Monday, January 9, 2017

Down the Gangway At Last

The Toe-Tickler is a singular Sri Lankan creature known for creeping up on the gangway security, unseen, and then exploiting any hole that may be present in the sailor’s shoes.  He is small and wiry, half his teeth are missing, and he spends a lot of time smiling obsequiously, asking for soap (typical Sri Lankan token) or cigarettes.  

At one point during our stay, he and one of my sailors got into an argument.  The sailor, a Filipino with big ears, a round face, and missing front teeth who shared many of the physical and behavioral features of the Toe-Tickler, felt he’d finally met his match.  They angrily shouted back and forth in unintelligible English flavored with Tagalog and Sinhalese.
Approaching the dock in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
After enjoying the spectacle I was forced to return my attention to the crane loads at hand.  When unencumbered by work again, a few minutes later, I found them settling their differences by comparing the color of their skin, their arms laid out side by side, debating intensely.  I don’t know which gained the higher ground in their battle, lighter or darker skin tone, but soon afterward they were laughing and carrying on like long-lost brothers.

The Toe-Tickler has a Sri Lankan brother who is one of the longshore lashing bosses.  We know him as Crazy-Eyes.  While the Toe-Tickler lurks about, no real discernable reason to be aboard, Crazy-Eyes is a man of importance.  He is the go-to guy for cargo ops and he makes things happen, his wandering eye and kinships notwithstanding.
Sri Lankan tuk-tuk.  Ride at your own risk!

There is no rhyme or reason to how traffic moves in Colombo- laws
are merely suggestions, if they exist at all; they run each other off, split
lanes, play chicken with everything on the road... 
I began to feel nauseous a couple days before we got to Colombo.  I have skipped dinner since coming aboard, but I found I had no appetite for lunches, either, and my bowl of oatmeal at breakfast was a struggle.  By bedtime on New Year's Eve, two days after departing Colombo, I felt downright ill.

Then at midnight I woke up to bring in the New Year with what I now know to be dengue fever, aka “breakbone fever.”  It is a singularly unpleasant mosquito-borne sickness I hope to never encounter again. It is very similar to a really bad case of food poisoning, but with a 1-12 day incubation period.  Some people get a rash, too, but I didn’t - my gums became really sore and the head and body ache was acute.

My greatest annoyance at getting sick so close to heading down the gangway for the last time this voyage was that I was sick during overtime.  Unlike most illnesses, however, once dengue has let go of your nethers, it let's go for good.  
The new terminal in Singapore.
As soon as I was recovered I went through the mad dash of washing everything in my quarters, digging out the suitcases, and piling all my belongings into them.  I laid out my final work clothes (that go in the garbage once my last workday is done), my airport clothes (post last-shower, last-workday clothes), and everything else got packed and the suitcases placed by the door.

When we hit the dock in Singapore last time- coming through the other way- I worked 21 straight hours, swinging over 30 crane lifts and stowing everything brought aboard.  This time, however, as soon as the relief crew’s luggage was aboard I hit the shower and bolted down the gangway to the shuttle waiting below.
Perhaps her last run- she's allegedly razor blades and rebar in Feb..
Hotel.  Shuttle.  Airport.  22 hours inside metal tubes hurtling through the skies and all the indignities associated with said luxury.

And now I sit on the beach, dumbfounded by my liberation, the things I most wanted to do while incarcerated at my fingertips.  From 12 hour days to 9 hour days.  90 degree weather to sub-freezing weather.  The impersonal hordes of Asia to the mass-neurosis of Northwestern white people.

Time to wash the salty off and blend back into the crowd.