Thursday 7 April 2022

Back to Senegal

Lynne waving the UK flag as we arrived in Dakar


When I come to write-up a new blog I am always surprised how long it's been since we posted our last.  Right now we are on holiday for a week in Senegal south of Dakar on the banks of a Sine Saloum Delta near the coast. It’s a wonderful place. An opportunity to relax. We both need this especially Lynne who has been working almost non stop since our time in the UK at home over Christmas.

So what has been going on to bring us to this point? Our last blog was from Las Palmas on Gran Canaria as the Africa Mercy was in the first phase of a two part refit. She was in dry dock having major sections of the hull cut out and refitted and the replacing of over 100 windows, flooring repairs and firemain reconfiguration. When she went back in the water we sailed back to Tenerife to prepare for our return to Senegal.


The craziness of maintenance period was quickly replaced by the craziness of field service preparation. New crew were starting to arrive, the hospital needed a deep clean, senior management on board was in a state of change.  All the while our ability to take any time ashore was severely restricted due to COVID and immigration issues.

We sailed from Tenerife and arrived in Dakar on 1st February, yet more crew were arriving via quarantine in a hotel off ship hotel and this needed detailed planning by Lynne and coordination with different departments on-board. New crew also needed to understand the restrictions in place on board, facemasks must be worn at all times, only sit three to a table, no singing during our on-board services, no visits to the hospital to see patients, limited shore leave, extended meal times to ensure we could all get fed in the limited seating in the dining room.  Some of this news came as a surprise to crew who had served before and were clearly not happy. We also needed to implement regular COVID testing and set aside isolation cabins for positive cases and close contacts.  Add to that the normal day to day problems faced by HR such as " I don’t like my cabin”,   "I’m stuck in an airport and can't use cash" , I would like a  different job now".  All that has led to a very tired HR Director.

For me we have needed to reconfigure cabins to provide a dedicated COVID testing room, reconfiguration of cabins by moving beds to provide optimum isolation, installation of perspex screens around workspaces.

Add to that there is an apparent pandemic of raised desks on-board, we made one for a very tall crew member and suddenly everybody has a bad back. Then as more new crew arrive they start breaking stuff, all needing to be fixed.  Fortunately both Lynne and I have had the support of good teams and we are pleased to be working once again with many of our day crew who were with us two years ago before COVID sent us away.

Some of the Deck Crew and Deck Day Crew

Our children at home remain the focus of our love and we miss them dearly. Hannah is with Nick in Cardiff and they appear to be enjoying the challenges of work and study.  Zoe is still at home and beginning to make a life for herself that may involve moving out in the not too distant future and Matthew continues his studying at university in  Lincoln.  He appears to be making some good friends and connections up there.

                                    Hannah, Zoe and Matthew at Christmas

So what next?  At the end of this year this field service in Senegal ends and so does 
our current commitment to Mercy Ships as the Africa Mercy returns to Tenerife for maintenance.    What we do after that is not clear, for certain we want to complete our commitment to Mercy Ships, finish well and then have a longer break back home.  There are a lot of unknowns and some big decisions to be made, what do we do if we stay at home? What do we do with our house? Will we still need to work? Could we, should we, extend with Mercy Ships?

We remain ever grateful for the love and support of all our family and friends and to our wider church family at home.

'He has told you, O man, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk  humbly with your God.' Micah 6:8

Sunday 29 August 2021

Waiting out the pandemic in the Canaries.....


So, it’s been some time since we have blogged, long months have passed by, suddenly it has been well over a year since Covid demanded our retreat from Senegal and we made a dash from Dakar in Senegal to Granadilla in Tenerife.  18 months on we find ourselves on the Africa Mercy (AFM) in dry dock in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria coming to terms with the facts that we will remain in the Canaries for the remainder of this year and not be returning to field service in Africa until early 2022.  How did this happen?!

Before leaving Africa, the hospital ceased operations and all our patients were either discharged or placed in local care to fully recover.  Lynne’s work as hospital Administrator came to an end and she is now the HR Director on board after spending a short time in Hospitality sorting and cleaning cabins that were abandoned in the exodus from Senegal.     Times are not normal.

Matthew completed his two-year term last summer when we all travelled back to the UK and Lynne and I took taking the opportunity to settle Matthew into his University in Lincoln.  He is studying History with Archaeology, something very different after working with the deck department onboard.  We are so proud of Matthew of the way he conducted himself on board and that he has identified history as a subject that energize him.  

Lynne and I returned to the AFM in November to make ready to sail to Africa in January but soon learned that this would be delayed until May '21, this was disappointing but understandable.   Ship staff continued to carry out maintenance and sort the belongings of crew who had left the ship from Senegal at a rush expecting an early return.   Thinking we would arrive in Africa in May, Lynne and I came back to the UK to see our family and get ourselves vaccinated, but soon after returning on board we found out that our return to Africa would not happen before 2022.  After so many months closed up on board on a remote and windy half constructed port with only short spells of a few hours shore leave granted, this was yet another blow.  Many crew started to re-assess lives and decided that it was time to leave the AFM, either for good or until the pandemic has passed and the mission of the AFM can restart.  

Delaying the return by so many months gave opportunity to carry out some serious ship maintenance so we sailed to Las Palmas on Gran Canaria, the island a few hours to the east of Tenerife where we were lifted out of the water and placed in dry dock for thirteen weeks which is where we are now.  All the paint has been grit blasted off the ship, about 80 holes have been cut into the hull either to gain entry into tanks for cleaning and painting, or to cut sections of rotting steel out to be replaced with new.  Work continues on board 24/7 on fire main, sprinkler systems which have been drained and parts replaced and the tank work.  My project was to replace 130 windows onboard with a team from Poland.   All this work is intrusive to life on board a vessel with limited ventilation and most spaces at an average of 30oC.  We are also very short staffed and have needed to employ contractors for many key positions and non-technical crew are staying off ship overnight for comfort and safety reasons.

We are grateful to so many short-term volunteers who arrive from so many nations and of many and varied faiths, with a crew of around 100 there are about 40 nations represented.  As a religious order, (it is - Mercy Ships has a legal status as such) with so many non-Christians on board, a split crew living on and off the ship,  we are making extra efforts to maintain times of prayer and worship and retain a focus on the mission of Mercy Ships and our four core values: Love God; Love and serve others; To be people of integrity; and Strive for excellence in all we say and do.  

So here we are:  serving, working hard and long hours, struggling with constant change, the heat, and an uncertain future.  This is the joy of the Lord!



Tuesday 16 June 2020

Covid and an early farewell to Senegal

Well, it's been a few months since our last blog and like all of you, our world has been tilted by Covid and only now do we feel we can take stock of all that has happened and that which is before us. The first sign of Covid impacting us came on Friday 13th of March when we were told that the Senegal field service was being suspended, no new crew would be arriving and no further visitors allowed.  We had planned a trip out on Saturday morning to visit a The Pink Lake, a local attraction that we had tried to visit on several occasions previously, (another story there!).  Well, mid Saturday morning leave was cancelled and those already ashore were contacted and told to return on board immediately so no trip to the Pink Lake!  And that was the last time we left this vessel other than a walk on the dock to empty the bins or a time limited stroll.

So having been told that leave was cancelled the next problem was how to end the season of surgeries well with minimum impact to the patients recovering from operations and the heartbreak of telling those waiting that our mission in Dakar needed to end early.  Most of our day crew, recruited locally for the period of the field service, needed to be dismissed whilst retaining the  translators and other key day crew until we could leave Dakar. Remaining day crew were told they needed to move onto the ship or our dockside tents and not return home until the Africa Mercy sailed.  It was a sobering moment to realise that we had not said goodbye to many of the locals we had come to know so well.  Thank goodness for WhatsApp. 

Preparation to depart Dakar.  after the initial shock the medical teams set to work ensuring those post op patients in recovery were brought to a safe condition and make sure that they were in good hands locally for the necessary followup wound care, physio and rehabilitation.  All volunteer staff at home planning to travel to serve on board were told not to come.  Alongside that activity the deck crew began to dismantle to shore side support infrastructure and begin to lift the vehicles back on deck.  This activity normally took about 21 days with visiting help but we did all this in 10 days with just ships staff.

Waiting for the pilot

Sail to Tenerife.  The last patients waked down the gangway on 23rd March and we bade a sad farewell to the remaining Senegalese day crew. Then followed a hectic period as many volunteer staff left the Africa Mercy at short notice to return home to countries just becoming aware of the impact 
Covid was having at home.  As so we sailed from Dakar on Friday the 27th March setting  sail for a safe haven in Tenerife arriving Tuesday 31st March in Genadilla at the very far end of a very remote concrete jetty well away from civilisation and prepared for two weeks of quarantine.  And there we drew breath...
Arriving in Tenerife

arantine  Whilst we have been here and observed the chaos around the world we realise we have been blessed to be isolated with a household of Mercy Ships family not needing to socially distance ourselves. We have organised many shipwide activities including a British cream, quiz nights, cooking competitions, music nights and many more.  But now we are hearing of the Spanish authorities beginning to relax lock down it is not clear what happens next,  crew are continuing to depart the ship for home as repatriation flights become available. 

Brits host a Cream Tea
No Escape from the Escape Room!

Deck Folksy Singalong
1st baptism ever on the AFM! 

But the Africa Mercy is a hospital ship!  So why couldn't a hospital ship such as the Africa Mercy stay and help fight the epidemic in Africa?  Well, we simply we are not equipped,  our hospital beds are crammed in with barely 50cm between them, we have very limited intensive care facilities and the crew are also packed into a very small space. If Covid were to get on board it would spread easily among patients and crew alike, our surgeries would have to stop and we ourselves would become a burden on our host nation.  Looking back we are thankful for decisive leadership from Mercy Ships in taking some hard decisions early on; we are aware of the problems many cruise ships and merchant ships are facing now especially if they have cases confirmed on board. 

Ship maintenance period.  A period of maintenance is planned for the summer months but how this will happen is not clear as international travel restrictions remain fluid.  It is the intention that we will return to Senegal to complete the planned surgeries when conditions allow, but again, who can tell when that will be  ..

As for us... we intend to stay with the ship during the maintenance period and return to the UK in August.  Matthew will be starting University to study History with Archaeology in September and we intend to return to serve on board the Africa Mercy in October for another two years after settling  Matthew into his University in Lincoln.  We are still in isolation in Grenadilla but we really can't complain ..... we are safe and continue to live in community even as people leave to return to their home countries.

Please pray for us.  As we enter the next period of uncertainty pray a peace as life on board seems very remote for the provision of life changing surgeries.  Pray that we continue to keep the Africa Mercy ready to bring hope and healing to the poor who otherwise have no access to life giving surgery. 

Our view of Mount Teide

Sunday 9 February 2020

Settling in Senegal

We can hardly believe that we have been in Senegal since August and are more than halfway through the field service!  This blog was started a few months back as we approached our first anniversary on the ship (we have now just completed fifteen months!) - but was never finished!  Our apologies and we hope that some of you may have caught up a little with our Instagram or Facebook posts.

Restocking the Omnicell
Ready to go - one side of one of the wards
A bit of a recap!  We arrived in Dakar, Senegal in the middle of August and the first three weeks were spent getting everything ready for the opening of the hospital on 9th September with surgeries starting the following day.  Stuart spent a couple of those weeks down in the OR (Operating Room - or Operating Theatre to the British!) in and out of the five ORs doing all sorts of jobs and repairing things that couldn't be done once the hospital opened to ensure they were ready.  Lynne helped the nurses wash, clean, disinfect, remove numerous straps, unpack and set up the hospital.  What a job - but a privilege to see how it all comes together.

One of the ORs set up

Open Evening - Intubating

Open Evening -checking Noah's vitals
A week before the hospital opened crew were invited to the Hospital Open Evening which is an opportunity to visit areas of the hospital that are normally out of bounds and have a go at some 'medical procedures.' OR staff, Anaesthetists, Sterilising Technicians, Lab Technicians, Bio-medical Technician, Ponsetti Team, X-Ray Team and nurses nursing and 'playing patient' showed us around their work patch, demonstrated equipment and procedure for a couple of hours.  We took six year old Noah round with us as mum and dad were either involved in one of the stations or looking after younger brother Judah.  He had a great time and kept us moving quickly from room to room!  Before the hospital opened it needed another clean and disinfect - but at least the unpacking was done!!

Monday 9th September saw the first patients arriving and being admitted to the wards and at around 8.00 am on Tuesday 10th September, the whole ship stopped as the tannoy sounded and our Chief Medical Officer prayed - for the field service and the first operation which was about to commence.

"Saliou was the very first patient in Senegal to receive the free surgery that could change his future! After the operation that repaired his cleft lip (a Maxillo Facial surgery), he’s on the mend, and his future is already looking a bit brighter!"

(Picture and quote from Mercy Ships Communications Department

The start of the field service saw Maxillo Facial surgeries, General surgeries (hernias, lipomas) and the first block of Plastic surgeries: many burn contracture patients of varying ages who stay with us for many months, initially in the hospital and then many at the Hope Centre (our off ship 'hotel' ward type facility) because they live too far away to come back for their regular Outpatient and Rehab (Physio) appointments.  Although there are new patients coming in daily Monday to Friday, some staying just two nights, with others staying much longer, each patient is shown such individual love, care and compassion by all the crew (those living on the ship and the Day Crew) they come into contact with. 

We have about 250 Day Crew, many of whom are our translators for the patients, and without whom we just could not do what we do.  The Senegalese Day Crew are just wonderful, keen to teach us Wolof (the main language in Senegal) and many are incredibly tall!  We have 12 Day Crew who work with Hospital Chaplaincy and every morning they go to each of the wards and sing, share some scripture and pray with the patients and ward team.  It is loud, joyful and moving.  During the rest of the day the Hospital Chaplaincy team are on the wards, in the tents outside or at the Hope Centre spending time with the patients, talking, playing games, cuddling the younger patients (never a shortage of willing arms to cuddle the babies and toddlers!) praying if they would like, couselling patients and caregivers and supporting the caregivers as their loved one goes off to surgery.

Seny - one of our Maxillo Facial patients
Seny - on the day of her final discharge
 Seny was studying Economics at the University of Dakar,  With goals to graduate and have a career in Finance, the future looked bright for this highly intelligent young woman. Then suddenly a small bump appeared on the inside of Seny's lips.  It slowly grew larger and eventually Seny had to give up her dream.  Surgery on the Africa Mercy will give her the opportunity to return to school and accomplish all that she's been hoping for.  After her surgery, Seny looked at her reflection - her face free from the tumour.  It was then she realised her dreams were possible again.  On the day of her final discharge, Seny glowed from the newfound hope in her eyes.  This 25 year old woman left the Africa Mercy with plans to return to school, get a degree and find a job in her hometown of Dakar.  Seny wants to use her intelligence and education to better her country.   (Used with permission of Mercy Ships)

Plastic block one finished and eight weeks of Orthopaedic surgeries started in November, along with continuing Maxillo Facial and General Surgeries.  The hospital corridors were filled with children in brightly coloured casts practicing walking with frames (called hoppers), including many made with plastic pipes and plumbing fittings that Stuart and Mike (the other carpenter) had made because the hospital ran out! (A previous crew member had designed them a few years ago and the instructions are still good!)

Djimby - one of our Ortho patients
Djimby is a strong-willed little girl. It's no surprise. This six-year-old takes after her grandmother, Ndeye, who's spent the last two years tirelessly searching for healing for Djimby's windswept legs. Neighbors and family members, including Djimby's own mother, criticized her, calling her efforts useless and hopeless, but Ndeye pressed on. "As long as I am living, I will look for a solution," she affirmed. 

God answered her prayers when He sent a hospital ship to the port of Dakar. Two years of hardships in the face of adversity was wiped away, replaced with the hope of healing for Djimby. 

(Used with permission of Mercy Ships)

Aliou - one of our new Plastics patients
(Used with permission of Mercy Ships)

We have just finished two weeks a paediatric eye surgery - what an amazing gift for a child who has either never seen or has limited vision and also two weeks of Cranio Facial surgery where we welcomed back a Paediatric Surgeon and Nurse from a hospital in Oxford.  What hope for the youngest of patients.

Adult eye surgery also started after Christmas and continues for some months and the second block of plastics has begun again. The hospital is a busy, often loud and sometimes chaotic place with many people trying to pass each other in the narrow corridors! But good!

Visiting BCS School
We have been exploring Senegal - and a little further afield too.  In October we visited Bourafaye Christian School, part of WEC (Worldwide Evangelisation for Christ) in Popenguine about an hour
away; our church at home has a connection with them and hosts some of their training before they come to Senegal.  It was great to be shown around and to meet new and old friends.  Some have also visited the ship since.

African Forest Buffalo
Two of the many giraffes at Bandia

In November we visited Bandia Wildlife Reserve.  What a treat to travel out of the port and away from the city of Dakar and see native flora and fauna and breathe in different air.

Stuart on the zip wire
Matthew on the high ropes
 After a great morning there we went to Accrobaobab - 'thrill seeking among the baobab trees' - and some adventurous souls went zip wiring thorough the trees.  Stuart and Matthew opted in to the adventure, Lynne opted to take the photos!

The 'Door of No Return'

We also visited Goree Island, a short 20 minute ferry ride from our port.  This was an island where West African people were taken before being deported to so called civilised nations as slaves.  The 'Door of No Return' is synonomous with Senegal Slave Trade and is on Goree.

Making music at the Bazaar
December saw many Christmas activities on the ship, experiencing traditions from crew nationalities - the Christmas Bazaar, Dutch Sinterklaas, Scandanavian Festival of Light (always on our Wedding Anniversary on the 12th!) Australian Carols by Candlelight on the dock (really! Thought it was a British tradition), British Crew Christmas Party, all the while travelling through the Advent Season culminating in celebrating our Saviour's birth.

Brit Christmas Party

27th Wedding Anniversary

The restaurant at Evergreen Lodge
The round huts we stayed in

The three of us opted to take a longer break over the Christmas and New Year period where there are no planned surgeries and went to a fabulous eco-retreat in The Gambia.  It was beautiful and we loved it.  The Gambia is very small, English speaking and home to many beautiful birds.

Kunte Kinteh Island

We visited the Roots village of Juffure and Kunte Kinteh island.  Another legacy of the slave trade.

One of the Wassu Stone Circles
Dinner by the river

We also visited the Wassu stone circles in the interior of The Gambia.  Then on to lunch by the river before a trip on The Gambia River which has a number of protected islands (which visitors are not allowed to go on) to house chimpanzees.

One of the chimpanzees

 The eco-lodge where we stayed had just built a bird hide on their grounds.  Having spent a morning with a bird watching guide, we enjoyed spending time at their bird hide trying to spot some of the birds we had been told about. Unfortunately, camera phones don't take good photos of birds so we took photos of us instead!

One of our highlights of this field service was the visit of our girls, Hannah and Zoe and Hannah's boyfriend, Nick, in the middle of January.  It was a joy to see them again, to show them around the Africa Mercy, our current home and spend a bit of time with them.

Zoe stayed on the ship and spent some time with Stuart in his workshop making the hoppers and then with Lynne in the hospital, while Hannah and Nick did some surfing up the coast.  All too soon we had to say goodbye again!

Won't go far like this
Lompoul Desert

Maybe this would be quicker!
Just waiting!

We had a very eventful family trip to Lompoul desert where our taxi broke down at some point every part of the journey culminating with the wheel flying off down the road!    We came to a halt in a little village in the middle of nowhere.  We kept our eye out for ways home!  It took a while to find an alternative taxi back to the ship and involved several lifts and taxis but we won't forget our trip!

On Ngor Island
It is now February and we had a lovely day with some friends from the ship at Ngor Island last weekend (a short pirogue ride across from Ngor town,Lynne's birthday on Thursday took us out for ice cream with other friends. Today, Saturday we have taken a crew member back to the airport for her flight home to Australia and tonight we are out for a curry, back to Ngor, with some other friends.

It was used the next day!
Life aboard is truly unique and we feel this is our season to be here.  In the main, we have stayed well, although we have all succumbed to a bout of GI illness (Lynne had Salmonella!) and the odd cold.  Stuart became one of the many crew to become a member of the 'living blood bank' on board, donating blood on one day which was used during a surgery the following day. (We have limited space to store blood.)  Lynne's knee continues to work well, if aching occasionally.  We are praying that we will steer clear on Influenza Type A which a number of crew currently have.

We are rejoicing for the seven containers that arrived over Thursday and Friday meaning surgeries can continue (it was pretty tight!); Deck, Engineering, Medical Supply and General Supply can have replenished stock (some supplies were zero!); and the galley has more food (they cook for about 450 for breakfast and dinner and 650 for lunch).

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.'  Lamentations 3:22