Ship Life: Living on the Africa Mercy

The Africa Mercy is the giant boat that I live on. But you can’t say that, because if you call it a boat, then nautical people get all ruffled and explain to you the difference between a boat and a ship. That’s the proper term. So, on this ship, we have ourselves an awesome hospital with six operating suites and five wards with bed space for up to 70 patients and their caregivers. There are 8 floors but we can’t call them floors, we call them decks. There is lovely porch on Deck 7 from which I take many sunset photographs, but we don’t call it a porch we just say Deck 7.

Photo By: Michelle Murrey

Live on a ship long enough, and soon you’ll find that you have acquired all of this random knowledge about seafarers, ship jargon, pirates, etc. 

Bow means the front of the ship and aft means the back. Port means left and starboard means right. Berth means parking spot, unless you are referring to how many people fit in your cabin, in which case berth means the number of people in your cabin. The bridge is where Captain Trethaway works. I’ve never been inside, but I imagine the bridge has things like compasses, maps and those special map pencils with the pointy needle attached on one side. And I guess some other more advanced equipment. 

Monkey island is the spot just outside the bridge where one might see a person in uniform standing with binoculars. I don’t know why it’s called monkey island, I think someone just made it up and it stuck. Inspired by the opportunity to give things better names than their ship names, I’ve tried re-naming a few places on board. Sadly, they are not catching on.

 Photo By: Debra BellAll of our produce has to be treated with a chemical solution because, by a unanimous vote, that is preferable to ingesting cholera. I refer to this affectionately as the West Bleach Diet. Yet again, this has failed to catch on. Sometimes the tomatoes taste funny but other than that I’m pretty well-adjusted to it. The kitchen is called the galley.

Because of the way our ship is facing in the parking spot berth, we are docked with the starboard side facing the shipping port. For this, hopeless confusion ensues:

Person A: Hey, want to meet me in 15 minutes?

Me: Ya, where about?

A: Deck 5, port side.

Me: Ok – wait, do you mean port as in left or port as in facing the port?

A: I mean port as in starboard facing port. The port side.

Me: Oh ok. Wait, what?

A: Port as in facing the port.

Me: Not as in starboard?

A: Umm, yes.

Me: Yes that is right, or yes as in starboard?

A: Yes as in starboard.

Me: Can we start over?

We call the ramp that gets us to and fro the gangway. We call the OR an ‘operating theatre’ not for anything having to do with the ship, but because lots of things around here are very British, which I like a lot (even though my American spell-check is red squiggly all the time.)

When we have fire drills we call it mustering. I happen to be a muster-person which means that during drills I take attendance to make sure all of my people are accounted for. I also get a yellow hat and a clipboard, which totally affirms the prestige of what would be an otherwise thankless assignment. Nevermind the fact that in a real fire I would totally freak.

For the most part, it feels more like living in a hospital than living on a ship. (Perhaps this is because my cabin is down the hall to from the operating theatahh.) Imagine any hospital you’ve been to in the states. Ok now shrink the rooms, divide the hallway width in half and make all the walls magnetic. Voila – home sweet home.

I never feel the ship rocking anymore. I think my inner ear has officially acclimated and when I’m back on land I will sway back and forth a little, and people will whisper oh don’t mind her – I hear she used to live on a boat. And I will overhear them and say ‘Ship. It was a ship’ and maybe I’ll have a parrot on my shoulder that will echo ‘it was a ship!’ Or something.

We are limited to two minutes showers. Two minutes. In the time it will take you to read this post, I could have showered and changed. While at first the Two Minute Shower Rule was a stressful, I have since become very good at the art of the speedy shower.

Within the walls of the ship are important pipes that make awful noises. Like really boisterous sounds of honking and whooshing water. If you want to know what my room sounds like, play the trailer for Inception on repeat and flush a toilet every 2-3 minutes. On the upside, I am used to it and I can now sleep through any raucous. 

 So there you have it, a glimpse into my life here. Albeit somewhat unglamorous-sounding, I love it. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. 

Photo By: Michelle Murrey

After all, this is an adventure. A pretty great one.

All photographs in today’s post are courtesy of Mercy Ships.


9 responses

  1. Gah-lee! Loved this, I feel like I have a much better picture of where you are now. And West Bleach Diet – ZING! I would not survive the 2 minute showers – Megan & Shayla used to ask if I had found the solution for world peace when I got out of the shower at PBP.


  2. Awesome to get some behind the scenes day-to-day info. I’ve been wondering about how things work on a ship like that. But a 2 minute shower???…So, you focus on washing your hair on even days and your body on odd days?? Hmmmmm. ;)


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