The title of this particular blog has many meanings, which I will explain in due course. But first of all, greetings from a hot humid Guinea. More accurately, greetings from a hot dusty port. It's weird that we live in a port. I think that often as we walk back to the ship, dodging trucks, containers, motorbikes and people. Such a weird place to live.
Anyway, this last month and a bit has been a bit crazy to say the least. Here are a few key points:
Amy & I were invited back to the UK to help the Mercy Ships UK office with Spring Harvest, a large Christian conference that spans three locations across the UK. I was asked to come back and help run things at one location, before going to another to do all of the talks and seminars. Amy had a different assignment, mainly hosting our friend Dr Odry from Benin (picture below with Amy), who has been mentored through our Medical Capacity Building programs, and now comes back to the ship to teach every year. Amy and Odry basically stole the show wherever they went, naturally.
Odry has an amazing story, and is Benin's first plastic reconstructive surgeon, a dream she had since she was 12 years old. Louis joined us for part of the journey, before staying with Amy's parents for a few days while we travelled and worked.
Amy & Louis travelled back about a week before I did, giving them some precious family time before Spring Harvest. We had a really good time, though we were both knackered by the end. It definitely wasn't a holiday but in all honesty appreciated the break from ship life for a bit (and a chance to drink some decent beer - thanks Will!). We got a chance to catch up with some of our closest friends, if only brief, but always very special.
Guinea - preparations to leave
Our time here in Guinea is nearly done. Hard to comprehend we have been here for 9 months already, with just one month to go. I am responsible for overseeing the pack-up of our dockside setup, and making sure that over the next three weeks or so, we have everything on board that should be on board, in the right place, at the right time, and whatever we are sending ahead of us to Senegal is in a container and heading in the right direction!! It's a lot of coordination, but honestly I'm looking forward to getting stuck in a bit too, if my work allows me too. Maybe they'll keep me busy in my office and away from all the important stuff!!
It also means we will say goodbye to a lot of our friends over the next few weeks as they finish their service with the ship. Always a sad time of year, but we pray they all go on to do great things. We can't hog all the good people here, and there will be more people coming next year who we will get to know well.
We also celebrate everything that has been achieved here. The thousands of people who have received treatment or training, and the lives changed. We will look back very fondly on our time here. The below picture is one of my favourites from this field service; one of our women's health patients dancing as she is discharged from our care, restored and free.
As well as preparing for leaving Guinea, we are also preparing for our annual maintenance period. We will be sailing to Las Palmas (Canary Islands) for about seven weeks in total, most of that with the ship lifted out of the water.
Canary Islands you say?! That sounds like a holiday! Doesn't it just, but it's far from it for those that stay to work on the ship.
Amy & Louis will return to the UK for this time, as children aren't allowed to be on the ship while the ship is in dry dock. I will stay on board (apart from a long weekend back with the family somewhere, cheap flights permitting) as a lot of the work affects my departments and my areas of responsibility.
Living on a metal ship with no air conditioning and no ventilation, in Spanish summer, is no holiday. It's a sweaty business, and there's a lot of hard work going on to get the ship ready for the next field service, and ready to sail the seas once more. I will also be the Acting Managing Director for this period while our MD, Warrie, and her family take some well-deserved time off. If everything goes to plan, however, shouldn't mean a whole lot! And shouldn't change what I'm doing. At least that's the plan...
If that wasn't enough, we are also planning for our next 10-month field service in Dakar, Senegal. Each field service looks quite different from another, and this will be no exception. We have a team in Dakar already making preparations and we are supporting them and answering their questions on a daily basis. We have the exact dates of when we need to leave Guinea, arrive in Las Palmas, leave the shipyard, arrive in Dakar... and in its simplest form is what we are all aiming for - arriving in Dakar on time, with everything setup that needs to be. The ship is so complex at times and in certain areas that means it takes more collaboration, communication, diplomacy, forgiveness, crucial conversations, and prayer than anything else I've ever been involved in. Quite remarkable that it all works, and by the grace of God, it does.
We are looking forward to Senegal. It will be a very different vibe to Guinea. That's not a bad or a good thing, just different. But you'll hear more about Senegal when the time comes!
Next week we will welcome the Mercy Ships International Board to the Africa Mercy, where they will hold their annual meeting. Lots of planning has gone into this, and will be good to see a few that we know, and meet many that we don't. I'm not hugely involved but will play a support role as we shuttle everyone around and give them a warm Africa Mercy welcome.
We also celebrated Mercy Ships' 100,000th surgical procedure yesterday! A real milestone for the organisation.
Last week we invited over 200 of our local partners here in Guinea to a celebration of our field service, and everything we have achieved together. We rely on a lot of partnerships, whether it be with the Port officials, Government officials, Ambassador's, local companies (internet, banks, fuel), immigration officials at the airport, customs officials, shipping agents etc etc... we definitely don't do this on our own. It was a good reception, where the Minister of Health shared some encouraging and kind words for us.
I get told off for not posting enough pictures of Louis, so here's one!
He is growing up really fast and learning lots of new words. This morning, as I do most days, I went down to the Dining Room to get breakfast for the three of us and as I was leaving the cabin he shouted the word "TOAST!" at me. Lo and behold, he wanted toast. His favourite words are "car", "Choo-choo", and "no". He actually says a form of "wahey!" for yes, which is fun because it sounds like he is saying "oui", fulfilling Amy's dream of him being bi-lingual! And sentences are coming, evident when Amy was singing to him at bedtime last night when he waved her out of the room and said "no more sing, Mummy"! He makes us laugh so much, and is such a delight.
Amy deserves her own section, too :)
Amy has been helping out in the Operating Rooms and in PACU (post-operative care unit; had to Google that to make sure I got it right). They've been a bit short-staffed as people have had to go home, so she's got back into the blue scrubs and helped out when she can. She has also been orientating the new OR Crew that come in every week.
Amy continues learning French and is much better than she gives herself credit for. What else can I tell you about Amy? She's lovely, but you all know that already.
I think that's probably enough for now. Next update will probably be on the sail from Guinea to Las Palmas, or when we've arrived. The next few weeks are going to be really busy, but we'll find some time to say hi again soon.
We hope you are all well and looking forward to summer / winter, wherever you are!! We'd love to hear from you.
Ally, Amy & Louis xx