Monday, December 31, 2007

2008 It's a New Year in Tenerife

El Fin de Ano

The year is slowly winding down and I STILL haven't completed a newsletter. We are docked in Santa Cruz de Tenerife for the holidays. This is a busy port, with cruise ships calling in on a regular basis. Each day I like to walk down the dock and check out the names of the ships and later return to the Africa Mercy to look up each one on the internet.

This week the German AidaDiva wins the prize for having the ugliest interior (I haven't seen the interiors personally, just the photos posted online). Done in an ultra-modern style with garish colors, it is basically a party ship. I know I wouldn't be happy on that ship.

The other end of the spectrum is Cunard's newest fleet member, Queen Victoria. Her interior is elegant and classic, with the curved lines of earlier eras. For a mere $66,000 per person, you can have a suite that is 1000-2000 sq. ft. for a 16-day sail. With that you get a marble bathroom with whirlpool tub, dining room that seats 6, and an oversized balcony. They should have a good view of the fireworks tonight, as the suites are at the aft end of the ship and facing the island. The Queen Victoria's bow web cam is currently facing a less pleasing view...the Africa Mercy stern!

Of course, the Queen Victoria has had it's problems in its first 3 1/2 weeks at sea...first the champagne bottle didn't break at the commissioning and they currently have an outbreak of norovirus. The bottles of hand sanitizer are on a table at the bottom of the gangway. Rumor has it the toilet evacuation system hasn't always worked as expected. Those of us on the Africa Mercy in June can relate. My toilet (at the end of the line) didn't work for about 4 months.

On another note, we've been saying a lot of farewells recently. Several staff in my department recently left after completing commitments of two or more years. In those instances, the crew member receives a picture of the ship and a clock if it's been 10 years. When I made the presentation for the most recent staff member to depart, my good friend Jean Browne, I was reminded of the words adorning our cake at the millennium celebration: "Thank you Jesus for making the time count." I do a lot of things in life, but it really is Jesus who gives meaning and purpose to what I do. He makes it all count for eternity. No, I can't spend $66,000 for a suite on a new cruise ship named after a queen, but I can pay about $400/month and use my skills in service to my Lord and King. I can bring a glimmer of hope to those who would otherwise have little or no hope, to those for whom a new year doesn't necessarily hold a promise of anything better or different than the year now ending or the ones before them.

On that note, I'm off to check out the fireworks and welcome in the new year here in Tenerife. Newsletter tomorrow, I hope! Need to start the year off right.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


While back in Blyth, I began wearing a pedometer, just to get an idea how much I was walking since it seemed I was moving nonstop and didn't have time to walk in the evenings after dinner. I was concerned that I wasn't getting enough exercise...until I accumulated more than 8 miles in an afternoon. That was my first indication that it wouldn't be hard to get exercise on the Africa Mercy! That's still my record for a workday, but most days I manage to get 2.5-3 miles in and then I push it over 5 miles by walking from one end of the dock to the road.

Today I was short of my goal, so after dinner three of us headed to the dock, black clouds gathered above. After only one lap, the showers began and I wasn't in the mood to get soaked. (I'm not a wimp, it's just that the average daily rainfall in Liberia at this time of the year is over 4". That's a lot of rain.) We all headed in and I consoled myself that I wasn't too far from my goal. After checking emails, however, I decided I really did want to get my 10,000 steps in for the day. I remembered that the deck 4 corridor, aside from having the ugly pink linoleum, actually provides a nice walking track. There are no high thresholds and you only have to backtrack if you want to do the single corridor all the way forward. It's climate controlled and less crowded than the dock, where one must contend with toddlers on tricycles and joggers. A complete lap is 300 steps, so it would be a tedious way to do a few miles, but not bad for less than one. Now if only I had my roller blades with me...

I'm looking forward to being home in three weeks, heading to the mountains to climb trails there and wandering through the neighborhood. I walk a lot less when I am in the US. There are few sidewalks and lots of traffic. I can't quite picture myself walking to Walmart, although I will ride my bike to the ophthalmologist's office.

Another things I'm looking forward to is picking blueberries. Mom's almost finished with the 17# I picked two years ago.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Final Photos

One more chance this evening to grab some photos of the Anastasis before she sails away. I have never seen the cargo holds so barren! While on a final walkthrough, I decided to take this frame from my office. I'd had it made in Ghana, but it didn't meet the specifications, so I had planned to just leave it behind. On my way back to the ship, I walked down the dock to grab some pictures of the two ships together, carrying the frame with me. A few people gave me a hard time about it and I joked that I would use it to frame the Anastasis. I took pictures of them holding the frame and then posed for a picture of my own. I did also get a few photos of the Anastasis and Africa Mercy together, some while standing atop a Land Rover and a few from the guardhouse. Annie's facing shore while the Africa Mercy shows her big backside.


I wept today. I had agreed to help my friend Jean B change a dressing on the face of an 11-year-old girl named Candy. It wasn't the wound that got to me (skip to the next paragraph if you are easily grossed out); I've had my arms up to my elbows in peoples hips and insides, I've smelled foul drainage, I've seen people in pain.

The tears rolled down Candy's cheeks, an occasional sob escaping her lips, this in spite of premedication with narcotics and ibuprofen, but she allowed us to do what needed to be done. When it became too much, Jean B cradled her against her chest and allowed her to cry. That's when it happened. Her father, who had been watching in the room as we tried to figure out a different way to secure the bandage, had had enough with her tears and rebuked her, telling her to stop crying and moving (I can only guess at the words for he speaks French, but the tone and movements made his opinion clear). I sent him out of the room with the translator, to wait until we were finished.

I couldn't help but be struck by the contrast between her father and mine. Thirty-one years ago Dad's arms of love and care held me as I cried and railed when he broke the news that my younger sister probably had a brain tumor and would die. I suspect his heart was breaking, too, can't imagine that it wouldn't have been. So, too, must Candy's dad's heart be shattered as he watches his daughter suffer not just the physical pain, but the rejection of people who don't want to be around her. Would you pray that Candy's dad would find a way to comfort her, even in his grief? That his grief, his frustration, would not distance him from the daughter he dearly loves?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Things I'll miss...and some I won't!

During my last week on board the Anastasis, I compiled a mental list of those things I would NOT miss when I moved to the Africa Mercy. It includes:

  • Kona cruisers: large cockroaches that appeared most frequently after I returned from an extended absence. For the first few mornings after my return, I would dance with them in the shower as they emerged from the drain and crept up my legs. Without my contacts in my only hope of seeing them was to catch a glimpse of a moving blur as my feet did a jig, first to knock them off and then to try to avoid crushing them. There was also the time I went for a walk in the evening and thought my sock was bunched up under my foot. Instead, I was squishing a Kona cruiser that had found a dark hiding place in my sneaker!
  • Exploding toilets. This was a problem when flushing was turned back on after being turned off for a while. If you didn't know that the flushing had been turned off, your first clue was usually the rusty seawater fountain that erupted when you flushed. Always good to flush with the lid down. Some toilets also flush with a roar under the best of circumstances. My first night back on board last year, I flew out of bed to look for a flood in my bathroom and discovered the racket was merely a neighbor flushing her toilet.
  • Slamming doors. The door from upper deck to aft deck by the bicycle rack. My cabin was right next to this, which meant I heard all the slams. I've been blessed with the ability to tune out most sounds, but after we had an intruder on board, they began locking the exterior doors at night. Each night there seemed to be someone who would go outside and not know the code to get back in, so he would rattle the door for several minutes. I never did adjust to that.
On the other hand, I will miss:
  • The chance to create storage out of nooks and crannies and unexpected places. With some initial inspiration from one of my early cabinmates, I began to see storage everywhere. Screws were replaced with hinges and a latch and my dropped ceiling became an attic. Raise a bed a foot or so, install sliding doors and voila, storage large enough to hold my motorcycle helmets as well as the ingredients for chocolate chip and no bake cookies (this too was the inspiration of another cabinmate). An electrical substation could become a pharmacy with high density, mobile shelving and a dark, dirty room could become a bright ward and later a crew clinic/office area. Shelves, cabinets, furniture, boxes...if there was space, I organized it and made it functional. Can't do that on the Africa Mercy, unless I can figure out a way to hang it with magnets! Plus, there aren't that many nooks and crannies.
  • That leads me to the next thing I will miss: the nooks and crannies, the odd turns of a corridor or bulkhead, the curved walls and original Italian art, even the 'fried egg' lamps. The Africa Mercy is very clean and institutional. Long straight corridors, doors always closed (fire regulations)...she hasn't yet developed a personality.
  • Toilets that generally flush, and if "flushing is off," then you can still bucket flush. My toilet hasn't worked very often on the Africa Mercy and when it doesn't, bucket flushing isn't an option.
  • The graceful lines of the exterior. The boxy exterior of the Africa Mercy fails to measure up to the regal bearing of the Anastasis. While the Anastasis is a slim, graceful princess, the Africa Mercy is a frumpy dowager. As I said in an earlier post, though, her beauty lies in what she brings to Africa rather than her appearance.
I better post this or I'll never get my newsletter written! Besides, do you really want to read any more about toilets and cockroaches?

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Old Ships online

Decide to Google the Lloyd Triestino Victoria tonight to see what I could find. That was the former name of the Anastasis when Mercy Ships purchased her. Here's the link to a page about the Victoria and sister ship Asia. The brochure called it a 'small but complete floating city.' Today when we show people around the ship, we mention that it is a floating village or town. On the Africa Mercy we even have an open, two-deck area that is called town-center.

Going back a bit earlier, I also sought pictures of the ships on which my ancestors emigrated from Hungary. OK, Hungary is landlocked, but they travelled over to Fiume, Italy and caught the ship there. My then 12-year old great-grandmother arrived at Ellis Island on the Cunard Pannonia in 1909. Her father had traveled over two years earlier on the Cunard Ultonia. A few years ago I discovered that the Ultonia was built in the Swan-Hunter yard on the Tyne, right next door and across the river from the A&P Tyne yards where the Africa Mercy underwent her refit. Both ships (toward bottom of the linked page), slightly shorter and smaller than the Anastasis, had capacities of 40 first-class passengers and 800 third class passengers. Those could NOT have been pleasant transatlantic journeys.

Speaking of the Africa Mercy, here are some earlier pictures from her years as the Danish rail ferry, Dronning Ingrid. There are a few that show the bow open and the rail deck visible. The rail deck now contains the hospital as well as offices for Community Development and Church Empowerment plus accommodations for many short-term crew. A new deck just above that houses cabins for more crew.

Anyway, I initiated tonight's searches because I just started reading Bob Welch's American Nightingale, about Frances Slanger, a US Army nurse who died at Normandy. She was a Polish Jew who immigrated to the US after World Ward I. I wanted to look up information about the Liberty ships that transported troops, some of which were built in as little as two weeks. Given the history of the refit of the Africa Mercy, I was curious. They emphasized function over form. President Roosevelt's observation about the Liberty could have been made about the Africa Mercy: "She isn't much to look at though, is she? A real ugly duckling." (pg. 6).

Back to the book...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Africa Mercy is Really HERE!

Up early this morning. I've been waiting for this day for years, but didn't think I was overly excited about it, just anxious to get to work. Still, by the time my alarm would have gone off shortly after 5am, I had already done my laundry (machine wash this time), showered, and checked on the Red Sox score and NBA lottery.

It was still dark, but that didn't stop people from gathering on aft deck to watch lights beyond the breakwater. The Africa Mercy was out there, circling around, waiting to sail into port. After a gorgeous sunrise behind us, cries arose, "I can see the logo." Still, she circled until approximately 9am hen the tug brought her in. Lots more comments from those who had never seen her before: "She's an odd looking ship" and "I never realized how boxy she is." Both true...yet I think there is a beauty about her for what she will do, not for what she looks like. I noticed a lot of people, on the dock as well as on the Africa Mercy, wiping tears from their eyes. It's taken so much to get to this point. It's not over yet, lots of work ahead in the next month and even over the next year, but at last, she is here! Unto the Lord be the Glory, Great Things He Has Done...Greater Things He Will Do!

Monday, May 21, 2007

When it rains, do laundry

While in Liberia, we function with an ongoing water shortage. The water plant doesn't always pump and our tanks are often low, so laundry is restricted to a load every week or two. If the air conditioning is on and I'm not working in the cargo holds, I can get by on a weekly load. Malfunctioning air conditioning, working in the holds, exercising in the evenings and it's another story altogether.

The good news is that Liberia receives more rainfall than any other West African nation and the rainy season is beginning. Over a month ago a friend bought me a washboard for $5 so that I could do laundry in the rain. It's not the metal type that Grandma used to have, but rather made from heavy, molded plastic. I've been wanting to use it, but so often the rainstorms come during the night. Getting out of bed at 2am or 4am to wash clothing in the rain was not an appealing idea.

Tonight, however, as I looked out the windows during our Mercy at Sea Toastmasters meeting, I could see that the western sky had a golden glow that heralded an approaching storm. Out on promenade deck after the meeting, I saw the blackened eastern sky with occasional waves of lightning. Finally, a rainstorm I could use for doing laundry. Of course, the plastic bin I planned to use was already packed full of my spare toiletries in anticipation of the move to the Africa Mercy in two weeks (I keep up to a year's supply in my cabin). After tossing the shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, contact solution, etc. unceremoniously onto the floor, I threw in a little laundry soap, donned Tevas instead of sneakers, grabbed dirty laundry and washboard and headed out the door to aft deck.

The nice thing about aft deck is that it is covered with a large tarp that provides protection from the sun during the day. When it rains, water cascades through holes placed at various points so that the tarp won't tear (years ago, before the grommets/holes were placed, parents had to do tarp duty to make sure the water was pushed off the tarp before it tore). After several minutes of bucketin' down rain, I figured the tarp was probably pretty clean and thus the water, too. With a little juggling under the holes, I managed to fill my bin. Then in went the washboard and the dirty laundry. Good news is that I only had to do the wash and rinse cycles manually. After that I tossed the clean laundry into the washer for a spin cycle, followed by the dryer. Others found it quite entertaining, but I was just excited that if I washed half my laundry now, I could probably even throw my sheets into my official laundry slot Wednesday morning.

Another exciting thing happening Wednesday morning. At daybreak or thereabouts (0700), the Africa Mercy will finally arrive in Africa. Note, it is the AFRICA Mercy and NOT the African "N" in the name.

Four Wheel Driving

Last Friday a group of ward nurses and I traveled to a remote village to attend the funeral of a former patient. Getting there was quite the adventure; coming home provided some much needed stress relief. It started out smoothly, traveling through Monrovia and out to the airport. After the airport, we turned off the main road and THEN things grew interesting. First we had to contend with the puddles...across the width of the road, I'm not sure how deep that is puddles. At this point, we were following another 4WD vehicle, so figured if he could make it, so could I. Lots of splashing, a little muddy water through the vents, but nothing too bad. Then we reached the bridge. The bridge was a series of 8 logs, the middle two of which were broken. Then there was a set of three logs on each side. One log in each set was flat topped and these were the ones to drive on. The flanking logs were a little higher or lower than the main one. Sure was glad someone was there to make sure I stayed lined up on top of the good logs! You'll notice in the photos that I was not exactly centered on them...

After a successful crossing of the bridge, our guide informed me that we would soon be turning left into deep, loose sand and we would need our 'helper.' He pointed to the smaller gearstick for the differential lock to clarify his meaning. Hmmm...Andy, our transport manager, had offered to teach us how to use that, but I haven't had the lesson yet! I pulled out the manual, located the relevant pages, and handed it to Kirstie who proceeded to read guidelines for shifting and choosing high and low; low is good for sand. Although we slipped and slid a bit along the way, we continued in forward motion, making it to the next turnoff following tracks through grass over a meter high. (The picture of this is taken on the way out of the village. I think the taxi came in via a different route because I'm not sure it could have handled the puddles).

I don't have any good pictures of the puddles. I'll have to ask around a bit and see if someone captured some good shots. I gave my camera to someone else and can't give credit for the above photos because I don't know who took them. Kirstie might have taken the one of me driving across the bridge.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Time of Thanksgiving in the Ward

Tonight many of the crew joined the Anastasis ward staff and translators for a time of celebration of all God had done in the lives of patients and crew over the years. Crew members who had adopted patients shared how relationships were built to last - for here and for eternity.

Dr Gary related the history of the ward, the expansion of HealthCare Services. There was the story of the little boy with a hopeless diagnosis who was miraculously healed...and the little girl from the same week who as not. And the oft-told story of the two nurses who argued publicly in the ward...and apologized and forgave publicly too, causing one man in the corner bed to conclude that Christianity was different from his Rasta faith after all.

Some patients stand out in my mind:

  • Angelle, with the foul-smelling maxillary tumor, who needed another operation and transfusions before we could even operate on her facial tumor. She was featured in a Reader's Digest article. I loved the grin on her face when I gave her a copy of the magazine the next year. She excitedly cried out, "Dr Gary," and kissed his photo.
  • Shy Ce who was anything but by the time he was finally discharged months later.
  • Young Symplice grasping at colorful balloons and toys as he explored the visual world for the first time. The eye patients come and go so my time here we've gone from performing 3 operations a day to 20. Those numbers will increase on the Africa Mercy, but each patient remains a face, a life transformed.
  • Justine was another woman with a massive facial tumor. She arrived at the end of the screening day, having hidden her tumor from the masses with a scarf. Justine reminds me that these people are brave to come to leave home, to go to a ship, when ship's are often associated with slavery even today, to volunteer to go to a hospital, when in so many West African countries the hospital is here one goes to die.
  • After Justine returned home, Hugues, a man from her area learned that she had had surgery and survived, so he, too, ventured to the ship for help. It's often like that, a second wave of people seeking help after the first tide has returned to the village. A few years later we returned to Benin and Hugues came to see Dr Gary about having some follow-up surgery on his face. I knew the translators couldn't imagine what Hugues had looked like before, so I brought them a picture of him, showing his eye displaced by the bulging tumor on his cheekbone. One translator exclaimed, "This is what it means, bringing hope and healing. I get it now."

It's been a while since I worked in the OR and scheduled most of the patients for surgery. I miss going out to the dock to screen the patients who have come and figuring out the puzzle of scheduling a patient who REALLY needs an operation when the surgery schedule is full. Of course, there were the days, too, when I realized I'd double-booked a patient and how was I going to work out the schedule now? I'm glad that through it all, it's not about me, it's not about Mercy Ships, but it's about Christ whom we serve.

Great things He has done...Greater things He will do. I can hardly wait.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Out of Rotterdam and Off to Africa

The Africa Mercy departed Rotterdam at 1500 local time today. Many of the Anastasis crew gathered in the International Lounge to watch the departure via webcam. Just a few problems with audio and limited perspective. We did get to see the gangway lifted, a few lines cast off, and then the growing gap between ship and shore.

Meanwhile, already in Liberia, we're down to the last few patients in the ward and boxes of supplies are appearing everywhere. I don't know how we are going to get this to all fit onto the Africa Mercy. It's one of those good opportunities to pare down what we have to what we really need and stop hoarding. There is a lot less storage space on the Africa Mercy, so we need to simplify our requirements and maintain an accurate inventory and plan well ahead.

A container arrived today from Texas. Among other things I received the books I bought at the November CBD warehouse sale the day I returned from my vacation. With the reduced luggage allowance I didn't think I could take them. I should have packed them all in one bag and paid the fee for extra weight. It would have been worth it and not much more expensive than mailing them to Texas. Definitely faster! Also, about a month before I went to England, I went on a book-buying spree through Amazon Marketplace (used book prices help me justify the added expense of sending them to the ship). Now, at a time when I rarely have a quiet moment, I have stacks of books begging to be read. There are also the magazines...

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Africa Mercy in Blyth; End of Era in Monrovia

I created this blog a month ago, thinking I would use it to send brief updates while I was in northeast England moving equipment aboard the Africa Mercy. Didn't happen! I've been back nearly a week and this is the first time I've had a chance to even revisit it.

While in England, we moved a lot of the hospital equipment on board. It was like Christmas opening packages of monitors, defibrillators, racks for the washer/disinfectors, operating microscopes, phacoemulsifiers, scales...the list goes on. Many people, foundations, churches, clubs, companies, and governments have given generously toward the equipping of the ship. One goal was to have some of the operating rooms and wards ready for media visits on April 24. We succeeded in making the operating rooms, intensive care unit, recovery room, disinfection room, and CT-scanner and x-ray rooms look pretty decent.

I did a few interviews for paper and television while there. The local BBC1 news did a short feature in the midday news and a longer feature in the evening. Another show will be the BBC Heaven and Earth on Sunday morning.

Today was the final day of surgery on the Anastasis. Bittersweet...they performed a record 20 ophthalmic operations today. Tomorrow we will hold a screening here in Monrovia to select patients for the July-November surgery slots on board the Africa Mercy. So, one era ends and merges gently into the next.

Forgot to say that although I work for Mercy Ships and have for ten years, the opinions expressed in this blog are mine and mine alone, not the opinions or official stance of Mercy Ships. This blog will contain my opinions, thoughts, reflections, and adventure and the photos will be ones I've taken unless otherwise credited.