Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Have a safe trip home" & "Welcome home to the Africa Mercy"

I've said those two phrases a lot today. We had 47 crew leaving today. That means 47 pager beeps, 47 sets of sheets/towels to pick up, 47 mugs to collect, 47 disembarkation forms to sign off, and 47 people who are going to experience "reverse culture shock."

This evening I welcomed 3new crew members. That means 3 dinners to reserve, 3 beds to check one last time, 3 cookie packs to place on their beds, 3 people to sit with over supper and make conversation, 3 people to introduce to their new roommates, and 3 people who are in for the experience of a lifetime.

Those 3 new crew are SO young. Two of them are from the same Norwegian maritime engineering school and will be aboard for 8 months as "engineering cadets." The other girl's from Germany and will be replacing some of the Housekeeping girls who left today. I think they're 18, 20, and 21.

They all looked like scared rabbits. Granted, Reception throws a ton of paperwork at them, I give them more papers at supper, there are papers on their beds, and there are even more papers taped on their doors. It's a bit overwhelming when everything is at a different time because we're on a weekend schedule... and then with the blackout everything has changed times once again. They're tired from the flights, nervous about being here, unsure of their new roommates, and the 18 year-old girl will be in a cabin alone until after the ship reaches South Africa. How's that for welcoming?

Oh, and we have a blackout scheduled for tomorrow; the engine cooling systems are going to undergo a major cleaning in preparation for the sail--which happens to be 15 days away. So, tomorrow morning at 6am the ship will become deathly quiet and the emergency lights will be the only thing lighting up the corridors of deck 3. And with no windows down there, it's gonna be pretty dark.

The blackout also means no toilets or showers (they both run on a vacuum system), cold meals from the galley, no phones (and that means no pagers either!), no wifi, and no air conditioning. Decks 5 and 6 are going to be fine with all the windows, but the rest of the ship will be somewhat creepily lit.

And I'm stuck on board. The rest of the crew will be heading off for a day at the sports complex and a free BBQ cookout. I'll be here. But I think I'm gonna get up at 5 to take a shower and get a cup of coffee while it's still hot, go watch the sun rise from deck 8, and then make my way down to breakfast at 7am. Spend the day studying for the GRE--one of the few things I can do without any power, reading a book--it's been a while since I did that, and catching up on some much-needed sleep.

I was just thinking about it all as I was cleaning up from the new arrivals' supper. I love my job on days like these. I feel needed. I AM needed. Ok, the pager beeping is REALLY annoying; especially when you're in the middle of a good book, trying to catch some sun on Deck 8, just settling down for devotions with a great cup of hot coffee, or you're sitting down for 2 seconds to rest your tired feet. But I get to be one of the last crew members that people see and as I leave their cabins with pillowcases full of dirty linen in hand I call back, "Have a safe flight!"

And just now I ran into a group of girls playing Settlers of Catan in the dining room. Most of them lived in the 8 and 10-berth cabins (there is only one of each on board.. the majority are 4 or 6-berths), and are used to lots of roommates and making new friends quickly. So I told them about the new girl alone in cabin 4338 and asked them tomorrow to stop by and say hi. Take her out to the sports complex for a hot BBQ lunch, or at least sit with her over cold cereal tomorrow morning. Make her feel welcome because there's only so much I can do. I'm known as one of the faces in a white uniform shirt/black skirt--just part of the system. I give them papers, take them to their cabins, tell them about the 2-minute shower policy, and say goodbye. I've come across so formally that it's often hard for the younger new crew members to realize that I want to be their friend. Only 6 weeks ago tonight I was in their shoes. Just as lost and confused and turned around as they were. It's gonna be OK. And no, not everything will be fixed with a hot dinner, a shower, and a clean bed. I'll be around all day tomorrow for them to ask questions, but they need some friends. And with 47 people gone, the ship seems a lot more empty.

But I can smile at them, slow down when I talk, and eliminate American phrases from my vocabulary. I can make things easier for them. And sometimes a plate of cookies and an offer for them to join me for a movie night can make me magically turn from someone who's part of the system into someone who's a fellow crew member.

And I think I can do that.

What about you?

There are new faces everywhere. Open up your eyes. Yes, I get a nice little list of who's coming and going. I have to say goodbye and hello. But you don't. There's a lot that you don't HAVE to do that would really make someone's day if you WOULD do.

So how about it?

*Go make someone feel like they're gonna be missed. Go make someone feel welcomed. Go drop your formalities and be you.*

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