Archive for March, 2012

This last weekend Nathan and I and two dayworkers (Femi and Brice) decided to go to Cotonou, Benin. Benin is west of Togo. Here is a map of the area.

To travel to Benin from Togo we needed Visas, so we applied and payed about 24 bucks and in return we recived two-week mulitple entry visas. We didn’t have any plans except to get off the ship for a day or two. The trip was standard for african travel. Which involves many hours of sweating in cramped taxis in traffic jams on bumpy roads! We left the ship about 7 PM and didn’t arrive in Cotonou until about 1 AM.  The ride was made longer by the fact that we got stopped nine times at military check-stops that were looking for illegal goods. There is a lot more Illegal good traveling the roads at night so that was why there were so many check-stops. A quick check in the cab and then the trunk and we were on our way again. Once in the city we found a hotel. Because we were on a budget we all asked to stay in the same room so they agreed as long as we were out of the hotel by 6 AM we were alright! We crashed shortly after getting into the room.

At 6:30 AM we were walking along the beach listening to the waves crash in onto the shore. It was nice to be able to walk in the sand and feel the breeze blowing on your face. We found a bakery and bought some bread and yogurt. We then found a place to sit and eat our delicious food. This was on the steps to a mosque.

Nathan, Brice and myself eating in Benin

After breakfast we went to Brice’s aunts place and left our backpacks there. We then headed to the national stadium, for what, we were not sure. But when we got there I noticed they had a pool and I could see the diving boards above the buildings. So as we walked over to the the pool we could see there were a bunch of people there. We walked into the pool area and they were having a big african swim meet. We got seated with all the athletes under a big tent.

Athletes tent

That was kind of strange. Us two white guys sitting with all the swimmers and swim coaches. This was a swimming event like I have never seen. There were kids of all ages and sizes competing. There were a lot of people watching the races. The first heat of kids to race was a group of about six girls maybe 12-16 years old. I don’t think these kids had ever dived off of a pedestal because the one girl lost her balance and fell into the pool. And also the swimmers were all doing belly flops into the pool as opposed to diving in.

Belly flopping in!

Also along the side of the pool were rescue swimmers. Now you would think that at a swim meet you wouldn’t need rescue swimmers but almost every race a kid needed to be rescued because they were drowning. It was quite a site to see.

Rescue swimmers

This was a big event because there were police and security with machine guns all over the place. The minister of sport was in attendance as were a bunch of other dignitaries. There was live music with people pounding on al types of musical instuments. My favorite was this one guy who was beating on a piece of steel that was balanced on this head.

By the time we left there it was about noon and we were getting hungry and thirsty. We walked for a little bit until we found a place to eat. We opted for authentic African food. We ate the traditional fufu and peanut soup with goat meat. Fufu is basically some type of mashed yam that is boiled then pounded into a paste similar to the consistency of Play dough. Fufu doesn’t have much taste but the soup has lots of flavour as well as spiciness. The meat on the other hand can be pretty interesting. The animal is not really sorted like you get back home.  What you get here is basically goat…. meaning muscle, organs, skin or any combination of the above! You name it could be in the soup. Some of it was pretty tough and chewy, but I am getting used to it. I have eaten it three times now. Before you start eating, a large bowl along with soap and water is brought to the table. This is used for washing your hands. Oh did I mention you don’t use utensils to eat this dish. Basically you roll a small ball of fufu up and dip and roll it in the soup. Eating is done with your right hand because traditionally your left hand is used for bathroom duties and since toilet paper is expensive…. well you get the picture. Once you have eaten all the fufu and meat you can use your three fingers as a ladle and scoop the soup into your mouth. This is harder than it looks. Thankfully the bowl of water is left at the table to clean up your hand and face and any other part of your body or clothes that may have gotten in the way!

Right hand spooning action!

After lunch we headed to one of Mercy ships previous day workers shop. He owns a small welding shop so we stopped in to to visit for a couple hours. I got to try my hand at street welding. The welder was a homemade unit, it only had two setting if you were welding small stuff you use the one wire if you want to use more heat you hook up to both terminals. I used a welding mask but when I asked why the two employees didn’t use a welding helmet. I was told that, “that was how they had learnt and that they had tried the mask but couldn’t figure it out.

No gloves, No helmet… No problem, “I’ll just squint”

Three cute little boys running around playing!

We then took a quick tour into the market area. This is one busy city! The pictures don’t do it justice.

Motor bikes, called zimijons, are everywhere! They are a fast and cheap way to travel in the city.

After that we went back to Brice’s aunts house and had some food that they so graciously prepared for us.

We headed back to the ship after supper. Five more hours of riding in a cab and seven military roadblocks later we arrived at the ship; tired, dirty, and hungry but safe! It was great to get to see another country and we sure packed a lot into one day.  Hopefully I will get back there some day to do some more exploring!


Wapondi’s Circle of Love

This is a true  story of one of the many patients we have helped onboard the Africa Mercy while in Togo. I did not write this story, but felt it very touching and wanted to share it with my friends and family. I am blessed to be able to serve in the position I do so that the hospital can continue helping those who would not receive care.


Wapondi’s Circle of Love

There is a wide circle of love surrounding Wapondi Napo. The delightful eighteen-month-old girl receives a great deal of adoring attention from her seven-year-old sister, Gnyo, and her four-year-old brother, Eric.

Because Wapondi was born with a cleft lip, her family is very protective of her. Her mother, Sando Binjuitsha, explains, “In Bassar, our home community, there are some who were afraid of Wapondi. They thought she was not good for the village.”

Others told Wapondi’s father, Moro, that Wapondi was born too early, so her lip didn’t grow enough. Sando and Moro knew that none of this was true. “We love Wapondi very much, and we did not listen to their talk.”

Soon after Wapondi was born, Sando traveled to the nearest hospital in Socado, hoping to find a way for her daughter’s cleft lip to be repaired. “We waited in the admissions place for three days. Then they just gave Wapondi some liquids and sent us away. They told me that Wapondi could not get treatment in Togo.”

While this news was difficult to hear, Wapondi’s family accepted the condition. Sando focused on taking care of her baby and giving her all of the love and care she needed to thrive. “I was able to feed Wapondi very well, and I made sure she had all that she needed to eat. When she had trouble breathing, I would make warm steam and hold her near the steam to clear her chest.”

One evening, while the family was watching television, they saw an announcement that Mercy Ships was offering a free medical screening for many conditions, including cleft lip. Moro and Sando immediately agreed that they had to take Wapondi to Lomé for the screening.

Sando and Wapondi made the eight-hour journey to Lomé. Sando and her sister who lived in Lomé, arrived at the screening site with Wapondi at 4:00 in the morning. They joined an already long line. Her sister spoke with deep joy, “We were 770th in line and got in! When Wapondi was seen by the doctors, they decided that she could be treated in the Mercy Ships hospital. I was so happy for my sister and her family.”

Once onboard the Africa Mercy hospital ship, Wapondi’s cleft lip was successfully repaired by Dr. Gary Parker, Mercy Ships surgeon and Medical Director. Within a few days, Wapondi was clapping and giggling with her usual energy. Sando was grateful for the good care Wapondi received from the nurses. “They are so kind and gentle,” she said.

Sando looked forward to returning home. “We will have a very special celebration in honor of Wapondi’s transformation. We will also say a prayer of thanks to everyone on Mercy Ships who added our Wapondi to their wide circle of love and caring.”

Medical treatment for Wapondi Napo begins with a photo with her aunty Nicole.
Next, she will come to the Mercy Ships hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, to receive her brand-new smile!

Wapondi Napo will soon be on the ward and is sure to be showered
with special care and attention from the Mercy Ships hospital crew!

Wapondi and her mother, Sando, remain close together during Wapondi’s recovery in the Africa Mercy ward. Caregivers can stay with their loved ones throughout the entire time they are Mercy Ships patients.

Wapondi adds a bright ray of sunshine to the onboard hospital ward following
successful cleft lip surgery. Nathan Claus, volunteer crew, responds with a big smile!

Wapondi, already well on the mend, enjoys a big drink of Boost. This nutritional supplement is very helpful for recovering patients.

Volunteer nurses play a special role in helping young patients recover. Wapondi
thrived with the love and care she received. Nurse Mie Brunn always found time
to share her knee!

Wapondi shares a special moment with volunteer nurse Molly Gacetta.
The special care and attention given to each patient help speed recovery.

Wapondi’s mother, Sando, enjoys a quiet moment after snack time. A great weight has
been lifted from her shoulders now that Wapondi is well on her way to recovery.

Mercy Ships volunteers visit with Wapondi and her mother, Sando, while they wait for Wapondi’s final outpatient check-up at the Africa Mercy onboard clinic.

Wapondi and her mother, Sando, share a quiet moment of prayer after receiving the joyful news that Wapondi’s cleft lip surgery was a complete success. Wapondi is now fully discharged into her loving mother’s care.

23 February 2012
Story by Joanne Thibault
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by JJ Tiziou

Me Vs. Angle Grinder

I got to spend some time in the crew clinic today! So there I was using a wire wheel on a grinder to remove some rust when it decided to kick back and then proceed to rip up my arm towards my face… I’m not sure but I think the grinder may have been jealous of my mustache! When I felt the grinder kick towards me, I instinctively ducked because I was in a bad location and was worried about the grinder hitting my face and destroying the artwork I had put so much time and effort into. By the time the grinder stopped it was all wrapped up in my shirt, about 5 inches from my mustache! Wow that was a close call.

The damage to my arm was not as bad as it looks. The wire wheel basically took the first layer of skin off my arm in two places.

So I’ll be back to work tomorrow to face the grinder again!

Here is a pic of me sitting in the crew clinic!

Here is a close up of the forearm



Sorry for the graphic content but TIA (This Is Africa)

Until next time, Be safe and Have fun!


These are just a few pictures of some of crew that keeps the ships crucial systems running. There are a lot of very talented individuals in the Engineering Dept who are using their God-given talents to help serve those who are less fortunate in Africa. Everyone of these individuals has a unique and special story.

Morning devotions on deck seven in the fresh air!

This is the cast end plate that was all rusted so I spent a few days rebuilding it by grinding all the rust away then filling it back up with weld. Then I painted it with a two-part epoxy paint that should help it hold up to the salt water.
Lifting the end plate up into place while Femi gets ready to bolt it up.
Putting all the bolts back in and tightening it up
Montez (one of our air conditioning guys) working on a unit on deck seven.
Coffee break in the Starbucks cafe!
Another coffee picture
Benjamin rebuilding the air starting valves for one of our four main engines
Alan (electrician) fixing a light in the midships area. Bowie (plumber/fitter)helping Alan with some mental support.
Renier (chief electrician) in the generator control room
Brice (day worker) cleaning and painting up our milling machine
Ray (instrument technician) working on our Public Address system
Nathan (Mechanic) working on engine #3
Nathan grinding the valve seats on a main engine head
Denis rebuilding Main engine #3