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Jeddah → 70°E
sparkles
amw
May 15 - Day 7 - The Breakdown

Breakfast: grilled cheese and peach
Lunch: chicken and vege broth, beef roulade, gravy, boiled potatoes, mixed veg (cabbage, peppers)
Dinner: "chicken fricassé" (white sauce), rice, white asparagus

In port.


We pulled in last night close to midnight. I poked my head out the porthole and was immediately blinded by searchlights that i was convinced were pointing directly at me. Even at night this port is intimidating. In the daytime it's worse. Cop cars drive up and down more frequently than container trucks, seems like. The cook - R - warned me not to take photos as well. The cook! I'm guessing this crew has had some bad experiences in Jeddah. No one is permitted to leave the ship.

R was also sad that we won't be getting any pork for the long haul from here to Malaysia. He apologized for the quick n dirty breakfast - grilled cheese and canned peach on toast. This is actually the most interesting thing i've eaten yet, though i didn't tell him that. Mainly because i would never have considered putting peach on a grilled cheese. Just to clarify, the peach slices were under the melted cheese. It seemed like something from trashy_eats, and was surprisingly delicious with some Tabasco and a coffee. Anyway, the breakfast was a rush job because the steward got called up to man the gangway and most of the rest of the crew was working since last night. R seemed a bit miffed that his man had been taken out from under him - the cook is not just the cook but also the boss of the steward - but i guess someone pulled rank. Maybe the port authority.

I decided to do laundry today. A side-effect is that i am now wearing my sole modest T-shirt. The dock workers are all South Asian immigrants so they probably don't care, but at least the patrolling cops won't be exposed to naked shoulder porn. All of my other tops are tanks, you see. They are currently hanging next to paint- and oil-spattered coveralls in the "drying room", which is essentially a very hot pantry with horizontal bars instead of shelves. My underwear is hanging up in my shower cubicle. First time i've used my washing line since i left Berlin, or - more likely - first time i've used it since Namibia. Ali Travel Tip: forget the towel - bring a washing line everywhere. Any time you stay in a room for longer than 2 nights, string up the line then wash your stuff in the sink with shampoo. By the third day it'll be dry, or sooner if you're in the tropics.

R said the next stretch is the "holiday" part. I presume he means after leaving the pirate waters. He said the guys play basketball somewhere on the ship. I am guessing it is below deck. I went below deck - briefly - a few days ago. The ship is hollow. Well, obviously. But what i mean is, although some of the rows of containers extend down below the deck, other rows of containers are suspended on a steel frame, and underneath are large spaces that look like cathedrals housing huge coils of rope. The guys were cleaning so i came right back up and have stayed in my cabin to avoid getting in their way ever since. But i would love to go down there again. It's like a set from Alien.

I'm an unusual passenger, i think, because i don't run about disturbing the crew or taking photos of everything. R asked if i was lonely in my cabin. I said no, and that being alone is one of the reasons i wanted to travel this way in the first place. We talked a bit about what it was like to work here. 9 month contract appears to be the standard - i guess they work 9 and then spend 3 at home with the family. He said when you do this for months at a time you're desperate for internet at every port. But he also said there's something calm about being at sea, and that he loves the work. I can understand that. Aside from the solitude and peace of being at sea, there is something really great about jobs structured in this way. It would be so nice to not have to feel guilty about quitting a job when i need freedom. Your contract is 9 months and that's all it is. Your duty is clearly defined and there are no expectations or obligations outside of that. It's how work should be. Of course i know people who work these sorts of jobs in real life and they are always worried about money (outside of America) or both money and health (inside America). So it might be one of those grass is greener things.

Though... man. The idea of having a clearly-defined endpoint to every stretch of work sounds amazing. Perhaps when i inevitably go back to work i should look at being a contractor. Historically i've had a low opinion of contractors because they don't truly commit to the company and thus half-ass the job, but i don't need to be like that. I could work like i always do - giving 100% to the company - just with the comfort of seeing a light at the end of the tunnel for a change.

God, thinking of having to work again just made me physically nauseous. Honestly, i don't know what the fuck i am going to do when my money runs out. Being forced back to some country where i have work permission, having to find an apartment again, having to show up every day... It's imprisonment, the absolute worst thing that could ever happen. I am almost in tears. Fuck this shit. Fuck work, fuck borders, fuck everything.

I am going to disappear into my Kindle. I just bought a lot of books.


May 16 - Day 8 - The Duck Experiment

Breakfast: scrambled egg, "luncheon meat", tomatoes
Lunch: fish broth, roast duck, gravy, boiled potato, red cabbage
Dinner: baked white fish, white sauce, rice, onions and ginger

At sea.


We only pulled out of Jeddah around 5 this morning. The whole mood of the ship has lifted since we set sail. Even the surly Russians cracked a smile. Today we get back our liquor and porn.

The duck drama continues, however.

R was given permission by the captain to perform an experiment with a duck from Greece and a duck from a US supplier. He is really smarting about the failure of the last roast duck. Apparently he has a secret recipe and the previous captain said his duck was the best he'd had on all the ships operated by this firm. Dude grew up on a farm and his parents raise poultry, so it's personal for him. This lunch is going to be the face-saving lunch - and potentially evidence the captain can use to pressure the firm into switching suppliers. I hope it works out well. To be honest, i am probably not the best person to judge a good duck from a bad duck, because all unprocessed meat just tastes like something a caveman would prepare to me - sustenance, not cuisine - but i'll try my best.

-o-

I was just lying here looking at the ceiling wondering about life. How no matter what job i had i was never happy. My last two jobs were balls-deep in all that startup nonsense which - despite the pay and perks - is an industry segment that makes me ill. It's felt far dirtier than working for a company whose customers included extraction companies, or even building gear for the NSA. I feel like i can't put more of my life into the techno-libertarian wet dream that is the VC/startup/dotcom/high-tech "scene". But even if i picture myself doing something else - anything at all - i can't get over the nausea that accompanies the thought of being forced to show up every day, being forced to deal with immigration, sign a lease, open a bank account, all of that bureaucratic bullshit and confiscation of freedom. I know at some point i will need to go back, but the thought of it horrifies me.

I have to keep telling myself it's a waste of now to worry about then. I know in a few months i will be out of money and i will have no choice. I will be trapped again. But right now, for this tiny, fleeting moment of my life, i am free. Maybe tomorrow we will be boarded by pirates and i will be dead anyway. So i need to enjoy today, enjoy this moment, enjoy the peace and freedom of not owing anyone anything. When - if - i end up back in chains i will deal with it like i always do - drink, drugs and bloody-minded grit. But not today. Today i am free.

-o-

Duck update: i may not be a connoisseur of roast duck, but eating skin and flesh that falls off the bone feels marginally more civilized than clawing and tearing it off. I feel a bit bad that i don't have the gene that lets me truly appreciate this stuff but i'm still happy. Sitting here sharing the food of burly men at sea is not nearly as uncomfortable as having to smile and nod while J's family served up Ashkenazi cuisine every high holiday. Both desperately bland eating, but the context is different. I am happy now because i'm free, even if every moment isn't a peak of ecstasy. Freedom for me is about freedom from obligation, it's the freedom to be able to sit back and just let life happen. Sometimes what happens is shit, but it's infinitely better to experience shit in freedom than to experience pleasure with strings attached or - worse - shit with strings attached. There is such thing as a free lunch, just sometimes that means you have to eat duck.

Cruising across the Red Sea at a speed we haven't hit since the Med is amazing. I still can't see the sky. It's been white haze on all sides since we popped out of the Suez. It's very hot. It's very loud. There is nothing to do. But that's okay because we are on the way somewhere. This is everything life should be.


Clocks advance 1 hour.

May 17 - Day 9 - Silver Booty

Breakfast: "milk rice", fruit
Lunch: cauliflower soup, deep-fried fish, rice, salad
Dinner: "beef goulash" (red sauce), noodles

At sea.

Security level raised to 2.


We are slipping through the gap between Yemen and Djibouti. My cellphone helpfully reminded me i am still in Zone 3, but there aren't any data bars. Next shot for news will probably the Strait of Malacca. Coming up is the Gulf of Aden, home to the most notorious pirates of the last few decades, though it's pretty much under control these days.

I wonder what the captain thinks of this transit? After the Suez he said it was interesting to see passengers' reactions because to him - to the crew - it's "just another channel". This channel is far, far wider than the Suez, but i can see mountains stretching up on both sides. You can tell you're in a chokepoint because suddenly you're not alone on the water any more. Container vessels and cargo ships and the odd navy patrol ship floating about. Sometimes even dinghies with just the silhouette of a few figures aboard. Pirates? Fishermen? Just some buddies out for a day at sea?

The air is thick. It's raining now, though so lightly it's hard to differentiate from the humidity. Briefly the sun peeked through and i marvelled at the shadow of my own fingers hovering above my Kindle, trying to conjure a signal and the Wednesday morning paper. But no data will come. That's okay. There is salt on my lips and every moment i spend outside twists my hair into tighter knots. I feel like a pirate too, on my way to Singapore.

-o-

The sea is like a blanket of pure spun silver. The sky is clearing and the low sun is dazzling. Today i can see to the ends of the Earth. She's beautiful.




Clocks advance 1 hour.

May 18 - Day 10 - A Little Drunk

Breakfast: ???
Lunch: chicken and vege broth, roast chicken, gravy, french fries, mixed veg (cauliflower, carrot)
Dinner: "frikadel" (burger patty), potato salad, pickles

At sea.


I slept through breakfast, thanks to jet-lag, but that's okay. I had a pear and some bread at coffee time.

Through the Gulf of Aden we huddled close, eight cargo vessels all headed east-north-east within line of sight. This morning we are well into the Arabian Sea - the Indian Ocean, really - and the threat is gone. So is our convoy. The way the ship moves in the ocean recalls the comfortable embrace of drunkenness. Sometimes you catch the wall. Sometimes the wall catches you. Eventually you learn to miss the walls and feel at home in the rolling space between.




Clocks advance 1 hour.

May 19 - Day 11 - Womb to Grave

Breakfast: apple pancakes
Lunch: tomato soup, deep-fried fish, rice, salad
Dinner: spaghetti bolognese, garlic bread

At sea.


I just made the tail-end of breakfast today. I think advancing the clock combined with the security constraint that my portholes must be covered is messing with my rhythm. We have jumped ahead to Bangladesh time and we haven't even reached the Maldives yet. Even still, the sun would wake me if it could squeak a ray through. When i have my own pirate ship i will rig my portholes to open at dawn. Lying on this mattress in darkness with the gentle thrum of the engine feels like rollercoasting in a great mechanical womb. I haven't slept so well in years.

-o-

I am getting old. Several times in the past couple months i have tried to climb up a thing and it cost far more effort than it should have, hurt my body far more than it should have. Most recently, the drivers' chair of a lifeboat. We had an evacuation drill and they thought it might be fun for me to jump up and start the engine. It wasn't much of a lift, but i barely made it. I can't lift my own weight. I've always had trouble doing push-ups and even at my fittest have never been able to do a chin-up. I pretend it's some kind of physics thing that tall people just can't, but really i am just feeble. I am long and heavy so can kick smaller peoples' asses, and i can walk for days and days, but scaling something even chest-height is extremely difficult. If i let someone lift me i might as well be dead. My heart might still be beating but the moment i can't go it alone, i'm done.

I keep thinking to myself... is this the last chance i get to travel like this? Will i still be able to climb 5-storey gangways and navigate a dozen rolling, pitching flights of stairs in 10 years? In 5? If i can't, what's left? I don't contribute enough to society to make it worth anyone's while keeping me alive. Once i'm too old to enjoy life, it's up to the kids to enjoy it for me, for us, for humankind. I hope i still have the good sense then to get out of their way.

-o-

And then the sun, a neon pink suggestion of a disc behind gunmetal clouds. It's okay if i die today.



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You have made me think about what freedom is -- and isn't.... How much of it is inside of one's mind and attitude, and how much of it is circumstances. It's a bit of both...

Maybe "freedom" is really an illusion. Or - we have to define what it really is. And, it probably means different things to different people.

You are right that the requirements inherent in earning money puts parameters on one's life. They say that "Money is power", and "Money brings freedom", but it comes at a cost. You are chained to the job's location, you can't roam at will. Your time is regimented: when and how long you spend at work, and by the responsibilities of your job. Inherent in this is being a part of a community, at least in some fashion, if only the work community. But - then ... not having money is also imprisonment in a much different and more ominous way.

I think what happens to most of us is that once we amass a little money, we surround ourselves with sometimes useless possessions, houses and "stuff" without thinking of the consequences. They are what imprison us - tie us down. With our two houses, I know about this way too personally. This reality was rudely shoved onto us when our one house was damaged in the hurricane and I saw what having excesses has done to us.

I think freedom definitely means different things to different people.

I remember reading an article online about cargo ship travel and the writer compared it to being in prison. Clearly actual prison would be much worse, but there are some superficial similarities - you can't leave, you have to eat at very specific times of day, you don't get a choice in the food, you don't have internet, you spend a lot of time looking at four walls... I can understand for some people that would feel awful, whereas for me i found it liberating. This is why i think an important part of freedom is the ability choose whether to do a thing, regardless of whether that thing is restrictive.

You know my feelings on stuff :) Even if i didn't find stuff suffocating to me personally, i also find amassing stuff gratuitous when we are living in a world that is suffering so greatly from pollution and climate change. Reducing consumption is an action anyone can take to help fix that. That said, i do believe that for some people those posessions are not useless. Being surrounded by stuff can aid mental health, by helping people to feel more at home or more secure. I think it's okay for people to amass stuff if it truly makes them happy, i just hope it's done consciously and not for compulsive or competitive reasons.

So, choosing to work to earn money so you can buy stuff, i think that's a choice people should be free to make. Privileged people in our society enjoy that choice, so yay - go us. The problem is that if you don't want to buy stuff, if you want to choose a different path but still enjoy the bare minimum level of human dignity - having free access to clean water, fresh food, sufficient shelter, education and information, good health - then many countries don't provide that (especially not the US). That's what forces people into the labor market, or - if they are blocked from it for reasons of structural racism etc - then into under-the-table work or criminal endeavours. And, in my opinion, no one should be forced into a lifestyle of either work or crime just to maintain their dignity. I think there should be base level of social support that empowers people to make these sorts of decisions freely.

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