Preamble

We are a family of three; Andrew, Jodie and Jessica (aged 17) from Tasmania, Australia who are currently serving in Cotonou, Benin West Africa on the M/V Africa Mercy, the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world, through Mercy Ships International. God has called us on a journey that has been many years in the making. For this season we call West Africa home as we seek to bring hope and healing to the poorest of the poor.



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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Amazing Race


Thirteen years ago God gave us a precious gift; a sweet baby girl, Jessica Caitlin. Now we have a teenager in the house cabin! On December 30th we celebrated Jessica's thirteenth birthday, her first birthday on the ship. Being the visionary and overachiever that I am I decided to give Jessica an Amazing Race sleepover party. Above the party begins with dinner in the dining room with Jessica's friends L-R, Zodi (Ethiopia), Grace (USA), Josie (Ghana), Deborah (Liberia, USA) and Kylie (USA).

I ordered a set of Amazing Race printables online which was a big blessing as receiving mail is quite the drama for us in Guinea. The sleepover was held in the Queen's Lounge, still decorated for Christmas.

Colourful party bags that held, amongst other things, a globe keyring and globe inflatable beach ball. (Thanks Amazon!)

Challenges, road blocks, detours and clues ready to go. The girls split into two teams and raced around the ship following different clues which led to challenges in each destination.

The pack even contained chocolate bar wrappers with which Andrew dutifully wrapped eight crumbling and melted Crunch bars that had seen better days from the ship shop.

Team tags

Destination: Library. Challenges: Find a children's book and read the first five pages aloud to your team mates, find the Lonely Planet West Africa  book and see which country is listed on a certain page and count the number of sails on the Mayflower (model ship on display in library).

Destination: Deck 8. Challenges: Have your photo taken hugging the mannequin, slide down the slide in the playground, one member of the team ride a scooter around the funnel three times and all members of the team sing and act out Ring-a-Ring-a-Rosie three times.

Destination: Dining Room. Challenges: Locate a tag under a certain dining room chair, count the number of windows in the dining room, drink a cup full of a combo of all the flavours of drink in the drink mixers.

Jess gives the deck 8 mannequin a friendly hug.

Destination: Dock. Detour: The teams must perform the detour together. Choose between counting all the windows on the ship's starboard side (visible from the dock) or make up a haiku (short Japanese poem) about Guinea and recite it to the Gherka (ship security guard) on duty and also whilst walking up and down the dock three times. Grace, Zodi and Jessica decide to do the haiku.

Destination: Laundry Room. Challenges: Locate a particular shirt (one of Andrew's) on the drying racks and iron it (see Jessica above), find a pair of matching socks in the lost property basket and find out who has a particular laundry slot on a particular day and time.

Destination: Dining Room. Roadblock: One member of each team needs to be blindfold and has to find ten skittles in a bowl of jelly, with their hands. Then they have to eat the jelly with a fork. Unfortunately the skittles disolved in the hot jelly-oh dear! Above Jess finishes off the jelly for her team. Hey Jess-where is your blindfold!!
 
Final destination: Queens Lounge. Jess and I with the awesome tim tam cake that fellow Aussie, Leah made for us. It was amazing!! There were many other destinations and challenges but I think you get the drift! It was great fun and we had many curious onlookers. So much so that the ship decided to organise an Amazing Race Conakry which was held several weeks later on a much grander scale in and around Conakry. It was an awesome success. Jess helped to man one of the stations with another ship family. The station was located at the dental clinic site and involved the catching of two live chickens whilst wearing rubber gloves and a blown up rubber dental glove on their head to represent the chicken's comb.


Above an Amazing Race team member tries to catch a chicken. Below Jess guards the box containing the chickens.

 
 

Happy 13th birthday sweetheart! Jess was such a good sport about her gifts. The gift she has in her hands is the only one she received on her birthday. The rest of her birthday presents (and some of her Christmas presents) were in the Christmas container that didn't arrive until January.

There are many birthday traditions on the ship. One is ringing the large brass bell in the dining room over a meal and having the crew sing Happy Birthday, which we did! Also is it traditional to decorate the outside of the birthday boy/girl's cabin door or nearby walls.

Jessica's party was the night before her birthday so on her actual birthday (Sunday) we went to the Riviera hotel with friends. Jess had her favourite-margarita pizza and fries.

Happy birthday sweet baby girl. We are so proud of you!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Silent African Night


About the only thing an Australian Christmas has in common with Christmas on a hospital ship in Africa is the heat. That's where it ends. And the mosquitos! That was until the Africa Mercy Christmas planning meeting in November when I put my hand up to organise an Aussie Carols by Candlelight. Being the visionary that I am I wanted it all, evening gowns, the Wiggles, blankets and BBQ chickens, Guy Sebastian and Kamahl. What I got was 200 candles sourced from a local market, glow sticks from WalMart (brought back with a crew member), a dirty dock filled with folding chairs and a tarp, casual Friday and a whole heap of people who willingly jumped in to help make this event one of the most memorable on the Africa Mercy Christmas calender! So it wasn't quite what I had pictured but it had heart and soul, it was Christ centered and best of all we go to play with fire (we are not allowed candles on the ship). And.......we had chicken cooked on the BBQ!! Above head chef Ken cooks up some snags.

Andy

Dental day worker and friend Grace and husband John, who purchased the candles for us, chatting to patient Blessing. Blessing has had multiple surgeries on the Africa Mercy in 2008, 2011 and in 2012.

Johna and Grace. Grace is expecting her baby very soon and finished at the dental clinic a few weeks ago.

Right before the commencement of the carols the lighting of the 4th Advent candle happened. Jess was chosen to light the candle, alongside the rest of the Academy Junior High, which was very special for us on this particular night.

 

A birds eye view under the hull of an Africa Mercy lifeboat.

 

I am ready!

Just like the Aussie carols the evening was a mixture of the traditional and the not so much. Above the Africa Mercy's version of the Aussie Wiggles delight the kids (and the adults). I believe they now have a cult following and are planning a tour of West Africa, with their first album to be released shortly.

Can't have the Wiggles without the pointing fingers!

Santa made a special appearance and handed out bags of lollies to the kids.

Afterwards EVERYONE wanted photos with the Wiggles. Above fellow organiser and Aussie crew mate, Leah posing with our co-stars.

The men's choir also shone singing "Away in a Manger" and "O Come All Ye Faithful", acapella. Their beautiful harmonies cut through the balmy night air bringing a little piece of Christmas to Guinea.

The finale-all the performers took to the "stage" for a rousing edition of "We Wish you a Merry Christmas" which we rapidly discovered has different lyrics in different countries.

This is what it was all about.......unifying the crew from 35 nations, far away from their homes, their families and things familiar. The atmosphere was amazing from frivolity to pure unadulterated worship. What a blessing it was to bring a little piece of Australia to the crew of the Africa Mercy and to hear such comments as " At the Carols........it started to feel like Christmas to me and we don't even do this back home". This sentiment was echoed many times over the next few days and it really was a balm to my homesick heart.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

"School Camp"


Every year the Academy Junior High and High school parents send their precious ones off into deepest, darkest Africa for the time of their lives at retreat. Whatever thoughts you have of a "school camp", ditch those and replace them with anti-malarials, malaria nets, bugs the size of your hand, plantains, rice, four wheel driving into lush jungle, djembes (drums) and water in a bag. You still have excited kids but the parents are quaking in their boots just a little more! This is no ordinary adventure..... above Academy principle Mr Calvert ties down the luggage on top of the land rover against the backdrop of the rising African sun and the coils of razor wire that line our berth.

Ready for the four hour trip upcountry to Kindia, Guinea at the Mercy Ships Agricultural Site with the djembe parked between them; Abby, Kylie, Jessica and teacher Mrs Robinson.

And they are off....

The landies doing what they are made for on the way to Kindia.

How to wear out a bunch of teenagers....take them on a three hour hike through the jungle. Yep, that'll do it!

Jessica with her best happy face helping the agricultural team pick the berries.

Ready to get dirty? Helping to plant some plants

Some of the kids standing proudly over their work with the ag guys.

Some of the high school girls are quite into photography and they captured Jess in such a fun way.

 

Kindia Falls, Jess and friends Abby and Kylie

Africa Mercy Junior High and High School. These kids are tough. They eat malaria pills for breakfast and dirt for dinner. They miss out on Christmas presents, McDonalds, grandparents and iphones. They have seen, heard and face things that most Western kids their age never have and never will.These kids have had their lives changed and will take away the most amazing experiences and a little piece of Africa will be with them forever.