Sunday, September 21, 2014

Africa Mercy - Madagascar, Here We Come! One Nurse's Journey

Finally up to date on Marilyn's emails. The Africa Mercy is Madagascar bound and likely in rough seas. Pray for the crew's safety and that Marilyn can handle the sea sickness! 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).

15 September 2014--Monday
"Madagascar, Here We Come!"

We are at sea--literally, instead of figuratively, which is a
pleasant change. We left Las Palmas Saturday evening, headed for Cape Town. The sail should take about 18 days, more or less,
depending on sea conditions. So far, we've had excellent sailing.
We got out of the Canaries ahead of a storm, and we have both sea current and wind pushing us along faster than we could otherwise go. They say the calm waters should continue for at least another day...but they predict rough seas further south.

I, for one, am easily troubled with seasickness. I'm faithfully
taking medication, yet I was borderline queasy yesterday morning, on these almost glassy seas. Oh, boy. What have I gotten into?

I'm going around the notorious cape in a boat? Me? This ship used to be a railroad ferry, traveling in protected waters. It has a shallow keel, so it bobs and rolls more than a ship designed for
open seas... Well, it will be "interesting."

We still do not have a dry dock birth in Cape Town, and we need
one. It seems that every "motel" is booked already--no place for
us to stay. We are praying that something will open up by the time we get there. And, I assume, the leadership is working on yet another "Plan B" in case there are no cancellations. So, any and all plans for what we do in Cape Town are still very much in the "fluid" stage.

On the other hand, plans for the field service are beginning to
solidify. We're going to Madagascar. Madagascar is a big country: 250,000 square miles, larger than California, almost as large as Texas. It once was reasonably developed, but not any more. I hear that even the main "highways" are often dirt roads. The people are extremely poor; health care is as scanty as in West Africa. There are 18 tribes, with racial origins as diverse as Polynesian, Indonesian, Arabian, Moor, and sub-Saharan African, but Madagascar is no "melting pot." Tribal rivalries and prejudices make governing very difficult. As elsewhere in Africa, corruption is rampant, making economic development difficult. In other words, its "our kind of place," a place that needs a lot of assistance.

Toamasina, where we'll be, is a small port city on the eastern side of the island. Open to the Indian Ocean, it experiences cyclones with some regularity. The rainy season starts about the time we get there, and lasts until about the time we leave. Sigh. That always makes things complicated--dirt roads, travel difficulties, people not coming for appointments. The city itself is quite small, which means that most of our patients will probably be found in the surrounding rural areas. Travel is likely to be one of the major hurdles we face, both for ourselves and for our patients.

We have an advance team in country already, working to gather
information and to set as many things in place as possible before
we arrive. I hear that they are doing very well--lots of meetings
with all levels of government officials, and the meetings have been quite productive. Information that the eye team needs is on the list of things to be done when time allows, but we don't have much feedback yet.

Meanwhile, work in the dining room continues. We've switched to an every other day schedule during the sail, which I think I will like even better than the two on, two off, and work every other weekend schedule that is the normal one. Yesterday was a work day for me, and apart from some seasickness in the morning, it went smoothly.

I tend to sleep for an hour or two between meals; it is enough to restore my energy for working the next meal. Today, I'll probably spend the afternoon on the deck, just watching the ocean. It is such an odd sensation not to be able to see land anywhere. We are a very small cork, bobbing alone in a very large bathtub. Of course, in this day and age, we are still connected to the world electronically. What must it have been like to be a small ship with no engine, no maps to guide, no information about "country next," no connection to the known world, and no rescue possible? Now that was adventurous!

Marilyn Neville

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


  1. I hope the seasickness doesn't get worse. It is a terrible thing that I have witnessed but don't have(thankfully). Good luck in Madagacar

  2. Awesome!!! I would like to welcome you to our Sailing Community - Clubtray Sailing on


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