Archive for November, 2011

Burnt feet at Burra beach!

November 13th

I got invited to the beach by one of my roommates Maraud. He is an Egyptian born pharmacist on board the ship. I meet up with four other crew mates in reception and we headed out to Burra beach for the day! The five of us caught a poda-poda, which is a van taxi about the size of a North American mini-van that runs certain routes in town. After waiting for about five minutes for a poda-poda with enough room for the five of us to all get into, we all manage to cram in. These things are tiny. And there are 20 of us all packed into the thing. The sun is shining down in West Africa by this time so you can imagine the smells in this van, as I am sure the five of us from the ship are the only ones who have showered in the past week.  We make a few stops along the way to drop a few random people off at different locations along the way. But as soon as we drop one person off another person gets on. So we are doing the poda-poda shuffle on these little metal benches as we let one person from a row out then slide down the row and another person jumps in. lets just put it this way, there is no personal space in the poda-poda. I was literally stuck with sweat to both the people on my right and my left. Oh yeah did I mention there is no seat belts… just a really loud stereo! From all the shuffling around the five of us are pretty well mixed into the van. I feel like I am in a row in a box of Oreos except there are way more black parts than white parts in this box!  About 45 minutes later we arrive at another market. It feels good to get out and stretch since I have been hunched over due to the fact that my head was hitting the roof on the poda-poda the whole time. We make our way over to some type of taxi stand and Maraud starts finding us a taxi and the best price to get to the beach. We all hope into a small red car, three of us in the back and two plus the driver in the front seat. It is nice to have a little more space and by a little I mean my nostrils were not being assaulted by body odor. We were still all stuck together. It’s a good way to get to know someone who you have never met before. Sit next to them until there they are stuck to you and you can feel their heartbeat!

The beach is amazing. The sand and the waves make me forget about the adventure we just had getting there. It is totally worth the smelly cramped rides to get there. The water is warm and the sand feels so good beneath my feat. It’s hard to believe I am still in one of the poorest countries in the world. There are palm and orange trees along the beach throwing just the right amount of shade. The water is so refreshing. We spend a good amount of time playing in the surf as it crashes into the beach. We order up Barracuda and rice cooked with onions. I was a little worried as I have recently, last two or three years, developed an allergy to some types of fish. My mouth, lips, and tongue go numb with certain types of fish.  I found out after I ate all the fish that I am not allergic to Barracuda. YAY! We go for another swim and Maraud and I go for a walk down the beach and onto the black volcanic rock. The rocks are so hot on our bear feet that we are literally dancing on the rocks trying to get to the water. I end up burning the bottoms of my feet, which I would say is a first for me. As we are walking back we find a little river running into the ocean and we decide to walk up it a little bit to a small lagoon. There are small crabs everywhere that take off running on the sand as I walk up to them. After catching a few and not get pinched I return them to the sand.  We walk back down the beach and lay in the hot sun for a while before going for one last dip in the ocean before heading back to the ship. What an awesome day! Minus the sunburn and the burnt soles of my feet! Nothing a little aloe wouldn’t fix.


My first adventure in Freetown!


November 12th

Saturday morning Ken and I went into Freetown! He suggested I wear shoes as we might be walking in some wet and dirty locations! We checked out with security on the ship and headed up the hill into town walking up “bad boy lane”. This is the only way into the port area and it is jammed with semi trucks up and down both sides of the road. There is barley enough room for one vehicle to get through the lane. Some of these trucks and trailers only have one or two wheels the rest of the axles are up on blocks! Once we walked up to the top of the road, which is about 1 km, we walked through the streets of Freetown. We walked through the market which was a very busy place being it was a Saturday! There were people everywhere. At times we couldn’t even walk we would have to wait for people to move so we could get though! The market is a very crowded and smelly place. There are people with bowls of rice and beans and peas sitting on the ground right beside the open sewer that is running down the street. I was thankful that Ken had given me the heads up on wearing shoes as opposed to sandals! After walking for about an hour and half through all the street venders we decided to hire okada’s (motorcycles taxis) and go for a cruise across town. We have to wear helmets to be covered under the ships insurance policy. So I put the bicycle helmet, yes I did say bicycle helmet, on my head and proceed to buckle up the plastic clasp. I doubt this helmet would even help in the event of a crash! I envision my head, inside this little light helmet, bouncing of the concrete. I doubt this thing would even help! So we take off across town zipping in and out of traffic. Its funny how a motorcycle can fit in all these tight places but the driver was able to get us to our destination without incident! I pay the guy 5000 Leones which is the equivalent of about CAN $1.25. Ken and I walk for a bit more to another market. This market has a lot of cloths. I buy a shirt and a scarf from a street vender that Ken had met on a previous trip. Now we head to the center of town where there is a huge cotton tree that is about 40 feet across the base. This tree is spectacular. I kind of wish I had my camera. The down side with bringing my cameras is that a white guy sticks out just walking down the road. A white guy with big camera out taking pictures is just asking to get robbed! Ken and I then went to a street side Chinese restaurant and I had the special chow mien and a Fanta! After eating lunch Ken and I decided to catch okada’s back to the ship! So we flagged two bikes down. We (Ken) were trying to barter the bike drivers down when like 6 more bikes pull up! Now there are two white guys standing on the road with about 8 guys on bikes trying to figure where the ship was and who would take us there for the best price! We finally got onto the bikes. My driver was following Kens bike because neither he nor I really knew where we were going! Again we go flying through traffic. This driver was a little crazier than the last one. We were going good dodging dogs, people, cars, and trucks until we got into a traffic jam. So now we are driving so slow we are almost falling over driving between cars. There was one time where we had to squeeze between a bus and a truck. Needless to say I have marks on both my left and right pant legs from rubbing on both vehicles at the same time! That was tight! I’m thinking, “Wow, this is crazy!” little did I know it would get even crazier! Still stuck in traffic we are basically not making any progress in fact a police officer walked right beside us and went ahead and told a few vehicles to move. So now we are sort of following this cop who is walking down the tight rows of traffic. This whole time my bike driver and this cop have been exchanging some time of conversation in krio. We get about 3 car lengths and the cop walks up to our bike and says something to the bike driver. The cop then reaches onto the handlebars of the bike and shuts our bike off and takes the key and puts it in his pocket and walks away! I’m thinking “this is nuts, what now?” So now I, the white guy, am standing in the middle of the huge traffic jam in a city that I don’t know, in a country where I don’t speak the language, with a stupid red Bike helmet (yes this one also is not DOT rated) on my head, while my okada driver is walking up and down the street trying to get his key back from the police officer. Did I mention I don’t have ANY money on me? I had spent it all on the cloths I bought. The plan was for Ken to pay for the ride back when we got to the ship. The Plans they are a changing!  There are a few thoughts rolling around in my mind. One; I could just take my helmet off and walk down hill. I can see water so I know the ship can’t be that far away. Two; I could just wait and see if my bike driver comes back with the key. Three; the cop might decide to take me to jail.  I decide to wait. So there I am, the white guy looking like a fool standing beside a motorbike with no key wearing a stupid little red bike helmet, stuck in traffic waiting for the cop to give us the key back. I said a little prayer and continued to wait! After about ten minutes my driver came back with the key. YAY! We got back on the bike and made it back to the ship in a few minutes! I was relived to see Ken still waiting for us at the dock! Ken paid the man and I made sure he gave him some extra cash! It is such a relief to walk up the gangway and enter the big white ship of mercy with its running safe water and air conditioning. Time for a shower and a nap!

November 11th

Friday morning brings a weekly meeting to discuss the progress of some of the programs that the ship is doing ashore. After that we, the engineering team, head up to Deck 7 for a daily meeting to talk about on-going and upcoming projects. I get to meet most of the crew that works in the engine department. I go for a tour with the head of the hotel Engineering, Russell. He shows me the rest of the ship you don’t see on the regular tour. The engine room and mechanics of the ship are amazing! I can’t believe how many systems are on board from the water/sewer treatment plants, air conditioners, fire pumps, bilge pumps, CO2 fire suppression, fog/foam fire suppression, raw water pumps and intakes, air compressors, medical air compressors, generators, back-up generators. The list goes on and on!  And every system on board has a back up system or two! The amount of valves and lines and controls is unbelievable. Almost a work of art! I will try to get some photos of the engine room up some day here.

Nov 10th


My first day on the ship begins with me sleeping till noon! It was nice to catch up on my sleep. The ship allows you a day or two to catch up on your sleep before going to work. After lunch I go for a tour/orientation of the ship with the receptionist. The Ship is large and there are many hallways and staircases. It will take some time to learn the layout of the ship! The ship consists of eight decks, deck number one being the engine room and deck eight being the top deck. My room is on the third deck which also happens to be the hospital deck. The people I meet in the halls and mess are very friendly and happy! Time for dinner! After that I head to bed early as I am still trying to get accustomed to the new time zone!



My first time in Africa!

I arrived at the Sierra Leone airport at about 8pm. The flights were good. I didn’t sleep much. On the flight from London, I sat beside Joe who is a pastor from the USA. He was born in SL. It was cool to talk to him because he comes back to his community a couple times a year. He has a passion to start a technical school to teach the locals skills to be able to make money. I landed in the hot and humid climate of Freetown. We unloaded from the plane and were bussed to the terminal. Once inside we got into rows to show our paperwork and get our passports stamped. I didn’t have a problem getting through. After that it was a gong show. I walked over to the carousel to get my bags. Once I got to the baggage I saw my bags and grabbed them off the carousel. I promptly regretted bring two 65lbs bags! All of a sudden a guy comes up with a cart and we load my stuff onto it. Then I get waved over to the customs guys.  They want to know what I am doing in Sierra Leone. At this time I was praying that God would protect and guide me. I was a little out of my comfort zone! After I told them I had just clothes and welding gear for four months they let me go.  I’m thinking “now what?”, this whole time I had been looking for a Mercy Ships representative who said they would meet in the terminal. The guy who is helping me is telling me to get some money out to pay the guys at the door. But I didn’t have any American just a five dollar bill Canadian. So I gave that to him! He was pretty adamant that I find a dollar or two. I don’t know what he did, I think the guys in the airport must have a system to get cash from foreigners, and then they will let you through with less hassle! Whatever it worked. I got into the more public part of the terminal and found a lady with a Mercy Ships sign. We took my gear and headed outside she handed me over to a guy to take me to the ferry to ferry me across the river. The drive at night was crazy! There were black people blending into the night all over the road. There were times we were less than one foot from driving over people who were sitting on the side of the road! I sure felt like a tourist! And man did I stick out! I was a little concerned a few times like I’m in the middle of nowhere in some black guys car with a lot of luggage. We made a pit stop at his house so he could run in and grab a key from his wife. I was asking God for protection and peace the whole time and he was giving me peace. Once we got to the port it put me at ease because all the locals were waving us through the check stop saying “mercy ships”! That was a relief to hear! We got to the ferry after about 30 minutes of driving on beat up roads! Well they were not that beat up. It reminded me of home! So buddy takes my gear and me and we haul it up onto the passenger deck of the ferry to the first class room. It felt a little weird to be getting put there because it made me stick out even more! But as soon as we were inside and the blast of the air conditioning hit me in the face I didn’t feel to bad! He shows me to a corner of the room and sets my gear down and says, “here is your seat” then he introduced me to another guy who was wearing a toque! This new guy would apparently help me off the ferry once on the other side. Both guys leave and I am left to my own imagination! About an hour later I feel the ferry pull up to the dock! Then buddy with the toque comes back and helps me off the ferry! He says something to two guys standing there and all of a sudden they grab my gear and start heading to shore! I quickly follow my gear through a large crowd of black guys who are all yelling “TAXI, TAXI” at me! I just shake my head and say “no,no”. We get to a white land rover with mercy ships written on the side and throw my gear in the back.  “Praise God! I’m getting closer”, I say to myself. We hit the road into the city! Wow people standing and sitting everywhere just doing nothing! It’s a weird thing to see! We drive through some very busy and cramped streets! I can feel everyone staring the white guy in the white land rover down! We pull up to a set of steel gates and honk horn, the gates open and we drive onto a large pier with many rows of shipping containers piled up! We drive through them until we come to berth number six! There it is, the M/V Africa Mercy.

As I get out of the truck and unload my gear I get goose bumps thinking, “wow this is amazing”! We walk up the gangway and I sign in with the Gurka guard. I step in side and am greeted by reception. By this time its like 3 hours since I got off the plane and close to 12 am. They are very excited to see me. I get my picture taken for my I’D card, that is directly hooked to my ship bank account and for accessing the ship! Then I am shown to the mess where there are some drinks and snacks set out for me. The receptionist shows me to my room, 3428. The third floor is the hospital floor but it also has crew rooms on it. We enter the room and I meet a couple of the 4 other guys who are not asleep yet. I throw my gear on the floor in a very cramped room. After a shower and a few minutes talk with my roommates I hit the sack, the top sack that is. I’m on a top bunk! I sleep like a baby!

Please bear with me as I am totally new to the world of blogging. I will try to post every couple of days! Just a warning to all those perfect spellers out there; my spelling may be a little off but I will blame that on the fact that I am close to the equator and it affects ones spelling and grammar skills!

Today is filled with mixed emotions. Sadness and excitement. I am sad that I am leaving my friends and family, who I love so much, behind as I start my adventure in Africa. I will miss all of you more than you know! I am excited to know that God has called me to Africa to serve with Mercy Ships. Mercy ships for those who don’t know is the world’s leading non-governmental ship-based medical organization. I will be taking the position of Welder aboard the M/V Africa Mercy. The M/V Africa Mercy is a 499 foot long ship that has been converted into a floating hospital. The ship has approximately 450 staff who are all volunteering not only their time but also there gifts and abilities.  You can read more about the organization on their website

As I write this I am trapped on the secure side of a pile of glass, steel and concrete… welcome to the world of airports. The only comfort on the inside of this civilized prison is that there is a Starbucks!

My final destination for my trip will be the port city of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Africa. I will fly there via Calgary – London – Freetown. I will arrive about 8 pm on nov 9th, 22 hours after leaving Saskatoon.

Hey feel free to ask any questions via the comment button!  and I will try answer them as soon as I can!


Tim Abramoff     <>(