At 6:30 am I left my house and taxied down to the Seafarers Lodge on Lower Savage Street, just minutes from the port. I met Hannah and the rest of the advance team getting ready for the big occasion. The Africa Mercy was on its way. I felt honored to be a part of the event and be at the pre-fest activities. It was still dark when I arrived but the ship’s lights could be seen in the distance. Exciting!
As is often the case, there was a bit of a stressful moment. The line handlers at the port were on strike. Yes, that’s right. And, what’s worse, there was another ship docked in berth 6, where the Africa Mercy was due to dock. Fortunately this did not get Tracy and Jeremy down. As deck hands they knew exactly what to do and with a team of volunteers, they managed to get the one ship moved to a different berth! The port was now ready for the Africa Mercy.
In the meantime, the team, myself and a few others were waiting for the arrival of the delegation from the Ministry of Health and Sanitation. The honorable minister, Ms Zainab Bangura, the Chief Medical Officer (Dr Daoh), The Director of Hospital and Laboratories (Dr Conteh), the Principal NGO Liaison (Yayah Conteh) and a few others. The head of the advance team graciously introduced me to the delegation as well, which was an added bonus for the Welbodi Partnership. Of course, Dr Daoh, Dr Conteh and Yayah know me, from many meetings that have taken place in the Ministry over the past 9 months. It was nice to know that in a different context, they still knew who I was!
All the while, we kept a look out for the ship. By this time it was light, but also quite hazy. Soon though, the ship appeared through the fog and it was remarkable that it was the cross at the front of the ship that we saw emerging first. As the ship approached and the pilot boat went to meet the ship, we walked down to the port and met a number of people waiting on the dock. There was a Mercy Team, 30 Gateway students, friends from the Aberdeen Women’s Centre (formerly AWAFC/Mercy Ships) and others. There we all stood waiting. Meanwhile on the decks of the Africa Mercy, the crew was anxiously awaiting their arrival in Freetown. I think the ship’s arrival seemed extra special because all of a sudden it was a reality. In 2006 and 2007 the Anastasis was scheduled to come to Freetown, but unfortunately the trips were cancelled. Thankfully, the time has come for Mercy Ships to return to Salone.
As the ship approached, it became easier to spot the crew on the deck and there was a flurry of excitement as friends on the dock and friends on the ship spotted each other. There was a lot of waving and cheering as the ship came closer. Soon the ship docked and after a bit of a wait getting the gangway in place, the time came for a brief ceremony.
The ceremony began with a crewmember walking down the gangway with a Sierra Leonean flag and handing this over to a ten-year old Sierra Leonean boy. The boy was a former Mercy Ships patients having had cleft lip and palate surgery onboard in 2001 and 2002. A symbol of lives touched in the past and lives to be changed in the future. Afterwards, the Chief Executive Officer and his wife met with the Minister and brief speeches were held. The delegation then went onboard for further formalities. At this time, those of us on the dock headed home. We’re now waiting until we can actually go onboard and meet up with friends but happy for now that the Africa Mercy is here!
A big welcome to the crew onboard the Africa Mercy! Welcome to Salone. Kushe. And hope to see you soon. Actually, surprisingly I can see the ship in the distance from my balcony all the way in Wilberforce!! Especially at night when all her lights are on!