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, February 12, 2015

Before and After!

Many of you will remember the trouble we have had in our cabin, over the years, with mould. After the shipyard period in 2013 the mould in our cabin exploded. We had mould everywhere-the carpet, shoes, hats, belts, our mattresses, pillows, wooden souvenirs, handbags, laptop bag, any kind of bags, everywhere we looked. We smelt the mildew smell as soon as we came in the door. Our cabin felt "damp" and humid all the time. The Captain measured the humidity in our cabin at around 73%.
We had a ceiling leak just outside our cabin door for over 18 months so the carpet in our entry way was always wet. It just wasn't any fun and Andrew started to develop some allergies and congestion issues as well.
So we took the issue to those in charge and our cabin received the once over in dry dock/shipyard last year in The Canary Islands. I spent the whole sail from the Congo to the Canaries packing up our cabin which was no mean feat, while the ship was rolling from side to side. We stored all our stuff in a classroom in the Academy while we stayed on land in a hotel with the rest of the families not on leave.
Our cabin was cleaned from top to bottom, new lino flooring was installed and the stink, rank carpet was ripped up. New suction vents were installed in both the bedrooms and sound proofing was installed in the large suction vent we already had, in the lounge room.  The air-conditioning vents were cleaned out with a huge vacuum sucker thing and the leak was final fixed outside our cabin door. No more water to slip on when we came out of our cabin!

Our cabin sans carpet!

One square of carpet left from under our bed.

Repairing the leaking pipes outside our cabin door with our fridge and other furniture sitting in the hallway

The first strips of lino are laid.

Lounge room/kitchen completed.

Shipyard workers cleaning out the large suction vent in our lounge area. Andrew happened to be there when they first started sucking out the vent and he said it sounded like cornflakes being sucked into the hose!

A big hose sucking out our small bathroom vent.

After six weeks in a hotel during dry dock we came home and had to move our stuff immediately out of the Academy as the staff needed to get ready for the next school year. Needless to say our cabin looked like a cyclone had hit, for quite a few weeks. There was just no room to put anything while we were trying to unpack. No garage or spare room to put the unpacked boxes in!

Just a small area to walk from one end of the cabin to another and out the front door.

Found a place to store some of the boxes while we unpacked. We moved Jess from the bottom to the top bunk and stored the boxes under her bed.

Finally done! Some before and after shots. New linen gave our bedroom a bit of a lift, including a new mattress! We also took the opportunity to get rid of the horrible wooden side on my side of the bed and one for the talented carpenters on board fixed it up for us! Needless to say we have been sleeping  much better these days!

Our bedroom before, looking to the portside and after to the portside.

Before-starboard side and after starboard side.

Lounge/kitchen looking towards the front door before and after, below. Check out our lovely new couch!

Another angle of lounge/kitchen before and after, below.

Lounge/kitchen before looking towards our bedroom and after looking towards our bedroom.

Another view before of the main living area, above and after, below.

The "hallway" before and after, below.

The front door, before and below, after.

Jessica's room before, above and after, below. looking less little girl and more teenager!

Before, above and after, below.

I am very happy to say the we haven't found any more mould, our cabin is sweet smelling and Andrews congestion has resolved. Let's not talk about the bed bugs, leaking ceiling and window inside our cabin and blocked toilet that have happened since shipyard, shall we! Let's just say that when deck and engineering crew see cabin 6417 on a work request they put in for a transfer-lol!

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Wouldn't it be funny if we got Mercy Ships tuk tuks?

Sitting around the dinner table on the ship soon after our arrival, after noticing the tuk tuks transporting locals around, we started to joke about getting some Mercy Ships tuk tuks. We could paint them white and put the logo on them. Wouldn't that be fun!
“All good ideas arrive by chance.”
Max Ernst

Andrew pitched the idea to our Managing Director who was looking to establish a crew shuttle between the ship and the port gate, a distance of around one kilometre each way in the searing sun, sweltering humidity or pouring rain and sweltering humidity. He loved the idea!

So after a few trips to a car dealership with the help of another French speaking crew member, negotiations were made to purchase two shiny new tuk tuks from a motorcycle dealer in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar.

The tuk tuks arrived a week later in a comedy of errors. They arrived by truck on a weekend outside the main port gate. Unfortunately the truck divers thought we would be able to unload the tuk tuks and we thought they would be able to unload them. They were told to come back later that day with the tuk tuks unloaded. However the message was not quite received and Andrew ended up paying some locals to hand lift the 300kg tuk tuks from the large truck to a smaller truck and then to the ground! Whatever gets the job done!

There were no shortage of volunteers willing to drive the tuk tuks from the port gate to the ship! Above the tuk tuks on their maiden trip to the ship. Andrew decided that he was not so skilled at driving a tuk tuk!

The tuk tuks run on a regular weekday and weekend schedule and only operate from the ship to port gate and return so as not to take any business away from the local tuk tuk and pousse pousse (bicycle taxi). They are not allowed within the port limits and we had to get special permission to operate our tuk tuks within the port.

We had a horrible great transportation field trip to take the tuk tuks to get insured. Naturally the drive out coincided with lunch so we had to eat out. The things we have to do in Transportation!

Almost home!

Many people have likened the tuk tuks to the Angry Birds.

Logo on! Loud and proud!

Andrew and Joe (then ship's mechanic, now Transportation Manager) pose with their new toys!

The tuk tuks have transported hundreds of crew in the past two months, provided jobs for two locals and turned a dinner table conversation into a reality!

"If I have a thousand good ideas and only one turns out to be good, I am satisfied"
Alfred Nobel 

Monday, February 02, 2015

Giving Berth!

This was the plan for our Madagascar berth. Looks simple enough right? But did you know that months of planning goes into our berth and dockside area in every country we go to, even the visiting nations like The Canary Islands. Every little measurement, every tide and current matters. Will there be enough space for out tents and our vehicles? Will the mooring lines hold? Which way in should the ship go? Aft or forward? What about an area for the kids to do P.E? Where will the transportation tent and container fit? What about dockside power? Can our containers be delivered safely. Will the ship be able to use its cranes without obstruction? What about security? How far to the port gate from our berth? How will the patients get to and from the ship? What about garbage collection?

The list of questions goes on and on and many of them, especially the maritime ones, are above and beyond my understanding. A few years ago it was decided by someone wise that the questions above needed an individual to make it their sole focus to organise, answer and deliver in each port. So originated the role of Vessel Transition Coordinator. This role also oversees the pack up as well as the set up. The individual would be required to come for approximately six weeks at the beginning and six weeks at the end of each field service and be accompanied by Mercy Teams (groups of people who come to Mercy Ships for short bursts of time to fill a special need we have on board, despite their occupation at home). We have had a couple of great people in the job over the years but due to the unusual circumstances of our prolonged shipyard and change(s) of field service the ship found itself without a Vessel Transition Coordinator for the beginning of the Madagascar field service.

Enter Andrew! Andrew was approached by the Africa Mercy Operations Director to stand in the gap for the Madagascar set up. What a mighty challenge this was for him. Usually our advance team is in our host nation up to four months before hand setting things up and getting things started. However, this time they had just six weeks so there just wasn't the time to do the usual preparations. On top of that, Andrew continued to work as the Transportation Manager along side the Vessel Transition Coordinator role which is usually a singular role.

 With the help of a great team he did an outstanding job!

The warehouse in our berth space where we have full use of the bottom story, before any renovations.

The Port getting busy resurfacing our berth space that resulted in the smoothest dock space we have ever had.

Looking towards the warehouse after renovations and the lines painted in for our vehicles. In the outside berth space there is also a marked out basketball court and designated play and P.E area for the kids.

The back of the warehouse before.......

.........and after with the Transport container and marquee erected.

Before resurfacing and renovations......

Aerial view of after.

Advance Team leader, Andrea Valk inside the warehouse before renovations.

The same view after renovations and set up. Different areas of the warehouse were screened off for rehab, screening and a communications photo booth, using large plastic sheeting and metal frames.

Some before pics. The warehouse was a sad, wet place screaming for a paint job and some quality electrical work.


A before view......

Same space after! Table tennis, bike parking spaces, pickle ball and badminton courts. This area also doubles as a movie viewing area and party space for crew events.

Just turning the camera a little to the right you can see the transportation repair area. At last our mechanic gets to work inside, out of the stifling heat and humidity and the torrential rain that are part and parcel of our host nations!

The Alaska tents set up, inside the other end of the warehouse, for Admissions and Outpatients all kitted out with their own A/C. Andrew had the great idea to build a particle board partition between the recreation areas and the hospital areas of the warehouse for patient privacy and security of expensive hospital equipment. The wall is about 2.4 metres high and around 25 metres long!

This used to be a dumpy underutilized room next to the warehouse. It was cleaned and painted and is now used by the eye team.

Twenty one days of dockside set up equals two years of hope and healing for the people of Madagascar!