Thursday, May 03, 2007

Bird Cay, Bahamas

0 nm
Wind: E 10-15 knots

We did more work on the boat today, more scraping, more snorkeling, and we attempted to tune our rig for the first time alone, obeying our rigging book to the letter as we tightened our standing rigging and our backstay. Karl was able to get a bend out of the mast that’s been there since we restepped it in Marion, and then he raked it back one degree so we can sail better into the wind. Now the door to the head won’t close with all the tightening, but that’s a small price to pay.

We also went for a walk on land. We swam to the little beach we’re anchored near, scared only once by a giant nurse shark that seemed to be making for me with Karl 100 yards away. Or it might have just been a ray, but Karl was sufficiently concerned to insist that we swim together on our way back to the boat.

The beach wasn’t that great--a little rocky and weedy, with no palm trees for shade, but exciting ruins built right out over the water. Karl, of course, wanted to explore, so we picked our way, barefoot, down the abandoned stone-strewn dirt road that led up from the beach, scalding our feet, sweat pouring off our heads, shoeless and thirsty. I felt like David Livingstone. Unfortunately we discovered little of interest: some miniature crab claws scattered in the sand, weird horseshoe-crab-like prehistoric animals grown into the rocks, and thousands of red-pocked dangerous-looking sea urchins.

Still, it gave us a feeling of overwhelming accomplishment. I have that feeling all the time now. Even though we’re barely 100 miles from Floriday, we got out, and that’s half the battle. We keep talking about hauling the boat in Georgetown and returning to the States to earn some funds, but it doesn’t matter. We’ve already won.

When I was talking to my sister before we left (and I hope she doesn’t think I’m dead, because I haven’t been able to call anyone in my family, and it’ll be weeks before I can post this), she told me that one of our friends had commented recently on how different all our lives had ended up--my sister and brother and me. I’m a boat bum, making a desperate attempt to circumnavigate, or at least get to the Turks and Caicos. My sister is a young wife and mother, with a condo in the suburbs, a stockbroker husband, and a vibrant church community. My brother is a pure ivory-tower academician, a linguist going for his Ph.D. at Harvard, of all places.

On the surface, you couldn’t get much more different. But deep down, we all know that our goal is the same: escape. When we were kids growing up in Thailand we used to have endless debates over the dinner table: if there was a war, who would we fight for? America or Thailand? If we had to pick one kind of food to eat, or one place to live, for the rest of our lives, what would we pick, American or Thai?

Inevitably, without even too much effort, we’d always come down on the side of Thailand. Sure, we’d contemplate, it would stink giving up pizza and spaghetti and our cousins and grandparents, but it would be ever so much worse to give up curry and rice and coconuts and beaches and the sun and the ocean and the monsoons adn the markets and the mangoes and home.

But what did we do then? We all, all three of us, gave it up. We moved to the States and became aliens living in a strange land, disguised so that no one knows we don’t belong. Erica and I are even partnered now with strangers who can’t completely understand, who would have as hard of a time dealing without autumn and falling leaves and snow and New England winters.

We still, though, all of us, strive to get back, and I’ve succeeded now partially. If I’m lucky, Karl will fall in love with this climate and the delicious feeling of foreignness, the way he fell in love with me. Eventually, if I’m even more spectacularly lucky, I’ll be able to sail home, to Thailand, and live there until my wanderlust returns.

Erica’s trying to escape, too--she’s in graduate school for public health, so that when she goes she can actually help people instead of being a bum like me. I know she’d give it all up in a second (more likely than not), her beautiful home and her lovely village that I still miss intensely and her friends and her exotic wine tastings to be where I am right now. And Peter spends every summer doing linguistic research on tribal people on a beach in Thailand, eating bizarre crustaceans grilled alive on charcoal fires and being paid (and paying others) to just talk to people and record their language.

So we’re all different, but we’re all the same. I’ve been fighting for two years to get here, and here I am, someplace other, someplace where I belong. I can rest now. I’m away. I’ve escaped. I’m home.

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