The last time I saw the ship I was 7 months pregnant, concentrating on my Malagasy shopping basket and the passport that was lying on the top of carefully folded items, each with their own purpose. I glanced up to the people and back down to the basket, up to the ship, back to the ocean. With tears gradually building in my eyes, I held Mamma Comforts’ hand tighter. She didn’t want to let go and neither did I. I wanted to hold her hand forever. We walked the line, looked brave and held back the all emotion that we could inside our little collapsing walls of normality. This was our home. Our people. Our church. Our work. Our life.Comfort loosened her grip as she put something in my basket. It was a white paper bag, carefully folded twice at the top and stapled once in the middle.
I knew exactly what was inside. One of Mamma Comforts’ perfect little banana bread loaves with just the right amount of cinnamon and dried fruit.
I left that ship with baby in belly and banana loaf in bag feeling an overwhelming sadness and excitement all at the same time.
Now, 1 year on, there’s a house. It’s warm and welcoming and full of our travelling memories. There’s a baby asleep upstairs in a cot, a record player that plays jazz, an avocado tree that grew from seed, and wine on the side. And in the garden we have almost seen each flower bud, bloom, blossom and die. We’ve muddled through snow, sweated through the summer, and rested well.
A level of comfort has arrived and so it is time. Time to return. Time to resume normality. Back to the ship.
Back to the metal box that never sleeps; where people come and go, flit and float like butterflies that can never settle. Back to the mixed bag of brokenness trying to make a difference in the world. Back to the little hills of peanut butter slapped on to the side of dinner plates, the taste of cakes that come out of a box and containerised chocolate that can never been redeemed.
Back to singing that hurts my ears and comedy that’s not funny, irons on timers and the new kingdom of plastic Toyotas. Back to leggings and shorts at the same time and a continual visual of poorly placed headbands. Back to the unknown.
Back to the aroma of vinegar on glass, sweat on clothes and oil on rags. Yes community living is not always dreamy; its messy, complicated, confusing.
The pull of the comfortable and restful life here seems, at times, to be stronger, louder, bigger. The warmth of family and friends and its’ safety fit like a comfortable pair of old jeans, hugging your legs and effortlessly knowing every part of you. Yet when the fight is over the push is stronger. A push into a new challenge, a new familiar, a new different.
The pull clouded my mind for a while, focusing on those community annoyances and nuances. But also that place is associated with sadness for me. Sadness that roots deep. Memories of losing friends, facing massive injustice and inequality on a daily basis and having to deal with a ball of string that can never be untangled by a human hand. It has taken a while for me to come to terms with the idea of returning into that ball of string – into the injustice and back into a place where my heart has to endure more.
But, it is for exactly this reason that I must return. Because these people need help, love and hope.
The passion that pushes us away is strong than the comfort that pulls us back.
As a friend reminded me recently, there are so many benefits and endless joys associated with that hospital ship. From the selfish, pointless beauty in waking early and plugging in that AUX cable, driving until you see no ships and getting those surfboards down from the roof, walking along an endless raw beach with its ochre and cyan colour scheme and dashing in and out of the monstrous but awesome waves. For years that was my church. And the thought of worshiping my God in that place again fills me with pure delight.
A ship full of cultures, languages and people who just want to serve. People that come from high places and bow down low, people that come from low places and gaze up in admiration, and together we serve the worlds forgotten poor. The peanut butter situation (although it bothers me greatly) disappears into the abyss as my ship family come together to fight a common cause. The war is against poverty.
When I live on the ship and step outside I am angered often. I didn’t chose my skin that I desperately wish would change like a lizard. I didn’t choose where I was born or the circumstances therein. My passport that comfortably sits in my back pocket was not a choice for me. It is just my passport. And yet it is so much more. It is a ticket. A voucher for free medical care, a certificate for equality and a signal of value.
The people we seek to help don’t have passports, they don’t have vouchers, tickets or certificates. And that is why we are there. To bring the unobtainable to those who are no less deserving and yet completely limited. Desperate.
To bring hope, to love, to show kindness …
is there another purpose for living?
Photos: Me and Louis on Southsea beach in matching Cameroonian Fabric. So we have an advance team that go into the country before the ship arrives – they suss it all out. Get us a dock space sort out visas, employ local staff and even try out the local food joints. All for the good of the crew. Well anyway they have an arrival outfit – they all match. They normally get them made by a local tailor. So Louis and I were thinking we should have an arrival outfit too. It may sound silly but as my husband sensibly makes a website, books cars and container things and works out our finances – he is quietly processing the whole thing. I however need a creative outlet to process. So I made Louis and I matching outfits. It was there at the sewing machine that I realised the push wins.