I cannot believe I am sitting here one month later writing the last installment of my Peace Boat adventures. It literally felt like just yesterday I was on board the ship laughing my lungs out and working hard with my youth ambassador family.
So what was life like on a cruise ship? What did we do? Was anyone sea sick? Were there any on-board romances? Was I going mad? I have been bombarded with these questions ever since the program ended. Hopefully, this blog will shed some light on these questions and more!.
What did we do?
We had a series of on board activities, seminars, workshops and port preparation tasks which were intense, informative and fun all at the same time. As mentioned in the previous blogs we stopped in Granada, Spain, Tangier, Morocco and Ponta Delgada. Before arriving at each port for our respective activities we had to prepare our roles and speeches each time nailing it like true professionals. At each port we welcomed renowned guest speakers on-board , who shared their knowledge, experience and meaningful life advice with us so we can go forth and be effective leaders of change. In no particular order we welcomed:
Laura Hildebrandt-Global Policy Specialist at the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). She informed us of the history of the SDG’s, the SDG Action Campaign and the tremendous impact the SDG’s are having around the world. Laura’s husband Jeremy Hildebrandt, also joined her and graced the passengers with a delightful jazz concert influenced by every country he has been to.
Jeremy Gilley- Founder of the Non-Profit Organisation Peace One Day. He is an actor turned filmmaker and peace activist that is responsible for the recognised United Nations International Day of Peace on September 21st. He shared with us the importance of developing a “go getter” attitude that forces you to take leaps of faith and continuously knock on doors until one opens.
Brandon Levy-Program Director at Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA). Brandon’s sessions dealt with human wellbeing in terms of emotional, mental and spiritual in order to facilitate conscious leadership and personal development. He also spoke on the work of SOA, their upcoming activities and how to address ocean health. What really stood out to me from his sessions was the concept of “systems thinking”., An example he used that stuck with me was “If a revolution destroys a government but, the pattern of thinking still exists then that government will just be recreated”. I found that to be extremely thought provoking! Understanding a system and how it works, its resilience, its strengths and weaknesses is the only way we can break that system and create real change.
We also had a series of sessions with Peace Boat Staff and individuals completing the 101th voyage. Jasna Bastic, Peace Boat Staff and Journalist, joined us for an insightful debate on white privilege and how it relates to Greta Thunberg and her climate change strikes. We discussed the fact that many youth, activists and leaders from small island developing states and underdeveloped countries have been tirelessly advocating for climate change and being ignored but, when a young European girl raises her voice she has the attention of the world. Jasna highlighted that the message is currently shifting from climate change and its impacts towards Greta the individual.
Kumata Kaoko the co-founder of Community Organising Japan, an NGO, focused her session on her passion for social and environmental issues, as well as the techniques and skills needed to be a confident, effective communicators and the tools needed to gather like-minded people to take action. Lastly, we were joined by the Yosakoi Dancers where we had the honour of learning the Yosakoi Dance, which is a traditional Japanese Dance performed at festivals and major events. By the end of our dance class we were professionals ready to take any stage given to us.
Apart from the formal sessions mentioned above we had many closed sessions, sharing about our country, our work and our passions. One session in particular put our artistic skills to the test as we had to draw each other and state what was in our head, our hearts and what skills we possessed. It is safe to say that some of the drawing were an eye sore, we were young brilliant minds but none of us except Elsei had any true artistic talent. Without the names listed on the drawings there was no telling if the drawings were humans and who exactly they represented.
We also had the honour of meeting the Captain and touring the bridge seeing exactly what it takes to sail a magnificent ship like the Peace Boat. Honestly I must say, it was dam cool !
One of the main perks of the program was being able to share our knowledge on climate change, oceans, sustainable lifestyles and our culture with the passengers on the ship who were mainly Japanese and Chinese.
Coming from small island developing states our cultures could not be any more different, yet through our interaction with the students of Global University which is a short term intensive educational program that takes place on board we discovered similarities in our food choices, hobbies, family life and more. It reminded us that as human beings we are all connected.
In sharing our cultures with the passengers we taught them our respective traditional foods, lifestyles, main attractions, traditional clothing and of course traditional dances. As a true Trini, I had to highlight our many hiking locations, carnival, steelpan, doubles and wining (gyrating). After explaining the concept of wining and demonstrating there was a loud “OHHHHHHHHH” from the audience as I moved my waist, it was very funny. Through the effortless work of our CC’s (Communication Coordinators-Translators) we were able to bridge the language barriers and connect with the passengers.
So what was life like on board for us?
We were a group of young adults with little to no wifi, it was a struggle! Internet on the ship cost approximately $22US for 100 minutes. It was super expensive and didn’t work very well because we were out at sea. Due to this face to face interaction was a must. At first I didn’t think I could do it, I was convinced I would’ve lost my mind without Wifi but, being out at sea and making genuine human connections was actually extremely rewarding and a pleasant change.
What did we do to pass the time?
Nat introduced us to a very popular Asia card game called “Big 2” that we played obsessively. Nat, Elsei, Jeo, Epa and myself were severely addicted ! Somewhere along the lines we started playing for stakes where the loser had to either respond to very personal questions or do a dare. Let’s just say the dares were hilarious! For example, Epa had to use the word hamburger in his presentations. After being addicted to Big 2 for some time Nat then taught us how to play Mahjong which is a tile-based game originating from China. I kid you not, this game did not like me, we played at least 30 times and I never won.
One of our most memorable bonding sessions was during our Kava ceremony introduced to us and performed by Epa. Kava also known yaqona or simply grog in Fiji is a mildly narcotic drink made from mixing the powdered root of the pepper plant (piper methysticum) with water resulting in numbing feeling around the mouth, lips and tongue and a sense of relaxation. The taste was a little overpowering for me but the cultural exchange was deeply appreciated and bought us even closer as friends as we laughed and shared many stories.
Our hangout spot was on the 8th floor either at the free space or CasaBlanca Bar. The only problem with CasaBlanca, was that we had to purchase an item to sit in that area. Like true islanders one of us would purchase one drink and we would all sit there for hours. I truly think we frustrated the staff at times but I also think deep down they loved us.
Coming from Small Island Developing States we were accustomed to food! All sorts of well-seasoned, well portioned varieties of food which unfortunately was not the case for the ship. There were three restaurants on board, one on the fourth floor which was formal and served Japanese cuisine while the other two were on the 9th floor serving a mixture of Asian and Western Cuisine. The guys would forever try to ninja their way into the fourth floor restaurant inappropriately dressed, each time failing miserably. Lord alone knows why they didn’t just conform to the rules upfront. Many times due to the portion size Nat, Epa and myself the food lovers (greedy ones) ate two lunches and two dinners accompanied by green tea or black tea. I have honestly never drank so much tea in my life, but this was the norm for the passengers so…. guess who became a professional tea drinker?
Unfortunately, the pool was closed for our entire time on board because the ocean was mostly rough. Almost every day over the PA system we would hear in English, Japanese and Chinese, “The boat is rolling and pitching please be careful”. Most of the ambassadors got sea sick with the rough waters and some even caught what we termed “The Japanese Flu”.
Despite the pool being closed, the Jacuzzi was open and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there making friends with one guy in particular who, basically lived in it and is now formally known as “Jacuzzi Guy”. There was also an onsen on board which essentially is a nude Japanese hot spring. This wasn’t for me but Elsei gave it a try and described the experience as liberating and relaxing.
Last but not least is Bahia. This was the on-board club. We had Karaoke here, singing hits from the Backstreet Boys, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley and more in the most off key manner possible. We also had our Island Party here, introducing the passengers to music from our cultures and dancing the night away!
You may thinking but Khadija, you didn’t spill the tea on any on-board relationships and crushes. Well ….. what happens on Peace Boat, stays on Peace Boat! For our last official private session, we each signed each others picture boards and shared kind words.
Hello New York-World Oceans Day !
This is where the Drama for me begun!
Remember that Japanese flu I mentioned previously well as soon as we docked in New York I was Ill! New York was all about pace and World Oceans Day so despite not feeling 100% I had dig deep as we made our way to the United Nations HeadQuarters. First, we witnessed the official opening ceremony and celebrations of World Oceans Day where Epa had the honour of gracing the stage with Hinano Teavai-Murphy, president of the Association TePu in Tahiti to share mythological stories from their home nations in the Pacific, all related to the Sea.
After which we proceeded to a side event hosted by Peace Boat US in collaboration with the UN Office for Partnerships where global youth leaders highlighted local initiatives for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) featuring Daniela Fernandez, founder of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance and Tre Packard, founder of the PangeaSeed Foundation. Ash, Nathalia, Epa and myself had the privilege of speaking at this event on the panel entitled “Global Youth Perspectives from Awareness Raising to Action for our Ocean” where I highlighted the importance of using the technology and tools that connects us to raise awareness.
We then hastily made our way to the Explorers club, an international multidisciplinary professional society founded in 1905 to promote scientific exploration and field study. Elsei graced the stage along with a young ocean hero and the Assistant Secretary-General to the United Nations,sharing on the environmental initiatives that her country is carrying out. .
The day was not done yet. It was back to the Peace Boat for the official reception for the UN for World Oceans Day, where we had to perform a dance choreographed by the super talented Pua incorporating dance moves from Tuvalu, Fiji, Seychelles, Palau and the Caribbean. Remember I mentioned earlier I was ill by the time all the dancing was done I had to excuse myself for an hour to regain strength and continue socialising. For dinner that night Chema, our program director, blessed us with some good old fashion New York Pizza!
The next day was going to be no different, except we were officially disembarking from the ship so I attempted to pack my suitcase that night and recover. Unfortunately,when I woke up I felt like death! I could not move, my body was in total shambles, I was nauseous and in desperate need of a Sprite to settle my stomach. Pua and Nat went through trials and tribulations to get me the Sprite which I was eternally grateful for as it allowed me to move and get ready.
The Peace Boat was going to be buzzing with activities and I was super excited to watch my fellow ambassadors, Nat, Nathalia and Elsei talk on panels, enjoy interactive booths and socialise with inspirational leaders in the oceans industry like Dr. Sylvia Earle and Fabien Cousteau. Unfortunately, I missed all of it, every last activity. I was unable to attend because I was in bed, body trembling, burning up, coughing like a chronic 85-year smoker, head pounding, paralysed and crying my eyes out as I thought I was going to meet my maker. Eventually, I got medication, we disembarked the ship, checked into our hostel and got dinner.
For our last official day, it was all about 4Ocean and the beach clean-up at Rockaway Beach. I still did not have much strength but I wanted to attend and I was glad I did. It was absolutely moving to see teenagers, adults, children and families, working together to clean up the beach. At the end of the official clea-up, Elsei and Nathalia spoke to the audience on behalf of the Peace Boat Ocean and Climate Youth Ambassadors and we shared with them a “hype” chant from the Pacific led by Epa.
Our activities were done; the program was officially over! As we journeyed back to Manhattan we explored Central Park,Times Square, enjoyed a group dinner and returned to the hostel for drinks and games for one last time. I think deep down we were all not very good with goodbyes and it was understood. The following morning, we all parted ways, sad that we were leaving but hopeful we would meet again soon.
Life on board the Peace Boat was truly a memorable experience that we would all cherish forever, as it brought us closer together as an ambassador family, allowed us to form fruitful connections and facilitated an enriching cultural exchange amongst ourselves and the passengers. I can safely say the Peace Boat is engraved in our hearts and we are all extremely grateful for the opportunity to have been on board such a magnificent vessel.