All around me there’s people huddled on benches, sitting on tires or ice boxes or an odd assortment of Chinese bags and cardboard boxes. They’re sleeping- or trying to. Some fending off sea sickness, others dressed in every article of clothing they own in an attempt to fend off the cold.
I’m on a cargo ship headed from the capital city of Vanuatu, Vila, to Ambrym Island, off to hike a volcano. After 16 hours or so the ship will stop at Epi Island, where Michelle will jump aboard, joining Amanda and I. For now, it’s just the two of us doing our best to catch at least a few hours of sleep.
There’s a cold breeze attacking from both sides, occasionally bringing a few droplets of ocean in with it. My stomach is swaying, or jumping really, from side to side in an effort to match the rocking of the ship as waves carelessly toss it back and forth, dragging sea water inside.
The cargo is piled precariously around us, stacked like the treasure in that skull cave in Aladdin. There’s a man halfway to the top, barely visible in the folds of suitcase straps and bamboo woven baskets. I’m fighting the instinct to be afraid. Not just of the ever-threatening waves, but also of the many eyes that are on me. The few women on the ship are already asleep, but the many men are wide awake.
Though I’ve learned to be at peace with men singing out to me, calling my phone repeatedly, or staring at me relentlessly as though I’m nothing more than a sex object, it’s different here, in a small space like this, with little more to do than stare at your fellow passengers. Quite a few eyes linger on Amanda and I, and my discomfort finally wins, interrupting sensible thoughts. And I let myself be just a little afraid… afraid enough not to venture into the darker alleys of the ship, knowing it’s too loud here, loud enough that a scream could not be heard.
Am I actually in any danger? Probably not. But the irrational one percent chance that I could be eats at me, along with the one percent chance the waves around us could capsize the ship and leave me to drown or be eaten by a shark.
I turn to Amanda and admit that I’m feeling a bit afraid. She assures me she’s seen worse waves (and looking back I realize that I have to). And then we make a few careless rape jokes. Once my fear has been logiced- and laughed- away, my heart stops racing and I pull on a sweater and sweatpants and try to sleep. Dreams don’t come. I’m too awake. Alive with the energy of the sea. Alive with the feel of being alive.
In college I began to realize that I spent an obnoxious amount of time waiting for another moment. A moment that was not yet there. Like exam week to be over. Or the weekend to begin. And I decided then that I didn’t want to waste another second of my life being not all there. I didn’t even want to half-ass the moments I didn’t like, the moments that upset me or terrified me. And honestly these past two years have made that resolution a struggle and a constant test of strength.
Some people like Mike and Hunter find the Peace Corps relatively easy. I am not one of those people. Being here has meant a lot of rough days (amidst a lot of good days too of course), a lot of homesickness, a lot of frustration, a lot of tears and negative self-realizations. And a lot, a lot, a lot of second guessing myself, of doubting everything I’ve ever felt or believed in.
Or, in some cases, it just simply was a lot of testing my gut. Once at a custom ceremony, I watched the groom slaughter the pig, listened to its squeals and it’s last dying breath. I could have walked away. I could have closed my eyes and plugged my ears. But instead I watched. I listened. I felt. The pigs pain was as real to me as every happy, vibrant moment in my life.
So sitting on this cargo ship on my way to Ambrym, I know I should try to pretend it’s not happening, try to make the 20 odd hours of threatening seas sickness feel like a dream. But I don’t want to. Why move my clock forward any faster?
I stand and go lean up against the rail of the ship. I breath in the crisp salty air, feel the wind create a wrinkle of goose bumps across my skin, and watch the light of the boat glisten over one wave before diving to the next. Because, despite anything I might be feeling at that moment, at the end of the day I’m still on my way to Ambrym to hike a volcano… so all in all, life is pretty awesome.