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