Welcome to the MV Africa Mercy (that's 'motor vessel' for ye land 'lubbers!)
The first stop on our tour is the gangway:
This set of stairs is the first thing anyone sees who comes on the ship. When the ship arrives in port, there is great fanfare for the setting up of the gangway! At the top of the gangway is a check in area where every person must show their badge to be allowed on and off the ship. This is where our ship security (Gurkhas, soldiers from the Nepalese Army, we don't mess around with security here!) stands guard and keeps an eye out for any potential problems. We love our Gurkhas!!
Next stop is reception:
Reception is the central hub of the ship. All phone calls, emergency calls and pretty much any issue can be dealt with here. This desk is open 24 hours a day and the receptionists work very hard to keep things running smoothly around here. "Quiet in Reception" is a phrase heard frequently in this area. Reception is very strict on noise since they must listen for any emergencies, radio calls or fire alarms, but it's also the entrance to the ship and a gathering place for outings so they have to remind us a lot!
The entrance to ship is actually on Deck 5 out of 8 total decks (the numbers count up so the bottom of the ship is Deck 1 and the top is Deck 8). Also on Deck 5 is the Dining Room:
This room is very rarely empty. The work that goes into feeding the over 400 crew plus patients three meals a day is seemingly overwhelming, but the galley and dining room team of volunteers and local day crew does an amazing job keeping everyone well fed and happy! The room is open all the time and there are often gatherings here for meetings, card games or skype/facetime sessions. The drink station is also open 24 hours with water, juice, coffee and tea so we never go thirsty!
For each meal, there are two lines open with a variety of hot selections and always salad and sandwich options, The food here is amazing, nothing like what you'd expect from cafeteria style. While sometimes the options can get repetitive, I've already been learning the secrets from returning crew of how to mix things up! There's a reason that the phrase "Mercy Hips" is common talk around here.
Continuing along Deck 5 on the other side of reception is the very popular (and my personal favorite) Starbucks Cafe:
Starbucks generously donates the coffee and supplies to Mercy Ships to keep us well caffeinated! We joke that it's the cheapest Starbucks in the world since all we pay for is the shipping costs. Lattes, mochas and Frappucinos for less than $1! How will I ever pay full price again?? There is also a daily pastry made by our wonderful ship baker (turnovers, croissants, cakes...Mercy Hips anybody?).
Next to Starbucks is the Cafe area full of tables and windows and music. I love sitting here on my days off to people watch and chat with friends. There's always something going on here.
Up this lovely Grand Staircase (I don't know if it really has a name or not) is Deck 6. This houses the internet cafe, which used to be the only place to get internet but thanks to great service in Madagascar we have WIFI all over the ship. Praise the Lord! Across the way is an area we call Midships:
This is like the ship living room. Comfy couches, TVs, places for puzzles and card games...a little taste of home. It's also the coldest area of the ship which I greatly appreciate after being hot most everywhere else around here. Literally the best place to 'chill out'.
On one end of Deck 6 are some family cabins and the beloved laundry room:
We are allowed up to 2 loads of laundry per week and it's free, except for soap. There's a book where you sign up for a time and the laundry room is open 24/7. I hear some people working night shift like to do their laundry at 2 or 3 AM but I haven't tried that yet, haha!
And the International Lounge:
This is the biggest room on the ship and serves as a multipurpose room for meetings, training, and gym classes. Even the academy uses it sometimes. All crew are required to attend two meetings a week - Monday mornings there's a Community Meeting where the captain or director updates on operational things happening on the ship and Thursday nights is Community Gathering, which is more of a prayer and worship time with updates on other ship activities.
Also on Deck 6 is the Crew Galley, where crew are allowed to use the refrigerators and cook/bake if they would like.
Just past the galley is the Mercy Ships Academy:
We aren't really allowed to go back there, but I did have the chance to visit the classrooms during the Academy Open House last week. This school serves the children of long term crew on the ship. Every teacher and student I've talked to loves the academy. It's small but has lots of resources and huge heart! These students are learning so much more than they could in a normal classroom. It's even ACSI accredited so students can go back and forth from schools at home and graduate with full credits.
Upstairs from here, we go to Deck 7.
Most of Deck 7 is open air with just a few larger cabins (highly coveted ones). This area is where the academy students have recess/PE and the hospital uses it for afternoon outdoor time for the patients. The hospital wards don't have windows so it can feel stuffy and claustrophobic for our patients who mostly live outdoors and are not used to A/C. Most of them love this time to get out in the fresh air, play games, and talk with other patients or parents. (I'm pretty sure all the nurses love taking them here too. Definitely one of the highlights of the day!)
Deck 8 is completely outdoors and leads up to the Bridge (where they run the ship) and the pool deck.
Now to go all the way back down to the lower decks. There's not a lot on Deck 4. Crew cabins and I believe maybe water and air conditioning sections? But Deck 3 is jam packed. One half is cabins and offices.
This is my cabin from the hallway (The one with the flag picture. We really need some more cabin decor!) Most crew that are not a couple or family are housed in similar cabins with 4 or 6 berths. There's sections of 2 bunks each together with one shared bathroom for the cabin. The space is tight and definitely took some adjusting, but after a few weeks, I'm feeling much more at home in my tiny space. Probably the hardest parts are having no where to sit except my bed and figuring out a bathroom system for 6 people. Luckily, I have great cabin mates and we've worked things out pretty well so far! 5/6 of us are here either the whole year or at least half with one leaving in a few weeks. They say that's pretty good considering most cabins have a high turnover with up to 10-12 crew per field service! We have a lot of bare walls so if anyone wants to send me some decorations to liven things up, feel free :)
Just down the hall (about 10 sec commute) is the hospital! One whole side is the 5 Operating Rooms.
And the other side is the 5 patient wards (A, B, C, D, E).
We will be using all but one of the wards this field service for different surgical specialties and I work in A Ward. Each ward holds between 10-20 patients, except the ICU in D ward which holds 5. They are also small and can get crowded quickly with 20 patients plus a few caregivers/siblings, 4-6 nurses and 4 day crew. We are constantly saying excuse me (or 'Azafady' in Malagasy) and trying not to step on small fingers or toes! The hospital also has a full radiology area with x-ray and CT scan, as well as a pharmacy, lab and biomed department.
And last but not least, Deck 2. We jokingly call Deck 2 the dungeon since it's actually below the water line and only houses a few short term crew along with the tiny gym and a place called the Boutique. Here crew can donate items they no longer want and take items for free. It's basically like Africa Mercy Goodwill. Usually, you have to dig through a lot of junk, but sometimes there's some good stuff!
The rest of Deck 2 and Deck 1 are the engine rooms, generators, water sanitation and other facilities. Not so fun, but very important stuff!
And that concludes our tour. I hope you enjoyed your stay on the Africa Mercy. Please visit again soon!