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Ghana, 2006
 

June 4-  We spent our second day in Ghana exploring the Cape Coast, an area about three hours west of the capital, Accra.
First we visited Kakum National Park, situated near the edge of Ghana's rainforest. It has a series of nets over the tops of the
the trees which enable you to do a 'canopy walk' through the rainforest. Kakum also has a small museum that focuses on the
bio-diversity of Ghana. After Kakum, we headed to the coast to visit Elmina Castle, built by the Portugese in 1482 & used as
as a trading post.As the slave trade grew in popularity, it eventually became a holding place for slaves on their way to Brasil.
Elmina changed hands a few times throughout the centuries, and it's style reflects it. It is a combination of Portugese/Dutch
architecture, with British touches. At right is the Door of No Return, the last thing slaves saw before their journey. It started
door started off wide, but was narrowed to allow only 1 to pass through it at a time. Next to that's a slave dungeon, where
rebellious slaves were put. The symbol above the door says it all. The Cape Coast also boasts a small tourist base, & after 8
months in Liberia, we found ourselves gawking at them.Of course, after Liberia, we felt like we were on vacation ourselves!


 

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June 19-
General Butt Naked- The Liberian Civil War produced some of the more bizarre and gruesome characters in recent history,
characters such as General Peanut Butter, General No-Mother-No-Father, and of course the infamous 'Small Boys Units' used by all sides
to fight. From this circus came the most colorful character of all,General Butt Naked. Initiated into a satanic society when he was just 11,
he spent his early life performing ritual sacrifices. When the war started in 1990, he formed the 'Butt Naked Battalion', a group of soldiers
that would fight in the buff, wearing nothing but shoes and an AK-47. Usually fueled by amphetamines, marijuana, and palm wine, they
believed their nudity shielded them from the enemies bullets.Before going into battle, his Battalion would sacrifice a victim from a nearby
village, and he would even play soccer with heads they cut off. He claims to be responsible for the death of 10,000 people. The General
claims God spoke to  him one day, and told him to change his ways.  He  is now Rev. Joshua Blayhi, a Born-Again preacher who runs  a
church in one of the refugee camps here in Ghana.  Several of our crew have befriended him,  and he has been on the ship a few times
for supper. Having read extensively about Liberian history, I was very familiar with him. I suspect we will be working with him on some
project or another. It seems tome he would want to make some sort of amends to his victims, but I should learn more about the General
before making judgments. While a satanic priest running around nakedand performing ritual killings upon people to gain power in battle
sounds to strange to be true,  but to be honest, after time in Liberia, there's nothing sounds that sounds overly bizarre to me anymore.

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June 22- The past three weeks here have been busy for the deck department. With the turnover
rate, we've been down to as few as 3 daily workers. We've had our hands full unloading all the
necessary equipment for this outreach, preparing the ship for a 10 month moor, and getting the
dock cleaned, set up & ready to go. Most departments are experiencing a turnover as well, with
old hands are preparing to leave and new blood settling in. Meanwhile, we are still getting our
feet on the ground here, hiring dayworkers, connecting with local pastors, and assessing where
and how we can most help.  Our medical screening is going to be held at a local Assemblies of
God church thisMonday, June 26th, and the surgeries should begin a week or so after.  All of
this culminates in a lack of content to update this page with, save for the occasional dayout
exploring this new country. Ghana doesn't seem to be as desperate (or as exciting) as Liberia,
but there's a need for us here, as well...one that will become clear as time goes on, I'm sure.

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 June 24-  While Ghana is certainly much more developed than Liberia,  we're finding out that's not always a blessing.  Most weekends in
Liberia were spent at the beach, but there is a shortage of those nearby to Tema. The beaches between here and Accra seem to be strewn
with garbage, and the beaches to the east are too rocky to splash around in. While Ghana has plenty to do, most of it seems to be an hour
or more away from the ship.  Ship's crewmembers have been scouting out new and creative ways of relaxing.  Today, we headed north to
Volta Dam.  Completed in 1965,  it created Lake Volta, the worlds largest man-made lake. Unfortunately, Ghana's President, John Kuofor,
decided to visit the dam the same day. We were barred from entering, & had to make do with pictures from the scenic overlook at nearby
Hotel Volta. After that photo session, we spent a hour exploring Atimpoku Bridge then relaxed the rest of the day at nearby Aylos' Resort.
'Resort's' in West Africa are usually just a bar/grill on the beach with a few thatched-roof dining areas scattered around. Aylos' also had a
half-dozen small cabanas for rent, and even had a rope swing we all took turns on. As is quite often is the case in West Africa, the ride to
where you're going is usually as interesting as the destination.  This particular ride took us through a couple dozen villages, miles of lush
jungle, and several beautiful mountains, some of which look quite climbable. Who knows,....Perhaps you'll see more on that later on...


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July 1- My friend Daniel & I decided to take a group of the new arrival up to Boti Falls, a
scenic waterfall two hours north. We'd heard from others that it's a great place to spend a
peaceful couple of hours swimming, surrounded by jungle, as falls crash nearby. Our group
swelled as more heard about it, & we set off at 9 a.m. with 3 carloads. It wasn't until around
9:15 that we decided to read what the guidebook actually said about Boti Falls. And I quote-

"The Boti Falls is a sacred site, and a celebration every year on July 1. Many thousands of 
Ghanaians visit the waterfall on this day, but foreign visitors are welcome to participate."

Sure enough, by the time we got there, there were 'many thousands' there, and the party was
just getting warmed up.July 1st is when Ghanaians celebrate the switch from English Rule to
Ghanaian rule,  and such a switch is apparently celebrated by dancing to African Hip-Hop music
at ear-splitting volumes,  shoulder to shoulder with thousands of your fellow countrymen. 
While we appreciated being 'welcome to participate', we politely declined. Daniel took half the
group on a hike up the mountain, and the rest of us went to check out another set of falls that
I'd seen on the way in, 'Ackaa Falls'. I silently prayed that this falls would be worth the trip, as
we'd come a long way for nothing. Prayer answered! Ackaa Falls had twice the charm as Boti,
with a fraction of the people (and price!). Even the man at thegate said, "I am guessing you
are dodging crowds today
." Yes, we are dodging crowds today.Ackaa had a small group of
families there, & all of their children followed us on the10  minute hike to the falls to watch
what we call 'The Whiteman Show'. They laughed and cheered as we spent 2 hours ducking
behind the waterfalls, splashing in the small but turbulent pool, and exploring the massive
stone cliffs a stones throw from the falls. The adults just looked on with curiosity, though
the looks on their faces seemed to say "Why the whiteman swimming here?  Don't they
know this river is full of crocodiles
?"As always in W. Africa, the journey was as interesting
as the destination, as our trip there and back took us over mountains and through scenic
hilltop towns with names like Adukrom, Huhunya, Akropongo, and Krobo-Adumase.



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July 3-9Sicko!  I developed an infection while swimming in Ackaa Falls
last week. I had a cut I'd sustained in Accra the week before. It had healed,
but the water opened it up. It started out as a local infection, but due to it's
location (the shin), the skin was too tight to allow the infection to go up. As
a result, it went 'out', spread to my entire shin and worked it's way into my
blood. My temp jumped to 103, and I got a headache & nauseous. I'd been
taking pills, but they switched me to and IV, three times a day, and ordered
 bedrest. So, I spent the week laying in bed, bored and in pain. By Thursday,
the infection was on it's way out, and if I stay off my feet this weekend, I'll
be returning to full duty Tuesday, possibly Monday. We have a doctor here
on board whose primary function is care of the crew. His job truly covers all
bases, from tropical diseases, to pre-natal, to the inevitable scrapes, bumps,
and bruises. He also treats crew with conditions commonly found on board,
such as stress and depression. The picture below at bottom left shows how
far the inspection had spread, evidenced by the circle drawn by the  doctor.
 

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Ghanaian Roadsigns-  Not as good as Liberian road signs, of course,but not without their own charm. Here are a few of the ones I've seen.



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July 22- I got a group together this past weekend and headed up to the Aburi Botanical Gardens. It's about 60km north of Accra, about a one hour
drive, unless (like me) you get terribly lost, in which case it takes about two. Africans are helpful when giving directions, but sometimes too helpful.
So eager are they to help, they tend to answer questions with "Yes"...even if it's not the right answer. Asking for directions usually goes like this-
                        
"Which way to I take to get to Aburi Botanical Gardens?"        "Yes!"     
"Uh...Is this road the road to Aburi Botanical Gardens?"         "Yes!"    
"So, If I go this way, I'll wind up hopelessly lost?"                
"Yes!"     

 
Funny? Sure...just not so much when you have a car full of people and no map of the area.  Anyways, we're rapidly running out of things to see here in Ghana.
The 'botanical gardens' were about the same size and content of an average city park. The only bonus was an actual hollow tree that you could get inside (well,
of course we did), and look all the way up to the the top to the sky. There was very little wildlife there.Trevor claims to have seen a toucan, but I suspect it was
simply a crow with his beak stuck in a french-fry carton.  Still, it's always good to get off the boat,  and many in my group hadn't gotten too many chances to
do that. I took the same route back that we had taken from Boti Falls 2 weeks before,  which took usup over mountains & down switchbacks into Volta Valley.


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July 25- (Happy Birthday, Mom!)  Well, forgive the lack of content lately. A recent
computer crash (again!) coupled with a recent ship-wide system crash (ditto!) has
prevented me from updating this page. Add on to that fact that I haven't done too
much recently but my usual deck work & going out for the weekend, & things have
been in a bit of a rut, website-wise. I'll find more to post here as it comes along.  e

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July 27- In other news...after 16 years, Liberia has electricity again!

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July 29- Once again, we tossed a group together and headed out. We'd planned on visiting Volta Dam, but plans went awry-in a good way. We wound
up visiting the Shai Hills Wildlife Reserve, a 1000 acre park 45 minutes north. While the only wildlife we saw were baboons off in the distance, the park
itself was beautiful. We drove through miles of savannah, explored a 'bat cave', & hiked up the hill for a stunning view of the area. 30 seconds in the bat
cave was enough for me, as the smell was horrible and I knew that squishing sound I heard underfoot wasn't mud. Traveling with us this day was our
Chief Officer Joe  Benzing, from the great state of Maine.  The sign at top left actually says  'Animals have right of way'. Pretty optimistic, in my book.
 

About 15 minutes after leaving the park, the truck began to overheat. I pulled over & turned on the heater, but by then the needle was buried.
We soon found out why.  Someone hadn't tightened the radiator cap and it was empty. Luckily, we'd all brought along our Mercy ShipsTM  water
bottles, and used them to refill the radiator. It took all our water and then some. There they all on the right...can you guess which one is mine?


After that, we stopped off at Akosombo Continental, a local tourist resort that has a large pool and a handful of animals on the grounds.
On the way back, we visited Cedi Bead Factory,  where they showed us how they make those colorful beads we see in marketplaces all
over West Africa. A beadshop was 'conveniently' located on site. I'm more and more surprised how set up for tourism Ghana is. Granted,
most tourists we see are other NGO workers taking a couple of days off to see the country, but there's plenty of others as well. It's good
to having some success in their tourism endeavors, and it's certainly an added plus for those of us who are here serving, as well.

 

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August 10- Outside of deck, Hold 4 is probably the sharpest department on board the Anastasis. It contains all of our machinists, plumbers,
and welders. When you're on a 53-year old ship, having your own shipfitting shop is better than trying to find the parts you need, and ours
is always in motion.  Bring them a sketch of what you need,  and they'll usually have it by lunchtime.  I often find myself stopping by there
just to see what they're constructing. This week, they've been busy putting together some playground equipment for Kinder Paradise, a local
orphanage.  Hold 4's very capable manager, Marcel Everleens, found plans online for a swing set and a 'wip' (what the Dutch call a see-saw),
and got his guys to work, welding, grinding, and painting. I've been ducking down all week to see how things are progressing. We in deck
got to help out a bit today, as the finished products had to be lifted out & into a waiting trailer. Hold 4 will be headed out to Kinder Paradise
tomorrow to set up the two swingsets and three wips. I'll be headed up there on Saturday to see the final steps & help out as I can. That's
Michigan's own Bob Blanchard on the left, welding handles for the wip. Gordon Keesler and Quentin Foster load it all into the ship's  trailer.

 

August 12- We headed over to Pram Pram, where the guys from Hold 4 were finishing up the Kinder Paradise project. We helped out for about an hour or so,
lifting the tops onto the swing sets & bolting them in. Silke, who owns and runs the orphanage, showed me the grounds & told me all the plans in store at Kinder
Paradise.They include enlarging the school and dorms and adding a soccer field.Hold 4 is also planning to build a large wooden addition to the jungle gym, and
possibly a 25-meter 'cable ride'. This may wind up being the nicest orphanage inWest Africa. It's already pretty close. It's spacious & open, the buildings are new
and freshly painted,  and it's so clean that the kids won't even use the toilets in town, as they're 'too dirty'. I was surprised how well behaved & polite they were.


After Pram Pram, we headed down the road to Ningo, a nearby fishing village. We spent 2 hours there, walking the streets and beaches,
talking with the people, and sightseeing. There were dozens of fishermen on the beach,mending nets and chatting on cellphones while
children raced around, jumping over lines, & women sold food under the trees.  It was almost like biblical times, except it was in Africa.
And everyone had cellphones. Their fishing boats are up to 30 feet long, and much of the wood is carved. They are extremely heavy and
it takes over a dozen men to slide it into the water when high tide hits. As you can see, African fishermen love to personalize' their boats.
Religious  idioms and slogans are  among the most popular.  Also painted on one rudder (at left) was 'No Food For Lazy Man',  a phrase
popular here in West Africa. Also in the village,  we found the 'Seaman's Bar',  on which was painted  a mighty familiar-looking ship. The
bar's owner told us it'd been done by a resident of the village who worked on the ship named 'Debra Kwame'. It turns out that one of my
day workers (locals who work on the ship while it's in port) painted it!


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August 26- We have a zodiac (inflatable rescue boat) on board the Anastasis. It's been out of service for about 3 months now,
ever since the  mounting bracket for the backup motor broke just before we left Liberia.  Our Security Officer, Egbert Brouwer,
managed to get it all back in working order,  so we spent this morning testing the zodiac out by zipping  around Tema Harbor.
Since we had a pair of water-skis just laying around, we figured we might as well test those out, too. Despite over a half-dozen
tries, I only managed to stay up for about two minutes. We tried to stay on the other side of the harbor so we couldn't be seen
by the Anastasis, but word got out, and we've all been inundated by requests by crew members to go skiing. The best part of
the day?  The Africans watching us.  It must be the first time in history anybody has  ever water-skied around Tema's harbor!

 

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Market Days- Coming to Africa & not going to the market is like going to Hawaii and not hitting the beach. There's a huge market here in Tema. 
It's not a 'tourist' market like many of the ones in Accra,  the markets here are real African ones.  They don't sell carvings and t-shirts, they sell the
day-to-day things locals need, such as food and clothing. I spent a day today wandering around, taking it in. Muslims sold 'Cow Meat & Intestines',
a preacher walked around with a bible in one hand and a megaphone in the other, shouting sermons. Vendors yelled 'Obruni!' (whiteman) to me
as I walked by, trying to get my attention. It's tough to get pictures, as Ghanaians don't like having their pictures taken...for free, anyway. A snail
vendor wanted $50,000 (about $5) to take her picture, so you'll have to do without it.  Cow Intestines guy only wanted 5000...his picture's below.


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September 1- I got to do one of my favorite things today...bike around a strange city. We loaded up a pickup and headed to Accra.
We parked at Ryan's Irish Pub, had a coke while we mapped out a route, then headed into town. We biked through Black Star Square,
Independence Square,  a couple dozen markets, and neighborhoods such as Asylum Down, James Town, and Osu.  I gashed my tire
ten minutes in, and the others waited on the beach while I biked to a nearby filling station to fix the tire. We saw colorful churches &
mosques, stopped for a coconut milk break, and pedaled past countless signs reminding us to not urinate here, though suspected they
weren't obeyed too often. Traffic was congested, and we were lost more than 1/2 the time, thanks in part to me for actually asking for
for directions (see July 22 entry). We got back to the ship around seven at night...sweaty, tired and filthy, with plans to go again, and
soon. Next time, though, we'll do it again on a Sunday. That's the day that the markets in Africa are closed, and the streets are empty.


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'Swimmers' in Ghana- Tema's port seems to be infested with swimmers. They're not as brazen (or dishonest) as
the swimmers in Liberia, but they'rethere, alright. Just about every day we see guys swimming to and from ships
ships around us. They fill up a bag of rice, cocoa, or sugar, tie it inside of 2 or 3 other bags & swim away with it. 
I don't mind as long as they stay offof our dock (I confronted one and threatened him with arrest if I caught him
there),  but they have a habit of cutting off pieces of our messenger lines to tie up their bundles with.  Last week,
 one jumped over the containers that  separate our dock from the one astern of us (which seems to  be a popular
spot for them ).  He jumped to the ground, landing about thirty feet from the Ghanaian security guards the port
provides for us.  Not wanting the hassle of transporting him to the police station ( and all of the paperwork that
comes with it) they simply made him do pushups for about a half-hour or so, whacking him with a baton when-
ever he faltered.  The hazards of doing business here, I suppose. Below is a slide show of an average operation,
including one of the many buck-naked swimmers constantly seen paddling past our ship, carrying bags of rice...
       

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Sept.17- Got 10 people together & headed up to Volta Dam today.Built  in 1964-65, Volta Dam created Lake Volta, the world's largest
man-made lake.  We paid  25,000 Cedis (about $3), and spent an hour walking around the top of the dam, listening to our 'tour guide'
drone on about megawatts and transformers. We just came for the view, & what a view it was. Nearby was the Atimpoku Bridge, which
Ghanaians love so much they put it on the 2000 Cedi bill. We visited the dam 3 months ago, but were unable to see it, as the president
was there. He has a home on a hill overlooking the dam. Today he arrived just as we were leaving...we heard his sirens. Good timing!


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Sept. 21-
Today, a few members of the deck department went to Doryumu, a small village
about an hour away. In addition to our regular work, deck always takes on a side project in
the ports we serve. While we were in Liberia, we worked with 2 orphanages, adding on new
buildings, a boy's dorm, a classroom, and a half-dozen latrines. We also added a roof to one,
dug a well, and several other minor jobs.  We are looking for a project in Ghana, and visited
the village of Doryumu for that purpose. I'll have more when we've decided what we will do.

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Sept 24-   Besides kente cloth and Kofi Annan, 'fantasy coffins' are probably Ghana's most well-known export. Originating with the
coastal Ga tribe, these carved coffins have become known throughout the world thanks to features on the BBC, NPR, & a September
1994 article in National Geographic. I remember reading that article years ago, never imagined I see them myself one day. The Ga
believe that your afterlife 'home' should detail how you lived your earthly life, and the coffins reflect that. Coffins will often reflect
the deceased's' occupation (fish for fishermen, vegetables for farmers), or particular vice. Soda and beer bottles are fairly common
(and brand-specific!), as are cellphones.  Tribal chiefs traditionally get lions, although they've been switching to Mercedes Benz's in
recent years.  Mercedes' are not only a modern favorite, they are considered the most 'prestigious' of coffins.  The license plate, of
course, must  match the real-life one!  Pastors order eagles to 'soar into Heaven', & Army veterans get rifles. On the way to Accra
today, we stopped off in Teshie, where most of the carvers are located.  We visited a few shops and took dozens of pictures. The
 coffins sell for about $500 locally, or $1500 for ones going overseas.  At top right are 'urns' used to store the ashes of cremations.
Also below are a cobra, an Air Canada plane ( made for a employee, no doubt), and my personal favorite, a lobster. we also saw
Nike shoes, a Bic pen, crabs,and chickens. I've decided this is how I would like to be buried, and as soon as I figure out a way to
 combine a tugboat, cajun food, & Fenway Park, I'm ordering a coffin! Anyways, here's a few pictures below. hope you like them.


 
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September  28- Looks like I got my 15 Minutes of fame. Marine News did a feature on Mercy Ships that featured yours truly. They'd done
several stories in conjunction with World Maritime Day,  an actual holiday set aside to raise awareness on
the importance of ships safety
and the marine environment.
While it's not as well-known as, say, Secretary's Day or even Arbor Day, World Maritime Day shares September
with such holidays as Squirrel Appreciation Day and of course, the ever popular 'Talk Like A Pirate Day', so I know we're in good company.

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September 29-
The Deck Department spent it's first day in the village of Kordiabe, working with the Bright Future
Orphanage. They spent the day painting the window frames on the buildings, digging the beginnings of a support
for a 250 gallon water tank, and, of course, playing with the kids. We will be going out there every Friday, taking
turns so we all can get a chance to be involved.  I didn't go today, but am planning to go this Friday or the next.


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October 6- I spent my first day at Bright Future Orphanage by painting windowsills & shutters & building the base for a 250 gallon
water tank we've bought for them. The orphanage houses about 60 children on a tiny compound of about a dozen rooms. They have
to walk a mile in the hot African sun to go to school every day.  Their 'school'  is a few classrooms underneath a  thatched roof with
no walls, though they've started building a proper six-room school nearby. Ghanaian orphans are shy and quiet, even more so when
compared to Liberian ones, who get a little rambunctious attimes. I can't go this week due to an injury, but should return next week.


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October 8-  Once again, I got a group together today and went exploring. This time we did some hiking. Mount Krobo is a
2-hour hike up slick rocks underneath a blazing sun. We crawled over boulder and trekked through long-abandoned 'villages',
evident now only by 3-foot high rock walls and tiny caves. The mountain was home to the Krobo tribe for many years, until
the British evicted them all in 1892- for not paying taxes, of course.  They were re-settled in the nearby towns of Odumase,
Somanya, and Kpong. The Krobo now return each November for a month-long tribal festival that includes, no joke, running
up the mountain. After two hours we arrived at the mountaintop hot, sweaty and tired,...but the view made it all worthwhile.


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October 19- Wondering what Tema port looks like? Take a look below. Just my luck that the port I've spent the longest time in is also the
ugliest I've ever been in. Tema has all the charm of Detroit without the lousy weather. It can dock up to twelve ships at a time, & there are
ships coming and going 24 hours a day,  seven days a week.  In contrast to Monrovia, our view here consists of concrete  warehouses and
towering cranes. I crawled up onto a couple of them to take these photos. The first two photos give you a good overview of what the dock
looks like, with the security tent just aft of the gangway, and the medical screening tent behind that. At both ends of the dock we placed
shipping containers to keep thieves and other types from wandering around our space. The last two pictures are taken from the gangway,
and show a view of the dock from ground level and  looking forward and aft, respectively. Find Out More about Tema port here.



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November 1- The MV Anastasis maintains a 'walking blood bank' on board. Those who care to sign up to donate blood when needed, and our blood
lab keeps a list posted of who has what type of blood. So, late last night, we had an emergency when one of the patients who'd had a grapefruit-sized
goiter removed began bleeding out.  Goiters grow in the neck,  very close to the arteries, and her Thyroid Artery had burst,  and was spraying arterial
blood, shooting so hard it was hitting the ceiling. They rushed her to the OR to save her life & began to call everyone whose blood type matched hers.
 I was one of the ones they paged,  as my blood type (A+) matched hers. I woke up just in time to hear my name being called to the lab.  When it was
obvious they weren't getting enough blood fast enough, they simply paged, '"all those who have blood type A+,  please come to the lab immediately".
The lab was like a 'vampire factory', with donors lying down as soon as the bed was free. They were so short of room, they ran out of bed space, and
our cook, who lives down the hall from the lab, was woken up so they could use his bed to draw blood. The patient, Eunice, was saved, despite losing 
a whopping 8 liters of blood! Eight liters is the amount of blood the human body has, so Eunice lost all of her blood, & is now walking around with
the blood a dozen Mercy Shippers. Eunice is alive and well, thanking God for her good fortune. I didn't mind helping, it's the only 'A+' I ever got.

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October 2005 to May 2006 were spent on Outreach in Liberia.
To read about the Liberian Outreach, click Here.