Life at Sea
I am ready to see land.
Strike that. I’ve seen land. What I mean is that I’m ready to feel land under my feet.
I skipped class this morning. We’re all required to go to Global Studies, which is a course that the entire shipboard community attends together. I didn’t consciously skip class; I just didn’t set my alarm clock, and my late nights finally caught up with me.
I’ve been journaling every day for the past three days. It took a while to get used to ship life and my position, but I am finally catching a flow.
What is ship life like?
Some of you may be wondering, so I’ll take a blog post and tell you a little about my life here on the World Odyssey and on Semester At Sea. We left Hamburg, Germany a week ago, and we’ve been at sea since. It has been one of the longest weeks that I can remember–and not in a bad way.
We’ve traveled all the way around Spain, catching some choppy waters which made many of the students and faculty sick; then through the Strait of Gibraltar, we spent several days along the coast of Africa. It has been super-interesting to look out from the ship and say, that’s England; that’s France; that’s Spain; that’s Morocco; that’s Algeria; that’s Tunisia.
I am super-lucky to have a cabin to myself. I am also lucky that I have an outside cabin, which means I have a big window, as well. There is a TV in my room, which has quite a few channels, including a funny German MTV-like station. The internet is ridiculously slow, but staff have extra internet privileges, which is way faster (though facebook and any attempts to stream is blocked by the powers that be due to low bandwidth).
My daily schedule is waking up on the later side and choosing whether or not to rush and get breakfast. Global Studies class starts at 9:30am, which is a requirement for the entire shipboard community, but breakfast service stops at 8:30am. Go figure.
But if I can somehow leave my cabin by 8:29am, I can get there before they start putting food away. If I don’t eat, like this morning as I write, I am insanely hungry for the next two hours until they open lunch at 11:30am (yes, cry a sad song for me).
My first responsibility is to be in class at 9:30-10:30. Then, I am off until 13:40. That’s 3 hours for those of you who don’t know military time. Those three hours seem to go by really fast. Part of that is spent on lunch. I usually mosey around, go get some coffee, do my morning pages (my three pages of journaling), have a conversation or two with some students about how they got to Semester At Sea, etc. Then, before you know it, it’s time for lunch.
So, little usually happens before lunch. After lunch, I may have a short bit of time before I need to go to my staff meeting from 13:40-15:00 (till 3pm). Now, it’s 15:00, and the day is running away from me. I usually have to go to the office on deck 8 to do some work/put in my office hour (one hour every other day). I’m responsible to put on a big fundraiser and alumni ball at the end of the voyage, and so I’m starting to put in time preparing for that.
After office hours and a couple more conversations with students–which I should mention are usually outside staring at the beautiful Mediterranean Sea–it’s time for dinner. So, part of what I’m up to is to create more pockets of time for getting stuff done in my day. I’m not keen on having my life schedule dictated by mealtimes. However, I gotta eat.
On the plus side, I’ve had some wonderful conversations over meals and just all around the ship with students. The students are amazing. I’m seriously blown away by their depth, their sensitivity, their kindness and their courage and vulnerability. I sat with one student from Samoa. She explained to me how education works in her country, including how there is a culture of passing students even if they’re failing because the teachers wouldn’t want to show disrespect or dishonor to their friends and neighbors by telling them that their son or daughter is doing poorly.
On the downside, I’ve been struggling with a neck crick that I got while in Belgium before I took a train, bus and train to get to Hamburg. I woke up in Germany with my neck feeling paralyzed, and I’ve been waking up with a stiff neck almost every day on this voyage. After a hot shower, however, it feels a good bit better, but still a nuisance. I believe my pillow has been too flat, which is part of the problem, so I stacked up two pillows last night, and this morning it’s 50% better than usual.
The food is way better than I expected: lots of vegetables in the form of salad bar and steamed; usually a very good soup; some form of meat (chicken, pork, beef) and fish every day. There is always potatoes in a variety of forms; a way decent dessert (which can be dangerous over time).
My main problem is water. The water is ocean water that goes through reverse osmosis and is then chlorinated. I grabbed nine 1.5L bottles of sparkling water in the port before we left, and I am running out today (which is fine, since we arrive in Greece tomorrow), but I would say that I’ve been somewhat dehydrated all trip. I can drink the ship water, but it’s not very tasty.
Back to schedule. After dinner, there is programming. I’m a Resident Director (RD), which means myself and our team of six is responsible to create community on the voyage. So, during the day we’re often planning, and then at night we’re running programs. After that, there is beverage service–akapub night, as the students call it.
We have to be on pool deck to make sure no shenannighans occur, such as students hoarding beer or wine to take back to their cabins and get d-runk. It’s two hours long, and it’s certainly the most boring time of my day. That takes us to 23:00, or 11pm, and my work day is complete. (Technically, I’m only on alcohol duty every other day while at sea, so not terrible.)
After that, I usually stroll to The Fritz Bar, which is the staff and faculty hang out. It’s a bar. I do it more to be social than to drink, although someone has been continuously buying me drinks, so…
The bar closes at midnight, and by then the ship is getting really quiet. Being an introvert, I adore the silent times; so instead of going to bed, I just roam around the decks. I stop and get to know some of the crew, who are from all around the world: Nepal, India, the Philippines, Honduras, Costa Rica, Ukraine, Bulgaria, etc.
The crew doesn’t socialize too much with students. Since my role is part of the overall safety of the students, I have a reason to get to know them more intimately than most in other Semester At Sea positions. I am curious about their lives and their families; what they do when they get to port; what they do on their off time on ship.
Not surprisingly, most of the crew doesn’t seem to have a lot of time off–either at sea or on port. What’s most striking about the crew, however, is how disciplined they are. The ship is run by a captain, who runs his vessel like a military commander under Maritime Law. There is a strict hierarchy on board. The crew is constantly doing training drills, so we hear things like Attention Code Bravo (fire), Code Black (oil/water pollution) and Code Blue (medical emergency) throughout our day. There is a 24-hour fire patrol roaming the ship, as fires are the biggest danger out at sea.
I hang out in the library, which has the only 24-hour snack bar on the ship. Roshan from India is always working nights there. Many of the crew have journeyed with Semester At Sea (S.A.S.) for quite a long time, so they are a great wealth of information about a ton of things. He tells me that I can’t get to certain part of Greece without getting on a ferry–even though it looks passable by wheeled-transportation on my map.
I’d say my biggest struggle has been how to approach my time on land, as we visit all these countries. It feels like such a great opportunity, and I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to make the most out of it.
However, for me, when I have too many choices, I sometimes go into paralysis mode and don’t plan anything.
So, right now I’m pretty much winging it in each country. I’ve done a little research on Greece. Part of the issue is that I don’t want to do the touristy thing. Some touristy things, ok. Things I do want to do: the Dali and Picasso museums in Barcelona; I want to sleep under the stars in the Sahara desert; I want to get into the rainforests in either Ecuador, Peru or Brazil.
Beyond that, I just want to get to know the soul of the place.
I don’t mind–and potentially prefer–doing ordinary things; i.e., seeing the everyday, common practices of people in a village or town. If I go to a restaurant, I prefer not to see English. I’ve spent a month in Europe when I was 20, and everything is geared towards tourists. I want to get beyond that.
Someone once told me, if you go to India, go without a plan; let her take you. When I went to Burning Man in 2012, I had similar feelings of overwhelm. I wanted to do it all, which was rather impossible. Someone told me: let the playa guide you.
I realize the risk in not having plans. But there is also so much opportunity. In our Global Studies class, one of the instructors shared: Plans are useless; planning, however, is invaluable.
I like that distinction.
I think it honors both tendencies within ourselves: the desire to know/control everything, i.e., to have certainty; and, conversely, to live in the unknown and to appreciate and be open to the mystery that is life.