Breakfast: "milk rice", canned fruit
Lunch: mystery gruel (meat scraps, lentils), stir fry pork, rice, mixed veg (cabbage, peppers, ramen noodles(!))
Dinner: "seafood stew" (shrimp, white fish, surimi in sweet'n'sour sauce), rice
This place is wild. To starboard, farms and small towns. To port, sand dunes. Desert as far as the eye can see. Fore and aft, container ships. There must be billions of dollars worth of goods coming through this waterway every day. And then, down 7 storeys, 8 storeys - however tall this ship is - a tiny fishing boat. Just one guy and a pair of oars and his fishing line, bobbing about in the wake. And over there, nestled in the dunes, a little village out in the ass end of nowhere. Kids in robes wave up at a crew that probably doesn't even notice they're there. I noticed, but i am back in my cabin, sitting on the desk.
There is a city, somewhere in the middle. Families are playing on the beach. An imposing tower shaped like a dagger rises from sand. It's a two-lane highway, in places. Sometimes, where the dunes are high enough, the other channel is hidden. All you can see is desert, with stacks of containers implausibly gliding across it. Are we in Egypt, or in noman's land?
You are reminded of your prejudice when you see pickup trucks speeding down a dusty road with guys in the back and you immediately think "technical". Played too many military games set out here. Welcome to de_dust2. It really fucking looks like it. On the other side of the border wall there are farms and palm trees and settlements. On this side? Desert, abandoned buildings, rusty containers, crates, watchtowers. Guys in technicals. I feel like i should be marking targets and invading a base. It's surreal. Eerie.
Some of the dunes here have grown so high they cover the wall, or reach to the top of the watchtowers. Further north i felt like i could take photos relatively openly, but along this stretch i feel like i'd get shot for even trying.
We just entered the Red Sea. The last 12 hours were some of the most remarkable of my life. The whole transit is so artificial, so alien, it is difficult for my brain to put it together. A convoy of gargantuan ships floating down a ramrod-straight canal in an otherwise inhospitable desert. Is that speck really a guy in a rowing boat? Are those really kids sitting on a buoy, fishing? Why did they bother irrigating and farming right next to the border wall? Why is there a border wall anyways? How fast are we going? Are we stopped? Suddenly everything is the same in every direction. Immense structures: a suspension bridge, a swing bridge, power lines hanging high above the desert, leading off to nowhere. Tens of huge vessels anchored offshore, waiting for their spot in the convoy heading the other way. A floating dry dock? The perspective feels all wrong. Things seem too big, too small.
Traveling through the Suez drives home just how radically we have altered this planet. But also how much remains untamed. And how very small each individual one of us is.
Sign of the day: "Kindly put all your pornographic materials (CDs, magazines, calendars, HDDs, USBs, phones), beer, wine, whisky and the likes in the box provided at crew mess hall. This is to respect religious tradition of Jeddah." Dear God, this has gotta be the run from hell. A day of freedom crossing the Med, then immediately drop anchor and wait to navigate tensely through the Suez. Then you get out of the Suez and immediately need to surrender everything that makes life fun because of puritans in Saudi Arabia. Then you get out of Saudi and hit pirate waters. Good times.
Fortunately, i have no porn. Unfortunately, i do have beer. Well, i did. If i was working i would probably be more upset at having my alcohol confiscated. Because i am not working i don't really care other than the principle of it. This antediluvian nonsense is another reason Saudi tops my personal shit list together with Israel and several other nations in the region, united only in their ongoing efforts to justify systemic oppression as aboriginal or pious. But Jeddah is our next port of call, so what can you do? Glower out the portholes and try to send cosmic vibes of revolutionary empowerment to the women and free-thinkers of the nation? Traveling this slow makes it clear how very big the world is. Sadly much of it is still really fucking awful.
Clocks advance 1 hour.
May 13 - Day 5 - Beer and Tanks
Breakfast: scrambled egg, "luncheon meat", tomatoes
Lunch: egg-drop soup, roast chicken, gravy, mashed potato, spinach and tofu
Dinner: "beef casserole" (bo sot vang?), boiled potato
Jesus. They even need the garbage to be locked away, because empty beer cans in private cabins are against the law. Captain says don't take any photos. The no photos law applies in every port and canal internationally, but some places enforce it harder than others. I said you guys must be glad to leave. "Well it's only 24 hours. This is very close to Mecca, so it's important to Muslims." That level of tact is why he's the captain. The steward nodded affirmative and rolled his eyes when i asked him the same thing.
I don't even want to go outside when we get into the port. I feel like these zealots would probably file a complaint that my shoulders were showing. I am respectful of differences of religion and cultural tradition, but i have little patience for countries that enforce laws that so flagrantly disregard the UN Declaration of Human Rights. No country is perfect. America, for example, is an international laughing stock when it comes to the right to health, and its treatment of people of color is shameful. But even in America women can wear a tank top and drink beer without being thrown in prison.
Let's be honest. Most of my political sympathies are not based on lived experience. Racism, for example, i find completely unacceptable, but i will never experience it in the west the way a person of color will. (The east might be a different story.) I am a white, upper middle-class, English-speaking Brit/Canadian, thus have enjoyed great privilege pretty much everywhere in the world. Even being gay - or trans - is something money and whiteness usually trumps. Outside of immigration woes, it's rare that shit ever gets personal for me. Which is to say a country has got to be pretty far down the hole if it does.
Of course i'm not being oppressed at all right now, i'm just sitting on a boat in the Red Sea, but just the thought of having my clothes policed is giving me severe anxiety.
I think tonight i should watch Escape From LA.
May 14 - Day 6 - Admissions of Guilt and Ignorance
Breakfast: fried egg, frankfurter sausage, tomatoes
Lunch: beef and vege broth, fried white fish, rice, eggplant
Why are we still at sea? We dropped anchor well over 12 hours ago and have been floating in what i presume is international waters. GPS tells me we are close to the coast and there are birds overhead, but my phone has no bars and all i can see around us in the haze is more water. I guess there is a traffic jam in Jeddah.
Here's a little secret. While i was sitting on the boat in Piraeus, i opened up my Kindle for the first time since leaving Berlin. I only had a couple of books downloaded to it, but i didn't really care because i am quite content to do nothing for hours on end. Every long bus ride, train ride, ferry ride i had had up until now i just stared blankly out the window, wrote a little bit, enjoyed the world around me and the inside of my mind. So i didn't expect to read any books, or watch any shows, or play any computer games. Maybe learn a little Mandarin. But when i opened my Kindle, i noticed that it had 3G connection, and that it could still make purchases from the Amazon store...
My phone hasn't had internet since i left Germany, so i have only had short bursts of connection in the morning before i leave my hotel and in the evening when i return. Enough to read the morning paper and briefly update LJ, basically. Seeing the bars on my Kindle, it occurred to me i could subscribe to The Guardian, and then while at sea i would get an update on the news every time we came close enough to shore to get some bars. Of course i subscribed.
A big part of going on this voyage was to get away from the internet, to have a break from all the histrionics, but here i am, reading the Sunday paper with what - to me - seems like explosive findings that Mercer and Bannon and all the alt-right crony capitalists illegally manipulated the Brexit campaign, meanwhile Trump is continuing to act like a petulant child and the American government is pretending like this is all business as usual. Probably the next time i get an update will be a week or two from now, so the cycle will have moved on. By the time i get real internet to post this entry no one will care any more. Either way, despite my original intention of disappearing into the mist like a seafaring hermit, i am now glad i have a bit of insight into what's going on in the world.
I could probably also find out what was going on by going up the bridge. But the crew there is at work. I don't want to disturb them. I hate it when people interrupt my work. I don't check my text messages, i don't pick up my phone. Work is work. Boss pays you for 40 hours, you give him 40 hours. No distractions. It drives me fucking nuts when i see colleagues using work hours for personal business. I know there is some kind of socially acceptable amount of dicking around that employers allow at work, so i tolerate it and act like it doesn't bother me, but it does. Work is a duty, a commitment. Socializing with your colleagues is important because a team that gets on well together will do a better job, but socializing with people outside of the team is - in my eyes - disrespectful of the contract you signed and undermining the core principle of employment, which is that you are being paid to work, period.
This mindset is probably why i keep overachieving and then quitting to go on sabbatical whereas other people merrily continue their wage slavery for 50 years straight. Work will never, ever be a pleasure for me. It is an obligation i am periodically forced into because society is too fucking backwards to provide everyone with a basic income and the freedom to live how they choose. I resent every minute of it, but i do take the duty very seriously. I know most people don't. Probably keeps them saner than me. Maybe i should talk to the crew.
These are days i never expected. Just sitting out in the middle of a flat expanse surrounded by mist. It's like the world is upside down. The ground is blue. The sky is white. The horizon is much too close. Occasionally there is an outline of another ship. Occasionally my phone has a bar and a text message helpfully informs me i am in Zone 3. There is not any sun, just brightness. Brightness from above... below? We're motionless in purgatory. Odd.
Coming up on 24 hours anchored in the neutral zone. This is so weird.
I had my first Sunday buffet. I think i ate more garnish than anything else, but God it was nice to have a meal composed solely of things i would normally eat. I just hope the steward or someone in the crew grabbed the icecream that was sitting next to my plate when i got to the officers' mess. I didn't like icecream before i started eating vegan, and i sure as hell wasn't going to eat it on my first opportunity to pick my own meal. I had rice, fruit and vegetables. Nuts up in my cabin to pad it out a bit. I can't tell you how good it feels. Light, fresh, delicious.
I don't understand how people can be happy eating meat and two veg every day. It's like living in a parody of working class England from 40 years ago. I didn't think anyone still ate like this in real life, though i guess i'm pretty ignorant to what people eat in real life because i never eat at people's houses. I almost thought it was a calculated snub when i read about Trump feeding Xi Jinping steak and carrots and chocolate cake. What kind of wack politician wastes a state dinner on something so basic? Seriously, it's like some kind of bizarro culinary nightmare. I'd fucking call in an airstrike too if some asshat served me that garbage.
I live in such a bubble.
My favorite not-vegan things i have eaten so far are "luncheon meat" - which is basically a thick disc of meat-like substance that tastes like spam - and "milk rice" - which is, i guess, rice porridge. It's interesting how now, eating animal products again for every single meal, there is so little i miss. It's not that anything is cooked badly, it's just all so bland. Aside from salt, every ingredient that adds appreciable flavor is plant-based, so the animal products just come across as gratuitous. I do wonder what they put in spam to make it so delicious, though. Washed and salted pig might be the exception that proves the rule.
Here's something i am missing right now. A fucking beer.