Well, it’s been a few months since our last blog and like all of you, our world has been tilted by Covid and only now do we feel we can take stock of all that has happened and that which is before us. The first sign of Covid impacting us came on Friday 13th of March when we were told that the Senegal field service was being suspended, no new crew would be arriving and no further visitors allowed. We had planned a trip out on Saturday morning to visit a The Pink Lake, a local attraction that we had tried to visit on several occasions previously, (another story there!). Well, mid Saturday morning leave was cancelled and those already ashore were contacted and told to return on board immediately so no trip to the Pink Lake! And that was the last time we left this vessel other than a walk on the dock to empty the bins or a time limited stroll.
So having been told that leave was cancelled the next problem was how to end the season of surgeries well with minimum impact to the patients recovering from operations and the heartbreak of telling those waiting that our mission in Dakar needed to end early. Most of our day crew, recruited locally for the period of the field service, needed to be dismissed whilst retaining the translators and other key day crew until we could leave Dakar. Remaining day crew were told they needed to move onto the ship or our dockside tents and not return home until the Africa Mercy sailed. It was a sobering moment to realise that we had not said goodbye to many of the locals we had come to know so well. Thank goodness for WhatsApp.
Preparation to depart Dakar. after the initial shock the medical teams set to work ensuring those post op patients in recovery were brought to a safe condition and make sure that they were in good hands locally for the necessary followup wound care, physio and rehabilitation. All volunteer staff at home planning to travel to serve on board were told not to come. Alongside that activity the deck crew began to dismantle to shore side support infrastructure and begin to lift the vehicles back on deck. This activity normally took about 21 days with visiting help but we did all this in 10 days with just ships staff.
Waiting for the pilot
Sail to Tenerife. The last patients waked down the gangway on 23rd March and we bade a sad farewell to the remaining Senegalese day crew. Then followed a hectic period as many volunteer staff left the Africa Mercy at short notice to return home to countries just becoming aware of the impact
Covid was having at home. As so we sailed from Dakar on Friday the 27th March setting sail for a safe haven in Tenerife arriving Tuesday 31st March in Genadilla at the very far end of a very remote concrete jetty well away from civilisation and prepared for two weeks of quarantine. And there we drew breath…
Arriving in Tenerife
Quarantine Whilst we have been here and observed the chaos around the world we realise we have been blessed to be isolated with a household of Mercy Ships family not needing to socially distance ourselves. We have organised many shipwide activities including a British cream, quiz nights, cooking competitions, music nights and many more. But now we are hearing of the Spanish authorities beginning to relax lock down it is not clear what happens next, crew are continuing to depart the ship for home as repatriation flights become available.
Brits host a Cream Tea
No Escape from the Escape Room!
Deck Folksy Singalong
1st baptism ever on the AFM!
But the Africa Mercy is a hospital ship! So why couldn’t a hospital ship such as the Africa Mercy stay and help fight the epidemic in Africa? Well, we simply we are not equipped, our hospital beds are crammed in with barely 50cm between them, we have very limited intensive care facilities and the crew are also packed into a very small space. If Covid were to get on board it would spread easily among patients and crew alike, our surgeries would have to stop and we ourselves would become a burden on our host nation. Looking back we are thankful for decisive leadership from Mercy Ships in taking some hard decisions early on; we are aware of the problems many cruise ships and merchant ships are facing now especially if they have cases confirmed on board.
Ship maintenance period. A period of maintenance is planned for the summer months but how this will happen is not clear as international travel restrictions remain fluid. It is the intention that we will return to Senegal to complete the planned surgeries when conditions allow, but again, who can tell when that will be ..
As for us... we intend to stay with the ship during the maintenance period and return to the UK in August. Matthew will be starting University to study History with Archaeology in September and we intend to return to serve on board the Africa Mercy in October for another two years after settling Matthew into his University in Lincoln. We are still in isolation in Grenadilla but we really can’t complain ….. we are safe and continue to live in community even as people leave to return to their home countries.
Please pray for us. As we enter the next period of uncertainty pray a peace as life on board seems very remote for the provision of life changing surgeries. Pray that we continue to keep the Africa Mercy ready to bring hope and healing to the poor who otherwise have no access to life giving surgery.