Blog post 11 or 12: One Year Anniversary edition

Matthew Little,

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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
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