Crossing the Atlantic OceanLulled by the gentle, Atlantic swell we glide eastward. It’ll take us four days to get where we’re going. After more than seventy days of port hopping we’re all kind of glad to be out on the open again. Four days isn’t much, but it’s four days without maneuvering and for and aft and bolting down the doors in dubious ports. The engines rumble along and all doors are wide open. Padlocks sway idly on hooks. Here and there are clothe lines with laundry and tool bags safely left in corners during coffee breaks. For four days we’re an island.
I remember crossing the Atlantic for the first time, in the late eighties. I worked on a reefer ship that ran bananas from central America to Europe. My first port on the other side was Almirante, Panama, a tiny fart of a town consisting of nothing but dilapidated shacks. We were warned not to go ashore because the Americans were rounding up the general, and had the locals all stirred up. We went anyway, of course. I remember that utterly exhilarating sense of being in another world. I was not only in another country with another climate and on another continent, I was in a kind of place that didn’t exist in the northwest Europe where I came from. People cooked their meals on fires outside their huts. They congregated and made music during work breaks. There was very little electricity and there can’t have been much television. As far as I can tell, the people of Almirante were blissfully unaware that the Americans were thought to have them all stirred up.
A lot has happened since then; I’m afraid I lost count a bit. The wall came down soon after Almirante and eastern and central Europe broke open. That same decade Yugoslavia spiraled into a civil war and Belgrade got shot to shit by the NATO. Kuwait was liberated and a decade later Irak was democratized. Afghanistan was in there too somewhere. In the mean time, six weeks old newspapers became condensed versions emailed to the ship by the home front first, later by the World radio.
Now we’re headed east. We going to Africa; west coast first and then into the Mediterranean to the north African shores. During coffee breaks we watch CNN because these days we have satellite receivers on board. We have telephone and internet, just like everybody else. That is to say: perhaps not in Libya. Who knows what goes on over there? All we know is that they’re getting the shit bombed out of them. CNN makes us believe that they have what was coming. Just like all the others. Evildoers! Mad dogs of the middle east!
Perhaps somewhere in Libya people still cook their food on fires in front of their houses. Maybe there are even still a few who gather to make music during work breaks. If that is so, then they probably also let their clothes out to dry on lines, or tool bags in corners when they go off on breaks, without having to fear that someone will come to swipe them.
I hope so.