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.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Meet Brian

The Academy has Brian Blackburn, our school administrator visiting. He has been a teacher on board previous ships in the past and now lives in Texas with his family and works at the Mercy Ships base there. He keeps a blog of what he is up to - sounds like he had a good day yesterday- and if you read his blog entry you can see a photo of Tom in his classroom too

Friday, 6 November 2009

turtle for dinner?

A few nights ago while we were having dinner we saw a little fishing boat just outside our window, a fairly normal sight, except that they had just caught an enormous turtle. Tommy went to get the camera, by which point they had moved further away from the dock and turned the turtle upside down and then we were slightly glad that we didn't have a better view of what happened can see the upside down turtle being held by the men in the middle of the boat.

let there be fireworks and sparklers...

...and there was (sort of...)

Our friend Sarah had more faith in the local shops than the rest of us and had gone in search of fireworks...and found some - resulting in lots of excited Brits....then we had to decide where on the dock would be a good place...maybe not near the fuel tanker running a fuel line? the other way a bit....then we had to try and light the sparklers - matches and lighters not working due to the we abandoned that plan for a minute and lit the first firework...and it lit - no bangs, whizzes, nothing shooting into the air, but just a little firework buring a few inches high! then the second firework....much the same - except this time someone decided to light the sparkler...and from that we lit all the sparklers and missed the little firework burning in the background....but it was ok - there was a third little firework for the grand finale, still no noise or drama, but a firework none the less....

Hope you enjoyed the 5th of November!

Pics here:

Thursday, 5 November 2009

a reminder why we are here..

The UN's Human Development Report has recently been published for 2009.

The HDI – Human Development Index – is a summary composite index that measures a country's average achievements in three basic aspects of human development: health, knowledge, and a decent standard of living. Health is measured by life expectancy at birth; knowledge is measured by a combination of the adult literacy rate and the combined primary, secondary, and tertiary gross enrolment ratio; and standard of living by GDP per capita (PPP US$).

(as written on their website )

All of the 182 countries for which the UN has data are ranked in one of three tiers: Very High, High, Medium and Low Human Development.

Some highlights from the list:

1. Norway
21. United Kingdom
159. Togo (Our outreach for 2010)
161. Benin (Our outreach in 2009)
169. Liberia (Up from 180 last time and where the ship spent 3 of the last five years)
180. Sierra Leone
181. Afghanistan
182. Niger

22 out of the 24 countries ranked 'Low Human Development' are in Africa. Every West African country, except Ghana and Nigeria, are in the bottom tier. Plenty of work for Mercy Ships to do.


Academy open house

Joey showing little Josh the magnets, while Tom watches them set up the science demo
Big Josh and Joey showing Tom the pulleys, who looks significantly more interested than Uncle Sam!

Last night the academy opened it's doors to any crew who wanted to come and see what goes on...the boys had fun visiting their classrooms, showing us their work, visiting Tommy's classroom and seeing a video made by some of the 'big' kids, watching science demonstrations in the big room and some Judo on deck 7.

More photos of the Academy on a friends blog

Monday, 2 November 2009

VVF time again

Before having some time back home I had started working on some teaching for the VVF ladies. We have performed surgery on 21 ladies in the last couple of weeks, I have yet to go and see them since being back as Joshua is now being sick but you can read about how it is all going...

Sunday, 1 November 2009

airport fun

The aeroplanes are about to get their own runway...Thanks Daddy!