OBF Ladies

“Mourning the stillbirth of their only child, incontinent of urine, ashamed of their offensiveness, often spurned by their husbands, homeless, unemployable, except in the fields, they endure, they exist, without friends and without hope. They bear their sorrows in silent shame. Their miseries, untreated are utter, lonely and lifelong.”

Dr Reginald Hamlin

How true these words are ….. as I worked with these women and their stories were told the brutal truth of their existence became apparent, often it wasn’t just one stillbirth it was two or three, and they had been living with the consequences of an obstetric fistula for many many years.

The wonderful consequence of these women coming together though, both on the ward and at the OBF clinic, was the fact that they realised that they weren’t the only one suffering from this problem and they were given hope when they realised that they could be helped. Unfortunately not every operation is a success as some women have been so badly damaged that even the most skilled surgeon would struggle, but many many are helped and can go on to regain their lives.

The women are with us for a long time in comparison to other specialities so we have to keep them occupied ! Crochet and knitting are very popular and their work is beautiful ……….

When the ladies are ready for discharge we have a celebration, arranged by  chaplaincy ….  they are treated to a new dress, some jewellery and make up, all arranged by Clementine, and they dance their way down to a room where everyone waits to celebrate with them.

Everyone tries to attend, crew from the ship, staff from the clinic, patients waiting for their ops and others who are recovering from theirs.

The ladies sit at the front, and then each one gives a short testimonial about what has happened to them and how long they have been suffering.

It is really emotional and moving, especially as we have known them for quite awhile, and very often they burst into song at the emotion of being dry after so long.

OBF woman celebrating her healing at a dress ceremony.

They are given presents of a mirror, body lotion, soap and a bible, usually presented by one of the audience

and then we have dancing and music …… the best bit. The joy in the room is palpable as the music plays, there are smiles all around, and nearly everyone gets up to dance !! I love these ceremonies, they are so positive and uplifting, not only for the women but for the staff as well.

The majority of these women remain hidden though and Mercy Ships has had great difficulty in getting the number of obstetric fistula patients anticipated so the hard decision has been made to close the OBF Clinic before Christmas because we have just not got the number of patients to justify it.

OBF surgeries are to be suspended in January and February and a concerted effort during this time is going to be made to find more women, then hopefully surgeries can be recommenced during March/April but all their care will be on the ship and they won’t be moved out to the clinic after a few days.

The consequence of there being no clinic is that, as well as some Mercy Ship nurses, the local nurses will not be needed ….. and if there are no local nurses I have no one to mentor …. so I have no job. So sadly I will not be returning after Christmas.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time working with the local nurses. I took on a role that I have never done before and formulated a course that ensured the local nurses could work with Mercy Ships, with other nurses and more importantly understand the devastation this condition brings to women. I have hopefully given them the knowledge and tools to go back to their communities and inform other health professionals.

On a personal level though I have worked with the most amazing people …….too many to mention but all the nurses at the Clinic especially Tam, all the folk in the MCB office, the translators …Sigolene, Norbert , Steve and my great friend Kenedy, all the residents of the Lighthouse and most of all the local nurses …..

Yvette, Nina,Diane,Christelle,Sheila,Emma and Laurentine.

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MISS YOU ALL

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Fun Days Off

We work hard but we do have our ‘down time’. There is not a huge amount to do in Cameroon tourist wise and also we have restrictions (for safety reasons) of how far we can go up country, for business and pleasure reasons.

Two beaches , Limbe in the South and Kribi in the north. One with black volcanic sand and the other with white, although speckled with oil due to the rigs off shore. There is Mount Cameroon to climb, Ekon Falls to admire and two volcanic lakes to hike to and enjoy the view, mangroves to boat through and chimps to visit.Yaounde is the capital and there are tours of all the sights apparently. They say that Cameroon has all types of terrain ….desert, rainforest, mountains and beaches.Most is unavailable to us due to the security reasons but Mercy Shippers have made the most of what we can do and I for one have visited a few.

I am not going in chronological order but thought I might share with you a few of my excursions outside of Duoala.

At the time of the civil unrest a few weeks ago, just after the ship arrived, the crew was banned from visiting the Limbe area, beach and botanical gardens ,on the grounds of safety -therefore in those first weeks Kribi became the favoured place.

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I visited twice in those first weeks. A small party of us squashed together in a little bus for a 3 hour journey. It takes a good half hour , if the traffic is flowing, to reach the outskirts of Douala  but from there on the road takes you through lush vegetation as far as the eye can see.We passed palm plantations a plenty and little villages tucked away, people getting on with their daily lives, as we only caught a flash of them as we whizzed past. Life is out there somewhere because as we hurtle along the road we see people walking along the edges, sometimes carrying goods on their heads or just standing chatting to maybe a neighbour – yet there often is no evidence of habitation anywhere around.

The same goes for the odd little stall we see – where do the customers come from ? There are some goods recognisable …watermelons, potatoes ,yams but we have also seen, for us, unsettling wares, such as monkeys, bats and even once a crocodile! They are a canny lot though, where the traffic slows down because, for example, the road condition has deteriated so much, there are stalls at the side of the road. At checkpoints (of which there are many) hawkers sell their goods. At one particular one, where everyone has to pay 500CFA to go through (just like a toll road) they rush up to the buses and cars shouting their prices and passing items through the open windows – trying at the same time to take the money! Many of them sell bread for people to take back to their villages, fried plantain chips, coconuts, local food and soft drinks are also popular.

We passed Edea where the Agricultural Programme is and then onwards to Kribi. The road for the most part is very good and although a long way we made reasonable time. Our first glimpse of the ocean was a welcome one as we glimpsed it in between the trees, suddenly realising the road was running parallel to the shore.

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We travelled to the outskirts of the town and were dropped off at a beautiful beach that was deserted except for us (although a guy selling coconuts appeared at one stage …where on earth did he come from!) Since it was the rainy season and we were some of the first Mercy Shippers to go there that was probably why! It looked like there were small businesses along the stretch but it was difficult to tell ’cause everything was desolate.

 

Our little section of the beach had wooden tables and benches, a few odd stools and some very dodgy looking hammocks. There was a sign at the roadside advertising ‘Paris Plage’ …..Chez Paul !

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and eventually he turned up, obviously arranged by Eric our guide, to cook our lunch. As I said they are a canny lot and if an odd crowd want to dine at his place he is not going to refuse! and out of this wooden and reed hut, cooked over an open fire,

 

he produced a veritable feast of fish, prawns ,plantain and bread fruit washed down by soft drinks and the odd beer or two!

We spent the time waiting for this meal wandering up and down the beach, paddling, a couple of brave souls swimming. The first time we went the beach looked as if it shelved quite steeply but the second time the tide was further out so we felt more confident swimming. After we finished our lunch we went off to see the waterfalls that fell directly into the sea, not very high but quite magnificent in their own way. we all clambered into these little boats that looked a bit dodgy but you know how it is, they’ve being doing these little boat trips for years and it’s just how it is. Complete with someone baling out the water as we went !! (That was me the second time!) We managed to get really close to the falls as the guys paddled strongly taking us along the edge …photos ended up a bit foggy though with the spray.

It took us three hours to dive back, a long tiring day but we were rewarded with the most spectacular sunset over Mount Cameroon (that elusive mountain).

 

 

I have been off roading twice now, each time for a few hours, which was great fun. One of my guilty pleasures is driving the landrovers but I don’t dare on the out of the way roads, our hill is enough! Manda, our transportation manager, and another driver took us out and was delighted when it started to rain. He loves nothing better than big puddles and rutted roads. Needless to say we got stuck when he decided to investigate a hill – which is why we took two vehicles – one to haul him out!

 

 

One Saturday we went to visit the Chimpanzees on Pongo Songo Island. Started by a French woman, and continuing to run as a French charity with volunteers on a two week rota, it is a rescue centre for chimps. This was two hour drive from the ship, 50kms of it on deep water filled rutted sandy roads. The road followed the river and a lot of dredging for sand goes on on all rivers consequently the roads get really churned up, at one stage the driver said that the worst bit of road was over – it wasn’t ! We had to take a boat up the river to where the sanctuary was, and there we were greeted by three little orphaned chimps, ages one to about three. I was quite surprised that they grow at about the same rate as human kids, and the smallest was still being bottle fed.

 

After holding and playing with the little ones we walked into the forest where the slightly older chimps are, the juniors. Now they are a playful lot! they live in the forest and the volunteers bring them fruit once a day. They swing down from the trees, grab a piece and then launch themselves back again. They loved a game or two, putting their arms up for you to swing them around and let them go, so they flew through the air, landing in the bushes. Quite nosey they investigated us with interest, we had been warned to leave bags etc behind and hang on to our cameras ..because they did attempt a snatch or two.

 

We went back to the huts for our lunch, the little chimps playing around our feet, acting like any toddlers, snatching toys off each other and running away …its a pity, like in any species, they grow up! After lunch we went back into the boat to visit two islands which are the eventual homes of the older chimps. These too get fruit once or twice a day,  the fruit is thrown to them, so no human goes on the island and when you look at the size of some them and how they behave you can understand why! They are very powerful!

One day Brenda, Lynette and I went up to see Eliphaz, our elusive room mate, to see the progress on the agricultural programme. They have achieved a lot …. brush has been cleared and plots marked out, seeds have been planted and are sprouting well, rabbits and snails are breeding, the chickens are laying well and they have just set up an incubator.

Over the hill the piggery is well under way, and the fish farm is well on its way. The programme encourages the participants to think about natural pest control, what grasses can they plant around a crop to stop the insects?, which one can they plant to encourage the good insects? How can you tell which way to put the eggs in the incubator? The group was very engaged and I am sure that they will go back to their villages, all over Cameroon, being able to help their villages.

 

One weekend I went on a 9km hike somewhere up the north of Douala, through the forest, up a few hills and down some dirt tracks and through a village or two for a couple of hours. Four of us went with a group called the Hash House Harriers, who apparently walk every Saturday and once a month they go out of the city for a longer hike. The group appears to be mainly French expats and they were very welcoming. After the walk there was what appeared to be a small prizegiving with some of the local children, and the group had brought with them the prizes …books, colouring pencils, jigsaws etc. Three of the children read out a piece they had written, and then there was a speech by the chief of the village. We all had a lovely lunch of fish, chicken and salads, soft drinks, fruit and a bottle of red on each table …… it being a French do and all! Needless to say I was a little bit stiff the next day.

 

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So those a just a few of my adventures over the past three months, Limbe and Mount Cameroon will have to wait for another day. Everybody works so hard, and people get burnt out, but it’s excursions like these, with the friends that we have made, that make it a good experience.

My Extraordinary Commute

Now I am living off ship I have to commute, something I have not done for a long while. Commuting in a city, a port city, is completely different to my old commute in Lancashire.

I have to apologise for the quality of the photos, National Geographic they are not! it was raining, and we were moving, and I think my little camera is getting a bit old.  We also have to be careful of photographing people as many don’t like it and can get a little bit aggressive, thats why I didn’t hang out of the window! so most were taken from inside the car. The images are to give you a flavour …even though you might have to peer closely!

To set the scene,

Douala (German: Duala) is the largest city in Cameroon, and the capital of Cameroon’s Littoral Region. Home to Central Africa’s largest port and its major international airport, Douala International Airport, it is the commercial and economic capital of Cameroon and the entire CEMAC region comprising Gabon, Congo, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, CAR and Cameroon. Consequently, it handles most of the country’s major exports, such as oil,cocoa and coffee, timber, metals and fruits. As of 2010 the city and its surrounding area had an estimated population that surpassed 3,000,000 inhabitants. The city sits on the estuary of the Wouri River and its climate is tropical. (Wikipedia info!)

We have three car assigned to the house and clinic, and there are many trips made between house/ship/clinic and beyond. Our big white Landrovers and Toyota LandCruisers are very distinctive with the Mercy Ships logo emblazoned along the sides, and they need to be sturdy to cope with what we put them through – they carry crew, patients and luggage, and anything else that needs to be transported, and it is quite an exercise deciding who has which car and who is going where!

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When working on the ship we leave reasonably early (6.30) but it is pot luck with the traffic, the morning commute can take anything from half an hour to an hour and a half. There are usually four of us going to the ship in the morning and I don’t have to drive so it is a good opportunity for me to gaze out of the window and take in this mad crazy place.

Depending on how the weather has been overnight determines the state of the road beyond those big green compound gates.

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On the morning I was making these observations it had rained heavily overnight , (it rains a lot), so consequently the muddy road was all churned up and slippery – I was glad it wasn’t me driving down our hill !

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At the bottom of the hill a mama had set up a small table piled high with bread rolls and various indeterminate fillings. She has been there everyday this week to catch the schoolchildren as they pass by on their way to school. There is always a little group round her as she swiftly spreads fillings on bread and passes it to eager hungry hands. These are younger children who have their breakfast on the go (we are talking between 6am and 7am here!). The children are all smartly dressed  in their school uniforms, heavy book laden rucksacks on their backs. Not a rolled up skirt or half done tie insight. They look at us with interest as we drive by and they tentively wave  to return our greeting. White faces are a new phenonomem in downtown Yassa.

These mamas are an enterprising lot, there is a lady just up from the port gate who does a roaring trade, all from a makeshift set up.

We drive up the hill to join the main road, and this particular morning we are faced with a row of practically stationary traffic. We slowly edge in to join the snail pace and creep along in amongst the cars, taxis,motorbikes,lorries and pedestrians. I suppose there are rules of the road here but they are not very evident! As we trundle along in first gear what was a single lane becomes a four lane highway as impatient drivers overtake an overtake, driving down the oncoming road at the slight hint of a gap. There are bottlenecks along the route, one particular one, not far from where we join the road has a petrol station on one side of the road and a school on the other. So you have huge trucks and lorries parked in what looks like a makeshift lorry park at the side of the petrol station, they have the ‘ I am bigger than you’ attitude and swing into the traffic without a by or leave. At the same time you have cars and taxis filling up, then rejoining then road, and the general public congregating together to catch the said taxi or motorbike. As you can imagine there is a lot of toing and froing as people are picked up and dropped off. Add to the mix pedestrians who are walking to the nearest market or work, schoolchildren on their way to class and everyone else going goodness knows where  – you have total chaos – or so it appears. At this particular point there is usually one lonely police officer doing their very best to control the traffic, even making people reverse if they overstep the mark – which just adds to the problem !

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Other bottlenecks occur along the way, particularly at roundabouts ( a popular pick up point for the taxis and motorbike taxis), and also where the road surface deteriorates. There is one spot near the port, on the main highway, that is not so much a pot hole rather the dimensions of a crater, and it’s getting bigger everyday and slows everyone down considerably as they try and negotiate around it.

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We inch our way along behind a  huge log lorry, plantain piled high atop it’s cargo of three enormous tree trunks. I look down the side streets. None are tarmaced so there is mud, puddles and huge tracks everywhere. Pedestrians pick their way through so as not to get covered with the orange sticky mud. I notice broken down machinery and plant, a metal graveyard, left to rust and disntegrate where they were last parked. Unwanted cars, stripped of all useful parts, piled together, part of the daily life. An enterprising person makes use of their surfaces to display his wares, the latest in Cameroonian football shirts, red safety triangles and mirrors for cars.

I look at the buildings and they are a mixture of styles from small wooden buildings made from slats with tarpaulin roofs, recycled containers, and concrete structures – some completed, some not. There are many unfinished buildings, usually surrounded with very fragile wooden scaffolding that would make our health and safety guy’s hair turn white with fright. Full use is made of them though, the first floor may still have its concrete posts, shuttering and steel pointing to the sky, awaiting further development but there is a thriving business happening on the ground floor. Many a building looks unused too but on closer inspection you can see signs of habitation – a line of colourful washing is usually the give away. All the buildings though have a look of disrepair about them, this climate is not kind to decoration therefore many are not painted and just left with the grey of the concrete. Vegetation though struggles valiantly through and there are a few patches of green to relieve the eye.

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It would seem that the whole of Duoala gets up early and is on the move. The markets which along our route are situated mainly in the area around the roundabouts ( along with the taxis and motorbike taxis). leading to a large amount of traffic and people.In one particular market, amongst the dirt and rubble and half built buildings, the stalls are crammed together, with very little space between them. Some have torn and raggedy umbrellas to protect them from the sun and rain, many don’t. Along the roadside individuals set up their wares on a cloth on the pavement, a few vegetables for sale here and there. They squat waiting patiently for someone who is passing by to purchase something, a resigned expression on their faces. There are huge piles of plantain, and I mean huge ! and when we pass by in the evening the pile has almost gone. I do have to say, as an aside, fried plantain is delicious. Rows of silvery fish on a stall vies places with perfume, watches, fruit, car parts,tyres, vegetables, local food, clothes, drinks, wooden furniture ( left out in all weather) and the inevitable mobile phone stall! The place is buzzing, every morning, seven days a week with hundreds of customers.

The women, for the most part, are dressed in beautiful colourful clothes that only a dark skin can wear with success, and many have very interesting braided hair styles in neon colours. They carry shopping on their heads and babies on their back. I often think how practical it is to carry things on your head as it leaves both hands free!  It is also very good for deportment, these women, and men, have amazing posture. For those of a certain age, think back to all those deportment classes we were encouraged to do carrying books on our head. The loads that both men and women  carry are inconceivable to my eye but they start them young here, you often see little ones carrying buckets and sacks full of something on their heads. There is a slight downside though, I was told when our VVF ladies come to the ship and have a spinal anaesthetic their back muscles are so well developed that when the anaesthetist tries to put the needle in it’s like going through leather !!

As we go along (the traffic is awfully slow today) I see individuals walking up and down the side of the road selling wares. Usually towels or blankets, the display one in their hands  and the stock in a pile on their head. My favourite though is the shoe guy as the shoes are all tied so as to hang from his neck and he carries one shoe on his head – just so you know what he is selling !

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Dotted all around, amid the abandoned cars, shops and rubbish are small cafes, many with only a few plastic tables and chairs for their customers, enticing people with breakfast before they make their way to work, school, shops, the market. Just like any other town or city across the world.

As we make a our journey, the traffic, as usual, takes on a life of it’s own.We contend with those motorbike taxis who form large groups as they tout for business and when they get their passengers they zoom off, weaving in amongst the cars, buses and lorries. Many a time there will be 10 or more in front of you, avidly trying to spot that gap that they can squeeze through! Their passengers nonchantly sit behind, shouting greetings  to passers by they know. There is often three to four to a bike, and this morning there was a Dad (I presume) and his three little girls, two behind and the smallest in the front of him and not a helmet in sight! It is a very rare sight to see a helmet but there are long extended umbrellas fixed to the handlebars  to protect them from the sun and rain. Large packages are often carried too and I have seen car doors and framed windows perched precariously behind a driver the passengers arms spread wide as they balance the height and weight, but the one that takes the biscuit is a guy with a full motorbike perched between him and the driver – motorbike on motorbike!

The taxis are scratched, scraped, with metal bits hanging off, lights smashed. Wing mirrors hang off, back windows that are out are covered in cardboard and tape. In no way would they ever pass an MOT or an emission test. They all look like they have done 100 laps on a circuit race, the one they all bump into each other. They too cram as many people in as they can and apparently  they stop and pick up along the way until they have a full car – no sensitivities about personal space here! They also weave in and out of the traffic, overtake and undercut, drive up the wrong side of an approach road to a roundabout to nip in, and even the wrong way around a roundabout. Roundabouts are funny anyway ( to me) entering traffic has the right of way, so if you are going around the roundabout you have to stop to let traffic in. I hope I don’t do this at home ! Everyone is just trying to get where they want to be a little bit quicker. Time is money!

Traffic is often hampered by the huge lorries though – they always seem to break down in the most inconvenient place, usually on the approach to a roundabout or on the roundabout itself! The majority are also battered, old and rusty and knocked about. No rescue service here, so they have to be fixed, usually by the driver, where they break down. Occasionally a red triangle is used but more often than not a row of clumped vegetation in a line behind the vehicle indicates a problem.

Buses full of luggage and people pass by on their way to Yaounde, the bored faces looking at us, mostly curiously but some blankly as though nothing registers anymore. We can usually get the children to give us a smile and a wave.

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Where the road turns into a three lane highway the traffic flows easier but we notice small children in a row walking along the edges, unable to get to school any other way without a long detour. My heart is in my mouth as I watch their treachourous journey. They will turn though, into the adults that sit under the road bridges, run alongside the cars, and play dodgems with the cars, lorries,taxis and bikes. An occasional pushbike is seen but they are a rarity – although there is a cycle club which one of our engineers goes out with, very early on a Sunday morning, way out of the city. We pass an open backed lorry that has a group of older schoolchildren, all standing, all at ease, probably their usual way to get to school.

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As we get near the port the various lorries peel off into the various container depots to be unloaded ( a quickish job since none seem to be secured to the lorry!). We pass rows and rows and rows of log lorries. Enormous trunks of trees, one, two or three to a truck depending on their diameter. It breaks my heart to see the destruction of these magnificent specimens, many maybe hundreds of years old. Apparently mainly from the Congo and further north in Cameroon, but it is an insatiable appetite from the west that fuels the trade – and trade is always desirable – it seems at any cost. This photo was taken as we were driving past ..row after row

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One sight that makes my morning is seeing the young men play football on every available space, be it scrub land or a bare batch between buildings. Sometimes they are in full strip , all matching but most times they are a rag tag of styles and it doesn’t seem to matter how early we go in there is always a match going on somewhere.

And then we arrive at the ship!

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Journey times differ depending on all of the above ! anything from half an hour to an hour and a half. There is always something to see. All of the above and, me being inherently nosey, am always on the lookout for an unusual sight or a flash of colour to catch my eye and pique my interest.

It is forever fascinating

Food for Life Programme

We have many projects run from our department and one of the more unusual for a ship is the above programme. We recently went out to Edea, an hour and a bit’s drive away,  where the project is being run, for the opening ceremony.  The site of the project is in the grounds of a Catholic Mission …which we later decided  was the perfect place for a retreat.

As we were waiting for everyone to arrive we were royally greeted by a band who were very enthusiastic with both their music and their dancing, pulling people in to dance with them. You could literally see moving away trying to hide !!

I have a video which won’t play on my site so I will put it on FB so that you can hear the lively music!

It was quite a formal affair, attended by a bishop from Yaounde, someone from the agricultural ministry, a good turnout from our medical capacity building department and the participants, all 30 odd of them.

 

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The piece below was written by Eliphaz who runs the project, and was posted on the ships website for the general information of the crew.

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‘Want to understand the mystery in Food For Life “Nutritional Agriculture” of Mercy Ships?

Many asked me and continue to ask me, what are you growing this year or what are growing at the site? It has always be a challenge to me and I asked God to clearly reveal to me if this Food for Life programme is only about growing crops.

Sometimes questions might come, why an Agricultureprogramme on board a Hospital Ship?

By defining the below concepts we could help understand why Mercy Ships does a Nutritional Agriculture programme:

  • Food: is any substance consumed to provide nutritional support for an organism
  • Life: is the existence of an individual human being or animal
  • Nutrition: is the science that interprets the interaction of nutrients and other substances in food in relation to maintenance, growth, health, and disease of an organism
  • Agriculture: is cultivation and breeding of animals, plants, fungi for food, medicinal plants and other products used to sustain and enhance human life
  • Food sovereignty: is the right of people to a safe food, culturally appropriate produced with sustainable methods, and the Right of people to define their own farming and food systems

From these four concepts, human life always appears to be the center of their definitions. No life without Food, no life without nutrition, no life without agriculture.God created mankind differently but in His own resemblance. God created them with different taste, different cultures, different environment, different food, etc…

“For HEALTH to be tangible tomorrow, nutrition driven actions need to be taken today” (Eliphaz ESSAH).

Food for Life Programme of Mercy Ships is not only about “just growing crops” but it is about Life Changing, it is about understanding the right of people that we are serving, their right to safe food and work alongside NGOs with an appropriate participatory approach to define what they do in their cultures as long as farming is concerned and use that culture to build sustainable, nutrition based farming systems, with their own resources.By doing this, Mercy Ships raise generations of leaders that take ownership of nutritional agriculture techniques and practices for a period of 22 weeks. It is a period of time where these people get their capacity reinforced with:

  1. Agro-ecology and climate change
  2. Food processing techniques
  3. Nutrition education
  4. Worm composting
  5. Fruits plants production
  6. Construction incubator in order to Hatch eggs from protein production in communities
  7. Mushroom projects
  8. Aquaponics systems
  9. Animal production ( livestock)
  10. Entrepreneurship (Business Plan)
  11. Communication for Development

The training takes much time for hands on activities to create only entrepreneur trainers that are open-minded to produce Food for Life and food for Health.

Our goal for Cameroon is big, and we need prayers from the whole Mercy Ships family.

Written by : Eliphaz ESSAH

August 2017

Agriculture Program Coordinator Eliphaz at the Opening.

Eliphaz has run this programme for a few years now and lives at the team house …. he silently appears and then disappears again before you’ve realised he’s been and gone ! A lovely young man totally dedicated to his work.

We were royally treated to drinks of champagne and red wine and a buffet of delicious local food ….. not bad for a mission, they certainly know how to enjoy the finer things in life!

 

It was lovely to meet the participants as they begin this new phase in their lives, and we noted that all their new equipment was ready and waiting for them to start the hard work. Hopefully we will be able to visit later in the  programme to see the progress they have made.

These programmes are really important as we invest in the people of Cameroon and it was such a delight to meet the clergy who live in the mission, the participants and also to see where Eliphaz disappears all the time !!

 

Group shot agriculture opening.
Group shot agriculture opening.
MCB team members Glenys, Ash and Tsiferana at the Agricultural opening.
MCB team members Glenys, Ash and Tsiferana at the Agricultural opening.

Door Decs

This past couple of weeks seemed to have passed in a blur and I really don’t know where the time is going. I cannot believe that I have been here nearly 11 weeks. All  I seemed to have been doing is working, travelling, eating and sleeping …in that order !

The second intake of local nurses have been suitably orientated and they have started on the wards. The OBF Clinic opened on Monday, and the first group of nurses have moved up there to work. I have to say I have thoroughly enjoyed the teaching and mentoring, they have all been really engaged and we have had some lively conversations. It is humbling to learn about their workplaces and the challenges they face, we certainly  have a lot to be thankful for in the facilities of our hospitals. There have been certain challenges to overcome and hard decisions have had to be taken, and I have to remember that we are working in an environment so totally different to ours, where our normal is not Cameroon’s normal. This can be very frustrating at times therefore I am learning to go with the flow …even more than I usually do!

I have still been working on this ship, although living in the community, hence the travelling. (Blog to follow about that!). I go up and down the decks, office on Deck 3 fore, teaching on Deck 5 aft, past crew cabins on Deck 4 fore to aft ! and the one thing I have noticed as I have been making these journeys all over the ship is the way people have tried to add a little bit of individuality to their spaces. Now of course I can only see the doors but one afternoon I took my camera around and snapped a few. It struck me how positive these messages are, its hard living with 450 other people, and a little affirmation goes a long way in maintaining some sanity ……it’s also a good way of recognising a cabin if your looking for it as the doors all look the same !!!

 

They are not the most brilliant photos but I enjoyed snapping them and they made me smile  ……. even though I did get some funny looks  while taking them!

Moving, Mickey and Marriage

This blog post is going to be a very long one, I apologise in advance and for those who cannot stay the pace or fall asleep before the end …you are totally forgiven!!

Theses pages are my travel diary which will be turned into books to entertain the family on a cold winters night (of which we have many in Lancashire) so bear with me.

How can I describe last week except busy, chaotic, challenging and adventurous and as I sit here this Sunday and reflect I have to say I love my life.

Week last Friday we had a fabulous day trip to Kribi, up the coast from Duoala (blog and photos to follow). It was a last day out for Karen before she flew back home to Aussieland on the Saturday. Unfortunately this is the very nature of life on the ship, you make wonderful friendships but people leave to go back to their lives, as I will one day. The upside though is you make friends from all around the world and —– plenty of places to visit!

On Sunday a group of us took the opportunity to visit Maison H (a very posh patisserie), for brunch. While air conditioned, with light tiled floors, fittings that wouldn’t disgrace Paris, smart waiters and counters of beautiful cakes and pastries it is a stark contrast to what lies beyond it’s doors. This is a country of contrasts. We then headed up to Hill House our new abode. We are half an hour drive from the ship on a good run, and over an hour away on a bad run!, and although pretty direct the road goes through some busy parts of town, but we are only ten minutes away from the hospital where the OBF Clinic is.

There was awful lot of work to be done on the building before it was habitable and they have been working on it for months. Four apartments, to hold 16 people, on two sides of a quadrangle whose walls are topped by razor wire. We have large green gates with two guard, in bright yellow overalls (the ‘in’  colour for security staff in Cameroon) and a police officer. There are small tiled verandahs for us to sit out on and enjoy the cooler evening air, albeit the only view being of the landrovers.

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We can hear the sound of the local lads playing football on their beaten, rutted pitch. This morning (Sunday) at 7.30 we could hear the whoops and cheers and sounds of a typical Sunday morning game. A rickety bar, held together by recycled planks and plastic sheeting, sits not twenty feet from the gates.

BUT

when we arrived it was all pretty chaotic. A couple of people had moved in to one of the apartments the night before, and a water heater had fallen off the wall (because they didn’t put any brackets under it to support it!) and consequently the shower was unusable and it had flooded one of the bedrooms. We arrived as an entourage into our apartment, which was next door, and there were shouts from our shower and not to come into the bathroom as it was in use !

We unpacked our bags, filled the wardrobes (I am sharing) and started to make ourselves feel at home.

It quickly became obvious though that we had no air-conditioning, no working fridge,no kettle, limited water and no food – and it was a hot,hot afternoon and evening. The lights kept dimming and flaring as the power supply surged as we carried on to make the place comfortable.

The colour scheme is a fetching green and purple !

My roomate got busy sorting the kitchen out ……………………..

but we discovered she didn’t like spiders (I didn’t tell her about the cockroach that crawled out of my bedside table that evening!)

On Tuesday we added Mickey Mouse to the menagerie, he or she scurries in and out every now and then and partakes of a nibble or two of anything inadvertently left out. The first night someone had a random pack of spaghetti, so we boiled that up and dressed it with liberal amounts of sweet chilli sauce – it was a very satisfying meal! We have a very lovely cook, Naomi, who provides us with dinners 5 nights a week and (except for that first night) we are well fed with tasty food. We take her down to the markets and supermarkets where she buys lots of lovely fresh ingredients to make African/European/American delights.

The first night there was a tremendous storm (they are larger than life here), flashes of lightening and hugely loud claps of thunder rent the sky, and it rained and rained and rained. I had to go back to work to the ship on Monday morning for work and I am the first to admit I was scared about the prospect of going down the hill in the rain.

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You can’t really see in this photo but it is a bit steeper than it looks and is rutted. The main road is tarmaced but any road, lane, ginnel or track is mud and that makes it a sure fire interesting ride! Plus it was the first time I had properly driven in Cameroon (bar my refresher test). I was frightened but I had the old girl, no 452 landrover, a sturdy lass and together, with my passenger Kathleen, we made it down the hill. Luckily the traffic wasn’t too bad and we arrived at the ship in one piece – which was a good thing. It enabled me to get used to the landrover again, remember that they drive on the ‘wrong side’ of the road,and the gear stick and handbrake aren’t where I think they are (left hand flailing in thin air). The journey back was a challenge to say the least – we hit rush hour! Every car, lorry, motorbike, vehicle of any description plus a huge mass of humanity were out! Nose to tail traffic, enormous lorries determined to edge their way in front of you as a three lane went into a two lane. Taxi motorbikes weaving in and out with their passengers and their worldly goods perched precariously on the pillion, two and three squeezed in to get that extra fare. You had to have eyes in the back, top and side of your head to keep up with it all and I admit I blasphemed a couple of times. I tried to appear cool, calm and collected but my little heart was a thumping. We will not be leaving the ship at 6pm again !!!! It has been a week of trying to gauge when is the best time to travel between the ship and Hill House. On a good run, when I left The OBF Clinic at 6.15am to take our ladies to a meeting point it took 30 mins – that Monday night it took over an hour. I have how driven up and down that hill all week, in a couple of cars, and feel a lot more comfortable although one night when we came from the ship they had closed our little road (for a wake) and we had to go the back way. Oh my, envisage if you will, a narrow muddy track with huge rutted areas, weaving our way up the hillside in the dark, headlights picking out the route. A couple of times our angle was pretty precarious and there was no way I could stop Barry, my passenger, bouncing off the roof. I have now decided I can drive anywhere.

Life has certainly been interesting this week.We were woken the second night by a kerfuffle on the roof – now imagine this – three ladies locking themselves in a bedroom until one decides to get it sorted, cue conversing with a guard, in jim jams, at midnight with Google translate and then it proceeds to pour with rain and I mean pour. WHAT A SIGHT. We later in the week deduced that it was probably birds (in hobnail boots!) arguing over food. We see the most amazing black kites around, and they roost in a tree behind our compound. We sit and watch them soar in the sky, and by the ship they ride the thermals before diving for food.

I have been down to the ship practically every day and work is busy as I have four new nurses arriving for their orientation on Monday.The five already working are doing well, and getting to grips with ward life. Them being there gives me a good excuse to visit the ward where there is much joy (and some sadness). I love to hear the ladies loudly sing up and down the corridor on the hospital deck. I saw, when I was dropping off some equipment, our screening and pre-op ladies, up at the OBF Clinic, were doing that as well but around the perimeter of the hospital but what the powers that be thought of that I don’t know – think we might have been lowering the tone! We have to keep the ladies occupied otherwise it is a long day. Many of them crochet beautifully and many a bag and hat has been made. One of our day crew wears his hat with pride, apparently the design is a king’s hat. He is obviously a young man comfortable in his own skin, not many men can carry off wearing a pink crocheted kings hat in the dining room of the Africa Mercy – I love a man in pink !!

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I had his permission to post these!

It is the end of the week now and we are settling in. Yesterday I did nothing except read and, with Kathleen and Barry, cook our evening meal

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Its going to be OK up here at Hill House, as long as they fix the air conditioning, the lighting, the fridge, the washing machine. We can live with the menagerie, (each apartment seems to have their own personal mouse). We have laughed so much this week and at the end of the day this is Africa, it’s different.

We get to experience so much more living outside of the bubble of the ship. Yes, we don’t have the facilities that the ship does, we’ll miss waffle Friday and ice-cream Thursday if we are at the house, we don’t have a swimming pool or movie night but I think we will gain so much more.

LIKE MY MARRIAGE PROPOSAL

I was doing another first, getting the landrover filled with gas oil (diesel to the rest of us) when this guy sidles up to the car as I was trying to make sure that the pump is at zero before they start. He starts with a 10 second small talk and then says ‘You are very beautiful’…….’I love you’ …..I want to marry you’  …….. ME: Err no, I don’t think so, but he was very persistent, asking me many times. All the time I was dealing with the attendant he was professing his love, even when I told him I had a husband, I was too old, and I was wrinkly!!!  Kathleen and I just laughed all the way home – he’d only asked her for money!!!

It’s going to be an interesting eight months!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

******some little stars******

I thought I would give you an opportunity to see some of the little ones we have on the ship ..they are an absolute delight to have around, and after the initial upset of having their surgery and all that goes with it…their smiles light up our world…….

We have a weekly scoop put out by the communications team so I have used their pictures and words  (Comms Team)

Meet Cecilia

Cecilia, Orthopedic patient, before surgery.

With her constant grin and fluffy pink dress, three-year-old Cecilia looks like she belongs at a princess party rather than in a hospital. Her knocked knee condition caused her legs to begin twisting about a year ago, leaving her parents fearful for the future of their bright-eyed child. “She smiles all of the time,” said her father, Emmanuel, “but she needs help to walk.” After receiving free surgery aboard the Africa Mercy, Emmanuel hopes Cecilia will soon be stepping forward into a life of limitless opportunity.

(Comms Team)

and here she is after surgery ..well on her way to recovery.

 

 

FadimatouFadimadou  on the adminision day

those soulful eyes break your heart ……….

Our skilled surgeons on board the Africa Mercy have since operated on her and she continues to be one of the most colourful patients on the ward. Her cleft lip is long gone along with her shame and embarrassment and she looks forward to healing enough to go back home to her 13 brothers and sisters! (Comms Team)

 

Cleft lip patient Fadimatou after

Now that is a result !

Justine was the first patient admitted

Justine on the adminision day

here she is coming up the gangway …beaming

The first patient of the field service is carryed up the gangway.

surgery has been done and she is happily practising walking with her crutches while her straightened limbs heal in the cast

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Ullrich

Some of you may have seen the picture of Ullrich I posted on Facebook, for those who haven’t, this young man has a deformity that I think shocked even the most hardy hearts ……..IMG_2008

 this week we have had more new of him ……

he has had one leg operated on so far

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and he looks pretty happy about it!

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These guys are the experts who change so many lives!

The Eye Programme has started too …they have a desk in our office so have been getting to know whats happening …this is the comms team write up

‘Imagine suffering with blindness from cataracts for years and then someone telling you there’s a second chance of sight out there in the form of a 15-minute procedure. This week, thousands of hopefuls will make themselves known at our patient selections where our Ophthalmic team will evaluate them for the 2,430 eye surgery slots we have available. We look forward to restoring vision and hope to the people of Cameroon.’

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These are just a few of our patients, we have so many, but it gives you an idea of some of the work that is going on ( other than womens health!)….thank you to the communication team for the photos and some of the text (the soppy bits are me!)