"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 hope and a future." Jeremiah 29: 11

Friday, October 6, 2017

B2B - Togo to Nigeria

At the end of Benin I got to ride across Benin from the Togo border to the Nigerian border with my Bestest Benin Biking Buddy - Sharon.

Sharon was a pharmacist from Canada who was onboard for the Benin field service. Together with Saulo, Courtney and Tertius she joined me on several cycling adventures. In January we came up with the idea of riding border to border (B2B). Because of her on call schedule she was limited to one of two dates in April and May. Then in March I mentioned the idea to a friend, Hanno from South Africa, who works for MTN in Benin. Hanno had been onboard for Easter with his family and we had ridden to Ouidah and back (about 80 km) on Easter Monday. As we recovered in his pool we discussed the B2B ride and how to do it. He had a driver and was keen so we set a date of 21 May. Due to the distance - about 132 km we estimated - we decided to do it on roadies rather than MTBs. Tertius had left his roadie onboard so I asked if Sharon could borrow it and Hanno said he would try and borrow one as he only had a MTB.

Everything fell into place and Hanno picked us up with his driver - Mr Edwardo - at 0500 on Sunday morning.

Loading up at 0500 on the dock

We made it to the Togo-Benin border by about 0640 and were on our way by 0700. Lots of strange looks from the locals.

The three amigos at the Togo-Benin border

Sharon at the Togo-Benin border

Sharon and I feeling fresh at the Togo-Benin border

First break - Mono River

Just after our first break Hanno dropped back to take a phone call and said he would catch us up. Well, we soft pedalled for a while and then stopped when he did not appear. Ten minutes later the car appeared with Hanno's bike on the roof. He had snapped his chain and thought his day was done. No such luck. I had a chain breaker in my tools and quickly knocked out the damaged link and reconnected it two links shorter.


Up to Ouidah the riding was really scenic and the traffic light. But after Ouidah and into the outskirts of Cotonou the traffic became heavy and chaotic. Plus it was seriously hot by now - 40 degrees.

Outskirts of Cotonou - crazy traffic

Crazy hot - 40 degrees C

Our three trusty steeds

Last break - toll gates outside Cotonou

We did it - Nigeria-Benin border

Job done

Happy but exhausted
Final stats - 134 kms, 5 hours and 20 minutes, 25 kph, average temperature 33 degrees C, max temperature 44 degrees C.

The Garmin link:

B2B - Togo to Nigeria: Distance 133.82 km | Time 5:20:49 | Speed 25.0 kph | Elevation 326 m

The Strava link:

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Our kids ashore in Benin

Harry dancing at patient Naomi's discharge celebration 

One of the reservations I had about joining Mercy Ships, was how it would affect our 3 children.  I mean, what is it like to grow up on a ship, that changes location every few months, with kids from around the world as your classmates, remote from your extended family?  And how does this change you for the rest of your life?

We actually said when we started this journey, that if our children return home with more compassion and understanding of other peoples, then it will have been all worthwhile.  Well, in Benin, we were fortunate to see just that.

Firstly, Harry befriended a patient from Nigeria, Naomi.  At 15 years of age, Naomi's legs were bent and would not straighten.  She had been in a wheelchair for a number of years and came to the ship to be operated on by Dr Frank Haydon.  She then underwent 8 months of intensive physiotherapy to get her walking again.  She even walked down the gangway!  After patients have worked so hard, it is wonderful to celebrate their healing with them in a dance party.  Harry wanted to be part of Naomi's celebration and so he invited his teacher and classmate along.  They all chalked their hair and danced the morning away.  It was a huge blessing to see him so excited to be part of her healing and wanting others to share the joy.
Harry & I with Naomi and her Mum, Evelyn
The hair chalking pose

We also continued visiting the HOPE (Hospital OutPatient Extension) Centre in Benin for Sunday church services.  The services are always full of music, drumming and energy - plus you get to watch the patients' transformation in a regular fortnightly basis.  What changed this year, is how much more comfortable our boys were with the patients.
Mark's Jenga buddy (& Dad) at the Hope Centre

Jenga is a game that crosses all language barriers - Mark had some epic battles where the blocks resembled the Leaning tower of Pisa - yet still didn't fall.  Everyone sitting in the immediate vicinity was holding their breath when it finally toppled. He loved going back and other boys would find the Jenga blocks when they saw him arrive.

Jack really enjoyed going to the HOPE Centre and making cardboard ships with the patients.  He preferred to have a purpose in the visit - and this proved a great one.  He enjoys teaching and is a patient instructor.

What is really interesting about all of this, is how happy the younger patients are when they see our kids.  Our kids have become happy to break down barriers of language and culture with a game - Jenga, UNO, even thumb wrestling - it helps everyone to feel at ease.  And whilst they do this, they have realised that they are making someone's rehab, someone's waiting on results or someones' pain a little easier to manage.

We don't know how our time onboard this ship will affect our boys for the rest of their lives.  However, we know that one thing that they will take away from these years is a greater level of compassion and understanding of other's pain - and a lack of fear of those who look different to them or have experienced a life far more arduous that their own.  And that for us, is totally worthwhile.

Smiles say it all
Working together to build a mini ship - Friendship