Saturday, 28 February 2009


Our guide book describes Ouidah as 'one of the most infamous names in the Atlantic slave trade that dragged millions of beaten and broken Africans to the new is also the spiritual capital of the country with a thriving and lively Voodoo culture...'

So an interesting place to visit we thought...

The hours drive was sightseeing in itself, with many sellers of bread, fruit, mattresses or almost anything you could want (or not want in the case of the coffins) being sold from huts on the roadside. We wondered at the poles hanging bicycle tyres in strange fashions, whether they were voodoo related or whether just to attract custom from anyone passing in need of new tyres. We had less question about the person dressed up wearing a mask chanting some strange sounds that we passed as we drove home.

We travelled past a whole bunch of rather random statues dotted throughout the town and then went down the Slave Road, a sandy track leading to the Gate of No Return, near the waterfront. This was a high archway covered in murals depicting the journeys of the slaves, with some voodoo statues either side. Certainly interesting and worth a return visit to learn more from the Musee d'Histoire de Ouidah, located inside an old Portuguese Fort and see the Python Temple and other sights we missed.


A cultural lesson...

We used this weekends' four hours in a land rover to go to the artisans' market in Cotonou. We had a great time there. It is basically a place for people to sell all sorts of locally made craft items - some beautiful and some not.

We bought a couple of items and learned first hand about bartering, West African style. We wanted a picture so asked how much. 5,000 CFA was the reply. This seemed quite expensive (almost $10) - anyway we left with two picture for 5,500 CFA. It felt very strange that the final price would be so much lower than the starting price. We later got down to 4,500 from a start price of 10,000 on a different item. A very strange experience for a Brit!

The whole experience was great fun though. The stall holders were friendly and, though pretty keen to get you into their hut, were happy to let you walk away without buying anything.

Here's a picture of the boys on our return - sweaty and covered in dust (look at their feet!) - playing with one of our new purchases:


Friday, 27 February 2009

International day

You would think that on a ship with 30 nationalities every day is International day, but today is officially so in the Academy!! the kids have all dressed up according to their own nationality or another of their choice. There are plenty of interesting outfits, hats and face paint to be seen. Tom is wearing his England football kit. These are some of Toms class as they walked around the academy visiting the older children and seeing what they were wearing! Libby has a baby strapped to her back as well as the one she is holding in true African style.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Screening day video

I know some of our friends have enjoyed watching the screening day video on facebook, so for those people not on there you can watch it via

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

a moth for Roger?

We saw this (almost sat on it!) on a wooden chair out on deck, is it a moth? I have never seen such a big moth if this is one! It was almost as long as my fingers. We haven't seen too much wildlife otherwise, some big birds that flew too fast to capture on camera and some lizards at the swimming pool. I'm sure some people will be relieved that Tommy has not had the opportunity to freak out people back home with his creepy crawlies like when we were away before!

pancake day

We got to cook and eat pancakes here in Africa with the other Brits on the ship last night. It was very hot in the crew galley to say the least with that many frying pans on the go and that many people all squashed in together. We enjoyed meeting up with a bunch of Brits later on deck 8 and realised we miss the British sense of humour on a regular basis. Having said that we really enjoy living with people from lots of nationalities and there is not that much from home that we miss, apart from our family, friends and dairy milk chocolate....oh and yoghurts and moments of silence and babies and playgrounds and a few other things :-)

So... the next excuse for getting the Brits together...St Georges day...only trouble is no one was quite sure when that was so we will have to find out...

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

People watching

One thing about living here is that wherever you go there are always people doing things. We watch the day workers cleaning the landrovers from our windows, we watch people mingling in Midships, we watch fishermen sailing in and out of the harbour.... This morning Joshua, Natalie and I watched the deck team lowering and positioning the patient gangway. Cranes and people wearing hard hats are always fun to watch if you are two years old. It is easier for patients to enter this way straight to deck 3, rather than walk up the main gangway to deck 5 and then back down.

Surgery has started today (although we have no plans to watch that anytime soon!). Yeh!


new things to play

We took a visit down to deck 2 to take some mugs to the boutique ... (the place where you can leave things you no longer want, or collect things that other people have left that would be useful)... and returned with a sheet to turn our table into a den, a second paintbrush so the boys can paint at the same time and some random buttons. We have made a hole in a plastic pot and Joshua can now enjoy posting the buttons to his hearts content. He loves posting things and we figured this might be better than him posting things through door jams. Since then the boys have been playing under the table with their teddies, tea set and the (all essential for every game) fire engine! We just need to try the painting next...


bunk beds

They are still a novelty for our boys six weeks on! Whenever anyone new visits our cabin Tom invites them to squeeze into their bedroom as he wants to show them his bunk bed. The boys bedroom is off the living area, when they go to bed they spy on us through the gap where the door is open. Joshua is still attached to his sleeping bag but wanted his Bob the builder duvet cover too, so we have had to put it on the bed without the duvet in as we have found him with both once or twice and getting very hot. All the walls in the cabin are magnetic so the boys are getting magnets for good behaviour to stick by their beds (until we run out at least...) Joshua is not supposed to go up to the top bunk, but the temptation of going up a ladder like Fireman Sam is pretty great and gives it a try whenever we are not looking. Here's a picture so you can begin to imagine where we live...more pics of the rest of the cabin to follow...


Monday, 23 February 2009

Hospital in action

The hospital is now open - sort of. Judging by the number of pages they are having a busy or difficult day, or both. A girl collapsed who was due to come to the ship and is currently in ITU on board, so please remember our crew working hard before surgery even starts tomorrow. The ship is now even busier as we have day workers on board doing translation and other work in the hospital now it is up and running and the meal queues are getting even longer, but it is exciting that the outreach is really getting started....

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Two firsts...

I drove in Africa for the first time today. We used one of the ships Land Rovers to visit one of the hotels in Cotonou. For 2500 CFA each we had full use of their pool for the morning. It is just the other side of the river in Cotonou, only about 3km away from the ship, so it was a perfect first outing. I spent the whole time reminding myself to drive on the right while trying to avoid one of the 80,000 mopeds that are on the roads of Cotonou. We got there and back safely with not too much trouble.

view across the river from the pool

While at the pool I also got sunburned in Africa for the first time. I was planning on wearing a T-shirt to stay covered up in the pool but they didn't like me having a cotton t-shirt on so I had to take it off. I forgot to put suncream on my back and shoulders and they are now in danger of competing with the lighthouse further up the coast!

Tom and Josh in the pool


starting the weekend

So the weekend started with breakfast with our friends from the Gateway training we did last summer. Not wanting to wait until 9am to eat breakfast the boys enjoyed their second breakfast of muffins, crepes and other yummy things more than the first one of weetabix and rice crispies! While we see some of our friends from Gateway daily, others we only bump into more occasionally as the ship is now pretty busy. They did announce last week that anyone with spare beds in their rooms could expect them to be filled this week as we have lots of staff arriving as the hospital is opening Monday for surgery to start Tuesday. Sam is noticing they are cooking for more and more people, and there will be patients soon as well.

In the afternoon Tommy got to go exploring a little more on foot, while we stayed on board and moved with the ship along the dock slightly. In fact we were playing out on deck and were still waiting to move when we realised we must have already moved as the tent that had been outside our window was now to the aft of the ship! Joshua was very concerned that Tommy was not on the ship as he saw the gangway lifted. His concern grew further when Tommy got back and was waiting on the dock, as he kept yelling 'Daddy, get on ship' down from deck 7!!

Yesterday evening Tommy and I got to run together for the first time in 6 months and realised both how unfit we are and why you don't see Africans running in the heat! Daytime temperatures have been in the high 30's and into the 40's apparantly. Fun though.


Friday, 20 February 2009

2nd screening day

Thanks to a friend offering to look after Joshua I was able to go to the second day of screening. Today was for those people that came to the day yesterday but there was no time to see them. The hall was set up so that prospective patients had their history taken and were seen by the surgeons to determine suitability for surgery, with the help of biopsies at times. They had pre op checks done by another team - checking their blood pressure, lung sounds and other routine things, some then had blood taken for tests by the lab team. They went to book their operation date with the Operating Room team, then were given iron and vitamins by the pharmacists and had pre-op photos taken. I was able to watch a lot of what was happening, whilst helping a little with the children's activities. It must have taken people a long time to be seen by each team with the help of translators, but the day seemed very calm and the children pretty well behaved (except for regularly making puddles on the floor it seemed).

They were entertained with beachballs, balloons, drawing, bubbles, stories and singing. I had a lovely long cuddle from a baby who cried if we stopped singing so we sang on and off until he finally went to sleep. He didn't seem to mind that the only kids songs I knew were in English and when I couldn't think of any more nursery rhymes I threw in a Christmas song or two. I seemed to have done well to be given a little one wearing a nappy of some kind too, some others were not so lucky and ended up with puddles on them too!

So I'll leave you with a song I learnt today....

Dieu est si bon
Dieu est si bon
Dieu est si bon
Il est bon pour moi

The kids found energy to dance and have fun singing despite the heat.


Thursday, 19 February 2009

Screening Day - brief note

Just a quick note to say that the screening day was a great success today. Thank you to all of you who prayed.

We had almost 4000 people (including relatives) through the screening today - with almost 2000 people presenting for treatment. Tomorrow the last few hundred people will go through the final stages of the screening and get their appointment cards.

I was with the older students from the Academy (aged 11+) who helped to occupy the children (both relatives and patients) at the screening. They were fantastic, with lots of energy and enthusiasm, and a very mature approach to interacting with children from a different culture - some with severe deformities.

I will post some pictures, hopefully at the weekend (Personal cameras are not allowed at acreening to protect the dignity of patients so I will need to wait to get some from our communications team). Until then please pray for the final hours of screening tomorrow. Also remember in your prayers those who came today who we could not help - pray that they heard a message of hope that transcends their illness.


Monday, 16 February 2009

views from the ship

From port side we can see the fishing village and the rest of the port with some bigger ships, from starboard side (from our windows) we can see the narrow dock outside and the landrovers all lined up waiting to be cleared so that they can be used.

a new place to play...

...Daddy's classroom!

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Going swimming

After our experience of walking around yesterday and being followed the whole way by a friendly guy wanting some work on the ship (who wanted to know why Sam isn't married and why Tommy didn't want more children as he doesn't have a girl - both good questions, but still...all a bit weird for us being brand new in Africa!) we were grateful for an invite to a swimming pool with a bunch of friends and someone who knew the way!

Apart from the challenge of getting the pushchair along some of the very sandy streets (which was achieved thanks to Mike helping Tommy get Joshua past the sandy bits!) it was flat, easy walking although pretty hot. We arrived at the hotel after about half an hours walk and found other ship folk already enjoying the pool. There was a lot of discussion about what we all had to wear - they were initially very strict that the men had to wear speedo's (ie very small tight swimming trunks, that the men were horrified at the very thought of and against the ships modest dress policy!) rather than swimming shorts. This meant that none of the guys initially fit the criteria and were told they wouldn't be able to swim - apparantly they had been selling speedo's (expensive used ones!) but probably weren't prepared for the number of extra visitors the first weekend after the ship arrived! Anyway, in the end they said we should go to the market and buy some before coming again and they let the men swim after all!! So we enjoyed swimming before heading back.

We managed to get the pushchair back, past the sand, past the hundreds of lorries and millions of motorbikes, half of which were on the pavement, past the people who call us 'yovo' (white man) or yovo bebe (Joshua - he's still my baby!), past the people selling things as they walk around with them on their heads, past the people lying around in the sun, past the guards on the dockside who didn't want to see our ID, but were highly amused, as were everyone else by the sight of a child sleeping in a strange method of transportation amongst the noise and the bustle.

(who will learn to carry children in slings on her back, should she have any more, so she doesn't seem so out of place trying to negotiate a pushchair through the streets of West Africa!)

Echoes from home

A couple of reminders of home...


Hospital open evening

Last night the boys got to stay up late and visit the hospital's open house down on deck 3. We had lots of fun and got to see what the theatres and wards are like but also saw the sterilising rooms, CT scanner and X-ray - the places that aren't usually open for anyone to go to! We had a great time watching Tommy dress up as a surgeon and perform surgery on a toy monkey with the assistance of some very friendly scrub and circulating nurses! We also saw Captain Tim trying his hand at suturing on some foam under the watchful eye of one of the Surgeons! We got a lesson in intubation, got to see some fake eyes and wear big glasses. We all guessed how many pills were in the pharmacists' pot- Joshuas guess of 3 was sadly pretty far from the 900 or so there actually were! All in all it was very fun, gave the boys a good idea of the fantastic work done in the hospital and was a good reason to stay up late!


Friday, 13 February 2009

Press release about the Africa Mercy in Benin

From the UN:

One month on...

We arrived a month ago today. That makes it sound like a long time. Today the school had a valentines day celebration and much fun was had swopping cards and eating heart shaped biscuits!

We started our weekend this afternoon with our first brief exploring of Cotonou. So far everyone has been busy working and not had too many opportunities to get off the ship. We have been watching the fishing boats come in and out, the motorbikes driving up and down the dock, and the people sorting through the rubbish bins and have been looking forward to seeing more of Benin than the glimpses from our windows or from up on deck. Today we managed 27 minutes in the heat! We quickly acquired a new friend, initially we weren't quite sure whether he was wanting to be our guide or what, but it seemed he wanted a job on the ship- not sure that he was talking to the right people! It will be good to explore more at the weekend, hopefully once we have a rough idea of where we should head for!


Tuesday, 10 February 2009

view from our window

I can see a fire engine out of the window - a real FIRE ENGINE!! It is very exciting watching it hose the dock.

We're here and its hot!

The engine repairs were finished last night, but we remained at anchor until daylight. We have now docked safely and were greeted by friends and the advance team as we arrived. We didn't get much sleep while anchored at sea last night so are even more pleased to be moored and not moving around so much.

We praise God that we arrived safely as this is a difficult port to enter and are looking forward to being allowed off later today!! We are waiting for Customs and Immigration to clear the crew so that we can go ashore.


Monday, 9 February 2009

we can see land!!

We can see the port of Cotonou. There has been a helicoptor filming the ship arriving which has made the boys very excited! We are waiting for one of the engines to be fixed before we can arrive in the dock. The ship is praying that this will be done quickly and that we might be able to arrive today.


Update (Tue am): We spent the night at anchor, while the engine was fixed. We are planning to go into port this morning around 8:30 (GMT+1). Please pray for Captain Tim as he guides us in. The port at Cotonou is a very difficult port to dock at - the last two times the previous ship (the Anastasis) docked here she ran straight into the dock causing damage to the ship and the dock.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Nearly there!

We crossed the Greenwich Meridian at lunch time and are sailing through the waters of Ghana. Today we enjoyed a visit to the Bridge and met some friendly officers who showed us around. The boys enjoyed the chance to 'drive' the ship and Tom was brave enough to put his foot on the glass panel in the floor.

We have since tried baking a cake in the crew galley (which is conveniently near our cabin) and then eaten some of it with some of our friends. Despite all the planning on what to bring we failed to bring any receipes or receipe books so suggestions of your favourite tried and tested receipes will be welcomed!! (and emails about anything else too!!) We have all the basic things plus can get some things like nuts, basic dried fruit, marshmallows, peanut butter from the ship shop.

The ship is beginning to feel much smaller now and we will be pleased to arrive for a change of scenery and to be able to stretch our legs more than is possible on board! Its been too hot today for the boys to be able to play out on the top deck.


Saturday, 7 February 2009


If we come back looking a little more pear shaped it may not be the fault of the carbohydrate rich diet here on the ship! Everybody has been drinking copious amounts of Pear Juice after a slight mix up in procurement. The ship shop intended to buy a crate of small cartons of this pear juice. Instead they got 64 crates of these 1 litre cartons!!! With a best before date of the end of February the ship shop has been forced to give it all away before it goes bad. Needless to say everyone is thankful for the extra fruit intake, but beginning to get a little sick of the sight of pear juice...


P.S. It's not too late to enter the competition

Pictures for Ben!!

Our boys think of Ben (Tom's best friend) whenever they wear their England tops (and lots of other times too!) but today is the first day they both insisted on wearing them at the same time, we must look very patriotic!! Anyway, here are the boys playing in the cabin (note Joshua's haircut!)

We're making progress!

We are in the waters of the Ivory Coast now. We should be arriving in Benin on Monday at 2pm, following which school will finish for the day and an arrival ceremony will take place. We have been learning about Benin during some crew training this week and will be excited to arrive and for the outreach to start.

We are now on Benin time (GMT + 1) as of yesterday. Sailing is still smooth. We have had some rain, although it is still very warm so not much like home! The boys enjoyed jumping around in the puddles on deck yesterday and being soaked to the skin. They miss having a bath to get clean in but enjoy playing in the shower, Joshua is happy playing/ pretending to clean the walls for ages after we turn the water off (we are restricted to 2 minute showers due to the limited water supply).


Friday, 6 February 2009

Tom at school

Anyone wanting to know what Tom has been up to at school and to see very cute pics of his class see their blog at


Thursday, 5 February 2009

fire drills and haircuts

Today we had another fire/lifeboat drill. We were in our cabin when the initial alarm sounded, followed by a notice that it was a drill and that the 'fire' was in the mid-ships lounge and coffee area. Tom looked petrified and had his fingers over his ears, saying Mummy there is a fire but its ok its only a practice, but there is a real fire in the coffee shop. Joshua was saying 'fire, fire, fire' , although looked a little more excited about the idea, maybe in the hope that they would call on the services of Firefighter Joshua Farrell. Once we got to our muster station they were both very good and put their lifejackets on without any problems and Tom told the muster station leaders that he was 'here' loud enough for them to hear this time.

Since then we have played on the climbing frame on deck 8, Joshua was fairly intent on practicing for his future role as a firefighter and repeatedly went down the fireman pole. The only trouble was the only way to reach it is across some monkey bars which he attempted with complete confidence (but not quite long enough arms to make it across unassisted) when I was not looking, so when I noticed him he was hanging in mid air waiting patiently for some help. I paid more attention after that!

Tommy and Joshua have been to the hairdresser so they are now ready for Africa, with significantly less hair! The hairdresser had started Joshua's hair a couple of days ago but had to abandon it because he wouldn't sit still, anyway, since discovering the sweets she had in the pot we found that bribery worked and his hair was finished.

Today sailing is smooth, the water is so flat right now that it almost looks glassy. It is warm but has been foggy and a bit more grey today. Tommy saw a whale swim past his classroom yesterday but we haven't seen any marine life yet today.


Wednesday, 4 February 2009

it's getting hotter!

We are really noticing that we are moving south, it is getting much warmer when we play on deck now, so much that the boys were getting sweaty and requesting to go back to the cabin for a drink. The air conditioning is now turned on - it was quite a suprise last night when it suddenly went cold in our cabin after we had put the boys to bed in their (under)pants only!

Dinner out on deck wasn't quite as successful as the nice relaxing time we had yesterday because of a fly which FREAKED Tom out (as he is still traumatised from being stung by a bee!). So the major success we can report for today was making sure Sam knew how to use the washing machines!! (to be fair we didn't really have to do anything but I'm sure Mum will be happy thinking we are looking after him :-)

The boys got to open their 'sailing presents' from family today and have had a lovely time doing puzzles - very useful for passing the time - thanks! They have also had fun pretending to go to sleep on their bedroom floor and sitting in the toy box.

Sarah (who will appreciate any prayers that Joshua will settle in nursery the sessions I am not there leading/helping so I can get some jobs done!!)

Monday, 2 February 2009

Sailing: the next day

We have been blessed with beautiful blue skies and calm seas today. It is very relaxing being in the middle of the ocean. It is lovely and warm and we are not missing the snow back home, Tom saw a picture of someones snowman today and was convinced Nanny had built it for him to look at - he was happy about that, even though I tried to explain who actually built the snowman.

We have not experienced any sea sickness (which I am so grateful for, still remembering experiences of sailing in the past which were less fun!!) and life carries on as normal; school, nursery, meeting friends, eating... although sleeping whilst moving is more interesting! Last night we slept in our lounge and put the mattress the other way round so that we didn't feel so much like we were about to roll out of bed at any minute, although Joshua still managed to fall out (despite a bed guard now in place on his bed!)

As anyone who knows Tom can imagine he has been looking at google earth to see where we are going. We will pass Dakar tonight if you want a rough idea of how we are doing.



Joshua started nursery today with 3 other boys and 1 little girl ranging from 19 months to just 3. They have a little room to meet in and made use of the play deck too. Joshua loves being outside and can usually be seen driving a tractor. He is getting the hang of remembering lots of names and loves seeing his (mostly grown up) friends around the ship and going to say hello.

Joshua is settling in to ship life probably the most easily of all of us (except maybe Tommy who is loving teaching again!!), he copes fairly well with the millions of stairs but will request to be carried when he can't be bothered with them any more. He loves Fireman Sam more than anyone else in the world right now and is either playing with his fire engine, pretending to be a fireman (including pretending to slide down the table legs at dinner shouting fire, fire - goodness knows what people think he is doing) or wanting to watch Fireman Sam on DVD (which he doesn't often get to do as Tom thinks it is too babyish!). He is great fun to be around, but is a challenge to have in a confined space for too long - we might be spending a lot of time on deck during the sail :-)