairs of sunglasses distributed;
5,689 pairs of reading glasses distributed;
3,521 cataracts removed;
1,161 general surgeries;
996 reconstructive and plastic surgeries;
794 dental hygiene patients;
570 other eye surgeries (pterygia and stabismus);
231 orthopedic operations;
154 obstetric fistulas repaired;
185 cleft lip and palate repairs;
119 church & community leaders trained in mental health;
50 prison officers and workers trained in mental health;
28 patients received palliative home care;
25 oral health teachers trained;
23 local agricultural trainees;
19 mental health workers trained;
19 families trained in wound care;
18 community eye field workers trained;
10 agricultural staff trained;
6 Burkitt's Lymphoma patients received palliative support;
2 local surgeons trained;
2 local eye surgeons trained;
4 local surgeons trained in fistula repair;
2 dental assistants trained;
1 hostel constructed for agricultural college;
2 church leaders conferences attended by 602 attendants;
and 12,000 people watched the Jesus Film

In total we have directly helped almost 80,000 people in Benin. A record breaking field service for Mercy Ships.


Saturday, 12 December 2009

Flying companions

As we round the corner of West Africa, sailing near to Sierra Leone, we are joined by some feathered friends. The nearest land is out of sight so they have flown a reasonable distance to keep us company.

I'll leave it up to Roger to identify the bird...


Friday, 11 December 2009

door decorating...

The Africa Mercy has a door decorating competition each Christmas, and Elizabeth has taken lots of pictures... so to save me the trip around the ship, here is the link...some are pretty cool, the laundry room one has lost socks as the snowballs, the finance director has scrooge on his door...

Our door is feeling a little left out, I have been concentrating more on simple tasks like trying to breathe with a stinking cold and how to balance the sea sickness versus taking the sea sickness tablets that make you feel awful in a different way dilemma. Still, we are enjoying everyone elses doors, the boys love the Security Officers pirate snowman :-)

Christmas fun

So far we have had a Christmas storytelling evening, which was pretty fantastic with plenty of talented people signing up to entertain the rest of us! They were located all around the ship and every twenty minutes we could move to the next location and see the next play or hear the next story. We are now in the know about the story of the candy cane and stories behind some of the well known carols.

Today, so far the smaller people in the school are caroling around the ship, and then are ending with cookies (they baked yesterday) and hot chocolate, whilst watching the snowman film. I just met them in the laundry room, singing 'we wish you a merry christmas....we hope you don't get sea sick...we wish you lots of dolphins....', not sure where else in the world you would hear that version!!

Plenty more festive fun to come...

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Did you see Tommy's classroom?

This is the week you should be looking out for the Africa Mercy on ITV at 6pm each night. Or you can see on line. We can't watch it here but Amy has checked you can find it at:

If you scroll down on this page, the first TV programme link is called Africa Mercy: Part 1

By the way we are heading past the Ivory Coast now....

Happy birthday Joshua!

Joshua is turning three in International waters somewhere off the coast of Ghana maybe? Fortunately he seems to young to have noticed that we haven't felt up to decorating the door or even made a cake yet. He has had a very exciting morning of present opening and is struggling to decide what to play with first. We did manage to get him to have a break for a bowl of cheerios (followed by a chocolate tractor!) and put his clothes on so that he can put his birthday badge on. Today our aim is to be able to sit in the crew galley long enough for a packet mix cake to bake, some way off the ideas for beautiful fire engine or dinosaur cakes we had dreamt of, but to be honest he seems pretty excited with the idea of chocolate cake and chocolate custard and can play with his new fireman sam playdough shapes while it cooks. Then maybe we'll pop to the cafe for a frapachinno, and if the sea sickness pills are working well maybe brave lunch in the dining room so we can ring the bell and sing to him, we'll see about that plan at 11.55!

Thanks for the presents from home :-)

it was handy coming home in October with lots of luggage space for an aeroplane!

Happy birthday!!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

20 minutes in the life of a sailor...

A sailors life for me (all of the following seen within about 20 minutes of each other)...

A water spout

A sperm whale spouting

A poor picture at max zoom of the whale in the water

We also passed through a pod of dolphins but they were too far away to get a good picture. (There was a rainbow too but that was on the other side and I didn't want to miss the whales, sorry).

Still to come - flying fish. I still have never seen one!


sailing and sunsets...

The first sunset of the sail, note the nice calm waters which we are thankful for

We are going to have far too many photos of sunsets by the end of the sail! To go with the large collection of tug boat pictures! Lets hope for some of dolphins soon.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Goodbye Benin

Ok so here is a brief post until we get our sea legs and can sit in front of the computer: Goodbye to our dock and the tugs

The pilot has just left us - the man in white with the white gloves, the men in life jackets are our crew members going to Togo having a ride!!

The pilot boat leaving - bye Benin!!

firsts and lasts

We have had many 'lasts' in Benin, the last walk to get fan ice, the last time going swimming, the last time playing frisbee. For me the last of the lasts was running on the dock last night with Miriam (and the first time I actually ran 3 miles since coming here!). We have now had the first two at sea drills, practicing putting on life jackets etc in the hope we will be ready to sail soon...

Sunrise from our window today

At sea drills

Joshua in his life jacket, his face summing up his mood this week, lovely eh?

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Kindergarten learn letters..

Living on a ship in Africa is certainly a different educational experience - today we were walking along the dock and talking about the fishing boats, they all have different flags to mark them. Tom thought that was to show where the fishermen were from until Tommy explained that it is to be able to identify their boat. What was amazing was how many flags Tom knew - I have no idea whether he was even right about some of them, but he was pretty convinced and the colours looked about right!! At least one of his parents shares his love of geography, its just not me ;-)

This is something from Toms teacher's blog...


Happy birthday Tommy!

We've shared another birthday on the ship (yesterday), and Tommy is the last in our family to have a birthday in Benin. Celebrated with a dinner of ham sandwiches due to the unplanned blackout as the engineers cleaned the coolers once again to try and ensure the engines are working reliably. Fortunately we managed to make some brownies early enough yesterday before the power went off (although our cabin was probably hot enough to have cooked something if we had left it on the side) and are looking forward to other yummy things later with our ship family :-)

Ps Tommy says thanks for everyones birthday messages!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

the countdown...

The advent calenders that Auntie Amy brought out have been opened today. It really is the first of December. Only 3 days until Daddys birthday, a few days until we sail, 9 days until Joshuas birthday, a few more days until we arrive in Tenerife, 20 days until we fly to England and 24 days until Christmas!! And you wonder why we are excited??? Its going to be great!!

In between we have the school Christmas play, winter wonderland and story telling evening and all sorts of other fun things, we are hoping to see more dolphins and killer whales and the odd pirate ;-)

Most of all we are excited to be seeing more of our favourite people in the world before too long.

Tom and Joshua

What would you do?

So a financial company based in the Caribbean has decided a good way to make money is to buy old debts from very poor countries and pursue them through the courts for payment. Here's an example:

Liberia (where Mercy Ships spent 3 out of the last 5 years) had a horrible 14 year civil war that ended in 2003, by which point it was probably the poorest country in the world. Since then the country has begun the process of getting back on its feet under the leadership of an excellent, democratically elected President.

They have managed to improve their position in the UNs Human Development Index, thanks to wise use of overseas aid and development (a model other countries in the region could learn from) and debt relief from developed countries.

On Thursday last week the High court in London ordered Liberia to pay $20m to settle a debt from 1978 (originally $6m), that had been bought by these two caribbean 'Vulture' companies.

To put it in perspective, $20m is 5% of the country's total annual budget, and paying it to these companies will do nothing to help the millions of people in the country who have no access to healthcare.

So is this a good way to make money? Is there something that we should do about this, or maybe I can just forget and concentrate on sorting out my plans for Christmas...


Click for more info

Friday, 27 November 2009

Goodbye to the day volunteers

Today we say goodbye to about 200 local people who have been working with us this outreach. We have just had African lunch, many people have dressed in their Sunday best for the goodbye and thank you ceremony this afternoon. We loved some of the traditional head-wear, Sam seemed pretty jealous of one guys hat, Mum would have liked the outfit with elephants all over it! It was quite interesting mixing African formal wear with Academy kids dressed up with face paint and stickers and other random clothing in the dining room!

Some of the day volunteers have been working alongside crew in departments around the ship, some have worked as translators in the different areas of our health care work. Somehow they all know Joshua and a good percentage will say hello to him everyday or give him a turn with the mop or randomly grab him and turn him upside down. Tommy has spent many hours learning French with one of the day volunteers as his tutor.

But now the outreach is ending...and they are leaving...but we are grateful for all they have done and for the friends we have made...and we may well see some of them next year in Togo...

International (dress up) day

Tom and Kindergarten "is that really Miss Estelle under that fantastic big hat?"

Josh with nursery and preschool

Miss Amy, the tourist to Honduras with Grade 3

All the teachers having fun

Our boys: Tommy wearing an African (or English 1970's??) shirt, Tom in a Benin football kit and some little person with a funny face wearing an England kit

The children all looked great, the King of Libya even came for a visit. Many of them dressed from places requiring waterproof coats and hoods - a bit of a novelty when you live in Africa!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Happy thanksgiving...

we are looking forward to our first thanksgiving dinner of turkey and pumpkin pie :-)

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

God defends the Fatherless and the widow

Biso and Donald, a mother and son have surgery on the Ship
Biso before surgery
"He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow..." (Deuteronomy 10:18)
In the wake of heartache and tragedy, Abisoye has always remained optimistic and joyful. When I asked Abisoye - who likes to be called "Biso" for short - if she'd ever doubted God's love, she paused. Then she casually replied, "No, not really." Thirteen years ago, shortly after the birth of her first daughter, Biso's difficulties began. She noticed a small swelling on her tooth which slowly grew into a facial tumor. As it became noticeable, she was made an object of ridicule and scorn. "Some people thought I had HIV and that the tumor was contagious. It was hard for me to find employment, and people wouldn't invite me to parties," said Biso. "Even my sisters would not be part of me anymore. Sometimes they could be kind, but they were not proud that I was their sister. They didn't like introducing me to others as their sister."
Five years ago, her husband was shot in the chest while serving in the Nigerian Navy. Surgery to remove the bullet was expensive - more than they could afford. He recovered from his injury, but the bullet was never removed.
A year ago, Biso's husband died suddenly. The bullet had affected his heart, causing him to experience sudden "heart failure." It was a devastating loss - she still cannot talk about him without crying. "I saw him dying, and I couldn't help him. I didn't know he was going to die. I wish I had known," she said.

Today, Biso is the single mother of four children - two boys and two girls, ranging in age from three to thirteen. When her husband died, she and her children were promptly evicted from Navy housing. Surviving in her homeland, Nigeria, has become a daily struggle. Biso and her children are self-described squatters, having no home or property. The oldest daughter lives with an aunt, while Biso and the other children stay with her mother. "We used to live in a nice house, but now we don't have a home. We squat and are living with my mom. The apartment is very small, and it is not very comfortable," said Biso. A college-educated woman, Biso previously held a job as an accountant. However, because of her tumor, no one will hire her. She has started baking and selling bread to support her family.
As she grieved the loss of her husband, Biso became increasingly frightened and worried about the tumor. "When I would feel the tumor in my body, sometimes it was really painful. I read a book that said it could go to your brain, damage it, and kill you. I was so scared when I read that. Who would take care of my children if I died?" At that time, her six-year-old son, Donald, developed a bony lesion on his head. The lesion needed to be surgically removed. They both needed surgeries she could not afford. Biso began to fervently pray, asking God to provide for them. One day, her pastor received news that the Africa Mercy was coming to the neighboring country of Benin. A church member sent photos of Biso and Donald to the ship. After being reviewed by the medical staff, both were scheduled for surgery. "When they said they could help, I was so excited. I thought, 'At last the Lord is doing it!'" said Biso. Soon after, Biso and Donald traveled to the Africa Mercy. They were placed in neighboring beds onboard the hospital ship. The next day, within hours of each other, they received free surgeries. It took Biso more than a week to recover. During that time, she was a great encouragement to those around her.
"Abisoye was a light when you came to the ward," said ward nurse Katelyn Billings. "She always had a positive attitude and was very encouraging. Her faith really impressed me. After all she'd been through in her life, the many struggles and challenges, still the first thing she would say to you was, 'God is so good.' Considering everything she has been through, it is pretty amazing that she can still say that." Wanting to share her experiences on the Africa Mercy with her community in Nigeria, Biso kept pen and paper at her bedside. Whenever she had a "memorable" experience, she wrote it down. Before leaving, she compiled a list more than three pages long. Hoping to gain supporters for Mercy Ships, Biso will use this list to write a story about the Africa Mercy. Biso doesn't have the words to express how grateful she is. "What can I say that will express what I feel? I feel like I have had spiritual heart surgery - everyone has been so kind and loving. This is a special group of people. I have been so inspired by everyone. Keep up the good work." As Biso returns to Nigeria, there are many unknowns. But one thing she is certain of is God's faithfulness to provide for the needs of her family. God has used Mercy Ships to demonstrate this to her. She says with great sincerity, "I am so happy. He has a special place in His heart for the widows and fatherless. He has been taking care of us, and I can see it. God is wonderful."
Story and Photos by Megan Petock

Monday, 23 November 2009

finishing up...

...well it seems that things are finishing up, not for the teachers mind you, they never seem to stop working crazy hours, but for the Ships time here in Benin. Only one ward remains open with the last patients recovering. The deck staff are busy, the pool has been taken down, to be followed tomorrow by the canopy that is over deck 8. The generators have been running checking all is well before we leave. I'm sure there is a million other things going on too that we are completely unaware of. What we notice is that some of our friends are leaving and as the time ticks on towards sailing and arriving in Tenerife more goodbyes will have to be said.


say hello to...

...the teachers...including the school administrator, principal, admin assistant and all teaching staff from nursery to high school including some Mums who teach some music or English lessons...

(Taken at 7.30am, I mean what better time to be looking your best?)

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Living on the love boat...

I'm not sure that there would be anything happening most weeks to top having dinner with the President of the country you are living in, but this has been one exciting week!

Uncle Sam and Miss Amy are getting married!!!!

Joshua did protest a little because HE loved Miss Amy and wants to marry her, but hopefully, he like the rest of us will just be very, very happy to have such a lovely friend join our family. Tom is still pondering having two Auntie Amy's and has suggested maybe changing her name to Talullah, but the idea is not really catching on just yet.

Anyway, Amy we are so excited you are marrying Sam, he is a lucky man.

For Amy's account of the news and a pic of the beautiful ring that finally made it to Benin this week...

Deck 7 Zoo

I'm not sure how many of you are aware that we have our very own zoo on Deck 7...

 a preying mantis

a cricket? 

a grasshopper?

A selection of moths from 2 to over 10cm long

Acid Bugs (Paederus littoralis) - full of nasty chemicals, splat at your peril!!!

Since the rainy season ended we have been colonised by a lot(!) of insects. These were just the ones that happened to be around when I had my camera. I missed the swarm of giant dragon flies that visited the ship during break this week. All of them are harmless (except for the nast rove beetles which give you a nasty skin burn if you squash them) and the kids like looking at them.

This concludes you introduction to the deck 7 zoo.


food in large quantities....

Sam having fun
Sam doing some work with Lena
Eddie and his bread
Jessie - our head cook, who you should consider being best friends with because he plans the menu :-)

The Africa Mercy has almost 400 hundred crew members serving onboard. The crew is extremely diverse, coming from over 30 countries and ranging in age, profession, and length of service. But they share a commonality - everyone needs to eat. In West Africa, access to food supplies is limited, and most crew members don't have personal space for food storage onboard. Various jobs on the ship have immediate and time-consuming needs, which don't allow time for food preparation.

Fortunately, the Galley has taken on the challenge of meeting the nutritional needs of the crew. Every day, a staff of 20 prepares 900 hot meals, which are served onboard the Africa Mercy. They begin preparing food at 8 AM every morning, including weekends, and continue until 7 PM.

"We feed all crew members living on the ship, the Beninese day workers, and the patients in the hospital," said Galley manager Jesse Mitchell. "It's such a big responsibility because food is such an important part of people's lives. Eating a good meal can really make your day."

Professionally trained as a chef, Mitchell is utilizing his culinary skills as Galley Manager on the Africa Mercy. Mitchell is responsible for planning the weekly menu, ordering supplies, and managing the galley staff. As galley manager, he has faced several challenges unique to the Africa Mercy environment. One example is planning menus to accommodate the international crew and their varied taste preferences.

"It is very hard because there is absolutely no way you can please everyone. We have over 30 nationalities living onboard, and everyone likes and wants something different. I try to give people options with salads, fruit, and sandwiches. There is enough that I think people can find something," said Mitchell.

Also, while the Africa Mercy is docked in West Africa, access to food supplies is limited. Utilizing available supplies and incorporating local resources to generate appetizing, nutritionally balanced meals requires both careful planning and creativity.

"In West Africa, you can't just say, 'I would like to have this spice or food product' and have it. You can order it, but it may not arrive for three months," said Mitchell. "I have to carefully plan the menus, keeping in mind the quantities of the items available in our storeroom."

Although it can be challenging and sometimes stressful, Mitchell has really enjoyed serving on the Africa Mercy.

"I never thought I could use my culinary skills for missions. I always wanted to serve in Africa, but I didn't see myself in a traditional missionary type of role. When I heard about Mercy Ships, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to go, do my job, and serve God overseas. I'm making a difference in the world, and working here has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life."

The work of the Galley staff often goes unseen. However, without their consistent dedication, the Africa Mercy would be unable to bring hope and healing to the lives of thousands.

"When someone has had a long day, a good meal can mean a lot to them. Sometimes crew come to dinner exhausted and tired from the day. Several times, the OR staff has expressed how grateful they were for a good meal after a long day of surgery. It's an amazing privilege to have such influence on people's lives," said Mitchell.

Written by Megan Petock

Friday, 20 November 2009

not exactly the latest fashion...

...but this is our family outfit that we wore to the Presidential dinner. It is common here for families to wear matching clothes, I always thought that it was because fabric comes cheapest in large quantities, but someone told me recently that it is also a sign that a husband is proud of his wife if they match.

These are a couple of attempts at a family picture (thanks PJ), the only problem was it was so sunny that someone has their eyes shut in nearly all of them, but you get the idea at least!

the dentists have been to prison more and see pics on the chief dentists blog...

...and they have seen their 10000th patient in Benin...

Thursday, 19 November 2009

fire drills

Every other Thursday we have fire drills, on the first/crew alert alarm the fire team heads for wherever they are told the fire is. On the second/abandon ship alarm we all have to leave the ship and muster on the dock. We all have to confirm that we are there and not burning to death on the ship and then they make sure that everyone is accounted for. They never are, usually there is someone caught in the area of the fire or something so then they make announcements that start with 'if anyone knows the whereabouts of the following crew members please phone the bridge...'. And then we wait, usually for up to an hour, sometimes longer, while they put out the fire and the emergency medical team has to deal with whatever scenario they are given etc.

Yesterday was our last 'in port' fire drill for 2009, we now start having 'at sea' drills so everyone is prepared for sailing. The pre-school are going to be spending some time practising putting their life jackets on and off soon so they don't get frightened by the drill.

Richard has some great pictures of what happens inside while we are all mustering on the dock...

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

ITV feature mercy Ships

Check out details of when you can see what we are up to and if you are unlucky see Tommy being interviewed.....

invited for dinner...

We (being all the Africa Mercy crew) were invited to dinner with His Excellency Yayi Boni, President of Benin last night at the Presidential Palace.

We arrived with the first group of people about 5.45 having followed one of the shuttle buses in a landrover, and wondered if we were going to be let in at all after observing a very heated debate between the bus driver and the men with the guns at the entrance! Then we had quite a wait until the shuttles had finished and everyone was there (we are talking about an hour and a half or more) at which point they put out (not quite enough) drinks. It was like being at a wedding, everyone dressed up, hanging around chatting, although I have never worn clothes quite so similar to my family before, and as I don't have any photos yet that will have to be a whole different post later!

We were shown into a banqueting hall where the tables and chairs were all dressed, giving a bit more of a wedding like feel, although with not quite enough chairs so we ended up being shown to a table that had been reserved for military personel near the top table, making us slightly anxious about having small children present!

So...about 8.30pm we all stand to the Benin national anthem while the President and his ministers enter. By this point Joshua has fallen asleep on Tommy, who held him (while standing) through the Presidents arrival, through the welcome and presentation ceremony for about 40 minutes. Part way through all the talking, which was being translated from French to English, (except for the last bit which was paraphrased significantly according to the man who told us 'that was what they said - in a nut-shell') Tom sat down, put his head on the table and fell asleep too.

Finally it was announced that we could eat, some what tricky for those of us with sleeping children on us, but still a lovely meal and the first time we ate rabbit - as well as a lot of other food! Then we watched some African dancing, all sorts of different dances with different dress from different areas of Benin, dances with people wearing unusual objects on their heads and a dance where sticks were banged on the floor! It was an experience to remember. It was a shame the boys slept through a lot of it - when we got home and Tom had been carried in he asked - 'so was there any food?'

No cameras were allowed, but you can see most of our friends in the picture on Amys blog and how lovely they look, and I will try and get the photos of our family that our friend PJ took of us and add it soon.

last week of surgery

This is the last week of surgery to allow patients a little time to recover before the hospital closes at the end of the Benin 2009 outreach. The hospital then has to be cleaned and tied down ready for sailing.

Here is an article written by one of the communications team Megan Petock about the Operating Rooms on board...

For thousands, the 60-second walk down the long hallway which runs through the Africa Mercy has been the final leg in a long quest for physical, emotional, and spiritual restoration. At the hallway's end is a pair of sealed doors which lead to a state-of-the-art operating suite, filled with teams of nurses and surgeons. Every day patients walk through the sealed doors, crossing a threshold of transformation, to receive life-changing free surgery.Over five thousand surgical procedures have already been performed on the Africa Mercy during the 2009 Field Service in Benin.Surgeries performed onboard include orthopaedics, maxillofacial, plastics, general, vesicovaginal fistula repair (VVF), and cataract removal.

The Africa Mercy has six operating theaters, predominately staffed by short-term crew who come from around the world to share their expertise with the forgotten poor. "Everyone stays for a very short period of time. Our entire operating room team consists of 50 people, and only five of us are long-term staff," said Operating Room Supervisor Alison Brieseman. "We bring in people who know what they are doing, so we can have a higher turnover. Short-term people come in, they scrub up, we point them towards a table, and they are fine. If you can work in the OR in one country, you can work in the OR anywhere else. " The Africa Mercy operating suite is a diverse and dynamic environment which Alison Brieseman thoroughly understands. She has served with Mercy Ships for five years. She first worked as an operating room nurse and has held the position of Operating Room Supervisor since the inauguration of the Africa Mercy in June 2007."Somehow it (the OR) work when it really shouldn't. People come from everywhere, and they all know different things. They speak different languages and do things different ways. The staff is constantly changing; everyone is new all the time. You would think there would be a really high stress level and that people disagree about everything. But it's just not like that. It's a fun place to be. It's a real testimony to the grace of God," said Brieseman.

For most of the 2009 Field Service in Benin, the OR has run at full capacity, utilizing all six operating rooms and maximizing the number of patients served."Recently, I was going over the statistics from this field service.Compared to last year, by week 21, we had doubled the amount of procedures performed. So, many more people have received surgery. It's been a really exciting outreach," said Brieseman. She attributes this increase to better staffing and a more efficient use of resources. A major accomplishment of the OR during this field service has been the successful training of three Benin nurses in operating room procedures. "At the beginning of the year, they were registered nurses but had never worked in the operating room. One of our long-term OR nurses, Glenys Gillingham, has been working with them throughout the field service," said Brieseman."Now, they all scrub, circulate, and inject anesthetic into the eye. They are now teaching the short-term staff what to do. When new staff comes, the Benin nurses are saying, 'This is what you do,' and 'Come here; I'll show you.It's really great to see. We've never trained local nurses, and it's been one of our coolest achievements."

For many years to come, the OR suite on the Africa Mercy will continue to be a place of healing and transformation for thousands of individuals. As the OR staff continues to grow in statistics and achievements, the focus of their work is still to impact the lives of individuals. Brieseman saw a poignant example of this principle earlier this year."During our last round of VVF surgeries there was a debate about whether we should perform surgery on the last patient of the day. It was already 4 p.m. and if we did the case, we knew we wouldn't finish until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.Everyone had just worked the past three days and three nights and was exhausted. As we stood around discussing it, someone just went, 'All right, that's it; we are doing it. I remember standing at the door, watching this patient waddle down through the hallway holding her gown. I saw her back, and it was all wet. We could have ended on time and had our dinner, but she would have stayed wet in her bed. Instead, her life was going to be transformed. There were three or four of us standing there saying, 'I'm really glad we made that decision.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

VVF season ending

There are just the last couple of women left from the last session of surgery to repair Obstetric fistulas, many have now gone home, dry and smiling, the last few need a few more prayers having had a bit of a rough ride to recovery. A month or more ago I spent the odd morning helping with history taking before going back home to attend funerals and see family. I missed the weeks of surgery but have caught up with some of the women since - and what a difference a couple of weeks can make...

..they are now better! It is always so special being at dress ceremonies, a time of celebration for women who are going home no longer leaking urine after successful surgery. The women are given new clothes and some symbolic gifts and praise is given to God for all he has done. The shy women who hid under their sheets have emerged, more confident and look beautiful. I love working with these women.

PS...The ITV film crew came to one of the dress ceremonies so look out for the Mercy Ships feature at 6pm one evening at the end of the month, hopefully they will put that in rather than the interview with Tommy...

Some beautiful pictures can be found here:


Monday, 16 November 2009


Our fuel coming closer! This time we didn't go to the fuel dock, a ship came to us and transferred 800, 000 litres of fuel!!
Some amusement that the ship is called the Energiser! It hopefully just gave us enough energy to get to Tenerife next month...
Tommy was taking this photo - to which I said 'don't you think we have enough photos of tug-boats?' to which he replied 'yes, but this one has a man sleeping on the front', so there you go a pic of a tug boat and sleeping man!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

'the process is often more important than the final result.'

This is a piece of art that came home from kindergarten with a note attached to it saying the 'process is often more important than the final result. Through working to create, the child is developing an eye for colour, lines, design and form'. It went on to explain they had been studying the famous Russian sculpture artist Louise Nevelson who used boxes to frame art.

That may all be very well, but the question is what do you do with the ever growing collection of artwork, mostly it goes on the wall for a bit, this piece however is flaking paint everywhere and will soon be re-homed in the B.I.N. but before that I thought Nanny and Grandma should have the opportunity to see.