Full Throttle Captain! Madagascar Ahead!

Hello everyone that reads these things!  I missed you guys – oh what’s that?  You missed me too?  Aww well that’s sweet of you.  In return for my months of silence I present for your pleasure a comprehensive look into my summer with Mercy Ships.  Continue on brave reader!
I arrived back on the ship the end of august after an incredible summer which included as the highlights the wedding of one of my best friends Michael Wenzel in Slovakia and a two week road trip with my parents and Taylor Thomas through such countries as Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia.  It was my first time seeing my parents in 8 months and the opportunity to travel around with them was an incredible one – it’s insane that you only really begin knowing your parents once you yourself have grown up.
Best Friends Forever! BFF since Babies!
What a happy tanned family!
But our trip was cut a bit short when I received some urgent calls from Mercy Ships to rejoin the ship as it was just about to leave it’s current dock and move to another island.  So we zipped up to Vienna and I said goodbye to the fam and rejoined the crazy world of Mercy Ships.
Oh Mercy! Ship!
And boy have things ever been crazy since I arrived back here.  Five days ago we were docked in the shipyard of Gran Canaria Las Palmas, the Canarie Islands if you’ve heard of them.  There is a nice little town there with a beautiful beach and perfect weather.  It was the perfect place to spend a few weeks while the ship was fixed up and readied for another field service in the wild continent of Africa.
But then they found a problem or two with the ship.  Something down in the engine room had apparently been on the verge of extinction for years and they just discovered it now.  in a panic they took the ship back out of the water to fix the piece, delaying the departure a couple of weeks and assuring volunteers around the world that it wouldn’t be long before they could fly and join us.
Concurrent to this something big was happening in West Africa – Ebola.
I was going to put a picture here but the google image search was horrible.  Believe me – don’t search it.
As long as the situation was contained it wouldn’t effect our plans to sail and work in Benin.  If you have been following the news you would know that Ebola wasn’t contained and that it is currently ravaging the entire western side of Africa.  We have a lot of West African crew members on board and they have been flying home or updating us on the situation in their countries and believe me when I say it’s not good.  Apparently it’s like a war zone there with food shortages and curfew and fear.
Needless to say our plans were changed.  Though we would have loved to sail in there and help out the risks were too great and we changed plans.  Luckily(?) something else was discovered in the engine room at this time that needed fixing and suddenly we were delayed another week.
The next plan that was proposed was to sail back to Republic of Congo for another year there.  Everyone readied themselves for this – sending messages to old friends and whatnot… which they had to retract when a week later it was announced there was another Ebola outbreak on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Our fearless leaders needed a new plan.
Throughout all of this the shipyard delay was pushed back a day or two at a time.  The atmosphere on the ship was one of antsy anticipation.  Most people had been in Las Palmas all summer, and though it is a great place to spend a summer, these are all adventurous missionary people who came to be useful to the forgotten poor – and it’s only so long that you can stay in one place cleaning a ship that’s docked in port.  It may be a bit of an exaggeration to say that we were on the tipping point of full blown Cabin Fever but thankfully last friday it was finally announced where we would actually be going.

Let me just leave some spaces here for anticipation sake…The country is…

In Africa…

It’s an island…

Called….  Madagascar!

The image Mercy Ships is using to show Madagascar

 

The photo everyone else is using.

Yes that’s right, we are going to Madagascar this year.  We have never been to that area of Africa (scratch that apparently we were there 15 years ago or something) and it’s going to be a crazy big learning curve.  This is especially true because of the preparation time we have.  Normally we have an advanced team that goes to the country 3 months early to prepare everything for the ship.  This includes water, sewage, phones, advertisements to the people, security – everything you can or can’t think of that we could possibly need.  For Madagascar they will have 4 weeks.  Normally it takes 2 months to get the protocol signed to enter a new country – it was a week after the idea was proposed that our director onboard the ship had flown and met with the president, signing the protocol that afternoon.  Things are moving quickly.  Since the announcement to leave we’ve only been delayed another week or so and the official sail date was set for saturday, sept 13.  People were still hesitant about getting excited for the sail (we’ve been hurt before) but as saturday got closer and closer the anticipation was slowly ramping up.

Now that a decision had been made an exciting opportunity for me suddenly appeared as well.  Because the sail to Madagascar is so ridiculously long (over a month) we need to stop the ship in South Africa along the way to refuel.  This also allows for valuable time in which new crew members can fly and join the ship before we get to Madagascar, which is super expensive to fly in to.
Apparently the best place for us to stop is Cape Town, South Africa, which also coincidentally is one of the most beautiful places on earth (if you are to believe the many south africans on the ship which I guess I do).
An opportunity was proposed that my boss Alaistar (Ally) and I to fly ahead of the ship to Cape Town to do some PR and media stuff in anticipation of the ship’s arrival.  I tried to play it cool but inside I was fist pumping pretty hard.
Ally and I looking excited despite the bad photo
Ally and I looking excited despite the bad photo
Then another dang problem was found in the engine.
This was a big problem with the ancillary navigation unit which allows us to do the tight turns needed to get out of dock without a tug boat.  The Captain started looking for dry docks and quickly discovered that all the possible places in South Africa were full up and booked for the near future.
In an instant the whole crew was crushed.  What did this mean for the future of the ship?  Would we be going to Madagascar?  Were we ever going to leave Las Palmas???
I don’t know what happened but the next day the rumor mill was flying with news that the Captain had given the go-ahead to sail to Cape Town despite the navigation problems (we can still sail on the ocean fine).  Apparently the plan is to sail there and pray that a spot will open up for us when we arrive.  This is so unlike the Captain that it is incredible.  If I even half suspected that body snatchers from mars were real then the Captain would be the first guy I’d interrogate.  But it’s been a few days and the plan is still to sail to Cape Town so I think the rumors are true.
This means that Ally and I get to fly to Cape Town ahead of the ship!
And so the thursday before the sail Ally and I got up at 4am and headed to the airport for a 36 hour trip to the bottom of the world.  As I write this I’m looking out the window of our apartment at an ocean that blends so seamlessly into the sky that you can hardly tell where the horizon fits in.  Even now, at 8 in the morning the beach (Surfer’s paradise) is already dotted with surfers despite it being the most infamous beach in the area for sharks.
Thank goodness there was a big square in the middle of the field to show where we are!
Thank goodness there was a big square in the middle of the field to show where we are!
The reason why we are here is to work with the South African office and prepare for the arrival of the ship.  This involves PR and media stuff as well as countless other jobs.  It’s going to be a busy three weeks, though we plan on having fun along the way.  This city is famous for surfing, hiking, paragliding, biking, indie music, kitesurfing and pretty much every other activity you could imagine as long as it is extreme and outdoors.  When the ship arrives I’m hoping to go with a group of other crazy people and do the highest bungie jump in the world.
Plus look at rare flowers!
Plus look at rare flowers!

Well that’s what I’m up to.  Don’t worry, we are actually working hard – this is my first time doing international Media stuff and it’s definitely got a learning curve, so i’d appreciate prayer and wisdom in that respect.  Thanks for reading everyone and I expect to throw more of these up as more exciting opportunities happen.  For now thank you so much for supporting me and keep on praying that we safely get to Madagascar!Kyle Siemens

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