This morning I woke at 9am in the hostel room that had been my home for a month all those weeks ago. I walked out onto the veranda and looked at the cruise ships majestically resting in the port like well fed posh show cats being carried around in hand bags. The same glamorous cruise ships a couple of months ago I looked at and yearned to be on, the ships that I would of done anything to be working on – the cruise ships I did everything to be on!
So how did I feel looking at them? People have asked me if I was disappointed leaving my contract early. The answer is simple, no. Life is too short to be doing something you don’t like, even though I wanted it for sooooo long, this is not reason enough to stay doing something that doesn’t fulfil you. This is one thing I took away from my Paraguay chapter, you have to do things that make you happy, and if you’re not happy, make change.
There were times yesterday when I was working with all the smiling faces that I had spent all my waking moments with over the past couple of months and thought to myself “I could stay on and work” – why is it when you are leaving you think you could do more and forget all those times where you wanted nothing more but to leave?
But that was short lived, as soon as I exited the port gates like a prisoner walking into the free world after serving a sentence I felt a sense of freedom! I watched the floating cage head out into the Beagle channel for another 11 day sentence, and I was glad I was not onboard. I knew exactly what my work mates would be doing, masking their tiredness with the same smiles they had used that morning to farewell the guests only to welcome the new guests.
But the one thing I felt more than anything, was privileged. In a previous post I used material from my editor (that sounds flash – by the way he hasn’t edited this post as he’s away at the kiwiburn music festival so you have to put up with my spelling mistakes) about being privileged.
I felt privileged leaving the ship as I was in the position where I had a choice to leave, I have other options to earn money and have a quality lifestyle and be with my girlfriend and friends and visit family or go and travel. Whereas my fellow Filipino work-mates, they do not. Everyone has a choice, but not everyone has the options available.
OK, so what I’m I trying to say here. The ship’s dining room and galley team is made up of about 90% Filipino, 5% Ukrainian and 5% mix of Indian and other nationalities with myself and the Head chef the only English as first language employees.
I have nothing but respect for my smiling hardworking co-workers. In my previous posts I complained about pay, I complained about long hours, less sleep/more work lifestyle etc. But the reality is that all my Filipino co-workers are paid less than me and are contracted for at least 8 months. For example I was on $1,500 a month (70 hour weeks with an over-time of $2.64/hr) as an assistant waiter, but my Filipino assistant waiters were on $1100, obviously this is a lot of money back in the Philippines, 3-4 times more than they can earn there, but we do the same job.
I lasted not even 2 months on the ship, 52 days without a day off (we have “mornings” off every now and then) but my colleagues they have 8 month contracts. But their contract is never over until they receive the company issued plane ticket and a lot of the time the employees have their arms tied and have to work additional months as there are no replacements. What can they do, they need to stay in the companies good books so they can gain another contract. I suppose they could quit and use 2 months wages to buy a ticket back to the Philippines (sarcasm).
Is this exploitation? I was going to call this post “expedition cruise ship or exploitation cruise ship”? I have times where I have my university economics/business tailor made hat fighting for the crown position with my yellow red and green Rastafarian dreadlocked peace and love beanie for the answer to this question. But I didn’t call it this because what it comes down to is that everyone has a choice, no one is forced into this position. Although I still believe their position is taken advantage of.
Why are there no foreigners like me on board? Simple, we wouldn’t and don’t put up with the conditions and treatment? There are foreigners onboard, but they are on the expedition team or in higher positions, they are on shorter contracts more lifestyle friendly contracts ie 3 months on 3months off. I’m sure they wouldn’t except being told that they have to say on for another month because they can’t find a replacement. I’m not the first foreigner who has came and worked in the dining room tream, got frustrated at the conditions and treatment and left, in fact it seems to be the norm.
Another reason I have a tremendous amount of respect for my colleagues and feel privileged is because they are all away from families, and when I mean families I also mean sons and daughters. There are many couples working on the ship with children back in the Philippines who are being looked after by family members. For example one of my work mates has been on the ship 9 months and has a 10 month old daughter at home, and he only talks to his wife and 2 daughters twice a month as it costs $20 for 32 minutes on the phone, and for the lower paid positions such as a dining room utility (vacuums and cleans etc) that only earn $670 a month, $20 is a substantial amount of money!
This is not a lone example, this is the norm, every Filipino worker is working for their family back home whether it is for their children or parents or other relatives. Another example is one of my co-workers and his wife have worked majority of their lives on the cruise ship, they have 4 children at home and even a grandchild, and they are away for 8 months at a time and been doing this all their life.
Many of my co-workers talked about the dream of coming to New Zealand or Australia and working, and some even have applications underway. This is why I feel privileged, it’s too easy to take what we have for granted! They carry photos of their families in their cell phones and wallets, they put up with the work environment and at times the verbal abuse as they have no other option, and this I have nothing but respect for them, and to turn up each day with a smile on the face is a credit to them
So my plan now that I’m in the free world? I have been able to change my departure date from Argentina for March. I will be heading into Chile on Monday as with my crew visa I have to exit Argentina in 72 hours. I will do some hiking, although I’m not sure how this will go as one thing I learnt from my time working as an assistant waiter carrying heavy trays etc was that my back is still and will never be the same after my accident a couple of years ago where I fractured my vertebrae. Maybe some hitch hiking, but I will be back in Paraguay by Feb 23rd when Mandy gets back from the States.
Ok folks, I have just typed 1,347 grammatically jumbled words to say “I feel privileged”. Best I shut up now, more posts on the cruise ship lifestyle and living quarters coming up.