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Behind the Looking Glass

Mozambique Channel (West of Madagascar) - Februrary 21, 2008

all seasons in one day 85 °F

[map=113435 lat=1.4210854715202e-14 lon=-2.8421709430404e-14 zoom=1.98]
TSS Life is a social experiment of grand proportions, owing to the fact that we’re each other’s captive audience and most of the people on the ship are cracked if not fully broken. A faculty member, R., and I were talking, and he theorized that most people on the ship – students, staff, crew – are running away from or running to something. I think it’s true, even for me. With some few exceptions, most of the shipwide community are either infantile or poseurs. It's like the Biosphere in here. ("In 1991, 8 people for 7 countries were placed in Biosphere 2 to live for 2 years. They survived despite communal and agricultural problems. A second crew entered after them for 2 years, but due to ill-prepared plans and a series of social problems, they soon subjected the experiment to ridicule).

The careerists, mostly of the intercultural communications ilk, are running towards some imaginary glorious finish line and ruining it for the rest of us, armed with masters degrees that they think mean something. Yet, I’ve never met more culturally insensitive people than these so-called “cross-cultural” experts. Naïve as a lot, they are convinced that they are plying their trade and working in their field, but they don’t know dick about dick.

The faculty are just as bad. They don’t want to listen to anybody; they only want to talk. It’s impossible to have conversations with most of them because all they do is yammer away, expelling hot, fetid lectures, during which you can’t get a word in edgewise let alone breathe.

The crew is unhappy because the management (not TSS proper but a group called Seahawk) treats them like dogs; many have left though for them to have been here in the first place suggests that “out there” was nothing but a void for them. Take my cabin steward as an example. He’s a year younger than me with a wife and young children in his Latin American homeland. There he was a professional, working in the banking industry. But he makes three times as much on the ship, scrubbing my toilet, folding my sheets, and running the vacuum for months at a time. Meanwhile, it’s like the old mine system (or like Macy’s corporate as I once found out). With the cashless system on board, everything comes out of our accounts. A soda the crew bar costs $1.00 a can. The crew get minimal breaks during long shifts and are lucky to be able to get off the ship for a few hours to see the sights of each new port, even if we’re there for days at a time. One crew member told me that she requested enough leave to visit her family, who lives two hours from one of our destinations. She hasn’t been home in eight months. The Man said no.

The Executive team is largely ineffective. They struggle to create policies that they are too timid to enforce, but their ever-present to hear any and everyone’s concerns 24/7. There are a handful of good kids/students, but they’re dwarfed by the rich (mostly American) spoiled brats who’ve come along for a Club Med vacation and the handful of Aussie kids who would slit a throat for a grade.

Since Seychelles, which has only been a few days, people are starting to fall apart. A faculty member and I have started a betting pool between ourselves on who will totally lose it and who will merely teeter on the edge without falling over. Couples that formed at the beginning of the voyage are splitting, and suddenly all the girls are gay, which some announce by making out with their new squeezes in public. Staff burst into tears when asked “how are you?” and students erupt into angry but impotent tantrums I haven’t seen since the likes of Elena Garcia Byrne Simon - who is two and a half years old.

As if he’d read my mind – or the bones of this writing - a student came up to me as I was typing this and said to me: “You seem like you’re becoming unglued like the rest of us. Is that true?” I smiled and told him he’s projecting.

Yes, some students are feigning illness strictly for the prospect of a sanctioned 48-hr. quarantine, but that can’t get them out of their mid-terms. (Oh yah, that "doctor" is still here. Today I gave myself a headache by focusing on his eyes as they bounced up and down, from a female students eyes to her breasts as they engaged in casual conversation by "the cooler.")

Another faculty member told me that she feels like she’s reliving all of her past patterns on the ship. I agreed. We’ve all reverted to our oldest and most perverse (because they’re outdated) modes of survival. For some that means pushing others away, for some it means exhibitionism, some drink and some stuff their faces (which could explain why I had lunch twice yesterday, though I wasn’t very enamored of the offerings).

I’ve had students and staff come to me in tears or near tears saying that they’re so stressed or feel like they’re having a nervous breakdown. Me – I wake up, workout or meditate, rush to work, work from 8 to 3:30 (ironic how bloody close that is to a “real” 9 to 5”), go out on the upper deck for anywhere from half an hour to 2 hours (reading, meditating, watching the water), eat dinner (often, though not always alone), and then usually retire to my cabin to read, write, go to sleep or on rare occasions watch a movie or hang out w/ visitors that may happen by my door or who may invite me to their cabins. How closely this mimics my life in SF during those last hellacious months, except that now I’m used to it and at least here the scenery changes when we arrive at new ports.

There are a handful of people – both staff and students - who feel the way I do to a greater or lesser degree; we all kind of stick to ourselves rather than banding together, but like those flying fish that veer from the pack, I guess we’re the individualists. I think we all know that none of us can save anyone except ourselves.

I’m not too worried about it to tell the truth. It is what it is. The bottom line is that no matter what seedy or misguided things happen on the ship, we’re still sailing around the world. Nobody is going to feel bad for us, and I don’t think any of us want that anyway. I just want to enjoy what I can of the experience, though every rose has it’s thorn. But we've survived the short-lived Norovirus outbreak and this morning's Full Moon Lunar Eclipse (which was obscured by clouds); it's likely we'll survive everything else that comes with this voyage. We're even skirting a cyclone as I post this.

I have yet to have settled on a fixed feeling about it all. Some days I just wish it was over already so I could move on; some days I hope it will never end, though I know it must. Sometimes I yearn to go “home,” though I’ve no idea what that means. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself or even afraid because I not only do I not know what “home” means, but I’m all too aware that whatever it is, I don’t have it. Other times I know exactly what home means, and I just miss my friends and family.

Every moment is a grab bag of fleeting thoughts and emotions that pass like the clouds on the horizon. I see myself planting myself somewhere for five months and then going on the September voyage, and then I catch myself and wonder what the hell I could possibly be thinking because this hasn’t exactly been a cake walk. I’m not even so sure that I will be invited back. Then other times I’m cocky enough to know that I will definitely get a call back but not so sure that I will take it. The truth is I don’t know dick about dick right now. And that’s okay. I suppose that’s why I’m here. In a Gadda Da Vida, baby. Such is life.

Posted by mpho3 05:36

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