This from Marilyn on the Africa Mercy, the first week in September, the week of her 70th birthday! And here she goes again, off on another adventure in a very "far-away land." Sharon
(This is a running email post written by a volunteer nurse serving on the Africa Mercy, a hospital ship that travels the African coast).
8 Sept 2014
"We have a plan...fluidly speaking"
It seems odd that I've been here for only a month--so much waiting and wondering, so many plans changed, and changed again.
Let's see...Since I last wrote, our leadership finalized their
decision not to go to Benin at this time. The situation was just
too precarious, and there was too much chance that we would make the situation worse by inducing people to travel and congregate.
Next, we considered returning to the Congo, where we had our last field service. Unfortunately, the situation in neighboring DRC was also precarious--sources told us that it was much worse than was being reported. The government of Congo preferred that we not come into their port at this time, for the same reason--we are a magnet, and people will travel to get to us.
So, where are we going? The latest plan is...________(I'm not
allowed to say just yet). I must admit, this country wasn't even
on my short list of possibilities. Looking at the map, I discover
that it is very far away! The sail will be long indeed--all the
way down the west coast of Africa, a stopover in South Africa to
refuel and replenish our supplies, and then another sail up the
Usually, it takes months to get a protocol signed with a host
country, even a country where we've been before. For last year's
field service, it took a year to hammer out the details of the
protocol with Congo. It took two months to finalize the protocol
with Benin, a country where we've been five times previously.
We've never been to "country next" before, but with them,
negotiations began one weekend and were finalized and signed one week later. Seems like God has opened a door for us, doesn't it?
Dates...are quite tentative at this point. The target date for
arrival in country next is October 25. We will deploy an advance
team to work with the government and with the port authorities so that at least the legal stuff (protocols, visa waivers...) will be
done and essential services (water, sewer, trash...) will be
available. Much of what the advance team traditionally does will
not be done, of course, because they have only 40 days. It means a slower, more gradual start-up for the field service. We probably won't have an eye clinic building waiting for us, or day crew hired, or screening sites located. Other departments will be
similarly impacted. But, I hear that this is the way we used to
operate, so this is a return to old patterns of arrival, not
Meanwhile, work on the ship continues. The engineers successfully replaced the O-rings in the propeller shaft, but unfortunately, sea trials to test that repair revealed a second problem, something with the side thrusters. I'm not sure what they will do about that. The delay to fix the propeller allowed time for other repairs, too. They've been working on something electrical--we've had several blackout periods while they worked--and other less critical repairs. Other departments are working on special projects of various sorts, too, so the extended shipyard time has not been wasted.
We are also awaiting the arrival of two containers. We shipped
containers to Benin, our usual procedure...but it takes two to
three months to get a container, and we didn't know what country
next would be in time to send containers there.
When it rains, it pours. Now, our massive freezer went on the
fritz. That repair is likely to cost $100,000 and take eight days.
Even paying the shipyard workers extra to work the holiday
weekend, this will delay our departure for another two days. So,
our proposed departure date is now September 13--if all goes well.
Once repairs to the ship are sufficient for sailing and the
containers arrive, we'll leave the shipyard in Las Palmas to sail
for Cape Town, South Africa. In Cape Town, the plan is to do some PR work--lots of tours of the ship, etc.--while we wait for the advance team to do their thing in country next.
We may also need to go into dry dock for repair of the side
thrusters. That is a bigger deal than just shipyard repair. You
have to lighten the ship of fuel and water and relocate all the
families with children to somewhere off the ship. We can't do it
here because we've already taken on too much fuel. The problem is, we're having trouble finding a dry dock with space for us in Cape Town. So, as you can see, plans and dates are still pretty fluid, developing and changing daily.
Faced with the prolonged sail, many people who came to help with the beginning of field service in Benin are going home early. Lots of goodbyes, and lots of rearrangements of staffing to cover the holes. I expected to work in the dining room for 2 weeks before transferring back to my "real" job on the eye team. I'm still in the dining room, and probably will be until late October. It is hard work, but not as hard as working in the galley or on deck crew. I get exhausted, but it is a good team to work with, and others do the really heavy lifting and mopping so I don't have to.
I appreciate their consideration!
All these details are not as fascinating as patient stories, but
perhaps it paints a picture of just what a complicated operation it
is to deploy the Africa Mercy to do those surgeries. Usually, all
that preparation happens smoothly in the background and doesn't get noticed, even by those of us who serve on the ship. Watching as these changing plans develop has made me appreciate all the more how many issues must be resolved to make a field service possible.
Now, if all goes according to the latest plan...I will celebrate my
70th birthday on the high seas, on my way to South Africa. My
chair might be rocking, but its not a "rocking chair." I'm on my
way to adventure in a far-away land. How crazy is that?
[Click here to learn more about the nurses and doctors on board the Africa Mercy.]