Category: Adventrures

Memories of Mercy

This is a blog I wrote the last week I was in Africa. I just found it and figured I would share it with you. Just to reference this post I have been back in Canada for about eighteen months now. I can honestly say, in the eighteen months I have been back I haven’t gone a day without thinking about the ship and/or its crew. The memories are both good and bad. But the most memorable ones far out weight the bad ones.

The Africa Mercy is a big part of my life and helps make up who I am. I am thankful to God for the amazing adventure he lead me on. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ. So with no further delay here is my last blog entry from while I was still on the ship in Guinea.

Sept 2012

The M/V Africa Mercy what is it?

Prior to 1999 it was a Danish rail ferry named the Dronning Ingrid. As it is now, some see it as a big white ship tied to dirty, crowded and stinky pier in a West African country. To others, it is a specialized surgical hospital that, almost exclusively, uses very talented volunteers to bring hope and healing to West Africa countries by offering free of charge surgery to some of the world poorest people. To me, the Africa Mercy has been home. I have spent the last ten months living in an environment that can only summed up in one word, that word is “community”, a unified body of individuals with a common goal. Yes living in a tight community such as this is not always easy. Sharing one bathroom between six cabin mates is not always easy. Not to mention the continual turnover of volunteers. In the last 10 months there have been sixteen different and unique guys, not including myself, from more than seven countries in cabin 3428. The ship sees more than a thousand volunteers come and go in a single year. This makes it not easy saying goodbye to the many friends I have met and done life with. Those friends, some of which, I will never see again have made this chapter of my life truly unforgettable. Standing in line for line for up to twenty minutes to get your food is not always easy but I have definitely learned patience. Working in very hot and humid conditions has taught me to slow down. In the past I have often worked many hours with out drinking water or taking a break. Well now a little alarm goes off in my head that alarm shows itself in the form of dizziness and it lets me know that it’s time to stop and take a break. Unfortunately this has been a common occurrence. I think in the last ten months I have drank more water than I have drank in my whole life… well that may be an exaggeration, but I know on some hot days I have consumed 5-7 liters of H2O. Speaking of water; having a two minute shower ship was a big change but now I am down to less than 45 seconds of water running if I want. The two minute ship shower is mandatory due to the fact that we have a limited supply of water on board. Not a having a lot of personal space is also difficult. I have had to come up with creative ways to overcome it. Sometimes a set of ear buds jammed in my ears blasting worship music loud enough to drown out the noise of a deafening marine generator is the only “quite” place I can find. Working in a cross cultural environment with more than 30 nationalities has taught me to have patience and to really listen to what someone is saying and try to understand what they are talking about before I open my mouth and make a fool of myself. Living in a community that follows the model of Jesus has been very encouraging. I have spent a lot of time worshiping with these brothers and sister mine. A highlight for me was worshiping on the bow on the sail over from the Canary islands to Guinea. It was beautiful to be able to be out in the middle of the ocean that God created just singing and praising his holy name. There are so many stories I have that I cannot truly expressed via a blog.
All this to say I have less than a week left on board before I return to my “other” home in Canada. I have had one of the best years of my life. And I will truly miss every part of this amazing adventure. It is sad to say goodbye to all the friends I leave behind but I know one thing is for sure, I will see you all again whether it be in this life or the next, and I look forward to that. Africa you have given me so much to think about and be thankful for. I have learned so much , and I hope to someday return to this place. I don’t know when that day will be but I look forward to it and pray that God will continue to bless all that is going on both on the ship and off.

I leave you all with a favorite verse of mine. This Verse has been there for me a time or two.

Jeremiah 29:11  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.


The Man at the Gate

The Man at the Gate

What to do my last weekend aboard the Africa Mercy? My last adventure for now in Africa. I have been blessed to be able to have so many great adventures while here in West Africa. Friday night we decided that for our (my and Lourens) last weekend in Africa we would head over to one of the nearby islands and go camping. This was a good plan. Fairly simple, we had heard the islands were nice. All we had to do was get to the port marina where we would hire a boat to take us across to the island, camp, hire a boat to get back and call it a weekend!

We started out getting a cab to take us to the marina where all the private boats were parked. After ignoring a bunch of drivers we picked one and settled on a price of 15000 Guinean Franks or just over 2 USD. The five of us then jammed into the cab, four in the back one in the front.  The roads in the downtown/port area are in ok shape. By ok I mean travelable. At times we slowed to less than walking speed as the driver tired to not get hung up in the deep water filled potholes. We drove down the red dirt road getting tossed from one side of the cab to the other as the cabs tires followed the contours’ of what sometimes felt like bottomless pits.  More than once we bottomed the car out on its frame. These pits are filled with dirty water from all the rain. It was dirty water, because at one point in our journey as we were driving on the far left side of the road, the wrong side, dodging the water hazards, we passed this lady walking along and the water from our tire splashed her feet. As we past her we could hear her making a commotion behind us. So our driver stopped in the middle of the wrong side of the road, as is customary in these places, shut the car off, which is also customary, to go talk with the woman, I don’t know if this is customary. Usually the driver would just yell out the window and continue on his way. I couldn’t understand what they were talking about because; one, the driver left the stereo cranked on some local music station, and two; I don’t understand French. Once back on the road, crawling along at a snails pace, we cleared that section of road and continued towards the marina.

Five white people with backpacks and sleeping bags getting out of cab will always draw the attention of the locals. We asked a couple of the locals who were just sitting there, if anyone would take us in a boat to the island of Roume. When I say we asked, I mean Rebecca because she was the only one of our group who could speak French. About 15 minutes of talking with this guy, then that guy, then this guy again we had a price. But it was not what we were willing to pay. One of the guys had a boss, who had a boat and he could take us. He just had to all him. We just had to wait until he got to the marina. We told him to get us a price before his boss got here because we were not going to pay what the others were asking and his boss would be just waiting his time. Finally an ok price 700,000 GNF to take us to the island and pick us up the next day. That equaled about twenty USD a person. We still had the cabbie sitting there because we were at the end of a long pier and if there were no boats we would have to go to another location. So we offered to give him a little extra money for waiting for us. Well he was not having it. He wanted double for just sitting there. We said “no way” were we paying that. It didn’t cost him a dime to sit there and he would have been just sitting back at the taxi stand with the dozens of other taxis waiting for the next customers. After a bunch of bartering we settled on 25000 GNF. And we told him to enjoy it because we would never use him or his car again.

Our boat was in the process of being put into the water. It is the slow season due to the rain so most guys have their boats in the storage compound. This means the boats need to be moved to the water. I look over my shoulder to see them dragging this fiberglass boat, our boat, on the asphalt paved dock. Now, I’m not a rocket surgeon but I know it’s not really good for you to drag a boat on any thing but WATER! But here, that is how they roll…or skid!

Once the boat was in the water a small four-stroke engine was brought down and attached to the transom of the boat. “This is good we are making progress,” I tell myself. They even have life jackets for us. “Wow” I’m impressed.  Now all we need is fuel. Fuel costs money, something they don’t have much of. So we fork over half the cash, 350,000 GNF. The captain gets on his moped and heads into the city to buy fuel. In the meantime we just sit around and enjoy the wait at least the weather is nice. A while later our new friend pulls up on his moped with two pails of fuel. One twenty-liter and the other ten liters… I don’t recommend hauling two cans; actually I don’t think I recommend hauling any gas except in the gas tank of a bike. But we must not forget, TIA… This Is Africa, and that is how they manage. Once the boat was fueled up. We grabbed our gear and hopped in the boat. No sooner had we done that then the owner of the boat comes and says a bunch of stuff in French and we find out he is trying to get more money from us. He is claiming the price was for four people, not five. We tell him that he knew that the price was for five of us and to quit being dishonest because it would also be the last time we, or anyone else from the ship for that matter, used him if we took back a bad report. The price was for the boat, not the number of people in the boat. He finally agrees to take us to the island for the agreed upon price. He is not happy and we are a little concerned because we have paid him half and there is a real good chance he will not show up the next day to drive us home. So as we begin out to the island, we take that into consideration. We get about 100 meters from the dock and we start turning around. Upon asking then what the problem is they say they need to change the engine. “You’ve got to be kidding me” I think to myself and laugh. I guess I can understand their side of it. Just last week a boat with locals from one of the neighboring islands smashed into the rocks and sunk. Fifteen people were reported to have drowned. Speaking with some of the locals, they say the number of dead was more like fifty. It was a tragedy and I’m sure it was the reason we had to turn around and change the motor. The delay is a set back, not that we are on a strict schedule, but probably a good one non the less as we are still inside the safety of the port. Once tied to the dock again they unbolt the outboard engine and take it to shore.

We have been in the marina for about two and half hours now. I feel a little uneasy and uncomfortable about the whole situation but the weather is holding although it does look like rain and our current situation is not exactly perfect. I take the opportunity to eat my grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Which is now at about 28 degrees or the air temp so it’s almost like eating it right off the grill!

We are all on edge a little bit thinking, “ok, this is more hassle than we have ever had traveling before, is it worth it…” We were looking forward to spending Lourens and my last weekend on a beach on an island. Not to mention it was going to be a bachelor party for Lourens as he leaves next week to get married.

The good news is the new motor is installed on the boat; the bad news is the motor is two-stroke which means they need to go into town to buy oil because it is a premix motor. We are told to wait while the boat owner and his trusty moped go to town again to buy oil. Now our frustration levels are getting agitated. Most of us have been in Africa a while and have come to expect some delays anytime you are doing anything, but this is getting a little crazy. Thirty minutes pass and our captain is back with the oil. Time to roll! Oil is mixed with the fuel, life jackets are on and done up, cameras are out and ready as we are looking forward to passing our ship, The Africa Mercy, on our way out of the port, when buddy goes to pull the starter rope on the engine and nearly falls over as the rope explodes and whips back into the motor housing. “That’s it, I’m out, this is ridiculas”, I say as I undo my life jacket and throw it into the bottom of the boat. I grab my pack and hop out of the boat. The rest of the crew is right behind me. I feel relived, for some reason, to be heading back to our ship. I don’t know why but it just feels like we made the right decision to cancel our island trip and head back to our ship.

A few of us are fed up with our last adventure in Conakry and we are ready to just cut our losses for the fuel and head back to ship. The boat owner wants to give us our fuel back but the only problem is, it’s in his own jerry can. Ryan wants to get our money back so we tell him we will be waiting on the pier. The next twenty minutes are spent watching Ryan and the captain try to find another container to pour the gas into. One twenty-liter vegetable oil pail, one six-liter juice container and a four-liter oil jug with a rag stuffed in the end later and we our on our way. What we are going to do with 30ish liters of red gasoline is beyond me. I don’t know if the locals will buy fuel from a bunch of white people selling gas the African way on the side of the road. The suggestion is made to just sell it in the marina. We scratch that idea after asking around because no one has the money for it. We tell the captain that we only want two thirds of the value if he can sell it, that’s 200000 GNF. As we sit down at the marina restaurant to have a drink and bite to eat, the captain, a local and our 30 liters of gasoline head into town on the moped as the skies open and it begins to rain.  As we sip on our cold… sorry, cool drinks we laughed about the adventure of trying to go to the island and wondered if we would ever see our 200000 GNF again. Sure enough the boys on the bike came back and they had our money. The island trip ended well with us heading back to the ship for the rest of the afternoon.

As we were entering the port gates we met a couple of Sierra Leoneans who had traveled from Sierra because of the husbands growth in his mouth, that Mercy Ships had removed last year, was back and the man was unable to eat and was starving to death. He opened his mouth and showed me the lump in the back of his mouth. I was shocked, it looked like another tongue in his mouth and it was the size of a golf ball. I understood why he was very thin and weak. It was apparent to me that he was not doing well. I felt sick inside, not because of the gruesome lump in this mans throat but because I knew that there is a very real chance this man will die from starvation if the growth is cancerous. This made my heart sink. We helped the couple get though security and into the port and had them wait outside the ship while Becca, who is nurse, found someone on board the ship to make a decision. Soon after the man was admitted to our ward for the weekend. And will be assessed on Monday by our team of surgeons and medical professionals.

Some might look at this adventure as a complete let down because we didn’t get to go to the island. I am not at all disappointed. I think it was divine intervention by a higher power telling us to come back to the ship simply to help this man get admitted into the hospital.

I have no idea what will happen with this man now. I do know he is in great hands on our ward and in our operating theaters. I would think we would be able to operate to remove the growth if he is in stable enough condition for surgery. This will only save his life for a while. If it is cancerous there is nothing we can do for him in the future. There is no cancer treatment in West Africa and if the lump grows back to the size it is now, it will slowly starve him to death. The only hope he has is that of a personal relationship with the creator of the universe.

This is the reality of life for so many in Africa. But there is hope

That hope is the reason I am here in Africa.