Fifty-eight days from now, the MV Lara will depart Istanbul on the first-ever three-year (see note below) “live-aboard, work-aboard” around-the-world cruise! The residents, commenting and messaging with each other on the Resident Only website (The Portal) continue to build excitement since the trip was first announced on 1 March 2023. Some of the residents are cultural and diplomatic pros, some are well-traveled, some are traveling for the first time outside of their respective countries, and the rest cover the entire spectrum of experiences, ages, and (it seems) personalities between the outliers.
As usual, the plethora of comments back and forth on The Portal span the breadth of questions, opinions, fears, hopes, well-thought-out issues, and some things that seem ridiculous until one considers that some of these residents don’t have any experience doing something of this nature with their lives, and they just want to understand. And, of course, there are always personalities … we won’t dwell on that.
But there is genuine value to be mined, buried in the ore of words, even though it requires patience and tolerance to sift through the metaphorical overburden. Until someone figures out a way to have everybody draw from the same experiences, have the same tolerance for ambiguity, consider the same things “respectful”, and have the same degree of compassion for “the other,” we will always have to settle for the ineffective best we can get.
It’s pretty much like all of recorded history, actually. We humans are a mess (in my humble opinion) and we do the best we can, most of us trying to get to something better, whatever that means to each of us. The ideas behind this trip are creating a microcosm of the world on board a ship. And there is a community to be built.
It is, in fact, pretty cool!
Just dealing with all the myriad details necessary to be on a trip like this is keeping the residents, and the Miray staff, very busy. There are so many things.
Just as one example, for instance: how to get a visa from China. Here is just a sampling of the challenges the residents, and the Miray staff, are facing. It’s been very simple for some, very stressful for others, and has brought us regular folk in touch with geopolitical realities. For many of the residents, it is the first time this international stuff has been real for them. For instance: some residents/applicants for visas have been turned away by the Chinese embassies until they come back with an official itinerary (must have the Miray logo) that shows CHINA as the country for Taiwan—not just Taiwan. That political terminology is not just in the news reports for the residents, it is affecting our lives. And embassies are not all the same! Some Chinese embassies are anxious to help, friendly, and understanding. Others are, ummm, not. But for MV Lara to even enter Chinese waters everyone on board must have a visa (at least as I understand it from Miray), even if they are not disembarking. (I’m not sure about the crew. Don’t ask!) Of course, MV Lara doesn’t enter Chinese waters until 20 Sept 2024 if you go by what the itinerary now has to say about Taiwan being a part of China, and 27 Sept 2024 if you measure it by going to Taizhou on mainland China. The ship then visits South Korea and then back to China on 11 Oct 2024 until 8 Nov 2024. The point is, it’s a year from now. But visas must be procured (depending on what you hear and the individual you speak to) with an in-person visit to a Chinese Embassy, possibly even only selected Embassies or Consulates (I’m still not sure about that one). Or you can hire a Visa service. And how do we visit an embassy if we are at sea? Most of the give and take is from folks based in the U.S.A. so the information is only indirectly useful to those of us who aren’t in the U.S. Oh, and some Chinese embassies/consulates require a copy of the ticket to Istanbul, not just the ticket from Miray.
And it goes on and on, just for China in this case, but you get the idea. Sheesh. You are most definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
While China may be the most intricate/difficult with visa requirements, we are visiting 147 (the exact number depending on what you look at) other countries as well. You can imagine. Even if the actual situation is not nearly as complicated in all of them (many don’t require a visa at all, depending on your passport), one still has to consider what COULD impact the residents with each country’s specific rules as regards citizens of each specific passport country. Oh, and things may (my guess is that they will) change in the next three years! That’s a long time. Many residents sound like they expect it to be like the U.S.A., and/or be completely predictable, or expect Miray to take care of everything even if they don’t have any control over it, and I’m afraid that some folks are in for an enlightening experience over the next three years.
Or maybe you don’t need a visa at all if you just stay aboard the ship? Nice thought but it seems that some countries won’t even let you enter their waters unless everyone on the ship has a visa, even if you don’t disembark for the day.
And that is over and above what is necessary to get our own houses/cars/families prepared for a three-year absence.
In my specific case, due to some required therapy for a health situation that popped up a few weeks ago, I won’t be able to go on the first year of this trip, dammit. But I’ll say more about that, later. I depart from Cape Town on 29 September to return to the U.S.A. for about a year (unless something changes) and plan to join the trip in Alaska in August 2024 if at all possible. All of those preliminary plans depend on what happens during the next year from now, of course. But that’s what I’m planning on. (Hmmm, there’s that word—“planning”—that I disparaged in my last post!)
Putting a house up for lease in a small town in southern Namibia surrounded by hundreds of kilometers of sand on one side (The Kalahari and Namib deserts), and by the Atlantic Ocean on the other side, just isn’t the same as leasing out a house located almost anywhere in most of the other continents, except Antarctica. But I plan to return here after the cruise. (There’s that word again—“plan”.) The house is also, most probably, a good investment given the possible future for Oranjemund. I’m going to write more about my town, and Namibia, on my other blog www.WITWIA.com (that’s from Where In The World Is Andy). Check out that site to learn a bit more about Oranjemund, Namibia, me, and the people of Namibia. There’s also a bit about the U.S. Peace Corps that brought me to Africa in 2015. I’ve not been good about new posts for the past couple of months while I sorted through this health thing. But I’m back!
Of course, it is possible that I may not return for four years, not three, since I have been given the opportunity to shift my three-year journey with the MV Lara to August 2024 through August 2027! Apparently, Miray intends to send the ship on another around-the-world saga when it gets back from this trip. If I have the money, that will be a very attractive possibility to me and to some others I’ve spoken with. Oddly, to me, some people really think it sounds horrid to spend even one year on a ship!
(NOTE: On 1 September, Miray announced it was planning essentially an endless cruise starting 1 November 2023. Fare has to be purchased in three-year blocks which you can sell part of to someone else if you want. You can board in a number of places, and at various times, around the world. But the ship will just keep on sailing! I think that is very cool, and if finances and actual experience justify it, I can see living aboard essentially forever. Contact Miray for details about the voyage and their plans. https://lifeatseacruises.com. Tell them Andy sent you!)
Living as an expat in Africa for the past eight years, plus a fair amount of international travel the 40 years before that, has sensitized me to just how different things are in the U.S.A. and many other “Western” countries from the rest of the world. Unfortunately, my personal feeling is that so many of us raised in an environment of privilege take it so for granted that we don’t even understand how much that privilege has blinded us to the conditions in most of the world. As an intellectual understanding, sure, but not as a visceral experience.
One minor thing that I’ve noted in the comments on The Portal from LASC residents is the expectation to know exactly what is going to happen. Questions or comments like “Will we have washcloths provided with the towels?”, “What time at night will we need to meet a tender in ports requiring one?”, or “I don’t really like the towels hanging above the toilet.” (in a VERY small bathroom in each cabin) seem unduly detailed to me having lived in a culture (rural Africa) where almost nothing turns out the way you expected it to, and it takes attention and effort just to live.
These comments are, of course, a reflection on my own predispositions and I’m sure some of the residents will have negative reactions to what I write. Learning to coexist in a relatively small space with hundreds of strangers for three years will uncover challenges and provoke reactions in ways we can only dream of at this point. All too often we concentrate on selected portions of those dreams as mini-nightmares. But the truth is that in most such situations as many wonderful things come up as “less positive” things.
I have always wanted to “live the magic in the midst of reality.” That’s not determined by how reality is structured, it is up to me. If you’re having a hard time with that concept, watch Nightbirde audition for “America’s Got Talent” (Nightbirde’s AGT Audition), and the video about a group from half a world away responding to Nightbirde’s message (Mwansi Youth choir Tribute to Nightbirde). They are both extraordinary and move me to tears whenever I watch them. The emotion comes from a deep yearning for connection. The Mwansi choir is from Johannesburg, which (if you follow international news at all) is a hotbed of some very serious problems throughout all of South Africa. In many ways, it is a true nightmare. But not in all ways, and the Youth Choir is testament to that.
South Africa is just across the river from my home here in Namibia and I have many, many friends from SA that I did not know eight years ago when I first arrived in Namibia, naive and way too sure of myself. In many ways, Namibia and South Africa are linked and very similar. But they are most definitely not the same. I can’t help but want to show all of you how absolutely cool and impressive Africans can be. Even if you don’t like AGT you can appreciate the the Youth Choir from Johannesburg. I get to work with people every day who have the same kind of spirit within them that the Mwansi Youth Choir so magnificently brings to us all. And I’ve seen singing and dancing groups from small villages here that are just as impressive but aren’t in the environment of the AGT stage and theatre. We get to see how this group of youth from sub-Saharan Africa was affected by one young woman, Nightbirde, singing an original song. What a blessing.
The Life At Sea Cruise experience, and the community that will result from it, can be an equally strong reinforcement of all that is good in humanity. Or it can be a reflection of the nightmares some of us assume is everyday life. I’m sure both will be always at hand. I deeply regret not being able to be part of the first year but can hardly wait to be part of years two and three, and maybe four, and maybe more. Who knows what the future will bring? One thing is for sure, it will bring opportunities, and not all of them will be realized easily.
In the meantime, damn but there is a lot to do in (for me) the next three weeks! I depart Oranjemund for Wichita, Kansas, in the U.S.A. I’ll be close to the Veteran’s Administration Hospital for medical therapy over the next year. Then to the cruise. So I’m leaving for a minimum of three years, two months, quite likely four years, and who knows how much longer than that! And I have three suitcases. I’ll keep you posted!