Thursday, September 24, 2015

I'm Jenny and I'll be your tour guide today...

Please keep all arms and legs inside the vehicle and no flash photography! Don't want to scare the crew ;)

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!

Friday, September 11, 2015

From Tana to Tamatave to the Ship!

So what about that epic journey I hinted at the previous post? As I said previously, when we arrived in Antananarivo, we soon found out we would wait there for 3 days and take a bus for the 8 hour ride to Tamatave where the ship will be docked for the next 10 months of field service. Little did we know that our journey would begin bright and early at 4:30 on Monday morning! I was not awake enough to think about getting a picture, but let’s just say it was very early and still dark out. 

Our group loaded our bags onto a smaller van and drove a few minutes away to meet the other 40 or so people traveling with us in our caravan. Just to comment on the speed of life in Africa, we were ready to go by about 5am…we didn’t end up leaving until 6:30. Conveniently, that was actually when we needed to leave, but it took planning almost two hours in advance to leave on time, haha!

This picture was taken near the end of the journey, but if you look closely you can see the two vans in front of us loaded with luggage that made up our caravan.
Off we went driving about an hour through the city of Tana then we hit countryside and mountains for most of the rest of the trip. We were warned that there would be many winding roads and a lot of people get motion sick so most of the people in my group took Dramamine to prevent any problems, which meant a lot of sleeping going on for much of the trip. I was just enjoying the views as we drove. This is a spectacularly beautiful country with such a huge variety of nature and there was always something new to look at.

The area near Tana is filled with city streets mixed with rice fields. It's a beautiful and intriguing sight to see.

Between Tana and Tamatave, there is a large mountain range we had to pass over. Here we are in about the highest section before we started our descent. Breathtaking!

We stopped once for a bathroom break and later on to eat the lunch we had packed (baguette, Laughing Cow cheese, apples and cookies). Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a rest stop in Madagascar, so each of our stops with our group of 60 people took no less than an hour for each of us to take turns using the 1 or maybe 2 bathrooms available. By about 1pm when we stopped for lunch, we were all getting anxious to arrive in Tamatave. There are kilometer marker signs scattered occasionally along the road so we were trying to estimate how far we’d gone and how long we had left. 

As we got closer to the coast of the country, there was green, tropical plants everywhere! That white post is one of the mile marker signs we were watching for.

I knew to expect a longer than 8 hour trip, but in the end our journey took about 11 hours and we were all more than happy to get off those buses! This is my first view of the ship from the bus as we drove through the port:

It was surreal to finally be seeing the ship in real life. Most of us in my bus have been waiting to do this for many years and the atmosphere in the bus as we got closer was giddy! We were like children on Christmas morning, so excited to see what was waiting for us and to step foot on this ship that will allow us to fulfill our dreams. We were joking about passing around the tissues because some were tearing up at the sight. It touched my heart to see this first sign of the passion Africa Mercy crew members have to be volunteering for this organization and fulfilling our goal to bring hope and healing to the forgotten poor! 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

3 Days in Antananarivo

Well, I have officially been in Madagascar for one week! I am writing this sitting in the Africa Mercy dining room eating breakfast on Saturday morning. It has been an exhausting but exhilarating week of meeting new people, seeing new places, trying not to get lost in this giant metal box and setting up the hospital to be ready for surgeries next week! As much as I would love to tell you all about the last few days on this ship, I cannot do that until I write about the exciting things that happened in Antananarivo (Tana) while I was there waiting.

I had found out a few days prior to leaving that the ship was delayed a few days, but no one knew what they would be doing with us who were waiting in the meantime. Once we arrived, the staff here let us know we would be staying in Tana at this house until Monday when we all take buses down to Tamatave where the ship would be docked.  Since we had some time and not many scheduled activities, the group of us here decided to make the most of our 3 days. Tana is the capital city of Madagascar and the largest. As I learned over the several days driving around there, it is very widespread and differs a lot from place to place. Our guest house was in a “suburb” a little ways outside the city. We were surrounded by lots of homes and farmland, and we could walk about 15 minutes to a busy street area with shops and restaurants.

View from the deck of Chez Jeanne guest house overlooking mostly rice fields with some tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables mixed in.
On Friday morning, our first day in Tana, we met up with some other Mercy Shippers who had been in the country for a few weeks already. (The arrival of the ship was delayed about 2 weeks due to a mechanical problem on the ship before it left South Africa. Many people could change their flights to the new arrival date, but some kept their original flight and came to Madagascar to wait for the ship a few weeks early).  They knew their way around so we walked to town with them to visit some shops and exchange money at the bank. Later that night, all the Mercy Shippers in town (about 60 of us) were invited to a local house for dinner. The ladies who live in the house were from South Africa and are in Mada working with an organization that trains locals in occupational therapy. 

Saturday we spontaneously decided to hire a bus to take us about an hour outside the city to the local Lemur Park. Yes, Lemurs! I mean, you can’t come to Madagascar and not see some lemurs! There is another park closer to where the ship is in port that also has lemurs that I plan to go to eventually, but we figured you can never have too many of these intriguing little monkey/sloth-like animals. The park was great; pretty small, but with a variety of lemurs and a few other animals. It also has some examples of plants from all over Madagascar.

These guys came up near us while we were waiting for our tour guide before we even entered the park!

Hello there, Mr. Lemur! They looked so fluffy and soft, but we weren't allowed to touch them at this park.

Certain species of lemurs make up a group called "dancing lemurs" because the get around on the ground using this dance-like hopping motion that is pretty entertaining. The other types rarely touch the ground and stay hanging in trees.

Lemur fact of the day: they are afraid of water!
This river runs along the border of the Lemur Park to act as a natural barrier.

A view of some of the plants that are native to the South of Madagascar (desert region)

Ravinala (Traveler's Palm), popular emblem of Madagascar

We went to church Sunday morning at a local church also run by some South Africans. They had a Malagasy (the language of Madagascar) service and an English service. It was a great sermon by a visiting youth pastor who was here running a camp, but I was partial to the music as my favorite part. They had a really good worship band and I just love being able to worship with so many people from all around the world, who are here to love Jesus and share His love with this nation! It reminds me of this verse from Psalm 57:9-11 that says, “I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.  For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.” It was truly inspiring and a great start to our time here in Mada.

Group from our guest house at Tana City Church

Later that day, I was able to Skype for the first time with my parents; then spent the afternoon relaxing and preparing for our journey to the ship on Monday. That trip was pretty epic and deserves its own post so look for that to come soon!