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Saturday, April 18, 2020

A different kind of ship-life, reflection and two decades of life.

A Different kind of ship-life, reflection and two decades of life.


Hello. It's me, Matthew Little. The author of this blog I just want to start by recognising that yes, I haven't updated this blog in a few months. My reasons are that I just didn't know what to write. I had honestly felt like that I had written everything that I possibly could have about life on the M/V Africa Mercy (This is the name of the vessel I have been serving as a deck hand for about a year and a half . There is a United States Navy Ship Mercy, which is also a hospital ship, and has been in the news recently for an unfortunate reason but we are two completely different vessels. I just felt I should clear this up.) 
Without repeating myself by recalling doing the same tasks over and over again, but in a slightly different part of the ship, in a slightly different circumstance, neither, did I want to flood the blog with other information about what I did in my free time. Whilst I have heard that some of my readers like that, and it allows them to have a virtual way into Senegal and West Africa, but I also didn't do too much exploring, asides from the occasional night out with friends getting food or something. There just wasn't much that I thought was interesting. But now times have changed. I think we all know that. 

Be warned, this may also be a long one. Stick around, if I ever publish my blog posts as volumes, this post may just be it's own book. And if it is adapted into a film, Peter Jackson managed to adapt one book into a trilogy of movies, so why not this one. Just add characters who don't even appear in the book, it's fine.


For those curious about what has happened in Senegal, please read this official statement issued by Mercy Ships:


The current situation of COVID-19, highlighted by the W.H.O.'s announcement of the designation of COVID-19 as a pandemic and the increasing travel restrictions applied by several countries, have made it increasingly difficult for Mercy Ships to continue to carry out its programs to the required standards, while protecting against the possible spread of the virus.

Therefore, in line with the measures taken by the President of Senegal with the Ministry of Health, Mercy Ships has reviewed the activities associated with the Africa Mercy and has decided to wind down the programmatic operations of our mission in Senegal.

The main concerns of Mercy Ships are the health of the Senegalese people and the safety and well-being of our own volunteers, crew and staff worldwide

While we regret these measures, we are convinced that they are necessary for the safety and well-being of all concerned.

As we face these challenging events, we would like to thank you for your ongoing prayers and support to Mercy Ships and our mission to bring hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor.

And now, we are no longer in Senegal, and we have sailed to Tenerife, where I write now. Over a course of a few weeks, I will add. I can't sit down to write one post in one day. When we received this news on board, that was when I realised the world had just been turned upside down. And everything on the ship changed. Well, not literally, but for a few days after this.... It was hard to process the news, but on the ship, I noticed a very stark change of atmosphere. 
Already, the world seems a bit less bright. - Joshamee Gibbs, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
It was really strange, that us on board, looking in, reading the news from back home about how COVID-19 is spreading rapidly around our home countries. We were worried for Family and friends back home. I had decided that I would give up Facebook and Instagram for lent, but then, not knowing exactly who to talk to, not knowing exactly what to ask, who to ask if they were ok, I just wanted to read a message saying a "Yeah, I'm ok", I just decided to break my social media fast, just to see updates, to see that they were doing ok. Starting these conversations scared me. But social media updates were just a huge a relief. I didn't like deciding to break that fast, but it was worth it, to see that people were ok. 

It was also very strange, to read updates and statistics, to think that being so far away from home, where there were no cases in Senegal or Africa yet, and to think, we were safe where we were. But then that all changed, hearing about the first confirmed case of Senegal, reading that the World Health Organisation declaring Covid-19 as a Pandemic, and suddenly, shore leave has been stopped, and we will prepare to sail away to safety as soon as possible. But where was safety? Covid-19 was everywhere. It was the most unexpected thing in the world, and it was scary. For all we knew, we could be sailing out of Senegal, with no clear destination, stuck, out at sea for who knows how long. Out of all of the fictional universes that I know, The Last Ship was not the one I wanted to live out. Bearing in mind, the only episodes of The Last Ship I have watched are the last three episodes of the final season, so apart from that a Navy Vessel goes on a research mission in the Arctic, only to return to a world where a pandemic is running rampant, I mostly have no idea what it is about, only how it ends. 


Books I have read, and how they strangely apply to my life now.


On the ship, I joined a book club, headed by a chaplain with such members as the Captain, an IT Specialist, an Academy student, a Hospital Supply Assistant, a Medical Capacity Building team member, and a few from Human Resources. We have read two books so far. Looking back, I didn't think that I could have possibly put myself in the shoes  of the two main characters of the books we read. Until now. Well, one of them was a biography, but still. This book was The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel. This book tells the story of the so-called last true hermit in North America amongst other names such as North Pond Hermit. This guy lived as a hermit in Maine for nearly 30 years. Reading and discussing the story of this guy, trying to make sense of a guy who decided that in his prime, finished school a few years prior, supposedly had a few good friends, and a good family, just decided to run away from home and live in a well hidden campsite close to a few holiday cabin, for no reason. It was a good book, and I would recommend it. Whilst reading, I did think "What if I did that?" and I will admit that growing up, I did think about "What if i just ran away and  ceased communication and contact with humanity one day" I could do that, I could survive (probably, I've read The Hunger Games) I could identify with the hermit, I'm an introvert, face to face conversation sometimes overwhelms me. But he also taught me that even when we don't want to talk to people and we just want to run away, we still crave some form of connection with people, even if it is by listening to music, podcasts, or by watching people on YouTube whether they are vloggers or a gaming channel, just sharing their passion with the world. I would never actually run away. But when you are quarantined to a ship with many other people for an unpredictable period of time, it is near impossible to be a hermit, and alone time is a rare moment, and perhaps a gift. I have found the only time at the few moments of solitude you can get on the ship at the moment are in your cabin. There is a lot  cabin movement, just to push for seperation, to prevent the potential spread of Covid-19, or just illness in general. Also being a Deck Hand, doing Night Patrol, is also one of these rare moments of solitude.

The other book, however, is one that right now, I want to be in that world. The book is Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. It's about this man, Jason, A physics professor at a university, who is one day abducted, and wakes up in another universe. It's a book about travel in the multiverse, and how with every decision you make, an infinite number of parallel universes are created. There is no wrong or right decision, but there are a never ending number of outcomes. It was a crazy book, but these days, I wish I could be in that world, where you can essentially become a god, creating a new world with thoughts and emotion, just to escape this world we live in, with a pandemic. It's an incredible power. How insane must it be, to explore different outcomes, and to live in a world where you can go to a world where you can live in a world as if you corrected your own mistakes, or just imagine a new paradise, and to not look back.


Looking back on working in the Deck Department, and the opportunities i had.


After pack up was completed, the cables were stored and the anchors on board, we were ready to begin our earlier than expected journey to wherever next. And boy, was I given new opportunities and responsibilities than I never expected to get - ever, let alone not long before my 20th birthday. I was given the responsibility of steering the ship during a man overboard drill, where we had to do a fancy manoeuvre, which was pretty much a 180 degree turn. Although, it wasn't a straight up turn around, we had to go a certain degree off course, then sort of back again by about half. All so that if there ever was a man overboard, we don't hit the man overboard, or they got chopped up into little bits, and also to give the rescue boats space to rescue the victim. If you ever find yourself being asked to take the helm of a ship during a man overboard rescue, I'll tell you this: Don't get your hopes up for excitement at the wheel, it's pretty uneventful. 
The expectation: Many wheel turns in quick succession and a bunch of momentum and fluidity.
Reality: "Starboard a certain amount of degrees" says the Captain, calmly. The helmsman dutifully repeats the command just given, conveying calm and confidence, as a show of understanding, then begins to carry out the order. When the order is carried out, the helmsman yells "Starboard a certain amount of degrees, sir." With the same degree of calmness. The Captain then acknowledges the completed order, and the helmsman stands-by for the next, calm collected command.
No matter, to be given that amount of responsibility was an incredible honour, and I am very glad to have been able to do that. During my time with Mercy Ships thus far,  I have had the opportunity to do many cool  and different tasks working in the Deck department. To look back on my time, months after finishing school, doing things such as operating a crane, operating a forklift, being a team member on mooring operations, to get the ship tied up and freed (I Guess? How else do I call unmooring operation? de-mooring? un-porting?), hauling heavy mooring lines and operating capstan winches to make sure the lines tight and loose, Night Patrol duties (Even though they are very boring, mostly uneventful, and long) keeping lookout for the safety of the crew and the patients we care for, when they all rest. (But a benefit is that it is  one of the only times on board where you get to be alone), assisting with container operations, and as I have already mentioned, steering the ship. If you look at Mercy Ships and wonder "How does this help to bring hope and healing and life-saving surgeries?" I sometimes ask myself the same question, but watch your favourite film, watch the credits, MARVEL has been rewarding audiences for patience since time began. You find that a film is more than just the actors/actresses, directors, producers and writers. A whole, sometimes global team work to bring entertainment together. It's the same way with Mercy Ships. We need staff to cook and serve the food for the crew and patients, to give them sustenance, strength and to keep us healthy, housekeepers to keep the ship clean, and the crew healthy. The plumbers to work on the vacuum system and make sure the toilets are working. Engineers and electricians to keep the lights on and power running. Information Services to give us internet. The team in the only Starbucks in Africa to give us our caffeine and waffles. Transportation and maintenance to keep  the vehicles and off-ship facilities running. The deck department to make sure that the ship is strong enough and in the right conditions, to keep the ship sailing, and to continue bringing hope and healing. I am sure I have already written about how the jobs we do on deck help, such as emptying the containers of the medical instruments and equipment, moving into another container, lifting that container on board, emptying the container, for medical supply to provide for the operating rooms. It may not be on the front line, but the fact that I can say that I have supported bringing hope and healing with the work I do on board, all before I was twenty years old, is a very cool thing.


What has happened? Why is the world so new?

Right now, the ship is docked in Tenerife. In quarantine. For about two weeks. But when that two weeks is over, we still have to follow the Spanish regime of lockdown. So we don't actually know the next time when we are free to leave the ship and explore. It is a stark contrast to ship life a little over a month ago. It already feels like months ago when shore leave was restricted, and the priorities of the ship changed. It all happened so fast. over a weekend. Going from "We are going to continue  bringing hope and healing in Senegal until we are due to leave" to "We are going to get ready to leave as soon as possible" in under two days was a surreal thing. I maybe repeating myself, but for a few days after we received this news, I sensed a very different vibe on the ship. It was a vibe of sadness and confusion. The next few weeks were like looking through a dirty window, and no-one knew what was going on anymore. Then began a slow, mass exodus of crew, desperate to get on the last flights home before borders closed and charter flights became available. They were bittersweet farewells. On one hand, they may have been final goodbyes, depending on plans, then might have been the last time we would see them again, with repeat offenders or just good friends saying goodbye unexpectedly. I can personally put faces and names to some of these people. I am due to leave to ship (Hopefully, in August), saying goodbye to crew who I know would be returning to the ship once this whole COVID thing blows over, I may never see them again if they return unexpectedly later than I leave. But on the other hand, they left to go back home to help in the fight COVID in their own countries, using their skills and gifts when they can't use them now. Or they left because they recognised that we needed a certain number of crew onboard to sail, and they wanted to reduce numbers. They made sacrifices, and we are truly thankful for the sacrifice and hard decisions they made to return back home. whilst this was going on, It was just a fast push to get the ship ready to sail, breaking the dock down, bringing everything on deck, tying it all down, cleaning and securing. I don't remember leaving Guinea in the same way last year. Leaving Senegal just felt like a huge rush, we were evacuating, leaving for uncertain safety. Whereas when we left Guinea, we knew we were leaving, and we knew where we were going. And we had done all we had done, in Guinea, we had finished. But we left Senegal with unfinished business. We also couldn't say goodbye to our deck day crew. Only about 50 essential day crew were allowed to live in our tents on the dock, the ward day crew, housekeeping, the engine control watch keepers assistant and galley staff. We didn't want to break our quarantine bubble. But, the men who I had spent about 8 months working alongside, whilst teaching each other about our respective cultures, growing in friendship and respect, working together, even with big cultural and personal differences. I am truly glad to have worked with them. And also sad that there wasn't any closure. We celebrated with the day crew from Guinea, having food together. We couldn't do that this time. I wish we could have. I may not see them again. Going from working in safety and out of reach from the disease to "We are unable to continue, we don't feel safe here anymore" was a strange thing, all around.


Things haven't been so bad, though. Reasons to celebrate. Living in a rare thing today.

It is easy to think about the sad things that have happened recently. But things haven't been all bad though. There were things that we thought we would be doing differently a few weeks ago. These things include Birthdays. Over the last few weeks, the Adventure Crew celebrated a few birthdays, albeit differently than we expected. The first of these birthdays was Cameron's. Cameron worked at the Hope Centre, our sort-of hotel for those living out of Dakar, and we waiting for surgery, or had surgery, but were still with Mercy Ships for recovery. Cameron was from America, but had heritage from Asia.  There was a Korean place in Dakar, and we surprised him with a meal there, a few days before his birthday. Why before? He had an interesting story regarding flights. His birthday was on the Saturday after (Also the Saturday that shore leave was restricted), and he was due to fly to Paris before his birthday, so we decided we would surprise him before his Birthday. The Adventure Crew gathered at the Korean place, and he was told that he would go out with just the Hope Centre team, so they showed up later. And surprise, all his friends were also there! It was a delightful evening of fellowship, friendship, and broadening horizons of food. But then Covid-19 and the flight was cancelled, so he was able to spend his birthday in Dakar, or more rather, on the ship, as that was the Saturday when everything was turned upside down. We were planning to go to a beach in the evening. But at about half 10 in the morning: Shore-leave had been restricted, and everyone who had already left the ship were called back. Everything had changed, in a matter of less than 24 hours. So we decorated the Crew Mess with MEMES! We had to wait for Cameron to get back from the Hope Centre in the evening, and we spent the evening celebrating Cameron in a tiny room. And there was cake. We miss you Cameron. (Cameron did manage to leave)

The next birthday celebrated was Kate's. Kate wanted to go snorkelling, but as plans had shifted, we improvised. By transforming the Queen's Lounge into the 'ultimate underwater experience'. complete with Gabriel, a fish caught earlier in the day (R.I.P Gabriel). My contribution to the whole thing was being asked to watch and guard the snacks and juice for the punch. Until Anna and Rachel forgot about the task they gave me for over an hour. But hey, none of it was stolen, so I think I did a good job. It was a very cool sight. The room had a blue tint, there were paper jelly fish, streamers, fish, and to top it off, there was a marine life themed MEME WALL! We said Happy Birthday like we were whales, and I have never seen someone walk into a birthday party for themselves get so excited  wearing flippers and a snorkel mask, and it is that much joy radiating from one person that makes life worth living. And lock down not so bad. We also managed to get in touch with some previous members of the Adventure Crew (Although, once part of the Adventure Crew, always part of the Adventure Crew. Unless you accidentally make someone leave voluntarily). We spoke to Simon (EAGLES, WOW) and Meg (his girlfriend, who I haven't met in person), In New Zealand, and Philip, who now works at the Mercy Ships headquarters. (At least, we tried, with the Internet being SO BAD at the moment, because no one can leave) It was very nice to catch up with 'The outside'. 

And then there was a break for a few weeks without Adventure Crew birthdays, but in between, there were other activities on board for the rest of the crew to get involved in and enjoy together. (which is a rare thing these days, and it is a privilege to be one of the only people in the world right now, who can celebrate Easter and birthdays, or just being together) These have included, pub quizzes, (I joined a team with my parents and Stuart and Frances, the parents of a British family here onboard. We won the last quiz. I am convinced that me knowing thee difference between the Rolex and Hallmark crown) Mandalorian marathons (This is the Way.), A few Deck-department lead Irish/ sea-shanty evenings. My father on acoustic guitar, Riku playing the violin, Adam (Deck Cadet, Hungary) on guitar, and me playing (or at least, trying to play) the ukulele, Kim on the Cajon, Cherif (Guinea) on the keyboard, and Femi. Oh yeah, Femi came back with his wife Jennifer, and their daughter, Meghan, just after Christmas! I was super excited for them to return to the ship. As I type this now, a ping pong tournament is going on. There was a bake-off, Prince of Egypt, amongst other activities.

And then there were two Adventure Crew birthdays within one week. The first was my own. Yeah, I didn't think I would be spending my 20th under quarantine, but these things happen. But I had people to celebrate my birthday with, which was just nice. What was even better, is that because I was on Night Patrol the week before, I had my birthday (on a Monday) off! But the celebrations really happened the day before. And how did my amazing ship friends surprise me? With escapism; from reality, and the Death Star. They made a Star Wars themed escape room, and transformed the Queen's Lounge pantry into a Death Star data centre. My team of Rebels (Kate, Kees-Ake from the Netherlands. He also returned to the ship, Rachel, Luke and Patrick) were stuck on the Death Star, during the finale of A New Hope, and the Rebel Starfighter pilots were beginning the attack. We had to translate Aurebesh like all nerds do, do maths Ugh. Maths, answer Star Wars trivia, identify a character who said 'I have a bad feeling about this.' All to discover the find the location of Rebel Allies, before the Death Star explodes. We were told that the Death Star blew up 5 minutes before we escaped, but whatever, we said we won. Also, Josh, fellow Star Wars nerd, created back story for my character: a force-sensitive Ewok, trained in the Dark Side of the Force as a Sith. My Sith ability: The ability to discern the ways of the Universe, but at the cost of taking a life. Putting it simply, I could kill a team mate for a clue. It was a hard decision, but for time, I had to kill two teammates. (Rest in Peace, Luke and Patrick) but that wasn't all. Rachel and Anna baked a BB-8 cake for me haha, BB-Cake got BB-8, and we spent the evening after the Sunday service in friendship, all because I was alive, and almost lived for 2 decades. And the gifts I was blessed with.... An african Fabric Hat, an African model of some description, a novel about being an IT Leader and a fake Handle Bar Mustache. The Hat and Mustache I gladly wore for my actual birthday. At least, when the tape actually did it's job and actually stuck. My actual birthday was fairly chilled out. I was called out by John, our Operations Director during the Monday morning briefing. I wasn't very camouflaged. But, what was the first thing I saw when I walked out the cabin door? A MEME WALL!  There was the Queen, Star Wars, British memes, inside jokes, MARVEL and references to birthdays during the time of COVID-19. If the Great Wall of China was built to keep the Mongols out of China, then a Great Birthday Meme Wall of Deck 3 can keep out COVID19 and quarantine depression. In the evening, my Parents and I watched Master and Commander: Far side of the World for the first time. It's a good film, I would recommend, and gave me presents. A Mercy Ships  t-shirt, A book on the history and Archaeology of Petra, the once capital of the Nabateans, the city carved into a rock, and the location for the hiding place of the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones, Toffifee and the most important and crucial item to have today.... a bottle of hand sanitizer. The Adventure Crew also made a card, with I guess... their favourite photos of me. I don't take many photos of myself, or have many photos taken. Or take many photos generally. Anyway, It was a great few days, I felt so appreciated and loved, and I couldn't have asked for better friends to celebrate my life with under quarantine. To Laurianna, Luke, Kees, Patrick, Kate, Anna, Rachel, Josh, Moise, and anyone else who contributed, or were just there, I love you all so much, thank you for what you did for me that day. or days. Also, to my parents, who brought me into the world, and with whom I was around to celebrate with, thank you. Who knows if this will be the last of my birthdays we will celebrate together, but I am glad you are here, with me, on this ship.


OK, Self-indulgence over.

The last birthday we celebrated, in the form of a Garden Party Brunch on Deck 7, was for Laurianna. Because, if we can transform a room into an underwater scene or a room on the Death Star, then Deck 7 can definitely be turned into a garden. And so we did. Kinda. But what other garden has a sea and mountain view. Yeah. Not many, so it is instantly better than yours. My role - enforcing the 'Wear nice clothes and be ready on time' directive. At least, it was my primary role in the whole thing, but I did have others. But it was a nice morning, we had Galettes buckwheat pancakes. This was my first galette experience, and, they are, surprisingly, quite nice. At least the galettes that Kate prepared. So the bar is already quite high. Good job, Kate! Anywho, it was another time to gather with some pretty cool people, and celebrate the life of a friend. And another MEME WALL. was erected in the honour of Laurianna. Because MEME WALLS are the next best thing.  Thank you for the friendship, Laurianna! Then later that day, I found an error in the book about Petra, which labelled one monument as another. I know, the horror! 

And, of course, it's spring, so Easter happened. Last year, I didn't enjoy Easter on the ship. It was an extravaganza, and this Easter was no different. I think the main reason why I didn't enjoy Easter last year, was because the concept of celebrating the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ in community was so new to me, and I couldn't handle being around the number of crew on board. Christmas has always been a time where people get together to celebrate the Birth of Christ, but not Easter. But this Easter has been different, and I think that after last year, I knew what would be going on, so I could mentally prepare myself for the season. It was both that, and I had become used to the number of crew onboard, Because nobody has been allowed to go off-ship. Last Easter, everyone just seemed to suddenly be onboard, but we had gone for nearly a month where everyone was here. During a Sunday worship service recently, we were reminded, that this year, because with so many countries going into lockdown, and everyone staying inside, not being allowed to make large gatherings, and with us onboard, who have to remain onboard, in community, we would be some of the only people in the world, who could celebrate Easter, with other people. And how privileged we are to be able to do so. My question "Why, out of the billions Christians on the planet, have been given the honour to celebrate with people?" So I was ready to celebrate, to make the most of what others could not do.  Out of all the Easters and Birthdays I have celebrated up to now, this year will probably always stand out to me, not only because they were both during the time of a pandemic and I was under quarantine, but also because I was onboard a ship, with a celebrating alongside a crew of 200-odd, and we could celebrate together. 

And now, my plans, during a time where nothing is certain to happen anymore. I have always been fascinated by history and artefacts from history, and I have the opportunity to study such things, and I have realised that, through working in the deck department, from the stories told by our officers and cadets, a life at sea, is not one for me. So, I have plans to return back to the UK later this year (hopefully) and start a four-year course studying History and Archaeology. I believed coming to Mercy Ships this past year-and-a-half was my calling, but it has only been my calling for the past year-and-a-half, and a few more months. It's roughly 3 months off two years. I am certainly happy with what I have done during my time, and I have done things I never would have expected to be doing, during my late-teens. I have met people, and become friends some of the most extraordinary people I have ever, or will ever met, that I wouldn't have if I hadn't come. Those people are both the crew on board, and also the African day crew. So I wasn't ready to face University a year and a half ago. But after spending  a year and a half, helping to bring hope and healing in a completely different continent. So, to my parents. Thank you for inviting me along for the ride. Another thing you should know about me, is that I could not reflect on myself to save my life, and I could not pick out a personal development that has stood out to me. 

So, that's probably about it for now. At least, all that I am allowed to share, and all that has happened in my life for the month or so. Sorry that this has basically become a book in itself, but I truly appreciate you for sticking through it. 

Thank you,
Matthew.
Now, enjoy some photos, just so that this book has something for the eyes.
The very wet (and somewhat salty) forward mooring deck,
from the port side bridge wing. I hadn't seen the spray get as high as the bridge before


This is me in the chainlocker

BB-Cake got BB-8 (Thank you, Rachel and Anna.)
And that is punch, not blood..
Sailing away from Dakar, from the Aft mooring deck


The horizon..... somewhere in the Atlantic
Happy birthday to me, I guess.


Aft mooring deck, leaving Dakar

A view of the Atlantic from Starboard side, in Tenerife



Artsy photo  number one

Arriving in Tenerife  (photo credits: my mother)

Artsy photo number two

Artsy photo number three






A sunset in Tenerife







The first thing I saw leaving the cabin on my birthday.
And yes, that is Nigel Farage
















(From January)  Surviving twin cannons from the French Danton-class semi-dreadnought battleship Verginuad, on Goree Island.  I was looking forward to seeing these in person. 


Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Blog post 11 or 12: One Year Anniversary edition

Wow. It has just been just over 365 days since my Mercy Ships. This is counting the days since climbing the gangway of the Africa Mercy for the first time, not since I actually joined Mercy Ships. otherwise it would be about ..... 407 day. No, I'm not taking out the  month's PTO I took during the summer, because I technically never left Mercy Ships. I still have blue lanyard, not Alumni green.
I say that, but in actual fact, I reluctantly gave into getting a replacement lanyard. Which I was saddened by. It was like a piece of my identity was taken away from me. Mainly because after a year, It didn't look blue, it looked a dusty-brown grey. I really enjoyed when other crew members asked "So what does a grey lanyard mean?" and I would then go "It's not a grey lanyard, it's a blue one but just old". Like the time in Doctor Who, when the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) confessed that he actually enjoyed hearing "Doctor Who?" said out loud.


Ship life has been pretty standard, over the last month or so, with some interesting new things I have got up to on Deck. One of these things is learning how to maintain and repair chipping guns. That involved taking a chipping gun apart, cleaning it, checking if all the components are in order and in condition to be used again, and then putting them back together again, oiling them, and testing that they work. I did another week of Night Patrol, which went overall, pretty great! Nothing caught on fire, and there were no emergencies. Although, there is usually something that is on the back of your mind that they don't want to happen and are out the ordinary. Nothing bad happened though.

During my week of night patrol, my Thursday was interrupted by a fire drill. Not that I didn't already know that there would be a fire drill that Thursday, but here is the catch. It was a surprise fire drill. That happened about half past 10 in the morning. It wasn't great to have just about fallen asleep for about 3 hours, and then suddenly to be woken up abruptly by a overhead announcement by the captain saying "Attention crew, attention crew this is a drill this is a drill. I am announcing this before the crew alert alarm so we don't disturb the Operating Room. It's on the dock". Obviously, I had just woken up, and it took a very minutes to register what was going on, and then the crew alert alarm went off. So, I had to put on some trousers, not change my tshirt, because why would I, and went to my muster station. They got kitted up, I was asked to tell muster control who was missing from our team, whilst the rest of the team went to the scene. I went down, looking very confused, very tired, and squinting. And very hot. I have been outside in the sun in the bunker gear, it was not fun. My mum has some very bad photos of me in the bunker gear, completely unaware she was taking photos, looking sleepy and flustered. The drill finished, I helped with pack up, and went back to bed. Until about 3:30 in the afternoon, woken up by ANOTHER DRILL! It's safe to say my sleep was interrupted big time. No one wants to woken up by an unexpected morning fire drill, let alone two unexpected drills. It was a security drill, and we were practising an evacuation from the ship. So I accidentally created another line waiting to get off the ship very awkwardly, until I was allowed to get off. It wasn't a long line, but still. I then didn't go back to sleep. A week later, on fire team training, a competition was held between the four fire teams, to which team could suit up the fastest, and ready to enter a space with a fire. That means, skin completely covered up. My team, Fire Team 4, won the contest!  On the basis that we were the only team to not be disqualified for having anything wrong with our suits! You know the saying 'Slow and steady wins the race'? Having that mindset is crucial in fire-fighting. You may be fast, sure, but are you ACTUALLY ready?

Dreams do come true... even if they are getting Ice Cream.

After waking up on Saturday afternoon, after completing another week, I told some friends that "I really want to go out for ice cream at somepoint." So, we tried to arrange to go out for ice cream the following Tuesday. The plan was like a plant. I provided the seed, (Hey, I wanna go get Ice Cream), a friend sowed the seed (Sure, let's do this on Tuesday), and another friend watered the soil (Hey other friends, wanna get ice cream on Tuesday). The plant quickly withered and died. The plan conflicted with other plans. Unfortunately, the message of "hey, most of us are busy, so we are going to have to cancel the whole plan, sorry." Didn't make it's way to the seed of the plan until the day of the plan. All hope of getting Ice Cream seemed lost. Or so I thought. After a Saturday full of out of town activity (more on that later), The message was sent to the Whatsapp group "Ice cream at Cremino". It was happening. After only a week. And it happened. A few hours ago, I had been ziplining through Baobab trees, had a White Chocolate and Strawberry Magnum, and now we were getting Ice Cream. I felt I had peaked that day. And the perfect photo showing exactly how I was feeling was taken. Also, If you are in Dakar, and are looking for Ice Cream, I would highly recommend Cremino!
Together at last.... Choc
o Noisette and Salted Caramel


Safaris and ziplining through Baobab trees

Most of that Saturday was spent exploring and seeing the beauty in the natural landscapes of Senegal, in Bandia nature reserve and Accrobaobab. I, along with my parents, and a fairly large group, including Mike, the Carpenter, Nic (One of the officers), Riku (Another officer, from Japan!) and 'Matsu' (Engineer, also from Japan), Barry and Cheryl (British, married, chaplain and housekeeper, respectively), and about another Mercy Ships vehicle full. We weren't the only Mercy Shippers going to Bandia, though. There were like another two Mercy Ships vehicles going to Bandia. We calculated that all but one of the vehicles for personal use had gone to Bandia. Only one was either at the ship, or elsewhere. So where was the last vehicle? That was a mystery. So, Bandia. Bandia was so nice. It was so good to just get away to get away from the hustle and bustle of the port and town, swapping people not that I don't like people, it's just, being around people, particularly a large number of people, does get tiring for lots of beautiful animals, and swapping the environment of dust, metal and concrete structures for baobab trees, and the breathtaking West African countryside. If that is what you call the more, natural areas of West Africa. I had never been on a Safari, but it felt like exactly how you may imagine: A big, open sided jeep, with a guide. Not the most descriptive description, but that was all there was to it. The only thing missing was the guide carrying a rifle with tranquilliser darts, in case some animals got a little bit too grabby with our food. I'm looking at you, monkeys. The animals were chill, I think they just wanted the humans to stop looking at them, and mind our own business. Especially a couple of giraffes, who kept bashing their heads into each other. I don't blame the animals sometimes, to be honest. We also saw a juvenile tortoise trying to pick a fight with some of the older tortoises. I can imagine they were thinking "Please leave me alone. I just wanna stand around being a tortoise"

After a relaxing truck ride on the ground, observing African nature, we then used an opportunity to see the serene African nature from a different perspective, and with a slightly more active demeanor... up in the sky.... Nearly. Zipling through Baobab trees. It's like Go-Ape, to all my fellow Brits. And maybe some Americans, as I just found out! Accept, through Baobab trees. The course we did, the highest and longest, was a mix of predominately ziplining and tight rope walking. The ziplining, surprisingly, was the easier part of the course. All it involved was hooking yourself up to the cable, and ensuring you get the wheelly system hooked up correctly, then you zoom through the sky, hoping that the cable doesn't snap halfway through. On one of the last lines, I didn't put in enough 'oomph' at my launch, so I just missed reaching the next platform without having to drag myself to the platform. And I grabbed on to the cable a bit too soon, and stopped myself. Just before the end. And rubbed my hands against the cable. Wasn't fun. The next line, though. landed perfectly, In one. zoom. Maybe. I don't know how to put it, but I reached the next platform in one go. The hardest part was the tight rope walk parts. The first was two cables vertically parallel too eachother. It wasn't easy, with the fear of maybe losing a shoe. That almost happened climbing up the first ladder. And also maybe getting hit in the head by a rogue Baobab fruit. Which are heavy. Almost happened twice. But, taking the time to not slip off, (We were clipped to the top cable, so not fall off) allowed me to take a good look at the surroundings - the trees, the plains, the settlements, the odd industrial building. It is truly breathtaking. It kinda felt like being the camera of the aerial shots of a nature documentary. Or the establishing shots, just before we see the city in Wakanda in Black Panther for the first time. Nic, who was ahead of me in the course, who waited for me to get to the next platform before zooming to the next mentioned how focused and determined I looked, walking across the last tight rope walk. After completing the course, and after ice creams, it was time to head back to the port.

Other recent deck work has included greasing life boat davit cables. Not very nice, mainly because Harmattan is back, the dusty season, so cleaning the dirt off the cables wasn't fun. Also, some not so fun enclosed space work. Though, I didn't go in, I was just supervising, by being the standby man, but, for the guys going in, my fellow deck HANDS, James, Francis, Cherif and Ishaka (James has several names for me. the most current being 'Supey' - shortened from Supervisor), It has been tough work. In James' words (or similar) "It's like an oven. The air blowing around is hot. We have been doing maintenance underneath the stores crane. That has involved sweeping the dust inside, chipping, and yet to be done grinding. It's a tedious job, and is a job that cannot go wrong. To all the 'Landlubbers', Enclosed Space work is one of the most dangerous work on a ship- that and diving operations. The entrances to the enclosed space also look like an old oven. It is apparently a job that has not been done in about 13 years. Which, in Mercy Ships history, is a year before the Africa Mercy started it's Mercy Ships service.

WOW, EAGLES!
My Adventure Crew, an elite group of young Mercy Shippers established during shipyard. A group that we want to go down in Mercy Ships history and legend, until no one knows how it truly started. We said goodbye to another one of the 'Founding Fathers, Simon, from New Zealand.  Simon joined at the very end of the field service in Guinea. It was a sad day. The day that we said goodbye, not when he joined! We became close friends. Mostly through his love of the way I say "Wow!" It was nice to have that close friendship with someone is a bit older than me. And someone to have a laugh playing Age of Empires 2 with, as I desperately clung on for life, trying to building farms, whilst he layed siege to my last villagers, stuck between a wall and a forest. So, a few hours before waving him off, as he left for the airport, we, aswell as some members of the Adventure Crew- old and new, went out for dinner at La Pampa, a nice local Argentinean place. Simon and I shared a Calabreasa Pizza. It was touching. After ice cream at Cremino, we went back to the ship. Simon wasn't due to leave until 10, so I joined another group that another group of us have formed within the last week. our little 'Mandalorian' watching party. The Mandalorian, If you haven't heard within the last month, is the new live action Star Wars TV series, exclusive to Disney+. Only 4 episodes in, and I am really enjoying it, the new grittier side of Star Wars, very intriguing plot. We watched the first three episodes a few days ago, and we watched chapter three again, mostly because on  of our party left before we started episode three. But that didn't matter, but because it was worth the rewatch, because it is the best of the four at the moment. Then we watched chapter 4, which had just been released. So, then it was time to say goodbye. And then we went back to the Mandalorian. So long, Simon, I miss you already!
I also said goodbye to another friend that I had made during the last two months, Vanessa, one of the OR Nurses. If you see this, actually written not long after you left, it was a pleasure to have met you, get to know you, and call you a friend.

Deck hand - Admiral (to be)

Trying to get back into Tabletop miniature war-gaming (after about 8 years, from visiting a Games Workshop in Cambridge and buying a starter set of Ultramarines) and about a year of my friend from back home trying to get me into the hobby, I decided that I would order the starter set of 'Black Seas', the new Age of Sail (1770- 1830) line of tabletop war-gaming miniatures. I have started to build a fleet. Or two fleets. I intend to build two small British and French Navy Fleets so I can actually play with someone. Then expand to create a massive fleet. Maybe.

This is what they looked like a few Saturdays ago.
Three 5th rate frigates, without masts. 6 Brigs, with masts
 Thank you for reading, now enjoy some beautiful photos of nature. Taken with my new phone, and I was trying to work out all the fancy photography features. So not all that great. Not that I take many pictures anyway.

See you again soon!

Matthew.
And here's a selfie I didn't realise I took.


What are you looking at?

"Are they gone yet, Derek? My head hurts"
"Well, you hit me with your head."

This lake didn't look as nice as the picture would make it to be.
But it was nice to see a different body of water

Take my ice cream. I dare you. I double dare you

An antelope, I think. I don't remember

A beautiful black and blue bird











Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Work in a different department, lesser known World War 2 battles and a long week of being ill.


Thanks for coming back, It's been about a month since I last wrote, so I'll do my best to let you know what I have been up to since I last wrote. As with most of my posts, this will probably be about what has happened that I remember or seem to be a once in a lifetime experience

But first, life on deck doing Deck work.

I feel like I have been telling a few people back home the same thing about what Deck work is like; A lot of the same of stuff as usual: A lot of chipping, grinding and painting, with maybe some different tasks to be completed. At the moment, at the early stage of the field service, the different kind of work is Container work. This usually involves one container at a time, but due to customs, we had three containers stuck in country. When they were all released, we suddenly had three containers to empty. Containers became the priority. So I spent a little bit of time on dock 'supervising' moving pallets to the container to our own transfer container, which would then be lifted into the cargo, to be unloaded, then moved back onto the dock to be reloaded with pallets. It's repetitive, but it's nice to be doing something different once in a while. 

 I also tell a lot of people on ship that Deck work is pretty much general maintenance, to keep the Ship as strong as it can be. Which I am proud to be doing, to keep the mission going on this ship until the new ship is ready. And I guess, until this ship is done and I guess 'Too old to continue in service' and has to be decommissioned. The ship is about as old as Mercy Ships, about 40 years, which in ship years, is pretty dang old.  Want to hear the impression our ship makes on neighbouring berthed bulk carrier ships? The crews are amazed by our old mooring deck machinery. 

Why have I been sick?

The truth is, I don't know. Pretty ironic for a hospital ship, but things go around. I think I got what everyone else has been getting. At least that is what the crew clinic said. The story begins on one Wednesday morning I had Monday off (though I was working elsewhere) and Tuesday off, because I was on Night Patrol for a week. I started to notice that it was a bit painful to swallow, but I went about my morning. I was doing a bit of Fireman duty for Paulo, our current Firefighting Equipment officer from Portugal. I was doing the routine inspection of the Fire extinguishers around Decks 2 and the Engine Room. I had been doing this stuff in the engine room months ago, but it's nice to have a bit of a change of work scenery. I started, went for break and started again. 

Until Paulo came down to find me, to let me know about some Engine testing that was going on, which I had to be involved for. When you are on a ship that doesn't operate like most ships, in that it has a hospital inside and doesn't move for most of the year, these things have to be done. So, I headed down to the dock. I was used to this operation. Close off the gangway, ensure the patients and other crew don't get in the way of danger. I was with Kim and Momar (One of our Day Crew from Senegal) after waiting I don't know how long before the operation to actually start, I headed  to the forward of the ship, just to keep an eye on the mooring lines. The whole job went on longer than I expected it too. We took a break, to let the other crew on waiting to go to lunch , and then we resumed for about another half an hour, before we took lunch. I was starting to feel a little bit feverish. I headed to the crew clinic to talk about my initial condition, which was a bit of a sore throat. I received guidance, which was to gargle salt water. which I started to do, before I was quickly called back down to the dock to finish the engine testing job. I didn't get much better, and I was becoming more and more feverish. And a little dehydrated. and tired. And a little bit nauseous. I confided with Kim, who trying to lift my spirits, took me to the aft end of the ship, to watch the 'floating power station' coming into port. I told him "I am probably going to take the rest of the day off. I am really not feeling well. Thankfully, the job finished, and we let the gangway down, and let the crew on. I was thinking about how ill I was feeling, but wanted to get the job done. So we did, I spoke to the Bosun and went back down to the crew clinic, basically saying "I feel 100x worse than I was feeling about an hour ago" so after vitals were taken, I was advised "Yeah, go get rest and don't go to work tomorrow". So I did. 

I didn't work the day after that. Or the day after that, not feeling that much better, the weekend came, and after that I had several days trying to work, but feeling. 'I am not well enough to work' So, after my mouth was becoming less painful, and a couple tests were taken of my blood and a swab from my tonsils, which turned out to be negative, but suspecting something that is not uncommon for my age group. As I type this now, On the 11th of October, on a sudden day off for a sudden weekend on call, I am feeling so much better, A little bit coldy, and having the occasional nose bleed. But unable to keep bloody tissues for a few days. Why would I do this? I am strangely fascinated by hardened blood, and the brownish colour at the edge of puddles of blood. I don't know, I am a strange human. 

A different line of wok

As I have already mentioned, I decided to work on my day off, but in a different department. Nearly slap-bang in the very thing we do on board. I volunteered to spend a day in Medical Supply. Working with Joe, Eric, Ben and the Medical Supply day crew, Bibe, I got to see what it is that that Medical Supply does on a day to day basis. I was informed by Joe that it could potentially be a lot of standing around. Not much happens unless a container is in. I shadowed Ben, to carry out the daily job of refilling the cabinets in the wards. This involved a check list, paper shopping bags, and going in and out of rolling shelves. It is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. I first saw them in the Doctor Who episode "The Stolen Earth", When Martha Jones is ordered by UNIT to use some experimental teleportation tech, that may or may not be complete, and the device to activate Nuclear warheads in the Earth's surface. Series Four had the best Finale episodes. 
Aren't these cool? Not what we have on the ship,
I just found this on Google. 

After refilling cabinets, and lunch, and about half an hour of sitting around whilst Ben updated the system of expiry dates, we went from the cargo hold to the shelving, filling up the shelves of nearly empty stock. Then the day ended. It was really cool to be able to go down there, and see what else goes on around the ship. Particularly because, after spending time helping with Container operations, moving pallets of Medical supply between containers, cranes and elevators, It was interesting to see the other end of the supply chain, and what goes on once the Deck department has moved the pallets to where they go.

Going out, and saying goodbye.

After a long week of Night Patrol, I headed out with my Onboarding group. Well, 95% of the adults of the group. We went to a very nice coastal restaurant, right on the coast. How on the coast? You may be asking, well the waves from the sea were crashing against the rocks, right next to us. It was very scenic, with a very different climate from either end of the restaurant. As we got out of the vehicle, in the car park at the entrance to the restaurant, it was like arriving in Texas all over again, which was fitting, because it was over a week since our 'journey with Mercy Ships' began. It was like leaving the airport in Texas to be hit with the 'wall of heat'. Then, walking through the open-air restaurant, it suddenly became cool, from the cool, coastal breeze. There was some delicious food. What did I get? I got a chicken burger, delicious Fish and chip shop chips, and a crepe with caramel ice cream. I didn't take a picture, but the ice cream was in the crepe, and the crepe was like a package, held together by a wooden skewer stick. It was all very good food.

The Lighthouse and the giant statue in the distance.

The party. But someone is missing
























A couple goodbyes were made over the last few days leading up to that evening. The first was Pauli, the Deck Cadet from Finland. He was also a cabin mate, and then Alexander. I have written about him before, he was one of the Able Seamen from Sweden on loan from Stena. He was my bunk mate. we had some good times. Our first moments together was during shipyard, and I was in the galley, receiving project supplies, then Ibrahim brought Alexander to work with me doing that. Because of the extra long pallet, we had to find a way of balancing the pallet on the pallet jack. So I sat on top of the load. It was sad to see him go. A group of us, mostly the deck crew went to the port bar bar minutes up the road. I was hesitant, because it was Friday night, and my last night of Night Patrol, but I enjoyed myself, and got back in plenty of time. I just had a Fanta and a Coke. On the same Saturday, Ian and Sarah had to leave temporarily. I hope that they will be back soon, we miss you guys!  . I did wave Ian, Sarah and Alexander off, because I was healthy at that point in time.
(update on 16th October, Ian and Sarah have come back!)
Kim, another one of the Deck Hands, from the Philippines, recent Mercy Ships Academy graduate, and his parents, Ramon and Nina, reached the end of their commitment onboard, so they have sadly gone back home, to the Philippines. It was sad, because Kim was one of the youngest in the Deck Department, so it was easy for us to get along, and we have the same sense of humour. I am actually the youngest. Yes, although I finished High School before Kim, he is a few months older. And so is Flynn. Who is also younger than Kim. Not all bad news, as Kim is coming back in January!

World War Two battles.

So, one day, during my night patrol week, I learned the most interesting thing about Dakar. Well, It's very interesting to me. During World War Two, a small fleet of Royal Navy warships clashed with the pro-German Vichy French Navy outside the port of Dakar, in an attempt to take Dakar for Allied control. How did that go? It was an embarrassing Allied defeat, and the British and Free French retreated. I was so interested and excited by finding out about this event, I used my Deck Devotion slot to tell the Deck Department this story. Also, Daniel, who I may or may not have mentioned in a blog post before, has come back to work on the ship for a few months! (He was a Bosun onboard a few years ago)



And yet again, I must come to a close. I have no idea if this is shorter than my last post, but I do hope you have enjoyed reading.

Thanks,
Matthew.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Back onboard, back at work, time at home, almost successful day trips and African cinemas.

So, I am back....


It is, at the time I write this, is the evening of August 31st. Why do I that? Because it's a special day? No. the last day of a month can be significant though, but it's nothing special today. Looking back on my previous blog update/diary entry writing schedule, I didn't always start and finish on the same day. Most likely a week in between starting and finishing, so I deemed it reasonable to include the date I started. Oh, I am in Dakar, Senegal now. Probably best to put that out there now. 

Rambling over.

So what has happened?

After some much needed, and well-deserved don't judge me, self-care isn't self-indulgence, breaks are needed to prevent falls into insanity PTO (Personal Time Off for all the non-Mercy Shippers) back at home in the good old United Kingdom, where I reunited with many things including, but not limited to; Family, Friends, my bed, Krave, beautiful views of nature outside my bedroom window..... In fact, just having a bedroom window in general....
Beautiful Wiltshire.


I had my first flight on my own, unaccompanied by adults, flying from Las Palmas to Bristol, where I was sat on the first row of the plane, which I had entirely to myself. I could have kept moving from one seat to another, but because I am so used to being in a row with other people and didn't know what to do, being the only passenger on the row, I just stayed where I was the entire time. It did get awkward at times, with the tinted glass right in front of me, making eye contact with the chief hostess.
But.... After Eights... are bitesize ... anyway?

I had the entire row to myself.

I was picked up by my parents, who had already left the ship two weeks prior, because my mum was due for a consultation about her knee. It was all good, though, as it turns out there was nothing wrong, and she didn't need an operation. We got home early in the morning, so I immediately went to bed. Later in the day, I reunited with my sister Zoe, and was introduced to Zoe and Seth's new dog, Tinkerbell, a rescue from Zante.


 In the evening, Seth, Zoe and I went to see Spider-Man: Far From Home. We also went to Frankie and Benny's (A restaurant) . I forgot to mention in a previous blog... I think, I don't want to fact check right now... that I managed to see Avengers: Endgame at the local Canal:Olympia in Conakry. My first cinema experience in a different culture. If there were cultural differences that I observed in Guinea, going to the cinema was one that I remember: In UK cinemas, the audience is fairly tame when it comes to reactions. I think the highest display of emotion in a UK cinema will be either laughter,  or crying. But even then, it is generally a small, audible chuckle, a sob, not uncontrollable emotion. In African cinemas, you get cheering and applauding. The atmosphere is estatic. It was so estatic, particularly when the 'dusted' heroes, Wakandans (Black Panther), Asgardians (Thor) and Ravagers (Guardians of the Galaxy) emerge from the portals during the final battle. So much cheering in that cinema, that Captain America's "Avengers......Assemble.", the famous line that all superfans were waiting to be said,  was almost drowned out. He was surprisingly quiet when he said it though. I do hate "Audience reaction" videos on YouTube, but being around people showing a different  appreciation for film  that is different to the reactions that I am used to, is somewhat nice.   By the end of Endgame, I was a broken man. I was completely maybe a slight exaggeration overcome by emotions. Mostly depression, and I didn't know what to say. If Infinity War was heartwrenching, Endgame was a completely different level that I didn't know was possible. The MARVEL Cinematic Universe is one of my favourite franchises at the moment, and it was something that I had been emotionally invested in since 2014.  It will be hard to let the beautiful saga go, but the so-called "Infinity Saga" - everything from Iron Man (2008) to either Avengers: Endgame or Spider-Man: Far From Home (Which one is it, Kevin Feige!?) will be my definitive era of the franchise. I still remember returning to the ship that Sunday evening, not feeling like talking to anyone, then again, I wouldn't have known what to say. Overall I, really enjoyed both films. I still haven't seen Captain Marvel, though. I'll leave that there, before this whole post becomes me rambling on about MARVEL superheroes. Though, I am sad that Spider-Man has been pulled from the franchise.  Not going to go into that, because this isn't a blog about film company politics.

My time at home was fairly uneventful... I had some friends round for an evening, it was nice to hang out with them. Had TWO Indian meals whilst I was at home. One of the things that both my Dad and I were looking forward to at home was Indian food. Ian (who was in our OnBoarding group) and his partner Sarah, from Germany, also from the ship visited us, so we went out for a curry the first evening, showed them around Corsham, my home town, then we took them into Bath the next day, where they got the train to visit another Mercy Ships couple. I had a Shakeaway. Missed Shakeaway. As with all unhealthy things, it was absolutely delicious! but it was sickly. I got Starburst and Bubblegum-flavour-Millions. I bought Spider-Man: Into the SpiderVerse, which came out whilst I was away, but I heard good things about it, so I had to check it out. Enjoyed it a lot, and I also bought Ant-Man and the Wasp. I was planning on getting Captain Marvel, but I found out a few hours later that it was releasing on DVD two days later. I also ran into Imogen, my neighbour and oldest and best friend.  We had no idea we would both be in Bath, so it was also very nice to see her. I popped into to visit my church Youth Group on their weekly Wednesday Bible Study. Lots of hugs in quick succession were made. It was also funny to watch them realise I was there, and to see them charging towards me for hugs! I also did a feedback evening at my church with my parents, telling the congregation about the things we have seen and done during our first 7 month stint on board the Africa Mercy and in Guinea. A missionary couple from our church works a lot with WEC International (Missionary organisation). Annually, for the last few years, our church and this couple has been training up missionaries before they go into the field. It is so much like the On Boarding that long term volunteers have to go through before the ship (Or International Support Centre workers who want to understand the organisation more); Internationals going to pretty much the middle of nowhere to learn how to work in missionary work and other cultures. This year, the contingent are working in a school in Dakar, so my parents and I were invited to lunch at our church to meet them, because we were also going out to Dakar.

I went camping for a weekend in the Gower with my parents and Hannah, my sister. We stopped in Cardiff, to see the apartment she is living in with her boyfriend, Nick. It is a nice place, but the main reason for going to Cardiff was to visit the Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. (Science Training and Tactical Intelligence Operative Network). It was an exhibition that had been all over the world, including London. The London exhibition unfortunately opened and closed whilst I was away, but Hannah found out that they were bringing it to Cardiff whilst we were home(I mean, she found out months ago, but it would be open whilst we were in the country). Very cool to see the costumes of Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, and the rest of the Avengers roster, as well as props of broken bits of Ultron, Dark Elf and Chitauri weaponry, and THE ACTUAL SHIELD used in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (My favourite film in the MCU). It was a cool experience. It was primarily aimed at the younger audiences of the Avengers, but I thought it was worth the visit for older fans. Also, I am not worthy of the Hammer of Thor.

A few days after camping, Calum and Kira (my cousins) and my aunt visited, as well as my Grandma and Hannah, so that was the only day that the entire Little family were together before we left again. Nice to see them all. I also re-discovered the old videos and photos I took on my iPod a long time ago.  Calum and I were trying to find a video we made of a TV show about stunts that we made up. What we found were much better. These included badly acted  explosion sequences made with Action Movie FX. We also found a sequence of shots where I was just  running I have no idea what film I was trying to make. Honestly, I think the angles in these videos that I made when I was 11/12 were much better than the angles in my short films that I made for Film Studies about two years ago. Go figure.

A few days later, it was time to return to the ship. We flew from Bristol to Tenerife. The ship was in Santa Cruz de Tenerife for a week, to give the technical crew a bit of a break and rest after coming out of dry dock, which was an intense working period, with a lot of big projects carried out that couldn't be done whilst on field service.  I returned to the same cabin as I had left with no bedding. Why? Because before my parents left and I moved into their cabin, my mum put my bedding into wash so it would be clean when we got back. Unfortunately, I forgot to take it out of the the dryer,  So I think hospitality  thought it wasn't being used and put it into storage. So I had to get some new ones. Though, I think technical crew were only doing 'soft work'. Mainly due to about half of the deck department going through basic training. So I spent the days just chilling about. I could have gone out into the city during the day, it was only a 5 minute walk from the ship, but since everyone else was working, and I didn't want to go explore by myself. I just stayed on ship. The superintendent my the ship, who normally works at the ISC invited Deck and Engineering out for an Indian as thanks for the work during shipyard.  Although my Dad and I were home for most of shipyard, we were still invited to go out with them. The curry I had was very good, and it was a very nice outdoor atmosphere. Some very strange sights. Including a man doing keepy-uppy in a circle: He walked up the hill, then back down again, passing us twice.

And soon after that, it was yet again time to depart, go out to sea, and begin the next ten month field service in Senegal. It was a shorter sail, however, and the swell was tough, so the first few days of the sail were spent rolling. During shipyard, one of the projects was replacing the steering gear, as well as the helm. It was hard enough getting used to the smaller wheel, let alone trying to steer whilst the ship is  rolling! Looking out the windows to see sky-sea- sky again- sea again  was quite scary.  As I only had one watch this time, I had to do normal deck work in the afternoons. This is a little bit of what I did in the afternoons: Helped with some line-splicing. I was working with Donatien, from Madagascar, Alexander (My cabin mate from Sweden. He is an able seaman 'on loan' from Stena as their way of supporting Mercy Ships) Martina (Also from Sweden, Able seaman, has since left the ship). We were repairing our mooring lines by cutting chunks out from them, and then threading other parts of the line through the line. I also helped Lawrence (Ghana, he was a previous Bosun onboard. He comes back from time to time to help) with taping over the windows of the gangway  hatch. Whilst it was open. So the only thing keeping us from falling overboard was a very long rope tied over a large and open part of the ship, and a harness .I also did some cleaning of paint on the bottom of the gangway Don't worry, it was stowed on Deck 8, Not sticking out from the side of the ship. Ship activities during the sail included: Worship on the bow, as always. I didn't go during the sail from Guinea to Las Palmas because I was dealing with a very bad cold during the sail, but I did go during this sail. There was also sock golf (Whatever that is, I didn't participate). There was a very fitting showing of The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawntreader. Not that we have a Minotaur on board or we were on a quest to rescue seven lords or anything. I hadn't seen the Narnia films in a while, I really enjoyed the nostalgia. I've been quite nostalgic for The Hunger Games recently, as well. I have listened to the National Anthem of Panem countless times for the last few weeks. There was also a Pirate Party for the kids On Board. A Nerf war was part of it, somehow. I spent the end of the party trying to catch Nerf darts in mid air being shot at me by Luke, one of the Canadian crew members who was once a cabin mate, who left in March, but is back again.

Then we arrived in Dakar. I had a different mooring station for this sail. I was on the Bow during the sail from Guinea to Las Palmas. This sail, I was on the side party. Leaving Spain, I held one of the taglines connected up to the gangway to stabilise it whilst the Bosun lifted it up with the crane. I also secured it down to the deck with lashings. As we arrived in Dakar, I helped to set up the Pilot entrance, to allow the Dakar Pilot onboard the ship. When he was on board, and we were ready to dock, greeted by the Advance Team. A group of volunteers went to Senegal ahead of the ship from about June, to make preparations. These included: Hiring the Day Crew, working with the Ministry of Health to set up the Hope Centre and begin pre-screening. Working with the port to acquire dock space, and get the dock space ready for us. Finding a suitable site for the Agricultural Centre. (To learn about the Mercy Ships Agricultural Centre, please check out my previous blog post from January 2019!). As we docked, I was at the top of the gangway, with Georgy, Abdul, and Flynn. We set up the gangway, and disconnected the hoist from the gangway. We put up banners along the raling of the gangway, reading Welcome aboard the Africa Mercy In French and English. Although, this was after the gangway was on terra-firma, not in mid-air. After lunch, and an impromptu Deck Department meeting between two stairwells between Deck 6 and Deck 4 in the Dining Room, I was allowed to go to sleep, because I would be on Night Patrol that night.

Before I woke up, the Arrival Ceremony had begun. A few of us decided to watch from the Bridge. No one really knew what was going on, apart from speeches, a group of Senegalese Women dancing in unison by sweeping the floor and some rap. At least I didn't know what was going on. Whether there was a program detailing what was going on, I don't know. My first night of Night Patrol, I was alone. The next two nights, I was teaching Cherif, one of the Day Crew from Guinea who was invited to become a crew member how to do Night Patrol. I think It went well, as per usual and as I would hope, nothing happened. On Saturday evening, I went out to walk around Dakar with my parents. We encountered a man who apparently had just had another baby, and according to tradition, the parents give others gifts to bring good luck for their child (Hmm....) I got a pendant in the shape of Africa with the colours of the Senegalese flag (And many other West African countries), Red, Yellow and Green with a shell in the middle. My dad received two 'Gold' rings. We aren't convinced they are actual gold. We saw a map of the world with ports that Dakar ships to, and learned that Liverpool is in Norway, apparently. It was dark, and we couldn't tell where the outlines of the countries were, though.

On the Monday and Tuesday following, I had two days off. I stayed on ship though, because they don't recommend people going into town by themselves. Our new Senegalese day crew are nice. I have been given much more responsibility over them, being given a team to clean the decks with. It was helpful to be given a leadership role on Deck, and I am liking the responsibility, and people looking up to me. Or, literally, looking down to me, because the Senegalese are very tall.

Sad departures.

That week, a small group of the deck department left. It was very sad. These included: Coltan, our Officer from Second Officer from Texas (I have probably talked about Coltan before on my blog.) if not, Coltan is a ship icon. He played the Sitar, and liked Indian music. Some mornings after Night Patrol, waiting for the duty officer give me permission to stand down, he would come up to the Bridge and play Indian music from his computer, leaving me very confused and wondering  where the music was coming from. As well as Coltan, Andreas and Veera, (Both Deck Cadets from Finland), Martina and Lawrence left. We ordered pizza and had a pizza party on deck 7 with the deck department. Riku, one of our Officers from Japan, brought out his violin, to play Irish music, and then Coltan brought out his sitar. It was a very surreal experience: A Texan playing an Indian instrument, and a Japanese man playing Irish music on a Danish ship docked in Africa. It was sad to see them go, they were super helpful. Lawrence knew what he was doing, and he was always supportive and positive about everything Deck related. He was also very spirit-encouraging. I didn't have too much to do with Martina, as she joined the ship shortly before I left the ship. We were on watch together, so we did have a few conversations during the sail. Andreas and Veera both joined in Guinea, so I did work with them a bit. Andreas was on both my watches sailing from Guinea to Las Palmas.

The Saturday that most of them left (Veera left the Friday night before) I went on adventure around Dakar (I'll go on to that) with a few of my friends. We wanted to be back on ship in time to see them off,  but not that I didn't like the rest of them to mostly see off Coltan. Kate and I, who was part of the adventure party both wanted to see off Coltan, so we made it a thing to be back in time for that. We did. But then I forgot to say goodbye! Oops!
If you guys read this, this is my goodbye message to you all!

3 goals, only 1 completed

As I literally just mentioned, that Saturday, I went on and adventure around Dakar. There are several districts on the 'Dakar-Plateau', but we headed north. I was joined by Kate (USA, Executive Assistant ) Simon (New Zealand, Information Services) Stephen (Switzerland, Finance)  Leon (The Netherlands, Information Services) Rachel (USA, Food Services. As I write this now (9/9/19), she left yesterday) Luke (Canada, Transportation) and Anneliese (The Netherlands, Food Services, She also left a few weeks ago)

We had three aims that Saturday:
  1. Visit Ngor Island
  2. Visit the western-most point of Africa
  3. Visit the old Lighthouse
Unfortunately, only one was successful.
We went via buses to the Ngor district. We found a way onto the beach. After almost not paying for admission because we didn't realise we had to pay.  We found a restaurant on the beachfront, and we got 'brunch', I guess. After leaving Guinea, I started to miss Bissap, a drink made from the juice of the Hibiscus flower. The thing with Bissap is that it tastes different wherever you go. Some places it could be very sweet, some places it could be a bit sour. So most of us at the table got Bissap, a few got coffees. Why, in the heat, I have no idea. They were probably not awake yet. We also got a few nibbles. The restaurant we went to was very stylish, it was like a lounge on the beach. A lounge of the beach with pelicans and a monkey. It's true, there were pelicans just chilling. That monkey was also the first monkey I have seen in my life OUTSIDE of a zoo. In terms of Ngor Island.... there were a bunch of boats that went from the beach to the island, but, it looked like, if you determined enough, you could just swim across to the island, it was that close. There was a group consensus to not go over, because it looked just as touristy as the beach we were already on, and the view across to the island would probably be exactly the same as we were looking at. We also think the guy who was showing us around the beach was trying to get us to look at the fish he had caught. Or his boat, we weren't sure what he was telling us. So we left. It was a bit disappointing, but the view just going up the concrete steps to leave was astounding. Just a bunch of parasols, with the flag of Senegal furled just to the side. It was a nice shot.

So that was one plan out the window.

We then got taxis to go to the Western most point, passing the US embassy  and one or two 'American Food Stores' on the way there. We didn't know how to get to the point, and we thought there was a path through an artisan market. Oh boy. That was an experience. Whilst most of the group went on ahead, Kate, Luke and I were lagging behind. Mostly distracted by the seafront restaurants. Then, as we followed the rest of the group, Luke was stopped by a stall holder, who liked his beard! He was then pulled into his shop. We all went in to see what he was selling, until I was dragged into the next stall over, by their owner. He gave me a wooden hippopotamus as a gift, and encouraged me to buy something else. After 'careful' consideration, I bought a tiger. Why in quotations, because I wanted to get out of there. However, what I didn't realise was, that right behind us, the guy from the NEXT stall over was waiting for me to leave to pull me into his stall. He gave me a wooden turtle as a gift, and you can probably guess what tried to happen next. I tried to tell him that "My friends are waiting for me. It's all really nice, but I have to go!" He wasn't having any of it. Until Kate rescued me and pulled me out of there.

We found another restaurant nearby, which had two very old and rusty ovens or stoves, that would probably  cause a fire if switched on. And someone trying to sell his things that he made was waiting for us. So I had to convince that I literally had no money left. He eventually gave up and left. I had juice from the fruit of the Baobab fruit for the first time. It's very grainy.  They also had a cocktail made from Bissap, Baobab juice and Gingembre, which Kate and Anneliese both got. Kate forgot what she ordered, so when my just Baobab juice arrived, she accidentally drank some of it, realising that didn't taste like Bissap or Gingembre. D'oh. It was still very nice though, I just stuck the other end of the straw in the drink. We also got plates of plantains and fries. They were ok, just very small portions. The western-most point was just a walk way. We still didn't know the path, but we asked the security guard nearby if the way to the point was open. It wasn't. Just looking across, we noticed just how empty it was. A bit weird, It would probably have at least one or two people, because it was the western-most point, so why was no one there. We couldn't go that way, but the guard let us walk to the end of the nearby fishing jetty, for free, for five minutes. We met an employee from the embassy! He told us that the  beach where western most point is closed off to everyone. Even to the people staying at the hotel behind it. It was closed though, and being renovated by Marriott.  So we walked back in defeat. Mostly because the guard came up to us, telling us that our five minutes were up.

So that is plan two gone.

Third time lucky.

We headed to the lighthouse, in the Mammelles district. Why is it called Mammelles?  There are two hills in the area. The hills look like breasts. Hence Mammelles. Literally, we went to the boobs of Dakar! On one of the boobs is the lighthouse, on the other boob is the African Renaissance Monument, the tallest statue in Africa, that is 49m tall, face to face with the Statue of Liberty and built by North Korea!

The taxi wouldn't take us up the concrete road up to the lighthouse, so we walked. It was a very nice view though. The lighthouse trip was successful. We got a guided tour of the Lighthouse, presented by a very enthusiastic owner, who was so proud of his job, and the views, he insisted that we take photos! It was a very cool place. The Lighthouse of Dakar is the second most important lighthouse in Africa, because it marks the 'gate' between the North and South hemisphere. The MOST important lighthouse in Africa is in South Africa, which marks the 'gate'  from the Western hemisphere to the Eastern Hemisphere.

Some very astounding views from the top the lighthouse of the city.
Glass of whatever +Sunglasses
= generic Instagram photo
The Western-most point on the continent of Africa



Simon


Long road to the Lighthouse


Lighthouse view number 1



The Lighthouse bulb

Lighthouse view number 2

Lighthouse view number 3

The Adventure Crew (photo courtesy of Kate)

"What are you two talking about, I don't see any icebergs?"



A Brit and a Canadian,  former roommates. And Baobab juice!
(Photo by Simon)







Going up the lighthouse (Taken by the very
enthusiastic lighthouse keeper)
(Annelies, Stephen, Rachel, Kate, Luke, Me, a pillar, Leon and Simon)



An international video call

The day after that, the Adventure Crew had an international catch u.p On this call, we were spread across four continents: Africa: Me, Kate, Simon, Rachel, Laurianna and Stephen (and Moise for a shortwhile) on the Africa Mercy in Senegal and Ian (USA. He was a project assistant on board during shipyard) in Tanzania (Mission work); North America: Philip (He was AV Technician on board. He now works as AV technician at the ISC, Texas!); Europe: Arne (Netherlands. Project Assistant. He joined two days before I left, but he went to the aquarium with us) Sam (USA, Galley staff, but he was in Italy at the time) as well, towards the end of the call, but the internet quality was so bad for him, that we barely had any conversation with him! Last but not least Michael (Australia. Internet Services) We ordered pizza. They were tiny. I had Tex-Mex. Due to some funny comment, midway through eating some jalapeno, the spiciness of the slice went up, through my nose, instead of going down. That wasn't fun. It was great to hear from them all (What we could hear, anyway), and to be updated in their own lives (What they were doing i.e. work, educational, waiting for a new phase .where they were. What time it was where they were calling from!) Reflecting back on a different time.... That was only a few months ago. It's weird. 



Presidential Beef.....


Different parts of deck work recently has included beef. Why? Isn't the deck department separate from food services? Yes, they are separate, but one day when I was on call, I was called out (I knew in advance about this) to help with an after-hours delivery of beef... Here's the story....

As a way of showing appreciation of what we were doing in Senegal, President Macky Sall offered us many deals, including offering to pay for our fuel, and has also pledged to give us 1 cows worth of beef for everyday Mercy Ships is in Senegal. So I was sent to the galley to unhook the pallets from the stores crane, and move them into the elevator.
Pallet of beef


Other than that, I have been doing more training on the stores crane. I did want to be trained on it in Guinea, but due to a complication with one of the cranes, the company didn't want to newbie going on the other crane to damage it, leaving the ship without a crane until Dry Dock for maintenance. Not gonna lie... I am a bit annoyed by that, but I also understand why the decision was made. Other Deck has been mostly the same as in Guinea, scrubbing the decks, cleaning, chipping, grinding and painting. We are in 'Rainy season at the moment, but the weather can change drastically. There was an INTENSE recently. During the working day. So instead of working outside, in the middle of a thunderstorm, I was asked to sort out the Paint Locker. So I got to work, rearranging paint buckets, organising by colour, organising used and empty cans and a bit of sweeping. Because of rain during the nights, most mornings on deck are spent pushing puddles down drains, to eliminate potential mosquito breeding grounds. The drastic weather changes? It can be SWELTERING in the sun. Very exhausting. Enough said.

Also, Rachel left last week. It was very sad. So, on the Friday evening, Rachel, Simon, Stephen, Leon, Kate, Laurianna and I went out to a hotel roof top bar, not too far away from the lighthouse and giant statue. The hotel is called Hotel du Phare des Mamelles. So, literally,  but not so literally, translating to Hotel of the Lighthouse of the Boobs. It was a pleasant evening, and the sunset was fast and phenomenal. We chose to go East just to see a sunset over Dakar. So, there we were, a group of friends, driving along the West Africa coast, chasing the sunset. We also found out that the on the crown of the Man on the giant statue lights up during dark hours. We also got Hawaiian pizza,  though it had chicken instead of ham, that was so hot, that it burned the top of mouth. Before we left, I had a very deep and meaningful conversation with Nic, one of our officers about Artificial Intelligence. What I learned from her is that the reasons why Artificial Intelligence is commonly depicted as trying to annihilate/enslave humanity is because humans are idiots, and Artificial Intelligence often misinterprets the data we are feeding them.

So that has been a bit about what I have been doing/ up to for the last two months/ please forgive me If I post stuff on this blog that you don't want to read, I like to use this blog as a bit of a personal blog. I also don't want to pump out updates that are purely about "work, work, work", so I try to put a bit of  variety into my writing.

As this was about July and August, and a bit of September, this one was longer than normal. When I get back into the routine of monthly updates, these posts will be shorter.

Thank you for reading, and have a good day,

Matthew.
The date I post this? 15th of September



Adventure Crew of the past - 4 different continents in one call! (Thanks for the photo, Kate!)
No. I was not twerking.
(On Screen, from left to right, top to bottom)
Philip (Texas) Michael (Australia) Arne (Netherlands) Ian (Tanzania)
(On ship.)
Kate, Simon, Rachel, Me, Laurianna, Stephen.





















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