Well, we've arrived. Arrived on board, and arrived in Guinea.
It's difficult to get my head around the fact that we've not even been away a whole month yet. We flew out to Gran Canaria on the 28th July, to join the Africa Mercy before the sail to Guinea. That journey itself seems much more than four weeks ago, and it was a journey that left us with a few stories to tell! It involved me, Ally, half-running-half-walking through Madrid airport with my trousers falling down and my shoes falling off... but I'll save that for another day!
We arrived on board around 9:30pm on the same Saturday, tired but relieved. We were back in Gran Canaria where we so desperately wanted to leave four years before. For those of you who have followed our journey these last few years may remember that we were stranded in Las Palmas when Ebola struck West Africa in 2014. We were due to spend 10 months in Guinea from that August, but were helpless in the face of the epidemic. Four years later, we are back in Las Palmas, preparing to sail to Guinea, again.
The ship was still in maintenance mode, with a week to fix everything before the 6-day sail to Conakry. It was a tense end to a difficult shipyard period for the Crew that remained, and it was straight into work for me. I have a vague memory of finishing my orientation on the first Monday morning, to be grabbed on my way out of the room by the IT Manager asking my thoughts on when we could shut the ship down for a day to do some major work on our IT systems. Quite the first question to be asked on my first day in the office...
I started my job as Operations Director at the beginning of June, but remotely. I was trying to keep up with everything that was happening, but it was clear that there was no time to settle in slowly when I arrived. I already knew most of the people I was working with, which made things easier, but I was definitely not the newbie.
I've also had the chance to work with some people I've not worked with before, including our Managing Director, Warrie. Warrie has worked with Mercy Ships for over 20 years, and I look forward to learning more from her as we develop a strong working relationship.
We had a week and a day in Gran Canaria before we set sail. I managed to get off ship occasionally with Amy & Louis, including a trip to IKEA for bits & pieces for our cabin, before picking up our buddy Jasmin from the airport. We had a Sunday afternoon on the beach with friends, and met up with others in the evenings. The week went fast, and before we knew it we were mustering on Deck 7 in life-jackets, and securing our cabins for the sail.
Side-note: Louis does not like wearing a life-jacket.
Then the sail. One of my favourite things. Being out in the calm ocean, seeing no other forms of life - other than flying-fish, dolphins, and the occasional sea turtle - is a great way to transition from one world to another. We faced a transition from Spanish beach resort town to a country ranked 183 of 188 countries on the Human Development Index. We've done it before, but those few days helps you to get your mind focused on why we're really here, on this ship, with our 1-year old, and 300 others from around the world.
We arrived in Guinea on the morning of Saturday 11th August. Exactly two weeks after we left the UK (one week in Gran Canaria, one week sailing... keeping up?). We were welcomed by the First Lady of Guinea, Djene Kaba Condé, whose foundation put on a ceremony to mark our arrival. These arrivals always make for a busy day as we entertain high-ranking Government officials the same day as we docked, but all went well.
Sunday was a rest day, before the "when shall we shut the ship down?" Monday business.
Which means it's been two weeks since we arrived in Guinea. It feels like we have been here so much longer than that. We have got a lot done these two weeks on board, including our main patient screening day here in the capital city of Conakry. Over 6,000 people turned up to be seen by our Screening team of Nurses. This is a very difficult day for everyone, as we are not able to help the majority of people that come. By the end of the day, 1,135 people were offered follow-up appointments to return for a more in-depth health assessment over the next week. In the coming months, we will also continue to screen patients from four regions in the interior as well.
We have explored the city a little bit, but so much left to discover. The Guinean people are some of the most welcoming & kind people that I've met in Africa, yet they have so little. It truly is an honour to be here, and to be a part of something special. Mercy Ships has been here before, so they know us well, and you can tell as you walk around the city. A great partnership.
Ally also had a birthday this last week, which was celebrated over dinner with friends. Another memorable birthday in a different country.
Amy is settling into life as a 'Primary Care Giver' on board, or 'PCG'. She is full-time Mum to Louis, a very different role than she had last time we were on board together. She will probably elaborate more on her blog throughaporthole, but it's safe to say she's already having a massively positive impact in community. Community is what drives this place and makes it so special (and difficult at times), but she brings... well, Amy. Enough said, really.
A sneak-peak into our cabin, lunchtime for Louis...
Louis has adjusted incredibly well and seems to be enjoying all the attention! He took three steps independently on his birthday, the day before we left, but is now walking almost everywhere! We have all been a bit unwell this week and Louis seems to be hanging on to a diarrhoea bug, but that's partly just par for the course of the first few weeks on board.
I think that's probably enough for now. Our first patients arrive to the ship for further evaluations this week. The week after will see our first surgeries on board, which means we will have officially begun. Can't wait!
As always we would love to hear from you. It can be quite a bubble over here, in our own world sometimes and far removed from what's happening elsewhere. So any news is welcome!
Lots of love from us,
Ally, Amy & Louis
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