End of a season.

This post by Matthew Little was originally published at Diary of a Deckie: My experience volunteering on a hospital ship.

The end of a season.

So. Here we are at last.

Said multiple fictional characters and probably some people who did exist and were in some kind of event that happened to be the proverbial ‘end of the line’. Probably, I don’t feel like fact checking this, but it doesn’t seem like much of a unique thing to say. I don’t know.

My time with Mercy Ships and my long service onboard the Africa Mercy has now come to an end, and now I feel in a state of  What is even happening right now. Presently, I am in in the middle of already left the Africa Mercy, and getting ready for starting the next season of life. University. It feels really strange.  The image below, taken from the plane, just coming over the British Isles is, I feel, a bit of an illustration of I am feeling.

It was only on the flight home, that I actually took time to notice the clouds over England. It is almost mesmerising just how still these big bunches of dust and vapours clouds are sometimes. I did A-level geography, but that was over two years ago, I have forgotten exactly the science of clouds, don’t judge. But it was like they were frozen in time, and, like all clouds do (well, most), obscure. At the moment, this time of transition feels like that. A bit frozen, surprisingly dynamic, and almost covered up. 

They also are a bit of a reminder of just how  breathtaking and complex His creation is. Whilst we as a species understand what clouds “are”, they are still incredibly detailed. The massive bunches of cloud, and how frozen they look are amazing on their own, then I noticed the tiny slithers of cloud branching out from the ‘main bodies’ almost suspended. I don’t understand clouds fully. I have seen the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets, particularly over the last 5 months, but nothing will compare to the wonder of clouds, in my eyes.

I didn’t expect that two Novembers ago, I would ”embark’ on a journey quite like the one I have just finished, but I am incredibly glad that I did. It has been a period of ups, downs, growth, experiences, adventures, and learning to live, work and serve in community. Through Mercy Ships, I have learned more, gained more skills and experience, that if I had blindly made  the decision a little over three years ago to just do what everyone else seemed to be doing after finishing education university, without thinking about what I would be getting into, or if I was even ready (I wasn’t) I would have never had the chance to do things that I have done. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again. Through my work in the Deck Department, I have steered a ship, helped to tie off the ship, and operated a crane. I honestly cannot think how many guys or gals my age would be doing that straight out of school. Plus, I got something pretty dang neat out of my work, through training. As of about the middle of July, the slow months of trying to fill in sections of a training book, and also one almost long night of watching about 4 (some very boring) 20 minute training videos, to hand in my training book to Eric (then safety and training officer, now Chief Officer) the next morning, paid off. I became a Malta-recognised Deck Rating. Official title: Rating forming part of a navigational watch. What can I do with this, asides from shameless boasting, I could work on a ferry. #thinkingahead. All jokes aside, I am truly grateful to my officers onboard for helping me to get through this training, and allowing me to get to this level. If archaeology doesn’t work out, I have a career path to fall back on. God is good, and it was his will for this to happen in my life, and it is a great blessing. I am ready and looking forward to starting this new season of university. I don’t know if this is the path destined for me, but Jeremiah 29:11 gives me knowledge that I will be blessed.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future”

Side note – I may or may not have gone on a tiny tangent to work out the parallels between Halo and the Bible by finding 1 John 1:7. I didn’t work out the parallel, I just checked an interpretation on Reddit.                                                                                                                                                                                               

It has been a massive honour and a privilege to work alongside the guys I have worked with, directly. The Deck Department.  These guys are the most remarkable men I have ever met. It was very strange, not going to lie, I stood  out like a proverbial sore thumb. Being the only white guy and also by far the youngest team was a bit daunting, This was essentially my first job, and my entry into the working world, and I felt, at times, that I needed to prove myself to them all, but their warming nature told me otherwise, and I was quickly accepted into this unique working family, as a brother, and it is an honour to call them brothers as well. Looking ahead, I will probably never work in a team so diverse, coming from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Benin, Ghana, Madagascar, Guinea and Senegal. (Also The Philippines, Sweden, and Finland and Hungary. Though the Finns and the Hungarian were Deck Cadets)  I am incredibly thankful to have had this opportunity to work with and get to know these guys. Though, I feel like being different to the rest of the people I work with is going to a running theme, for me. Well, for the next year or so. As I go to start University, it is going to be weird, to introduce myself to my fellow students. Specifically fellow  first years, who will predominantly be made up of 18 years who just finished school, whilst I finished school two summers ago, and have been volunteering on a hospital ship serving in West Africa. 
Land ahoy! Oh wait, I am on a plane and not working
as a deck rating on a watch anymore.
Add caption

As well as the people that I have spent pretty much the last year and eight months working with, I have also met and made friends with the most diverse and extraordinary people. I will always be thankful and blessed by knowing and calling these guys my friends, and like my deck department work family, I will probably never meet a more diverse group of people, from all different nations, working in different departments on the ship. I have had friends from Engineering, from Food Services, from Reception, from Hospitality, from the Hospital, from Internet Serivces, from Finance, and from the Hope Centre. I will always keep these friends in my heart, and I cherished the moments of laughter, all the experiences and memories we made together, and I will always appreciate and never forget the time they took to make my birthday truly memorable (although, having a birthday locked down and under quarantine on a hospital ship in Tenerife is pretty memorable on it’s own), and to make me feel loved. Some of my favourite memories with the  different friendship groups have been spending a night on Casa Island, Guinea; Going for an unexpected sprint through Conakry Port in a desperate attempt to get back to the ship before curfew we didn’t; Going for an early evening swim on a beach in Las Palmas, which was much more pleasant than I expected for about 6/7 o’clock; A day trip Dakar, with 1 out of three planned visits done. Still bummed out that the western most point in Africa isn’t allowed to be stood on. Call of Duty matches on Christmas morning and Secret Santa; Completely ruining a teammate’s fun playing ‘Codenames’  with the intention of losing the game, and somehow succeeding in that task by accident; Nerf war in the Hospital (The hospital was closed, and we were in Tenerife, in quarantine) Want a solution for having a bonfire on a ship where bonfires are not  allowed? Two bits of wood carved to look like a fire, with fairy lights/ and chocolate-coated banana chips; mattress surfing (I can neither confirm nor deny) and the ‘Tour de AFM‘, or ‘Great Deck 8 Tricycle Race‘ This goes out to (in relative chronological order of friendship. Mostly) Caleb, Laura, Filips, Imani, Michiel, Kim, Philip, LK, Rimke, Michael, Simon, Stephen, Sam, Laurianna, Rachel, Ian, Kate, Moise, Luke, Leon, Anna, Cameron, Josh, Kees, Heilke and Justin. I just want to thank you all for walking with me in this journey, it has been an absolute pleasure, and I love you all.

Casa Island, Guinea
‘Funky sock Monday’ Tenerife
A bonfire made out of wood. But then, bonfires are made
of wood anyway. Mostly
So what about my time with Mercy Ships, how has that been? It’s been alright, I suppose. I have particularly enjoyed the opportunity I had back early into the Senegal field service, when I had a day off, and I had the chance to see what working in the hospital was like. No, it wasn’t a day to work in the Operating Rooms, I would be far out of my depth! I helped in Hospital Supply. It was almost satisfying to  see how my work in the Deck Department emptying containers full of hospital supplies, pays off. Apart from some of the medical supplies actually going towards the life-saving surgeries. It was like “So I empty the containers full of general supply and medical supplies, but where do they go after that?” then it’s like “This is so cool, I now know the complete journey of all this medical stuff.” I had two memorable moments of interacting with the patients. The first was playing Jenga, which quickly became a very advanced version of Jenga, where me, John the electrician from Australia and one of the young men competed to keep our tower stable, whilst putting the blocks on at really awkward positions. Even if we understood each other very little, it was wonderful to just have a laugh playing Jenga. Honestly, it was fun to watch the tower fall. The second most significant memory I have of interacting with a patient was purely accidental. It was  in Dakar, and one day, in the deck department we were engine testing, and I was stationed on the forward end of the dock, to keep an eye on the mooring lines, to make sure that they didn’t snap or become damaged, or unless we were getting too loose. As I was watching, I suddenly felt a small hand touching mine. I look down, and I just find a little girl, smiling at me. I smiled back, but then felt incredibly awkward. I was just thinking “I know there is a fence between us and the lines, but still, you shouldn’t be here!” But being British and not wanting to be rude and not trying to make her upset, I kind of just let her stay. I don’t know if I should done that. I think she just wanted to help me do whatever it was that that I was doing, she didn’t know what I was doing, but felt she wanted to help. I have no idea. Eventually, I think she got bored of not doing anything and went to play. I don’t know why, but that felt special.

So what now?

A very good question, that I will answer. I am starting University at the end of September, studying History and Archaeology with a Foundation Year, at Bishop Grosseteste University, in Lincoln. I am very excited about this, studying and learning about the past has been a passion of mine, and I have this opportunity to study further. Plus, the idea of interacting and discovering lost artefacts is really intriguing to me. Whether or not I find cursed occult treasures and end up running for my life keeping the artefacts at of the wrong hands, I have no idea. Indiana Jones is a very bad depiction of Archaeologists. 
I guess you could say that I am looking forward….. puts on sunglasses to looking back freeze frame, roll credits, 80s rock song plays in the distance

I am ready for this new season of life. I think. I think I am walking out into a new world. But this new world is…. my own country. Looking at this in the bigger picture, I have spent most of the last year and a half on a hospital ship in a completely different continent, serving two cities that I may never see anything like ever again. Conakry and Dakar were completely alien to me, but Lincoln, a city in my own country is also alien to me. I applied for University, on the ship, blind. No open days, just researching courses on the internet. I have never been to Lincoln. What is even more hard to get around is coming back to England in the time of Covid. I was expecting everything to be completely different, and all the towns being deserted. (Because I am a seafarer, and I have spent the last five months locked down on the ship, with very little contact with the outside world, I am exempt from self-isolation) But, apart from the social distancing measures in place, everything feels the way I left it, after returning back to the ship after my personal time off last August. The line between familiarity and  unknown is blurred. The first thing that I noticed coming back home, and I am sure most of my friends who have been to the ship and been away from the ship, is just how loud the ship is. There is always background noise, whether that be the air-con system, the generators below me (I have spent most of my time onboard on the smallest six berth on the ship on deck 3), loud work involving hitting things or grinding things (Both below me in the engine room or on the exterior of the ship, when I am on night patrol and sleeping during the day), my fellow fireman or the Firefighting Equipment Officer (miss you, Liang!) checking the SCBA bottles in the fire locker right outside my cabin early in the morning on Fridays (Also when I have just come off night patrol.), or the faint sound of the dead man alarm in the engine control room late at night, until the watch keeper switches it off. I will almost miss the background noise of the ship. 

Before I conclude, enjoy some photos from the promotion of myself and the rest of the deck crew. 

Me and Femi, my Bosun.
Eric putting on my epaulets, whilst I hold a certificate, which is a photo of the certificate.
Francis, Me, Djurre Jan (then captain), James and Cherif
(we became Deck Ratings); Richard and Patrice
(They became Able Seafarer Deck)
“The Firemen” and Liang, Firefighting Equipment Officer + Cherif, who is a waterman.

So what happens with the blog, you may be asking? I intend to keep the blog going, however, I don’t think posts will come out as regularly as I have tried to do, mostly because I don’t want to keep pumping out blogs about university life, and most of my time will probably be filled up with studies, and whatever I feel like doing. This will be more of a personal blog, writing about whatever is important to me and I want to share. Tune in for that, I guess.

Thank you!

This one will probably have a lot more meaning, I just want to thank you for reading. it has been a bit of a chore, at times, but to me, a read of any of my last how many or so posts is a big encouragement, so thank you for that support. I really hope that you, if you have been following the blog you have enjoyed reading.
Thank you,
And goodbye.
Matthew.

A different kind of ship-life, reflection and two decades of life.

This post by Matthew Little was originally published at Diary of a Deckie: My experience volunteering on a hospital ship.

A Different kind of ship-life, reflection and two decades of life.

Hello. It’s me, Matthew Little. The author of this blog I just want to start by recognising that yes, I haven’t updated this blog in a few months. My reasons are that I just didn’t know what to write. I had honestly felt like that I had written everything that I possibly could have about life on the M/V Africa Mercy (This is the name of the vessel I have been serving as a deck hand for about a year and a half . There is a United States Navy Ship Mercy, which is also a hospital ship, and has been in the news recently for an unfortunate reason but we are two completely different vessels. I just felt I should clear this up.) 
Without repeating myself by recalling doing the same tasks over and over again, but in a slightly different part of the ship, in a slightly different circumstance, neither, did I want to flood the blog with other information about what I did in my free time. Whilst I have heard that some of my readers like that, and it allows them to have a virtual way into Senegal and West Africa, but I also didn’t do too much exploring, asides from the occasional night out with friends getting food or something. There just wasn’t much that I thought was interesting. But now times have changed. I think we all know that. 

Be warned, this may also be a long one. Stick around, if I ever publish my blog posts as volumes, this post may just be it’s own book. And if it is adapted into a film, Peter Jackson managed to adapt one book into a trilogy of movies, so why not this one. Just add characters who don’t even appear in the book, it’s fine.


For those curious about what has happened in Senegal, please read this official statement issued by Mercy Ships:


The current situation of COVID-19, highlighted by the W.H.O.’s announcement of the designation of COVID-19 as a pandemic and the increasing travel restrictions applied by several countries, have made it increasingly difficult for Mercy Ships to continue to carry out its programs to the required standards, while protecting against the possible spread of the virus.

Therefore, in line with the measures taken by the President of Senegal with the Ministry of Health, Mercy Ships has reviewed the activities associated with the Africa Mercy and has decided to wind down the programmatic operations of our mission in Senegal.

The main concerns of Mercy Ships are the health of the Senegalese people and the safety and well-being of our own volunteers, crew and staff worldwide

While we regret these measures, we are convinced that they are necessary for the safety and well-being of all concerned.

As we face these challenging events, we would like to thank you for your ongoing prayers and support to Mercy Ships and our mission to bring hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor.


And now, we are no longer in Senegal, and we have sailed to Tenerife, where I write now. Over a course of a few weeks, I will add. I can’t sit down to write one post in one day. When we received this news on board, that was when I realised the world had just been turned upside down. And everything on the ship changed. Well, not literally, but for a few days after this…. It was hard to process the news, but on the ship, I noticed a very stark change of atmosphere. 

Already, the world seems a bit less bright. – Joshamee Gibbs, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

It was really strange, that us on board, looking in, reading the news from back home about how COVID-19 is spreading rapidly around our home countries. We were worried for Family and friends back home. I had decided that I would give up Facebook and Instagram for lent, but then, not knowing exactly who to talk to, not knowing exactly what to ask, who to ask if they were ok, I just wanted to read a message saying a “Yeah, I’m ok”, I just decided to break my social media fast, just to see updates, to see that they were doing ok. Starting these conversations scared me. But social media updates were just a huge a relief. I didn’t like deciding to break that fast, but it was worth it, to see that people were ok. 

It was also very strange, to read updates and statistics, to think that being so far away from home, where there were no cases in Senegal or Africa yet, and to think, we were safe where we were. But then that all changed, hearing about the first confirmed case of Senegal, reading that the World Health Organisation declaring Covid-19 as a Pandemic, and suddenly, shore leave has been stopped, and we will prepare to sail away to safety as soon as possible. But where was safety? Covid-19 was everywhere. It was the most unexpected thing in the world, and it was scary. For all we knew, we could be sailing out of Senegal, with no clear destination, stuck, out at sea for who knows how long. Out of all of the fictional universes that I know, The Last Ship was not the one I wanted to live out. Bearing in mind, the only episodes of The Last Ship I have watched are the last three episodes of the final season, so apart from that a Navy Vessel goes on a research mission in the Arctic, only to return to a world where a pandemic is running rampant, I mostly have no idea what it is about, only how it ends. 

Books I have read, and how they strangely apply to my life now.


On the ship, I joined a book club, headed by a chaplain with such members as the Captain, an IT Specialist, an Academy student, a Hospital Supply Assistant, a Medical Capacity Building team member, and a few from Human Resources. We have read two books so far. Looking back, I didn’t think that I could have possibly put myself in the shoes  of the two main characters of the books we read. Until now. Well, one of them was a biography, but still. This book was The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel. This book tells the story of the so-called last true hermit in North America amongst other names such as North Pond Hermit. This guy lived as a hermit in Maine for nearly 30 years. Reading and discussing the story of this guy, trying to make sense of a guy who decided that in his prime, finished school a few years prior, supposedly had a few good friends, and a good family, just decided to run away from home and live in a well hidden campsite close to a few holiday cabin, for no reason. It was a good book, and I would recommend it. Whilst reading, I did think “What if I did that?” and I will admit that growing up, I did think about “What if i just ran away and  ceased communication and contact with humanity one day” I could do that, I could survive (probably, I’ve read The Hunger Games) I could identify with the hermit, I’m an introvert, face to face conversation sometimes overwhelms me. But he also taught me that even when we don’t want to talk to people and we just want to run away, we still crave some form of connection with people, even if it is by listening to music, podcasts, or by watching people on YouTube whether they are vloggers or a gaming channel, just sharing their passion with the world. I would never actually run away. But when you are quarantined to a ship with many other people for an unpredictable period of time, it is near impossible to be a hermit, and alone time is a rare moment, and perhaps a gift. I have found the only time at the few moments of solitude you can get on the ship at the moment are in your cabin. There is a lot  cabin movement, just to push for seperation, to prevent the potential spread of Covid-19, or just illness in general. Also being a Deck Hand, doing Night Patrol, is also one of these rare moments of solitude.

The other book, however, is one that right now, I want to be in that world. The book is Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. It’s about this man, Jason, A physics professor at a university, who is one day abducted, and wakes up in another universe. It’s a book about travel in the multiverse, and how with every decision you make, an infinite number of parallel universes are created. There is no wrong or right decision, but there are a never ending number of outcomes. It was a crazy book, but these days, I wish I could be in that world, where you can essentially become a god, creating a new world with thoughts and emotion, just to escape this world we live in, with a pandemic. It’s an incredible power. How insane must it be, to explore different outcomes, and to live in a world where you can go to a world where you can live in a world as if you corrected your own mistakes, or just imagine a new paradise, and to not look back.

Looking back on working in the Deck Department, and the opportunities i had.


After pack up was completed, the cables were stored and the anchors on board, we were ready to begin our earlier than expected journey to wherever next. And boy, was I given new opportunities and responsibilities than I never expected to get – ever, let alone not long before my 20th birthday. I was given the responsibility of steering the ship during a man overboard drill, where we had to do a fancy manoeuvre, which was pretty much a 180 degree turn. Although, it wasn’t a straight up turn around, we had to go a certain degree off course, then sort of back again by about half. All so that if there ever was a man overboard, we don’t hit the man overboard, or they got chopped up into little bits, and also to give the rescue boats space to rescue the victim. If you ever find yourself being asked to take the helm of a ship during a man overboard rescue, I’ll tell you this: Don’t get your hopes up for excitement at the wheel, it’s pretty uneventful. 
The expectation: Many wheel turns in quick succession and a bunch of momentum and fluidity.
Reality: “Starboard a certain amount of degrees” says the Captain, calmly. The helmsman dutifully repeats the command just given, conveying calm and confidence, as a show of understanding, then begins to carry out the order. When the order is carried out, the helmsman yells “Starboard a certain amount of degrees, sir.” With the same degree of calmness. The Captain then acknowledges the completed order, and the helmsman stands-by for the next, calm collected command.
No matter, to be given that amount of responsibility was an incredible honour, and I am very glad to have been able to do that. During my time with Mercy Ships thus far,  I have had the opportunity to do many cool  and different tasks working in the Deck department. To look back on my time, months after finishing school, doing things such as operating a crane, operating a forklift, being a team member on mooring operations, to get the ship tied up and freed (I Guess? How else do I call unmooring operation? de-mooring? un-porting?), hauling heavy mooring lines and operating capstan winches to make sure the lines tight and loose, Night Patrol duties (Even though they are very boring, mostly uneventful, and long) keeping lookout for the safety of the crew and the patients we care for, when they all rest. (But a benefit is that it is  one of the only times on board where you get to be alone), assisting with container operations, and as I have already mentioned, steering the ship. If you look at Mercy Ships and wonder “How does this help to bring hope and healing and life-saving surgeries?” I sometimes ask myself the same question, but watch your favourite film, watch the credits, MARVEL has been rewarding audiences for patience since time began. You find that a film is more than just the actors/actresses, directors, producers and writers. A whole, sometimes global team work to bring entertainment together. It’s the same way with Mercy Ships. We need staff to cook and serve the food for the crew and patients, to give them sustenance, strength and to keep us healthy, housekeepers to keep the ship clean, and the crew healthy. The plumbers to work on the vacuum system and make sure the toilets are working. Engineers and electricians to keep the lights on and power running. Information Services to give us internet. The team in the only Starbucks in Africa to give us our caffeine and waffles. Transportation and maintenance to keep  the vehicles and off-ship facilities running. The deck department to make sure that the ship is strong enough and in the right conditions, to keep the ship sailing, and to continue bringing hope and healing. I am sure I have already written about how the jobs we do on deck help, such as emptying the containers of the medical instruments and equipment, moving into another container, lifting that container on board, emptying the container, for medical supply to provide for the operating rooms. It may not be on the front line, but the fact that I can say that I have supported bringing hope and healing with the work I do on board, all before I was twenty years old, is a very cool thing.

What has happened? Why is the world so new?

Right now, the ship is docked in Tenerife. In quarantine. For about two weeks. But when that two weeks is over, we still have to follow the Spanish regime of lockdown. So we don’t actually know the next time when we are free to leave the ship and explore. It is a stark contrast to ship life a little over a month ago. It already feels like months ago when shore leave was restricted, and the priorities of the ship changed. It all happened so fast. over a weekend. Going from “We are going to continue  bringing hope and healing in Senegal until we are due to leave” to “We are going to get ready to leave as soon as possible” in under two days was a surreal thing. I maybe repeating myself, but for a few days after we received this news, I sensed a very different vibe on the ship. It was a vibe of sadness and confusion. The next few weeks were like looking through a dirty window, and no-one knew what was going on anymore. Then began a slow, mass exodus of crew, desperate to get on the last flights home before borders closed and charter flights became available. They were bittersweet farewells. On one hand, they may have been final goodbyes, depending on plans, then might have been the last time we would see them again, with repeat offenders or just good friends saying goodbye unexpectedly. I can personally put faces and names to some of these people. I am due to leave to ship (Hopefully, in August), saying goodbye to crew who I know would be returning to the ship once this whole COVID thing blows over, I may never see them again if they return unexpectedly later than I leave. But on the other hand, they left to go back home to help in the fight COVID in their own countries, using their skills and gifts when they can’t use them now. Or they left because they recognised that we needed a certain number of crew onboard to sail, and they wanted to reduce numbers. They made sacrifices, and we are truly thankful for the sacrifice and hard decisions they made to return back home. whilst this was going on, It was just a fast push to get the ship ready to sail, breaking the dock down, bringing everything on deck, tying it all down, cleaning and securing. I don’t remember leaving Guinea in the same way last year. Leaving Senegal just felt like a huge rush, we were evacuating, leaving for uncertain safety. Whereas when we left Guinea, we knew we were leaving, and we knew where we were going. And we had done all we had done, in Guinea, we had finished. But we left Senegal with unfinished business. We also couldn’t say goodbye to our deck day crew. Only about 50 essential day crew were allowed to live in our tents on the dock, the ward day crew, housekeeping, the engine control watch keepers assistant and galley staff. We didn’t want to break our quarantine bubble. But, the men who I had spent about 8 months working alongside, whilst teaching each other about our respective cultures, growing in friendship and respect, working together, even with big cultural and personal differences. I am truly glad to have worked with them. And also sad that there wasn’t any closure. We celebrated with the day crew from Guinea, having food together. We couldn’t do that this time. I wish we could have. I may not see them again. Going from working in safety and out of reach from the disease to “We are unable to continue, we don’t feel safe here anymore” was a strange thing, all around.

Things haven’t been so bad, though. Reasons to celebrate. Living in a rare thing today.

It is easy to think about the sad things that have happened recently. But things haven’t been all bad though. There were things that we thought we would be doing differently a few weeks ago. These things include Birthdays. Over the last few weeks, the Adventure Crew celebrated a few birthdays, albeit differently than we expected. The first of these birthdays was Cameron’s. Cameron worked at the Hope Centre, our sort-of hotel for those living out of Dakar, and we waiting for surgery, or had surgery, but were still with Mercy Ships for recovery. Cameron was from America, but had heritage from Asia.  There was a Korean place in Dakar, and we surprised him with a meal there, a few days before his birthday. Why before? He had an interesting story regarding flights. His birthday was on the Saturday after (Also the Saturday that shore leave was restricted), and he was due to fly to Paris before his birthday, so we decided we would surprise him before his Birthday. The Adventure Crew gathered at the Korean place, and he was told that he would go out with just the Hope Centre team, so they showed up later. And surprise, all his friends were also there! It was a delightful evening of fellowship, friendship, and broadening horizons of food. But then Covid-19 and the flight was cancelled, so he was able to spend his birthday in Dakar, or more rather, on the ship, as that was the Saturday when everything was turned upside down. We were planning to go to a beach in the evening. But at about half 10 in the morning: Shore-leave had been restricted, and everyone who had already left the ship were called back. Everything had changed, in a matter of less than 24 hours. So we decorated the Crew Mess with MEMES! We had to wait for Cameron to get back from the Hope Centre in the evening, and we spent the evening celebrating Cameron in a tiny room. And there was cake. We miss you Cameron. (Cameron did manage to leave)

The next birthday celebrated was Kate’s. Kate wanted to go snorkelling, but as plans had shifted, we improvised. By transforming the Queen’s Lounge into the ‘ultimate underwater experience’. complete with Gabriel, a fish caught earlier in the day (R.I.P Gabriel). My contribution to the whole thing was being asked to watch and guard the snacks and juice for the punch. Until Anna and Rachel forgot about the task they gave me for over an hour. But hey, none of it was stolen, so I think I did a good job. It was a very cool sight. The room had a blue tint, there were paper jelly fish, streamers, fish, and to top it off, there was a marine life themed MEME WALL! We said Happy Birthday like we were whales, and I have never seen someone walk into a birthday party for themselves get so excited  wearing flippers and a snorkel mask, and it is that much joy radiating from one person that makes life worth living. And lock down not so bad. We also managed to get in touch with some previous members of the Adventure Crew (Although, once part of the Adventure Crew, always part of the Adventure Crew. Unless you accidentally make someone leave voluntarily). We spoke to Simon (EAGLES, WOW) and Meg (his girlfriend, who I haven’t met in person), In New Zealand, and Philip, who now works at the Mercy Ships headquarters. (At least, we tried, with the Internet being SO BAD at the moment, because no one can leave) It was very nice to catch up with ‘The outside’. 

And then there was a break for a few weeks without Adventure Crew birthdays, but in between, there were other activities on board for the rest of the crew to get involved in and enjoy together. (which is a rare thing these days, and it is a privilege to be one of the only people in the world right now, who can celebrate Easter and birthdays, or just being together) These have included, pub quizzes, (I joined a team with my parents and Stuart and Frances, the parents of a British family here onboard. We won the last quiz. I am convinced that me knowing thee difference between the Rolex and Hallmark crown) Mandalorian marathons (This is the Way.), A few Deck-department lead Irish/ sea-shanty evenings. My father on acoustic guitar, Riku playing the violin, Adam (Deck Cadet, Hungary) on guitar, and me playing (or at least, trying to play) the ukulele, Kim on the Cajon, Cherif (Guinea) on the keyboard, and Femi. Oh yeah, Femi came back with his wife Jennifer, and their daughter, Meghan, just after Christmas! I was super excited for them to return to the ship. As I type this now, a ping pong tournament is going on. There was a bake-off, Prince of Egypt, amongst other activities.

And then there were two Adventure Crew birthdays within one week. The first was my own. Yeah, I didn’t think I would be spending my 20th under quarantine, but these things happen. But I had people to celebrate my birthday with, which was just nice. What was even better, is that because I was on Night Patrol the week before, I had my birthday (on a Monday) off! But the celebrations really happened the day before. And how did my amazing ship friends surprise me? With escapism; from reality, and the Death Star. They made a Star Wars themed escape room, and transformed the Queen’s Lounge pantry into a Death Star data centre. My team of Rebels (Kate, Kees-Ake from the Netherlands. He also returned to the ship, Rachel, Luke and Patrick) were stuck on the Death Star, during the finale of A New Hope, and the Rebel Starfighter pilots were beginning the attack. We had to translate Aurebesh like all nerds do, do maths Ugh. Maths, answer Star Wars trivia, identify a character who said ‘I have a bad feeling about this.’ All to discover the find the location of Rebel Allies, before the Death Star explodes. We were told that the Death Star blew up 5 minutes before we escaped, but whatever, we said we won. Also, Josh, fellow Star Wars nerd, created back story for my character: a force-sensitive Ewok, trained in the Dark Side of the Force as a Sith. My Sith ability: The ability to discern the ways of the Universe, but at the cost of taking a life. Putting it simply, I could kill a team mate for a clue. It was a hard decision, but for time, I had to kill two teammates. (Rest in Peace, Luke and Patrick) but that wasn’t all. Rachel and Anna baked a BB-8 cake for me haha, BB-Cake got BB-8, and we spent the evening after the Sunday service in friendship, all because I was alive, and almost lived for 2 decades. And the gifts I was blessed with…. An african Fabric Hat, an African model of some description, a novel about being an IT Leader and a fake Handle Bar Mustache. The Hat and Mustache I gladly wore for my actual birthday. At least, when the tape actually did it’s job and actually stuck. My actual birthday was fairly chilled out. I was called out by John, our Operations Director during the Monday morning briefing. I wasn’t very camouflaged. But, what was the first thing I saw when I walked out the cabin door? A MEME WALL!  There was the Queen, Star Wars, British memes, inside jokes, MARVEL and references to birthdays during the time of COVID-19. If the Great Wall of China was built to keep the Mongols out of China, then a Great Birthday Meme Wall of Deck 3 can keep out COVID19 and quarantine depression. In the evening, my Parents and I watched Master and Commander: Far side of the World for the first time. It’s a good film, I would recommend, and gave me presents. A Mercy Ships  t-shirt, A book on the history and Archaeology of Petra, the once capital of the Nabateans, the city carved into a rock, and the location for the hiding place of the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones, Toffifee and the most important and crucial item to have today…. a bottle of hand sanitizer. The Adventure Crew also made a card, with I guess… their favourite photos of me. I don’t take many photos of myself, or have many photos taken. Or take many photos generally. Anyway, It was a great few days, I felt so appreciated and loved, and I couldn’t have asked for better friends to celebrate my life with under quarantine. To Laurianna, Luke, Kees, Patrick, Kate, Anna, Rachel, Josh, Moise, and anyone else who contributed, or were just there, I love you all so much, thank you for what you did for me that day. or days. Also, to my parents, who brought me into the world, and with whom I was around to celebrate with, thank you. Who knows if this will be the last of my birthdays we will celebrate together, but I am glad you are here, with me, on this ship.


OK, Self-indulgence over.

The last birthday we celebrated, in the form of a Garden Party Brunch on Deck 7, was for Laurianna. Because, if we can transform a room into an underwater scene or a room on the Death Star, then Deck 7 can definitely be turned into a garden. And so we did. Kinda. But what other garden has a sea and mountain view. Yeah. Not many, so it is instantly better than yours. My role – enforcing the ‘Wear nice clothes and be ready on time’ directive. At least, it was my primary role in the whole thing, but I did have others. But it was a nice morning, we had Galettes buckwheat pancakes. This was my first galette experience, and, they are, surprisingly, quite nice. At least the galettes that Kate prepared. So the bar is already quite high. Good job, Kate! Anywho, it was another time to gather with some pretty cool people, and celebrate the life of a friend. And another MEME WALL. was erected in the honour of Laurianna. Because MEME WALLS are the next best thing.  Thank you for the friendship, Laurianna! Then later that day, I found an error in the book about Petra, which labelled one monument as another. I know, the horror! 

And, of course, it’s spring, so Easter happened. Last year, I didn’t enjoy Easter on the ship. It was an extravaganza, and this Easter was no different. I think the main reason why I didn’t enjoy Easter last year, was because the concept of celebrating the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ in community was so new to me, and I couldn’t handle being around the number of crew on board. Christmas has always been a time where people get together to celebrate the Birth of Christ, but not Easter. But this Easter has been different, and I think that after last year, I knew what would be going on, so I could mentally prepare myself for the season. It was both that, and I had become used to the number of crew onboard, Because nobody has been allowed to go off-ship. Last Easter, everyone just seemed to suddenly be onboard, but we had gone for nearly a month where everyone was here. During a Sunday worship service recently, we were reminded, that this year, because with so many countries going into lockdown, and everyone staying inside, not being allowed to make large gatherings, and with us onboard, who have to remain onboard, in community, we would be some of the only people in the world, who could celebrate Easter, with other people. And how privileged we are to be able to do so. My question “Why, out of the billions Christians on the planet, have been given the honour to celebrate with people?” So I was ready to celebrate, to make the most of what others could not do.  Out of all the Easters and Birthdays I have celebrated up to now, this year will probably always stand out to me, not only because they were both during the time of a pandemic and I was under quarantine, but also because I was onboard a ship, with a celebrating alongside a crew of 200-odd, and we could celebrate together. 

And now, my plans, during a time where nothing is certain to happen anymore. I have always been fascinated by history and artefacts from history, and I have the opportunity to study such things, and I have realised that, through working in the deck department, from the stories told by our officers and cadets, a life at sea, is not one for me. So, I have plans to return back to the UK later this year (hopefully) and start a four-year course studying History and Archaeology. I believed coming to Mercy Ships this past year-and-a-half was my calling, but it has only been my calling for the past year-and-a-half, and a few more months. It’s roughly 3 months off two years. I am certainly happy with what I have done during my time, and I have done things I never would have expected to be doing, during my late-teens. I have met people, and become friends some of the most extraordinary people I have ever, or will ever met, that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t come. Those people are both the crew on board, and also the African day crew. So I wasn’t ready to face University a year and a half ago. But after spending  a year and a half, helping to bring hope and healing in a completely different continent. So, to my parents. Thank you for inviting me along for the ride. Another thing you should know about me, is that I could not reflect on myself to save my life, and I could not pick out a personal development that has stood out to me. 

So, that’s probably about it for now. At least, all that I am allowed to share, and all that has happened in my life for the month or so. Sorry that this has basically become a book in itself, but I truly appreciate you for sticking through it. 

Thank you,
Matthew.
Now, enjoy some photos, just so that this book has something for the eyes.

The very wet (and somewhat salty) forward mooring deck,
from the port side bridge wing. I hadn’t seen the spray get as high as the bridge before


This is me in the chainlocker
BB-Cake got BB-8 (Thank you, Rachel and Anna.)
And that is punch, not blood..
Sailing away from Dakar, from the Aft mooring deck
The horizon….. somewhere in the Atlantic
Happy birthday to me, I guess.
Aft mooring deck, leaving Dakar
A view of the Atlantic from Starboard side, in Tenerife

Artsy photo  number one
Arriving in Tenerife  (photo credits: my mother)
Artsy photo number two
Artsy photo number three




A sunset in Tenerife






The first thing I saw leaving the cabin on my birthday.
And yes, that is Nigel Farage
(From January)  Surviving twin cannons from the French Danton-class semi-dreadnought battleship Verginuad, on Goree Island.  I was looking forward to seeing these in person. 


Blog post 11 or 12: One Year Anniversary edition

This post by Matthew Little was originally published at Diary of a Deckie: My experience volunteering on a hospital ship.

Wow. It has just been just over 365 days since my Mercy Ships. This is counting the days since climbing the gangway of the Africa Mercy for the first time, not since I actually joined Mercy Ships. otherwise it would be about ….. 407 day. No, I’m not taking out the  month’s PTO I took during the summer, because I technically never left Mercy Ships. I still have blue lanyard, not Alumni green.
I say that, but in actual fact, I reluctantly gave into getting a replacement lanyard. Which I was saddened by. It was like a piece of my identity was taken away from me. Mainly because after a year, It didn’t look blue, it looked a dusty-brown grey. I really enjoyed when other crew members asked “So what does a grey lanyard mean?” and I would then go “It’s not a grey lanyard, it’s a blue one but just old”. Like the time in Doctor Who, when the 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) confessed that he actually enjoyed hearing “Doctor Who?” said out loud.

Ship life has been pretty standard, over the last month or so, with some interesting new things I have got up to on Deck. One of these things is learning how to maintain and repair chipping guns. That involved taking a chipping gun apart, cleaning it, checking if all the components are in order and in condition to be used again, and then putting them back together again, oiling them, and testing that they work. I did another week of Night Patrol, which went overall, pretty great! Nothing caught on fire, and there were no emergencies. Although, there is usually something that is on the back of your mind that they don’t want to happen and are out the ordinary. Nothing bad happened though.

During my week of night patrol, my Thursday was interrupted by a fire drill. Not that I didn’t already know that there would be a fire drill that Thursday, but here is the catch. It was a surprise fire drill. That happened about half past 10 in the morning. It wasn’t great to have just about fallen asleep for about 3 hours, and then suddenly to be woken up abruptly by a overhead announcement by the captain saying “Attention crew, attention crew this is a drill this is a drill. I am announcing this before the crew alert alarm so we don’t disturb the Operating Room. It’s on the dock”. Obviously, I had just woken up, and it took a very minutes to register what was going on, and then the crew alert alarm went off. So, I had to put on some trousers, not change my tshirt, because why would I, and went to my muster station. They got kitted up, I was asked to tell muster control who was missing from our team, whilst the rest of the team went to the scene. I went down, looking very confused, very tired, and squinting. And very hot. I have been outside in the sun in the bunker gear, it was not fun. My mum has some very bad photos of me in the bunker gear, completely unaware she was taking photos, looking sleepy and flustered. The drill finished, I helped with pack up, and went back to bed. Until about 3:30 in the afternoon, woken up by ANOTHER DRILL! It’s safe to say my sleep was interrupted big time. No one wants to woken up by an unexpected morning fire drill, let alone two unexpected drills. It was a security drill, and we were practising an evacuation from the ship. So I accidentally created another line waiting to get off the ship very awkwardly, until I was allowed to get off. It wasn’t a long line, but still. I then didn’t go back to sleep. A week later, on fire team training, a competition was held between the four fire teams, to which team could suit up the fastest, and ready to enter a space with a fire. That means, skin completely covered up. My team, Fire Team 4, won the contest!  On the basis that we were the only team to not be disqualified for having anything wrong with our suits! You know the saying ‘Slow and steady wins the race’? Having that mindset is crucial in fire-fighting. You may be fast, sure, but are you ACTUALLY ready?

Dreams do come true… even if they are getting Ice Cream.

After waking up on Saturday afternoon, after completing another week, I told some friends that “I really want to go out for ice cream at somepoint.” So, we tried to arrange to go out for ice cream the following Tuesday. The plan was like a plant. I provided the seed, (Hey, I wanna go get Ice Cream), a friend sowed the seed (Sure, let’s do this on Tuesday), and another friend watered the soil (Hey other friends, wanna get ice cream on Tuesday). The plant quickly withered and died. The plan conflicted with other plans. Unfortunately, the message of “hey, most of us are busy, so we are going to have to cancel the whole plan, sorry.” Didn’t make it’s way to the seed of the plan until the day of the plan. All hope of getting Ice Cream seemed lost. Or so I thought. After a Saturday full of out of town activity (more on that later), The message was sent to the Whatsapp group “Ice cream at Cremino”. It was happening. After only a week. And it happened. A few hours ago, I had been ziplining through Baobab trees, had a White Chocolate and Strawberry Magnum, and now we were getting Ice Cream. I felt I had peaked that day. And the perfect photo showing exactly how I was feeling was taken. Also, If you are in Dakar, and are looking for Ice Cream, I would highly recommend Cremino!
Together at last…. Choc
o Noisette and Salted Caramel

Safaris and ziplining through Baobab trees

Most of that Saturday was spent exploring and seeing the beauty in the natural landscapes of Senegal, in Bandia nature reserve and Accrobaobab. I, along with my parents, and a fairly large group, including Mike, the Carpenter, Nic (One of the officers), Riku (Another officer, from Japan!) and ‘Matsu’ (Engineer, also from Japan), Barry and Cheryl (British, married, chaplain and housekeeper, respectively), and about another Mercy Ships vehicle full. We weren’t the only Mercy Shippers going to Bandia, though. There were like another two Mercy Ships vehicles going to Bandia. We calculated that all but one of the vehicles for personal use had gone to Bandia. Only one was either at the ship, or elsewhere. So where was the last vehicle? That was a mystery. So, Bandia. Bandia was so nice. It was so good to just get away to get away from the hustle and bustle of the port and town, swapping people not that I don’t like people, it’s just, being around people, particularly a large number of people, does get tiring for lots of beautiful animals, and swapping the environment of dust, metal and concrete structures for baobab trees, and the breathtaking West African countryside. If that is what you call the more, natural areas of West Africa. I had never been on a Safari, but it felt like exactly how you may imagine: A big, open sided jeep, with a guide. Not the most descriptive description, but that was all there was to it. The only thing missing was the guide carrying a rifle with tranquilliser darts, in case some animals got a little bit too grabby with our food. I’m looking at you, monkeys. The animals were chill, I think they just wanted the humans to stop looking at them, and mind our own business. Especially a couple of giraffes, who kept bashing their heads into each other. I don’t blame the animals sometimes, to be honest. We also saw a juvenile tortoise trying to pick a fight with some of the older tortoises. I can imagine they were thinking “Please leave me alone. I just wanna stand around being a tortoise”

After a relaxing truck ride on the ground, observing African nature, we then used an opportunity to see the serene African nature from a different perspective, and with a slightly more active demeanor… up in the sky…. Nearly. Zipling through Baobab trees. It’s like Go-Ape, to all my fellow Brits. And maybe some Americans, as I just found out! Accept, through Baobab trees. The course we did, the highest and longest, was a mix of predominately ziplining and tight rope walking. The ziplining, surprisingly, was the easier part of the course. All it involved was hooking yourself up to the cable, and ensuring you get the wheelly system hooked up correctly, then you zoom through the sky, hoping that the cable doesn’t snap halfway through. On one of the last lines, I didn’t put in enough ‘oomph’ at my launch, so I just missed reaching the next platform without having to drag myself to the platform. And I grabbed on to the cable a bit too soon, and stopped myself. Just before the end. And rubbed my hands against the cable. Wasn’t fun. The next line, though. landed perfectly, In one. zoom. Maybe. I don’t know how to put it, but I reached the next platform in one go. The hardest part was the tight rope walk parts. The first was two cables vertically parallel too eachother. It wasn’t easy, with the fear of maybe losing a shoe. That almost happened climbing up the first ladder. And also maybe getting hit in the head by a rogue Baobab fruit. Which are heavy. Almost happened twice. But, taking the time to not slip off, (We were clipped to the top cable, so not fall off) allowed me to take a good look at the surroundings – the trees, the plains, the settlements, the odd industrial building. It is truly breathtaking. It kinda felt like being the camera of the aerial shots of a nature documentary. Or the establishing shots, just before we see the city in Wakanda in Black Panther for the first time. Nic, who was ahead of me in the course, who waited for me to get to the next platform before zooming to the next mentioned how focused and determined I looked, walking across the last tight rope walk. After completing the course, and after ice creams, it was time to head back to the port.

Other recent deck work has included greasing life boat davit cables. Not very nice, mainly because Harmattan is back, the dusty season, so cleaning the dirt off the cables wasn’t fun. Also, some not so fun enclosed space work. Though, I didn’t go in, I was just supervising, by being the standby man, but, for the guys going in, my fellow deck HANDS, James, Francis, Cherif and Ishaka (James has several names for me. the most current being ‘Supey’ – shortened from Supervisor), It has been tough work. In James’ words (or similar) “It’s like an oven. The air blowing around is hot. We have been doing maintenance underneath the stores crane. That has involved sweeping the dust inside, chipping, and yet to be done grinding. It’s a tedious job, and is a job that cannot go wrong. To all the ‘Landlubbers’, Enclosed Space work is one of the most dangerous work on a ship- that and diving operations. The entrances to the enclosed space also look like an old oven. It is apparently a job that has not been done in about 13 years. Which, in Mercy Ships history, is a year before the Africa Mercy started it’s Mercy Ships service.

WOW, EAGLES!
My Adventure Crew, an elite group of young Mercy Shippers established during shipyard. A group that we want to go down in Mercy Ships history and legend, until no one knows how it truly started. We said goodbye to another one of the ‘Founding Fathers, Simon, from New Zealand.  Simon joined at the very end of the field service in Guinea. It was a sad day. The day that we said goodbye, not when he joined! We became close friends. Mostly through his love of the way I say “Wow!” It was nice to have that close friendship with someone is a bit older than me. And someone to have a laugh playing Age of Empires 2 with, as I desperately clung on for life, trying to building farms, whilst he layed siege to my last villagers, stuck between a wall and a forest. So, a few hours before waving him off, as he left for the airport, we, aswell as some members of the Adventure Crew- old and new, went out for dinner at La Pampa, a nice local Argentinean place. Simon and I shared a Calabreasa Pizza. It was touching. After ice cream at Cremino, we went back to the ship. Simon wasn’t due to leave until 10, so I joined another group that another group of us have formed within the last week. our little ‘Mandalorian’ watching party. The Mandalorian, If you haven’t heard within the last month, is the new live action Star Wars TV series, exclusive to Disney+. Only 4 episodes in, and I am really enjoying it, the new grittier side of Star Wars, very intriguing plot. We watched the first three episodes a few days ago, and we watched chapter three again, mostly because on  of our party left before we started episode three. But that didn’t matter, but because it was worth the rewatch, because it is the best of the four at the moment. Then we watched chapter 4, which had just been released. So, then it was time to say goodbye. And then we went back to the Mandalorian. So long, Simon, I miss you already!
I also said goodbye to another friend that I had made during the last two months, Vanessa, one of the OR Nurses. If you see this, actually written not long after you left, it was a pleasure to have met you, get to know you, and call you a friend.

Deck hand – Admiral (to be)

Trying to get back into Tabletop miniature war-gaming (after about 8 years, from visiting a Games Workshop in Cambridge and buying a starter set of Ultramarines) and about a year of my friend from back home trying to get me into the hobby, I decided that I would order the starter set of ‘Black Seas’, the new Age of Sail (1770- 1830) line of tabletop war-gaming miniatures. I have started to build a fleet. Or two fleets. I intend to build two small British and French Navy Fleets so I can actually play with someone. Then expand to create a massive fleet. Maybe.

This is what they looked like a few Saturdays ago.

Three 5th rate frigates, without masts. 6 Brigs, with masts

 Thank you for reading, now enjoy some beautiful photos of nature. Taken with my new phone, and I was trying to work out all the fancy photography features. So not all that great. Not that I take many pictures anyway.

See you again soon!

Matthew.

And here’s a selfie I didn’t realise I took.
What are you looking at?
“Are they gone yet, Derek? My head hurts”
“Well, you hit me with your head.”
This lake didn’t look as nice as the picture would make it to be.
But it was nice to see a different body of water
Take my ice cream. I dare you. I double dare you
An antelope, I think. I don’t remember
A beautiful black and blue bird

Work in a different department, lesser known World War 2 battles and a long week of being ill.

This post by Matthew Little was originally published at Diary of a Deckie: My experience volunteering on a hospital ship.

Thanks for coming back, It’s been about a month since I last wrote, so I’ll do my best to let you know what I have been up to since I last wrote. As with most of my posts, this will probably be about what has happened that I remember or seem to be a once in a lifetime experience

But first, life on deck doing Deck work.

I feel like I have been telling a few people back home the same thing about what Deck work is like; A lot of the same of stuff as usual: A lot of chipping, grinding and painting, with maybe some different tasks to be completed. At the moment, at the early stage of the field service, the different kind of work is Container work. This usually involves one container at a time, but due to customs, we had three containers stuck in country. When they were all released, we suddenly had three containers to empty. Containers became the priority. So I spent a little bit of time on dock ‘supervising’ moving pallets to the container to our own transfer container, which would then be lifted into the cargo, to be unloaded, then moved back onto the dock to be reloaded with pallets. It’s repetitive, but it’s nice to be doing something different once in a while.
 I also tell a lot of people on ship that Deck work is pretty much general maintenance, to keep the Ship as strong as it can be. Which I am proud to be doing, to keep the mission going on this ship until the new ship is ready. And I guess, until this ship is done and I guess ‘Too old to continue in service’ and has to be decommissioned. The ship is about as old as Mercy Ships, about 40 years, which in ship years, is pretty dang old.  Want to hear the impression our ship makes on neighbouring berthed bulk carrier ships? The crews are amazed by our old mooring deck machinery.

Why have I been sick?

The truth is, I don’t know. Pretty ironic for a hospital ship, but things go around. I think I got what everyone else has been getting. At least that is what the crew clinic said. The story begins on one Wednesday morning I had Monday off (though I was working elsewhere) and Tuesday off, because I was on Night Patrol for a week. I started to notice that it was a bit painful to swallow, but I went about my morning. I was doing a bit of Fireman duty for Paulo, our current Firefighting Equipment officer from Portugal. I was doing the routine inspection of the Fire extinguishers around Decks 2 and the Engine Room. I had been doing this stuff in the engine room months ago, but it’s nice to have a bit of a change of work scenery. I started, went for break and started again.
Until Paulo came down to find me, to let me know about some Engine testing that was going on, which I had to be involved for. When you are on a ship that doesn’t operate like most ships, in that it has a hospital inside and doesn’t move for most of the year, these things have to be done. So, I headed down to the dock. I was used to this operation. Close off the gangway, ensure the patients and other crew don’t get in the way of danger. I was with Kim and Momar (One of our Day Crew from Senegal) after waiting I don’t know how long before the operation to actually start, I headed  to the forward of the ship, just to keep an eye on the mooring lines. The whole job went on longer than I expected it too. We took a break, to let the other crew on waiting to go to lunch , and then we resumed for about another half an hour, before we took lunch. I was starting to feel a little bit feverish. I headed to the crew clinic to talk about my initial condition, which was a bit of a sore throat. I received guidance, which was to gargle salt water. which I started to do, before I was quickly called back down to the dock to finish the engine testing job. I didn’t get much better, and I was becoming more and more feverish. And a little dehydrated. and tired. And a little bit nauseous. I confided with Kim, who trying to lift my spirits, took me to the aft end of the ship, to watch the ‘floating power station’ coming into port. I told him “I am probably going to take the rest of the day off. I am really not feeling well. Thankfully, the job finished, and we let the gangway down, and let the crew on. I was thinking about how ill I was feeling, but wanted to get the job done. So we did, I spoke to the Bosun and went back down to the crew clinic, basically saying “I feel 100x worse than I was feeling about an hour ago” so after vitals were taken, I was advised “Yeah, go get rest and don’t go to work tomorrow”. So I did.
I didn’t work the day after that. Or the day after that, not feeling that much better, the weekend came, and after that I had several days trying to work, but feeling. ‘I am not well enough to work’ So, after my mouth was becoming less painful, and a couple tests were taken of my blood and a swab from my tonsils, which turned out to be negative, but suspecting something that is not uncommon for my age group. As I type this now, On the 11th of October, on a sudden day off for a sudden weekend on call, I am feeling so much better, A little bit coldy, and having the occasional nose bleed. But unable to keep bloody tissues for a few days. Why would I do this? I am strangely fascinated by hardened blood, and the brownish colour at the edge of puddles of blood. I don’t know, I am a strange human.

A different line of wok

As I have already mentioned, I decided to work on my day off, but in a different department. Nearly slap-bang in the very thing we do on board. I volunteered to spend a day in Medical Supply. Working with Joe, Eric, Ben and the Medical Supply day crew, Bibe, I got to see what it is that that Medical Supply does on a day to day basis. I was informed by Joe that it could potentially be a lot of standing around. Not much happens unless a container is in. I shadowed Ben, to carry out the daily job of refilling the cabinets in the wards. This involved a check list, paper shopping bags, and going in and out of rolling shelves. It is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. I first saw them in the Doctor Who episode “The Stolen Earth”, When Martha Jones is ordered by UNIT to use some experimental teleportation tech, that may or may not be complete, and the device to activate Nuclear warheads in the Earth’s surface. Series Four had the best Finale episodes.
Aren’t these cool? Not what we have on the ship,
I just found this on Google.
After refilling cabinets, and lunch, and about half an hour of sitting around whilst Ben updated the system of expiry dates, we went from the cargo hold to the shelving, filling up the shelves of nearly empty stock. Then the day ended. It was really cool to be able to go down there, and see what else goes on around the ship. Particularly because, after spending time helping with Container operations, moving pallets of Medical supply between containers, cranes and elevators, It was interesting to see the other end of the supply chain, and what goes on once the Deck department has moved the pallets to where they go.

Going out, and saying goodbye.

After a long week of Night Patrol, I headed out with my Onboarding group. Well, 95% of the adults of the group. We went to a very nice coastal restaurant, right on the coast. How on the coast? You may be asking, well the waves from the sea were crashing against the rocks, right next to us. It was very scenic, with a very different climate from either end of the restaurant. As we got out of the vehicle, in the car park at the entrance to the restaurant, it was like arriving in Texas all over again, which was fitting, because it was over a week since our ‘journey with Mercy Ships’ began. It was like leaving the airport in Texas to be hit with the ‘wall of heat’. Then, walking through the open-air restaurant, it suddenly became cool, from the cool, coastal breeze. There was some delicious food. What did I get? I got a chicken burger, delicious Fish and chip shop chips, and a crepe with caramel ice cream. I didn’t take a picture, but the ice cream was in the crepe, and the crepe was like a package, held together by a wooden skewer stick. It was all very good food.
The Lighthouse and the giant statue in the distance.
The party. But someone is missing

A couple goodbyes were made over the last few days leading up to that evening. The first was Pauli, the Deck Cadet from Finland. He was also a cabin mate, and then Alexander. I have written about him before, he was one of the Able Seamen from Sweden on loan from Stena. He was my bunk mate. we had some good times. Our first moments together was during shipyard, and I was in the galley, receiving project supplies, then Ibrahim brought Alexander to work with me doing that. Because of the extra long pallet, we had to find a way of balancing the pallet on the pallet jack. So I sat on top of the load. It was sad to see him go. A group of us, mostly the deck crew went to the port bar bar minutes up the road. I was hesitant, because it was Friday night, and my last night of Night Patrol, but I enjoyed myself, and got back in plenty of time. I just had a Fanta and a Coke. On the same Saturday, Ian and Sarah had to leave temporarily. I hope that they will be back soon, we miss you guys!  . I did wave Ian, Sarah and Alexander off, because I was healthy at that point in time.
(update on 16th October, Ian and Sarah have come back!)
Kim, another one of the Deck Hands, from the Philippines, recent Mercy Ships Academy graduate, and his parents, Ramon and Nina, reached the end of their commitment onboard, so they have sadly gone back home, to the Philippines. It was sad, because Kim was one of the youngest in the Deck Department, so it was easy for us to get along, and we have the same sense of humour. I am actually the youngest. Yes, although I finished High School before Kim, he is a few months older. And so is Flynn. Who is also younger than Kim. Not all bad news, as Kim is coming back in January!

World War Two battles.

So, one day, during my night patrol week, I learned the most interesting thing about Dakar. Well, It’s very interesting to me. During World War Two, a small fleet of Royal Navy warships clashed with the pro-German Vichy French Navy outside the port of Dakar, in an attempt to take Dakar for Allied control. How did that go? It was an embarrassing Allied defeat, and the British and Free French retreated. I was so interested and excited by finding out about this event, I used my Deck Devotion slot to tell the Deck Department this story. Also, Daniel, who I may or may not have mentioned in a blog post before, has come back to work on the ship for a few months! (He was a Bosun onboard a few years ago)
And yet again, I must come to a close. I have no idea if this is shorter than my last post, but I do hope you have enjoyed reading.
Thanks,
Matthew.

Back onboard, back at work, time at home, almost successful day trips and African cinemas.

This post by Matthew Little was originally published at Diary of a Deckie: My experience volunteering on a hospital ship.

So, I am back….

It is, at the time I write this, is the evening of August 31st. Why do I that? Because it’s a special day? No. the last day of a month can be significant though, but it’s nothing special today. Looking back on my previous blog update/diary entry writing schedule, I didn’t always start and finish on the same day. Most likely a week in between starting and finishing, so I deemed it reasonable to include the date I started. Oh, I am in Dakar, Senegal now. Probably best to put that out there now. 
Rambling over.

So what has happened?

After some much needed, and well-deserved don’t judge me, self-care isn’t self-indulgence, breaks are needed to prevent falls into insanity PTO (Personal Time Off for all the non-Mercy Shippers) back at home in the good old United Kingdom, where I reunited with many things including, but not limited to; Family, Friends, my bed, Krave, beautiful views of nature outside my bedroom window….. In fact, just having a bedroom window in general….
Beautiful Wiltshire.
I had my first flight on my own, unaccompanied by adults, flying from Las Palmas to Bristol, where I was sat on the first row of the plane, which I had entirely to myself. I could have kept moving from one seat to another, but because I am so used to being in a row with other people and didn’t know what to do, being the only passenger on the row, I just stayed where I was the entire time. It did get awkward at times, with the tinted glass right in front of me, making eye contact with the chief hostess.
But…. After Eights… are bitesize … anyway?
I had the entire row to myself.
I was picked up by my parents, who had already left the ship two weeks prior, because my mum was due for a consultation about her knee. It was all good, though, as it turns out there was nothing wrong, and she didn’t need an operation. We got home early in the morning, so I immediately went to bed. Later in the day, I reunited with my sister Zoe, and was introduced to Zoe and Seth’s new dog, Tinkerbell, a rescue from Zante.
 In the evening, Seth, Zoe and I went to see Spider-Man: Far From Home. We also went to Frankie and Benny’s (A restaurant) . I forgot to mention in a previous blog… I think, I don’t want to fact check right now… that I managed to see Avengers: Endgame at the local Canal:Olympia in Conakry. My first cinema experience in a different culture. If there were cultural differences that I observed in Guinea, going to the cinema was one that I remember: In UK cinemas, the audience is fairly tame when it comes to reactions. I think the highest display of emotion in a UK cinema will be either laughter,  or crying. But even then, it is generally a small, audible chuckle, a sob, not uncontrollable emotion. In African cinemas, you get cheering and applauding. The atmosphere is estatic. It was so estatic, particularly when the ‘dusted’ heroes, Wakandans (Black Panther), Asgardians (Thor) and Ravagers (Guardians of the Galaxy) emerge from the portals during the final battle. So much cheering in that cinema, that Captain America’s “Avengers……Assemble.”, the famous line that all superfans were waiting to be said,  was almost drowned out. He was surprisingly quiet when he said it though. I do hate “Audience reaction” videos on YouTube, but being around people showing a different  appreciation for film  that is different to the reactions that I am used to, is somewhat nice.   By the end of Endgame, I was a broken man. I was completely maybe a slight exaggeration overcome by emotions. Mostly depression, and I didn’t know what to say. If Infinity War was heartwrenching, Endgame was a completely different level that I didn’t know was possible. The MARVEL Cinematic Universe is one of my favourite franchises at the moment, and it was something that I had been emotionally invested in since 2014.  It will be hard to let the beautiful saga go, but the so-called “Infinity Saga” – everything from Iron Man (2008) to either Avengers: Endgame or Spider-Man: Far From Home (Which one is it, Kevin Feige!?) will be my definitive era of the franchise. I still remember returning to the ship that Sunday evening, not feeling like talking to anyone, then again, I wouldn’t have known what to say. Overall I, really enjoyed both films. I still haven’t seen Captain Marvel, though. I’ll leave that there, before this whole post becomes me rambling on about MARVEL superheroes. Though, I am sad that Spider-Man has been pulled from the franchise.  Not going to go into that, because this isn’t a blog about film company politics.
My time at home was fairly uneventful… I had some friends round for an evening, it was nice to hang out with them. Had TWO Indian meals whilst I was at home. One of the things that both my Dad and I were looking forward to at home was Indian food. Ian (who was in our OnBoarding group) and his partner Sarah, from Germany, also from the ship visited us, so we went out for a curry the first evening, showed them around Corsham, my home town, then we took them into Bath the next day, where they got the train to visit another Mercy Ships couple. I had a Shakeaway. Missed Shakeaway. As with all unhealthy things, it was absolutely delicious! but it was sickly. I got Starburst and Bubblegum-flavour-Millions. I bought Spider-Man: Into the SpiderVerse, which came out whilst I was away, but I heard good things about it, so I had to check it out. Enjoyed it a lot, and I also bought Ant-Man and the Wasp. I was planning on getting Captain Marvel, but I found out a few hours later that it was releasing on DVD two days later. I also ran into Imogen, my neighbour and oldest and best friend.  We had no idea we would both be in Bath, so it was also very nice to see her. I popped into to visit my church Youth Group on their weekly Wednesday Bible Study. Lots of hugs in quick succession were made. It was also funny to watch them realise I was there, and to see them charging towards me for hugs! I also did a feedback evening at my church with my parents, telling the congregation about the things we have seen and done during our first 7 month stint on board the Africa Mercy and in Guinea. A missionary couple from our church works a lot with WEC International (Missionary organisation). Annually, for the last few years, our church and this couple has been training up missionaries before they go into the field. It is so much like the On Boarding that long term volunteers have to go through before the ship (Or International Support Centre workers who want to understand the organisation more); Internationals going to pretty much the middle of nowhere to learn how to work in missionary work and other cultures. This year, the contingent are working in a school in Dakar, so my parents and I were invited to lunch at our church to meet them, because we were also going out to Dakar.

I went camping for a weekend in the Gower with my parents and Hannah, my sister. We stopped in Cardiff, to see the apartment she is living in with her boyfriend, Nick. It is a nice place, but the main reason for going to Cardiff was to visit the Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. (Science Training and Tactical Intelligence Operative Network). It was an exhibition that had been all over the world, including London. The London exhibition unfortunately opened and closed whilst I was away, but Hannah found out that they were bringing it to Cardiff whilst we were home(I mean, she found out months ago, but it would be open whilst we were in the country). Very cool to see the costumes of Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, and the rest of the Avengers roster, as well as props of broken bits of Ultron, Dark Elf and Chitauri weaponry, and THE ACTUAL SHIELD used in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (My favourite film in the MCU). It was a cool experience. It was primarily aimed at the younger audiences of the Avengers, but I thought it was worth the visit for older fans. Also, I am not worthy of the Hammer of Thor.

A few days after camping, Calum and Kira (my cousins) and my aunt visited, as well as my Grandma and Hannah, so that was the only day that the entire Little family were together before we left again. Nice to see them all. I also re-discovered the old videos and photos I took on my iPod a long time ago.  Calum and I were trying to find a video we made of a TV show about stunts that we made up. What we found were much better. These included badly acted  explosion sequences made with Action Movie FX. We also found a sequence of shots where I was just  running I have no idea what film I was trying to make. Honestly, I think the angles in these videos that I made when I was 11/12 were much better than the angles in my short films that I made for Film Studies about two years ago. Go figure.

A few days later, it was time to return to the ship. We flew from Bristol to Tenerife. The ship was in Santa Cruz de Tenerife for a week, to give the technical crew a bit of a break and rest after coming out of dry dock, which was an intense working period, with a lot of big projects carried out that couldn’t be done whilst on field service.  I returned to the same cabin as I had left with no bedding. Why? Because before my parents left and I moved into their cabin, my mum put my bedding into wash so it would be clean when we got back. Unfortunately, I forgot to take it out of the the dryer,  So I think hospitality  thought it wasn’t being used and put it into storage. So I had to get some new ones. Though, I think technical crew were only doing ‘soft work’. Mainly due to about half of the deck department going through basic training. So I spent the days just chilling about. I could have gone out into the city during the day, it was only a 5 minute walk from the ship, but since everyone else was working, and I didn’t want to go explore by myself. I just stayed on ship. The superintendent my the ship, who normally works at the ISC invited Deck and Engineering out for an Indian as thanks for the work during shipyard.  Although my Dad and I were home for most of shipyard, we were still invited to go out with them. The curry I had was very good, and it was a very nice outdoor atmosphere. Some very strange sights. Including a man doing keepy-uppy in a circle: He walked up the hill, then back down again, passing us twice.

And soon after that, it was yet again time to depart, go out to sea, and begin the next ten month field service in Senegal. It was a shorter sail, however, and the swell was tough, so the first few days of the sail were spent rolling. During shipyard, one of the projects was replacing the steering gear, as well as the helm. It was hard enough getting used to the smaller wheel, let alone trying to steer whilst the ship is  rolling! Looking out the windows to see sky-sea- sky again- sea again  was quite scary.  As I only had one watch this time, I had to do normal deck work in the afternoons. This is a little bit of what I did in the afternoons: Helped with some line-splicing. I was working with Donatien, from Madagascar, Alexander (My cabin mate from Sweden. He is an able seaman ‘on loan’ from Stena as their way of supporting Mercy Ships) Martina (Also from Sweden, Able seaman, has since left the ship). We were repairing our mooring lines by cutting chunks out from them, and then threading other parts of the line through the line. I also helped Lawrence (Ghana, he was a previous Bosun onboard. He comes back from time to time to help) with taping over the windows of the gangway  hatch. Whilst it was open. So the only thing keeping us from falling overboard was a very long rope tied over a large and open part of the ship, and a harness .I also did some cleaning of paint on the bottom of the gangway Don’t worry, it was stowed on Deck 8, Not sticking out from the side of the ship. Ship activities during the sail included: Worship on the bow, as always. I didn’t go during the sail from Guinea to Las Palmas because I was dealing with a very bad cold during the sail, but I did go during this sail. There was also sock golf (Whatever that is, I didn’t participate). There was a very fitting showing of The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawntreader. Not that we have a Minotaur on board or we were on a quest to rescue seven lords or anything. I hadn’t seen the Narnia films in a while, I really enjoyed the nostalgia. I’ve been quite nostalgic for The Hunger Games recently, as well. I have listened to the National Anthem of Panem countless times for the last few weeks. There was also a Pirate Party for the kids On Board. A Nerf war was part of it, somehow. I spent the end of the party trying to catch Nerf darts in mid air being shot at me by Luke, one of the Canadian crew members who was once a cabin mate, who left in March, but is back again.

Then we arrived in Dakar. I had a different mooring station for this sail. I was on the Bow during the sail from Guinea to Las Palmas. This sail, I was on the side party. Leaving Spain, I held one of the taglines connected up to the gangway to stabilise it whilst the Bosun lifted it up with the crane. I also secured it down to the deck with lashings. As we arrived in Dakar, I helped to set up the Pilot entrance, to allow the Dakar Pilot onboard the ship. When he was on board, and we were ready to dock, greeted by the Advance Team. A group of volunteers went to Senegal ahead of the ship from about June, to make preparations. These included: Hiring the Day Crew, working with the Ministry of Health to set up the Hope Centre and begin pre-screening. Working with the port to acquire dock space, and get the dock space ready for us. Finding a suitable site for the Agricultural Centre. (To learn about the Mercy Ships Agricultural Centre, please check out my previous blog post from January 2019!). As we docked, I was at the top of the gangway, with Georgy, Abdul, and Flynn. We set up the gangway, and disconnected the hoist from the gangway. We put up banners along the raling of the gangway, reading Welcome aboard the Africa Mercy In French and English. Although, this was after the gangway was on terra-firma, not in mid-air. After lunch, and an impromptu Deck Department meeting between two stairwells between Deck 6 and Deck 4 in the Dining Room, I was allowed to go to sleep, because I would be on Night Patrol that night.

Before I woke up, the Arrival Ceremony had begun. A few of us decided to watch from the Bridge. No one really knew what was going on, apart from speeches, a group of Senegalese Women dancing in unison by sweeping the floor and some rap. At least I didn’t know what was going on. Whether there was a program detailing what was going on, I don’t know. My first night of Night Patrol, I was alone. The next two nights, I was teaching Cherif, one of the Day Crew from Guinea who was invited to become a crew member how to do Night Patrol. I think It went well, as per usual and as I would hope, nothing happened. On Saturday evening, I went out to walk around Dakar with my parents. We encountered a man who apparently had just had another baby, and according to tradition, the parents give others gifts to bring good luck for their child (Hmm….) I got a pendant in the shape of Africa with the colours of the Senegalese flag (And many other West African countries), Red, Yellow and Green with a shell in the middle. My dad received two ‘Gold’ rings. We aren’t convinced they are actual gold. We saw a map of the world with ports that Dakar ships to, and learned that Liverpool is in Norway, apparently. It was dark, and we couldn’t tell where the outlines of the countries were, though.

On the Monday and Tuesday following, I had two days off. I stayed on ship though, because they don’t recommend people going into town by themselves. Our new Senegalese day crew are nice. I have been given much more responsibility over them, being given a team to clean the decks with. It was helpful to be given a leadership role on Deck, and I am liking the responsibility, and people looking up to me. Or, literally, looking down to me, because the Senegalese are very tall.

Sad departures.

That week, a small group of the deck department left. It was very sad. These included: Coltan, our Officer from Second Officer from Texas (I have probably talked about Coltan before on my blog.) if not, Coltan is a ship icon. He played the Sitar, and liked Indian music. Some mornings after Night Patrol, waiting for the duty officer give me permission to stand down, he would come up to the Bridge and play Indian music from his computer, leaving me very confused and wondering  where the music was coming from. As well as Coltan, Andreas and Veera, (Both Deck Cadets from Finland), Martina and Lawrence left. We ordered pizza and had a pizza party on deck 7 with the deck department. Riku, one of our Officers from Japan, brought out his violin, to play Irish music, and then Coltan brought out his sitar. It was a very surreal experience: A Texan playing an Indian instrument, and a Japanese man playing Irish music on a Danish ship docked in Africa. It was sad to see them go, they were super helpful. Lawrence knew what he was doing, and he was always supportive and positive about everything Deck related. He was also very spirit-encouraging. I didn’t have too much to do with Martina, as she joined the ship shortly before I left the ship. We were on watch together, so we did have a few conversations during the sail. Andreas and Veera both joined in Guinea, so I did work with them a bit. Andreas was on both my watches sailing from Guinea to Las Palmas.

The Saturday that most of them left (Veera left the Friday night before) I went on adventure around Dakar (I’ll go on to that) with a few of my friends. We wanted to be back on ship in time to see them off,  but not that I didn’t like the rest of them to mostly see off Coltan. Kate and I, who was part of the adventure party both wanted to see off Coltan, so we made it a thing to be back in time for that. We did. But then I forgot to say goodbye! Oops!
If you guys read this, this is my goodbye message to you all!

3 goals, only 1 completed

As I literally just mentioned, that Saturday, I went on and adventure around Dakar. There are several districts on the ‘Dakar-Plateau’, but we headed north. I was joined by Kate (USA, Executive Assistant ) Simon (New Zealand, Information Services) Stephen (Switzerland, Finance)  Leon (The Netherlands, Information Services) Rachel (USA, Food Services. As I write this now (9/9/19), she left yesterday) Luke (Canada, Transportation) and Anneliese (The Netherlands, Food Services, She also left a few weeks ago)
We had three aims that Saturday:
  1. Visit Ngor Island
  2. Visit the western-most point of Africa
  3. Visit the old Lighthouse
Unfortunately, only one was successful.

We went via buses to the Ngor district. We found a way onto the beach. After almost not paying for admission because we didn’t realise we had to pay.  We found a restaurant on the beachfront, and we got ‘brunch’, I guess. After leaving Guinea, I started to miss Bissap, a drink made from the juice of the Hibiscus flower. The thing with Bissap is that it tastes different wherever you go. Some places it could be very sweet, some places it could be a bit sour. So most of us at the table got Bissap, a few got coffees. Why, in the heat, I have no idea. They were probably not awake yet. We also got a few nibbles. The restaurant we went to was very stylish, it was like a lounge on the beach. A lounge of the beach with pelicans and a monkey. It’s true, there were pelicans just chilling. That monkey was also the first monkey I have seen in my life OUTSIDE of a zoo. In terms of Ngor Island…. there were a bunch of boats that went from the beach to the island, but, it looked like, if you determined enough, you could just swim across to the island, it was that close. There was a group consensus to not go over, because it looked just as touristy as the beach we were already on, and the view across to the island would probably be exactly the same as we were looking at. We also think the guy who was showing us around the beach was trying to get us to look at the fish he had caught. Or his boat, we weren’t sure what he was telling us. So we left. It was a bit disappointing, but the view just going up the concrete steps to leave was astounding. Just a bunch of parasols, with the flag of Senegal furled just to the side. It was a nice shot.

So that was one plan out the window.

We then got taxis to go to the Western most point, passing the US embassy  and one or two ‘American Food Stores’ on the way there. We didn’t know how to get to the point, and we thought there was a path through an artisan market. Oh boy. That was an experience. Whilst most of the group went on ahead, Kate, Luke and I were lagging behind. Mostly distracted by the seafront restaurants. Then, as we followed the rest of the group, Luke was stopped by a stall holder, who liked his beard! He was then pulled into his shop. We all went in to see what he was selling, until I was dragged into the next stall over, by their owner. He gave me a wooden hippopotamus as a gift, and encouraged me to buy something else. After ‘careful’ consideration, I bought a tiger. Why in quotations, because I wanted to get out of there. However, what I didn’t realise was, that right behind us, the guy from the NEXT stall over was waiting for me to leave to pull me into his stall. He gave me a wooden turtle as a gift, and you can probably guess what tried to happen next. I tried to tell him that “My friends are waiting for me. It’s all really nice, but I have to go!” He wasn’t having any of it. Until Kate rescued me and pulled me out of there.

We found another restaurant nearby, which had two very old and rusty ovens or stoves, that would probably  cause a fire if switched on. And someone trying to sell his things that he made was waiting for us. So I had to convince that I literally had no money left. He eventually gave up and left. I had juice from the fruit of the Baobab fruit for the first time. It’s very grainy.  They also had a cocktail made from Bissap, Baobab juice and Gingembre, which Kate and Anneliese both got. Kate forgot what she ordered, so when my just Baobab juice arrived, she accidentally drank some of it, realising that didn’t taste like Bissap or Gingembre. D’oh. It was still very nice though, I just stuck the other end of the straw in the drink. We also got plates of plantains and fries. They were ok, just very small portions. The western-most point was just a walk way. We still didn’t know the path, but we asked the security guard nearby if the way to the point was open. It wasn’t. Just looking across, we noticed just how empty it was. A bit weird, It would probably have at least one or two people, because it was the western-most point, so why was no one there. We couldn’t go that way, but the guard let us walk to the end of the nearby fishing jetty, for free, for five minutes. We met an employee from the embassy! He told us that the  beach where western most point is closed off to everyone. Even to the people staying at the hotel behind it. It was closed though, and being renovated by Marriott.  So we walked back in defeat. Mostly because the guard came up to us, telling us that our five minutes were up.

So that is plan two gone.

Third time lucky.

We headed to the lighthouse, in the Mammelles district. Why is it called Mammelles?  There are two hills in the area. The hills look like breasts. Hence Mammelles. Literally, we went to the boobs of Dakar! On one of the boobs is the lighthouse, on the other boob is the African Renaissance Monument, the tallest statue in Africa, that is 49m tall, face to face with the Statue of Liberty and built by North Korea!

The taxi wouldn’t take us up the concrete road up to the lighthouse, so we walked. It was a very nice view though. The lighthouse trip was successful. We got a guided tour of the Lighthouse, presented by a very enthusiastic owner, who was so proud of his job, and the views, he insisted that we take photos! It was a very cool place. The Lighthouse of Dakar is the second most important lighthouse in Africa, because it marks the ‘gate’ between the North and South hemisphere. The MOST important lighthouse in Africa is in South Africa, which marks the ‘gate’  from the Western hemisphere to the Eastern Hemisphere.

Some very astounding views from the top the lighthouse of the city.

Glass of whatever +Sunglasses
= generic Instagram photo
The Western-most point on the continent of Africa
Simon
Long road to the Lighthouse
Lighthouse view number 1

The Lighthouse bulb

Lighthouse view number 2

Lighthouse view number 3

The Adventure Crew (photo courtesy of Kate)

“What are you two talking about, I don’t see any icebergs?”

A Brit and a Canadian,  former roommates. And Baobab juice!
(Photo by Simon)

Going up the lighthouse (Taken by the very
enthusiastic lighthouse keeper)
(Annelies, Stephen, Rachel, Kate, Luke, Me, a pillar, Leon and Simon)

An international video call

The day after that, the Adventure Crew had an international catch u.p On this call, we were spread across four continents: Africa: Me, Kate, Simon, Rachel, Laurianna and Stephen (and Moise for a shortwhile) on the Africa Mercy in Senegal and Ian (USA. He was a project assistant on board during shipyard) in Tanzania (Mission work); North America: Philip (He was AV Technician on board. He now works as AV technician at the ISC, Texas!); Europe: Arne (Netherlands. Project Assistant. He joined two days before I left, but he went to the aquarium with us) Sam (USA, Galley staff, but he was in Italy at the time) as well, towards the end of the call, but the internet quality was so bad for him, that we barely had any conversation with him! Last but not least Michael (Australia. Internet Services) We ordered pizza. They were tiny. I had Tex-Mex. Due to some funny comment, midway through eating some jalapeno, the spiciness of the slice went up, through my nose, instead of going down. That wasn’t fun. It was great to hear from them all (What we could hear, anyway), and to be updated in their own lives (What they were doing i.e. work, educational, waiting for a new phase .where they were. What time it was where they were calling from!) Reflecting back on a different time…. That was only a few months ago. It’s weird. 

Presidential Beef…..

Different parts of deck work recently has included beef. Why? Isn’t the deck department separate from food services? Yes, they are separate, but one day when I was on call, I was called out (I knew in advance about this) to help with an after-hours delivery of beef… Here’s the story….

As a way of showing appreciation of what we were doing in Senegal, President Macky Sall offered us many deals, including offering to pay for our fuel, and has also pledged to give us 1 cows worth of beef for everyday Mercy Ships is in Senegal. So I was sent to the galley to unhook the pallets from the stores crane, and move them into the elevator.

Pallet of beef

Other than that, I have been doing more training on the stores crane. I did want to be trained on it in Guinea, but due to a complication with one of the cranes, the company didn’t want to newbie going on the other crane to damage it, leaving the ship without a crane until Dry Dock for maintenance. Not gonna lie… I am a bit annoyed by that, but I also understand why the decision was made. Other Deck has been mostly the same as in Guinea, scrubbing the decks, cleaning, chipping, grinding and painting. We are in ‘Rainy season at the moment, but the weather can change drastically. There was an INTENSE recently. During the working day. So instead of working outside, in the middle of a thunderstorm, I was asked to sort out the Paint Locker. So I got to work, rearranging paint buckets, organising by colour, organising used and empty cans and a bit of sweeping. Because of rain during the nights, most mornings on deck are spent pushing puddles down drains, to eliminate potential mosquito breeding grounds. The drastic weather changes? It can be SWELTERING in the sun. Very exhausting. Enough said.

Also, Rachel left last week. It was very sad. So, on the Friday evening, Rachel, Simon, Stephen, Leon, Kate, Laurianna and I went out to a hotel roof top bar, not too far away from the lighthouse and giant statue. The hotel is called Hotel du Phare des Mamelles. So, literally,  but not so literally, translating to Hotel of the Lighthouse of the Boobs. It was a pleasant evening, and the sunset was fast and phenomenal. We chose to go East just to see a sunset over Dakar. So, there we were, a group of friends, driving along the West Africa coast, chasing the sunset. We also found out that the on the crown of the Man on the giant statue lights up during dark hours. We also got Hawaiian pizza,  though it had chicken instead of ham, that was so hot, that it burned the top of mouth. Before we left, I had a very deep and meaningful conversation with Nic, one of our officers about Artificial Intelligence. What I learned from her is that the reasons why Artificial Intelligence is commonly depicted as trying to annihilate/enslave humanity is because humans are idiots, and Artificial Intelligence often misinterprets the data we are feeding them.

So that has been a bit about what I have been doing/ up to for the last two months/ please forgive me If I post stuff on this blog that you don’t want to read, I like to use this blog as a bit of a personal blog. I also don’t want to pump out updates that are purely about “work, work, work”, so I try to put a bit of  variety into my writing.

As this was about July and August, and a bit of September, this one was longer than normal. When I get back into the routine of monthly updates, these posts will be shorter.

Thank you for reading, and have a good day,

Matthew.
The date I post this? 15th of September

Adventure Crew of the past – 4 different continents in one call! (Thanks for the photo, Kate!)
No. I was not twerking.
(On Screen, from left to right, top to bottom)
Philip (Texas) Michael (Australia) Arne (Netherlands) Ian (Tanzania)
(On ship.)
Kate, Simon, Rachel, Me, Laurianna, Stephen.

(I’m) Still Alive, and an end of a beginning.

This post by Matthew Little was originally published at Diary of a Deckie: My experience volunteering on a hospital ship.

Hello everyone, thanks for coming back. I want to apologies for how belated this update (If you were keeping track of how often I do this. Something happened…. my laptop temporarily broke. It’s fine now though!)  It has been over a month since I started this, but this is what happened. My old laptop broke again, I took it to IS, and they suggested getting a new hard-drive, because it had become corrupted and crashed. Instead of ordering one, waiting for it to arrive in Rotterdam, the next container to arrive with the hard drive on for them to replace my hard drive; I decided that I would just wait until I got back on on PTO, where am I writing this now,  and get a new laptop entirely. I have an ASUS TUF fx505. It’s a gaming laptop. I have found that I have got back into gaming during my time onboard. Specifically Minecraft. So that’s what’s up.

This one also might be a short one as I have forgotten what has happened in my life for the most part. apart from some pretty significant ship activities that has happened.

The short voyage

As I mentioned last time, due to some dredging of the port, the ship had to move. After a couple weekend of postpones, a deal was made between our ship, the port and the  dredging company. Some representatives from the company visited the ship, they were so amazed by the work and service we were doing for Guinea (and I guess the work do and have done over 40 years all over the place), that they didn’t want to interrupt  our busy hospital schedule, that they decided to do the depth measurements and dredging all in one go, over a three day period. Thankfully, we had a handy ship holiday weekend coming up. (every six weeks, we have a ship holiday to give the crew a break. Unless you were a ward nurse, engine room watch keeper, on night patrol for a week I wasn’t, on reception or on call). 
So, bright and early, on a Friday morning, the crew hit the decks to get the party started (or keep it going). This time, I wasn’t on the bridge, as I was posted the first two times. Instead, I was on the Bow (or Forecastle) along with a couple fellow Deckies, Odon, the Assistant Bosun and Abdul, a rating, as well as a couple volunteer engineers, Kees, the last Mechanic/Fitter (he left a couple weeks ago), Corey, an electrician (He has also left the ship) and Harrison, still on the ship. We were also joined by my father, in the deck department, but not a deckie, and Cherif, one of our Men of Guinea who has since joined the crew. It was a smooth  ‘sail’, just up the dock, next to a bulk carrier transporting concrete. So, for a few days, it was like dusty season again, except much worse. That was part one of the voyage.

A couple hours later, at around quarter past 6 in the evening, the Captain gave a message on the PA telling all crew onboard who were involved with the shifting to meet in the cafe. We had to move. Again. An unexpected arrival of a ship bringing a mobile crane later that evening meant that we had to move another 20 feet forward. Another agreement was made between us and the port, who had originally asked to do something else, going like this:

1. Our ship goes back to our original berth (Friday evening)
2. After the new ship has unloaded the crane, and departed, we go back to where we were moved to.
 (Somepoint between Saturday and Sunday)
3. Our ship moves away from the dock, to sit, at anchor for about 6 hours (Monday)
4.We finally move back to our original position (Monday)

Or it was something like that, I can’t remember.

So, those who were involved but not ashore, as some crew had gone, mustered at our mooring stations for the second time that day. It was cooler, so easier to work in. Our Deck day crew had also gone home for the day. They were on the dock pulling our Yokohamas (big thing covered in tyres to stop the ship scraping along the wall) and attaching our mooring lines to the bollards, so transportation stepped in. So my team, on the bow pretty much pulled the ship to our new position using the mooring lines. It was quite a cool experience, pretty much pulling the ship there. There was very little engine on.

And so that was our new location for the weekend. The ship also got covered in concrete from the next ship over, as it was bringing concrete to Conakry.

Monday moving- back to our berth

Then came  the time to move back to our berth. Or so we thought. It wasn’t as dramatic as I make it out to be. The plan was to go out to anchor for a few hours. What ended up happening was we moored close to our berth, with mooring mooring lines. Only to move  back to our proper place. 

So that was the tale of our move.

Apart from the Day Crew celebration, I can’t remember what happened between that move and prepping to sail. My father and a few others from the ship visited the church that we had visited the day after my birthday. It also happened that I shared a birthday with one of the youngest members of that congregation, so we had a joint celebration that Sunday. The last time we visited the church before leaving Guinea, we were invited to lunch with the pastor and a few of the senior members of the church. It was nice to spend time in fellowship with them one last time

Prepping to leave.

With the sail coming up, our preparation for leaving included: lashing down everything on deck and and around the ship that could have moved, and using the transfer container to lift every vehicle from the dock to deck 8. It was a very smooth operation. Then, on the last days before we left, we had to take down all of our fencing on the dock, pack all that we could fit into a container, the rest craning them up. That was an experience watching. A bit of a nail biting one. The deck department, along with our day crew also went to a Lebanonese/Moroccan restaurant as an appreciation for them working with us. That was also the last night we saw them, so it was a bit emotional, saying goodbye to an amazing group of gentlemen

Sailing the seas.

So, after weeks of preparation, we were ready to set sail, and ride the open ocean. After one or two stowaway searches. Then we left, hauling in our mooring lines, and stowing them in the bosun’s locker. There is an art to stowing those lines. By the time we were at sea, It was my first watch. So,  I donned my watch shirt, epaulets, and made my way upto the bridge. The sail was smooth, and I got my first experience of steering ships. In the middle of the night. I had two watches, one in the middle of the night, the other in the middle of the day. My first watch, during the day, I spent as a lookout, spotting other ships, smaller boats and the occasional marine life. To get my steering certification, I need to have 10 steering by both day and night, and by both Gyro and Magnetic compass. The sail from Guinea to the Canary Islands is 5 days, so I had enough time to do that, however, I am only a few hours off. I should most definitely get those ten hours done during the sail from the Canary Islands to Senegal. I tried sailing by Magnetic compass, easy during the day, however, during the night, I somehow managed to steer off course by a lot a couple times. A ship is not like a car, so it took about 5 minutes to get back on course. I could be looking at the magnetic compass, then look down at the Gyro and be like “AGH! This is definitely not where I want to be”.

The last night I was on watch was a beautiful one, as when I started the watch, and the previous watch were just finishing, there were several fishing boats around, so there were a bunch of lights on the horizon all around us. Then, at the end of the four hours, a faint glow of orange street lights from Gran Canaria could be seen in the distance.

Two weeks of living in an oven in  shipyard.

As was planned stayed on ship for two weeks during shipyard, before flying home on Personal Time Off. However, because of a potential operation, my parents went home two weeks before for my mum. They went home for a consultation, and it turned out that she didn’t need to operation. Praise God for that. So I took their cabin as a cabin-sitter before I went home. What had been said about dry-dock was that the Air Con would be taken offline, leaving the inside of the ship as an oven. My mum got a fan from the wards, so the cabin was cooler. It was a very strange reversal, going from “It’s too hot to go outside, I’ll stay on ship” to “It’s too hot to stay inside, I’ll have to go outside”
The thing that I was dreading about the end of the field service and Shipyard was knowing that most my friends would be leaving. The day that the ship was taken out of the water, two of the first people I met on the ship, Caleb and Laura, left the ship. They rented a couple apartments for a few weeks in Las Palmas, before going back to their respective countries, and/or, a tour around Europe. So we managed to get a few meet-ups around town before they both left. It was hard to say goodbye to them. But, it turns out that a similarly sized group of similarly aged people will still be on ship during Senegal, so my fear was wrong.
Working in dry dock was…. interesting. There are a bunch of projects going on all over the ship, from the Engine room to the bridge, but a whole load of volunteers come only during shipyard to do those projects, whilst work on deck has been pretty much the same as normal, but a bit of a support role for the projects. One evening, whilst I was on call, I had to help with the bringing in several boxes of vinyl flooring for one of the projects.
Also on the day that the ship went into drydock, me and my parents rented a car and went exploring around the island. We visited one of the highest points on the Island; breath taking views of the rock formations around, and even Tenerife can be seen! The peak on the volcanic island, at least. I was supposed to be on ship helping with the move, but because I had a day off owed and my parents left the next day, I was allowed off to go with them. We also took a trip to IKEA.
The Sunday before I left, was a black out day, because of some cleaning of the main switchboard meant power to the entire ship had to be shut off. which also meant no way for fires to be detected by the system, and also no way to alert the crew. So everyone who wasn’t involved had to be off-ship. Me, Sam, Rachel, Angela, and a new Dutchie called Arne, who arrived literally the evening before, and is also only there for shipyard, went to the Aquarium. Sam and I had been wanting to go the Aquarium for a while, and Sunday was the opportunity.  It was amazing. Discussions about the existence of Jellyfish were instigated, and I learned just how small clown fish are. After that, we went on a very nice walk around the city, then up into the elevated outskirts of the city, to get a very cool view of the port, the beach and the skyline. 
I also found out that I had given our Chief Engineer a bit of an energy boost one Thursday. In the morning, I gave my Testimony to the technical crew and led devotions. I recalled one of  the sermons I had heard at Soul Survivor, A christian youth festival, a few years ago. That sermon was one of the main inspirations for me joining Mercy Ships. It was the story of Moses, and how he protested to God about going to speak to Pharaoh, so God sent Aaron, Moses’ Brother, along with him. Later that Thursday, during our community gathering, our Chief Engineer recalled what I had said that morning, and the message being “We all need to work together. If we can’t work together, nothing can get done.” That was his intepretation. It was so nice to hear that I, one of the youngest crew members, could inspire the older generation.
And that’s all I have.
Sorry that this one is literally just text, but having no laptop for a month, I really wanted to get this one out. I am so looking forward to going back to the ship and going to Senegal, where I will be continuing this blog!
Thank you for reading, and goodbye.
-Matthew.  

Going up in the world, doing new things. And going through a strange and sad few days.

This post by Matthew Little was originally published at Diary of a Deckie: My experience volunteering on a hospital ship.

So, the last month period between now and last post started (or ended, I can’t remember) with another week of night patrol. Since then, I have done another week of Night Patrol last week, actually followed by nearly a weeks time off. I’ll get to that later. Thankfully, and somewhat sadly, nothing happened. I say thankfully, because nothing happened and sadly, because, nothing happened. Ambiguity.

After I finished that week about a month ago and after two days off, I returned to my normal schedule of day shift, to be pleasantly surprised that I would be starting my fireman duty. Didn’t you already do that in Texas? That was fireFIGHTER training. As in, fighting a fire if it were to ever happen. My new fireman duty training has been working with the Fire Fighting equipment officer to pretty much ensure that all the fire fighting equipment Never would have guessed the firefighting equipment officer’s job and fire related systems on the ship is where it should be/ working/ not broken/sufficient enough to pass inspection. Here is a brief glimpse of the jobs of the duty fireman.

  • Check the fire points around the ship 
  1. Check if the hydrant isn’t leaking or rusting, which could lead to leaking.
  2. Check if the hoses aren’t broken
  3. If the fire points have spanners to couple/decouple hoses
  4. (if they have them) The fire extinguishers are… I don’t know…. fine? (all I have done with the extinguishers is give them a dust) All though, the powder extinguishers need to be picked up, to check if the powder hasn’t caked at the bottom. By turning them upside down to see if the weight shifts to the top. Thanks, gravity. If not, I can hit them with a mallet to shift the powder. Not too hard that it breaks the extinguishers, creating a huge, dusty mess.
  • Testing the fire hydrants
  1. This is actually testing whether the hydrants are working. which can be fun on a deck with no access to the outside of the ship. So you have to lay a bunch of hoses up staircases and through passage ways until you get to a door.  
  • Weekly inspection of the Fire Lockers
  1. If all the SCBA bottles have enough oxygen in them
  2. All the firefighters have the right equipment on their hooks and right things in the right pockets (gloves, torches, mask,  etc…)
  3. Testing the dead man alarms, a component of the firefighters ‘set up’ (A very loud, motion detecting, shouty box. ’nuff said)
  • Testing the fire doors
  1. Speaks for itself.
  • Fortnightly washing of the SCBA masks)
  • Testing of Smoke heat detectors
  • Checking if the EEBDs (Emergency Escape Breathing Devices) have enough oxygen.
  • Checking if the Fire Dampers over the ship will open and close properly and if they have readable, not broken, labels.
Was that brief? I have no idea, guess it depends on the person.
In terms of the work as a deck hand I have been doing as a deck hand recently, that is pretty much all I have been doing for the last month or so. Besides from night patrol, and the odd garbage removal.

‘Should they stay or should they…. move… slightly…. out the way.? or something?’

So, the port is in the middle of preparing for dredging. Which meant we we were supposed to move away from our berth for approximately a few hours. We were going to move on Easter Monday, where I would have been on the bridge on watch whilst we move, I think. After I had finished getting dressed up in my watchkeeping…shirt. With epaulets! We got an overhead announcement from our last (and just left Captain) Jon, that the moved has been postponed. Jon is a veteran Mercy Ships Captain, whom I met at the ISC during OnBoarding. As I write this, on Saturday 27th of April, We were scheduled to have the new move today. I would have been on bellbook duty. This would have meant that I would have noted down the time of shifts from ‘Full steam ahead’ and ‘full stop’ and all those in between.

One of these!

That move was cancelled yesterday. But, in preparation of that, I spent of yesterday preparing for the move by helping to secure down bins and pallets on deck 8. then, in the afternoon, I did Pest Control.

Other things that happened over the last month

  • Fought another boss in Dungeons and Dragons….. Guess what it was, I’ll give a hint, it’s in the title of the game! But, before that, the party was tasked by a druid (I disliked this druid NPC. In case you were wondering) to clear out the map of zombies and Groots (not Dutchies, Twig-blights) Or the Forest of Cheem. Now there’s an obscure reference and a half. 
  • I finally bought and started to play Skyrim. My ‘Dovahkihn’ (Don’t shout at me if that is spelled wrong you nerds. Jk. I gave it my best shot from memory, alright) is a Breton. am going down the swordsman route instead of sorcerer. I want to stab and decapitate things, OK!? And I have sided with the Stormcloaks. 
  • I had my 19th Birthday.
    A bit of a tale of disappointment with this one. I had planned to go back to Kassa for another night away with my friends like last time again. This time, I was excited to go, I had done it before, so I knew the drill, and I didn’t have any anxieties about it. I did the last time. Like the last time, we were going on the Friday evening, so I was going to wake up, on my Birthday, on an island. Sounds fun? Except, even though I was ready to go in the evening, things went wrong, from the morning. It was the day of a dive. The divers are supported by two crew members in one of the rescue boats, with the nets for the side of the ship that is not adjacent to the dock. That day, we decided that we would test one of the other rescue boats and ‘take it out for a spin’. I went in this boat. What I didn’t expect, surprisingly, was how intense the sun would be on that day. I forgot to take a bottle with me, as I lost my Mercy Ships bottle the week before. And chilly bottles don’t store much water. Long story short…. I got sunstroke, as well as a splitting headache for the rest of the day. So, then, when it was time to go to catch the ferry, I decided “I have a headache caused by the sun. Not a good idea to go out into the sun again with limited water. I’ll stay on the ship to recover.” I spent the evening in the cabin drinking water to heal myself and went to sleep. Then, in the morning, on my birthday, I was pretty much fine. So I spent my birthday on the ship. But I played some Skyrim, and after a decade, I went back to updating my collection of Doctor Who DVDs (besides from the occasional Christmas Special and ‘Day of the Doctor’ DVD between 2009 and now) as my parents (and Hannah in New Zealand got me the Complete Specials (The last David Tennant specials from The Next Doctor to The End of Time) and Series 5 through 8 boxsets. So my birthday was a bit ‘ehh this sucks’ and ‘ehh this isn’t so bad’. I also have a few classics, Including ‘The Beginning’ boxset.
I also said goodbye to a few couple over the course of a few weeks, including Elizabeth, who was a part of the ‘Star Wars marathon’ group. OnBoarding Jen returned to the States for a few months. She’ll be back though. Miss you! Georgiy, our FFE Officer from the Ukraine left. He got us all waffles (The Deck department, not the entire crew!). I had three waffles withing one morning. and how many did I pay for?  None. I didn’t steal them. So I had one from Georgiy, but he bought a couple spares. So I took one of those. That was my second one. Then, as I went to get a snack (I had a day off because I was OnCall that weekend) Esther, from Sales and the Starbucks,  beckoned me over to offer me (and some one else) the last two waffles that Lizzie, one of the British crew,who was also leaving that weekend had bought for a bunch of people. So that was my third. Then both Octavian, our former Chief Officer from Romania, and Brian from the States left on the same day a couple weeks ago. 
That almost week off… Easter on the ship is MASSIVE. I was told that Easter is just as special as Christmas on the ship, and it was. We had things going on throughout holy week. Such as, the Queen’s Lounge decorated to become the Upper Room where Jesus shared the Last Supper with the 12, and the International lounge was decorated to become the Garden of Gethsemane, with a soundtrack of night sounds for the atmosphere. Then, on Easter Sunday, there was a sunrise service on Deck 8, pastries in the cafe, another Service, then Easter lunch. It was special, except… I wanted to be alone. Mainly because I had just come off Night Patrol on Saturday morning, and my Circadian Rhythm hadn’t gone back to normal yet, and I was confused on Good Friday, because it was a ship holiday, which just felt like a Saturday, and It was hard  to get through that last night from Friday to Saturday. I wasn’t myself that weekend. I was a bit sad and a bit grouchy, but I didn’t want to take naps, because I was still trying to reset my schedule. That was also due to everyone being there. I must have mentioned this before in a previous post, that even with a crew of 400+, most of the time, the ship feels empty. Until Easter Sunday, then it was like ‘Woah. OK. Everyone is suddenly… here.’ I couldn’t cope. Luckily, the week coming…. which was the week that has just gone. I had nearly a week off to readjust. So of course, there was Saturday and Sunday off, two days. Easter Monday was a ship holiday, so it was a long weekend. I was on night shift on Good Friday, but it was a four day weekend because ship holiday. After Night Patrol, I have two days off, usually Monday and Tuesday, but this week, it was Tuesday and Wednesday. Another two days. But then, I had Thursday off (Wasn’t supposed to happen, but it’s on the schedule soo….) So, 6 days off! Then back to work for one day before the weekend. Now.
And that’s about it. Thank you for reading, see you sometime soon!

A post where I try to remember what I’ve done.

This post by Matthew Little was originally published at Diary of a Deckie: My experience volunteering on a hospital ship.

The thing that I have only now realised is that I should probably start writing about the events of a week then collate all the things that happened for a month when I set down to do another update. Because, to tell the truth, I have very little memory a lot that has happened since I last wrote. Obviously, I can remember things that did happen, but not a lot. If you have read all my posts (I do a monthly post, and I have only been here for 4 months now, so there aren’t many) you may remember me mentioning how blogging is basically a chore for me now. It’s hard to settle down and remember everything you have done. I am actually impressed by some of these crew who manage a weekly blog, and write them very well. But I think it’s different for me, whilst they are only here for a few months, I am here for two years, so I feel that I have a lot more breathing room to update loved ones back home or wherever they may be and international friends that this crazy season of life has given me the chance to meet and build relationships with. Also, did I mention that I have been here for 4 months already? It seriously feels like a long time that I joined. And in three months, the  Guinea field service will over.

So please, read on, whilst I in the past try to write about the things that I remember and try to remember other things.

Everybody has to say goodbye at somepoint.

I know, I know, that’s a fairly bleak (and ambigious) statement, but sorry kids, it’s true. Fil, my friend and former electronics technician from New Zealand (and Latvia), left the ship at the start of the month. But before he left the next morning we enjoyed a night out in Conakry, which looking back now semi-appeared to be a quest for some live music. Joined by Coltan, one of our officers, Kate, the Executive Assistant and Trinity, one of the bakers, we headed the Le Jardins de Guinee (Gardens of Guinea), an open air restaurant I had heard a lot about and not been to before, and I believe is a hotspot for Mercy Shippers. How can I make this hypothesis? There was another group of Mercy Shippers there at the same time, So we decided to join them. I had already eaten on the ship, so I had a gourmet coffee pudding platter-thing. It wasn’t a platter though, it was a place-mat made from slate. It was very nice, there were mini lemon tarts, candied oranges and a triple chocolate coconut mousse thing. It was one of those dishes that looked too good to eat, but I was hungry, so it didn’t last long. after a game of  doubles pool (le Jardins has a open air games room with a pool table and a table football table) we moved out to Mille Patte (I had been there before, it is in a previous post), where there was live music. And another group of Mercy Shippers! Overall, it was very nice social evening. Kate even got the musician to sing an apparently never ending ‘Happy Birthday’ to Fil after we found out it was his Birthday a few days later.  As it happens, a whole group of Mercy Shippers (I don’t think they were all in the same crowd though) were leaving the same night, including our previous captain, Milo, (Our current captain is Jon, a sort-of ‘reserve’ captain for Mercy Ships. He has captained with Mercy Ships before) so before heading out to find a taxi (totally not the most tense thing about Conakry),  we stuck around to say goodbye  to people. Where Fil was bombarded with “Are you leaving tonight!?” We also said goodbye to fellow nerd, Danita. You may be thinking “That’s a bit harsh, Matthew” but it is a self proclaimed title. And she was part of our DnD group, so you can’t get more nerdy than that. After a very nice evening and a good sleep, it was time to say goodbye to Fil.  It was upsetting to see someone off that you had bonded over a silly joke that didn’t make much sense. Goodbye guys, I miss you!

The British Embassy

The British crew and (and passport holders. We had  some Britain-born Australians) were invited to the British Embassy. I decided to dress up for it, seeing as I don’t have much opportunity to do so. We were asked to dress appropriately for meeting the Ambassador, so I did. And it surprisingly wasn’t unbearable in the heat to do so! Was I looking forward to the visit? Yes. Was I feeling the same way when I left? No. Truth be told…. I had the most boring time. What I thought would be an interesting evening was actually a social evening of conversations. I HATE those evenings, because not only am I terrified of conversation, I prefer to actually be doing things at that kind of ‘party’ which was why I didn’t have too much fun at house parties. Crack out some Mario Kart, and I’ll have a blast! The same weekend, the Men’s Retreat…. in the International Lounge…. on the ship…. was taking place. I heard some interesting responses to that, saying how good it was. I now wished I had gone to that instead.

What has work been like?

Like every job, working on Deck has it’s pros and cons. The pros are, I suppose, the new experiences and skills and lessons I have been learning, such as operating cranes, forklifts and power tools. Sure, you can tell me “You can learn how to do these things on land” But tell me if you learned how to operate a crane at 18 years old. If you can legally learn how to operate a crane at 18, I don’t know. I don’t know when cranes became a thing, either so if cranes became a thing after you turned 19, I guess my argument is invalid. I did (help)  to build a house in Mexico when I was 16, though. The cons are that, eventually, you will have do every deck related job on a ship imaginable, so then nothing is new anymore. Oh, I haven’t gone on the stage yet. I think we have finished stage work for the field service. At least staging over the side of the ship, there maybe minor, stage work that may come up between now and June. The new thing that I have done is mooring operations. Now, we haven’t left yet, but what we were doing was checking the mooring lines on the astern and forward ends of the ship. If they were too tight or too slack, and all that jazz. So that meant unwrapping the lines from the bollards, and wrapping them round the capstan. One deck hand will then operate the controls for capstan, to either give slack to the line or tightening them, whilst one or more deck hands will hold on to the line to hold the tension. This job requires focus and full attention, as you can imagine, elastic energy transfer into kinetic energy can be messy, if you let go of the line. Snapback is dangerous. and potentially fatal. Particularly with those heavy ropes. When the supervising officer has decided if the slack or tightness is just right, it is a rush to remove the mooring lines from the capstan and re-wrap them around the bollard before they become slack. That also meant more greasing for me! one of the rotating bollards was stiff, so we had to splice two ropes together and wrap them around the capstan and this smaller bollard. And then squeeze some grease into the nipple to get it turning properly. If it seemed like I was insinuating that I have done everything, I haven’t yet. It just will happen. But at the moment, I am pretty much doing everything that I have done before, but somewhere else on deck.  I just got off another week of Night Patrol. That pretty much went the same as the last two weeks. Which was good, as nothing happened, but still. It. Is. So. Draining. Going to sleep in the morning is the most rewarding thing. That and pancakes on Wednesday morning. We, the British crew, tried to get a pancake day thing going, but that that fell through. so pancake on Ash Wednesday had to suffice. Nom nom.
Better than watching the mess being made of Brexit by Westminster. Thanks, Cameron, where have you put your trotters up now? (A Danny Dyer reference, to all you non Brits)

Return to Kassa 

The Squad! or crew. I don’t know yet
Before I started the long stretch of Night Patrol, I had a night away on Kassa with Caleb, Laura, Laura Kate (USA. Apparently it’s just LK for short) Imani, Rimke (Netherlands) and Michiel (Netherlands). It was so good to get off the ship for a bit. We went to a different beach that I went to before. The others had been to this beach. I also had the first experience of a moto-taxi. We weren’t going to walk, since the beach was the other side of the island, and when we got to the island off the ferry, it was about half past five, and we wanted to set up camp before dark. We got a fire going, and just chilled. And then we chilled on the beach and swam for a bit before heading back to the ferry. Rimke also brought her Ukulele along for some light entertainment

This is the hat I have basically stolen from my mum.
My hat makes me look like a middle aged travelling woman.

LK and Michiel were determined to catch some crabs. And they did

This is the Photo of the Month

See that white speck? That’s the ferry. About half an hour away.

The lives that we save.

This is the story of one of the patients that we have “given new life to” over the course of four months, from the crew that I have spoken to,  heard  at the Wednesday Evening Medical In-Services and promotional material I have seen whilst preparing to work with Mercy Ships, that is one of the statements that stands out to me. I love how powerful it is, and it really does bring up questions in my mind about the lives of the patients. (As previously mentioned before, the communications team on board works to produce material ready for crew use, such as this one, as well as hosting media teams and vision trips)

Going back to losing memory of the last month, I don’t have amnesia, it was just…. it felt like nothing happened. But, as the Doctor says “Stories are just where memories go when they are forgotten” So as this vast and wonderful world keeps spinning through our universe, and whilst memories fade, at least know; no matter how small a memory created is, you still leave an invisible mark on the world.

Ok, so no more inspirational messages and philosophy. I’ll finish up now.

Thanks for reading and see you again soon!

When your smoothie spills…

This post by Matthew Little was originally published at Diary of a Deckie: My experience volunteering on a hospital ship.

Hello again, I did say coming soon, so a promise was kept! Unlike January, February has been a fairly slow month, so I’ll try my best to talk about things that happened. Some things, I can remember, however, they aren’t the best memories and fairly humiliating, but there are also good things that I remember. Life is like a dream like that. I did have a really weird dream a few days ago where I was back home, and I randomly kicked my sister in the stomach. And she was playing Assassin’s Creed, and when I realized that, everything went back to normal, and we started a discussion about Assassin’s Creed (weird). Almost, we just kinda… forgot that I kicked her. I would much rather dream about Padmé. So sit back as I blog and watch Torchwood at the same time. I mean I am watching Torchwood as I write, please don’t watch something at the same time as reading this. Or do, I am not going to know. Or will I?

Container day!

So, we had container day recently. This isn’t an official ship ‘day’, the latest Netherlands container arrived. As a deckie, one of my jobs is to help out with the crane operations on the ship when the containers arrive (A monthly thing) and when the ship gets local delivery of produce (A frequent thing, twice a week.) with the aft crane out of operation until shipyard in Las Palmas in June, we are now limited to using the stores crane for everything. (Everything deck related, not the surgeries and everything else) This means that someone has to be on the dock, slinging up the pallets and receiving the things that come out of the ship (the bin/trash container) and empty pallets. Someone operates the crane, moving these pallets and the bin from the galley hatch to the dock and vice versa, and sometimes to Deck 8. Finally, someone is in the galley hatch, basically doing thee same thing as the guy on the dock. When we get a container, someone is also on deck 3 and the cargo hold, receiving the pallets that come down from the galley to deck 3 via the ONE elevator. We have one elevator for everything, which can make it difficult to work with with lots of jobs going on all over the ship that use the elevator at the same time. 
This container day, I was assigned to the dock, where I was slinging up the pallets, whilst Mike, one of the carpenters with my father, operated the forklift, bringing the pallets from the container, at the aft of the dock, to the lifting area on the dock. Clear an LZ, Noble Six! Flynn, our German Deck storeman, was also on the dock with us, working in the containers, bringing pallets closer to the door of the container, for the forklift to move out from the container, to the lifting area. It can be hard work doing all this, particularly with the heat, and working in the sun in  dark blue coveralls, but I do enjoy it, and if it means that the ship can operate,  (Both actual ship stuff, with the Engineering side and the hospital side of the ship) then it’s good work all around, and it makes it easier to deal with the heat. Something that does keep coming into my mind is what is more important. Is it that this is a ship with a hospital on it, or is it that it is a floating hospital. On his visit to the ship in November, Don Stephens, the founder of Mercy Ships spoke to the Deck and Engineering departments at our Thursday devotion. He said that we are the beating heart of the ship. Others say that the hospital is the heart. But to me, it’s all a matter of perspective. I think this should be taken into account when considering the question:

“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you.” Nor can the head say to the head say to the feet, “I do not need you” 1 Corinthians 12:21

We would normally use the stores crane and the transfer container, but it’s broken down, so we have to do container work by hand now. Technically it was always by hand, but you know what I mean.
At the moment, I do not have pictures from this, but I’ll put them on when I do.

Bow wow!

One of the most recent projects for the deck department has been working on the bow mooring deck. This has included…. Cleaning and painting! Pretty much just cleaning and painting. We have given the deck a fresh new coat  of  (insert paint code here) green. So it’s gone from dirty and dusty green with a hint of brown and pale, to a shiny, emerald green! I unfortunately don’t have any before and after photos, but it looks so nice now. What’s sad is that it will ultimately collect dust again and go back to dusty and dirty. Oh well, such is the way of the world. It looks nice now though. Our saying in the deck department is  “The party continues” and “The party never stops”. Which is true, because there is always something to be done.

Go Greased Lightning!

One of these tasks is greasing. I was working on greasing the exterior doors on decks 7 and 8. These things have to be done, to keep the doors opening. And like lightning, we did a fast job, me and one of our ‘Men of Guinea’. Apart from the doors which had a different greasing point to the other nipple. We have no idea where the other nozzle is. I think we are all done for now. I think this job has to be done every few months.

Hospital time!

I finally got round to doing one of the things I have been meaning to do on board for ages. Visiting the wards! John, an Australian electrician, invited me to visit the wards with him, to see one of the patients that he had befriended. We all played Jenga together, which quickly turned from regular Jenga into extreme/engineer’s Jenga. We haven’t decided on a name. This was pretty much the general game of Jenga, however, instead of the regular three blocks on a y axis and x axis, we tried to see how many positions we could put the blocks on top of each other, whilst keeping the tower stable. It went as well as you could probably imagine. 

Photo of the month

We are also working on cleaning and re-painting the aft crane. Which is fresh new coat of white. On the day that we started working, and I was observing stage working. I am intended to start stage work very soon. Apparently. I’ll try to get some of that filmed and put into a new vlog. So as we were working, this fishing boat tried to moor in the dock, and then that happened. Oops. The Tug boats tried to pull it out before anything worse happened. The next day, the boat was gone, and we don’t know how. Must have been when the tide was really high. There is also a wreck pretty much right next to where this boat was.

When your smoothie spills…. 

I have made up a proverbial phrase, please use it! If it was a full sentence, it would be “You just kinda freeze and stare at it with the people on your table and wait for a friend from another table  to come over with serviettes and get you a new one.” That happened to me. It wasn’t my smoothest moment in my life. I was trying to set it down on the table, and instead, it just fell through my hands and went everywhere. On the table, and on the scrubs of a new person. (Good job, Matthew. It was only a tiny bit though. But still)  If it happened in slow motion, Jim Croce or Eurthymics would not be playing, One of the following would be a fitting song. In no particular order:
  1. Enya – Only Time
  2. Simon and Garfunkel – Sound of Silence
  3. Gary Jules – Mad World
  4. Mad World but it’s that cover by the black kid from Vine

‘Sausage tree’. We never found out what this actually is
A week later, and I didn’t drop it everywhere.

The bay
I also went out to lunch one Sunday with Caleb (USA) Laura (Netherlands) Imani (USA) Octavian (Romania – Chief Officer) and Philipp (Switzerland), where we saw some interesting plants by the bay. 
Here are some pictures of me repairing tarp. Look at that determination.

And that’s pretty much all for this month and a bit. I think. I am not keeping track of how long between one update to another. Thank you for reading, where ever you are in the world. Including the few people from Indonesia, how are you? (read my reflection).

I also don’t know what happened to my 12″ remote control Dalek. This was ages before we I joined Mercy Ships, it went missing years ago. We didn’t throw it away or give it away, it just vanished. I miss my 12″ remote control Dalek.

A reflection of 2018, and maybe life before then.

This post by Matthew Little was originally published at Diary of a Deckie: My experience volunteering on a hospital ship.

I would like to start by saying that this is not my blog post/update/newsletter/ thing/ whatever you want to call it for the latter half of January 2019 and former half of February. This is the result of thinking over the course of a week, and refuting past statements. See my last post. I have also just discovered that putting a slash into italics makes it lean a little further than usual. Putting lean into italics, aren’t I a creative soul. I don’t care if that’s grammatically incorrect. Plus, I have my first deck department evaluation this week, so it gives me an opportunity to think about how  I will respond.

I wanted to do a reflection in a separate blog post.

The things that happened…

So, how did 2018 go for Matthew Philip David Little go? Well, it went ok, I think. As you can imagine for an 18 year old, my life changed a fair bit in 2018. The first ‘BIG’ thing was, well, I turned 18. The age in life in which you become an adult. More on this later. After this, I completed my A-Levels. or High School, I guess, for my international friends that I have made over the past few months. Also, the crazy thing that didn’t occur to me when I started this blogging business On a hospital ship with a voluntary crew from 56 different nations was who this would reach out to. Looking at the stats regarding page views by country has wowed me. From the United States to Indonesia, of all places. I couldn’t even figure who this person could be!
So yeah, I completed my A-Levels. That period of two years were, without a doubt, the two most tense and worrying years I have lived through. I did Film Studies, Geography and Sociology for my A-Levels, plus an EPQ, that after months of consideration and fear, I eventually completed. I didn’t want to do an EPQ, because I just wanted to get through the three subjects I had chosen by themselves, and I thought it would just stress me out to focus on the subjects, and another thing to focus on for a few months. In reality, it did. But in the end, I chose a subject and topic that really interested me: History! History was my favourite subject in school, but I wasn’t able to continue it after GCSEs, because of my grades. I remember that results day well. Driving into school, opening that brown envelope to….. utter disappointment. It was gut-wrenching. It was like someone opened fire on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I passed my Maths though, which I never in a million years thought would happen first time. I still remember driving home, envelope in hand, responding to a joyous message of passes from my friend from another school who was like my closest friend that summer. (We are still friends, there wasn’t a betrayal, if that is how it sounds) I tried to congratulate, but I was too heartbroken by my own results. So what was sent was me trying to force my sadness onto someone else. This was all in 2016, so yes, the title is true.
But my A-Levels in 2018. To cut to the chase, I did much better than I thought would have done after my GCSE results two years ago. I passed Film Studies (Expected). I Passed Geography, like my Maths GCSE, did not expect that, but failed Sociology, which I was confident would be my best result. And I passed my EPQ, which I focused on the ‘Cultural and Political Impacts of the Crusades’. There were many times where I wanted to drop it. In the end, I was incredibly proud and happy with what I had done It didn’t really help by ‘bigging it up’ when it wasn’t necessary, Mother! Don’t call an EPQ a University paper with a smile on your face, expecting a sudden boost of confidence. Neither was “Matthew is graduating too!” She wasn’t talking about finishing High School (We don’t have graduation ceremonies from High School, we just go on our merry way), she was referring to me leaving St John Ambulance Cadets.  Which was just me going on my merry way. No more publicly outting my Mother, because she did encourage me to get through it all, so thanks, Mum! I wasn’t feeling all too confident on A-Level results day, also through that entire final exam period. I just wanted for it to be over. They were the two most confusing and exciting  (Who calls school exciting?) Luckily, thanks to a friend  I had made months before, fitting in was easy, and I mostly enjoyed spending the time with my new friends. Again, if you read this Catherine, thank you for all that, and thanks to the rest of that friendship group, who are either at University, doing apprenticeships or something else. Oh and also to the rest of you acquaintances and old friends who made new friends during Secondary School, I wish you all the best, and hope to see you again when I go back to England for a bit in the summer. after thought After many ups and downs and a few breakdowns, the sad passing of my Grandmother (My dad’s mum) I got through it in the end. And another chapter in my life was over.

As one door closes, another opens…

Of course, I regenerated into my next incarnation, my Mercy Ships life. (Yes, I used three different  metaphorical life markers. What you gonna do about it?) What started from wasting electricity with a documentary on in the background after school to gaming four years ago is finally real. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after I finished my A-Levels. I thought about University, but I realized that University isn’t for everyone, my parents  were planning to do Mercy Ships and 2018 was the big year for the family, when we all finished things, Hannah graduated from Cardiff University with Civil Engineering, Zoe finished Child Nursing from University of Surrey and got married to Seth, and me, well read the paragraph above. I am a Deck Hand on the ship, under training to become an AB (Assistant Bosun) I don’t know if I’ll reach that  by the end of this two years, but this is about looking back, to what I know, only One knows the future, and He has it under control. He promises. I have only been serving for three months now, but I am really enjoying my time, and  I am  surprised by how much I am progressing,  and I am doing things that I never would have thought I would done this soon into this chapter. The chances of meeting people from this many different nations in a single community would have been very slim if I had taken a different path. Sure, we may confuse each other with different understanding of time. For example telling a Dutchie that you have to go at Half past Nine to see them get really confused when you leave at half nine (21:30), because they think you are going at half nine(20:30), because half  nine in Dutch is written as follows (20:30), so you should have said half ten (21:30) which to everyone else (Maybe) is written like this (22:30). My point is, I don’t know how to call time anymore. But it is truly amazing to experience these cultures with them, aswell as sharing your own with them. A few weeks ago, the (very small) Asian community onboard invited the rest of the crew to celebrate Chinese New Year with them. One of the hard things about life on the ship is that the culture on the ship is western. It still feels like home, yet step off the gangway, it’s Africa. It feels like another world.
At the end of On Boarding, we have a final project, which is to show that something has stuck out at you from all the things you learn over four weeks. I can’t remember exactly what I said, and my speech I wrote was on the notes section of  my old Tablet. That I left on the flight my Paris to Conakry. oops.  But what I said was along the lines of this. I am only young, and I haven’t had many opportunities to say yes to the right things, and no to the wrong things, but I think that saying yes to Mercy Ships was hopefully the first of many yesses. And who knows how many of these opportunities won’t have come up if I had said ‘No’.

Nearly finished.

Please forgive me for this being a wall of text. Why have I decided to reflect? As many of you maybe aware by now, that this year, Jodie Whittaker had her debut series, taking over from Peter Capaldi as the first female Doctor in Doctor Who. (My all time favourite TV show). And along with that, the show has been revamped (Again) now that Chris Chibnall is in charge. (Please don’t kill the companions off and then keep bringing them back to life. Everything has it’s time) New TARDIS, new Sonic Screwdriver, new friends, new everything. And I particularly related to Ryan Sinclair, one of the three new companions, played by Tosin Cole, because, like me is dyspraxic. I hadn’t related to a companion like this before, and it temporarily gave me a confidence boost and something to add to my defining characteristics. I wrote about this on Facebook, but now, I have gone back to my ways of  “I am dyspraxic. So what. I will ignore it.” because I don’t want to skip out on things because of my hand-eye coordination, but it has made somethings, including tying knots, and important skill required in the training book, difficult. Unfortunately, it is hard to work slowly trying to figure things out and taking my time to do these things, when some of my colleagues like to rush these simple things. Going back five years, to Matt Smith’s regeneration into Peter Capaldi, this was his speech.

We all change. When you think about it, we are all different people; all through our lives. And that’s ok- that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. – 11th Doctor (Matt Smith) The Time of The Doctor.

So that’s why. Looking back on the person I once was, but it’s important that whilst you look back on yourself, but to keep changing as a person, otherwise that’s some pretty rubbish character development, if you ask me.. I have been feeling fairly nostalgic this year. I am not saying I haven’t been nostalgic in the past, but I have found myself wanting to back to my childhood, and wanting things from my childhood, for instance, my 12″ Radio Control Dalek. Which was my first ever Doctor Who toy. That I bought (I say bought, It was probably my mum) from Woolworths, that fossil. Did you know that the first ever Woolworths was opened around the same time that Moses and the Israelites left Egypt? But I know at heart that I am now, as an adult supposed to be responsible, let the new children do what they want to do, play with their toys, read their comics, watch their films, whilst I put my childish things away, as in Corinthians, But that’s hard. With lots of voices trying to tell you how they want you to be, and trying to integrate them into yourself.   So now I don’t want know what to do, but I am happy at where am in life. Confusion and Contentment. (A nice way to end this, right)

Thank you for reading, and goodbye.

And one last reflection, and to clear some confusion. I didn’t break the window.