Onboard Africa Mercy from February to August, 2010
View From My Window-
3°57.4"N 10°37.4"W 2/5/10
7 February- Thanks to
the kind folks at Trinity Baptist church in Nashua, New Hampshire, I now have a
laptop, and can once again keep you up to date on what is going on. I left the Logos Hope in Montego Bay, Jamaica
two Sundays ago on January 24th, and spent only four days home before jetting off to Tenerife and the Africa Mercy,
which was due to sail the next day. Sail we did, and we're currently underway, due to arrive in Togo in a few days.
There's a surfeit of deck officers on board, and thanks to that, all of us only have to stand one watch each. My watch
is the 2000-2400, or 8-to-midnight for the nautically-challenged among you. The rest of my day is spent reading all
of the Africa Mercy's (heretofore to be known as the 'AFM') training manuals, Safety Management Systyem, and other
narcolepsy-inducing materials. Just as I've had to 'unlearn' all of my Mercy Ships lingo and re-learn it as 'OM-Speak', I
am now doing the same in reverse. 'Line-up' has become 'Advance Team' again, 'Charlie' is now 'boutique', 'CDS' has
replaced 'Help Ministries', and 'Roving Party' (which I never quite grasped) will know be known by the much-superior
'On Scene command'. Methods, schedules, and procedures have all changed, and I found myself heading to the Inter-
national Lounge at 11 for church...forgetting that the AFM doesn't have church on board Sunday morning; they have
community meeting Sunday evening, instead. Meal times are a half-hour earlier ( and shorter ), and the ship shop is
open every weekday, all afternoon. Little things that I have to re-learn all over again. I've even inadvertently written
Logos Hope on my paperwork once or twice, and I've had to remind myself to say the right ships name when talking
on the radio. When I forget these things, Capt Tim is there to tell me, ''Ten Demerits!!!"
Still, it's good to be back, and among so many old friends. There are some I miss; Jen, Gert-Jan, The Joensens, and
Marlene most of all, but many of my old friends are still here and great potential for new ones. I look forward to this
outreach, and to my service aboard the Africa Mercy, now as 3rd officer. My time home was spent buying supplies,
visiting friends, and most importantly, submitting my paperwork for the USCG, to upgrade to Second Officer. Things
were already complicated before, but have grown even moreso, so I am not sure that i will be able to upgrade. I ask
you to keep it in your prayers, if you would. If I upgrade I will likely extend my service a few months. If I don't, I am
considering taking a break from ministry for a year or two to advance. My heart is in ministry, but garnering sea time
and advancing my license has been my biggest stumbling block. Pray that I will be able to advance, or barring that, I
would be able to see more clearly what God would want for me, and would have the courage (and faith) to follow the
path He sets out for me. I will endeavor to update this page as often as I can, and I will try to finish up the Caribbean
page, as well. After 15 or so months on the Logos Hope where I rarely got involved in the ministry side of things, I'm
going to make a more concerted effort to do so. It will be easier, as I am only doing one job instead of 2 or 3, as on
the Hope. Being among more people my age makes it easier, as I am not automatically thrust into the leadership role
by default due to my age. There will be a language barrier, of course, but hopefully I will be able to connect with an
patient to adopt. Thank you all for your continued prayers, support, friendship & interest in my mission and my life. eric
Secret Agent Man One of the many good changes here on board is an increase in Liberians serving as crew. When I left,
there was only one, a deckhand. Now, after four outreaches in that country within 5 or 6 years, a number of Liberian day
volunteers have completed a DTS at YWAM Tema in Ghana, and are now serving here as crew. If you worked on board the
Anastasis or Africa Mercy, you might remember such names as Oretha the ward cook or Gregory Kulah in deck. Even that
eternal day volunteer Wahblo Briggs is finally signed on as crew. It has been a pleasure seeing which of the day-vols have
been called to service with us. I'd forgot how much I missed the Liberians easy sense of humor and only-in-Liberia accent.
I was speaking with Montez, a Liberian day volunteer-turned-crewmember, who worked on our ships AC systems. He used
to have a little shop up on Carey St in Monrovia, just off Johnson St. I used to go by here all the time, as this was the way
I would travel on my way to downtown from the Ducor Palace. I don't remember his shop specifically, though I know the
street very well. He remembers me, and told me how him and his friends on Carey St. used to see me heading up to the
Ducor. The Ducor, of course, is the former 5-star hotel towering 9 stories above downtown Monrovia. After the war, as the
hotel slowly fell into disrepair, squatters moved in and made homes in it's vacant rooms. After a visit there in 2005, I was
led by the Holy Spirit to build a school for the hundreds of kids living there. Along with a local man living in the hotel, we
transformed one of the floors into a multi-grade school with about 100 students. It went strong for almost a year, until in-
fighting tore it apart and parts of the school began growing legs and walking off. President Johnson-Sirleaf put the nail in
the coffin when she ordered the Ducor evacuated in May of 2007. To anyone living near the Ducor in 2005, I must have
been a familiar sight, heading up to the hotel on Saturdays and throughout the week, as I got the school up and running.
I was certainly a familiar sight to Montez and his friends. He was telling me today over lunch how they used to watch me
shuttling back & forth between the Ducor and the markets downtown. Somehow, it became decided that I was in the CIA,
of all things,...conducting some sort of sinister black ops on the rooftop of the Ducor Palace. It's good to be back in Africa.
"YOVO!"- Just as Liberia has it's 'whiteman' and Ghanaians call us 'obruni', Togo (and neighboring Benin) refer to us
melanin-challenged folks as 'yovo '. Generally assumed to be the local word for white man or foreigner, yovo actually
has a deeper (and more sinister) meaning. The word literally means 'cunning dog', and traces it's root back through
the long, sad history of West African colonialism. From the Anlo and Ewe languages came 'yevu' (or 'avevu'), which
generally refers to someone who is tricking or taking advantage of you, and also literally translates as 'cunning dog'.
In Mina, another local dialect, the word for 'dog' is avoun or avu. So 'yovo' is actually a bit of a confluence of the two
words, an Anlo/Ewe word that was influenced phonetically by the Mina tongue. That foreigners came to be referred
to as 'tricksters' or 'cunning dogs' show what sort of influence the west has had upon this part of West Africa. Togo
and the surrounding regions were a popular target for raids by the Mina people throughout the 17th and the 18th
centuries, earning it the name 'The Slave Coast'. It became a German colony in 1884-5, and remained one until their
defeat in World War I, after which Togo was divided up between the French and English. The British partition chose
to join the Gold Coast in the 1950's, and the combined nations came to be known, of course, as Ghana. The French
side muddled along under French rule for a few years until gaining independence in 1960. So Togo, more than any
other West African countries, has gone through a confusing series of ownership, jurisdiction and partition. Even the
new nation of Czechoslovakia showed a brief interest in ownership immediately following World War I! As a result of
all this, whites (& foreigners in general) earned the distrust of the locals, and the word yovo grew out of that distrust,
a sort of passive-agressive moniker applied to the foreigners ruling their country.
I spent a good part of yesterday walking around one of the local markets, and that word 'yovo' drifted out from more
than a couple stalls. Overall, Togolese (as those from Togo are known as) don't seem to be as aggressive as Liberians
or Ghanaians, and those who've been with the ship for the past year tell me that even the 'Beninois' (people of Benin)
weren't so subdued. Yovo is often spoken to us in a sort of sing-song greeting; a sarcastic jab shrouded in pleasantry.
The yovo 'song' goes more or less like this and is translated thusly;
Yovo, yovo White man, white man,
Bon soir. Good Evening
Ca va bien? Are you well?
Merci! Thank You!
You will hear it most often from children who sing it upon your approach. While the word has it's roots in an insult of
sorts, as generations have passed it fell into common usage, and I suspect the younger Togolese are unaware of the
history of the term. They just think 'yovo' means 'white man' or 'foreigner'. Amusingly, black Americans who visit the
country find themselves labeled yovo, as well. I can still remember a number of Liberians greeting me with the bizarre
''What's up, my nigger". I guess our respective racial complexities lose something in the translation. Au revoir, yovos!
10 February- Arrival in
Lome- Pulled into port late this morning. With all the extra officers on
board, I was put in the low-impact
position of Pilot Door, opening the pilot entrance and escorting the pilot up to the bridge. It was a nice break from the near-constant
forward mooring operations I've been doing for the past year. Our arrival was fairly uneventful, save for the sea turtle who was seen
swimming between the ship and the dock. The ship's children got some home-made Togolese flags ready to wave, and the crew, as
always, manned the rails. It was a straightfoward, uneventful docking, and if you look on Google Earth, you'll see our berth in Lome,
all the way to the west inside the harbor. That's where we'll be in the center picture, below- docked all the way forward, nose up to
the shore. On our port side, we share a slip with the Togolese military, whose vessels you see in the picture below. We are starboard
side to, and share a large dock with a seemingly endless procession of Ro-Ro vessels discharging vehicle after vehicle. Port officials
have used a dozen or so containers to build a 'wall' around our berth, shielding us from the other vessels, cargo trucks, & wandering
stevedores. After a short welcoming ceremony, immigration and customs officials boarded the ship to begin the inevitable paperwork
that comes with such a visit. Our berth is not the most glamorous or attractive dock, and it's oft-used function as a grain berth means
we'll be battling cockroaches, rats, & mice for our six months here, but it's proximity to a military base and it's excellent port control
means less late-night headaches for our very capable Security Team. For those of you who were onboard in Ghana in 2006, this will
look mighty familiar, as both port facilities were very much alike...it even smells like Tema port. I'll post more thorough pictures of
Lome port when I can, but for now, enjoy the photos below, unapologetically swiped from one of our more prolific bloggers, Murray.
February 18- We got bees.
Lots of bees. Swarms of bees, all around our dock and our ship. We've been
them collect in random areas around us...a couple hundred on a Deck 7 bulkhead, a few thousand underneath a
pile of fencing. Pretty much everywhere around the ship and on it, causing us a lot of grief. I volunteered to play
beekeeper for a day. I headed into town and picked up a can of Raid, then got a broom out of the cleaning gear
locker. David Cherry and I scoured the CDS storage lockers for our old bee-keeping gear, and I was ready to go.
The Chief Mate and I tried to find some sort of information online about bee disposal, and discovered that what
we were seeing were not beehives but swarms. Bees will swarm to a certain area and remain there for hours or
even days, as ours were doing. They will vanish as quickly and as randomly as they appear. Honeybees, which is
what our bees were, are generally harmless and not aggressive. While we were reading all this, sure enough- the
bees flew away, only to return an hour later underneath some benches stacked on the dock. I donned my super-
hero costume and weapons of choice and went out to battle the bees. Despite what I'd read, I was still a little bit
nervous, visions of 'Africanized honeybees' running through my head. I started off with a small 'test swarm' that
had been on the bulkhead of Deck all morning. Sweeping the swarm away, the bees seemed to take it in stride
and just simply flew away. I headed down to the dock to take care of the larger swarm that'd been congregating
on our various equipment and furniture. I crouched down and slowly scraped them off the underside of a bench
where they were, and they responded by simply dropping to the ground with a plop. You see them falling in the
picture below right. After a minute or so, they began flying away, and within 3 minutes, they were all gone, but
still remained in the area, flying around. I sprayed some Raid on and around the bench, hoping the sweet, sickly
scent would keep them from returning. A few came back but didn't stay too long. These bees were very docile
throughout this entire affair, and not one of them tried to sting me. Only a dozen or so landed on me, but more
looking for a place to land than as an act of aggression. While I managed to get rid of these bees for a few days,
in reality it is only a stopgap measure, and they will simply fly around and land on our dock again. For a longer
term solution, I've contact a local Peace Corps Volunteer who knows a beekeeper here in Togo. Honeybees are
a valuable commodity, and apiaries (fancy word for beehives) could always use more worker bees. Beekeeping
has always been a part of Africa, but has gained a stronger foothold in recent years. Mercy Ships had our own
beekeeping program a couple years back, teaching it to local villagers to help supplement their income, but the
program seems to have been sidelined to make way for other programs. Luckily for us, we kept the equipment.
Hopefully, we can get rid of them once and for all. As I've said, they are not aggressive, but playspace for our
ships kids is in short supply, and we'd hate to see a chunk of that infested with bees, dangerous or not. As for
me, I can add another eclectic job to my resume, thanks to Mercy Ships....where you never know what's next!
February 19- As we
gear up for the outreach, with tents being set up and screenings taking place
around town, the
medical department hosted an 'open house' tonight. Crew members got a chance to see what the different branches
of the medical department did, from dental to VVF to the OR. Various departments set up demonstrations, games, &
quizzes. You could check your blood pressure, practice sewing stitches, even find out what your blood type is. While
was pretty sure mine was A-Positive, I checked mine, just to be sure. We got to toss dental supplies into the monkey
bucket, have a hospital gown race, and even practice our CPR. The less squeamish among us stuck around to watch
video of cataract removal surgery in the eye room, and the kids got to 'operate' on their stuffed animals. Funniest of
all was the VVF team, who set up a 'bean bag toss' using latex gloves stuffed with rags and holes cut into a plastic
sheet for a target. This had to be done while laying on the operating table, feet in the stirrups, as evidenced by our
own Keith Brinkman, below right. Definitely one of the more emasculating displays of the night. I managed to make
two out of three shots, and made sure photographic evidence was destroyed of the incident afterwards. Strawberry
tarts, pancakes, and cookies were all offered, and nurses roamed the ship in masks & gowns, drumming up business.
February 27- There are few
things I enjoy more than exploring a new place and bicycling. What's better than
putting those two
together, then? Spent the day doing just that. Togo, to be honest, lacks the sophisticated 'quasi-charm' of Ghana and the sheer
craziness that is Liberia. Having been around the capitol city of Lome twice now, I just don't see too much that catches my eye.
Togo (and Lome) was a popular tourist destination about 20 years ago, but political turmoil and violence in the early 90's saw a
decline in tourism. Neighboring Ghana and Benin became more popular as a result, and Togo never really regained that status.
I've been trying to find a few points of interest around town, but it's pretty difficult. A local nightclub has some pool, foosball, &
air hockey tables, but at $8/hour, I didn't see too many takers. There's an 'electronic casino' full of one-armed bandits and other
devices downtown, but I doubt any of us want to spend the day gambling. There's one clean beach next to the ship, and a lovely
resort only 15 minutes walk that only charges us $3 to use their enormous Olympic-sized pool, but even that gets old after a few
months. So, I try to find things to entertain the crew, specifically the ships children. While I've not had much luck, I have found
an inordinate number of restaurants worth checking out. The Indian place was our first place to try, and we celebrated my 40th
birthday last week with Muttar Paneer and Aloo Chapati. As crew have birthdays, anniversaries, and other parties, we'll be able
to try the others, as well. While biking around, I didn't see too many of the bizarre signs like I saw in Liberia ( 'Woman is your
friend, Love & Cherish Her- do Not Beat on Her'! ) or even the religious-themed businesses that cover Ghana ('Precious Blood of
Jesus Tire Rotation Shop' ). There were plenty of election posters covering the streets, as there are upcoming national elections.
Still, I did see some things worth stopping & snapping a picture of, as seen above. This 'Interdict D'Urinet' sign below simply
meaning peeing (d'urinet) is forbidden (interdict) in this area. These anti-urination signs, seen sporadically in Liberia & Ghana,
are practically everywhere in Lome. Next to that you see a dozen or so clocks for sale, hanging up on a wall. I did find a shop
called 'Anastasis', and I am wondering the shop takes it's name from our ship. A likely scenario, considering the Anastasis has
been here three times already. I was reminded of the time I found the ship painted on the side of a bar in the village of Pram
Pram in 2006. My travels took me to the local Catholic bookshop, where I was told city maps (Plan du Lome!) could be found
I did manage to find a few I scooped up for 2000 cfa's apiece, about $4. In the stalls around the bookshop I stumbled across a
French version of Waldo (Ou Est Charlie?). Finally, you see what has to be the funniest restaurant in Lome, Al Donalds!! My day
was spent not just looking for things to do, but also on the hunt for three things- city maps, bike tubes, and 'fly paper'. I found
the first two, but trying to locate flypaper turned into a comedy of errors for me. The Africa Mercy has a severe fly problem, as
they congregate around the entrance and swoop in every time a crew member enters or exits, and they make a beeline for the
dining room, conveniently located right next to the lobby. These flies are making their way down to the ward, and the OR will
be next on their lists, no doubt. We may need to have some fly strips shipped in from Texas instead, as they don't seem to be
available in Lome. I'll look into having someone from the IOC put some into the next box of mail that we have sent to the ship.
March 4, Election Day-
Yes, today is
election day in Togo. Since we got here two weeks ago, we've known
this day was coming. Togo's president, 43-year-old Faure Gnassingbe, is running for re-election and facing six
different challengers. Togo's political parties are often identified by colors, with Gnassingbe's RTP party colors
white & green being the most visible. Gnassingbe's main contender is the very vocal UFC party, in yellow. Also
in the running is Brigitte Adjamagbo-Johnson, the first woman ever to run for president in Togo's history. Her
party, the CDPA, can be identified by their pink shirts, of course. Below you can see a few scenes from in and
around Lome from the past 2 weeks. The two major parties have rallied supporters to cruise Lome's streets in
their respective colors, sitting atop vans and trucks, riding motorcycles, or just marching on foot. They toot car
horns, blow whistles, or even start an impromptu marching band, as I saw the UFC doing on 13 Janvier Ave
last week. Driving around this past Sunday, I fell in behind a UFC motorbike rally cruising the streets, dressed
in the party color of yellow, some in costume blasting whistles, and waving palm branches, their party symbol.
I was following along for a few blocks so my passenger could get some pictures, when some bikers who had
fallen behind caught back up to their group. We soon found ourselves in a sea of yellow, surrounded by UFC
voters with whistles & car horns blaring, and supporters chanting & waving palm branches. I quickly pulled over
to let them pass; not just for my sanity, but also to make sure Mercy Ships isn't identified as sympathizing with
any particular party. What does this election mean for us? Due to the volatile natures of the elections (the 2005
elections saw violence that caused some 500 deaths ), we are trimming operations to the bare minimum for a
few days, shutting down screenings and clinics outside the port area, giving day volunteers a few days off, and
keeping the crew onboard until we know the situation has stabilized. As I type this, the polls are opening and
we've been praying for the nation of Togo daily for the past week. Anyone who was in Liberia back in 2005 will
remember how quickly those election results turned sour and the danger it posed to our crewmembers. About
two dozen of our people had to spend most of the night in the safety of the UN headquarters until they okayed
us to return to the ship at 3 AM. There were widespread protests and one of our Land Rovers had some rocks
thrown at it as it neared one of the protests. Let's hope this election will see a more peaceful outcome than that.
Below are a few posters that I snapped around the city, including reminders to vote, to vote peacefully, & to vote
for this party or that one. The ruling RPT part seems to have plastered Faure's face everywhere, including traffic
signs. Also, you can see Togo's different parties (and the party's colors & symbols) in the picture at bottom right.
March 6, Togoville- Before I take a bit of a break from exploring, I'd like to find a few interesting things for the crew to do. As we're
new to Togo, much of the area is 'unsurveyed' for us. Today, I decided to see what things looked like to the east. It wasn't difficult to
decide...due to the recent elections, the crew was forbidden from traveling west, as a few minutes west brings you to downtown Lome.
The votes are still being counted, and the stability is very much in question. There were a few hotels and beaches nearby that the crew
were allowed to visit, so we decided to avoid the crowds and explore east, towards the Benin border. A 45-minute drive took us to Lac
Togo, a largish freshwater lake only a kilometer from the ocean, with a half-dozen shabby hotels dotting it's shores. We headed for the
biggest one, Hotel Le Lac, and negotiated with a local boatmaster for transport across the lake to Togoville, a tiny village on the other
side. Le 'lac' is so shallow that you're able to walk across much of it, & due to the shallowness of the lake, the only boats available are
flat-bottomed pirogues which ferry people between the shores. There was only one boat, the hotel's leaky pirogue, so we had to pay
what they asked and weren't able to haggle a good price. Fourteen of us clambered aboard, and 25 minutes later we found ourselves
approaching the shore of Togoville. Upon reaching the bank, our pirogue was set upon by a dozen Africans, who all but grabbed us
out of the boat, carrying Mercy Shippers the five meters to dry land and demanding payment for their labors. I declined, but was able
to snap a few pictures of the comical event. A short walk down the dock took us into the town and past a few traditional-looking huts.
We spent an hour so so exploring the village, more than enough time to see everything twice. Most striking of all, was a large Catholic
church, 'L'Eglise du Notre Dame', on a hill overlooking the lake. It commemorates the appearance of the Virgin Mary, who was said to
have appeared on the surface of the lake in the 1970's. A shrine was built soon alongside the church soon after, and no less than Pope
John Paul made a pilgrimage here in 1985, traveling by pirogue to the village, just as we did. The church itself, which was built in 1910
by German missionaries, was a colorful, cement affair, it's interior walls splashed with murals of the life of Jesus and the African saints,
who seemed a step above the voodoo spirits so popular in Togoville. A close proximity to Benin infuses Togoville and it's neighboring
villages with a fairly strong voodoo culture, and you'll see a few voodoo shrines surrounding the fetish market in the center of town that
Togoville operates on Tuesdays. Christianity has not made a very strong foothold in the region, although Togoville is known as a 'place
of learning', with a number of high schools scattered around. After another pirogue ride back to Hotel Du Lac, we got back in our Land
Rovers and went looking for a beach to spend our last few hours ashore. Rumors of troubles in town convinced our Security Officer to
impose a 1700 curfew, and we had less than three hours to go. We drove along the coastal road trying to find a beach clean (and free)
enough to swim in, but were disappointed. We did find a few quaint villages and some tight squeezes to navigate our Landies through.
We headed back towards the port and went with a beach we already knew about. the majority of the group stayed at the beach, with a
handful choosing to go exploring with me. We passed through a village or two, and got as far as 'Obama Beach' when my phone rang
with a call from the Security Officer. Brimming with the fervor of the current political climate, both major parties had decided to take to
the streets with a march, and she felt it was safer with the crew onboard. Results were announced last night, with the current president
winning re-election with about 60% of the vote. Police used tear gas to disperse a march by the opposing party, and we're all confined
to the ship until it's clear that things have settled, at least another day. As I write this, management is putting together church services
for the crew, a rarity onboard for a Sunday morning. We hardly ever have services on Sunday morning, as Mercy Ships prefers us to go
into town to worship, as a way to get to know the people and make connections. We are not sure how long this curfew will last, but we
are all making plans to stay here today. Please, keep Togo in your prayers. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go get ready for church.
The View From The Ship-
I thought I'd give you a better idea of what we see from the Africa
Mercy. I clambered up to the stack the other day and snapped a few 360° photos. Here you'll see
the view over the bow. To the left, we have some of Togo's Naval vessels, which consists of two
25-meter patrol boats and a couple rigid-hull enforcement vessels. Here you only see one of the
patrol boats, as the other one was likely out on one of their rare patrols or maneuvers or some-
thing. To the starboard and over the bow, you see a good piece of the port facility, which is just
as exciting as it looks in this picture. The port is a constant hive of activity, with trucks arriving &
departing picking up cargo and brining it to the furthest reaches of Togo and beyond. Alongside
the ship you see our ship's vehicles, all lined up. Behind them you see a wall made of containers
that the port constructed for us upon our arrival. This keeps those who don't belong on our dock
from trespassing, and keeps our belongings from walking away. The only entrance to our side of
pier is at the head of the pier. You can see a little bit of the guard shack just over the bridge on
the starboard side. While out dock is secure and spacious, it is not the most glamorous quayside
to have. It's not unlike the dock we were alongside in Ghana, for those who were on board then.
Below you see the view over the stern of the vessel. There's always a vessel on the other side of the
pier from us, quite often for a week at a time, as that's how long it takes them to unload, probably
because they do things the 'old-fashioned way', filling cargo nets with 25 kg sacks of cement, sugar,
or salt. The deck department has taken to doing our morning devotions outside, on the starboard
side of Deck 7, as we are quite audible to those unloading the ships. Our little 'mini-ministry' to the
workers of the port. To the west, you see a large empty field. there's not much here but a few plots
with gardens on them and a dirt road leading to Cristal Plage, a beach complex at the very end. We
go there sometime, as it's a pleasant 20 minute walk or so, and Cristal Plage is the only clean beach
within walking distance for vehicle-less crewmembers. Please excuse my lack of photoshop skills...
For the more nautically-minded among you (I'm looking in your direction, Gareth), our exact location
is 6° 08'27 N @ 1° 16'53 E. Head over to Google Earth and scroll down to Lome Port, just east of
the downtown area. We are on the southern side of the westernmost pier, inside the port of Lome...
A Few Health Signs- Don't drink dirty water, don't get contaminated blood, and what to do about TB.
If you are sick, you have your choice of treatment on a budget, as well. You've got the Chinese Pharmacie
and massage, your 'native' medicine, complete with wonderfully graphic illustrations about all the sorts of
ailments they can help you with, or you've always got a veterinarian, if you happen to be in a bit of a pinch.
March 20 & 21- Camping! Nothing wrong with getting off the ship and roughing it for a couple of days. We drove
up to Mount Agou, the tallest peak in the country. We had hired a local guy to sort out location, transportation, and
accommodations, and he found a local village kind enough to let us camp alongside their village. After a three hour,
fairly scenic drive crammed into a mini-bus, we arrived at the base of the mountain & stashed our stuff in one of the
villagers homes. We didn't stay long, getting back on the bus and heading to the top of Mount Agou. We did hike the
last half hour or so, but for the most part we did more 'riding' than hiking. Once on top, the view was phenomenal,
although at slightly less than a kilometre high, we weren't able to see that far. The ever-present haze keeps visibility
to a minimum, as well, and this is due to 'harmattan season'. A harmattan is a wind that blows southerly across the
Sahara, picking up microscopic dust particles and spreading them all over countries that border the Gulf of Guinea.
It last five months at most, and is usually over by mid-March. This season seems a bit longer than others. Our guide
had some motorbikes sorted and we headed back to the campsite in 'style'. We had a sort-of 'Mexican standoff' with
our drivers, as they wanted 2000 cFa's, and we refused to pay more than 1500, about $3. Finally, they gave in and
we began setting up our tents and shelters. The villagers had a bonfire set up for us ready to light, and we still had
to eat. We threw together a pot of spaghetti and shared it with some of the villagers. The kids especially loved it, as
evidenced by the noodles and sauce all over them. After dark, we got the bonfire roaring and spent a couple hours
drumming, singing, and clapping. Tired after a long, exciting day, we clambered into our tents to sleep around ten.
The next was a 20-minute walk down to some lovely waterfalls, where we spent a all morning swimming, playing silly
little ad hoc games with our lack of space and equipment, and just relaxing, far away from any human contact besides
ourselves. These falls were some of the nicer ones I've seen in Africa, and the water colder than any I've ever swam in
on the continent. It was nice just to lay down on a boulder with a good book, taking in the sun and the silence, only a
dull roar coming from the cascading waters. Around two in the afternoon, our chariot arrived at our campsite, and in
an instant, we were packed and ready for the long, sleepy ride back to Lome. We made it just before supper finished.
March 29- Had to give blood
the other day. It has not been an easy week for the medical department.
We lost a baby. He passed away while on board, and there have been a couple other 'medically difficult'
cases. One of these involved a woman on board for a tumor removal. They have needed several people
to give blood for her, myself among them. On board the Africa Mercy we have a sort of 'walking blood
bank'. Those who choose to can sign up to give blood if needed, and I've always done so. We'll sign up
to give, and the lab will set a date for everyone to give a small amount. this allows the lab to determine
what your blood type is and to ensure that it's healthy. My blood type is A+, a fairly common one. The
lab keeps a list of all the blood types and who onboard is that type. Then, when they need a certain type
of blood, they just look on the list and call one of the people on the list. I was told earlier in the day that
they would need me about 8 that night, so I strolled down to the lab and donated my share. I was told
by the lab that among those on board with A+, I had the highest concentration of red blood cells in my
blood. They then told me a bunch of jibber-jabber about numbers and percentages which went over my
head, but the woman I was giving blood to, they said, had blood 'like water' it was so unhealthy. Having
a fresh batch of red blood cells from me and 2 others should help to make her well. The 'walking blood
bank' is one of those funny little ways we do things on board the Africa Mercy. I've always been a donor,
and have given about a half dozen times. My type is easy to remember, it's the only A+ I've ever gotten.
March 30- A few random
'Beware of Dog ' signs seen around Lome. Chein mechant literally
translates as 'mean dog'. I am not sure about the first sign, but I think it means something
along the lines of 'waiting to attack' or 'strike waiting'...though he doesn't really look like it...
I never saw too many 'Beware of Dog' signs in other countries. Liberia I can understand,
but Ghana was the same. Perhaps it is the old stereotype about the French and their dogs.
My Malaria Week- Woke up on
Friday, April 2nd and everything was normal. We had a 4-day break scheduled over
and I was starting it off with a Duty Day, though I would be free the next three. Good thing, I had lots planned...a bicycling
tour of Aneho, 50 km to the east, an evening out with friends followed by a few games of pool at a new place I'd discovered,
finished up with a giant 'Day of Sport' at a nearby massive sporting complex that had 2 pools, a giant football pitch, & courts
for basketball, tennis, and volleyball. A large number of the crew were attending that one, and I still had some things to work
out beforehand. Of course, it being Easter weekend, we had all the usual rituals such as sunrise service, Easter Brunch, and a
somber Good Friday service. Don & Deyon were aboard for it, bringing along with them Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX)
and his wife. As I was walking around Friday morning, my joints began to ache. I knew immediately what that meant, and a
bug had been going around the ship. "The first day of a four-day break and I'm coming down with something. That sounds
about right", I thought to myself. I took it in stride, spending most of the day in bed and attending the Good Friday service in
the evening. I cancelled my biking trip and dinner/pool game as I wasn't expecting to feel better. I wasn't disappointed, and I
spent most of Saturday and Sunday in bed. Sleeping was the worst. I was simply unable to sleep more than an hour or two at
a time, and I woke up alternatively sweating and shivering. I sweat so much that you could have literally wrung it out of my
duvet by morning. All along, I was under the impression I had one of the bugs that always seem to be spreading around the
ship. I managed to crawl out of bed on Monday long enough to collect everyone's money for the 'Day of Sports' and get them
trundling away in the Landies we had reserved for the day. After two hours of that I was ready for bed, and slept a few hours.
Having put together the day and having my name attached to it, I figured I had to make an appearance, so at around 3 PM or
so, I caught a shuttle there, and went right for the pool. While the other practiced back-flips and pyramids, I stayed off off to
the side and watched. I was among the last to leave, around 4:30ish. Upon getting back to the ship, I felt ready for bed again,
but on a whim I figured something was amiss. I didn't have the same symptoms as those with colds and I couldn't remember
ever feeling so completely wiped just because of a cold. So I called the ship's doc, and he did an immediate blood test on me,
checking for malaria. The test, which usually takes about 15 minutes, showed positive for malaria in less than 2. He admitted
me to the ICU, as he wanted to keep an eye on me, and it would be difficult to do so when I lived alone. I spent the next two
days in the ICU, going through a round of Coartem anti-malarials, and popping ibuprofen and paracetemol regularly, as well.
After two days in ICU, I was released to my own cabin, where my sleep has improved, albiet not by much. I have the next few
days off, and will rest this weekend, returning to work on Monday, provided I am feeling up to it. I think I'll be ready by then.
Malaria, Part II- The form
of malaria I contracted is called 'plasmodium
falciparum malaria', and of the 5 kinds of the
disease, is the most deadly and the most common. There are 350-500 million cases of malaria each year, and of those,
1-3 million deaths, over 90% of which are falciparum. It has an average gestation period of about 14 days, which would
mean I caught it while camping a couple weeks back. Our excellent crew physician, Dr. Craig Albrecht, did a malaria test
on my blood, and the normally-15-minute test took less than two. When he looked again at the results 20 minutes later,
he realized there was another positive result, meaning I had contracted two kinds of malaria. He sent some to the lab but
they weren't able to determine what kind the other was, although they are sure it is a form of malaria that recurs, sadly
for me. Luckily, the much more dangerous falciparum is non-recurring. Once you're rid of it, you're rid of it. All kinds of
malaria are fairly easily treated, especially if anti-malarials are being taken and the disease is caught early. Despite my not
taking anti-malarials & waiting four days to be seen, mine was still easily treated, and I do feel better as I write this, six
days after it began. If you would like to see what falciparum looks like, you can see a picture of it here. The malaria is the
'purple bits' dotted around. Our lab gals allowed me to check out a slide of my blood, and it looked more or less like this.
Although the disease is mostly gone from my system, it may be weeks or months before I am 100%. Those I know who
have had didn't get 100% of their strength back for as long as 6 months, but several weeks is more common. As I am a
fairly active person, I am going to ballpark 2-3 myself. I am trying to exercise as much as I can, mostly with walks about
the ship, but right now even walking up two flights of the Africa Mercy's stairs can make me short of breath.
And why wasn't I taking anti-malarials? For one, simple, ironic reason. I don't get bitten. I took them for my first 2 to 3
months onboard the Anastasis in Liberia back in 2005, but when I never got bit I decided to stop taking them. In my 2
years or so in West Africa, I simply never felt the sting of the mosquito. It was in this mindset I went camping a couple
weeks back, and they must have gotten me while I was deep in slumber. Living on board you're just not exposed to the
dangers that much, and even the trips I take so often seem to be in relatively mosquito-free urban areas. I will begin to
take them again, or at least when traveling to more rural areas, and I will invest in some sort of DEET-based repellent,
as well. Because if it's one thing I learned through this ordeal, it is this incontrovertible fact... malaria #@%! sucks .
Easter Weekend (for everyone else)-
Here's what last weekend would have looked like had I not been
bed-ridden. Friday night dozens of the crew got together for an evening bonfire on a nearby beach, singing
songs, drumming, and throwing each other into the surf. Saturday night my friends got together for dinner
at a local restaurant a PCV (Peace Corps volunteer) friend had recommended, followed by a couple games
of snooker in a local pizza joint/pool room that we'll keep secret from the general crew for now. Sunday at
dawn saw the traditional Sunrise Service, which I've celebrated on every vessel from the Caribbean Mercy to
the Logos Hope. It was followed by another eye-popping brunch by the Galley department, which seems to
outdo themselves year after year. Although not clearly visible, our wunderbar baker, Albert Ritter, produced
his usual assortment of breads, rolls, croissants, and pastries, mouth-watering enough to sap the will of the
even the most hardcore of Atkins dieters. Finally, on Monday, a local sports complex allowed us to bring 200
crew members to their facility near the ship and make use of their top-notch resources, which had two pools,
a football field, and tennis, basketball, and volleyball courts, as well as a playground for the kiddies, & ample
space for starting your own fun. One of the more memorable Easter weekends for the crew. And for me, too!
As I write this, it is early Saturday morning, eight days after first coming down with malaria, and I am actually
feeling pretty good. I will easily be ready for work tomorrow, and might even look into doing something low-
key today...something that doesn't involve too much physical effort. I have a bad habit of over-exerting myself
when I am sick, and doctors in the past have had to give me orders not to do any work, period. As a result of
trying to keep busy, I have often wound up extending the life of my infirmary. I will take pains to make sure I
don't repeat that mistake again this time around. Trust me-one week of malaria was more than enough for me.
April 17-18- Headed up to
Kpalime this weekend. you know Kpalime- it's the place where I got the malaria.
I skipped the
camping this weekend and instead opted for a hotel just off of 'downtown'. I had wanted to do some cycling, so our cycle-
enthusiast head receptionist Murray joined me for a few days of cycling around Kpalime. Our first inking that things might
get a little complicated was upon our arrival in the city, where the main thoroughfare was blocked off for, off all thing, the
Tour De Togo, which (in spite of the little I can find out about it online), seems to be an 8-day, 1,110 km competition that
brings together all the West Africa nations for some friendly rivalry. After dumping our things ate the hotel, Murray and I
went cycling around the city, but kept running into blocked roads. Kpalime is small enough that a race like this can easily
shut the city down, and after fighting the stalled traffic, which was not nearly as chaotic as you'd have thought, we made
made our way to the starting line to watch. Most of the West African nations were there, in sharp looking outfits reflecting
their nations respective flags. In the picture below left you can see such countries as Ghana, Burkina Faso, & Côte d'Ivoire.
Benin & Togo rounded out the competitors, and sadly, there were no riders from Liberia or Sierra Leone. We watched the
starting gun and explored the city some more as the streets opened up. After a couple hours seeing Kpalime, we returned
to the hotel where I stayed by the pool with a good book while Murray continued touring around. A minor accident kept
him at the hotel the rest of the night and all the next morning, and the campers picked us up on their way back to Lome.
It was on the way back to Lome that we realized that the race was more than a one day thing. We ran smack-dab into the
race about an hour outside of Kpalime. There was a clump of about 30-40 riders about 100 meters ahead, followed by a
contingent of racing officials who were in turn followed by each nations bicyclist support car. Behind them were all of us
In between, there were two cars whose job seemed to be keeping all of us from passing all the racers. They drove neck
and neck, about 50 meters back from the racers, and kept us from getting close. This being Africa, there were a few that
were less than thrilled with this arrangement, and kept trying to pass the 'blocking cars', swerving, yelling, & hitting their
horns over and over. To complicate matters, when a racing official or 'pace car' needed to get back up front, they just hit
the gas and forced all of us off the road, swerving and honking. Of course, if a cyclist got a flat, he had to stop to change
it, with help from a support car, who, upon the changing of the tire, also needed to get back to the front. Cyclists always
managed to duck and dodge the traffic (though we came mightily close to seeing a Burkinabé cyclist get splattered), but
the pace cars went absolutely bezerk in their efforts to get to the front. From our vantage point up at the front, we got a
ringside seat to the madness, and madness it was, with racing officials hanging out of their wndows, smacking drivers of
passing vehicles, taxi passengers yelling out of their windows, every car swerving and jostling for position. As if to make
things even more surreal, the villages we passed along the way were armed with bowls of water to throw onto the riders,
as tempratures that day easily reached into the 90's. Of course, they only had enough time to throw one bowl of water
on the small contingent of cyclists, but many of them just decided to keep doing it, and every once in a while in the mid-
dle of all the yelling, swerving, cursing, and honking (and sirens-some cars had outfitted themselves with sirens that blew
non-stop) there was a sudden explosion of water all of the side of your car and through your open windows. Sadly, I was
unable to capture this insanity on film, and the pictures you see just look like a simple traffic jam. I entertained myself by
leaning out of the window and waving to the throngs of villagers we passed along the way ( some of who tried to douse
me with a bowl of water), and yelling ''Je Suis Racing Official!" People cheered in response, but as I was riding on the left
side of a 'right hand' drive van whose owner had brought from the UK, many of the villagers caught themselves as they
were waving, as if to ask, "Wait a minute- who's driving?" After about an hour or so of watching this sort-of West African
version of 'The Road Warrior', the racing officials decided to let us pass, and we swerved around potholes and cyclists to
overtake the 30-something strong throng, with clear roads ahead. 45 minutes later, we passed the finish line.
In the end, it was a quintesentially West African day. Possible poor planning on the part of the racing officials had a busy
road being used for the contest. Their aggression and bad driving habits created a scene of pure chaos along the way, and
it was a miracle nobody got hurt. The delay cost us some time getting back, and the sheer pandemonium all around our
van us cost our driver a few years off his life in frayed nerves, no doubt. But when all was said and done, what could have
been a major nuiscance for us wound up being the highlight of the trip. Because, really- West Africa is what you make it.
April 11- I am blessed
to not only have a large circle of friends around the ship, but a
closer circle of more intimate
friends I do more regular activities with. While I always endeavor to meet the new crewmembers and make sure they
are getting off the ship and seeing a little bit of the country they have been called to, sometimes you just don't want
to play Three Questions (Where are you from? Where are you working? How long are you here for? ), you just want
to go out and relax with people you're already familiar with. I am lucky to be a part an interesting, diverse group that
often goes out exploring and fellowshipping together. They are willing guinea pigs to my discoveries, always ready to
carve out a new adventure or just try a new restaurant. As some of us enjoy larger-scale organizing, my friends also
put things together for the crew at large, like this past weekends bonfire & 'day of sports'. We're from many different
countries and work in almost every department on the ship. Below I have listed some of our blogs, if you ever would
like to get a wider sense of our day-to-day lives, or just see any embarrassing pictures I neglect to post on my own...
Ze Anouchka News * My Life. On A Ship. In Africa * Day In The Life * Walking On Water * African Delights
Lest you think my group is English-only, here is Sandra aus Berlin's Blog, and Dutchies Marijke & Harmen Westerduin.
Of course, in this day in age, there is no shortage of blogs, is there? Mercy Ships still maintains a page to collect all of
their bloggers together, giving you a sort-of 'one stop' shop for reading about what's happening aboard. I try to check
in on some of the others when I can, but the sheer volume of information there is (sweet raisin danish, I just counted
them-there's over 100 blogs there!) means I only get a tiny glimpse into everything that happens on board. If it's one
thing we have plenty of these days, it's information, I guess. Blogs are the new 'newsletters', and everybody seems to
have one, from the purser (Catch up With the Cairncross Clan) to the nurses (When I Grow Up, I Want to Be a Nurse
In Africa...or a Ballerina), to, of course, the receptionists (Mercy Receptionist, natch). No matter your area of interest,
you can find a blog to satisfy your interests. Even if you just want to check in & see how old shipmates are doing, just
click over to Bowie's Blog, Keith Brinkman's, The Cole Family Blog, Rob & Denise's Mercy Watch, Gini, or Tim in Africa.
As for me, there's just too many blogs to catch up on. I still follow a few blogs fairly regularly. Our Captonian* Head
Receptionist, Murray, has posts varied enough to give you a good overview of Africa Mercy life. Captain Tim (& wife
Sharon) maintain a similarly motley-post blog, with an extra focus on maritime matters and such things as dignitary
visits. And finally, I still read Olly's Blog. Olly churns out snappy little posts on such topics as Political Unrest in Togo
to Rats On The Dock to 'What Are They Building Over There?'. Like myself, he seems to take interest in little things
that most onboard don't even notice. Just when I think I have a good grasp of what's happening around, I read Olly
& see he's found something else I hadn't. Click to see what he's on about now, or just to see how big Libby's gotten!
* yes, it is a word.
Bars, Restos, Cafes
May 9- I know, I know...I
never update anymore. Sorry, I went straight from a week of malaria into a new
job with no
clear guidance on how to do it, so this past month has been finding my legs and getting up to speed on the volumes of
information associated with my job and the myriad of procedures for doing everything. Mercy Ships is also switching to
a new sort of format for forms, and I am riding that particular wave, as well. Unfortunately, my new job entails sitting
down most of the day. A good part of my job is planning...planning fire drills, planning boat drills, planning a training
session for all of the above, as well as training for all manner of deck equipment, also. For example, I haven't used our
deck crane in years, now I have to train the others how to do it. This means for everything I have to train somebody on,
I have to learn it well enough to be able to teach it. A near constant flow of new personnel means there's always some-
body that needs training on something. The biggest challenge we face as an organization, in my book, is transit. There
is such a high turnover rate that about the time you get familiar with things, it's time for you to go. All that helpful info
you've come to know will be lost, and your replacement has to start from scratch. What does all this mean for me? For
one, I have to do checks daily to make sure that yet another new crew member hasn't stacked boxes or a garbage can
in front of a fire hose station, or blocked the emergency escape ladder with a deck plate. It means I have to train all of
the officers who come for 3 months how to stand a duty day, how to answer pages, how to fill out a work permit, and
other things. I have to train deckhands on the basic day-to-day operational equipment and procedures, such as how to
drive the forklift. I have to sort out and coordinate any sort of training session we have on board, such as CPR/First Aid
or Crisis Management. We have classes such as these on a regular basis to ensure we have trained up enough people to
serve as muster takers, name callers, cabin checkers, and other positions of leadership. My current focus is getting our
fire teams familiarized with the engine room. This past weeks drill was in the ships fuel handling room, and while a real
fire would have been extinguished fairly quickly, it was obvious from the entire performance that our fire teams need a
stronger grasp of the engine room, as do I. I've been spending a lot time down there these past two weeks getting to
know it backwards and forwards. Below you see pictures of some drills from last week and this week. Our firefighters
in action opening watertight doors and retrieving fallen teams members. Also you see a couple of casualties, including
a crewmember and a local day volunteer that I threw in to mix it up a bit. Finally, me riding atop our 150 man lifeboat.
May 13- Public Urination-the
scourge of Togo. I suppose it's no worse than other West African countries.
Still, I seem to
see more 'Ici Interdict Duriner' (peeing here forbidden) signs than I saw in Liberia or Ghana. Below are some of the many
signs I've seen scattered around the country. Some are threatening, some are merely informative, and some include the
amount of the fine for doing so, usually around 5000 cFa's (ten dollars). Along with urination (and obviously defecation),
the spillage of dirty water is generally frowned upon. The reasons for all this are obvious- besides the foul smell, it draws
flies and dirties the environment. Unlike Liberia and Ghana, I see Togo is a bit more proactive; little port-a-potties (called
urinoirs) are in place around the country and available for use for 25 cFa's (about a nickel), complete with separate men's
and ladies rooms. If no booth is around, some enterprising soul will just pound a pipe into the ground and make a sort
of ad hoc urinal. People here are not shy about doing their business in front of everyone else. I hope you've enjoyed this
blog post. I realize I have a view that's a little more skewed than others, and I tend to eschew the things others are drawn
to in favor of more obscure subject matter. If you'd prefer nice stories about patients & pretty pictures of Africa, there are
plenty of those blogs here. If you read EricThibodeau.com, you get posts about pee and pictures of 'Beware of Dog signs'.
I will try to get more pleasant subject matter, but we're not allowed to photograph patients or the orphanages, prisons, &
other places we minister, so many stories would be image free. I will endeavor to 'widen my subject matter' nonetheless.
Grande Marche- The 'marche'
in Lome is grande, indeed. Spanning dozens of blocks right downtown, it's the
of the city and the main center of commerce. While other African markets often keep the tourist market (those selling
carvings, drums and souvenirs ) separate from the day-to-day market, where locals come to get everything from fish
to phonecards. For the most part, everything is sort of thrown in together, and you can buy a pig's head right next to
the guy selling flip-flops, but there is a sort of 'unofficial organization' at times. There's bootleg DVD's on every corner
but there's also a street with nothing but bootleg DVD's and CD's. Every street has some sort of jewelry or cloth seller,
but for the best selection, go to the streets right in front of the church. If you want tourist stuff, don't worry, they will
find you, but if you want it all in one place, head to that little back street around the corner from the Indian grocery.
There you'll find no shortage of hawkers, vendors and all around 'aggressive salesmen'. They're so persistent that I've
taken to calling it 'Aggravation Alley'. I'm not the only one- last week a newcomer asked about getting a drum and he
was directed by several crewmembers to 'Ripoff Road'. Pretty sure we're talking about the same place. Still, an African
market is always a fun place to spend a day, even if you don't want to buy anything. Needing a watch, I headed over
to the Grande Marche last week to pick up a little cheapo Chinese thing to last until I got home and bought something
with a little more longevity. I did some of my best haggling ever- getting a watch for the low, low price of 300 cFa's,
about 65 cents. Not bad considering he started me off at 2500 cFa's. My watch only lasted about 90 minutes, though-
I forgot what I was wearing and jumped into the pool with it. Goodbye, 65 cents! these days I go more for fun than
for business, and I always mange to get a few pictures. Here you see some sort of animal (I'm leaning towards goat)
for sale, whole and dressed. A fabric store (I'm trying to get ahold of some Barack Obama fabric, but it seems to have
gone the way of his popularity. Also you see a big old pile of fish- tuna, I believe- and some lovely grilled agouti for
sale for all you hungry shoppers. Agouti is sort of like a large rat commonplace in the forests of West Africa, among
other places. Honestly, grilled African forest rat smelled absolutely delicious, but that's as far as I was willing to go...
Adventures Outside The Gate or 10-Second Snapshots of
Strange Man: (Approaches) It is good to see you, I have been waiting!
Me: For me? You have been waiting for me?
Stranger: Yes, I have been waiting to talk to you!
Me: We do not know each other.
Me: We do not know each other. You and I have never met.
Stranger: This is true or false?
Me: This is true.
Stranger: Oh. Okay. (walks away)
*Potentially the first in an ongoing series
May 23- Sick. Had a cold that
laid me out the past few days. A lot of us on board have the same thing. As I
laying in bed, I got to thinking about the culture of viruses (pun unintentional) onboard the ship. We have people
arriving almost daily from a dozen different countries and all 50 states. They bring with them every sort of flu that
is currently making the rounds in their city, town, or village. Headaches from Heidelberg, diarrhea from Dallas, or
sinus infections from Liberia (sorry, nothing 'rhymes' with sinus infection), we seem to get all of them here. Add
to it everything currently getting passed around in Togo or neighboring Ghana ( where our Ghanaian crew return
every weekend, and the general poor state of health in West Africa, and you've got problems. Of course, many of
the patients we bring onboard often aren't in the best of health anyways, which adds fuel to the fire. What's my
synopsis? Personally, I went over 5 years without being sick before joining Mercy Ships, and I've been sick at least
twice a year since then. It's never bad; this past bout (a sinus-y thing) only lasted about three days, but for those
new to the organization, it often comes as a shock not too long after arrival. If you're new onboard, it is almost a
certainty that you'll get something within a month, often sooner. I've even taken to 'short-handing' the symptoms
myself; you've either got something above the neck (for headaches & sinuses) or below the belt ( for stomachache
and diarrhea). Diarrhea is the most common, as western pipes have to adjust to West African water and shipboard
food. I usually tell newcomers they just need to acclimatize a bit and it'll soon be over, but it's especially tough for
those with small children, new to Africa and shipboard community. Getting the flu is often the straw thrown onto
an already overloaded camel's back. I often wonder whether all these different viruses are a boon or a blessing to
my immune system. Am I strengthening it or weakening it? I like to joke that by the time I leave Mercy Ships I'm
either going to be invincible or I'm going to be dead. So far this year, I've been sick twice, I've contracted malaria,
and I've been exposed to the TB virus. I took the 'skin-test' for the TB bacteria and it came up positive, so I went
and got a chest X-ray (along with ALL the others who tested positive), and I get the results back this week. Mercy
Ships is doing more than ever to prevent the spread of viruses, with quarantining, more hand sanitizer stations, &
more thorough screening of day volunteers we hire. Still, like it or not, we are always going to have some degree
of sickness here. We live in an air-conditioned floating hospital in West Africa, for Pete's sake. eric (cough, cough)
On The Road- Well, when
you're in West Africa, you're going to have to get from place to place. You got
to go, people to see after all, right? So let's hit the road! If you can, grab a taxi.Taxi's are much safer than those
cheap Chinese motorcycles you see zipping around everywhere. If a taxi crashes, you have a chance of surviving
the crash. Very few of those zemidjan (as those motorcycles are known) drivers have any sort of safety gear, like
proper helmets. Smart passengers have their own helmets,...REALLY smart passengers just take a taxi. You'll see
zemidjans driving at all hours of the night with NO headlights or taillights, and I've had to swerve to avoid more
than a few of them. Taxi's are safer, and drivers in Togo are not afraid to turn their taxis into a sort West African
clown car, stuffing as many paying passengers into the car as will fit. Our record is 10 people in a tiny hatchback
made for 5. The police do maintain checkpoints, and will stop and fine drivers for overloading their cars. Drivers
get around this by stopping before checkpoints and having the extra passengers walk through, only to be picked
back up on the other side. I've even had a driver stuff the extra passenger into the trunk to get past a checkpoint.
Below you see some creative seating arrangements (anything to squeeze in another few paying passengers), and
an 'alternative method of transportation', followed up by the largest pothole (about 5 feet deep!!!) I've ever seen.
To market, to market. You've got to get your things to the market, anyway you can. Chickens in one hand, throttle
in the other, if need be. Unfortunately, this leave no hands for the brakes. It could be worse, of course. Imagine if
you had to carry a screaming, squirming pig along puddle filled, bumpy roads all the way to the market. Now just
imagine if you had to carry two! I couldn't imagine who the trip would be worse for, the passenger or the pigs. If
all you got to carry are some empty drums (I am assuming they are empty; there is a better-than-average chance
these drums are full) If all you got to bring to the market are your kids, the record to beat is 8 kids on one bike...
Be careful when driving- it's not just the zemijdan drivers who load up. Here you see a few of the creative loading
I've photographed around the country. We followed that truck at left for about three miles, as we were afraid he
was going to tip over. Every pothole he hit sent the load into dangerous-looking sways back and forth. I had the
camera ready just in case. The pictures you see below are hardly even the crazier ones, these are just ones where
I had my camera on hand. I've seen far, far crazier ones than these...usually with a couple guys up on top, along
for the ride. Finally, at right- sometimes the load is so big, there's no place left over for the zemijdan driver to sit...
You'll have to buy gas, of course. Fuel theft is so rampant, often drivers will not even bother to buy the fuel they
need until they get a passenger. It's like when you order chicken at a restaurant and a few minutes later you see
a boy running out the back door in the direction of the market with a fistful of francs. Hey, at least you know the
chicken is fresh. The fuel? Not so much. There's a reason it's sold in glass containers- so your vendor doesn't try
to top it up with a little bit of water. It's not the cleanest fuel either, but I am sure straining it through a piece of
dirty cheesecloth will scrub it right up! There are gas stations, but without a glass container, who knows what is
in the fuel. Gas is transported to stations using little zemijdans built around a fuel tank. Bigger tanks equal more
fuel carried which means more income generated, so don't be surprised if the owner enlarges a tank in creative
(and perfectly safe, I can assure you) ways. Whew, what a trip!! Catch a catnap at the nearest motel if you like!
Benin- Photos from my recent
trip to Benin. A 'price guide' on the dashboard, trying to catch a cab, and a
little bit of
lizard goodness at the border. The rest of the pictures are at ' La Porte du Returnez Non' (the Door Of No Return),
an ominous-sounding tourist attraction. It's actually the place from which many of the slave ships bound for the New
World departed from. It was brought to the worlds attention back in 1998 when President Clinton famously visited it.
There are a handful of beautiful memorials and sculptures set up to remind visitors of the tragedy that took place on
the ground they are standing on. We didn't stay long in this place, and I don't have too many pictures. The ship you
see at bottom left is as actually as much a 'voodoo shrine' as memorial. The road to this beach is lined with dozens
of voudon (voodoo) sculptures and shrines in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The slave ship was one of the tamer ones.
More Obama Goodness- A couple of Obama cafes, a poster in the market, some
Obama shopping bags ( these large plastic bags are the most common form of bag
seen around the W. African markets. Most of the bags you get after you buy some-
thing are tiny flimsy things that break before you get home, so shoppers buy these
larger ones and bring them around with them. Vendors will keep all of their wares
in them, as well), the bizarre 'Obama building', built just after the election, I guess,
and, of course, Obama underwear. (Not shown- Jardin d'Obama- 'Obama Garden')
Bad Juju- Africa has scary people. I mean,
every nation has it's homeless, it's crazy, it's lost souls walking around it's
but the West African version of these seem to be a step above what you'd find in Philadelphia.They're usually barely clothed,
or not at all (I've seen four naked men walking around since I've been here), have the most gnarly hair you'll see, and a look
in their eyes that is not unlike looking into madness itself. Few things scare me, but when I see people like the gentleman in
the pictures below, my mind switches into security mode, and I begin to mentally plan what to do if trouble occurs.This guy
paced back and forth alongside our taxi in Benin, unpredictable and agitated, stopping every few steps to glare at our carful
of yovos. There are enough people around (who know him and his history) that you're probably not in any danger, but I am
always alert nonetheless. I managed to covertly snap a few pictures of him, but I was not about to set him off by letting him
see me do it. I've seen more of these lost-looking people in countries with a heavy voodoo-based belief system than I have in
those without. Beninois (as folks in Benin are called) are extremely averse to having their photo taken, as I found out when I
snapped a street scene and caused a small panic of shouting and screaming. While no one (Africans included) likes it when a
stranger starts taking pictures of you ( imagine a carload of Japanese tourists pulling up and photographing you doing your
shopping), in West Africa, it is much more obvious. While Ghanaians and Liberians don't like it because it's 'rude' or because
they feel you're getting something of theirs for nothing, in more voodoo-centric countries like Togo & Benin, it's a belief that
you're 'capturing their soul', and they'll often scatter when a camera comes out. Of course, you can use it to your advantage,
as well. When a young Fan Ice (a local ice cream) vendor was making a pest of himself while we were trying to hire a taxi in
Ouidah a while back, I took out my camera and snapped him. That's him hiding behind the front tire. Mission accomplished!
Civil Unrest, Part 1- Things are getting hairy in Lome again. It's been
fairly peaceful since the election unrest died down
back in March. I had to go to the Ghanaian Embassy this AM to submit Visa applications for an upcoming trip, and before I went the
Security Officer mentioned that things were getting tense downtown. I knew a back way to the Embassy ( a beneficial side effect of
my near-fervent exploring), and could easily avoid downtown several different ways using a plethora of alternate routes. She wasn't
comfortable with me heading out, but I would be bypassing downtown and assured her I would be fine. I left around 9 AM, and I
ran into a snag right outside the gate, where a truck driver had apparently jackknifed, blocking the feeder road to the roundabout
outside the port. I went around him and ran into the traffic circle, where traffic was running both directions, something you don't see
in a roundabout-certainly not in THIS roundabout, as bad as Togolese drivers are. Still, the hold-up was small and I was on my way
after a brief hold-up. Assuming the trouble was downtown, I figured a swing around the airport would keep me clear of downtown
and any drama. I got to the next major intersection and traffic was backed up about a quarter-kilometer. This wasn't my first rodeo,
so instead of pushing my way up to the front I safely hung back a bit from the jam to make sure I had a good exit available- let them
them fight over it. After several minutes, it was clear there was nothing moving, and by then, a few Africans had let me know it was
best to turn around. Say what you want about Africans, when it comes to taking care of each other, you'd be hard-pressed to find a
people so pro-active. I swung around and got onto another major road, heading towards downtown but still quite a distance from it.
I knew there were a couple north-leading cuts along the road long before I hit downtown, and would see what the situation was like
as I got closer. As it was a major road, I was not in danger of getting jammed up. I went a mile down the road when motorcycles
began approaching from the opposite direction flashing their lights and waving all of us westbound to turn around. What started as a
as a few bikes turned into dozens of motorcycles filling the road, all of them warning us away from the direction we were headed. I
long abandoned my arrogant 'I can do it' attitude when it comes to doing things here, and wisely spun around and began heading
back. I didn't get too far before I found the road I had been on had been blocked, cutting off my most direct route back to the ship.
I know couldn't take the major road in any direction and turned into Bé, a little dirt-road residential area I'd been through a few times.
I spent the next hour trying to get back to the ship via twisting and turning around the maze of Bé. While the neighborhood is fairly
easy, a long grid of streets that run along the beach road connecting the port with downtown. Trouble is, being more of a residential
area, it doesn't have the best roads, and the dirt roads of Bé are filled with car-sized and even house-sized potholes. Visions of getting
stuck in a giant pothole during a time of unrest in the city wasn't the most desirable plan, even with my distance from major roads.
I had to charge through some of them a little fast to be sure I would make it through, prompting yelling from those living alongside
some of these lakes. After an hour or so of this, and having to backtrack a few times to avoid dead-ends (and sketchy looking roads),
I managed to get within distance of the port. Unfortunately, every major intersection had been blocked near as well, and not even
my white skin (which I don't mind exploiting in a pinch) would get me through a blockade. The blockades were angry-looking affairs,
a line of stones, cement blocks, & tires stretched across the street. I knew enough about Africa to know they might not be 'government-
installed' roadblocks, if you know what I mean, and made sure I parked a safe distance from one I ran into, getting out of the car and
walking to the blockade. "Je suis avec le bateau hopital, Mercy Ships. S'il vous plait, may I pass?", I asked, but to no avail. Not even
yovos were getting through. Worst come to worst, I could have always bribed my way through (I had a fat wad of visa application
money, after all), but I was almost back to the port and wanted to play it safe. I backed up a few blocks and went down a side alley
that put me right alongside the port and a sort of 'back-up entrance' they had blocked off. It was being guarded by men in uniform,
so i was feeling comfortable by now. I parked back a bit, got out of the car, and with a few words in French, I was safe in the port.
The Aftermath- The road to the airport is a sort-of
focal point for much of the unrest that occurs in Togo.
If trouble starts or streets get barricaded, it is usually
the first street it happens on. Of course, we need that
street to pick up our arriving crew and drop off those
who are leaving. Below you see this street a few days
after the trouble. All that remains is a solitary axle. It
was stretched across the street, surrounded by stones,
tires, and angry, shouting men just a few days earlier.
The Mercy Ships Store!- I found this a few months back in a little 'suburb' of Lome to
the east. This is our fourth outreach to Togo, so it's expected that we would have some
sort of impact. Having a store named after you wasn't what you'd expect, but West Africa
never is. 'ETs Mercy Ship' (ETs stands for 'établissement', & many businesses here begin
with 'ETs' in their title) is a little shop with a great location on the corner, right down the
street from the main market. It sells (as near as we could figure out), mostly meats and
fish, as well as water, and possibly ice. Hard to tell, as the shop was empty and the sign
disused. They seem to have expanded, like most W. African businesses, into the mobile
phone business. Here, you can buy minutes for your phone everywhere, even in church.
June 24- Once again, forgive the lack of updates. I am lacking a decent internet connection,
and thus I am unable to publish this site as much as I like. I see it's been a month since my
last update, and I've tried to keep everyone more up to speed with a few extra emails. I will
will try to get to a wireless-equipped place more often. I just found a Turkish joint down by
the airport that boasts wireless, so I might sign up for a couple airport runs just to stop in
to publish. I've also been a little busy this week following the World Cup, the fever of which
has gripped our multi-national ship in it's grasp. The Brits & Ghanaians are our biggest fans,
and I have managed to watch a few games and half-heartedly follow the US team. Still, not
my sport and all of the fake injuries and countless tied games ("what do you mean the final
score is 0-0? Wasn't that the score when the game started?") keep me from being much of
a fan. I've always felt that professional sports is more or less the 'toy department for grown-
ups', anyways. I enjoy the Red Sox and occasional football games, but always enjoy being
onboard when World Cup time comes around, more for the camaraderie of all of our crew
getting together and talking smack about each others teams. The USA, English, Dutch, and
Germans are the biggest nationalities on board, and all of them made it to the 'Final 16', so
it's been a fun week, crew-wise. For me, last night was the most fun, when Ghana played
the US, beating them 2-1, a repeat score from the last time the two teams played way back
in '06. I always root for the African teams, so with us Yanks out, it's Black Stars all the way!
Sorry, I have only taken a few pictures, and none came out well. Here are a few that I got
from Denise Miller, but even these hardly capture the craziness that occurs during matches.
There's a special cohesion here that occurs during World Cup season. Probably why I like it.
June 23- World Cup Match, Ghana vs. USA. On board, supporters for
both the teams took over opposing sides of the Africa Mercy's mid-ship
lounge to watch the two teams compete. Guess which side was noisier.
June 25- Africa is on the
receiving end of not just all of our old clothing, they also get all our
junkers and clunkers.
Vehicles that don't pass Europe's fairly rigorous emission standards get packed off to someplace not so fussy, usually
third world destinations like West Africa. It's not uncommon to see beat up cars and trucks here still bearing German
bumper stickers and American license plates. They're stuffed into car carriers in their home countries and packed off
to Liberia, Sierra Leone and, of course, Togo. Some African countries are curtailing these 'gifts', as they see the bad
often outweighs the good, but most countries in West Africa are just happy to have them. Togo certainly is. Once or
twice a month, giant car carriers tie up across the dock from us with a load of these vehicles. One the hatch drops, a
most bizarre procession begins. You will see pickup trucks with a car in their bed, sitting on top of a tractor trailer. A
bulldozer with a couple of motorcycles sitting in it's shovel. Three or more cars tied together. When I see car carriers
at berth across the way, the first thing I do is grab my camera. I like to have it on hand to record the sort of franken-
load procession that will follow. After a couple months of watching these strange parades, I thought it might be fun
to document some of these monstrosities. The ones you see below are hardly the funniest ones I've seen, they're the
most recent ones. I'm not sure how they get away with loading these things, all I can think of when I see them is the
potential load shift at sea. I'd like to think they're lashed to the gills, but I suspect I'm being optimistic. Maybe it's not
the most interesting pastime, but having been in West Africa for about three years (and stuck on board all week), I've
learned you need to find entertainment wherever (and whenever) you can,...even if it's watching another ship unload!
Foosball in Africa- Most villages and neighborhoods have a
foosball table, though their stages of disrepair vary. Games cost 25 F,
about a nickel. Often the tables have names like 'God Is Good', below. I've yet to play, foosball is not my thing, but I suspect that if
I did ever play, I would be roundly trounced. The two photos at left are of a 'pinball' sort of table I saw a couple of blocks from the
Ghanaian embassy in Lome. Instead of the 'ching-ching' bumpers and rails, they simply pounded nails into pockets and circles, and
assigned the various pockets a value. I've not played, but I guess you try to hit one during your turn and total up scores at the end.
July 1-5 Trip to Ghana- The Logos Hope was coming to Tema, Ghana for a few weeks, and I wanted to go see
some old friends, so after a crazy week of trying to organize a large group of friends ( and getting visas for every-
one), across the border I went and three hours west to Tema. Of course, this was the weekend Ghana was playing
Uruguay in the quarter-finals of the World Cup,...only the third African team to reach that level. If they'd won, they
would have reached the semi-finals- the first African team to do so. So, spirits were high, and you simply couldn't
escape the football mania that gripped the country that weekend. It was like being in a teams city on the day of the
Super Bowl. The Ghana flag was everywhere, from street vendors to billboards to car antennas. We spent the day in
Accra, doing some shopping and preparing for the match. There was no shortage of Ghana football jerseys for sale,
and we bought a few ourselves. We spent the morning at the big 'hassle market' downtown, which I always hated.
After several hours around the city, we headed for Osu, one of the nicer neighborhoods in Accra, and
where all the 'obrunis' (white folk!) tend to congregate. They had set up a big screen and speakers in
preparation for the game. We wandered Osu all afternoon, eating some lunch, checking out the action,
doing some more shopping, and generally just getting ready for the match. The street got louder and
louder, and crazier and crazier. Costumes, crazy wigs, impromptu drumming circles, & those accursed
vuvuzelas were everywhere. There was another match (Holland v. Brazil) going on, and you could hear
the yells and cheering from the bars and from those listening on the radio. You see a group crowded
around a TV store below, watching the match. Once the sun went down, it was time for the match. We
watched on the big screen, but the sheer size of the crowd kept us from seeing anything more than the
top half of the screen. After a half hour of standing on our toes, listening to horns blasting in our ears,
and trying to follow what was going on, we decided to watch the match somewhere else, somewhere
like Tema. We figured we could get to Tema before the second half started. We managed to find a cab
driver willing to take us the 30 minutes back, listening to the match on the radio the whole way. When
Ghana scored towards the end of the first half, our driver, who was driving the on-ramp to the highway
erupted in cheers and horn blasts, like every other car around us. the ride back was more fun than the
game itself, as every car, bus, and truck we passed blared their horn and waved out of the windows for
us. upon arrival at the toll-booth a few minutes later, the vendors had put their baskets of food on the
ground and were dancing wildly across the street. The toll collectors weren't taking money, just waving
their hands and dancing. One man lay down on our hood spreading a Ghana flag over himself. I don't
remember if we actually paid the toll, we probably just drove through. It was one of the better times I
have spent in West Africa, and certainly one of the more memorable matches I've ever 'not watched'.
Sadly, the evening ended better than it began. We got to Tema far ahead of the crowds after the match,
but there was not much to see. Ghana lost to free kicks in overtime and didn't advance to the finals. We
watched the second half with two or three others in a little bar next to a YWAM base in Community 12.
There was a rat in the kitchen that kept running out to the bar, only to be spooked by the half-dozen or
so humans who were watching the match on the 17' TV. Finally, the waitress got tired of the rat, took
off her shoe and flung it at him. He scampered back to the kitchen and didn't come back out. It was the
perfect ending to a memorable West African night. The Logos Hope, which was delayed due to engine
trouble, actually arrived while the match was on. Despite no other arrivals or departures, the pilots told
them they were quite busy and would have to wait for the pilot. They got in without fanfare as soon as
the match ended. I spent a couple night on board my old ship, seeing old friends & meeting new ones.
Adventures at the Border or
10-Second Snapshots of Africa-
Ghanaian Border Guard: Your passport.
Me: (Hands over passport)
Border Guard: Hmm! USA. We have knocked you out.
Me: No, USA was the winner.
Border Guard: No! Ghana was victorious!!
Me: I have watched this match myself. USA beat Ghana 2 to 1.
Border Guard: Oh! You are telling it upside-down!
July 11- I was sitting in
church this morning, waiting for it to begin. We have several different churches
from, and I decided to go see the Hospitality Center this morning. With as many as six operating rooms in service
onboard, we simply do not have the bed space for all the patients. What we have done the past couple ports is get
some sort of housing for the patients near the port. They'll come to the hospitality center before their surgery and
spend up to three weeks there, sharing a room with other patients, and waiting for their surgery. We have classes
for the kids but little else. Still, it's a pleasant place and a welcoming environment, likely more welcoming than the
villages they've come from, where they have probably been mocked and shunned the past few years. They're given
a bed, three meals a day, and the company of others in the same predicament of theirs. They hold church services
every Sunday, usually given in French and translated into Ewé, then English. Every week, about a half dozen Mercy
Shippers attend. It's outside, under a solid steel frame covered by a tarp. The VVF ladies sit quietly on the benches,
men congregate around the outside, and the kids crowd up front. Many of the kids have casts on their legs & arms,
post-op scars wrapped in gauze, or crutches they'll hobble around on. The post-op kids are livelier, having already
spent a week or so surrounded by the yovos on the ward and gotten over their reticence about white people. Our
nurses sit up front with them and get surrounded on all sides, I gravitate towards the leaders and other men, as is
my status, I guess. As we were waiting for the service to begin I was sitting in a pew a couple rows back from the
front, watching some half-grown chickens scramble around underfoot. As people congregate in the pews, their feet
scratch the dirt, exposing insects and flies that live close to the surface. The chickens see this as a decent source of
food, I guess, and will hunt down these morsels, easily dodging the sandaled feet of the worshippers. I watched a
chicken for a few minutes when it hit me what I was looking at- there were chickens in the church pews...and had
what addicts call a 'moment of clarity'...It hit me how far removed I was from normal life. A Big Mac at McDonalds,
waiting for an oil change at Wal-Mart, shoveling the driveway before work...these things could have been a million
miles away for all I felt. I couldn't picture them, couldn't remember them. I thought about church services back in
the US, with ties and hymnals and parking lots. They seemed like something someone had once told me about, or
something I had seen in a movie once. There were chickens scratching around underfoot in the church pews, and
it didn't even rate a notice with anyone, save a bored child or two. They tried to kick them much like I used to sit
on the floor and scribble cartoons when Pastor Renner spoke. I ducked off of the street market into a supermarket
the other day for a moment of peace, and the neatly lined rows and individually priced items seemed strange and
unfamiliar to me. All I could think was how sterile everything was, how foreign. I walked outside, took a big breath
and began arguing prices with a bootleg DVD vendor stationed by the door. My view of things has become skewed
and there is no longer a standard for what is now normal or abnormal in my life. Four dollars for a box of cereal?
Not normal. A goat in a taxi? Normal. Chaos is commonplace now, What was mysterious has become mundane.
I affect mannerisms and gestures of the West Africans like a second skin, I get lost in marketplaces and feel alive,
I eat off the streets, I go to places where there are no whites around. When I take new arrivals around, I wonder
why they are so fascinated by what they see, what to me is just a city street in Africa. I have been out of America
for most of the past six years, and have been in Africa for more than half of those six. I'll never not be American-
it's too deep in my DNA- but sometimes it seems to me that the most foreign country of all now is my own. eric
Next Year in Sierra Leone- It's not too often
you get to see the future. When the Logos Hope visited Freetown, Sierra Leone
so many crew members took pictures of the ship and it's surrounding that those of us who've never been there got an excellent glimpse
of what things will be like for the Africa Mercy when it visits in February. To start off with, below at left is an excellent shot of what the
whole setup will look like. This picture is actually this months downloadable wallpaper, which can be found on Operation Mobilization's
website. Next to that is what it will look like for crewmembers and visitors walking to the ship, entering from the port. Hopefully, we're
not going to see any long lines like they did. Finally, you see one of the many hills that make up Freetown, and our view for all of 2011.
On a more technical note, you see the view over the bow of the Logos Hope, a view we will share when we arrive in February. The port
will create for us a wall of container like they did for them, and if you were onboard the Anastasis in 2006, you'll remember those small
container walls forward & aft of us. To the right is a view looking aft down the dock and the entrance to our dock from outside the port.
Collectively, all of these shots make up the dock scheme in Freetown, and give you a great idea of what we will be dealing with. While
most cities we've been to tend to be flat, Freetown is actually nestled in among many hills, creating steep streets and stunning views. I
am hoping to be able to be a part of the outreach to Sierra Leone, and the country, almost a sister to sweet Liberia, is among the top
few of countries I want to see, but I need to take some time off to earn some much-needed money and take a break from ministry for
a short while. Keep me in your prayers, that I would be able to find a job that would allow me to earn some money to return, and on
a schedule that permit me to take some of my much needed Chief Officer courses. God willing, I'll be able to return before they leave.
Ship Murals, port of Freetown-
Walking out of the port in Freetown, Sierra Leone, you'll see a string of murals
depicting the many
ships that have visited that city. Sure, most of the ships that visit Freetown are there for commercial purposes, but several have come
for goodwill visits or occasional humanitarian purposes. When Logos Hope was there recently, they found themselves immortalized
on the walls outside of the port along with their sister ship Doulos, the USCG Cutter Sherman, and, of course, the mighty Anastasis.
'King Hassan' seen at left is the man who painted at least one of the ships, the Logos Hope. The Hope's Chief Officer, Michael Madder,
assisted King Hassan with some paint and a bit of money for his work. Some of the paintings have faded, flaked away or have been
painted over, but you can still see them there, enshrined on the walls like past visits are enshrined in the hearts of the people they've
touched. The paintings fade away, existing only in memories. The Africa Mercy will plant fresh memories in those hearts and minds
when it visits Freetown early next year. From left, you have the Logos Hope, the Doulos, the USCG Cutter Sherman, & the Anastasis.
The Funny Thing About Goats- is that they need to be on a hill. They just don't like being down on the same level as
everyone else. Sure, you see most of them walking around, eating every sort of rubbish that can be found on the ground,
but that's just because they need to eat. Once their bellies are full, it's back to higher ground. No matter what the 'higher
ground it, the goats will gravitate towards it. They just got to be up high. So, if you put the concrete blocks in a pile while
you're waiting to build, they're going to climb it. Same with piles of lumber and mounds of dirt. It's like some sort of pre-
historic behavior that's hard-wired into them. And if there's no hill around, they will use a nearby grave. It's what goats do.
Rainy Season- Lasts for about 5 months here, and we're coming to the end of it. I don't mind rainy season,
it beats clear skies and triple-digit temps. One of the side effects is giant pools of water that cover those neigh-
borhoods to whom asphalt has not yet come. You see a few here below. It is considered extremely antisocial
behavior to drive through these at anything more than a few miles an hour. The waves you make ripple into
houses of those unlucky enough to live near 'lower ground'. I made this mistake recently when I needed to
pass through one of these neighborhoods to avoid the many barricades that went up during a 'fuel price hike'
in Lome. I drove as little too fast through the puddle, as I was more nervous about getting stuck in the mud
while the city was in such a state. I wound up causing a minor tsunami right into someone's home/business,
and before I'd even passed, a youth was at the back of the Land Rover, pounding on the windows. I needed
to pass through again a couple weeks ago to avoid yet another truck overturned or something on Beach Rd.,
so BACK through the puddles I went. It was a little more fun without potential rioting to contend with, and
we all had a blast going through some minor lakes in the area...slowly, of course. You can see three of these
below. for the record, I drove through the first two, but no way was I going through the last two. Our Land
Rovers are fitted with 'snorkels' to prevent water flooding the muffler and stalling them when you go too deep.
The pictures below show the scene in the neighborhood Kpossé recently. A puddle located on a main road was
so deep that enterprising businessmen lined up their carts alongside the edges of the puddle and charged a fee
to shuttle people across, mostly older folks or those coming from church. I saw one motorcyclist stop, take off
his socks, roll up his pants, and tear through the morass. We stayed for about ten minutes, watching carts and
zemijdans fording the puddle.These little 'impromptu experiences' are what make living here such an adventure.
Our captain asked one of the port officials back in early May when rainy season began, as it'd been pretty hot
and dry for the first few weeks we were here. The answer he was given, I kid you not, was "March 15th". We
got no rain until it downpoured for almost two hours straight at 3:00 in the morning, March 15th, True story.
Your moment of African Zen- Fan Ice vendor, Lome
24 July- You really need to get out and walk to know
Africa. Too many of us hide behind air-conditioning,
rolled-up windows, and 'hit-and-run' trips to the same old markets and restaurants. I am finding more and
more that it's not enough for me. For me, it's akin to going to a water park and staying in the kiddy pool.
These past few months Africa has burrowed deeper & deeper into my DNA and I feel the need to ditch main
roads and delve into places no yovos ever tread. I step over piles of garbage, I shout jokes at storekeepers,
I stop off for a Coke in places where I am probably the first white customer they've ever had. If some kids
stare at me, I get them singing 'The Yovo Song'. When the inevitable zemijdan driver bleats his horn to ask
if I need transportation ( and why would a yovo be walking if he doesn't have to? ), I reply with the usual
"PSST!" and wag my finger 'No." As Togo is French, I have even managed to learn a bit of the language.
'Enough to get into trouble, not enough to get out', as a long-forgotten friend once joked about his Spanish.
So, after a couple of hours playing with the kids at our hospitality center (we run a good-sized center near
to the ship for pre-op and post-op patients to stay while waiting for their surgery to come- I'll write more
about it later), I decided to walk back to the ship the long way- and by long way, I mean 3 hours instead
of the twenty or thirty minutes a brisk walk straight back would take. Above and below you see a few of
the pictures I took along the way. From left above, a towel vendor, Togo's disused railway, motor oil for
sale on the street and a local Auto Ecole, or driving school. From left below, you see yet another Obama
bar, cold juice for sale, a shop selling wood-working tools and stains, bizarrely yet appropriately named
'Friend Of Timber', & an 'extra large' photo of me, for those who wonder why I never post pics of myself.
I have about seven weeks left with Mercy Ships, and only about three of those will be spent in West Africa.
Come mid-August it's a two week sail to Durban, and after a couple weeks there, I return home to the land
of the Wal-Marts, Pep Boys, and Chalupas at the Taco Bell. Honestly, I'll probably be bored within the week.
23 July- Togo is swarming with flies. I have never
seen so many of all the countries I've been. You can
not sit and enjoy a drink or a meal without swishing
away the flies. Most places you go give you a coaster,
and it's not for the bottom of the glass-they put it on
top. Some joints have 'permanent ones' ready to use.
27 July- Well,
this post is actually supposed to go onto the 'Rainy Season' post from a few
days ago, but I'm just now getting the
pictures. While I was tearing through some of these lakes left over from the rainy season, my friends in the back of the car were
snapping photos from their point-of-view. The first picture is a little dull, but the next two show a little of the waves you'll create
when you drive through them. You can see the miniature 'breakwaters' people will put around their houses during rainy season.
My 'wandering spirit' took me to a nearby fisherman's village recently. This
village, about two
km west of the port, is close to a church that many of us go to on Sunday morning, and to a beach that many spend
Sunday afternoons at. While I'm sure it has a proper name, nobody has ever asked what that name is. I got bored of
hanging out at the beach (a restaurant there has free wireless, and I'll go some Sundays to publish this website), and
strolled down to the village to see what it's like behind the streets and markets you see up front. What I found was a
maze of thatched-palm walls, dirt streets, and narrow passageways. The picture at bottom left about sums up what it
looks like throughout the entire village, about a quarter-mile square of this. I tried to get all the way to the beach, but
there was no straight shot to it-only turn after turn after turn. When I was about halfway through, some kids-shocked
at my sudden appearance- followed me all the way to the beach, giggling and daring each other to get closer to me. I
obliged them and played 'yovo-monster'-hiding behind walls, then jumping out & chasing them, much to their delight.
You can see them in the second photo, daring me to come closer to them, but near enough to the corner to run away.
I eventually managed to get to the beach, which was as dirty as you'd expect. I walked along the beach to get back to
my friends, and at the far edge of the village, I found one more dwelling. Seaside property, as it were, but hardly the
type to inspire envy among us westerners. The close proximity to the ocean meant that the larger waves and constant
beach erosion cause their yards to slowly slip into the sea, inch by inch. They had built up a sort of ad hoc wall to stop
this, but a few big rocks didn't do too much against Mother Nature. All in all it was a great little side trip. People were
friendly- playing with the kids has got to be the easiest way to get the people comfortable with you in Africa- and the
village, while not a very exciting village visually, was nonetheless an interesting experience. I love that they had con-
structed an entire village, complete with streets, homes, and 'backyards' out of nothing more than palm branches and
a few sticks. Some had turned their little 'palm-branch properties' into stores, bars, and hair salons. And no need to
get addresses- it was small enough that you could ask for 'Moses the mechanic', and you'd be shown right to his door.
Your Moment of African Zen-
Everything Gets Stolen-in West Africa. It's just a fact of life here. You got to lock up everything,
watch your stuff like a hawk, hire people to watch it for you when you go away, then hire people
to watch those people. A security guard for Mercy Ships a few years back was caught stealing fuel
from the generator on the grounds he'd been hired to guard. A manager at the same clinic stole a
safe right out of the wall. The safe contained $16,000- a fortune to him, no doubt. African drivers
buy gas almost by the gallon, as full tanks left overnight would be empty by morning. Below you'll
see just one method of preventing theft-weld cages over everything. From left, a typical 'pay phone'
you will see around West Africa with a lockable cage over it...the cage is unlocked at the end of the
day and the phone removed. Next to that is a truck's gas tank, all locked up, and even turn signals
run the risk of getting ripped off if not properly secured. I've seen cages welded around everything
from a table-sized generator to the lid of a toilet tank. I've seen more in Togo than other places.
African Things Are Different- They do the same things as we
do, of course, but they just do it a bit differently than us.
Below you see, in order, a West African phonebooth, a cinema, and an iron. The phonebooth is a regular phone that's been
connected to a landline and is used to make calls for 50 francs-about a dime. Next you see a regular West African cinema-a
simple construction of 4 walls and a roof, sealed to block out light. There's no projector or screen, just. a little 19-inch TV to
watch, connected to a DVD player and a bootleg movie being shown. The bulk of the movies that are shown in West Africa
can be divided into two genre's- Nigerian dramas and American action. Nigerian DVD's ( most West African entertainment is
is produced in Nigeria) run the gamut from comedy to action, but focus heavily on drama. A street vendor selling DVD's will
typically divide them into two categories- Nigerian and Western. Most of the western movies watched are of the low-budget
action B-movies you'll find Jean-Claude Van Damme in. Razor-thin plot, horrible acting, & cheap special effects don't matter
here, they just love to see the fighting. When I took this picture, there was a double feature of American Ninja 4 & American
Ninja 5. Thankfully, the filmmakers stopped at American Ninja 6. Finally, you see a West African iron. There's little electricity
in homes here- unless you have a generator, you've probably got nowhere to plug in. West Africans fashion ad hoc irons out
of steel, fill them with hot coals, and do their pressing that way. American ingenuity has nothing on West Africa in my book.
VVF Ladies- VVF's are one of
the most amazing surgeries we do. While almost unheard of in the west, they are
quite common in West Africa. Often women carry a child that is too large for their vaginal canal, and will have a
great deal of difficulty while giving birth. In the West, we'd solve the problem by simply administering a cesarean
section, but those aren't so straightforward here. The woman usually gives birth as is, and the ensuing birth tears
holes in the uterus, rendering her incontinent. It's not a problem that's easily fixed, and she can go years before
a opportunity to correct the problem arises. There are not too many hospitals that offer the surgery, nor many
many surgeons who know the procedure. The procedure is so uncommon, in fact, that surgeons in the West go
to a clinic in Ethiopia to learn how to do it. Not only do we do it onboard, we opened a clinic in Sierra Leone to
increase the number of women who can benefit from it. The clinic in Ethiopia is amazing, and was founded by a
a lovely English couple many years ago. They not only do it for women all over East Africa, they have opened to
any doctor that wants to learn. We have sent many doctors there to learn, and PBS actually filmed a movie about
this clinic and the work they do back in 2008 called 'A Trip To Beautiful'. It focused on a woman who had been
incontinent for many years and her trip to Ethiopia to receive the surgery. Why is it such a life-changing surgery?
Many of the women who are incontinent have been shunned by their villages, their families, even their husbands.
Their constant dripping causes a horrible smell and nobody wants them around them. Usually they'll build her a
small hut outside the village where she will be 'out of scent, out of mind'. Nobody wants here around due to the
smell, and she can't even earn a living in the market, as who'd want to buy from her, no matter what she sold?
They come on board, and receive the love and attention that many have forgotten about years earlier. After the
surgery, they will stay onboard for a few weeks. if they will stay 'dry' for that period, it means the surgery is a
success and they can return home a new woman. We will have a 'new dress' ceremony for them, which is an
incredible thing. They are given a new dress, measured & fitted just for them, and given a 'makeover' from the
ladies on the ward. Below, you'll see photos of some of the ladies and some new dress ceremonies taking place.
Sadly, not all of these surgeries have happy endings. Not all of the ladies are 'dry' after the trial period, and more
than a few have returned to their villages in the same state they left in. Some are truly tragic. Teenage girls who
are doomed to this condition, which was the result of being forced, through marriages or even rape, into this at
a too-young age, are not uncommon. Still, the successful surgeries are a thing of beauty, with the 'dry' woman in
a new dress, made just for her, singing and dancing, wearing her new dress like she wear her new life. How lucky
we are that God would allow us to be a part of such a thing. We thank Him that He allows us to help our sisters in
such an amazing, life-changing way, and pray that those who we are unable to help would find their peace in Him.
July 30, 2010- The Crew of the
Africa Mercy, group photo- We all gathered together
on the dock just after the fire drill to pose for this picture. As you can see, we still have the
fire teams in their gear and nurses still in their scrubs. This picture is pretty high-resolution,
so give it a while to load. Can you find me? Here's a hint- I'm standing up somewhere near
the center of the picture. Do you give up? Highlight just below this picture for the answer!
I am standing in front of the second car from left, underneath a couple in white shirt/dental scrubs.
What is 'flashing'?- Or more specifically, what is 'flashing' in West Africa?
Flashing is just one of the myriad of cultural idiosyncrasies that you must
decipher when you live in this region. Bear in mind that a good number of
West Africans have very little money at any given time, yet they will always
have a cell phone. When they want to talk to you but only have a minute or
or two left on their phones, they will call you and let it ring only once, then
hang up. This is a 'signal' to you that they want to talk to you but they lack
the airtime. It's considered perfectly acceptable to flash someone, and many
crewmembers have been the recipient of a flash. Some will just roll with the
flow, but many refuse to play along. Below you see a phone repairman who
undertakes celphone work like decoding, changing the 'housen', & flashing....
Dental- For my money,
there is no (medical, of course) department more interesting than the Dental
Department onboard the Africa Mercy. Every day, they drag their half-awake bodies and a few sloshing
water jugs all the way across Lome to a dental clinic set up for them. The fact that they work off-ship
means they don't have access to the wonderful amenities on board the ship. No A/C, no coffee bar, no
delicious food for lunch every day. For them, it's just thermos's and sandwiches. They miss the crepes
on Mondays, the waffles on Fridays, and the Fire Drills on Thursdays...well, they probably don't mind
that last one. Still, being the little self-contained unit, fighting traffic, civil unrest, and endless queues
every day of the week means that they grow closer as a group and shrug off the occasional insanity of
what they put up with daily. I love to hear their stories...like the patients that fall out of chairs.You put
a patient in a dental chair, turn around to grab a bib or something, and hear a resounding crash. Yes,
another 150 kg mama has fallen out of the chair. How do they keep falling out of the chair? Nobody
knows. You agree to do some 'Extreme Dentistry ' at the prison next door, and are met with rousing
success-more patients than you can handle. The next day-nobody...What happened? Apparently, the
dental team, who didn't have a suction tube for the patients mouths, were keeping the blood in little
containers to be destroyed later. Somehow, a rumor started that they were 'drinking the blood of the
patients', and who wants some 'witch doctor yovo' doing that? Prisoners skipped the free dental work.
Just a few of the crazy things that always seem to happen to the Dental Team. Here you see a few photos
of them in action, and a few out of action, as well. Nothing better than a Lion Killer after a hard days work!
Here's a funny little photo series of a little boy perched on mama's chest while she gets some work done.
An Ode To Going Out- Yes,
Mercy Shippers love going out. A meal, a coffee, a soda, something stronger...we
love going out
to whatever sort of place we can find. I have collected 2-3 dozen photos of some of these places we've gone to and good times
we've had. Some of the best memories you make here are over a simple bottle of Coke or 'Pomplamous' (a grapefruit-flavored
soft drink popular here). Here you see us going out to the locals for pizza, a drink, a plate of curry,...even a few games of pool.
A Peace Corps friend turned me onto a little 2-table pool hall a few blocks from their headquarters near the Ghana border. We
had a blast shooting 8-Ball for a couple hours until the 'Chinese Mafia of Togo' showed up and swept us from the tables with a
skill unmatched by some of the best players I've seen. I had fun teaching my West African friends a game they'd never played.
Tuesday night on board the AFM means one thing- African Night! Instead of spaghetti or chili, the evenings menu is focused on
such dishes as 'red red', black-eyed peas, and rice, rice, rice. As much as I love ethnic food, I never developed a taste for these
things, but you won't hear complaining from me- i simply filled a Land rover with like-minded folks and headed to Akif, a local
burger joint attached to Akif Auto Repair. For only 2700 cFa ( 5 bucks), you got a fat juicy burger (topped with a fried egg and
cole slaw, and don't knock it until you tried it), a plate of 'pomme frites', and a Coke (sadly, no Pomplamous at Akif). This was a
bit of a 'Togo 2010 Tradition', and the open invitations meant I always got a random group of people signing up to come along.
Greenfields was by far the most popular place. Run by a couple of French ex-pets, it had the best pizza in town and a funky vibe
for the diners. They showed American movies dubbed into French projected onto a screen a couple nights a week, but if you got
a couple dozen together, they were happy to show anything you like. Bring your own popcorn? No problem! How about a birth-
day cake? Sure, they'll even slice it and serve it for you. One of the best nights of all was 'Man Night', where over 50 of us went
to Greenfields for pizza, beer, and fellowship, followed by a showing of the Iraq-war movie 'Hurt Locker. It was one of the best
nights we all spent here in Togo. Here you see Mercy Shippers at all sorts of goings-on all around Togo, Benin, and even Ghana.
August 12- Return of the
Bees- Just as we were plagued by bees our first week here, our
last week here saw swarms of the pests all around our dock, specifically around our trash
dumpster. I dragged out my buried beekeepers costume and went to work. These were a
fairly docile type of bee, but their sheer persistence made up for it. I just swept them away
but they kept returning to the end of the skip, which was covered all the way to a couple
inches from the end. Most of the bees were in this small crack, out of reach of my broom.
I persisted myself, sweeping them away about a dozen times, but they kept returning, and
it was obvious I would need to so more than keep scattering them. Dennis got me a water
extinguisher and I blasted them from every angle, even jamming the nozzle into the crack.
This angered them, and even their docility had limits. They flew about 20 meters away to
a smaller, portable skip and swarmed all over the top of it. I opened and closed the lid to
the skip a half-dozen times, but they weren't moving. Dennis & Theo sent down a firehose
and after a few blasts, the bulk of them were too stunned to do much besides fly away. The
majority of them were gone by now, but a few remained, setting up little 'pockets of bees'
around the dock. After an hour or two, they had gone away, no doubt bothering one of the
many ships in Lome Port. You see me suiting up below, and the center picture is a portable
skip they all retreated to after my main attack. The exercise was not without injury...one of
them gave me a good sting on the forehead. Bee control...all in a days work at Mercy Ships.
One Last Walk- We're leaving soon. I mean soon. Real soon. Incredibly soon. I can't say how soon (we're not allowed),
but soon. I had to go for one last walk to take in as much of West Africa as I could before we left. Dan and I spent three
hours or so just walking around the small backstreets of the city, seeing what we could see. We saw a bit- a water pump
brightly painted. A sheet of plywood being carried by a zemidjan passenger. Let's hope the wind doesn't catch that thing.
We saw a dozen or so kids playing the age-old game of 'roll the tire along the street'. I played with them for a bit-heaving
the tire as hard as I could down the road for them to chase. It was a bit heavier than it looks, but I got it going pretty fast.
And we saw nuts in bottles! As Togo's a 'French' country just as Ghana is a 'British' one, beer isn't the drink of choice here,
it wine and spirits- or as Togolese say 'Vins & Liqueurs'. I never saw that in Liberia or Ghana- here you see those 2 words
everywhere. They use the old bottles to sell peanuts, cashew nuts, and every other sort of nut you can think of. Nuts are
fairly popular, and many of the crew love them. I am sure the Captain has come across more than one empty bottle when
he's done cabin inspection! I have to wonder what those who go through our garbage think! We also saw a painting of 'It's
Jesus', and a little ad hoc football pitch. I even played a little football with kids today, but was easily outclassed by them.
We saw the 'Texas Grill' alongside the Bronco City (and right next door to 'Old El Paso' of all things). I've not eaten there,
but a Texan friend has and says I'm not missing anything. We also saw, strangest of all, college level Algebra written on
a blackboard in a little side street in Bé-Kpota. This would be about the last thing I'd expect to see on a blackboard off a
side street in West Africa. It wasn't even a school, just hanging in a yard. Finally, we saw words to live by, Joshua 24;15.
It was a good walk, and I am missing Togo already. It's been a few years, but West Africa has finally grown on me. I find
I am sorry to leave, and look forward to when I can come back. I kept thinking as I walked along how I would ever return
to the States and be content with what I have when West Africa is so alive, so vibrant, so chaotic, so fulfilling. How will I?
This is it. As we set sail soon, and I won't have access to internet fast
publish this website on the sail, and don't know what sort of connection I will have in Durban,
so this may be it for awhile. I'll be coming home in 5 weeks, on September 24th. So I'll have a
two-week sail, followed by 3 weeks in Durban, and off I'll go. I scheduled that date to coincide
with foliage season back home, and i hope to see enough to last me a few years. I have begun
a job hunt, so keep that in your prayers. Thank you all for your friendship, love, & support. eric
For the complete webpage of our 2009
Outreach to the Caribbean, click here
For earlier news, including Logos Hope's 2009 Outreach to Europe, click here.