“OHMYGOOOD, look over there!!!”
Our excited voices reached an unexpected pitch, that distressed in turn all the dogs running freely on the beach in Freemantle. We’ve finished our day of wandering around with Millie and Josh - also shopees on board our ship - bare feet buried in the white sand, passing a spliff with the leftover weed David managed (once again)totally on random find somewhere last night, and just after he cleansed a giant boulder of Azurite that he got in the hippie market in town earlier (to assist us with the upheaval we’re going through at the moment) in the sea, we’ve spotted dolphin fins slicing rythmically through the sunset waters close to us, with their massive rubber like bodies jumping and flipping in the air every now and then. It may be the weed, or perhaps the Azurite, or just a desperate wish, but I feel like if jumping dolphins are not a good sign, I don’t know what else is, and just for a moment, my heart feels a bit lighter.
We were shaken up from sleep this morning by captain’s annoucement sounding through all the cabins. Due to the unprecedented scale of corona virus pandemic forcing border closures around the world, we cannot continue with our World Voyage and must instead return to our home port in Southampton UK as soon as possible. Mauritius, Reuninon, Cape Town, Tenerife, Madeira cancelled. The rest of our planned travels in between UK and New York also axed.
Majority of passangers will be disembarked today and tomorrow, sent home from Freemantle, or kept in hotels in Australia until it’s safe to do so. As for the crew, we’ll be staying on board the ship for the next 25 days of continuous sailing to England, but with all the on-board shops closed, it’s unlikely we’ll be asked to work. I wonder if they'll at least give us some free internet time, cause to be asked to further load money into the ship’s company by paying for the wifi usage, so that we can stay in touch with our families currently self-isolating on the other side of the world, sounds even more orwellian than this whole wacky scifi plot the world is currently experiencing.
This is not coming totally out of the blue, of course. Earlier in February, all of the Asian ports, we were meant to visit, got cancelled in order to prevent any possible contamination, just after the first corona reports, leaving the majority of our cca 3000 passangers disappointed and frustrated. Even more so, because there was no one to blame and no one in their right mind could really question Captain’s decision to speed up from Sri Lanka directly to Australia, skipping on Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam & Singapore. Those, who planned to disembark from any of the Asian ports, had to stay longer on board. Those, who only get time off work when in port - like us in the shops - had to do seventeen twelve hours shifts back to back, no exceptions, no extra money. So, next time, dear passangers, when you feel like offloading your frustrations onto any of the crew members, think twice, cause we ain’t got any room service, cinema, spa, jacuzzi, planetarium, dance classes, gala nights, fruit bowl arranging workshops...or Netflix for that matter.
Our itinerary had been further dissected as we went sailing along Australia with the corona pandemic (and more importantly the subsequent panic) spinning more out of control every day. A big number of enraged guests got together to pen scathing letters and lawsuit proposals, there’s been some secret meetings and talks of riots and all sorts of other pleasantries stemming out of panic, fear, but mainly - greed. This, of course, was not helped by the fact some genius in our company’s headquarters proposed to fill the half-empty ship by offering heavily discounted vouchers for a voyage around Australia. I’ve heard from some guests they got cabins as cheap as $37 per night, which is obviously not vibing greatly with our other World Voyage guests who paid $80.000 for their trip. One of these bargain hunters, this chavy tattooed older lady with a lisp, then went on selling her story to Daily Mail in UK, and appeared on the News (which as we know value scandal more than facts) complaining about a mistreatment she suffered on board our ship: forced into quarantine because we’ve got corona virus on board and continue to lie to the world about it. She's got her pocket money (that will hopefully buy her a new bra) and her 15mins of fame, even though there’s no corona and no quarantine. I remember this lady very well, she was loud, wore no bra, and kept quizzing me on when we’d have the $15 sandals out on our promo tables again, and thus presented a stark contrast to our aristocratic pearl-clad clientelle shuffling around supported by diamond encrusted walking sticks.
I felt bad for our ship’s company that’s experiencing an unprecedented PR crisis at the moment, but after today’s announcement I’m more worried for us. Our employer has a duty of care and will do their best to re-patriate all of the crew upon arrival to England. Both France and Czech closed their borders for foreign nationalities though in the meantime. In the current pandemic state, we cannot be released to roam freely around Britain (which had - whilst we were on the sea - also geniously split from the EU). They’ll sit me on the plane to Czech Republic, David on a plane to France, where we both must stay in a 14 days quarantine, no indication as for when we’d be able to see each other again. Is this a film?
“Well, we wanted an adventure…” muttered David and hugged me tightly after the ship’s announcement. I gasped:
“Oh my god, do you think we have caused this?”
You see...After coming back to UK, we were meant to do more than two months of transatlantic voyages: back and forth between Southampton and New York, with only 4 half-days off in a month. The rest - 8 days of 12 hours shifts on the Atlantic crossings one way, few hours respite in New York, and another 8 days back. And again. I don’t need to tell you - we were not keen on this. We don’t make nearly enough money (the times people came to work on ships to save money and come back home minted are long gone, people. We work for cca $800, commissions included and no matter how many work days we get. This is not a joke.) to justify losing two months of our lives to hard labour and no prospect of travelling in exchange. But to finish our contracts two months earlier would only be possible if we resigned, which in turn would mean we could never come back for a possible second (and hopefully much more pleasant) contract.
“Don’t worry,” we kept reassuring each other in times of desperation: “We’ll find a way how to not do the New York without having to quit. Some way out will present itself.”
And boy, did it present itself, on a global zombie-apocalypse level.
It’s our first day on sea today. We were meant to change status from ‘cruise ship’ to a ‘cargo ship’, carrying only the crew back to our home port in UK. But a large number of our passangers either declarred medically unfit to fly, barricaded themselves in their cabins or missed their flights from Australia on purpose, so some 400 is travelling back with us - so very ‘medically unfit’ that we observed in horror as they slipped into the full evening gala & sipped champagne on the upper deck watching the sailaway from Freemantle last night. And of course, now we have to open the shops for them every other day, so no - the work never ends. I guess it will at least provide some much needed distraction for us, which is something I’m already dreading in regards to our passangers, because with no onboard credit to spend, and no places to spend it at - casino, cinema, bars and restaurants, gym and spa - all of the facilities will remain closed - I give them a week before the riots start.
In Europe, people are queuing to buy toilet paper, in US it’s guns. In Czech Republic, government instructs people on how to create funky surgical masks at home, even though the rest of the world already know they’re useless in preventing the spread of corona virus. Trump, of course, remains completely consistent by calling it ‘That Chinese Virus’, regardless WHO’s warning such language intices racism, hatred and paranoia (his main political weapons). And interestingly & ominously, in all of this, we hear absolutely nadda from Russia. Hmmm…
In November, we have left our comfortable lives in London to bravely jump outside the safety of our comfort zones, to swim in the wild and uncharted waters and see where the current will take us. Our idea was to go and meet the world, to meet ourselves out there in the world, and to allow ourselves the luxury of suspension, from which - hopefully - a much clearer vision for our future would crystalise. It’s hard to believe this was just four months ago. In the meantime, the world has changed rapidly and will continue to do so for a foreseeable future.
We have left our home to become citizens of the world, but the world is on fire and there’s no home to return to.
And with only one thing left to do. Keep sailing. In the chrysallis-like suspension we so longed for back in London, shedding the old ideas about life & future, stripping off the outdated forms of being & preparing to finally meet the world, after our arrival back on shore, to a landscape of human experience forever marked by what has collectivelly happened to us in 2020.