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, September 27, 2016

First Love

Returning to West Africa has always been in our hearts. It is where we began our Mercy Ships field services and where we fell in love. Fell in love with the people, the culture and the land. We were gutted as we watched a vicious disease called Ebola decimate the nations we had invested our lives into, constantly worrying about our friends and despairing at the virulence of the outbreak. Our hearts broke as news trickled in of former day crew and Mercy Ships contacts, dying a hideous death, including one who was senselessly murdered for trying to promote health precautions against the spread of Ebola.
Imagine our joy as the disease began to wane and finally, finally each of the nations afflicted by this terrible disease were declared Ebola free. One. By. One. Our heats began to dream of a return to West Africa. We longed to hear the beat of the djembe, experience the joy and laughter of the local people and to see the rainbow of African fabrics again.
On the 18th of August, 2016 the Africa Mercy arrived back in West Africa, a hugely anticipated event. Cotonou, Benin to be exact. Benin's neighbour, Nigeria's Ebola outbreak caused us to cancel our upcoming field service to Benin, in 2014, sending us to Madagascar for two years as we waited for Ebola to subside.
Now here we are! Check out our triumphant arrival, featuring a little something special that made this particular arrival even more poignant for us! :)

The Africa Mercy coming into the Port of Cotonou.
(Photo cred above and below: Katie Callow)

 

A well known scene from where the Africa Mercy was berthed during it's last visit to Cotonou in 2009. This image of a fishing village and boats, with the AFM in the background, has been captured in many portraits and photos.
(Photo cred: Jen Peterschmidt)

Our advance team!! They certainly had even reason to be celebrating! Two years ago, many of the team above, had their matching outfits made and were ready for the imminent arrival of the AFM to Benin, when, at the last minute, plans went awry and our field service to Benin was postponed. So this gusty team pulled themselves together and flew to Madagascar for the shortest advance ever! What a joy to see some of the original Benin advance standing on the dock, finally seeing all their hard work coming to fruition, finally seeing the Africa Mercy sail in!!
(Photo cred: Katie Callow)

The elementary kids waving their paper Beninese flags, surrounding Emmanuel, our Beninese flag bearer.
(Photo cred: Tim Baskerville)

The crew on deck waving to those on the dock.
(Photo cred above and below: Katie Callow)

Some of the advance team waving right back!

Deckie throwing out a line from the bow.
(Photo cred: Miguel Ottaviano) 

The gangway going down!

Almost there.....
(Photo cred: Katie Callow)

A National Geographic team, headed up by the producer of the Aussie documentary, The Surgery Ship was waiting for us on our arrival and will be filming for three months to make a series of eight, one hour documentaries. They will also be heading back to Guinea to follow up on patients from The Surgery Ship.
(Photo cred: Dayle McCulloch)

The Nat Geo drone capturing our arrival!

We knew we were back in West Africa when we heard the drums and singing on the dock, accompanied by some African dancing!
(Photo cred: Katie Callow)

Andrew dusted off his African shirt for the occasion!

The dockside set up for the arrival ceremony later that afternoon. Fake turf and all! Fancy schmancy! 

During the sail Jessica was asked if she would like to carry the flowers down the gangway to present to the First Lady of Benin! This is an honour reserved for only a few! What a very special privilege for her, on our return to West Africa! We will never forget this arrival!

Above Jessica carries the flowers down the gangway behind Emmanuel Essah, one of our Beninese crew members, bearing the Beninese flag, also a great honour! Behind Jessica is Captain Jon Fadely, Robin MacAlpine, our Managing Director and his wife Laurette and further behind, Andrew, in the white shirt, giving instructions to everyone on when and where to go! #familyaffair 
(Photo cred: Katie Callow)

Emmanuel presenting the Beninese flag to the First Lady of Benin, Madame Claudine Gbenagnon Talon
(Photo cred: Tim Baskerville)

Jessica handing over the flowers.
(Photo cred: Katie Callow)

Jessica, Emmanuel and Laurette listening to the afternoons proceedings under the big marquee on the dock.
(Photo cred: US Embassy, Cotonou)

Africa Mercy Managing Director Robin MacAlpine addressing the dignitaries.
(Photo cred: Katie Callow)

The First Lady of Benin addressing the crowd......."“Behind all statistics, there is a story, a life, a person who needs a new hope, a treatment or a cure. I wish that this enriching collaboration of Benin with Mercy Ships will continue to grow year after year for the well-being of the population.”......”
(Photo cred: US Embassy, Cotonou)

We even had some local dancers perform!  Love the way the West Africans get down!
(Photo cred: Katie Callow)

West African have to rank among some of the best drummers in the world, hands down! They pour their soul into it, until sweat streams down their faces. I am sure that they burn calories!
(Photo cred: US Embassy, Cotonou)

The crowd of dignitaries and AFM representatives make their way back on board the ship after the arrival ceremony. Jess is tucked between Robin and the First Lady.
(Photo cred: Katie Callow)

Our first night off the ship in 12 days and our first time back in West Africa for three years!

We feel so blessed to have the opportunity to return to West Africa, during our Mercy Ships service! We praise God for his deliverance of the nations from the scourge of Ebola and we continue to pray for the recovery of these countries, for their infrastructure, the ongoing health issues of those who have survived Ebola, the thousand of new orphans and we pray against any resurgence of the virus.

God heard the cry of our heart and now we are back in the land we love, endeavouring to be the hands and feet of Jesus!
 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Shipyard Rhythms

With the hum of the hospital silent, the Africa Mercy became a hive of a different kind.  To keep her running for the next ten months, the AFM needs some time out for maintenance, repairs, upgrades and new work. She is an aging beauty, twenty six years young, but she is doing so gracefully, carefully and lovingly taken care of by our Engineering and Deck Departments and dozens of volunteers who come to form Project Teams, who undertake all manner of jobs. Professionals in many areas also come to assist where technical expertise is especially needed.
The rhythms of the ship change. She is a ship first and foremost. Deck heads are down, cables hang, lights are dim, the air-conditioning is off, blackouts occur regularly, the laundry is restricted, workman scurry around in hard hats, their overalls black with hard work. The hospital deck and operating theatres are unused, no longer sterile. The crew numbers remain small and a sense of camaraderie develops. Many crew leave for personal time off to see friends, family and supporters or just for some much need rest.
We call this time shipyard.
For the second year running shipyard has happened at the Dormac Shipyard in Durban, South Africa. This year we did not have to go into dry dock (ship out of water) but there were still many jobs to be done. The propulsion system gearbox was repaired, new cabin flooring was laid, office renovations, public bathroom upgrades, ventilation cleaning and repairs to the hospital laundry extraction, improved air-conditioning and extraction in the OR Sterilizing and lab, replacement of the generator controls and other smaller jobs and routine Lloyd's inspections.
We took the opportunity to see some of the beautiful country of South Africa! Please enjoy some photos of our trip and some pictorials memoirs of the rhythms of shipyard, 2016!

South Africa has the novelty of having two countries within a country and we took the chance to see both those countries, Lesotho and Swaziland, adding two more stamps to our packed passports! Above, us freezing to death at the Kingdom of Lesotho border post!

You have seen it here! Snow in Africa, right up in the high peaks of Lesotho!

Us at a traditional village in Lesotho, in a traditional rondavel, with some locals.

One of the highlights of our trip was being able to pat and play with baby lion cubs! Such a unique experience and so much, slightly scary fun!


We toured a part of South Africa called the "Panorama Route" and it was easy to see why! It reminded us very much of the picturesque Blue Mountains in Australia where we spent some of our honeymoon! Above is a panorama of the Three Rondavels (like the hree Sisters!) and the Blyde River Canyon.

So many gorgeous waterfalls along the way! Above, the 70 metre Lone Creek Falls.

The 80 metre Berlin Falls

"The Blyde River Canyon is a significant natural feature of South Africa, located in Mpumalanga, and forming the northern part of the Drakensberg escarpment. It is 25 kilometres (16 mi) in length and is, on average, around 750 metres (2,461 ft) deep. The Blyderivierpoort Dam, when full, is at an altitude of 665 metres (2,182 ft). The canyon consists mostly of red sandstone."
(Source: Wikipedia)

One of my favourite shots of Jess, looking towards the Blyde River Canyon.

The amazing natural phenomena of Bourke's Luck Potholes!
"Water’s power to shape a landscape is spectacularly displayed at Bourke’s Luck Potholes in Mpumalanga, where centuries of river activity have carved out a dramatic and intricate series of natural rock formations and pools. Bourke’s Luck Potholes in Mpumalanga province are a series of natural geological formations that seem nearer to art than nature. Formed by centuries of water flowing through the landscape, this natural attraction is made up of inter-connected pools, interlaced with sandstone outcrops.

The potholes occur where the Treur River joins the Blyde River at the start of the Blyde River Canyon. In a continuing and centuries-old spectacle, the force of the water in these two rivers, combined with the particles of sand and rock that the rivers' transport, wears cylindrical potholes into the sandstone bedrock. Over time, some of these potholes merge and new ones form, creating an intricate landscape of deep depressions and outcrops of resistant rock."
(Source: http://www.southafrica.net/za/en/articles/entry/article-bourkes-luck-potholes)

God's Window! Yes-that's the name of this stunning view point, with astonishing views over South Africa’s Lowveld. At God’s Window, majestic cliffs plunge down 700m and, on a clear day, you'll be able to see over the famous Kruger National Park towards the Lebombo Mountains on South Africa’s border Mozambique. The Panorama Route is ringed by beautiful aloe vera flowers

Another one of our favs! A beautiful South African orange breasted sunbird, suckling on an aloe vera plant.

Another cool thing we got to experience was getting up close to some beautiful and spirited cheetahs and African wild dogs. We drove through their enclosures in an open side jeep and watched them feed. We also witnessed the cheetah's run! Wow!

Yum, yum. These cheetahs ate their lunch in record time with us watching in fascination just a few metres away!
 

One simply cannot travel to the north of South Africa without visiting the world renowned Kruger National Park. It's been on my bucket list for a very long time and a few years ago I would never have dreamed it would become a reality. It was very bit as wonderful as I expected. The animals sightings were prolific, the scenery stunning and the photo opportunities, even for amateurs like us, was outstanding.
Above, a very cute baby elephant! Just don't get between said baby and mumma!

We had barely driven into Kruger and we already encountered a bull elephant crossing the road right in front of us! Jessica was so excited she started screaming! We were fortunate to experience dozens of elephant sightings. They are just such majestic creatures and we could have sat and watched them for hours!

We saw a very large herd one day!

We also saw lots of hippos, mostly lazing about in the sun on the banks of the watering holes and rivers.

I really wanted to see lions and cheetahs. The cheetahs proved too elusive for us but we did get to see three male lions on the side of the road and also a female in the bushes eating an antelope!  

Giraffe's are so much fun to watch!

We loved the Cape Buffalo with their funny horns that looked like a judge's wig. They were pretty sleepy when we saw them, but our guide said that if they if they went for you, they could kill you!

While we were distracted with a herd of elephants we failed to notice this male baboon jump up onto our bonnet. Suddenly we became the focus of everyone's photo opportunities and Andrew made quick work of rolling up the window! The baboon was very interested in a packet of tissues we had on the dashboard. It kept trying to get at one through the window. It eventually got bored and jumped off.

This is Jess on our sunrise tour which left at 5:30am. Jess just said to me, as I am typing, that this was literally the most cold she has ever been in her whole life! We had several blankets wrapped around us and our fingers froze as we tried take photos. Winter in South Africa is quite the chilly place to be!

The sun rising over a large watering hole where the footprints of the night's activities were still evident.


Another frozen moment. Jess and I on a boat, well a pontoon, on a tour of a dam. We had a down day as Andrew had done seven hours driving the day before! I decided that I would wear my flip flops that day as I was so sick of wearing closed in shoes. Big mistake!! I thought I would never get warm ever again!

We also spent four days in the lovely country of Swaziland where the scenery is breathtaking and the locals extremely friendly and down to earth, with a wicked sense of humour! We stayed very close to a cultural village and went to a show that had lots of traditional Swazi dancing. It was a lot of fun with a rowdy crowd from an all girls school, who really appreciated the young male dancers! :)

The higher the kicks, the bigger the cheers and tips!

Lovely, bold costumes.

The guys dancing!

We had a tour of the village after the dancing. Above is a traditional Swazi "beehive hut". A small percentage of the Swazi population still live in the traditional way. the Kingdom of Swaziland is also a polygamous country and the current King has 17 wives, but the previous King had 75 wives and 250 children!

Each year there is a "Reed Dance" Ceremony, where young women are paraded in front of the King and, if he wishes, he can choose a new wife from amongst them. The eight day ceremony is a very popular tourist attraction and the girls are anxious to be picked, as it ensures a good life for them and it is considered to be a very high honour! This year over 98,000 virgins maidens danced for the King!

Swaziland is also well known for it's very talented artisans. There are all kinds of high quality crafts available at reasonable prices. We visited lots of craft centres. Above, the Candle Factory and below some batiks drying in the wind.

 

This was the faithful Toyota Corolla that took us over 4,000km in 23 days and sometimes off road! It was a fantastic rental car, one of the best we have ever had! Above Andrew poses proudly with the Corolla in Mlilwane Wildlife Park in Swaziland.

Mlilwane Wildlife Park did not have any predators so we were able to get out of the car and freely walk, as much as we dared, as the park still had buffalo, crocodile and hippo! Above, Jess and I getting close to some zebra or as Andrew liked to refer to it as, the Zebra Crossing!

 

These funny little creatures, the African Warthog!

Back at the Dormac Shipyard in Durban. A spectacular sunrise, viewed from our ship!
(Photo cred: Above and below, Patricia Royston)

 

Jessica doesn't get much of a chance to be a "rebellious teenager" so we caved, after weeks of nagging, and let her get a piercing in her ear cartilage. #thingswedoinshipyard

A cool pic by Jess down at the Durban waterfront where the living is easy, the weather is temperate and Jess loves to ride her longboard and drink slushies. South Africa has a violent history but the locals are proud of how they have overcome the chains of apartheid and this was evident everywhere we went as "whites" and "blacks" live side by side in relative harmony.

Ok, so our little stopover in Cape Town wasn't technically a part of shipyard but it was a beautiful part of our South African experience and has give us some fabulous memories and once in a lifetime experiences, in the three times we have been able to visit! The stunning view of Table Mountains that we witness as we pull into our berth in the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront precinct.

Eating lunch with the Royston family at the waterfront.
(Photo cred: Saul Loubassa) 

I had decided long before we went to Cape Town that I wanted to go to one of the three Hillsong Campuses in Cape Town. There were so many of us interested in going that we had to charter a bus. Above, the worship at Century City Hillsong! It was great to feel a little like we were back in Oz, as we listened to Pastor Phil Dooley, who previously ministered at Hillsong, Sydney. Loved the Aussie accent!


Me and Andrew at the V&A Waterfront where we were berthed, with Table Mountain in the background.

It isn't every day that you begin your senior years of schooling somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of South Africa!! Above Jess and her friend Elliot, who have been in class together since grade five, on the first day of the 20016/2017 Academy school year, on the ten day sail between Cape Town and Benin.

The shipyard rhythms are now behind us and we are back into field service.
Without the gritty, nuts and bolts hard work undertaken during shipyard, the Africa Mercy would not be able to do what we do. The ship is back to being a hospital ship and the project guys are long gone, but the Africa Mercy is now equipped for a busy ten months ahead, bringing hope and healing to some of the poorest people on earth.


We had the privilege of having a very talented Aussie photographer on board recently. He is actually working as a mechanic/fitter but he captured the heart of shipyard so beautifully and in a way, I believe, that has never quite been been captured before.. Please take a moment to go to this blog of a fellow crew mate, Michelle Pullen, who has arranged Tim's photo so well. Really, they are a treat!

 Colours of Shipyard