Evading Pirates – Bab-el-Mandeb strait aka. Gate of Grief

Over the past few days we have gone in and out of Pirate territory. It was an interesting and somewhat exciting experience to have experienced. We practiced what to do when the captain calls a Code Purple, which means we have a pirate problem. Other precautions taken were the barbed wire wrapped around ladders and other areas which otherwise may be easy to scale. There were also several beefy and well armed men on 24 hour watch posted around the ship. All the portholes and windows were bolted shut and curtains were all drawn. Passengers were forbidden to go outside after dark and there was a special lecture to give us facts about this very real problem affecting the seas around Somalia.

Things were quite subdued around the ship for about 30 hours when we went through the worst of it. I was moved by how many passengers also took on some pirate watching hours (albeit informal), we all feel protective of our ship and each other. The mood was much more serious as we plowed through the inky blue ocean at full speed, passing by the dozen or so captured ships still waiting ransom.

It’s true that it is highly unlikely we would be targeted as we have no oil or cargo they could use as leverage. Just a bunch of feisty old people who were not going to give up their ship without a good fight. In any case, we were approached a couple of times but the flare shot and the burley armed men showed those no-gooders that we meant businesses. They promptly left.

Yesterday we seemed past it all but then the ship was forced to divert to avoid one more cluster of suspicious boats. It meant that we were late today for our first stop in Oman but guess its better to err on the side of caution. As light-hearted as I have been about the whole thing, pirates are no laughing matter and are quite a serious problem indeed. I am grateful we were not affected and truly feel for those who have been. These pirates are not a kind bunch and not nearly as good-looking as Johnny Depp.

Lee got sick a few days ago and was quarantined to his cabin for 48 hours. He was not the only one either…there is a threat of norovirus and its deadly serious on a ship like this. While he was indisposed, I spent time making new friends, painting donkeys from Yemen and eating dinner with nearby tables who felt sorry for me. I finished my book, started a new one and also caught up on my writing. Every now and then I would call Lee to see if he was still alive and he would give me a graphic detailed rundown of his bathroom antics. No matter how many times I reminded him that he was oversharing, he was determined to give me TMI.

I tried to go to a lecture the other day but I got bored out of my mind and left half way through. There are several programs going on: genealogy, Middle Eastern studies, Environmental talks and Antique Roadshow stuff. Here are a few of the titles we have had to choose from:

-Records of Life and Death & Counting the People
-The impact of Chinese culture on 18th century Europe in particular porcelain and the attempt of the western world to emulate
– Tales from my Half Century exploring the underwater world & Sea Monsters: Imaginary or Real?
-In search of Sinbad
-Highlanders of the Tropics – The tea planters of Ceylon
– Stories of General Gordon, Freya Stark, Wilfred Thesiger, & Gertrude Bell….

and the only one I am really interested in: Where do Nomads fit in the 21 century? by Malcolm Hunter

The watercolor painting class has turned out to be a real highlight for me. Now I am not sure if this is because I have become the teachers pet/pest (oh do I love to tread the fine line) or if it’s because this is a medium I haven’t delved into yet. Most of all it must be the hilarious interaction between my other classmates (half of who can’t hear and half of who can’t remember directions for more than 8 seconds) and the poor determined teacher. It really is more entertaining than any comedy show I have ever seen. Lets be honest: Old people are funny!

I really enjoy the two hours every afternoon where I challenge my perfectionistic tendencies and allow accomplished artist David Page to steal my paintbrush (he calls it teaching) and ruin my almost masterpiece. Well, I guess it always ends up looking better by the time he is done with it but that is a real stressful two minutes. My inner control freak won’t let go of the paintbrush and is horrified by the disaster he is making in my paintbox. I try to keep calm when the 70 year old artist keeps reminding me emphatically (or asking me? I never know with those Brits): “Does it Mattah? No! It just doesn’t mattah.” He must repeat his mantra 50 times an hour, all the while dripping paint on the ground absentmindedly. Mr Page is an eccentric mess and I am crazy about him. His sweetheart wife of almost 50 years Rosemary and I work out on the treadmills together daily. She matches him perfectly and I am just as fond of her.

Just when I thought David had enough of me heckling him in class and calling him out as any good Teachers Pest would do, he shocked me by inviting me for a drink with him and his wife. I learned that between the three of us, our combined sense of humor could keep us laughing for years to come. I am becoming quite attached to my onboard adopted Grandparents. I do intend to keep them if they’ll let me.

Grateful for painting outside the lines.

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