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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Thursday, October 23, 2014

The "E" Word!


Did we ever in our wildest imagination think that the word Ebola would roll of our tongues several times a day, that it would change the course of our lives and that we would be personally affected by this terrible epidemic? It’s like we stepped into a movie but this is real and has affected us, our friends and the mission we have been called too.
It’s like things are moving in slow motion for us but a million miles an hour in the case of this particular Ebola epidemic. The Ebola virus causes viral hemorrhagic fever, which, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, refers to a group of viruses that affect multiple organ systems in the body and are often accompanied by bleeding. The virus is named after the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), where one of the first outbreaks occurred in 1976.
 
This epidemic is unprecedented and has taken on a life of its own, completely out of control. WHO states the overall fatality rate is at 70%, a rise on previous estimates.



Casualties

         Reported Cases/Deaths (as of 19 October 2014[update])[2][3]

        Total: 9,964 / 4,881

           Liberia: 4,693 / 2,709 (as of 19 October 2014[update])[3]

           Sierra Leone: 3,706 / 1,259 (as of 19 October 2014[update])[2]

          Guinea: 1,540 / 904 (as of 19 October 2014[update])[2]

           Nigeria: 20 / 8 (outbreak ended 20 October 2014)[4]

           United States: 3 / 1 (as of 19 October 2014[update])[2]

          Senegal: 1 / 0 (outbreak ended 17 October 2014)[5]

           Spain: 1 / 0 (as of 19 October 2014[update])[2]

See notes for 19 October on Timeline Section


Reported case/deaths as of 19th October 2014 (WHO)

This is not just a health crisis but an economic and social catastrophe of gigantic proportions. Day to day life has ground to a standstill. It will take years for the countries affected to recover. Children have been orphaned and whole families decimated. Countries with an already fragile health care system find themselves with dozens of health care workers short, who have succumbed to the Ebola virus. It is estimated that 10% of Ebola victims are health care workers.

The level of desperation, that we have personally witnessed in such a tangible way, in the counties affected by Ebola, has now increased tenfold. As superstition rises, hospitals close and governments struggle to control the situation, a new level of desperation has emerged. Food prices have skyrocketed, schools remain closed and fear dominates daily life. It is a decimating force in nations with an already perilous infrastructure. Experts at the World Health Organization have declared the Ebola epidemic ravaging West Africa “an international health emergency”.

 

Situation Map of Ebola outbreak December 2013-Present
 
What does this mean for us? I know so many of you have been concerned about our health and safety. The rapid progression of this deadly virus has caused Mercy Ships to change our field service location twice; first from Conakry, Guinea where this current epidemic of Ebola first began, to Cotonou, Benin. But due to Benin’s very close proximity to the Ebola affected Nigerian capital, Lagos, Benin rapidly became less and less of an option for the Africa Mercy for this season. Borders in many African nations are porous and are often more defined by people groups and tribes rather than lines on a map. Traffic between many capital cities and ports is high and transmission of disease is possible, if not probable.
Very soon we will arrive in the East African port of Tamatave (Toamasina) Madagascar, far, far away from where this disease is raging its deadly path. It has been so difficult to tear our hearts away form the nations we have loved, lived in and served for the past three and a half years. The images that scream out to us, daily, from the news and the internet break our hearts; the ambulance driver who had to return a teenage girl back to her home due to an overcrowded hospital. She died the next day. That same ambulance driver has been ostracized from his family. The little girl who became an orphan a matter of days. The American Missionary who was the first foreigner to contract the disease, facing criticism from his own people for being flown back to his home country for treatment. Even our West African crew who cry for their families and that they are not able to go back to see them for fear jeopardizing their own health and their return to the ship. We watch them scrambling to contact their families and to send money to help provide food.
The situation is dire and if not brought under control the CDC admits that over 1.4 million people could be affected. “If the world doesn't get the Ebola outbreak in West Africa under control quickly, the disease could become a permanent fixture in the region, spreading as routinely as malaria or the flu”, the World Health Organization warned Tuesday in a new report.
As a specialty surgical hospital with multi-person wards, The Africa Mercy is not equipped to deal with such a contagious disease. As a high profile hospital ship that provides free medical services to the poor, the Africa Mercy  draws patients from long distances to the capital and port cities for treatment which can be counter-productive in an epidemic situation where the population needs to be localized. This means that instead of helping people, we could actually be responsible for spreading the outbreak.
Mercy Ships has helped develop local health care delivery systems and infrastructure in the nations impacted by the EBV, where we have served many times over 23 years. This has included the building of hospital waste incineration capacity as well as infection control training in the affected regions, an important element in the present response in the region currently affected by Ebola.
How do we feel about it all? Confused, sad, out of control….. That’s being downright honest, actually. But we do rest knowing that the leadership of Mercy Ships places very high value of the safety of the crew and we trust their decisions. Our hearts strings remained tied to West Africa and we anxiously await our return if or when the current Ebola epidemic subsides.
Above all we know that whilst we struggle with the very human emotion of wanting to be in control of our destiny, we know that there is someone who knows the big picture and is way ahead of us. We know who goes before us and he is mightier than a disease called Ebola. We trust that God has placed us here for this time, for this season and that a little port called Tamatave, with a population of just over 200,000, is exactly what God had in mind for us all along. Greater things are yet to come!
 

















Sunday, October 19, 2014

An Uplifting Visit


One of the hardest things about being away from home for any length of time is being away from your loved ones. You heart cries when they are sick and when you miss special birthday celebrations, the birth of babies, weddings, funerals....the list goes on. You find yourself getting a little bit jealous when your family get together and you are not there. You feel like they are moving on....without you. You realise when someone is hurt or seriously ill that it will take you three days to get home and that is after you have found a flight and taken out a loan for a million dollars for the ticket.
Talking on the phone doesn't quite cut it and the holidays, especially Christmas Day are difficult. I remember our first Christmas away and most of my family were together at my sister's house. We called them on the phone and spoke to everyone individually. I tired so hard to keep it together but when I heard the voice of my niece who was a newborn when we left, I lost it. After we hung up I sat on the floor and sobbed.
The three vsitis that my parents have made to the ship have been a healing balm, a blessing that cannot be put into words. We look forward to their visits for months on end and we are so excited that they have now seen each phase of our ship life-in our host nation in the throes of field service in the Republic of the Congo, in shipyard in Tenerife and their latest visit to Gran Canaria where they stayed with us in our land accommodation during the Africa Mercy's extensive dry dock period.
 They have lived our life just a little bit. They have felt the discomforts, the highs and the lows. They have talked with patients, sat in the dining room, witnessed a blind man seeing for the first time, climbed the Roque Nublo with us, danced at a crew/day crew BBQ, played with orpahns, felt our angst as the end of dry dock is delayed yet again, felt the grit of the Harmattan winds, experienced the depth of poverty in the nations we serve, eaten wrinkly Canarian potatoes, struggled with the language barrier and had a coffee in the only Starbucks in Africa (on our ship). When we finally go home someone will "get it" and for that alone we are extremely grateful.
Just wanted to share a few pics from Mum and Dad's latest visit while the Africa Mercy was in dry dock in the Astican Shipyard, Gan Canaria, The Canary Islands. The families were moved to shore accomodations as children are not allowed to be on board during a dry dock period. Mum and Dad stayed with us for two weeks at the Riu Waikiki and the wonderful staff even gave them the room next door to us.

The beautiful Santa Ana Cathedral in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.

View from the top of the Cathedral to the square below.

A different view of the surrounding hillside.

Mum, Dad and Jess at the top of the Cathedral.

Some examples of the distinct and very attractive architecture in the Canary Islands. Above is the Christopher Columbus Museum.
 

Mum, Dad and Jess walking through the "old town" of Vegueta.

Your friendly local law enforcement (with me)!

Jess at the Maspalomas Sand Dunes.

Selfie at the sand dunes- Dad, Mum, Me, Andy, Jess.

The stunning mountain landscape of the Canary Islands is breathtaking.

One of the lookouts had padlocks engraved with the names of lovers. These "love locks' as they are known symbolize everlasting love and are customarily affixed to fences, gates, bridges or similar public fixtures all around the world. Perhaps the most famous landmarks of love locks exists in Paris at the Pont de l'Archeveche and the Pont des Arts.

Climbing the Roque Nublo (Red Rock) we came across this sign!

The Roque Nublo-you can see it's towering height compared to the people below. The person in the bottom left-hand corner in Andrew heading up!

Jess on a big rock with a very scary drop off!

Mum.

The Spanish love to be outdoors and the weather in The Canary Islands is basically perfect all year round so we decided to have a picnic in the park. Of course baguettes, meat and cheese were on the menu! Above Mum, Dad and Jess.


The beautiful seaside hamlet of Puerto de Mogan with it's stunning display of colourful boganvillias and canals.

Playa de Mogan (Mogan Beach).

Typical Canarian fare-Wrinkly potatoes with red mojo sauce and below garlic prawns. Yum, yum!

The Canary Islands has some amazing architecture. Above is the Iglesia de San Juan Bautista de Arucas (The Cathedral of Arucas).

The cathedral from a lookout above the town of Arucus.

The colours of the Canaries.

The iconic dragon tree that grows all over the Canary Islands.

Jess at the crocodile park holding a falcon.

.......and a pygmy goat.

Mum freaking out when the handler shook the crocodile in front of her.

Jess and I feeding a rather indifferent chimpanzee who had already been fed like 1000 bananas that day!

One thing that we saw a lot of in The Canary Islands was sand sculptures, like amazing ones! Dad and Jess pose with Homer Simpson.

What a wonderful blessing it is to have family visit!