Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Off Site visits - Mercy Vision (eye clinic)

The eye team works at four locations on different days of the week. They welcomed us to the church they were using for screening at Ganhi despite the obviously busy workload. Prospective patients lined the street outside before being brought to the main part of the church to wait, before waiting further in the room adjacent to where the team performed their assessments. Some patients have been coming consecutive weeks as the team is so busy it can not always see everyone that comes in one day. After all that waiting some are given appointments for treatment or surgery, others given advice. The team gets fustrated by the numbers of young people wanting assessment for 'itchy eyes' - most likely due to the pollution and dust here and just in need of a bit of extra attention to hygiene - as it takes their time from those people they can really help.

The goal of the project is to reduce the prevalance of blindness/low vision due to cataract and ptergium and to build capacity of the local eye care system. This means while we are in Benin they will see 20, 000 people, distribute sunglasses and reading glasses and perform surgery for over 3000 people. They are aiming to train 2 cataract surgical fellows, train 2 local surgeons and 10 community eye care workers in ophthalmic care. They are certainly going to be busy looking at the (not very happy mob of) people outside, as was the lady selling popcorn next to the entrance!!


Long queues outside

more waiting - at least inside

Having an eye test

Getting appointments for ongoing care or surgery on the ship

off site visits - hospitaility center

Having been off ship to see what else Mercy Ships are doing while in Benin I am amazed even more by the work going on and the fantastic crew willing to serve the people of Benin out in the field, away from the clean, sterile, safe environment of the hospital here. It was fantastic to see how the warehouse has been converted into the hospitality center - the empty shell that I saw in the pictures when we arrived has been turned into dorm style bedrooms, eating areas and tents for outpatient patient assessments or screenings. There is electricity (backed up by a generator that Mercy Ships has had to purchase as the city power isn't the most reliable), air conditioning in dorm and assessment areas (meaning the African people often sleep with blankets in there at night, but love it during the day!) and an area outside where meals were being cooked and provided by day volunteers.

So what does it do? It is a non-medical, temporary housing unit for 38 patients (although has the mattresses under the beds in similar fashion to the hospital for care-givers) who need somewhere to stay before surgery or between outpatient appointments after surgery. This frees up the beds on the wards on the ship so that all 6 of the operating theatres can run.

There are waiting areas outside and inside where many people sat with a patch over one of their eyes, anticpating the moment where it would be removed and they would be able to see more clearly.


Sunday, 29 March 2009

important lessons....

#1. Children need lots of sleep, and when deprived of sleep, either by their own decision to wake up at 5am (or similar ridiculous hours repeatedly) or by that inflicted on them by their parents not providing a dark room for a nap while out for the day, they get grumpy. Or even grumpier depending on how grumpy they were to start with.

#2. Parents of children need lots of sleep in order to be able to cope with the grumpy children described above and to survive living in close proximity to many other people!!

Sarah and Tommy.

Friday, 27 March 2009

did they go to school in Bible times???

So today is another day where the academy is dressing up - this time with the theme of a past time period. Tough to do on a ship in Africa without dressing up shops, sewing machines etc you might think but they rose to the challenge (mostly), Mary has been busy in the Boutique this week dealing with requests for strange items of clothing. So who did Tom decide to go as....well we gave him the choice of anyone from Bible times, thinking that the typical nativity dress up is not too hard. And he chose Jesus. Good job he is the special helper at school today - although starting the day at 5.30am I'm not sure his behaviour will quite hit the mark all day long. Having sent Tom to school in flip flops and sighting the girls wearing high heels I now hope that none of them break anything playing on deck 7 later!


Wednesday, 25 March 2009

VVF screening

Seeing the VVF screening yesterday morning on the ship helped me understand another part of the journey the women go through. After travelling a long way, from the North of Benin or from neighbouring countries they stayed in the converted warehouse until they could be screened, then came to the ship where they waited for a short time with many other people on the dock. We then brought the ladies in to a waiting area after trying to establish who is who, what language they speak and which translator may or may not speak the same language. After locating the translator somewhere in the hospital the women go to an admissions area where they have their history taken and then some blood taken in preparation for surgery. They then see the VVF surgeon to have a gynaecological assesssment and decide a plan for surgery and another Doctor for a physical assessment. One of the VVF surgeons was welcomed at the crew meeting yesterday morning so they are going to have a busy couple of weeks here! I think they said another 27 women were being screened which is great considering how few came initially.

Sitting listening to 2 ladies histories was interesting - both the same problem, but one had developed the problem after her second (live, caesarian) birth, the baby (and therefore the problem) was only 3 months old and her husband was at home, the other lady had delivered a dead baby (also by caesarian section) 12 years ago, been incontinent since and been divorced. I know this is much more the more common pattern of events, of the 27 probably there was only another one or two ladies with any living children but still it is so hard trying to understand what it must feel like, having been through so much, being rejected and alone for years, and then coming to a big white ship, which must be pretty terrifying and yet maybe give a glimmer of hope that they might soon be well again.

I wonder if the women with live children feel more grateful that they were born alive after spending the day with a room full of other women with the same problem but who weren't so lucky. I definitely do.


Saturday, 21 March 2009

A long walk to work

In the picture our cabin is the door on the left, the door on the right is Tommy's classroom!

The other picture is the latest piece of artwork from Tom on the board in Tommy's room - in case you don't recognise us - this is a family portrait of us as pirates - hence the one eye and hooks for hands. Well we can pretend - living on a ship is a good start, me hearties....

going shopping

We thought we would go and try and find the supermarket that some friends had already discovered. It was just like being in a corner shop at home, except the prices seemed to be 2-3 times what you might pay in England. Tom was very excited to see Coco Shreddies and Mini Weetabix with chocolate chips, but they were about 7 dollars for a small box!! Still we had promised the boys a bar of English chocolate so we found some milky way bars which they ate once we were out of the shop (before they melted in the heat!) and bought some sugar and butter for baking.

We drove around a lot, which is quite fun, but pretty nauseating in the heat with all the pollution here. We didn't find the other place we were heading for due to not actually knowing how to get there (whoops, sorry Amy and Miriam), but did manage to find some of the other hotels for swimming and had a brief stop off at the craft market on the way back. Next time we take the guide book and a map!

Tommy greatly enjoyed the experience of driving with the power off (and therefore no traffic lights!!!) and managed to keep us all alive for another day (don't worry mum(s) he is doing fine at the driving really and the landrovers are pretty tough - the poor moped drivers who don't wear helmets might not fare so well though so we hope not to have any accidents). As well as the traffic lights being out so was the petrol station, even after driving to it twice, so we couldn't pop to Nigeria today, oh well.

The last photo is the closest we have seen to a garden centre...


Thursday, 19 March 2009

We have post!

Well some of us...the boys are very excited to get post! (Thanks Ben, Nanny and Great-Nanny). Its always fun to get post - partly because it only happens every couple of weeks, and partly because all the post we get is from people who love us- no bills or anything!!

Sarah (who is post-less but intending to make use of the DVD Tommy has got today for using at school devotions before he disappears it!!)

ongoing screening...

The screening days that we helped with were just the start of the screening....as more people hear about the work of the ship, more people come every day to be screened, hoping they may be suitable for surgery. If we go out in the morning there is a long line of people waiting on the dock. Lets hope there are lots more that the ship can help.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Missionaries of charity home

A team of us visited a childrens home today as part of the ships Mercy Ministries programme. This visit was to support the great work that is being done there. There was a lovely team of ladies looking after children waiting to be adopted, some who were sick, and some mothers and babies who were malnourished. We sung with the children - in French and Fon, played, had them sit on our laps a lot, carried them around and helped them eat lunch. The children here were well looked after compared to orphanages I have visited in Eastern Europe which was great to see. They did not have many toys - there are some the ship has donated, and some more that we took to use during our visit, it was interesting watching the children when we got the toys out - they didn't really know how to play as I would expect of children similar in age to Joshua. They just wanted to hold as many as possible, not share and had a strop if someone took something or if we asked them to share. I guess this is something all children find hard at this age, but how much more so when you are not used to having the type of toys our children take for granted available.

Carmen's blog says more


Wet Wednesdays

Tom has been really excited that they now have 'wet wednesdays' at school. Today they had buckets of water and cleaned the toys outside, and then had lots of fun with the buckets and water. Miss Elizabeth has lots of ideas for fun water play each Wednesday- a great way to cool down at the end of the morning too!!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

happy St Patricks Day

...a great reason to consume green water, green rice and green butter. Apparently :-)


different words and accents...

...this week Tom said he was going to put his rubbish in the 'trash', the boys look out for the 'garbage truck' coming to the dock and Tom asked us to 'scoot up' a bit yesterday. When Tom read one of his reading books to us he refused to believe us when we said the word was 'garage' as he has only heard this book read with an American accent. We had a (very scary looking) family portrait drawn by Tom and I was labelled Mommy. I did tell him how to spell Mummy for future reference! :-)

Joshua has learnt new words related to potty training from the other nursery kids (although still doesn't seem to actually want to try this himself!) and generally has a good go at saying everything and anything. He chatters away all the time, until anyone actually speaks to him, and then he fakes being a shy boy and hides behind my legs, peaking out grinning. His favourite words are 'why?', 'carry me, Mummy' and '999, fire'. We will be thrilled when he starts to say please without being reminded every single time! But he does now spontaneously tell us all that he loves us lots of times a day as well as saying 'Thank you God (for) Nanny, Grandad, Aunt(ie) Amy, Amen' every night, which makes us smile a lot.


Saturday, 14 March 2009

...to Ganvie...by boat...

We took a boat trip from a local hotel up the river to visit Ganvie - a village built over the water 18km up river. We passed many people fishing, some hiding behind things not wanting their photo taken, while others posed, showed you their fish and did headstands in their boats!! We went past the market - a collection of boats from which women were selling brightly coloured fruit and vegetables. And we were taken to a couple of small places selling mosty crafty things they obviously thought 'tourists' might like to buy and where children hassled you constantly for anything you would give them, and kept asking if they could have Joshua's hat.

It is not often you get to see houses built over water, it is not often you get to see goats and pigs wandering through peoples homes on the waters edge, it is not often that you go on a boat trip where the engine cuts out and you have to be towed for a bit by another boat. It is unfortunate that we (ok, I - Tommy is horrified that I did this!!) read Tom the Titanic story (at his request) this week and when the engine cut out he was convinced the boat was going to sink. Otherwise a fun, interesting trip was had by all.

(The boat market - Ganvie is literally built in the middle of the lake - all transport is by canoe and the market activity is all conducted from the canoes)

(Some of the better huts in Ganvie)

(Two fishermen on the lake we crossed to Ganvie)

(Two fisherman on the lake)

(Some huts built on the side of the river in Cotonou - full of rubbish with pigs and goats roaming freely in and around the dwellings. Probably the poorest part of the city we have seen)

Sarah + Tommy

Thursday, 12 March 2009

things that go...

Tom has finished his topic learning about things that go. Here are some pictures so you all know he hasn't forgotten England and plans to visit by boat and rollerskates. I am hoping now he has changed topics that he will have some more interesting choices of books from the school library, I know more than I would like of the history of all methods of transport and some detail about the insides of racing cars.

Now they are learning about their senses. This week they have been learning about the story of Jesus using two fish and five loaves to feed 5000 people. It is fantastic seeing him so enthusiastic about school. Today he told Joshua what he had learnt... 'it was completely amazing Joshua, he (Jesus) just kept taking bread out of the baskets, but it didn't run out...God is amazing you know'.

so to leave you with a song Tom has learnt...
If all of the raindrops were lemon drops and gum drops,
Oh, what a world this would be!
I'd stand outside with my mouth open wide, goin'
Ah, ah ah ah, ah ah ah, ah ah ah,
If all of the raindrops were lemon drops and gum drops,
Oh, what a world this would be!
If all of the snowflakes were chocolate bars and milkshakes
Oh what a snow it would be!
I'd stand outside with my mouth open wide, goin'
Ah, ah ah ah, ah ah ah, ah ah ah,
If all of the snowflakes were chocolate bars and milkshakes
Oh what a snow it would be!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

the hospital

I spent yesterday morning in the hospital. Having worked in hospitals for years they are places where I am used to being but while I was there I realised that there is a lot here that is different.

The most obvious are the language differences, we got to talk with a lady via a French speaking interpreter and then the French was translated into a tribal language by another patient's relative.

Another difference is the involvement of family - many people had brought relatives who slept on mattresses under the beds and yet many of the ladies for VVF surgery were here alone, having lost their only baby in childbirth and been deserted by their husbands.

These were differences I had anticipated - yet others were not and show I have lots to learn of their culture. You might expect that all the patients are very grateful, but mixed in with that they struggle leaving family to come, find it hard being in this environment which is so alien to them, they are sad when other patients leave quicker than them. We hope that surgery will change their future, that they will no longer be outcasts in their villages or towns, but things are not always that simple either for some. Women who have lost their family might not regain a husband just because they are now dry and children with cleft lips may still be considered evil because they have that label from birth, even if they are now healed. It is amazing privelege and yet an overwhelming challenge being in the hospital showing love to people.


Monday, 9 March 2009

Je prendes des cours de francais

Just when I though that was a phrase that I would never use, I realised that I could put it on here!!

I started lessons here tonight with James, mon amis, one of our day workers. We learnt the alphabet tonight, and while this wasn't completely new to me as I managed about 8 lessons before I came here I did expand my limited French with these other useful phrases...

j'ai huit giraffes
nous avons deux fenetres

and (at the request of a nurse) he tried teaching us how to ask someone if you could put a tube down their nose, which I am really not sure would go down well at the market or swimming pool!!

So more usefully we can say hello, how are you, I am well, goodbye. Its a good start....until next week...or until Tommy tries intermediate French on Wednesday...au revoir!!


Sunday, 8 March 2009

our little firemen

The boys are spending more time playing together- this week they devised a game where they made a den under the table -which turned into a fire engine, they asked for a plate to use to drive with, put their orange cushions on top as the lights and toy guitars as the ladders (they obviously have more imagination than me as I'm not sure that would have occurred to me), they wore their sunhats as their helmets and went to all sorts of emergencies, putting out fires, rescuing cats and people! It was made all the more exciting by being allowed to stand on the chairs to rescue toys that were stranded on the shelves. Children are great! Shame today has not started off so peacefully!!


Our cabin

I've taken a couple of photos of our cabin, so that those of you who have not seen it can get an idea of what you were praying for all those months ago....you can see that the boys room is off at one end and our room at the other end. We have a wet room with a sink, toilet and shower (which some of my family initially didn't even notice when they visited!). The main room has a sofa, table and chairs (that it is incredibly hard to fit extra people around, even though we try regularly!), plenty of storage.....and usually lots of toys around the floor....

It feels like home (apart from the empty cupboards which are a new concept for me - not to have things to fill them with!). The boys are enjoying having magnetic walls to stick things on and want their latest art work from school and nursery stuck up as soon as they walk through the door. Most importantly our cabin feels like home as it is often full of our friends popping in and out. Anyone welcome!!

Friday, 6 March 2009

Friday mornings

Fridays are our day without nursery so we get to play in our cabin, play in midships, play in the library, play in the coffee shop area, play outside with Toms class on deck 7.....the coffee area is always busy between 10 and 11am with people coming to have a break there - and Friday is Waffles day so we can always guarantee to find some of our friends and some new people to talk too! Today was made more exciting by Peter walking through wearing his fire fighting gear - although ever since all we have heard is 'where has fireman gone?'. Joshua has been offered a visit to the fire locker so I think that may be one we might have to take up!! We like our Friday mornings!!



Nursery is now 3 mornings instead of 2 with a fourth session for Joshua and one of his friends if we want. Joshua loves nursery, he is happy being dropped off (after a rocky start! Thanks to our friends who have been praying about this), loves playing with his friends and is happy when he is collected. They now have a lovely lady Miss Comfort (you'd think she was called Miss Comfy if you hear Joshua say her name!!) there everyday with us parents all taking a turn once a week. This is really a blessing to us, having the children happy in nursery and also allowing us time for visiting and other activities in the hospital, do a bible study with other parents one morning and the odd hour off completely to be able to email, learn french and catch up on jobs. It is a lot of fun leading nursery too - there are just four children now as one of Joshua's friends has gone home for a few months but they get on well and Joshua is always excited to 'see friends, see friends'. We play, have snacks, sing and dance (although if you choose a song they don't know you may be the only person dancing I have discovered, so I may choose to stick to their favourites - the washing machine song and the silly dance contest in future!!), do crafts, play more, have a story and then play outside with ride on cars, tractors etc. Oh and the odd , or not so odd trip to the bathroom - I do wonder sometimes if they just like visiting the friendly ladies that are usually in the laundry room!


In port fire drill

Sometimes it's easy to forget that we live on a ship, we are pretty used to the slight motion whilst docked, now know that floors are decks, walls are bulkheads and places to live cabins.....anyway yesterday we had another reminder as we experienced our first in port fire drill where we muster on the dock. Fortunately by 3.30 it wasn't as hot as it sometimes gets outside and the children had finished school so we didn't have to worry about that. As with the on-ship drills our boys were very excited about the drill happening and enjoyed saying 'good afternoon crew, this is the Captain, this is a drill, this is a drill, this is a drill' or in Joshua's case 'this a dill, this a dill, this a dill'. When it actually came to it of course it wasn't that exciting as we only took one book out with us that neither of them wanted to read and Tom continually asked 'when can we go back on the ship?' We muster by surname so sadly didn't have Uncle Sam to amuse us either!


Thursday, 5 March 2009

Giving blood...

Because of the difficulty of storing blood, the ship does not keep a blood bank. Instead the crew sign up to be called upon to give blood when needed. I registered with the nurse back in January and yesterday I got a call from the lab to come down and have a couple of vials taken so that they can test my blood to check I am a viable donor. It will take 3 weeks or so to process the tests and then I will be added to the list of donors.

We are currently very short of B and AB donors so Sarah (who is O-neg and therefore a universal donor) will likely be in top demand! My O-pos is slightly less useful although I hope to get the chance to do my bit.


Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Family church

This week some of the families met on the ship for family church, it is very difficult to visit local churches with children as the services are typically 2-4 hours long, in French and without childrens activities. So we met together and talked about the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet. We talked together about how the roads were dusty and dirty, just like here in Africa and so their feet were probably very dirty, about how Jesus washed all their feet, including that of Judas who he knew would betray him and about how we also need to serve and care for people. With lots of bowls of water and towels we took turns washing each others feet. We then had brunch together and much cake was eaten by the boys!

As the patient visits start this week I hope our boys will be able to see past the skin colour, language barriers and disfigurements of some of our patients and be able to show love through playing with them just as they would their friends.


deck 8

So the paddling pool is not yet up on deck 8 due to the deck dept still needlegunning nearby (see I am learning new words) so one has been created for the children to splash around in shallow (getting quite filthy) water! Deck 8 also has a climbing frame with a slide, and more importantly has the monkey bars that leads to the firemans pole. We can now play up there during the day as well as in the evening as a cover has been put over since we took this photo to provide shade. Yeh!