Ship Holiday Weekend and a day in the Life of Stuart

This post by Stuart & Lynne Little was originally published at A Little Odyssey

This weekend is a three day Ship Holiday weekend.  Approximately every six weeks, to allow crew to take time out for a little longer and rest we go into Ship Holiday routine on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Many crew get the whole time off but, of course, this is a working hospital and crew live on board so …… the wards are still open and medical staff need to work, patients need caring for, dressings need to be changed; there was an unexpected admission yesterday to the hospital so OR (Operating Room or Theatre as we call it in the UK) had a surgery today; crew need feeding; housekeeping staff work as the ship is not self cleaning; launderers continue to wash bedding, towels, uniforms, scrubs as people are still coming and going; reception staff and the Gurkhas need to work too.  And this time, Matthew was on call Friday and Stuart is on call all weekend so they have both worked and Lynne went into the office for a few hours to keep up with the admissions and discharges and order patient meals for Sunday and Monday as it is bit tricky to order in advance.

We took the opportunity on Friday as we were both off to get off the ship and went to a local hotel to chill by (a different) pool.  (We have had a pool at almost every place we have been to since leaving the UK in September!)  It was a great place to relax and just be somewhere different; it was by the sea and, as is often the case, also next to a building site!  We tried to take a taxi back to the ship to get back in time to see a friend off but after about half a mile the roads were completely blocked (as they often are – with no warning or obvious reason and at any time – so we got out and walked back!  Only took about half an hour and we were back in time to say bye and we then went out again for shwarma and pizza.

A few of us at Roume 
View as we were walking

Last Sunday we went back to Roume Island.  We have been there once before and really enjoyed it so took the opportunity to go back as a friend was organising the boat.  Hopefully Matthew will be able to come with us next time – but he was on call!  The last time we went we met an Austrian lady who is a midwife and for a good number of years has been spending three or four months every year volunteering on the island offering midwifery and other medical care – amazing!  We bumped into her again as we got off the boat!  We had a fabulous day with some other crew.  We were serenading by some locals and Stuart couldn’t resist joining in.  We even met a young guy, born in Guinea, now living in Bristol who was on the island visiting family and friends!

Over the last couple of weeks we have both had the opportunity to be involved in our, or another, department’s devotions.  Stuart led devotions for the Deck and Supply Departments and Lynne was involved with the worship for the monthly Ward devotions.  Good to take time out with others in this way.  The Ward devotions includes time for staff to share stories from their work.

So, what is a day like for Stuart?  Well the deck department starts the day at 0745 with a time of devotion followed by a daily briefing, who is on duty who is watching the water supply and what deliveries are expected.  There may then be a specific safety briefing on firefighting, diving activity or working aloft  Then we disappear our carpentry shop to look at the list of jobs that come to us via the ship intranet.

 High priority jobs are those that impact the mission of the ship and these could be anything from a loose door handle or making up a special shoe for one of the patients.  Then there are the bigger items like moving fitted office furniture or making shelving.  At this time of the year we are also planning work for the maintenance period in June in Las Palmas. The is a constant stream of personal items to fix like, my shoe, my sewing machine, my bicycle,  can you make up a fishing net?  It all great and most work needs some ingenuity as we can’t pop down to Screw-fix or Wickes for stuff.  

Since being here we have realised that most of the workshop machinery is old, worn out and not as safe as newer items tend to be.  so with the captains support I have ordered some serious new kit that should arrive in the summer.

We are also training  some of the day crew in basic carpentry skills, as we seldom see any machine tools this training is based on hand tools and we end the course by building a tool box and providing them with a set of tools.  Sadly the only tools we can buy locally are very poor quality and look like they will last only a few months. 

At the end of this field service our day crew will leave the ship and try to find a job locally, if these carpentry skills help them find a job and feel needed then its a step forward.  

Below is a recent story from the hospital…

We love this verse on our cabin wall:

For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you “Do not fear; I will help you”    Isaiah 41:13

Getting Away and A Day in the Life of Lynne

View of workers in field. Several rows of planting in the foreground, banana or palm trees in the background

This post by Stuart & Lynne Little was originally published at A Little Odyssey

Getting Away

It is high time for another update and Matthew has put us to shame by publishing two since our last one!!  See Matthew’s blog  They say that time on the Africa Mercy takes on a different dimension – and that seems to be true!  Or it could be our age!

It is now February, Christmas has been and gone – but we had a great time.  A very different Christmas although we still managed our Little family Christmas Eve tradition of reading ‘The Night before Christmas’ but this year over Skype.  We are very grateful for the good internet on board and also managed a family Skype the Sunday before Christmas with our girls, Lynne’s mum, sister and her two children; on Christmas Day we joined with our church congregation for a carol and prayer; and later that day with Hannah and her Christmas day hosts – friends from church.

We took advantage of the long ship holiday weekend between Christmas and New Year and took a three day trip up country to Kindia with our friends who we did OnBoarding in Texas and field practice in Guinea with – Jennifer, Ian and Merryl.  It was good to get out of the noise, busyness and dust of Conakry and see green vegetation and hear the birds and insects (outside not inside the hotel).  We were reminded of how noisy the ship is!  You may have seen some photos that we posted on Instagram and Facebook but we visited some beautiful waterfalls and were fortunate to have a tour of the Mercy Ships Agricultural Centre where nationals are trained in sustainable farming methods – absolutely fascinating.  We had a brilliant driver in Abdulay who took good care of us, took the potholed tracks in his stride and also acted as our interpreter.

Bride’s Veil Falls

At the Agricultural Centre
Still not good at selfies!!
Or positioning photos!

Mushroom farming on the left

Aquaponics under construction on the right
Pool at Kissili Falls
Time for lunch before heading back
Spent some time swimming until something was spotted moving in the water at which point we got out quick – it was a bra!!

It was back to work as normal on January 2nd – whatever normal is but we are certainly enjoying ship life, living on a ship and community living.  We are constantly in awe of everything that goes on here and often look around and think ‘this just shouldn’t work’ ….. but it does.

So, what is a typical day …. or week?

We both work ‘business’ hours of 8.00 am to 5.00 pm Monday to Friday, although Stuart has now been put on the ‘On Call’ rota for the Deck Department.  He could be called out for anything at anytime on the 24 hours he is on call – but hasn’t as yet so we can’t tell you what that entails.  Although Matthew has been for a while and he was putting out rubbish on Christmas Day!

We normally go to breakfast 7.15 am to 7.30 am and then Stuart goes off for Deck Devotions.

Lynne’s day as Ward Administrative Assistant is a bit like going to the airport – ‘hurry up and wait’ followed by ‘hurry up and wait’, etc!  The day involves checking which patients are on the ward, keeping the statistics and database up to date, finding out which patients are being discharged (only after Doctor’s rounds are finished), making their Outpatients appointments, organising discharge photos (all patients being discharged are offered a ‘souvenir’ photo of themselves and fellow patients, nurses and anyone else they want in the picture to take home.  These are precious items and we heard of a patient who had been treated on a previous field service, kept his photo showing it to crew when coming for follow up surgery some years later when the ship returned.)  Some patients go home but some live too far away to get back to their Outpatients or Rehab appointments and so need booking in at the Hope Centre (which is the the Mercy Ships ‘hotel’ type accommodation off ship.) Then it’s finding out which patients are being admitted for surgery the following day (when screening is finished!), which beds they will be in and if any patients are changing beds.  

There are three wards, with another 10 bedded ward available if needed.  Two of the wards have 20 beds, and the third ward has 15 beds plus two ICU beds and two Isolation beds.  The wards are very busy, and usually noisy, places, particularly in the morning when Hospital Chaplaincy visit each of the three wards to speak, sing and pray with the patients, Doctors are doing their rounds, patients and caregivers are having breakfast and getting up for the day.  Caregivers, who are needed for all patients under 18, sleep under the patient’s bed on a mattress.  Spaces between the beds are about 18″.  Wards are mixed – male and female, adults and children but they are such friendly places with crew and patients look after, and looking out, for each.

Lunchtime is 12 noon to 1.00pm – but we rarely manage the hour.  After lunch, nurse allocations need doing in time for shift change at 2.00pm; patients meals are ordered for the next day (which is slightly more complicated than imagined depending on the type of surgery, when the surgery is, how many caregivers, etc; also for meal purposes children over 12 are adults!); patient visiting lists are needed for each ward and the gangway for the Gurka guards; more statistics; scanning charts for discharged patients (currently more are discharged than scanned each day!).  All this fits around random jobs, queries and phone calls.  

We normally have dinner about 6pm and try to get on deck to watch the sunset.  Have to be quick though as it happens surprisingly quickly!

We are loving our time on board here but don’t want to bombard you with too much information at once, so Stuart will share a typical day with you in the next blog (which will be more timely than this one!) and we will share a non-working typical(ish) week another time.

In the meantime these three photos show some of the impact Mercy Ships has had during 2018.

 Although only about 400 crew serve on board at any one time most are short term and this photo shows just how many serve during a year and from so many different countries!  It’s great living in a multi-national community!  Interesting, fun, challenging and sometimes just confusing!!

A Little Odyssey: All aboard the Africa Mercy and all is well

This post by Stuart & Lynne Little was originally published at A Little Odyssey

We climbed the gangway Friday 9th November for the first time, quite a moment for us all as this has been four and a half years in the planning. A tad emotional after spending two weeks living in the middle of Conakry, Guinea as part of the Mercy Ships On Boarding programme intended to give us the experience of living alongside the culture in which the AFM (Africa Mercy) is operating in.  During  this time Lynne helped out in a youth centre offering English language lessons to Guineans whilst Matthew and Stuart built some kitchen units in one of the accommodation units the workers are housed in.

One of the English language classes where
Lynne was based …
Matthew and Stuart built this…
…like this

As for our work, Matthew has the hardest job as he is outside on the deck in the heat of the day, he has been brilliant and we are so proud of him as he just gets on with chipping rust, painting and storing ship.  Lynne is learning the role of ward administrator.  My carpenters role is great, I have built special tool boxes, fixed locks and made coat racks and storage shelving for the academy.  Our commute to work is a matter of minutes.  Each flight of stairs are only 16 steps, however, with nine decks we have no idea how many ‘stair steps’ we take each day (particularly Stuart and Matthew) – and our legs sometimes really feel it!

Our ‘On Boarding’ group
… one of the walls cabin on board the AFM…..
We have a couples cabin whilst Matthew is sharing
with 5 others.. not quite so roomy!
Matthew walking past the carpentry shop
(the grey steps were made to help patients
in and out of the vehicles)

We have been out and about in Conakry a little and have grown quickly accustomed to the poverty and chaotic traffic.  We will venture further afield in the coming months and hopefully have access to one of the ship’s vehicles.  

A December update

… as we didn’t publish when we thought we would.  Matthew had just published a brilliant blog and we wanted people to see that first.

We are now into December and the AFM certainly has a full calendar of events leading up to Christmas embracing the many cultures and traditions of the crew volunteering here – actually it started  late November!

African Gala evening
Sinterklaas on the gangway

British crew had a surprise gift of chocolate Advent calendars, courtesy of Mercy Ships UK office (thank you!!) and on 30th November this year the AFM had their first ever classical evening. Lynne accompanied a duet for ‘Panis Angelicus’, there was Spanish folk guitar, an opera singer and piano solos.  Good fun and an opportunity to dress up.  (We’re honestly not on a cruise!)  On 1st December, we helped decorate the ship for Christmas and in the evening there was a brilliant ‘African Gala’, hosted by African crew who were fundraising for their ‘On Boarding’ fees which they will be doing on the ship (the same as we did in Texas).  On Wednesday 5th December we celebrated the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas – the calendar says ‘Sinterlaas’ so not really sure how it’s spelt – however he came to the ship (on a boat we think!) and gave presents to the children.  We went out for ice cream afterward! 

Ice cream at Le Special

Ice cream in the evening seems to be a favourite pastime for many Mercy Shippers. Thursday evenings are community evenings with some worship and a message.  This week’s was very special as the children from our Academy led this and also it was a ‘Global Gathering’ where we have a live link with the ISC in Texas and national offices and remote workers can also listen in too!  The MCs in both Africa and Texas were superb!  Friday 7th December was a British crew Christmas which involved mainly eating British Christmas snacks – and Christmas pudding – sent from the UK and chatting with other British crew members of which there are quite a few!  
Yesterday, Saturday 8th we ventured out with a few others in a minibus to Dubreka waterfalls (we wanted to get there before they dry up in January as the rainy season is now over). 

Dubreka falls
Dubreka falls

 They were well worth going to and a swim in the pools was just lovely.  It made up for the 3 1/2 journey back in chocka- block roads, fumes, lane closures & generally chaotic roads. Our driver took good care of us – and certainly knew some side road (?track!) diversions!  

Matthew ‘karaoking’

When we got back we went to the Deck and Engineering BBQ and karaoke and another amazing sunset on the upper deck. (Deck 8)


Had a quick shower (two minutes only here on board!) before going to Winter Wonderland – another AFM tradition – where some hugely talented crew make all sorts of things to sell to other crew as fundraising for their crew fees.  (Some crew work so hard raising money to be here.) Today, Sunday, is a rest day for us before the start of another working week!

Work continues as normal – all day, every day as we are a hospital ship! Our commute to work is a matter of minutes.  Each flight of stairs are only 16 steps, however, with nine decks we have no idea how many ‘stair steps’ we take each day (particularly Stuart and Matthew) – and our legs sometimes really feel it!

Sunset over Kassa island

The children’s orthopaedic ward is pretty much constantly full and will continue to be during the six weeks of orthopaedic surgery which continues until Christmas.  Lynne sees, and hears, every day, the painstaking and hard work involved in learning to walk following surgery.  Teams of nurses, doctors, rehab specialists are all on hand.  Maxillofacial surgery also continues as well as some other general surgeries.  The work here is truly inspiring and humbling.  A screening team have recently been upcountry in the last couple of weeks (a good day or so travelling just to get there!) and already patients are starting to arrive in preparation for surgery.

The following are a couple of patient stories which our communications department have cleared for crew to share in blogs, newsletters, etc

Thanks to all who are supporting the work of Mercy Ships with financial help for Matthew and we are pleased to say all finances are in place for our first year of service. 
Just a a reminder that if you want to follow this blog and have it appear in you email inbox please put your email address in the box at the foot of this page.

Prayer points for us…– for physical strength for Matthew and Stuart working in the African sun and for endurance and compassion for us all as we work alongside Mercy Ships medical crew to deliver healing and hope to the forgotten poor.
– as we celebrate Christmas here in Guinea and for our family and friends back home that we will all know the true meaning of Christmas.

‘For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; and the government is upon His shoulder, And His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.’

Isaiah 9:6

Sending Mail

Airmail emvelope

This post by Stuart & Lynne Little was originally published at A Little Odyssey

A few people have asked how to send things to us so thought we would publish a separate blog post.  

There are two ways to send things to us on the Africa Mercy depending on the size of the item.  If you have any questions, please message us.

Cards/letters only

Crew mail is sent out weekly from the Holland warehouse. Items weighing 43g or less are free for us to receive but please note that we will be charged c50p per 28.4g for anything above that.

A size limit of 55 cm exists for such items and delivery to ship will take about 3-5 days once it departs Holland.

Please address items as follows:

Stuart Little – Deck or Lynne Little – Ward or Matthew Little – Deck
Mercy Ships – AFM – Crew Mail
Ridderkerkstraat 20
3076 JW Rotterdam
The Netherlands

Larger items

Containers depart monthly from Holland and there is no additional cost for us to receive items sent via container. 

Please address items to be sent via container as follows:

Stuart Little – Deck or Lynne Little – Ward or Matthew Little – Deck
Mercy Ships – AFM – CONTAINER
Ridderkerkstraat 20
3076 JW Rotterdam
The Netherlands

Training in Texas

Texas flag on corrugated iron sheet

This post by Stuart & Lynne Little was originally published at A Little Odyssey

We have been here 5 weeks and its been a whirlwind, (nearly literally,  but more of that later).  We have met our fellow On Boarders and are living closely with them before we leave for Africa on Sunday 28th October.  We are resident at the Mercy ships International Support Centre (ISC) in East Texas.  We have a room in the guest house and Matthew is sharing with Ian who is in his early 20s in another accommodation block on the other side of the campus.  There are two other ladies on our course and a young family from the UK: Barney and Liz with their two boys – Noah who turned 5 last week and Judah (18 months).  So we will be joining 8 others on the ship with Noah….(oh err… its nearly biblical)

The Guest House at the ISC
The ISC has full time staff here looking after the Mercy Ship by recruiting ship volunteers & staff, seeking sponsorship and financial support, procuring stores and engineering & IT support and training.  There are a number of Brits on the staff here who have served aboard the ship in the past and become embedded in the Mercy ship mission. 
Because we have signed up to do more than 10 months aboard the Africa Mercy we are required to do the On Boarding training.  This is because Mercy ships want to ensure they have a core crew who understand the mission to bring hope and healing to the worlds poor following the 2000 year old model of Jesus. 
Our training here consists of three components…

The first week was Basic Training this includes aspects of ships safety such as fire fighting, first aid, life saving at sea and security including pirate awareness.  Matthew and Stuart needed to complete this and all have internationally recognised maritime certificate.  Impressed that Mercy Ships takes the training so seriously.

Yes, its hot in there because its on fire
Matthew works out which way is up.
I actually think we look quite cool
Its what you do team building
in a class room
Then there was a week of classroom based Foundations of Mercy Ships and we were joined buy others mainly from the USA who have expressed an interest in serving in the future.  This week provided the history and mission of mercy ships and the vision looking forward when  
Then three weeks of On Boarding where we have been joined by others new to Mercy Ships who will be working full time here at the ISC. These weeks are a once in a life time opportunity to study the Word and investigate how nation building took place in Old Testament times and what this may look like today.  We are encouraged to take an in depth look at our faith and what it means to follow Jesus and so live the life planned for us before we were so wonderfully knit together in our mothers womb.

So today, Friday 26th October, we have completed our training with a final presentation from each of us to highlight a few of the topics that have impacted us during the training.  It was quite moving to hear the diversity of response to going deeper into scripture especially the implications of taking part in missions in Africa today avoiding dependency and paternalism.

We have been here five weeks and experienced some American culture but it is evident this varies across USA and that Texas is quite different;  also they say if you don’t like the weather in Texas wait 15 minutes. We can testify to this having seen extreme heat and humidity and storms one of which had us standing by to take to our storm shelter refuge which is identified in all the buildings.  We also spent an evening with a couple whose house was hit by a tornado whilst they were still inside.

Tomorrow we will be packing ready for departure at 9.30 am Sunday morning to Dallas Fort Worth Airport (our time) to Africa.  We have three flights, via Atlanta and Paris before arriving in Guinea early Monday evening (UK and Guinea time) where we will spend two weeks working on a community project before finally joining the Africa Mercy on the 9th November.

We have been posting more photos on Instagram and Facebook during our time in Texas and will hopefully continue to do so when we get to Guinea.  See panel on right.

Thank you for reading this.

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