Monday, October 27, 2014

Africa Mercy - We're here! One Nurse's Journey

Madagascar at last! You can really sense Marilyn's excitement as she shares her impressions. A very interesting post. 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).

"We're here!"
26 Oct 2014

At long last, we have arrived to the port city of Tamatave, Madagascar (also known as Toamasina...). The sail from Cape Town was rougher than the previous sail. We never did hit a storm, but some of the rolls reached a tilt of more than 30 degrees, and seas were rough pretty much the whole trip. Restraining straps broke, food splattered, the ship creaked and groaned, and 20 barrels of paint got loose in the paint locker (I hear it was quite a mess in there--very colorful). Fortunately, none of the medical equipment seems damaged, and the crew escaped major injury. We were glad enough to arrive after eight days of "fun" on the high seas.

The captain knows "tricks and shortcuts," and he got us here at
exactly the time we were supposed to arrive. He made up more than 18 hours of delay somehow. The presidential celebration happened pretty much on schedule, and I think it was a good success.

Certainly, we got a lot of publicity out of it, with live TV
coverage as well as news media reports. Hopefully, his "Year of
the Volunteer" received the spark that it needed, too. I saw the
president and prime minister as they came onto the ship for their
tour, but of course, security dictated that most of us had to stay
away from their path.

Today (Sunday), the deck crew are unloading the vehicles, but most of the crew have the day off. Many have walked to town to explore our new surroundings. I got as far as the port gate but turned around and came back. It is HOT and HUMID out there! Next time, I'll set out in the early morning if I want to walk. First
impressions from yesterday and today, though, are of a friendly,
hospitable people who are glad to have us here. Perhaps they won't be as reluctant to come to an unknown ship as they were in Congo when we first arrived.

This first week, we will all be busily working to get things set up
as much as possible. Day crew begin with a general orientation on Friday and will be available to us after that, so we'll spend our second week training our eye team day crew in all the things they need to know. Screening for patients starts November 8, not quite two weeks from now, and the eye program will be underway. Our eye clinic won't be ready for occupancy for at least three weeks, so we have some puzzles to solve on how to get things done. I think that life will remain unsettled and full of surprises and adaptations for yet a little while. But at least, we begin!

Have the last 2 1/2 months been "wasted," since we couldn't begin field service in Benin as planned? Not at all. In waiting and planning, we've developed some new strategies for screening that should serve us well in the future. The era of a big screening
day, involving hundreds of crew and thousands of potential
patients, is past. This year, we will have a screening clinic,
screening about 300 potential patients each day for a month. The
clinic will then relocate to the capital city and screen for a
period of time. After that, we'll see. If the model works well,
they may screen in other cities as well.

Moreover, we heard multiple times yesterday that although the
government and people of Madagascar are delighted that we are here, if we had asked even a couple of months earlier, the answer would have been "It's not the right time." The political situation here is pretty unstable. The current president has been in office for only a few months, and the former president is apparently trying to get back into power. I'm sure there's more to the story, but the point is, thanks to all the twists and turns in our journey, we are here at "just the right time."

I am attempting to learn a few words of Malagasy. Manahoana touku (sp?) means hello to folks in the capital, but manakouri touku (sp?) means hello here in the port city. If you pass in front of someone, especially an older person, you are expected to be polite by saying azafady touku (sp?) while bowing slightly and extending your right hand in the direction you wish to go. Malagasy uses a lot of vowels, and a lot of syllables. The capital city is Antananariva, at least one syllable longer than I seem to be able to pronounce (people call it Tana for short). The president's last name has 19 letters. I'm not even going to try! Patient names are likely to be a challenge, don't you think?

The Madagascar adventure has begun!

Marilyn Neville

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


  1. I am behind! I am glad she arrived and that she is well. The threat of Ebola is always in the news and they must be prepared for this also

  2. Hi Marilyn and Sharon .. wonderful you've arrived .. and filling in forms sounds to be the interesting bit of the eye clinics - but I'm sure the serious stuff goes on behind the scenes - as you say you arrived at the right time ... that was fortunate. Good luck with the new challenges .. though you're all remarkably adaptable ... Hilary

    PS clever of the captain to make that time lag up ...

  3. Thanks for stopping by both of you! I know Marilyn is excited to get the word out. The Africa Mercy has been such a blessing to countless and the need is so great.


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You could call me an eternal optimist, but I'm really just a dreamer. l believe in dream fulfillment, because 'sometimes' dreams come true. This is a blog about my journey as a writer and things that inspire and motivate me.