Well, well, well- we made it to the ship. Horrah! All it took was 3 flights (one of them missed), 30+ hours of being awake and an entire bag of destroyed toiletries that didn’t have such a smooth transition. The Africa Mercy is everything I imagined her to be: beautiful, big and bustling. I’m so pleased to finally be here. However, there are several things about ship life that I was not prepared for…
Firstly there’s the vacuum toilet system, which is ferociously loud. I dare not flush whilst still seated for fear of it sucking out my kidneys. Next there are the skirts that surround every doorway- or as I like to call them ‘lethal tripping hazards/official toe stubbers’ (ouch indeed). And finally, there are the Gurks- the ship’s security. The first face you see when you walk up the gangway and the last face you’ll see if you’re naughty. They are these Nepalese Gurkhas who, despite the cutest smile and most adorable demeanour, could actually kill you with their little finger. I’m not sure if I’m terrified or reassured that I’m now Facebook friends with ‘Min’ and ‘Tuk’ from Nepal.
Our cabin is now starting to look all ‘homey’ and still gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling that we’re on holiday in a little camper van. I’m holding onto that optimism for as long as possible before I realise how small it is to live in for an entire year and that Pete takes up so.much.space.
As for things to do on the ship- they have a library, a small outside playground for the kids and a gym. I say ‘gym’, but that’s probably being a bit too complimentary. It’s basically a sweaty cupboard in the base of the ship. But it has some real good equipment so Pete and I have certainly been making use of it. They also have a salon that is dirt cheap. I’ll be getting my $7 highlights soon, for sure. You can also get a perm for $18?! I don’t even want one, but I’m tempted. Don’t tell Pete.
As for our jobs, we have now officially started. Pete has been busy diagnosing the trucks that are on the dock and tomorrow he will begin driving them into containers to be hoisted by a crane onto the deck ready for the sail to Africa. In Cameroon there will be 33 trucks in total- enough to keep him busy that’s for sure. His face on the first day was a wonderful picture- after almost six weeks of classroom time it was like I’d finally let a puppy back outside to play. His hands were starting to look too feminine and soft for my liking. He came in for lunch all grubby and sweaty with the biggest smile on his face, which put an even bigger one on mine. The industrial shipyard is his ‘man heaven’.
For me, it’s been fairly quiet without any patients here to write about but it has given us a great opportunity to get to grips with the resources, software and colleagues we’ll be working with. I can’t even begin to describe my excitement about being the Writer on the Africa Mercy. I just hope I haven’t been out of the game too long- and by ‘game’ I mean actual work. It’s been almost 2 months since I left my job in the U.K. and I’m starting to wonder if I can even remember how to spell my own name. Add that to the fact Americans spell so many things wrong (oh, I mean ‘differently’), and I feel like I’m starting with less skill than when I applied. So many people told me during the training what a privilege it is working in the communications department and now I finally realise why. We are one of the few departments that get to see patients from the start of their journeys right through to the end, including the surgery itself and their homes. I am so honoured that I get to be a part of that transformation on such a personal level. I can’t wait to meet my patients and I hope and pray that I will be able to tell their stories with dignity, respect and wonder.
This Friday we set sail for Cameroon, in the ‘armpit’ of West Africa. It is an 11 day sail due to travelling slightly further and approaching from the south. This is in order to avoid the Gulf of Guinea, which is one of the most dangerous sailing waters in the world for piracy and hijacking of seafarers. I told Pete I wouldn’t put that in here to avoid scaring our mothers…. but that’s the point Pete- we’re avoiding that place. However I did learn during my first ship tour, that there’s a temporary ‘prison’ on-board ‘just in case’ (??!). That was slightly unsettling.
In our downtime we’ve been enjoying good food at the beach and exploring gorgeous little back streets filled with colour and personality. Having the photographer as your buddy also means you get super-cool pics of you and your friends standing in arty positions all looking in different directions. Bonus.
In order to sail we need to tie everything down as the ship can roll up to 20 degrees. My screens are secured with Velcro, my desk is screwed to the floor and the bookshelf in my office is currently covered with bungee straps to stop the books falling out. Internet usage whilst sailing is incredibly limited and I believe social media sites are even blocked during working hours to ensure those who actually need it for their jobs only have slow internet and not painfully slow internet.
So, I guess I’ll be off-grid for a while- which I’m actually looking forward to a bit. But do not fear- I’ve stocked up on Titanic related memes to keep me going whilst offline. I’ll speak to you again soon, this time from Africa where the adventure officially begins…