Sunday, December 30, 2012

D-5-4-3-2-1 days... in retrospect

Sorry for not updating this blog for a while, I have 2 good reasons:

The last 5 days have been incredibly full of emotions, of packing, of last minute things to arrange / give away / sell / tell / take back / give back / fill out / sign / finish... etc...

The other reason is more poetic - none of us wanted to face reality that in a very short time we have to depart from our home and ship friends for good this time. Actually as I am typing this email from my living room (with fast internet! - thought I mention this for you all :) ) we are still in denial. Ok, maybe not denial, but we still avoid talking about the ship and keep snooping around in our ship friends' facebook and blog updates, we still check the temperature in Conakry every day and reject this cold winter reality.

For the last 5 days we tried to spend as much time with our ship's family as possible. We went out for countless dinners and had breakfast, lunch, dinner, morning coffee break, afternoon coffee break and after dinner dates with many friends - I think we spent more money during the last 2 weeks than what we did in a normal month, but who cares? :)

We also tried to soak up as much sunshine as possible - went to the island (together as husband and wife for the first time), had lazy hours by the pool and enjoyed those unforgettable sunsets on deck 8 every evening.

Visiting places and people for the last time was another item on our busy agenda - went to the market for some last minute gift shopping, said good bye to our local friends and had one last drink and meal in our fav. food places.

And of course there was this white elephant in our living room - empty suitcases who were mocking me every day with "you will never be able to squeeze everything in me!" Well, they were right! I couldn't!

Truth be told it was my amazing husband who did all the packing and guess what: he DID PACK everything we wanted to take home in those bags! We also blessed people by putting stuff outside our cabin door with a 'free' sign over it and we could also sell many items to fellow crew members.

But no matter what you do or don't do, the dreadful day sneaks up on you quietly. On the day of our actual departure (19th Dec) we just switched to autopilot and flew through the day in fast-forward. I must have had  meals with our friends and ship's family, must have said good bye to everybody,must have distributed those thank you/love you/miss you already cards, must have cried a bit - I cannot really recall any of it.

All I know that my only comfort was the fact that I didn't have to do this alone; my wonderful husband was standing next to me, holding my hand, helping me cope and actually leave the ship.

The rest was a big blur; it still is. We got to the airport, had some last coffee with Gerrit and Herma, travelled well to Europe, said good bye to the Palmers in Brussles, slept at the airport, FROZE at the airport, boarded the plant to Hungary, saw lots of snow on the Alps then finally landed in Budapest. Parents came, picked us up, we went home, had lunch and we went to sleep. The next day we went Christmas shopping, ate, saw the Christmas markets, ate, drank lots of mulled wine, ate, FROZE to death, ate, were welcomed back at church, ate, ate and ate some more, met friends and more family, ate, somewhere in between we celebrated Christmas, ate some more, met more people, exchanged more gifts, ate... and now is the first time when I have a couple of seconds (before eating again!) to update my blog.

 Last Supper in the Davies Cabin :(

 Food on the plane - let the massive eating season start!

 Christmas Market at night with some mulled wine to save us from freezing!

 Darren found some more wine while I ate chocolate fondue..

Yes, we are in Hungary. No point in denying it. It's cold, it's dark, it's weird, it's TINA (This Is NOT Africa) and it doesn't feel real... :(

Friday, December 14, 2012

D-6 days... It has started...

Long term crew gets to go up front during our Thursday night meetings to be publicly thanked and acknowledged at the end of their term. Until tonight I was happy swimming in The Nile (denial), but tonight made it very real. We are leaving in less than a week. :(

Cathrine, one of the Chaplains on board reading the notes
It's a tradition for team members or leaders to write up something about you. Well... this is what was said about my amazing husband:

"Darren has been an invaluable member of the IS department and will be missed - not only for his technical ability but also for his unique style. Over the course of the past year and a half he has tackled many problems and shown initiative beyond the scope of his role, learning completely new skills and technologies in the process. With the ever-changing nature of not only technology, but also within Mercy Ships, he has proven adaptable and is a member of the team whose absence will be felt."

Awwww, isn't it very nice? I am so glad Mercy Ships recongised what a valuable member he was!

And this is what was said about me: (can you guess it was written by Brits? :) )

"What can we say about this wonderful Hungarian girl…

We are delighted that Queen Elizabeth ll has given permission for her to live in England…for the sake of her husband Daren who is a good British citizen. This permission came in spite of our advice to the Queen not to let her in. But Newcastle is considered far from London.. so is used to send people into exile.

But Reka joined the Off Ship Programme Team as our administration officer in June last year when we were in Sierra Leone. She immediately ruled us with a rod of iron. No more excuses about lost receipts….advances left open too long….petty cash not being in date order…Day worker pay sheets not correctly filled out…The Off Ships Programmes team did not know what had hit them. Even Ryan Hare was forced to get into line…!!

But seriously..Reka has a lovely warm personality full of fun & sense of humour (thanks again for Daren for teaching her about the British sense of humour). But her commitment to her work & her expertise has been gratefully appreciated by all her team. She has worked over & above what has been required. She has supported the team & encouraged them daily. In our team meetings Reka is the first to pray… the first to give a scripture… & the first to offer to take devotions….

Thank you Reka from all the Off Ships Programmes team & from all who have had the privilege of working with you… or just knowing your friendship. You have touched & influenced many lives in Sierra Leone, Togo & Guinea.

May God bless you & His favour rest upon you & Darren in the next chapter of your lives."

Aaaaaaaawwwwww - thank you so much guys for your kind, British words! :)

 She lead the whole ship in prayer for us! Very touched!!!

And finally a LAUGHING picture (not just frozen American smiles) with the Boss Man and His Boss
(aka Donovan Palmer, VP and Managing Director and his lovely wife, Mae)
Can't you tell we love them sooooo much? :)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

D-7 days...

Darren and I got invited to the Team House one last time to have dinner with Barry and Cheryl before they fly away for holiday tomorrow. It was great to enjoy a good African meal off the ship - of course it had fruits, veggies, plantain and fish in it. I am slowly getting used to it... :)

They were great friends and team members, I will truly miss them and their British sense of humour! :)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Our lovely and fearless Ghurka guards not only protect us and the ship, but also cook a-m-a-z-i-n-g Nepalese food - sadly we can only taste it when we are sailing and they are free. Since Darrena dn I are good friends with us it was our wish to eat with them one last time and today was the big day!!!! Sooooo excited! They cooked in the afternoon and Chitra called us around 4 to come up, food is ready. And what food it was!!!! My-my, the chapati and curry-eggs totally stole the show for me (again).

Here are some pictures as they were making the food:

 Hit is flattening chapati dough
 Dil making Chapati 
 Chitra dishing out some rice for us
Tek gave us the plates and bowls
 Min gave us the finished Chapati

(rice, chapati, curry eggs, vegetable soup and fish-curry) 
The very best from Nepal!

D-9 days... Birthday Cake

So Monday night was my actual birthday day. I am not for big public displays, but my dear husband again did his own thing. He posted posters all around the ship that said today is "Hug a Reka day!' So all these random people were coming to me to hug me and I appreciate the fact that they were just trying to be nice and all, but I am just not that type of a person...

In the evening we gathered at our usual place, the Davies' Cabin. Shelly again outdid herself with this cake:
CHOCOLATE-MINT ICE CREAM CAKE! How can you NOT just eat it all in one go without sharing it with others??? :)))

 Dear husband's signs all over the ship, this one is from the gangway.

 Here is my new fav cake with a cute, fake candle!
 With Penny and her gluten-free version of my cake!

Don't you dare touch my cake!!!!!
Got some money from my boss. It's actually REAL money, doesn't worth much, but it's really cool. A large stash of 100 GNFs (0.1 euro cent!) The 2 stash altogether worth less than 3 dollars.

And Penny's sneaky picture:
Yes, I loved my cake. Any problems with that???

12-12-12 12:12

What were you doing in this historic moment? If you missed it, you need to wait a very-very-very long time for this again, but good luck anyways... :)

Darren and I did what we always do - except this time we have a time stamp on it! Haha

D-10 days... kidnapped...

I was still away upcountry when dear Husband called and asked if I liked African adventures. Well, DUH!

So, he prepared a nice surprise for his wife's 33rd Eve. On Sunday I had breakfast in bed and then was told to stay inside the cabin till we go. All I knew was that we go out for a Sunday Brunch with some friends. But before that I had to have a surprise.

Well, this is what happened:

Darren thought it would be fun to give me the "Full African Experience" and sadly that often includes kidnappings. He even got the Security people involved and apparently half the ship was involved, too. He posted Wanted notes all around the ship so peeps were happy to detain me. Even the next day some crew members came to him saying they saw me somewhere and they want their 5 bucks reward :)

So I walked to the Cafe as Darren told me to, he was of course nowhere to be found, but some of our friends were sitting there. They 'ínvited' me to sit with them and talk about the conference. Suddenly my dear husband showed up from behind. I didn't see him, but honestly, nobody else on the ship would have the guts to pull a pillow case over my head! So I knew it was him. The next thing I knew was that the metal hand cuffs snapped onto my wrists. While people were laughing I heard the Security officer tell Darren he was very sorry, but he couldn't find the keys. Actually he was indeed telling the truth, good thing is that Darren had some keys from one of our Ghurka guards.

They made me walk down the gangway like that and Darren was guiding me towards the cars. They said they were kinda disappointed that I didn't put up a fight. I said 'I didn't know I was supposed to...'. So to give them something fun I started shouting on the dock 'help, somebody please help, I am being kidnapped' Then Darren told me to hush as I was freaking out the patients waiting outside... I WAS FREAKING THEM OUT??? Hah! It was them who put a pillow case over my head! Truth be told I would have put up a fight for sure, but I had a long dress on, which was hindering me from running or fighting back. The second reason is more profound; for once I wanted to be an obedient wife... See? It doesn't lead to anything good so hello my good old self! ;)

Apparently the plan was to drive out with me like that to the surprise restaurant, but they were told by the port authorities that it's REALLY NOT such a good idea... Chickens! If it was me doing the kidnapping I would have shoved the person to the back of the Landie with a blanket over her so nobody would have seen what's under it. Oh well...

WE went to a nice sea-side restaurant and had a nice meal. Because it was Sunday noon the lady took our orders and then called her servant to go to the market and start buying the ingredients. :) HAHAHA, only here!!! So, we had a nice fresh meal afterwards!!!

Thanks all for coming! It was hmmm... what's the word I am looking for? Memorable I guess.

Here are some photos from Jen:

PS: Darren DID spend the night on the couch with a black eye...

Sunday, December 9, 2012

D-11 days... Night sky

We always knew there are millions of stars in the sky, but I rarely have an opportunity to observe them without any artificial light destroying my view. But here in Africa...!!!
In our hotel after midnight all power went out so I could go outside and enjoy this special view:

The very bright one is the Northern Star and the 3 dots in a row is supposed to be the Orion's Belt. :)))

D-12 days...

Carrying babies is something you do see here every day. Just because you have a small child you cannot ignore your daily duties and I don't think they have any proper kindergartens here so mums just end up taking their babies everywhere.

Here are 2 pictures I took today in Mamou:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

D-13 days... ATM (African Toilette Manual)

After a very embarrassing experience today I decided it was time to revise the ATM (African Toilette Manual and add one more step before the first one. Here is the updated list.

(Yes, just in case you were wondering, these are ALL based on painful first hand experiences!) J

There is one door that doesn't lock, it won’t even close properly. As you can see in the picture, inside the room there are 3 stalls, none of them have any doors. Keep in mind as you read the manual!

0. Check if there are others in already. Don’t assume it’s empty just because it’s quiet or be ready to shake hands with a military man who has just finished his business.

1. Roll up your trousers as high as you can while you are outside waiting.
2. Take a deep breath before you enter.
3. If you must take another breath, never breathe through your nose! Use your mouth unless you want to throw up!
4. Don’t put your cell phone, iPod, camera or even TP in your pocket as I guarantee it will fall out.
5. Be as fast as you can otherwise you can meet new friends WHILE you’re doing your business.
6. NEVER touch the walls! The brown decoration is not a 5 legged octopus imprint!
7. Watch where you step. Really!
8. Once you positioned your feet on the rocks, squat and keep your eyes closed!
9.  Aim slowly or you will get splash backs. Trust me, you don’t want that!
10. Put your clothes back on first BEFORE you start looking for the little bucket to wash off the remnants of your poor aiming skills.
11. Run to your hand sanitizer and use it generously BEFORE you touch your nose because you forgot to keep step 3! It’s just plain disgusting!
12.  Pray to God you will sweat out the next batch and don’t have to return again.

And the lucky number 13: 
Because it’s hot and you keep drinking to avoid the dehydration-headache you need to go soon again, but by this time the bucket is empty, the hole in the ground disappeared thanks to people with no aiming skills and yes, you involuntarily smelled what's inside and now you have a throwing-up-headache. Congratulations!

D-14 days... Telecenters

When I first heard this world I pictured big buildings will agents taking calls like in a call center back home. Often when we asked for people’s cell phone numbers they gave it to us without missing the beat, but they also added that they might not be available when we called. I didn't quite understand it until I stopped by one Telecenter and asked all my questions.

Here (I am careful and try not to generalize too much, but as a matter of fact I observed the same phenomenal in Guinea, Salone, Togo, Benin and Ghana) many people don’t know how to read or write, have no steady income, yet EVERYBODY has a cell phone! Correction, everybody has a cell phone number or two! :)

As it turns out Telecenters are tiny shacks with a private generator. People either take their phones there to charge (costs about 20 cents for a 30 min charge, $1 for a full charge) OR they can use the various cell phones available there when they need to make a call. They can buy top up cards (anything between 20 cents and $15) and for a small fee use one of the cell phones in the 'store'.

The Telecenter guy has charger for the main cell phone makers. No, no smart phones and definitely no iPhone charger. Try to think back 10-15 years, which models and companies were popular back then? If you bring a phone he has no charger for, no problem. Following good African traditions he will make one. It might destroy your phone on the long run, but hey, he isn't working under warranty! :)


Written By Darren:

Today on the Africa Mercy we had the Dutch Sinterklaas come up the gangway to visit the children on board.
The Arrival of the Sinterklaas
Sinterklaas talking with children
 The Christmas Tree
 Some of the Gifts for the Children
The Cards the Children on board made for the day 

Papernota - some sort of cinnamon Liquorice

Photos by Crew and Darren