“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” Mark Twain

Sunday, May 23, 2010

End of Voyage Memories, Reflections and Ramblings

This will be a long, wordy and quite a random entry so prepare yourself!!!

So I know that I have touched some on the time that was spent on the ship between Sea Olympics, Neptune Day, the Talent Show and numerous other programs, but unless you experience this community it is really hard to conceptualize. Having sailed before I thought I would be prepared for that environment and prepared to leave it but this was quite far from the truth.

The time between Brazil and home was filled with a whirlwind of emotions and took it’s tole on everyone. When we got back on the ship after Brazil we had a lot of students who were sick from being in the Amazon, some still recovering from being robbed in Salvador and most coming to the realization that our next port of call would be home. I would say that though there may have been some negative undertones this last week on the ship was a great example of the community that we had built. During this time we had final Sea Socials, the Alumni Ball, a Commencement Ceremony, a Day of Reflection and yes by the way the students had to take finals and hand in final papers. In case anyone may have forgotten the students were actually taking classes while we were at sea.

I will start with the Sea Social that I had for my sea. I had decided that I wanted to say some sort of parting words of inspiration but I also knew that if I were to do this without getting emotional I needed to write something down. Well that turned into a reflection on my experience on the ship which I wrote out and when I shared I did turn into a bumbling idiot and could not get past the first line without crying I believe there are some videos floating out there).
Here I am with a group of students from my sea:
I shared with them how grateful I was for the experience, how we were the only ones in the world that experienced what we did and we need to hold on to that. I shared some of what I learned on this “voyage of discovery.” I learned that I need to be true to myself, my feelings, my emotions. I have learned what I like to eat and what I don’t and I have also learned what I can live without because so many people are living with so much less then I am. I learned to forgive and let go which was a lesson that has only recently come to me. I learned some of this through spiritual dance, from places I have visited, interacting with the people I came across in different countries but most importantly I learned this from the people on the ship I had been with day in and day out for the past 4 months. These students that I was with were smart, talented and more worldly than I could ever imagine myself being even though I too have traveled the world. Lastly I shared that at that point in the voyage a lot of people were tired; physically, emotionally, mentally – that is why the voyage must come to an end but no one could ever take away what we have had together.

There was more to it and if you would like to read the whole thing I can share it with you individually; it is not something I want to share fully in this public venue.

I also sent this reflection to other staff and faculty that had an impact on my experience as well as students who were not in my sea. The response was amazing and quite overwhelming to be honest. I knew the effect that others had on me but to hear the effect that I had on them was quite overwhelming, humbling and affirmed the reason why I do the work I do. Not to do a Talent Show or plan the Sea Olympics (which were both a lot of fun) but to connect with and help the development of our students.  The moments I had on the ship that had to do with that; those moments that you can’t tally or really put into words that is why I do what I do and will continue to do this work.

When finals were finished we had something called the Alumni Ball which was an end of voyage dinner and dance. An excuse for people to eat a good dinner, dress fancy and dance past quiet hours! I think a great time was had by all and I know that I enjoyed myself.
The next day was a reflection day; a few of us from Student Life worked to put together some programs for all of the ship to participate in to start thinking about the reentry process, to reflect on their time on the ship and to start to think about how they would tell their stories when they are home. This day was filled with panel discussions, spiritual dance, collage, other programming sessions and the the day ended with Performance Reflection. This Performance Reflection was essentially one final coffee house that students signed up for in advance to perform a song, poem or story that they would use to reflect and to help others reflect on their experience. It was beautiful, reflective and a perfect end to a fabulous journey. For all of the other coffee houses students would be the hosts but because we (the staff) planned this day I volunteered to host this particular event. The thank yous I got at the end were incredible. What did I do, I put in an AV request, secured a space and then announced some names. No to them I provided a safe venue for people to share their creativity, an environment where any level of talent was welcome, a space that was free of judgment and encouraging of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. This final program truly represented what we all tried really hard to create all semester…community and I certainly did not do this alone.

On the last full day on the ship was the end of voyage convocation type program, though I was a little bit disappointed that our graduating seniors were not called up to the front of the Union, the professor who was chosen to speak, Mike Ellerbrock, a favorite of many on the ship, was inspiring, motivating and moving my criteria for any good closing speech!! Loren Crabtree, our Executive Dean, also spoke about our experience as being serendipitous and I had been looking for a word to describe how all of these amazing people were placed on this ship at this time, how all of the 'right' people were and serendipitous was the perfect word to describe our time together.

The day was filled with emotions as you can imagine. I had been encouraging people to say their goodbyes and share their final words with people they cared about before tomorrow came because that day would be a roller coaster ride. I tried to make sure I was also taking care of this and myself at the same time. I had many students who wanted me to write them a message in their journals and I felt this strong pressure to write some sort of motivating message, so I tried to write from the heart connecting with each individual who wanted this from me. I figured if they were asking then I had made some sort of impact on their experience.  I know that I am making an impact but it is really hard for me to realize the maginitude of that impact. I do not do this work for the thank yous but they sure do help you continue when you sometimes question why. I received a handful of goodbye/thank you notes and emails from some students and some of my colleagues/friends. There are two letters that I received from two women that lived on my sea that I had made a strong connection with and it was not until I read their words did I truly understand that impact that I had made on the ship’s community. These were not women who I had helped through some sort of traumatic experience or helped them answer the mysteries of life but I was just there for them, I listened without judgment, gave advice without being pushy and we listened to music and laughed. I guess that was all they were really looking for. This is in no way me trying to toot my own horn but more reflect on my impact (besides at this point I may be the only person reading this) and the impact that the community had on me.
The students in this pic frequented 'my office' which was the space outside my cabin:
Thank goodness for the laughter that we had on this final day as well.  All of the LLCs and the Dean's had been auctioned off to be pied and today was the day it would happen.  Here are some action shots of me being pied:
This picture was taken at a birthday party for Jenny and Andy's daughter Lizzie on one of the final days:
I am realizing that this very random entry is getting to be a little bit lengthy so I will talk just about one final thing; the day we arrived to Ft. Lauderdale. We woke the ship’s community with Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America” blasting over the loud speaker; some were highly amused, others not so much.
Here is Courtney the bearer of the music:
But this 6am wakeup call certainly got everyone’s attention. I was able to eat an early breakfast, watch the sun rise and watch us pull in to port. We pulled in around 8am to the cheers and banners of parents awaiting the arrival of their student’s.

I agreed to help throughout the morning which meant that I got to be present as everyone disembarked for one final time. What an incredible day full of a range of emotions. The gratitude I felt from the student after student that I embraced as they left their floating campus, their home for 4 months, and their new found family was so profound and amazing. In the grand scheme of life in any other space and time 4 months is insignificant but in this environment it was so significant. I am continually humbled by the students that I work with I always have and hopefully always will be and hope they realize that the impact that I had on them was just as great as the impact they had on me. Goodbyes were exchanged; some spoken, some through hugs and some through a gaze into each other’s eyes.

When I finally left the ship I was able to walk through customs answering the question “Do you have any food in your bags” with “I have some granola bars I started out with” and that was true. Thank goodness the bags were not checked!!! From there it was off to Starbuck’s with Midhun and Laura to decompress, drink some coffee (Oh how I missed Starbuck’s iced coffee) and make some phone calls. A few of us met up for one final meal of Mexican food (it was Cinco De Mayo) said our see you laters and then it was off to Boynton Beach, Fl to stay with my mom and grandma for a few days.

Final Thoughts (I promise):
The most beautiful sunsets I have ever experienced have been on a ship surrounded by infinite miles of ocean on all sides; watching the sun literally disappearing into the water. As I watched the sunsets on some of the final evenings I would think that I cannot believe I will never see such a beautiful sunset again. On the evening I was driving from Ft. Lauderdale to Boynton Beach leaving my new found friends and family to visit my mother and grandmother I saw a sunset that mirrored the ones I saw on the ship and then the tears fell. As I was driving and crying I suddenly became aware of the music on the radio…Knockin Heaven’s Door by Guns ‘N’ Roses and the clouds in front of the sunset looked like the heavens opened up and the sun rays were pouring out of the sky. It was a magical moment. Beautiful sunsets will not cease to exist because this particular journey has ended. There are so many more beautiful sunsets to experience… this was a sure sign that my journey had just begun.
Final sunsets from sea:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Salvador, Brazil - Days 1 and 2

Unfortunately, Salvador was not my favorite port (though I do not have a least favorite) and there are 2 things that contributed to this one was that there was a heightened sense of danger here and the second was that Rob, one of the LLCs, and his family had to suddenly leave because his wife’s father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was not doing well.  So they left from Salvador and returned home to be with him and their family.  They made it back in time to say their goodbyes and I firmly believe that when he heard they were returning he held on to say goodbye.  Having Rob leave has left a big void in our staff and saying goodbye before “it was time” was more difficult than I thought it would be.  I was pretty much a mess and had trouble controlling my emotions which I guess it is not a bad thing.  Since that was the 2nd day of the trip it definitely put a cloud over the rest of the experience.  I realized the importance of saying the things you always mean to say to the people you care about.  Also on the first night when I got back to the ship we heard stories of people being mugged in broad daylight that added to the negative energy here.  What is interesting though is as I walked around I never really felt unsafe, but I still kept my guard up and clutched my belongings wherever I went.  A lot of people left Salvador to head to Rio or the Amazon so by the 2nd day most of the people from our group were out of town.  If I do this voyage again I would probably opt to do one of those trips.

Anyway, there were some very good moments in Salvador and the old city area was beautiful and like I said I felt safe almost the whole time we were there.  The first day in Salvador I headed off of the ship with Laura, Marvel (one of the counselors), her daughter Siphan, and their friend Gayle.  We had been talking about repeating our time together that we had spent in Tokyo and since this was the last port this was the day!!  In order to get from where the ship was in the lower area to the higher area we had to take an elevator up.  So we did this and headed to the old town.  We stopped first for a delicious cup of coffee and then moved towards the Pelourinho area. 

As we were walking in and out of shops the sky opened up and luckily we were stationed in a shop where Marvel was making a large transaction (she was buying soccer jerseys for Siphan’s soccer team) so we planted ourselves here and watched the rain go by.  Recently in Brazil there were some major mudslides in Rio and even this area has been affected by it so when it rains it pours and the heavy rains really effect living conditions in Salvador and around Brazil.  Also because of the way the city is built on many hills with cobblestone roads the rains flow into the favellas (the poorer areas, their equivalent to townships) and effects the poorer areas more so then those in affluent communities.
A coconut payphone??

This is from a graffiti artist I was really drawn to:
When the rain cleared we kept walking and ended up at an Italian restaurant, shared some dishes and then waited out the rain again!  Luckily this was really our rainiest day and the other days would prove to be dryer.  On our walk back we stopped in Pelourhino square to watch a video being filmed for the Brazilian World Cup team.  The band Olodum (who are huge in Brazil – they were in a video with Michael Jackson) and Brazilian popstars Jammil were part of this video shoot as were some of our students.  It was fun to see some of the students dancing in the video and hopefully I will get to see the final product at some point. 

We left this area and Laura and I parted ways from the rest of our group and walked around some more, taking pictures as we went.  We ended at the restaurant, Cantina da Lua, which was named on a blog as the best bar in the world.  Now I have been to a lot of bars in the world and it was fine but I would not say it was the best ever.  I did try my first caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail…does the US have one??) which is this mojito type drink made with cachaca (a liquor made from distilled sugar), muddled sugar and lots of lime…it was quite tasty.  After running in to some students there they insisted we tried what they were eating and we both ordered it.  The traditional Brazilian dish was called escondidinho and Laura described it as some sort of shrimp and grits like dish. The gritlike substancecwas made from cassava and we ordered one that had shrimp and the other with chicken.  After this great traditional meal it was back to the ship for me.

Day 2

Debbie (an LLC friend), Allie (a Field Office friend) and I left the ship in the morning to walk around a little bit because the plan for the day was to meet up with some other people around noon when they were done with some trips and then head to the beach.  Part of what we went to see was the Igrega e Convento Sao Francisco (San Francisco Church) which is second in richness to the Vatican in gold. 
When we returned to the ship is when we received the news about Rob and his family leaving.  So we changed our plans and went back out to the old city to walk around so we could be back on the ship by 7pm so that we could be part of a little going away celebration. 
More Salvador photos:

We went to this little Coffee Bar/Bar that was owned by a man that Midhun had met the day before.  We sat there for some time chatting and getting advice from the bar owner.  It was a really great way to spend an afternoon when the mood of the day started out so crappy. 
Here is a caipirinha being mixed up:
The graffiti artist also painted a mural in this bar (I wish I knew the artist's name):
Before heading back to the ship we went to a “tapas” restaurant that he recommended called Zulu.  The menu was definitely interesting but we ended up getting fries with chorizo (cut up hotdogs), Nachos (Doritos with cheese sauce…why don’t we use Doritos for Nachos!!!), and potatoes with garlic cheese dipping sauce.  This satisfied our need for bar food! 
Back to the ship for the going away celebration which of course was sad and this is when I sobbed much!  Afterwards Midhun and I attempted to go out but when we got to the bar/club we were looking for it looked kind of sketchy and we did not see any other taxis outside so we decided to come back to the ship…so much for going out in Brazil.