Thursday, August 1, 2013

Africa Mercy - Sailing the Ocean Grey: One Nurse's Journey

The Africa Mercy has finally left port where it has been undergoing repairs and maintenance for some time. The medical team is on their way to Pointe Noir, Congo now, where once again they will provide critical health care services. This is a running post of my friend's journey on board this amazing hospital ship as a nurse. I love the dolphins she describes in this post. What a blessing she also happens to be an excellent writer!    

"Sailing the Ocean Grey"

We set sail last weekend, headed for Pointe Noir, Congo.  It's an almost two week sail--seems like a long time, in this age of air travel, but since this ship can't fly, we chug along through the waters off the coast of Africa to reach our goal.

The waters are grey, not blue, this trip.  That's because the sky is overcast, dense with sand blowing off the Sahara.  I had trouble sleeping last night, so I went up to deck 8 for a while.  There was not a star in the sky, no horizon to be seen, just a closed-in world of water churned up by the wind.  I held on to the railing, of course, since the ship rocks quite a bit with the wind and waves.  It felt almost greasy, damp with sea spray and covered with fine-grained sand.

You should have seen my hands afterwards!  Who knew I'd find a sandstorm a hundred miles out to sea?  It wasn't like the stinging sandstorms we used to have in El Paso Texas, though, because only the finest grains of sand travel this far.

When the ship rocks gently, it can lull you to sleep.  Last night, however, it felt like my bunkmate was kicking my bunk or stepping on my mattress while climbing into her bunk.  It was rather like someone was shaking me awake--so naturally, I would wake up every time it happened.

My bunkmate was safely tucked into her bunk, not guilty of causing any commotion--it was just the whole ship shuttering under the impact of the wind-blown waves.  I can't imagine what it would be like in an actual storm! I hope I don't have occasion to find out!

A couple of days ago, we suddenly had an escort of a dozen dolphins for about half an hour.  They were amazing to watch as they swam alongside, dived under the bow, and leaped into the air for us.  At dinner, I heard a seaman describe it from the dolphin's point of view.  "Ho hum, another day like other days.  Hark!  I hear the drone of one of those large, boring old fish that just swim in a straight line and sing  one note the whole time.  But often, there are parasites on those fish that can be a lot of fun.  If we jump out of the water, they make the grandest noise, cheering and clapping and talking to one another.  Let's go see if we can make them perform for us."  And indeed, that's just what they did.

Once we arrive in Congo, sometime around August 9, we will be busy cleaning and unpacking the hospital.  It's very dirty from all the construction, and of course, everything is all packed away and tied down for the sail.  We are planning to do our major screening on August 28, and will begin surgeries not too long after that.  Anticipation is running high.  This is what we've all come to do, and it is about to begin, another year of life-transforming surgeries for the world's forgotten poor.

The advance team has been in Congo for several months already, making relationships, finalizing contracts, preparing the sites for the dental clinic, the eye clinic, and the Hope Center. (The Hope Center is basically housing for patients who live far away and need ongoing physical therapy or dressing changes after they are discharged from the hospital.)  Containers of supplies should be waiting for us when we arrive.  Surgeons, nurses, and others are making their final arrangements at home, preparing to come before the big screening event that kicks off our field service for the year.

The advance team has been interviewing and hiring several hundred "day crew", Congolese nationals who live at home but work on the ship as translators, galley crew, deck hands, and other jobs. We couldn't manage without them.  Getting the right mix of job skills into each department and getting translators for multiple languages into all the departments that need translators is quite a project in itself.  Then, all these workers need to be trained, not only for their particular jobs, but into the Mercy Ships culture, expectations, and standards.

When you think about it, it's pretty incredible.  We have to have a full crew with technical skills to sail a large ship, a full crew to provide hotel services for an average of 500 people a day, a full surgical crew to staff several operating rooms, and a full hospital crew to care for the patients.  Then you try to staff that with volunteers from 30-35 different countries, go cross-cultural, deal with language barriers, move the whole operation from place to place every year, stretch your supply lines half-way around the world,  and work with a dozen different host nations.  Somehow, the Lord sustains the whole messy business, and we actually do a fair amount of good wherever we go. I am still thrilled to have a small part to play in this grand scheme.  What a blessing it is to be here.

May the Lord bless each of you in your endeavors, too.


Click here to learn more about the nurses and doctors on board the Africa Mercy.



  1. I enjoy these posts - and she is certainly a wonderful writer! I read about the damp sand feeling almost greasy beneath her hands and though 'I'd never have thought to put it that way'. Wonderful - and I almost feel, when I read these accounts, as though I'm traveling with the Africa Mercy.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    Diana at About Myself By Myself

  2. Thanks, Diana. I have similar feelings reading her posts. I am learning so much, too!

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    and it pinched her ear. She never wants to
    go back! LoL I know this is completely off topic but I had to tell someone!

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