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Sunday, February 17, 2019

A reflection of 2018, and maybe life before then.

I would like to start by saying that this is not my blog post/update/newsletter/ thing/ whatever you want to call it for the latter half of January 2019 and former half of February. This is the result of thinking over the course of a week, and refuting past statements. See my last post. I have also just discovered that putting a slash into italics makes it lean a little further than usual. Putting lean into italics, aren't I a creative soul. I don't care if that's grammatically incorrect. Plus, I have my first deck department evaluation this week, so it gives me an opportunity to think about how  I will respond.

I wanted to do a reflection in a separate blog post.


The things that happened...

So, how did 2018 go for Matthew Philip David Little go? Well, it went ok, I think. As you can imagine for an 18 year old, my life changed a fair bit in 2018. The first 'BIG' thing was, well, I turned 18. The age in life in which you become an adult. More on this later. After this, I completed my A-Levels. or High School, I guess, for my international friends that I have made over the past few months. Also, the crazy thing that didn't occur to me when I started this blogging business On a hospital ship with a voluntary crew from 56 different nations was who this would reach out to. Looking at the stats regarding page views by country has wowed me. From the United States to Indonesia, of all places. I couldn't even figure who this person could be!

So yeah, I completed my A-Levels. That period of two years were, without a doubt, the two most tense and worrying years I have lived through. I did Film Studies, Geography and Sociology for my A-Levels, plus an EPQ, that after months of consideration and fear, I eventually completed. I didn't want to do an EPQ, because I just wanted to get through the three subjects I had chosen by themselves, and I thought it would just stress me out to focus on the subjects, and another thing to focus on for a few months. In reality, it did. But in the end, I chose a subject and topic that really interested me: History! History was my favourite subject in school, but I wasn't able to continue it after GCSEs, because of my grades. I remember that results day well. Driving into school, opening that brown envelope to..... utter disappointment. It was gut-wrenching. It was like someone opened fire on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I passed my Maths though, which I never in a million years thought would happen first time. I still remember driving home, envelope in hand, responding to a joyous message of passes from my friend from another school who was like my closest friend that summer. (We are still friends, there wasn't a betrayal, if that is how it sounds) I tried to congratulate, but I was too heartbroken by my own results. So what was sent was me trying to force my sadness onto someone else. This was all in 2016, so yes, the title is true.

But my A-Levels in 2018. To cut to the chase, I did much better than I thought would have done after my GCSE results two years ago. I passed Film Studies (Expected). I Passed Geography, like my Maths GCSE, did not expect that, but failed Sociology, which I was confident would be my best result. And I passed my EPQ, which I focused on the 'Cultural and Political Impacts of the Crusades'. There were many times where I wanted to drop it. In the end, I was incredibly proud and happy with what I had done It didn't really help by 'bigging it up' when it wasn't necessary, Mother! Don't call an EPQ a University paper with a smile on your face, expecting a sudden boost of confidence. Neither was "Matthew is graduating too!" She wasn't talking about finishing High School (We don't have graduation ceremonies from High School, we just go on our merry way), she was referring to me leaving St John Ambulance Cadets.  Which was just me going on my merry way. No more publicly outting my Mother, because she did encourage me to get through it all, so thanks, Mum! I wasn't feeling all too confident on A-Level results day, also through that entire final exam period. I just wanted for it to be over. They were the two most confusing and exciting  (Who calls school exciting?) Luckily, thanks to a friend  I had made months before, fitting in was easy, and I mostly enjoyed spending the time with my new friends. Again, if you read this Catherine, thank you for all that, and thanks to the rest of that friendship group, who are either at University, doing apprenticeships or something else. Oh and also to the rest of you acquaintances and old friends who made new friends during Secondary School, I wish you all the best, and hope to see you again when I go back to England for a bit in the summer. after thought After many ups and downs and a few breakdowns, the sad passing of my Grandmother (My dad's mum) I got through it in the end. And another chapter in my life was over.

As one door closes, another opens...

Of course, I regenerated into my next incarnation, my Mercy Ships life. (Yes, I used three different  metaphorical life markers. What you gonna do about it?) What started from wasting electricity with a documentary on in the background after school to gaming four years ago is finally real. I didn't know what I wanted to do after I finished my A-Levels. I thought about University, but I realized that University isn't for everyone, my parents  were planning to do Mercy Ships and 2018 was the big year for the family, when we all finished things, Hannah graduated from Cardiff University with Civil Engineering, Zoe finished Child Nursing from University of Surrey and got married to Seth, and me, well read the paragraph above. I am a Deck Hand on the ship, under training to become an AB (Assistant Bosun) I don't know if I'll reach that  by the end of this two years, but this is about looking back, to what I know, only One knows the future, and He has it under control. He promises. I have only been serving for three months now, but I am really enjoying my time, and  I am  surprised by how much I am progressing,  and I am doing things that I never would have thought I would done this soon into this chapter. The chances of meeting people from this many different nations in a single community would have been very slim if I had taken a different path. Sure, we may confuse each other with different understanding of time. For example telling a Dutchie that you have to go at Half past Nine to see them get really confused when you leave at half nine (21:30), because they think you are going at half nine(20:30), because half  nine in Dutch is written as follows (20:30), so you should have said half ten (21:30) which to everyone else (Maybe) is written like this (22:30). My point is, I don't know how to call time anymore. But it is truly amazing to experience these cultures with them, aswell as sharing your own with them. A few weeks ago, the (very small) Asian community onboard invited the rest of the crew to celebrate Chinese New Year with them. One of the hard things about life on the ship is that the culture on the ship is western. It still feels like home, yet step off the gangway, it's Africa. It feels like another world.

At the end of On Boarding, we have a final project, which is to show that something has stuck out at you from all the things you learn over four weeks. I can't remember exactly what I said, and my speech I wrote was on the notes section of  my old Tablet. That I left on the flight my Paris to Conakry. oops.  But what I said was along the lines of this. I am only young, and I haven't had many opportunities to say yes to the right things, and no to the wrong things, but I think that saying yes to Mercy Ships was hopefully the first of many yesses. And who knows how many of these opportunities won't have come up if I had said 'No'.

Nearly finished.

Please forgive me for this being a wall of text. Why have I decided to reflect? As many of you maybe aware by now, that this year, Jodie Whittaker had her debut series, taking over from Peter Capaldi as the first female Doctor in Doctor Who. (My all time favourite TV show). And along with that, the show has been revamped (Again) now that Chris Chibnall is in charge. (Please don't kill the companions off and then keep bringing them back to life. Everything has it's time) New TARDIS, new Sonic Screwdriver, new friends, new everything. And I particularly related to Ryan Sinclair, one of the three new companions, played by Tosin Cole, because, like me is dyspraxic. I hadn't related to a companion like this before, and it temporarily gave me a confidence boost and something to add to my defining characteristics. I wrote about this on Facebook, but now, I have gone back to my ways of  "I am dyspraxic. So what. I will ignore it." because I don't want to skip out on things because of my hand-eye coordination, but it has made somethings, including tying knots, and important skill required in the training book, difficult. Unfortunately, it is hard to work slowly trying to figure things out and taking my time to do these things, when some of my colleagues like to rush these simple things. Going back five years, to Matt Smith's regeneration into Peter Capaldi, this was his speech.
We all change. When you think about it, we are all different people; all through our lives. And that's ok- that's good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. - 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) The Time of The Doctor.
So that's why. Looking back on the person I once was, but it's important that whilst you look back on yourself, but to keep changing as a person, otherwise that's some pretty rubbish character development, if you ask me.. I have been feeling fairly nostalgic this year. I am not saying I haven't been nostalgic in the past, but I have found myself wanting to back to my childhood, and wanting things from my childhood, for instance, my 12" Radio Control Dalek. Which was my first ever Doctor Who toy. That I bought (I say bought, It was probably my mum) from Woolworths, that fossil. Did you know that the first ever Woolworths was opened around the same time that Moses and the Israelites left Egypt? But I know at heart that I am now, as an adult supposed to be responsible, let the new children do what they want to do, play with their toys, read their comics, watch their films, whilst I put my childish things away, as in Corinthians, But that's hard. With lots of voices trying to tell you how they want you to be, and trying to integrate them into yourself.   So now I don't want know what to do, but I am happy at where am in life. Confusion and Contentment. (A nice way to end this, right)

Thank you for reading, and goodbye.

And one last reflection, and to clear some confusion. I didn't break the window.




                   





Saturday, January 26, 2019

Cranes at Christmas, Night patrol, maybe an actual Union Jack and very expensive mistakes.

I am aware that this is my second post in a row with 'crane' in the title AND the first word of the title, but it's hard to come up with a creative title that truly grips the reader. It's not like a gripping few words also appear in the title. Leave me alone, alright!

So, I am back with a new update, and a lot of things have happened since my last post. The main thing was that Christmas happened! Yes, my first Christmas on a ship in Africa has been and gone, and it was great! As I mentioned in my last post (Is that plagiarism from myself or uncreativeness?) we have a large multicultural crew, which has meant opportunities to enjoy different Winter festivals and traditions from all over the world, such as the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas as I wrote about last time. The Scandinavian crew also celebrated Santa Lucia. Yes, that one saint who carries a plate of her own eyes like she is a Del Toro enthusiast. Lucia (or Lucy) means light, which Scandinavians celebrate by wearing very fetching white robes and carrying candles and singing. I can admit, I wasn't actually there, I was instead playing Dungeons and Dragons. It looked spectacular from the pictures I have seen.

 I helped to judge the various Christmas decorated doors for the ship's annual Christmas door competition. The crew here are very creative, as we saw trains, a Mercy Ship themed version of Twas the Night Before Christmas, human-animal hybrids, Grinches, Minions, toothless reindeer advent calendars, Christmas trees made out of rope and toilet role and LEGO. After this, the winners were announced on the dock at Carols by Candlelight , an annual tradition from Australia. I didn't actually ask any of the Aussie crew about this, I just looked it on Wikipedia. the Australian contingent of the crew treated the rest of us to an Australian edit of Jingle Bells (Still have no idea what a 'Ute' is.) That same night, I learnt  that Australia is actually a continent, and Australasia is a region. which  is a sub-region of Oceania. Just so you know, I did pass A-Level Geography, but Geography isn't about locations anymore. Instead, it's about beaches  and volcanoes, and maybe a few other things. At least that's how it is in the British National Curriculum.

I was also given the honour of reading Isaiah 7: 11 to 17 at the Christmas Eve service for the final Advent Candle lighting. My partner read from the book of Matthew. I like to think I was asked because I am the only Matthew on the ship. I didn't light the candle, but I was standing by to extinguish the flame if got out of hand. I'm a trained firefighter, might I add. Then I played Crazy Uno and enjoyed a family tradition that turns out will not go away even if one half of the family is in a different continent.

And then came that very special day. I put out my stocking (Sent from home. Thank you Hannah and Zoe, I miss you very much!) whilst most of the crew put out their shoes, to find goodies from other crew in the morning. We enjoyed pastries and free coffee from Starbucks in the cafe. Soon enough, I received the on call pager. On call at Christmas? Yeah. I know terrible. It was a ship holiday though. Taking out the ship's rubbish wasn't how I was planning to spend Christmas, but I did get some more training in operating the stores crane after. My parents and I also connected with our home church and joined in worship over Skype. We enjoyed a Christmas lunch. One very talented crew member made a very nice cake replica of the ship. Of course, when enjoying various traditions, it is important to remind yourself of home, so the British crew were invited to watch the Queen together and play Charades in one of the British family cabins. Soon enough, another (and very special) Christmas was over.

And soon enough after that, I made a very big and expensive mistake.

After enjoying Boxing Day off, I returned to work. Crazy how fast you grow up to have two weeks off Christmas holiday one year, then next year. Working and only having a few days off for Christmas. This is still a operational ship, even when the hospital is closed for Christmas, so work still goes on twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I was given the job of continuing the work that I mentioned in my last blog on the exterior of the bridge, which was grinding at rust and painting. My job as a deck hand is essentially taking care of the ship. In the morning, I had given various 'ash' patches (ash is the gray primer we use) a coat of white paint. These patches were easy to get to and reach. After lunch, I was going to use a ladder and harness to paint over the patches which were hard to reach, and I was joined by one of my colleagues to help me where I was working. I don't want  to go into too much detail, and this is very hard to write about, but basically one of the Bridge windscreens was hit, of course by accident, during work, and now there is a very large crack. I found out today (22nd January) from our new Danish Captain (the third in three months. We are still looking for a long-term captain) that a new window costs about 10,000 Euros. My fellow Deckies have been super supportive of me, and have been taking care of me, and really want to see me complete my training, and keep telling me that it was just an accident, and these things happen. And if I think about it, it is a lesson for tomorrow and to reflect on, not to grieve over.
"I get knocked down, but I get back up again, you're never gonna keep me down"
Ok, so maybe Chumbawamba isn't the most appropriate. But it's the most motivational thing quote about growing from mistakes from the top of my head. But hey, we'll be singing, when we're winning. We'll be singing.......

"We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God - those whom he has called according to his plan" Romans 8:28
Ok, so that's the bad news. More good news! As for my training and work as a Deck Hand, I have started my duty as Night Patrol. What does that mean? That means that I have to work night shift. On night patrol, I have four fire and security and rounds to complete, which means taking a trip around the ship - from the Bridge working the way downwards to deck 2. Four times a night. And they take roughly an hour to complete. Walking round the ship for an hour, walking down many staircases. It is safe to say that I work all over the ship. Boy, does walking non stop for an hour do some ugly things to your feet. Somethings that I didn't know could happen. In the morning, at sunrise, you have to raise the flags (Mercy Ships flag, flag of the country we are docked in, this case, Guinea, and the civil ensign of Malta. The Africa Mercy is registered as a Maltese vessel) so that's pretty cool. Today, I received Fire Panel training, which means that I am authorized to watch over the fire panel during night shift when it's needed.(receptionist needs a break, for example) It's always needed. It has to be manned 24 hours a day. Thankfully, nothing big comes up during the night shift, which is good news, but nights to yourself go on for soo long, I had to motivate myself before my last night shift by listening to the Halo 3 soundtrack. I got a couple things signed off by the training officer in my training book. Steady progress. As for day work, It's going good. I was a bit unsure whether the jobs of a Deck Hand would actually help the work on the hospital, but today, I was on Deck Three receiving and moving Medical Supply pallets, so I feel good. Some days can be good days at works, others are 'Nothing days' (my own term) which can be hard, particularly when the jobs don't involve much physical work and it's very hot.

I wore my Union Flag T-shirt last week. It was the same day of the vote in Parliament regarding Theresa May's proposed Deal. Even in a different continent, you don't escape Brexit. I just felt like wearing it, no political agenda. I was practically invisible that day. It had me wondering, because I am on a ship, is it a Union Jack?

Unfortunately, we recently said 'Goodbye' to Femi, the ship's last Bosun and his wife. Whilst it is sad to see them leave, he is moving up, so it's not all bad. Soon, they will be going to good ole' England so that he can go to Officer School in Newcastle. He said that he would be happy to support me and answer any questions I have about my training over Messenger though. Our new Bosun, Ibrahim, who was getting ready to take over from Femi, as the Assistant Bosun is also great though, so us Deckies have been left  in good hands. Monce, our last Filipino Chief Officer departed a few days ago, and his replacement, Octavian, looks to be a good replacement. (Monce, if you read this, I did want to see you off. Consider this my goodbye!) And yes, we have had three Captains in three months, our current Captain being Milo from Denmark.

For the New Year's weekend, my parents and the other three wonderful people from our field practice took an excursion to Kindia. We saw a couple waterfalls, and we also visited the Mercy Ships Agricultural Centre. As well as the life-changing surgeries, Mercy Ships leaves a legacy in the countries that they serve in, with the Medical Capacity Building teams. At the Agricultural Centre, Eric, one  of our  volunteers, and a small group of Mercy Ships volunteers works with and trains representatives from a bunch of different NGOs different methods of sustainable development, which the NGOs will continue when we leave in June. They grow vegetables in a greenhouse, work to reuse water that has been used for the growth before, grow mushrooms, have a worm farm to produce compost and raise rabbits, to use their manure for fertiliser. It was truly amazing to see and learn more about.

As I mentioned we also visited a couple waterfalls in the area. The first we visited was 'Brides Veil waterfall'. I tried to look it up, but it turns out the 'Bride's Veil' is the name of a type of waterfall, that resembles a Bride's Veil. Surprise, Surprise!




Here's a big damn ant. Brownie points for those who understand the reference

The effort put by visitors making their mark on the huge tree by the waterfalls in mind-blowing. Some people haven't just etched their name into the bark, they have chisled into it. Impressive. Never felt a waterfall before. It hurts your back with the strong, main part of the waterfall, It felt like getting shot with a machine gun. A very cold machine gun.
One of the cascades at Brides Veil.
Yours truly.
This is a spiky tree. Never seen these before.


The main falls and the pool.
A hut, some bamboo and my father


Surprise Merryl!














The hotel we stayed at was very nice, with some quality food. Due to a missunderstanding, We have come up with a 'Matthew Special' deal. Basically, thinking you have ordered a shawarma, the staff bring out something else, but then you get you get your shawarma a little later. Delicious shawarma, delicious fish and some delicious omelette for breakfast. I also did some basic late night plumbing when I had to refill the cistern just to flush it, then part of the 'flush' mechanism broke off, and one of the bolts had to be put in just right to hold the button in place. Our driver became an honourary member of our group, which was helpful for us all, when we needed translations. The next day, we visited Kholissi falls. Sorry, Game of Thrones fans, it's not what you think it is. Sadly, as the rainy season came to an end a few months ago, There wasn't much to see, but it was cool to see apart from the two waterfalls there. The big somewhat green area between the fall areas car park and restaurant was an interesting sight to behold. I would like to say the ruins and rocks scattered across the land felt like a fantasy world landscape, the best comparison I can think of Amon Hen from Lord of the Rings. Although instead of fallen statue heads, there is an incomplete, industrial concrete structure. Hannah, maybe we can both be in New Zealand, except I am in a different continent at the same time. Astral projection, sort of?  As of right now (26th January) the Little family is spread out across three continents. Enjoy your trip!

Finding a ledge to get into the pool was difficult


Collecting water to be recycled.


Inside the Greenhouse


A dragon fly

Part of the plot of land growing crops



 During the Monday morning meeting, we have a 'photo of the week' the most recent was the Africa Mercy found in the port on Google Maps.
My own photo of the month is this. I was discussing productivity (golly, makes it sound like a business meeting) with a friend during a coffee break, and I forgot to mention how productive  I was before the break. I was cutting rags. Amazing how you  can put effort into an attempt of a professional, nice photo, which ends up looking terrible, yet not much effort can look
                                                                                    so  much better. You want proof, I took this photo of the Super Blood Wolf Moon during the eclipse.




Rule Brittania! Brittania rule the waves! I stopped working for a bit,
just to watch this Welsh registered fuel ship.



A school of fish between the ship and the dock.














Of course, New Years happened. I managed to inspire one of my fellow crew members with a Bible verse neither of us had really looked at before after another crew member asked us to collect a bunch of inspiring Bible verses to hand out to the rest of the crew to encourage us this year. We had an open mic in midships before gathering up on Deck 8 to watch the fireworks at midnight. Even fireworks let off from the \islands. I was asked to blow the foghorn (Is that the verb? Blow? Sound? Operate) But they had enough people to do it, but I was on the Bridge and I was asked if I wanted to, so that is what is important. Is this the part where I reflect on the year that was 2018? No, I don't like reflecting, read someone else's blog for that. But what I will say, is that it was a big year for me, and marked the end of one chapter of my life, and start of another, and I pray that for everyone else who also had this in 2018, and for those who are in the middle of their current chapter, that they will have an enriching and good new chapter, even during an uncertain time for the world.

That's all from me at the moment,  thank you for reading! I also recently uploaded two new vlogs in two consecutive days on my YouTube channel, If you want to learn about animals and their species name, check them out in my Texas vlog part 2. Link to my channel in the side bar.


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Cranes, forklifts and Presidents, apparently.


Another month has gone by, so now I must update my blog. No-body told me doing a blog would be such a chore.*

So what has happened since I left off? Quite a bit, and I shall start from where I left off. Don Stephens, the founder of Mercy Ships, visited the Africa Mercy, and during the same week, Guinean President Alpha Conde also visited the ship. During this visit, I had my first experience of being a security guard..... Thankfully, nothing happened, but it was a good opportunity to practice my stern 'You are not allowed in here' face and posture. However, I don't know whether to hold my hands in a 'attention' position around my back or at  my front. But I will have other opportunities to do this 'special job' during other VIP visits to the ship, to get more practice of this.

After that (not immediately. It might have been the weekend after, I can't remember), I went on a day's excursion to the beautiful and picturesque Kassa island, one the three islands in the 'Iles de Los' island group off Conakry. Both the two boat rides across the harbour to the island were just as good and pretty as the island itself, but it was just so good to escape the scenery of both the ship and the city of Conakry, which is dusty, dirty and smelly, and just outside the port gate, on a very busy roundabout, it can get very chaotic with the sudden appearance of cars and motorbikes. Seriously, you could be crossing the road, and out of nowhere- BEEEEEEEEEEEEP! a few feet from you.. Quite the contrast across the water. and it was a relaxing Saturday.
Beach on Kassa
Jungle
View of one of the other islands
Another view of the beach




Boats between the island and the mainland

The ship moored next to us that day. 
An interesting sight that constantly amazes me whilst working on Deck is the constant move of ships in Conakry's port. One day, I could be working around the Bridge (which I spent the whole day on the 14th doing. A few days before I started this blog. That was a relaxing day), looking at the ship next to us, and the next day, it's a new ship. And they all follow a similar colour scheme to the one on the picture on the left. Its's like "What could they be loading/unloading today- Oh, that wasn't there yesterday". Meanwhile, there is this stationary white ship.
Bow of the Africa Mercy

Work has also been great. On my first weekend on-call duty (which meant that I was confined to the ship for two days), I got up to some pretty impressive things, that I never thought I would do on a Saturday morning, such as operating the stores crane and driving one of the  ship's forklifts. What exciting purpose was that for, I hear you ask? Emptying the trash. Probably better to start with a trash bin than a very heavy pallet of cooking oil, tbh. I also learned to drive one of the ship's rescue boats during a practice for Sinterklaas. Because Mercy Ships has a crew made up of different cultures, the Christmas period allows for the crew to experience a bunch of different Christmas festivals. A few weeks ago, the crew celebrated the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas, where children leave a shoe out for Sinterklass to fill with yummy goodies the night before! Sinterklaas arrived via one of the ship's rescue boats, to wave to the masses (The ship kids and Dutch crew, mainly. Maybe, I didn't actually see the spectacle. I did watch as Sinterklass gave the Ship kids Christmas presents in Midships, above the Starbucks. (Fun fact: the only Starbucks in Africa. Sorry, Okoye.**) Just to be clear, I didn't drive Sinterklaas on the day, I was just given a lesson the Saturday. Also, my shoe went missing that morning. I say missing, some 'practical jokers' moved it further up the corridor. Almost forgot! I have received my training book, which means that I can now begin my training to become a Deck Rating, maybe even Able Seafarer, later down the line. I'll be a Captain in no time! I still don't know what I want to do, actually, but I have really enjoyed my first month of being a deck hand. I have been transfered to a different fire team on the first, I was on hose and gear, which meant being a support role and getting the hoses and things for the SCBA guys. in this new one, I am on SCBA. which means that I have to wear all the bunker gear, and am meant to be right in the action during the event of a fire

The community here is wonderful. A few of us have even started a Dungeons and Dragons group (my character is a Dwarf Paladin). Found out that watching Lord of the Rings is all the more entertaining commentating on it in D&D references. I have also joined the group on the ship that plays Super Smash Brothers, This was the first time playing Super Smash Brothers (suprisingly)  and I have getting good at it. As long as I am not against a pro. Did beat the ship's 'Smash Master' once, though. . And a group that plays Dominion. And other board games. I have even started playing Minecraft again.

The amazing Communications department /team here on the Africa Mercy work hard to produce materials to promote the amazing work that the hospital down on Deck Three does, including this piece below. This patient's story has really inspired me from when I first read it.

Well, that's all I have to say for this month. I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and pray for good fortunes to come in 2019.

But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

*Just kidding, I enjoy writing this blog.
** Avengers: Infinity War reference

P.S. If the patient's story doesn't show the first time, please let me know in the comments. My parents' had an issue with that on their own blog. Please check that out, too! It's called A Little Odyssey, the link is in the side bar.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Life in Texas and Guinea


First things first...
I'll address the elephant in the room; the sudden change in blog name. I didn't like it. 'African Adventure' just didn't seem to fit what I am doing on the Africa Mercy, let alone in Africa, but it wasn't until the 5 weeks On Boarding in Texas, that I found a much better name. On the Africa Mercy, I am serving as a Deck Hand, or a 'Deckie' I guess. Slang, probably. And this is a diary of sorts, so Diary of a Deckie was a much more accurate name. Got it? 

Good. Now onto the post.

As I write this, it is my first full day on the Africa Mercy (10th of November). I arrived on the ship on the ship yesterday, but I arrived in Guinea two weeks ago. I shall now give an account of what I have been doing for a month of almost radio silence. Besides from various WhatsApp or brief Messenger conversations and one Facebook post with a Thor Ragnarok reference.

So, I have since took a flight to Texas, where we stayed for a month, at the Mercy Ships International Support Centre. The first week in Texas, from the 23rd to 29th of September, I experienced the joyous fun torture of Basic Training, which was recommended for most crew going long-term. I met Jennifer, the Crew Nurse, Ian, a general supply assistant (both returning to the ship. It's always helpful to be friends with helpful crew like the Crew Nurse. At least that's what I think) and Liz and Barney, and their two young boys Noah and Judah (Like me, first timers and Brits. Barney is the Finance Director) We were also joined by Andrew, A YWAM (Youth With A Mission) worker. So, the Basic Training. We did First Aid training. I already achieved Level 1 Basic First Aid with St John Ambulance Cadets, but I had to do it again as part of the U.S. Coast Guard Basic Safety Training Certificate, so nothing was new to me there. Apart from bandages with the pad and wrap as two separate things instead of one thing that I am used too. (I have accumulated so many certificates this last month) We also had to do Personal Sea Survival. That was fun. Learned how to drop a life boat. I don't think it is 'dropping a life boat', but it's a fairly accurate description. As a deck hand, I most certainly could be put on one of the teams responsible for operating the ropes for releasing the life boats, so that was essential. Also learned how to upturn a capsized inflatable life boat, and wore a 'Gumby' suit (Sorry, Americans, if it's spelt wrong) Apparently Gumby is a green claymation character in the States. American equivalent of British Morph. Last but not least (We actually did it first, and there was another section that I forgot) Fire Fighting! Oh Boy! That wasn't terrifying at all! It was all interesting, and useful to know all the uses of the different Fire extinguishers (The one feature, I meant what fires the different extinguishers are used against). We also had to put out a fire and rescue a dummy in a burning container (two different activities, but in the same container) Stressful stuff, and I don't wan't to do that again, but I guess I will see if I am put onto a fire team, because I am a deckhand, then I will probably have to do that stuff.

Choosing fire fighting clothes.
After surviving all that, it was time to start the On Boarding. We were also joined by Merryl, an Aussie returning to the ship as an Operating Room Clinical Supervisor. And our crew On Boarding group was assembled. Everyone else at OnBoarding were International Support Centre Workers, and they are all very cool. (Shout out to our On Boarding class International Support Centre classmates!) The On Boarding was actually very useful and interesting, if a bit complex and hard to get my head at times, but I would recommend it. I learned about ways that God communicates to us, how best to dedicate a time to spend time with Him. On one Saturday morning during the On Boarding to practice this after that week, which was good to put that into practice. It honestly feels so good and amazing to feel that you get a divine response. One week is dedicated to learning about yourself. Because you learn something new everyday. Even about yourself. This was your DISC profile Whilst I was working on a poster with Crystal (ISC worker and On Boarding classmate) and Rachel (One of the On Boarding Teachers/Lecturer/staff member) about our common profile, I tried to joke about how the DISC profile is the adult equivalent of your Hogwarts house. No-one laughed. The poster was about how I, as a Steady Confident person (SC in DISC) like to interact with others. Basically I'm an Introvert. Nothing new there. We also discussed different worldviews, and working with those we serve from other cultures. Important to know when serving in Africa. These are few of the 'highlights' or what I most wanted to share about the On Boarding.

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Living in Texas. That was a very interesting and eye opening experience (Everything we learned was also both of those things) living in America.  Most Texans (if not all of them) and most other Americans (if not all of them) would say that Texas is basically its own nation. I was expecting culture shock going into Texas, but honestly, I knew quite a bit about  of the culture from research on the Internet. By research, I mean mindlessly watching YouTube videos or American comedies with no intention to learn anything, so I was like "OMG! There's an American thing that I know about from the Internet!" and my parents were like "What?". An example was seeing a 7-Eleven in Fort Worth airport, and they had no idea what I was talking about. The surprising thing about Texas was how big everything was (I know the saying) in terms of the space. There was so much space between two buildings, unlike the UK, where you would immediately see building-after-building with no space in between . But guns in a Wal-mart was no surprise to me (thanks, Internet) However, cowboy churches were a surprise. No explanation, because I don't know why anyone thought that cowboys and churches needed to be put together, but there you go. Especially a church with a functioning Rodeo arena. Then came the first experience of a Texas storm. Set the scene. Me and my parents had just finished another episode of the new series of Doctor Who, thanks to a VPN. This makes me very happy, if you know how much I love Doctor Who. Also, Jodie Whittaker is great as the Doctor, loving the new series. I was not staying where my parents were staying, so I had to walk back. Then I saw the lightning and heard the thunder. Because Texas lightning was amazing and was nothing like I had ever seen before, I waited around and watched for a while, before I went back to my accommodation. I wasn't too far from my accommodation, when "CRASH!" followed by a very bright flash of lightning. Then I ran faster than I ever had in my life. We also visited Tyler Zoo.

Stream from bridge after rain.








Like everything else in Texas, spiders are big.
Obligatory photo in front of the gun rack in a Wal-mart
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       


Cowboy church.


Gecko on bathroom window
 Then, it was time to leave for Guinea. Lead by our leaders Stefan from Germany, and Dutchie lady Remy, we all  drove to Fort Worth airport (Most of us. Ian and Merryl got their own way there), but not before a a visit to an In-an-Out. In-an-Out is good, because it is literally In-an-Out, with limited menu options, so  there is no "Can I get uhhhhhh.......?" Besides from the wait time. We got on the planes to Atlanta, Atlanta to Paris and Paris to Conakry, with a fuel stop (I think?) in Noukachott, Mauritania. It was very strange just looking out the plane window in both airports, as Noukachott was desert, and Conakry was city. After being allowed to skip the queues in Conakry airport, getting ALL of our luggage (Huzzah!) we separated from the Goodalls, who went straight to the ship and drove to our field practice accommodation: a missionary compound. Those two weeks of field practice, we worked with that community. The men: Myself, my father and Ian worked on some DIY, including organising and cleaning the workshop on the site, and a kitchen island and sink unit in the flat for one of the workers there. And Stefan went elsewhere. He usually said grocery shopping, but most of the time, we didn't know where he was going. The ladies: My mother, Jennifer, Merryl and Remy helped out at La Zone, A youth centre, where the Guineans can come to learn English. Also, on Friday mornings, they do 'Conversation Classes' where a theme is discussed. We took part in special Conversation Classes the first week of field practice, where the men and women are separated. The ladies had a lesson and discussion about women's health,  where as the men were discussing what it means to be a man. I enjoyed that, and it was a really special moment for me, because it was very interesting to hear very different cultural opinions about masculinity and being a man. It also interesting to hear different opinions about being a man IN THE SAME COUNTRY, because of the different ethnic groups in Guinea, such as the Fulani, the most widespread  Muslim ethnic group in Sahel and West Africa and majority group in Guinea, the Madinka and the Sousou.

Very cool network of spiderwebs between two trees




















After a final meal out at La Special, it was finally time to join the ship! At the end of the OnBoarding in Texas, I  just wanted to get to the ship so bad, and walking up that gangway for the first time is as special as others will tell you. As I write this NOW, it is Saturday and I have finished my first week of work, and being a deckhand is so fun. Asides from working in the blazing sun of Africa in a boiler suit. So far, I have done painting and chipping, cutting rags, and started on my own project assigned by my boss, Femi, the bosun. Haven't finished that yet, but from what I have been told from a fellow deck hand that quite often, we will be given a task and it may or may not be finished. I also spent this morning on the dock helping to unload one of the containers from Rotterdam. It was one of the cold containers, though, so I was grateful to be working in there that morning. After a coffee break, though, I was sweeping Deck 7 to clear all the dead/dying in agony bugs as Pest Control had been working on the ship this week.
Me (in blue boiler suit) helping to unload a container. 


Guinean sunset. With three volcanic island. That sun went down fast.

What I was upto on the field practice
(Almost) Finished breakfast bar on the last day of work


My parents and me on our first evening on the ship.













I plan to a monthly blog post, if anyone is wondering. I just decided to do one blog post about my experience of Texas and the field practice.

Sorry for the bad photo placement. At least I have finally finished this post.

See you soon!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Still getting ready


Still getting ready



 and I leave (with my parents, Stuart and Lynne) in three weeks, to fly to Texas for the confusedly named  'On Boarding', as we don't actually get aboard the ship until we fly from Texas  to Conakry, Guinea in November.

We are all still getting ready, which, for me, means tidying-up my bedroom by throwing away useless tat (as my dad would probably call it) that are no longer useful to me or have been left on my desk or shelves for years underneath piles of slightly more useful stuff. Somewhat related, this has also meant buying more stuff. Stuff that I am going to take, that is. However, I both know what I want to take, but at the same time,  I don't. For the things that I do know what I want to take with me is clothes. (Obviously. Clothes are essential, Clothes are basically the priority), and my few technological devices, which are, my Laptop, my Samsung Galaxy Tab A and my PS Vita (the Xbox is staying at home, but all four of my devices I am taking have the capability to play games. The fourth item being my phone) There are some books that I am yet to read, both fiction and not fiction. Or books that I want to restart, those being The Hobbit, which I think I have restarted twice, but never finished, and a biography on the Knights Templar. (The REAL Templars, not the fictitious Templars from Assassin's Creed. They are vastly different).

As for the things I don't know what I want to take are what clothes I want to bring. I have finally started practising packing, which has made my mother happy, which has given me some idea of what of my clothes I will bring. What makes it difficult is thinking about the climate that I will be living in for 10 months, and what will be suitable clothing items. Especially since my two favourite t-shirts are black.

Other things that I have done to get ready are: Put a bunch of movies onto an external hard drive,  set up this blog, set up my YouTube channel to upload vlogs, (Check it out, I have put up a short film I made!) and shifted my payment methods for Playstation and Microsoft from my parents too me. And verified that I am adult with Microsoft. I am starting to think that these things probably shouldn't have been my priority, but the only time I could really start packing is this week and next week, otherwise I would have been living out of a suitcase for a few weeks.

I guess all I can do now is to actually pack, wait till Friday (21st September) and leave.

(Note the time difference, this one post took three weeks to complete)

A reflection of 2018, and maybe life before then.

I would like to start by saying that this is not my blog post/update/newsletter/ thing/ whatever you want to call it for the latter half of...