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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Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Artist Within

After seeing how wonderfully Jessica's batik turned out (see a previous post) after her school trip to the Artisan market in Lome, I was inspired! I decided to organise a mum's trip to make our very own African batik. I have had a few people ask what is a batik?

"Batik is both an art and a craft, which is becoming more popular and well known in the West as a wonderfully creative medium. The art of decorating cloth in this way, using wax and dye, has been practised for centuries.To make a batik, selected areas of the cloth are blocked out by brushing or drawing hot wax over them, and the cloth is then dyed. The parts covered in wax resist the dye and remain the original colour. This process of waxing and dyeing can be repeated to create more elaborate and colourful designs. After the final dyeing the wax is removed and the cloth is ready for wearing or showing. " (

So a few weeks ago a group of excited mums set off rather early on a Saturday to learn the ancient art of batik making. Above we are tracing our designs onto a cheesecloth type of material that will be our batik. The local men teaching the class provided many of their own designs but some of the more artistic mums chose to do their own. We used  drawing pins to secure the cloth and design so we could trace it.

Next Daniel, one of our instructors, showed us how to use boiling wax to outline the design. Wherever the wax is will end up being a white outline. Below I am carefully outlining my design. It is way harder than it looks, especially with the rather stumpy brushes on offer.

 This is my design ready to be painted with colourful dye. But first we painted around our designs with another wax so we could have a white background later on. The coloured dye will not penetrate the wax.

Below-the dyes come in a powder form and they are mixed with water.

Here is my design after I finished with the coloured dyes. My design started as a silhouette and I had to add in all the extra design. It is pretty hard to draw a mama "po-poing" her baby (the traditional African method of transporting babies and small children by a piece of material tied around the middle).

Right after we started to paint our designs a big storm blew in. It poured down. Our ever helpful instructors quickly carried all our precious batiks out of the rain and moved everything to an undercover area, after all the motorbikes were moved out, of course!

Time for the batiks to dry! Perfect time for a lunch break. We headed on over to KFG's.

We are all smiling because as well as nice food, KFG's has a toilet that flushes and has a sink with running water.

The last stage. We picked the colour we wanted our border and our "crackle" to be and the batik was dipped into the dye. The guys then crinkled the material and the background wax developed very fine cracks. The dye flows into these cracks creating the crackle effect.

The finished product-well not quite. We had to pick them up a few days later later they had been dried and soaked in petrol to remove the rest of the wax. After a bit of an airing and an iron, they looked amazing!

Here we all are. This is a bit less than half the long term mums on board. We are united by our unique circumstances, raising a family on board a ship in a developing nation. We do life together.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

TB or not TB?

"Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB (short for tubercle bacillus) is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis.[1] Tuberculosis typically attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body. It is spread through the air when people who have an active TB infection cough, sneeze, or otherwise transmit their saliva through the air.[2] Most infections are asymptomatic and latent, but about one in ten latent infections eventually progresses to active disease which, if left untreated, kills more than 50% of those so infected. Diagnosis of latent TB relies on the tuberculin skin test.

One third of the world's population is thought to have been infected with M. tuberculosis,[3] with new infections occurring at a rate of about one per second.[3] In 2007, there were an estimated 13.7 million chronic active cases globally,[4] while in 2010 there were an estimated 8.8 million new cases and 1.5 million associated deaths, mostly occurring in developing countries.[5] The distribution of tuberculosis is not uniform across the globe; about 80% of the population in many Asian and African countries test positive in tuberculin tests. This is a particular problem in sub-Saharan Africa, where rates of HIV are high.[30][31] Tuberculosis is closely linked to both overcrowding and malnutrition, making it one of the principal diseases of poverty." (Source: Wikipedia)

Mercy Ships takes the risk of tuberculosis very seriously and all long term crew and day workers are required to have a tuberculosis skin test annually. One of my duties as the crew clinic administrative assistant is to call crew in to have this test and to assist with the paperwork that accompanies it. Recently the Engineering Department needed more day workers to help with some extra duties. Before they could be declared fit for work they all had to have their TB skin test. The test is a needle that can cause a reaction if the individual is positive for the presence of TB, whether latent (dormant) or actual. If the test, read 48 hours after it is administered, is positive a chest x-ray is performed to determine the presence of TB. Below are all the guys lined up outside the crew clinic ready to have their TB skin tests read.

Waiting inside the clinic.

Even if a test shows a reaction, it may not be positive. Any swelling or "induration" under 10mm is declared negative and 10mm or over is positive. Above the crew nurse Lynne shows a day worker his measurement.

Lynne and I had quite the system going. Lynne read each of the tests while I recorded the results on cards for the day workers to keep. For any who were positive I filled out an x-ray form for the Crew Physician to order a chest x-ray.

And this is what a strong positive test looks like-yes it is me three days post test! I had my TB skin test in April 2011 and, as I tested positive, I no longer need to have a TB skin test ever again. (Thank goodness-it was very painful!!). I had a chest x-ray which showed no evidence of TB. When we returned to Australia I had a special blood test to find out if I had latent TB. Fortunately the test came back negative. Below day four post test.

What we are doing is just a drop in the ocean as far as preventing the spread of this terrible disease. However if a case of active TB occurred on the ship it could be disastrous. Prevention and early detection is most definitely better that the cure!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

And the blind shall see......

I could sit here and type all day trying to find the words to best describe what Mercy Ships does and the way a free surgery can change someones life. How it can restore hope, renew relationships and community acceptance. I could try to communicate the look on a patients face when they see for the first time or the joy that healing power can ring. But they say a picture is worth a thousand words so take a look at this video of Sierra Leonean cataract patient, Christina James and you can see for yourself!


Saturday, June 16, 2012


" I'm gonna give myself permission to shine
I'm gonna shine so bright
gonna make every head wanna turn
you're finally gonna see me
Give myself
permission to shine
gonna light up the night
Shine a little of my light on the world."

(Permission to Shine-Bachelor Girl)

 That is what I think of when I think about Jess and her transition from life as a primary school kid in Australia to life as a high schooler on a hospital ship in West Africa. Any doubts we ever had of "what are we doing to our child" have long since faded, if they even had a chance to ever take root! From the minute Jess stepped out of the land rover at Applesbosch, our first land based accommodations in KwaZulu Natal in South Africa she has never looked back. Yes she misses her family and she looked forward to our trip home recently but on the ship she has blossomed and she has shone!

Take a look at a few highlights of the past few months in Jessica's world. Above Jessica dresses to play patient at the Hospital Open Night.

Jess (in green t-shirt) acts as carer to a "blind" patient, escorting them down the gangway as the Hospital Evacuation drill earlier this year.

Having some fun with fellow Academy students on deck 8.

With her 6th grade class having an engine room tour with fellow Aussie, 2nd engineer, Russell.

Jess and her best friend, Liberian born, Deborah in the lifeboat out for a trip around the harbour.

Above and below, at the Hope Centre. Jess always manages to make the patients smile, even the shy ones!

Jessica's "Mouldarama" Academy Science Fair presentation. She was awarded the "Audience Choice" award and the "Judges Choice" award for best biblical application. We are very proud of her and we were very relieved to get the mouldy bread out of our cabin!!

Jess went on a school trip to the Artisan Market in Lome to learn how to make an African batik. Above she is outlining her design in beeswax.

Her design ready to go with fellow Junior High girls, Iona from the UK and Josie from Ghana.

Jessica's gorgeous batik on display at the Academy Creative Arts Evening.Jess also played hand chimes beautifully at the this special evening.

Also on display at the Creative Arts Fair, Jessica's giraffe painting completed during her Student Life painting class.

Jessica has never been one to the follow the crowd and as she gets older her leadership qualities are really beginning to shine. So it is no surprise that while the rest of the kids stick to piano and recorders, Jess is continuing to pursue the trumpet. Above and below at the Mercy Ships Recital.

Jess and the Junior High girls, Josie, Grace and Iona at the Academy retreat at Lake Togo.

Jess doing a bit of African dancing at retreat to the beat of the djembes.

Catching crabs!

 Mercy Ships Academy Junior High and High School retreat.

End of School Celebration. Jess with her grade six class and her grade six mentor teacher, Miss Kelly. Yep-Jess is taller than her teacher!

At the celebration each of the students are given a character trait and bible verse by their teaches. Jessica's character trait this year was "Joyfulness". So very true!