Monday, June 24, 2013

Africa Mercy - Life in the Shipyard: One Nurse's Journey

More from my friend on board the Africa Mercy. Read about her life in the Las Palmas, Gran Canaria shipyard . . . on a small island that belongs to Spain.


 (Reported images of Las Palmas online)


Life in the shipyard

20 June 2013

Greetings from Las Palmas, Gran Canaria (one of the small islands off the coast of northern Africa that belongs to Spain).

Life on board the Africa Mercy in the shipyard is different from life during field service.  There's a completely different feel to it, as you might expect--sort of a combination of "resort vacation", living in a construction site, and working full time at strange new jobs.  There are only about 150 people on board, a mix of long-term crew, temporary volunteers who come for the renovation work, and shipyard workers who speak only Spanish.  Some of our families are still aboard; children in the shipyard freak out the port authorities, so kids have to be driven to the port gate before they can set a foot down.  That's reasonable--most ships in the shipyard are not occupied even by adults, much less children.  We are an "unusual case," so they have to figure out how to make it work for us.

Resort vacation:  This is a gorgeous island, a popular vacation spot for Europeans who want a beach holiday.  A couple of us drove around the northern edge of the island and then through the mountains in the middle of the island.  Fantastic views of the ocean, sheer cliffs of lava rock, and quaint little villages that were all impeccably clean and inviting.
The beach here in Las Palmas is a beautiful expanse of clean sand, bordered by a boardwalk lined with little shops and eating places.  The food is delicious, the fruit is lovely, and the prices are reasonable.
What more could one ask?

Construction site:  Jackhammers batter the eardrums all day long.  They are renovating the floors in the hospital.  This ship used to be a railroad ferry, so the floors have rails embedded in concrete.  Great for trains, but not so great for hospital patients.  It will certainly be an improvement...once they finish hammering.  Then there are occasional blackouts, water turn-offs, and so forth, to accommodate other renovation projects.  One of the trickiest projects has been the replacement of the CT machine. The original machine was installed before they finished building the bulkheads.  Now, how to get the old one out and the new one in?  Limited space in a "floating box" makes it a challenge to replace such a large, heavy piece of equipment.

Strange new jobs:  As I mentioned last time, I was assigned to work in the galley for the summer.  Feeding 150-300 people is a big project, and very hard work.  You are on your feet for nine hours, leaning over a sink or a counter, chopping food or washing dishes.  (I never made it to the "hot side" where the cooking is done...).  Well, by the middle of the second week, I was so exhausted I could hardly put one foot in front of the other, even after a night's rest.  I must have looked as bad as I felt, because my boss decided that maybe I needed a different job. Bless him!

So, now I am working in "sales."  We have a small "ship shop" on board, where we can purchase cleaning products, personal care items, comfort foods, and a few other assorted items.  We also have a Starbuck's cafe where we can purchase coffee and snacks.  (Starbuck's donates the coffee!)  I am learning the language of coffee...frappachino, cappachino, well as how to make them and how to ring up the sales.  Hey, this job is FUN!  Maybe I've found my next career.

One of my cabinmates has left the ship.  My two remaining cabinmates decided that since I was their mother's age, I should have a bottom bunk despite the fact that normally it would be Maryke's turn to move down, not mine.  That was quite a sacrifice on her part, to spend the next year in a top bunk for my sake.  I must say, I sure do enjoy the new arrangement, the ease of flopping down for a quick rest now and then, or getting up to the bathroom at night without clamoring down a ladder in the dark.  Maryke (South Africa) and Remy (Holland) and I certainly get along well together.  Hopefully, my new bunkmate will be as pleasant as they are, whenever she arrives.  Living in such a small space, it matters a lot how well you relate with your cabinmates, and especially with your bunkmate.  Meanwhile, my two cabinmates are both on vacation, and I have the entire cabin to myself!  How's that for luxury?

Well, time for lunch, and then back to work.


This is a running post about her work in Africa as a nurse. Click here to learn more about the nurses and doctors on board the Africa Mercy.


  1. Wow, your friend is on some adventure! It sounds fascinating.

  2. I get itchy feet reading her posts. Thanks for stopping by, Kimberly


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