Saturday, September 26, 2009

A visit to Bremen

(Written September 16th, mostly)

Okay, Okay...

I've launched myself at this post 3 times now, and just haven't been able to make anything of it. As I look to be out of communication for a week when I take my 96 hour liberty trip to Kenya on the day after tomorrow, I am just going to grit my teeth and power through. Grit your teeth and come along.

Weather is starting to moderate a bit. Days are still "Africa Hot" but mornings and nights are positively pleasant - providing the wind isn't blowing off the dump. That is certainly a mercy for the devout Muslims here on the Horn, as they are in the midst of the Ramadan fast, and may take nothing to eat or drink throughout the hours between sunrise and sunset. At the beginning of the (lunar) month, we had quite a few of our Djiboutian workers brought to the EMF with dehydration from the combination of hard work and fasting. In the past week or two though no new cases - whether this be moderating weather or adapting Djiboutians, who can say? It does make me speculate about the unhappy fate of the faithful who live in the far northern climes, where evenings - even this late in September - can linger for extra hours before the sun dips below the horizon. They are faithful indeed who follow the way of the Prophet in Yellowknife or Vladivostok!

Well, in keeping with with the Teutonic theme of last weeks post, the highlight of this week was a visit to the Bremen, a German frigate who pulled in this past week. Her medical folks contacted us wondering if we could help them out with some sterilization of surgical instruments, a couple of dental needs and a tour of our facilities (usually a veiled expression of a wish to visit the Galley's ice cream counter, and shop at our little NEX). Happy to oblige, we were offered a tour of the Bremen in return.

We found a trim little vessel, pushing 30 years old but gleaming as if she had rolled out of the shipwright's yard last year. She was moored in the spot that the Korean ship had occupied when we celebrated there a month or so ago. In the daytime drive through the docks we had a chance to see the livestock pens - full of grumpy, complaining camels and docile, introspective Sanga cattle - where the output of the pastoral inland plains paused on the journey. They'll be loaded on ships bound across the Red Sea and thence to the UAE and points north. Which are you, gentle reader, pausing here before you hurry on your journey? A vociferous, skeptical camel, or a placid, inward-looking Sanga? There is virtue in both, I suppose. it turned out, on our arrival at about 1000 that morning the Bremen was in the midst of a stores load, as chains of Deutsche sailors handed crates, boxes and the like up the gangways, and down into the holds. We were met with good cheer despite the business of the crew, and whisked off to sick bay where our host - the German ship's doctor - showed around his tiny, overstuffed combination OR, lab, dental, treatment, x-ray space. It was a marvel of ingenious adaptation, miniaturization, and clever organization - capable enough, but I'll wager almost impossible to use in any sort of sea state. The cramped space was no doubt exacerbated by the addition of a surgeon, dentist and anesthesiologist to their crew for the purposes of their current mission - piracy interdiction off the Somali coast. It may not seem like much, but the additon of 3 extra persons on a 220 person ship can have quite an impact.

Off to the Helo deck next, where the aviators and ex-flight surgeons oohed and aahed over the two Sea Lynxes. They seemed like fine enough little birds, but alas I have no eye for helicopters, and have always sort of distrusted the things. Too many moving parts.

It was while we standing there that I had a chance to meet the 4 other folk who had joined us on this tour. One Norwegian and 3 Finnish Naval medical officers had joined us in the sick-bay for a tour of the boat. They were all involved to one extent or another in facilitating or planning for European Union naval efforts in the anti-piracy campaigns away east. The Norwegian chap, who visited us here at Camp Lemonnier the next day was a lithe, weathered fellow, of about my own modest height, but the Finns looked every bit the Nordic warriors. They were all some shade of blonde, tall and powerfully built. While the Finns in general were not known in days of old for going a-viking it was not hard to imagine these chaps leaping from the prows of long ships, swords in hand. My fantasy world aside, they were charming folk - funny, pleasant and polite.

Sadly, even though noon was fast approaching, and "cold German beer" had been hinted at when the visit was first planned, the ship's wardroom was closed for the stores load, so we made our farewells, exchanged business cards and promised good will and assistance at need to all and sundry, and left with thirsts unslaked. Not that talk of beer had prompted us to visit, you understand...but the opportunity to more completely acculturate to the ways of our coalition partners, well that seemed a shame. Ah well, next visit perhaps.

A couple of days later, our German and Danish colleagues joined us here at Camp Lemonnier, for tours, ice cream and shopping. I don't know exactly what the experience here is preparing me for, but a job at the UN, or perhaps as a tour guide seems an easy reach from here...

I'll end here (as I'm returning from a week's vacation to find this still un-posted on my computer). Just returned from 6 days on the Maasai Mara, and I'm excited to get some photos and commentary posted.

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