For those of you who don’t know, Dr. Margaret Bass is currently sailing on the spring 2012 voyage of Semester at Sea. Basically, she’s on a cruise ship that is making its way around the world, stopping in 11 different countries along the way. Below is an excerpt from her travel blog in which she reflects on the trip so far:
“I almost missed the faculty/staff dance in the teachers’ lounge last night. I’d attended a concert of Bob Marley music performed by our visiting Ghanaian musician. I had an 8 a.m. class this morning and thought I should go to bed early. I decided to stop by the dance. Tough to do since it’s on the top deck of the ship. One doesn’t stop by the faculty lounge. One goes with deliberate intention.
It was a BLAST! I can’t remember when I’ve had such fun. The music was great; my colleagues were great; the space was great. I laughed, screamed and danced until my clothes were soaked.
Three hours later, I decided that it was definitely time to return to my cabin for the night. As I was leaving, it occurred to me that I hadn’t been hugged in more than three weeks. I walked up to a colleague and asked her if she hugged. She didn’t know what to say, really. I explained the hug drought, and consequently, I got a big hug. I decided that one hug simply wasn’t enough, so I went around the room asking and accepting hugs from all who wanted to give and receive. It was a perfect ending to a perfect evening. Of course, I’m paying for it now, as I struggle to keep my eyes open. No matter. The evening was well worth it.
Some of you have asked me to talk more about how I feel. That’s a difficult task. My emotions change often and so quickly. I’ve not had a moment’s regret about the voyage. It’s an incredible experience. Some days I feel a bit lonely. I feel the absence of family and close friends acutely. I’m getting along day by day very well. Heretofore, on previous trips, by the time I’m away from home three weeks, it’s all I can think about. This trip is different. I don’t miss Mary and the animals any less, but I must be drawn to some aspect of this trip, and it’s not the teaching in particular. Mostly I feel deep gratitude for this particular privilege. Who gets a free cruise around the world?
I’ve often thought that I’d be happy living in a community, and I believe it’s true. My cabin gives me privacy and solitude when I need it, but most of the time, I’m out on deck somewhere observing and mingling with the people. I’m coming to know some of them pretty well. While I’m not sure that I’m making new friends, I’m certain that I’m not making additional enemies. When I feel a tug, it’s the longing for intimacy, a shared history, friendship, love and a hug or two.
I feel the discomfiting burden of my own privilege. I see it in action on this ship and in the communities into which we go. My consciousness is at an all time high, and that keeps me, in relationship to the disparities among humans, at an all time low. I think, for example, the person to whom I feel closest is one of the waiters on board. He’s a wonderful person, smart, and a great conversationalist. Under any other circumstance, we’d likely be good friends, but the boundaries between us are fixed and rigid. We can’t behave as growing friends do. He’s my servant, and friendship demands breaking the unwritten, unspoken rules between us. I resent this reality, but I need to keep my resentment in check. It’s his job to lose–not mine. Social class, in the case of the ship’s staff, is a barrier to friendship. Jamaica Kincaid warns us to be wary of the smiles and friendly remarks and gestures; she tells us not to trust that what we see and feel are invitations of friendship. This is the nature of subservience. Paul Laurence Dunbar says in “We Wear the Mask”:
WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!”
Read more about Dr. Bass’ travels with Semester at Sea at www.margaretatsea.wordpress.com