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A Month Later!

Published on March 2, 2020 by in Uncategorized

It’s been almost a month since I wrote a real post! I had intended to “catch up” by writing about each adventure in Vietnam, Malaysia, India, and so forth but our voyage has been overtaken by the worldwide coronavirus scare. We’ve had to skip right past many countries we’d hoped to visit and rework our courses over and over to match the ever-changing itinerary.

Having given up all hope of “catching up” or “keeping up,” here’s a brief update:

  • We were in Vietnam for 12 days: Feb 4 to 15
  • We sailed for Malaysia on Feb 15 but decided almost immediately to skip both Malaysia and India to avoid becoming a “coronavirus pariah” ship
  • Instead we sailed past Singapore Feb 17 and then stopped for fuel only (nobody stepped onto land) in Malaysia on Feb 18
  • Then we sailed 8 days across the Indian Ocean to the Seychelles Feb 18 – 26
  • On the evening of Feb 25, less than 8 hours before we were to dock, Seychelles denied us entry to their country because of coronavirus fear
  • We then sailed to Mauritius, planning for another “fuel only” stop Feb 29 and then to push on to Mozambique March 5
  • We were surprised and delighted that Mauritius allowed us to land Feb 29 and spend 5 days ashore there!
  • We went ashore Feb 29, but there’s no place to park so no we are anchored offshore teaching until March 2
  • We now plan to be onshore in Mauritius March 2 – 7
  • After Mauritius, we plan to skip Mozambique (which wasn’t originally on our itinerary anyhow) and sail on to Capetown, arriving March 14

Along the way, we have had many adventures – some glorious, some terribly sad, with lots of confusion and anxiety.

The entire ship enjoyed a crazy wild party day of “Sea Olympics” Feb 18 with events such as chess, synchronized swimming, capture the flag, basketball, table tennis, a geography bee, and limbo. (see pics below)

We crossed the Equator in the middle of the Indian Ocean on Feb 23, and had another shipwide celebration of “Neptune Day” on Feb 24. (see a few pics below)

We’ve also worked incredibly hard. I’ve personally been ridiculously busy every single day.

Since we only teach at sea (not in the countries), we’ve taught and taught and taught. Every change in the ship’s itinerary means faculty pretty much tear up our course syllabi and reschedule the rest of the semester. I’ve now completely lost count with how many times we’ve done that!

We had a round of midterms, including an incredible effort to hold an in person exam for all 560 students in Global Studies that used every room on the ship and convulsed the whole student body with test anxiety and marathon study sessions for a week. This involved a stack of multiple-choice tests 16 inches high and almost 1700 essays, for which we’re still wallowing through the grading process. (see pics below)

We scrapped lectures about China, India, Malaysia, and Seychelles. We built new lectures and tried frantically to weave a coherent story of the voyage that makes academic sense and achieves the learning objectives of the courses.

The field office staff scrapped hundreds of programs in one country after another, built new ones from scratch with unbelievably pathetic internet and telephone access, only to scrap them again and start over. This has happened repeatedly, and the three heroic people involved look bleary and sleep deprived in the corridors.

We’ve been buffeted by the worldwide epidemic of fear and isolationism, by frightened parents demanding that their kids return immediately from an isolated patch of Indian Ocean, by students weeping openly in corridors, by drunken misbehavior in some ports, and in a few cases by people actually parting ways with the voyage.

All this chaos and mayhem has been conducted in sweltering Equatorial heat and humidity. Students take study breaks lying in the Sun by the tiny saltwater pool, becoming extremely sunburned against the advice and admonition of their elders.  

A wonderful counterpoint to the chaos and humidity has been the enveloping physicality of the tropical Indian Ocean – the clouds, glassy sea, achingly beautiful sunrises and sunsets. The stars at night are lovely in the deepest dark. New constellations for me to learn, a sweeping view of southern Milky Way I’ve never seen before, and hundreds of students and faculty with whom to share the cosmos.

The best part of the voyage, for me anyway, has been the experience of living with my students and colleagues 24/7. So many stories! So many trials and tribulations and so many ways to connect! So wonderful to weave academics and social interaction and mentoring and friendship! I’ve never experienced anything like this except maybe as a student and TA in geology field camp in 1984 and 1985.

The lack of internet connectivity is a constant issue, especially when I have to scramble to build new class material over and over again. The students saturate the satellite bandwidth all day every day, so I often wake at 4 am to download images and readings while they sleep. People get snippets of news about the outside world and rumors fly through the ship.

Somebody’s parents called CNN and NBC, and one of our students was interviewed on live TV by satellite phone about our weird semi-pariah sea stranding.

Through it all, we’ve been led by an incredibly hard-working team of people. They balance the academic mission, our health and safety, international ports and immigration, panicky parents, and upper administration back home who make final decisions about everything. They do this by holding middle-of-the-night telecons because of the 12 hour time difference between the ship and the home office back in Colorado.

I have posted hundreds of photos to Facebook, but mostly with just little captions rather than substantive blog posts. I still have aspirations to post about Vietnam, Neptune Day, coronavirus, Seychelles, living-learning communities, oceanography, and astronomy.  Including just a few teaser pics with this post – see much much more on my Facebook.

Maybe I will. But I needed to get this one out just to keep the blog alive.

Be well!

 
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