"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

Monday, June 23, 2014

Ready for a holiday

We left Australia on 13th June, 2013.  We flew to Texas for a 6 week course, 8-5 each day and some weekend and evening activities.  We then flew to join the ship in Tenerife and sailed to Pointe Noire, Congo 48 hours later.  It was a busy start and it hasn’t really slowed down since then.  
I recently worked out for each family member, since July 2013, how many nights they have not been onboard:

  • Mick – 3
  • Tammy – 20 nights due to trip to Australia 
  • Jack – 4
  • Mark – 2 (plus several sleepovers)
  • Harry – 2 (including first ever sleepover)

What does this all add up to?  We need a holiday!

What does that look like when you are raising funds for your living expenses? 

And what is reasonable as well?

Mick priced our airfares home and back at $12,500 approximately.  In any language, that is a lot of money. So we decided that we cannot justify going home to Australia this shipyard period.  However, in 2015, we will definitely fly to Sydney.

So we then went through some options.  We had invitations to stay with good friends in Germany.  We had invitations to come visit England with Micks relatives.  Working on the theory that fish and houseguests stink after 3 days, we planned a few 4 day visits.  This left us with 2 weeks of our holiday leave to plan out. We knew that we needed:

- time away from “community living”
-to be a family together 
-something affordable 
-heaps of rest 
- maximum flexibility
greenery in the scenery 
lots of walking 
- chance to cook favourite meals 
no meal times to adhere to 
showers lasting longer than 2 minutes 
no laundry restrictions

And as a bonus, if we were going to be in Europe, to continue to use our French if possible.  

So what we decided, was to book a Motorhome holiday in Germany and France though mainly in France.  It rolls our accommodation and car hire into one and we have purchased a France Passion membership where we can go and stay at farms and vineyards overnight without cost.  (The expectation is that you say hello and goodbye to the owners of the property and perhaps sample or buy their produce – so a great opportunity to keep our French going at the same time.) Knowing that we are so close to so many attractions, but cognisant of our need for rest, we plan to go to Parc Asterix for the boys; a day at Epernay to sample Champagne for my birthday and a day to visit the Franco-Australian War museum on the Somme.  Hopefully, the other days will be about rest, scenery and relaxation.

With all this holiday planning, I have been thinking through what is responsible use of our money. When we were earning money, we didn’t think too long and hard about holiday planning.  We generally discussed dates – found a few options and then booked so as not to miss out.  Since embarking on this adventure, with finite resources, we have had to think more about what is appropriate use of the money we have been given and our savings. We have had discussions about dinners out, excursions to get off the ship and weekends away.  It is a funny thing, that when you are already paying crew fees that include food, you think twice about buying another meal ashore.  Then there is the tipping point where you get cabin fever and you have to get to the other side of the gangway as fast as possible.  Somewhere in between is where we live on an everyday basis – not going ashore every day but needing to get off at least once a week. A day at the beach is still a cheap day out 

The holiday planning is similar. We are using our savings to get to Europe. ( At present, we only use donations to pay for crew fees, school fees or cost of living expenses. ) There is a smorgasbord of places to visit and fortunately, our boys birthdays all occur in June and August. They have been given tickets to theme parks instead of presents - an awesome blessing. 

So two days out from our holiday, as I sit and write this; I know we are all looking forward to the break. I am also continuing to enjoy the challenge of working out what responsible stewardship of our resources means for us. And as we work this out, I am sure I will be posting more on this topic.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Cycling in Congo

Road cycling is one of my passions and something I have largely sacrificed to serve onboard with Mercy Ships. For the last few years I have clocked about 10,000 km per year. This year I will have been lucky to have done 2000 km. I left my road bike at home in Australia and on the advice of a few others onboard purchased an ex-hire mountain bike in Tenerife. This was good advice. Although I did come across guys riding road bikes in the dry season in Congo the road conditions were not conducive to regular road cycling. And in the wet, a mountain bike was the only option.

My regular ride became a 24 km round trip from the ship out to a local boulangerie where I would buy 10 baguettes, bananas and avocados when available. Typically we would eat 5 of the baguettes and bless others onboard with the rest.

I occasionally met up with some local guys on road bikes on a Sunday morning for their local bunch ride. They would typically do 100 km and I would sometimes head out an extra 20 km with them, taking turns.

The conditions were harsh on my bike. I replaced almost every spoke on both wheels due to a combination of salt, corrosion and spoke type (thin brittle ones), wore out the big chainring, rear cassette, chain and brake pads, all due to the sand that got in the drivetrain despite my washing and cleaning efforts. By comparison, I only had one puncture in ten months, much lower than I experienced in Sydney.

I only had one crash when I rode into a bike eating man hole during the wet season. Nothing major injured except my pride and a bit of skin off due to the sand. I was more worried about being run down by a taxi behind me.

And the traffic? Surprisingly courteous. I found that vehicles gave me much more clearance when passing than in Sydney. 2 to 3 metres was the norm. Plus many vehicles would sound their horns when passing. The only real hazards were taxis pulling over suddenly to pick up or drop off passengers without indicating - nothing changes. And I was always nervous when being passed by large log trucks.

Showing the LACC colours in Congo

Leaving the port

Selfie on the go

Main road heading north out of town

Main road heading north

Heading out

Local Bike Shop (LBS)

Another LBS

Fancy some bacon?

Roadside butcher.

Wet season - how deep is this?

Wet season road conditions

Wet season road conditions

More wet season road.

More wet season roads

Boulangerie 12 km from ship and my weekend ride destination

Primus brewery

Primus brewery

The road home

The road home

1.5 km to go

Rond point outside the port

Port water tower

Back in the port

Port - almost home

Beware trains with logs

Weekend destination

Local riders' meeting point

Me with a couple of local guys I joined occasionally for bunch ride

End of wet season ride

That bike needs a wash......again

Coffee at the end of a ride of course
but only sometimes as it was 2000CFA (about $4) for a cafe au lait

The weekend bounty - dix baguettes s'il vous plait
1000 CFA - $2.00

Saturday, June 14, 2014


Today my heart is unexpectantly heavy. I didn't expect this. I knew that we would make many friends amongst the long and short term crew. Some of these would be fleeting and others would be deeper. But most crew are on Facebook and thus it is possible to remain connected. And we know we will travel and many of our good friends will travel so often it is not good bye but rather "au revoir".

However in addition to long and short term crew the ship also employs about 250 local day crew. Twenty two of these guys were employed in Engineering. They were employed as assistant watchkeepers, tank cleaning and preservation and general engineering assistance. Whilst proficiency in English was required a couple of them had very limited English but surprisingly the two who had the weakest English were the best workers - Lionel and Burrell.

The majority of day crew finished two weeks before the end of the field service but a few continued right up to the end of our time in Congo.

Initially I had limited interaction with the engineering day crew as I was busy learning my job and my French was not up to explaining technical things in French. Luckily Steve Henderson, the Fourth Engineer who had been onboard in Guinea took the lead. Anyway about mid field service as I got more comfortable with my own work responsibilities I started to interact more with the day crew and found that they had a thirst for learning.

Interestingly the guy I connected with and started to work with regularly had perhaps the weakest English which forced me to improve my technical French. Together we changed water filters, conducted the annual service on the Oily Water Separator, conducted sewage system maintenance, rebuilt pumps and compressors, replaced and rebuilt valves. Looking back as I write this I am amazed at how much we did but I look back regretfully and wish I had taught him more.

But on Burrell's last day we ran main engines, removed two sewage plant air blowers, fitted a spare air blower, removed and overhauled a valve and overhauled an air blower. Whilst I was busy running main engines, he did most of the rest of this with limited supervision from me. 10 months ago he could not have done this and I realise that I did teach him quite a lot.

What blind sided me is we came to Mercy Ships to serve the poorest of the poor, to bring hope and healing and to support the hospital onboard in doing this. However I can now see that we will have the opportunity to train others and every field service there will be another 22 day crew that I will have the chance to help improve their skills.

We have now sailed from Congo and our day crew are all looking for other employment. However we visited the Primus Brewery two weeks ago and the Manager mentioned he was always looking for good technical guys as frequently the oil industry poached their best workers. We were able to send the contact details of our day crew and recommendations so hopefully they will get a call and an interview.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

10 Steps of Living with a Monster!

Harry wrote this story at school this year. It is a bit hard to read some of it but pretty funny.

Step 1
Going to school with your monster.
Always ask your monster what's the answer. He will tell you.

But he might eat your work.
He might watch TV instead of helping you.

Step 2
Camping with your monster.
When camping use your monster to make a big sand slide.
Give him a tent.

Make a tree house for your monster.
Use your monster as a wave rider.

Step 3
Feeding your monster.
Monsters eat a lot. You'll need a huge bowl.
They need a water dish.

Step 4
Cleaning your monster.
Your monster likes to be cleaned in a bath.
Brush his teeth.

Step 5
Burping and farting with your monster.
Monsters love burping and farting.
Singing with a monster.
Monsters love music.

Step 6
They rock a lot!
They might play banjos.

Step 7
Watch TV with your monster.
Watch Jurassic Park with your monster.
Monsters love creepy movies.

Step 8
Riding a bike with your monster.
Be careful when riding a bike with your monster!
Just make sure the bike is good for the monster.

The bike has to be heavier than your monster.
Help him learn how to ride a bike.

Step 9
Playing on TV with your monster.
Monsters LOVE video games.
Step 10
Sleeping with your monster.
Do not make your monster count sheep.

Give him a kiss good night.