End of a season.

  Filed under: Overseas Mission 

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.