Well, we are back from our 12 night cruise during which we visited St Thomas, St Croix, St Kitts, Antigua and San Maarten. It was wonderful, relaxing and met all of our expectations, for the most part.

A few months ago, I wrote about having experienced a mzee moment in Singapore. Once again, the term “mzee” is a Swahili term that literally means “old man” but is used as much as a term of respect as a reference to chronological age. Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, was universally referred to as “mzee” – a term of affection and respect associated with his age and wisdom, since the acquisition of wisdom is associated with age in Kenya as in much of the East!

Well, on this cruise, there were no “mzee”moments – in fact compared to most of the passengers, we felt positively young! Over half the passengers were in their 70s’ and 80s’ and there were a sprinkling of passengers in their 90s’! The rest of the passengers were in their 60s’ and 50s’ and then there were an assortment in their 40s’ and 30s’ – and very few any younger! A reflection of the timing of the cruise when schools were closed and so the people cruising were retirees or vacationers.

I have never seen so many people in wheel chairs and using walking sticks. It was positive in the sense that despite limitations on mobility, these were people who still were able to go out and enjoy themselves as opposed to being home-bound. A big difference with India and many other countries, where being disabled would severely limit one’s mobility. The staff were very attentive to the needs of these passengers and went out of their way to make them comfortable.

We met a number of interesting and very nice people on the cruise – and a few not so nice people. Most of the passengers were Americans with a few Brits and Europeans. There was only one other Indian couple from Virginia who seemed reluctant to socialize with us for whatever reason. Among the Americans, the only time we felt less than welcome was with the much older people who I suspect had limited involvement with minority Americans and were therefore perhaps inhibited in dealing with us. But those who had any degree of interaction with a more diverse group were quite warm and friendly.

I tried to stay away from political discussions such as with the older lady from Western Pennsylvania who told me that she did not trust Obama right from the start even when he was running for office – and her suspicions were now confirmed since Obama had appointed all these “radicals” within his administration. Pennsylvania is viewed as leaning Democratic in most elections but one needs to remember that western and central Pennsylvania are very conservative – after all, Pennsylvania has been referred to as being Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the West and Alabama in the middle when it comes to its political make-up! I have been told that there are people in Western Pennsylvania who still have confederate flags as bumper stickers on their trucks together with gun racks! She must have gathered that I was not in agreement since I changed the subject and moved on to other areas less controversial – like which cruise lines she liked!

Then there was the Israeli woman who appeared to be in her sixties and who emigrated to the US when she was 20 years old and had lived here ever since. She was with her husband who barely said three sentences while she and I chatted for more than 20 minutes. She was obviously an Israeli nationalist who said that she would never visit an Arab country – even though she knew that other Israelis frequently holiday in Egypt and other middle eastern countries. She expressed dismay that her son was involved with a non-Jewish woman and said that her children’s generation just did not have appreciation for maintaining their Jewish culture and heritage – reminded me of some Indian parents and their views on their children and their entanglements with non-Indians. I told her that I had met several young Israelis in Kerala who were quite ambivalent about Israeli policies in the occupied territories and she dismissed them as being a “soft” generation who just did not appreciate the mortal danger that Israel faced.

Our dinner companions were a couple from Hampton, Virginia who did make me feel like a bit of a “mzee” given the level of activity in which they participated during the stops at various islands – especially given that they were almost 50 years old! One of them is a builder of custom homes and was one of the more animated people I have known. He had an enthusiasm and an animation on just about any subject that we discussed – it was almost infectious and a pleasure to see!

We met this interesting German couple – well she was German but he was an Iranian who had lived in Germany for over 40 years and who spoke better German than he did English. She told me about the cruise she was on when the US attacked Iraq in 2003 and happened to be ensconced between two older American women at dinner who wanted to know her views about the US attack and overthrow of Saddam Hussein. When she reluctantly expressed the view that she thought the attack was unjustified, one of the women moved her face within inches of this German lady’s face and said that it was “our Christian duty” to overthrow Saddam Hussein! I told this German woman that the irony was that the average American would not be able to pin-point Iraq on a map and was more than likely ignorant of the fact that in the 80s’ the US supported Saddam Hussein in his war against the Iranians and were indifferent to the methods he used at the time to put down opposition – though in later years, the proponents of the war would condemn Saddam Hussein for gassing his own people!

Then there was the older gentleman who was cruising alone and told us that his wife was in a nursing home and had been there for the best part of 13 years ………….. and that his “significant other” who used to cruise with him was now also in the same nursing home after recently suffering a stroke! They were both on different floors of the same nursing home – and he spent quite a bit of time visiting with both of them! This gentleman was a total believer in Sarah Palin’s allegation that “death panels” were part of Obama’s healthcare reform!

There were the Brits including some West Indians from the UK who had lived there for decades. I had an interesting chat with one of the couples who had arrived in the UK in the early sixties about the same time that I arrived in the UK to pursue my studies. We talked about what things were like at that time and how things had changed. The German lady I mentioned earlier told me of a visit which she made to the UK on business and her hosts wanted to take her out to dinner and asked her what sort of cuisine she liked. She said that she would like to experience some typical British fare so that evening she was taken to dinner to an…………………..INDIAN restaurant!! How things have changed in England – when Indian food is considered to be British cuisine!

One of the things that struck me about the inhabitants from the islands was that it was rare to find anyone overweight. Most of the locals were black and history suggests that they were brought in as slaves from the same parts of West Africa that African-Americans originated. It seemed to confirm that much of America’s obesity problem is caused by sheer over-eating, the American diet and life-style and the lack of exercise.

The beaches on the islands were just pristine and spectacular and I spent a considerable amount of time in the water at Antigua and San Maarten. The former apparently had 365 beaches – as our taxi driver told us, there is one for each day of the year! One of the striking things is that in just about all of the islands we visited the businesses are owned almost entirely by Indians who emigrated to these islands in recent years. The Indian population in these islands are these business people and their families and in a couple of the islands where there were medical schools there were quite a few Indian students who were enrolled as students – typically, these are the Indian-American students who were not able to obtain admission in medical schools in the US.

The staff on board were predominantly Goans – both in the dining area as well as providing housekeeping duties. There were a couple of people from Kerala who were enthralled when I spoke to them in Malayalam! There was the one guy from Bombay who worked in the dining area who had spent time in Dubai where he had come across many Keralites. Upon hearing that we were from Kerala and that my name is Thomas, he then proceeded to refer to me as “Thomacha” the rest of the cruise!

The service was superb – very polite and helpful people who spend six months a year at sea working seven days a week and then get two months of unpaid leave but with their passages back home usually paid by the cruise line. They said that it imposed a strain on their families but it was a great way to save money since they literally had no expenses while they were working on the ship. Their income was primarily from the tips that passengers gave them – usually a pre-determined amount per day that was charged to each passenger though one could revise the amount upwards or downwards based on the level of service.

Cruising is a wonderful way to relax and be pampered with excellent haute cuisine, quality entertainment, attentive staff catering to one’s every need and exposure to a myriad of people on board with different backgrounds and perspectives. All of this is at a very affordable price – really an amazing price considering all that one is provided. Cruising has not really captured the interest of the first generation Indian immigrants to the US primarily because the average Indian immigrant who still has family in India probably feels that if one is going to spend the kind of money that a cruise involves they would make a trip to India. I suspect that this will change as one’s connections to India dissipate with the passage of time.

6 Responses to “Random musings on our cruise”

  1. saira says:

    Just reading your post makes me excited to go on our cruise in April!!!

  2. Vivek says:

    Rana A, sounds like you had a fairly interesting trip, despite the occasional awkward moments!

  3. Peter says:

    Good reading and interesting company you had on the trip. I have to agree with you that a lot of Indian immigrants, typically first generation, do not cruise because of ties back home. Maybe in 10 years time when the second generation become older, it will be their first choice of a vacation. Cruise liners should team up with pharmaceutical companies who in turn would team up with physicians to prescribe this type of vacation as a health trip, one that would give them their dose of Vitamin D among other things.

  4. Richard says:

    Papa, Very interesting report; very detailed and enthralling. I have decided, you should write a book!

  5. TJ says:

    Saira, you and Richard have a head-start in terms of when you started cruising. By the time you are my age, you may well have done over 30 cruises!

    Peter, I think that as the first generation Indian’s connections with India recede especially after parents pass on, I can see cruising becoming more popular with that generation. The Indian couple I referred to in the post were on their seventh cruise!

    Richard, thanks for the comments about writing a book. Saira has probably told you that I am writing a series of letters to my children as a group and as individuals. They will get to read it some day in the future – most likely when I pass on, assuming that they can access the password protected files:) Just thoughts about one thing and another and facets of my life. Wish my parents had done something on the same lines.

  6. Vishal says:

    Ranachayan,it was really amazin nd excitin to read ur detailed reportabt ur cruise;)guess u guys had a gr8 time:)

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