We are a family of three; Andrew, Jodie and Jessica (aged 18) from Tasmania, Australia who are currently serving in Douala, Cameroon, Central 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 Africa home, as we seek to bring hope and healing to the poorest of the poor.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Getting hitched- African style!

Weddings are in the air! We have been to two weddings in the last few weeks and soon we will be attending my (Jodie) sister's wedding in Brisbane. Three weddings in six weeks! Three very different weddings! The first wedding, featured in this blog post, was a true African wedding. If you've never been to one, then you have not lived-lol. On this day we gathered to celebrate the union of long term Ghanain crew member, Alfred to his fiancee, a local hospital day worker, Edwina. It was a real love story and that was evident in the lengthy service (three hours). It was loud, it was joyful and it was HOT! A real highlight was listening to the choir sing "Happy Day" during the signing of the register which is done behind closed doors and special guests and family members are called out in groups to sign it. There was dancing, there were offerings (three) and there was passion! All in all a wonderful African wedding!

Jess and friend Grace walking to the front of the church to make an offering.

Alfred and Edwina holding the special offering bags.

Is this a picture of joy or what? African's love to twirl and swing their hankies around to express joy.

Seating was a little cramped but Andrew reckons there was still more leg room than on an Ethiopian Airlines flight!

Jess feeling the love!


The wedding reception for this wedding and the one we attended this past Saturday were held at the Team House grounds in the Swiss Embassy. It is a lovely spot in the heart of Freetown, away from the hustle and bustle. We ate traditional African fare-fish, pork, jollif rice, vegetables and salad. Simple but tasty.

The "mini me" bridal party.

Here we are all dressed up! I am wearing my African dress that a local tailor made for me. All the guys were requested to wear their whites if they had them. Both weddings were wonderful and very special in their own way. But there is one more wedding we are looking forward to very much! Leanne and Aaron-can't wait!!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Puppet Fun!

Recently I decided to dust off my puppet skills and join the reformed puppet ministry. It was a little harder than I remembered and I think my poor knees are a bit more wobbly. No need to go to the gym to develop good biceps, just try holding up a puppet for any length of time. Don't forget, each puppet play is doubled as every single word is translated into the local language of Krio.

Above we are at the Hope Centre perfoming in quite rustic conditions. We had to perform outside as the inside was being cleaned and swept out. The power went off once so we had a brief intermission in the middle of the play. The guy in green scubs is our translator. I am the male puppet on the left. The kids and adults alike enjoyed our performance of "Gabby's Buried Treasure". We brought the message that you cannot find your treasures on this earth but the greatest treasure to be found is that of eternal life and all you need is the bible-your treasure map!

The kids in the wards and the Hope Centre always inspires me with their resilience and joy. They always have a ready smile and love to have visitors. They hug you and will chat to you for hours, if you let them! Oh yeah-they love having their photo taken too!

Me-getting loved on. It is nice to get all those cuddles!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Very Royal Occasion!

The was a tangible buzz in the air upon the arrival of HRH Princess Anne and Sir Tim to the Africa Mercy a few weeks ago. The ship was cleaned to within an inch of its life (thumbs up Crew Services!) and everyone was talking about "the Princess". Princess Anne was visiting Sierra Leone as one of her many charitable visits throughout the world. Above are our Managing Director Donovan and his wife, Mae greeting the Princess. Princess Anne requested a meet and greet of crew from a variety of the ship's departments and all different nationalities. I really tried hard but we didn't get a look in!

Princess Anne greeting a patient in the hospital.

Jessica was more fortunate than Andrew and I, as the Princess did a tour of the Mercy Ships Accademy. I had to fight to get Jess in a dress. The kids that were a part of the British Commonwealth were told they needed to bow or curtsey if addressed.

The little kids were not quite so easily impressed!

The Princess was a no nonsense, no fuss type of lady and insisted that we all go about our daily business and remain a "working ship". Above she makes an impromptu walk through of the internet cafe area. I was able to stand and watch her greet many of the crew for quite some time.

When we came to Mercy Ships, seeing famous people was not something that we considered but it certainly adds a bit of excitment to life and is further cementing this season of our lives as the adventure of a lifetime!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Isle of Sorrow

Recently Andrew and I headed off on a big adventure two hours up river to Bunce Island. Here we are smiling because we don't yet know that we will be waiting for an hour in the blazing sun for our canoe who's owner was operating on "African time"-lol.

The fishing village right near where the Africa Mercy is docked and also where we caught our canoe.

Have a laugh now-this is us at the start of our two hour journey. There will be no photos made public of me trying to get in or out of the canoe. Our butts were numb to say the least. You can see the Africa Mercy in the background to the left. We had to wade into knee deep water and try to launch ourselves into the surprisingly high canoe. We had plenty of locals on hand to give us a boost. Unfortunately on the way back, when I was getting into the canoe I fell backwards into it and got mud all down my back. At least I gave the whole group plenty of laughs and humiliating photo opportunities. Andrew was too busy laughing to help me.......

These are our guides, helpers, canoe steerers, water bailers, hangers oners etc....

It was mildly comforting, I think, to have this little guy bail out the canoe every once in a while.

Our canoe pulled into Bunce Island-now can you see that it would be hard to get in and out of???

A sombre reminder of the men and women who endured lives of slavery. This sign sums it all the triumph of the human spirit! Bunce Island was one of forty major European commercial ports built along the West African coast during the slave trade era. Bunce Island (originally Bence) was at the limit of navigation for ocean going vessels, a meeting place for European traders and African merchants coming from the interior. A series of British firms operated here from about 1670, including the Royal African Company and the London Firms of Grant, Oswald and Sergent and John and Alexander Anderson. The British traders purchased slaves, gold, ivory, camwood etc.

From about 1756, they shipped slaves in large numbers to South Carolina and Georgia, where American rice planters paid high prices for slaves from this region. During it's long history Bunce Island was attacked twice by pirates (1719, 1720) and four times by the French (1695, 1704, 1779, 1794). The present fort is the last of six on this site, rebuilt following the last French attack. After parliament prohibited the Atlantic slave trade in 1807, Bunce Island was used as a saw mill and trading post. It was abandoned in about 1835.

In 1948 Bunce Island was declared a national monument, under the authority of the monuments and relics commission.

Photos above and below are of the branding room. Each slave was branded on arrival with a metal brand heated in a furnace.

More ruins

The rusted cannons remain until this day embossed with British royal insignia.

The vegetation was thick and overgrown with big trees with nasty thorns. I questioned my decision to wear flip flops.

Wow. The most photographed tree on Bunce Island. Our guide took us there especially.

It was in this tiny, dark hole that slaves were held for three days without food right before they were shipped to England to simulate being in a ship's hold. It was very sobering to witness how base humans can become when money, predjuice and bigotry come into play.

Many slaves dies before ever leaving the island due to starvation and illness such as malaria. In the cemetery whites and blacks were seperated, however, black chiefs were given a special headstone. Above is a white man's grave and tombstone.

These feet (mine) say it all. It was stinking hot without a breath of wind, the humidity was stifling. It was dirty and overgrown. There were bugs everywhere. We were there for but a day with our air conditioned home, a shower and a hot meal waiting for us upon our return. The slaves that endured the horrors of this island had nothing to look forward to, no hope and low life expectancy.

The people of Sierra Leone now walk free but so many of them are still slaves. Slaves to the past and the horrors of the civil war, slaves to poverty, slaves to desperation and slaves to Mohammed.

" We do not want you to be uninformed.........about the hardships we suffered." 2 Cor 1:8

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chimps don't make good pets!

A few weeks ago we headed off into the wilds of Sierra Leone to visit the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. We left the ship bright and early to beat the Freetown traffic (ha, ha) and managed to arrive an hour and a half  before our guided tour. We had time to photogrpah some of the local wildlife-see below. They breed 'em big here!

They opened the gift shop (yes-seems that trend is world wide) and coffee shop early for us. We were a little bit excited to have our first coffee out since we were in South Africa. It was instant with powdered milk but beggars can't be choosers! We also sampled some local sweet treats (see above)-benny cake (like seasame snaps) and groundnut cake (similar to peanut brittle). Then it was time for the obligatory toilet pit stop as you never know when you will find another toilet and one must take the chance when one can! However I managed to trap myself in the toilet-not the first time. I got stuck in the one at the dental clinic a few months ago and I had to climb on the seat to call for help. I still haven't lived that one down!

This is our guide who had a wonderful knowledge of chimpanzees and could talk the fur right off one!

The baby chimp nursery-freaky or cute? You decide!!

 The main compound. There is always a dominant male and the chimps will fight and injure each other. Chimps can be albino but this is extemely rare. There have been escapes from the sanctuary. Once a very large groups of around 26 chimps escaped. Most of them made their way back, some were later captured and two are still at large. During the escape two people were killed and several injured!

Hangin' out.

Eating lunch.

Everything you ever wanted to know about speaking chimpanzee!

Well of course we are going to throw poo............

More lunch.

Just up this rickety, very steep ladder made of twigs was a viewing platform up a big tree out into the open jungle. We saw a few branches moving but no sign of the elusive chimps.

Andrew a little closer to heaven!