A few years ago, if someone would have told me that I would someday be living and working in an island country that I had never heard of before actually moving there, I would have said, “uh-huh. Sure I will.” And if that same someone would have also told me that I would somehow get slightly mixed up with the United States Navy, I would have also said, “uh-huh. Sure I will.”
You see, I’ve never been much of a military type of gal and contrary to what much of the world thinks, as a United States citizen it’s not compulsory that I own a gun, play violent video games or get über-excited while watching the ‘Transformer’ movies.
I was raised to be a pacifist. And I suppose that having a father who decided to dedicate his life in service to helping others through the church, it was bound to happen. When you clock more hours sitting in a pew during the first 18 years of your life than most people will do during an entire lifetime, you tend to become infused with the concept of ‘community’.
Also shocking but true is the fact that not all American preacher folk are fire and brimstone, us-vs.them, doom and gloom. There are many out there that are all about tolerance and respect. I guess you don’t see many public portrayals of this type of personality because, really, how boring of a news story, book or movie would that make?
It’s much more exciting to have an anger-filled person trying to fill the community with hate and rage rather than with tolerance and love. And anger and rage are such easy emotions to trigger, aren’t they? It’s much easier to round-up a group of folk and get them all hopping-mad than it is to get them to all calm down and just chill for a few moments.
The twist in my upbringing could be the fact that my father, who has always been an ecumenical type of guy, also felt it extremely important to be open to the various differences in communities. And so the theory goes, if you try to understand, but not necessarily agree, you can open up to the giant sense of a universal community.
And it really is much better when people get along, isn’t it. But, of course, that’s just not how the world currently is, nor how it ever has been. Total bummer, but true.
Before moving to Mauritius, I thought my world-view was expansive and informed. I was a university educated individual who had studied the liberal arts, worked in Corporate America for over a decade and travelled and studied abroad.
I read the news every day, kept up with current events and always had an opinion about everything. But, oh, how naïve I turned out to be. I was little miss ‘I-know-what’s-going-down’. But, I so didn’t. And I still don’t, but I like to think that I’m learning.
So, back it up. How did someone like me not only get to tour one of the United States Navy Swift boats while living on a tropical island in the Indian Ocean, but also get the promise of a letter of recommendation and a command coin from the Sixth Fleet?
I’m still not really certain. It just sort of happened.
Since moving away from my country, I have started to have a mini-love affair with it and these feelings of adoration just kind of organically started to happen. Not only have I grown to love my country more, but I’m viewing it and all its various communities filled with all sorts of different kinds of people with a more genuine type of respect.
Living so far away, what I truly desire now is for my fellow citizens to stop bickering amongst themselves and join together to become true leaders to set as an example what it takes to be a real, honest and connected, multidimensional national community.
But, that’s not what’s happening right now. I mean, what is up with all the blah-blah noise that is filling the American media? It’s like watching birds take turns pecking each other’s eyes out and it’s not pretty. In fact, it’s actually become rather boring.
I never really realized before how Americans are always so quick to criticize our own nation, our leaders, our communities and our people to anyone that will listen. It’s great that we aren’t scared or intimidated to speak out, but we are such a bunch of pessimistic complainers.
Try saying to someone who is struggling to keep their electricity connected continuously or to someone who is trying to get a clean water supply that America really sucks because there are giant potholes in the roads that the local Department of Transportation still hasn’t fixed after only a few weeks or that the local movie theater doesn’t accept debit cards. Right. It really sucks.
It’s far from being a perfect place and there are numerous critical issues that the nation is struggling to overcome, but really, have we completely forgotten the many victories and daily accomplishments that do happen in neighborhoods and communities all across the country?
How many dinner parties did I go to back in the States where the conversation would almost always turn to how blah-blah terrible this side or that side of Americans were. Us vs. Them. Blue-collar vs. White-collar. Republicans vs. Democrats. Liberal vs. Conservative. Alternative vs. Traditional. Rich vs. Poor. North vs. South. East vs. West. American vs. American.
Of course we’re all different and that’s part of what makes us so amazing. As an American, I was born with the voice and the power to speak out, but I was also given the spirit to continue to build and to nurture my nation.
But, what has happened to this spirit? Where did it go? And how do we get it back?
Have people really forgotten how the country came to be in the first place? America wasn’t built by one group of people from one specific place with one set of viewpoints.
All the sweat, frustrations and extreme hard work that went into creating such an astounding place amongst all the many differences, has it all been forgotten and replaced by silly, manufactured distractions?
Who really benefits the most from a divided America? Is it America? I don’t think so.
The world is a big, lovely place. You hear about it becoming smaller and more connected and I suppose that’s true, but wow, are there still a lot of tiny un-noticed bits and crannies out there. And people are, indeed, very similar creatures; but the differences amongst us are so incredibly wonderful and such a wonder to explore.
And I guess that’s how it happened, in a way. When you slow down enough and start to really look around, you start to see all sorts of things. When you are removed from your comfort zone and everything that is familiar to you is no longer accessable, you really have no choice but to let the fear go, open your eyes wide and take a long, slow look around.
And maybe by really starting to see, you begin to learn and hopefully to understand. At least, that’s what I like to put in my piggy bank each day. And I guess that’s how the Navy stumbled upon me. I’m someone who’s living, looking and sharing.
Last week the United States Navy made a scheduled visit to the island of Mauritius. Two ships, the USS Nicholas and the HSV SWIFT, of The U.S. Sixth Fleet made a requested port visit to conduct a series of training sessions focused on maritime safety and security in Africa with local groups and organizations.
They have been on a multi-month tour along the coasts of Africa and within the Indian Ocean. It’s all part of a program called the Africa Partnership Station (APS).
And it was after hearing about this type of partnership program which I knew nothing about while living in the States (and I know I’m not the only one), that made me pause, think about everything I’ve experienced while living here and really start to take a look at the men and women who work in the military. I mean, what do they do, really?
I know that we have a monster-size military with all the latest and greatest tools at our disposal, but before this port stop I guess I just assumed the Navy was out there floating around and doing whatever it is that most military units do – fighting and sailing around in blue camouflage.
You constantly see and read in the news that the American military is, yet again, somewhere doing something with giant guns and missiles, the actions of which kind of make us everyday peace-loving, citizens a bit squeamish. Or that pirates are once again attacking and seizing a ship loaded with containers filled with khakis and polos on the way to European Gap stores, but you never see anything about the possible efforts that are in play to potentially stop the pirates and prevent an attack before it happens.
But, like I said earlier, it’s so much easier for people to get all hyped-up and crazy-angry than it is to just peacefully love each other. And for some, the thought of owning thousands of pairs of free, easy-to-wash khakis is just too impossible not to resist. I suppose that’s why militaries all over the world have existed and continue to exist. Peace and stability are fragile. Bummer, but true.
And, unfortunately, there are some real, wild cowboys out there who just want to ruin the peaceful fun for everybody. Guns are ugly and scary, but necessary. Total bummer, but true, I think. It’s a bit idealistic to think that by removing all the guns, all the anger and hatred will go away. It’s also a bit foolish to think that guns didn’t cause some of the anger and hatred in the first place.
In Mauritius, it has pretty much just been me as my own local Yankee representative. If there is a jolly gang of American citizens running about town, I don’t know about them and I am not connected with them. So, the thought of two ships filled with American people arriving for a visit made me a little misty eyed, I must confess.
You move away, you’re gone for a while, you miss your peeps – at least that’s what has happened to me. I miss the community and it didn’t matter to me if these Americans had the same background as me or shared the same views as me.
They are American. I am American. Together, we are a community.
When I found out the Navy coming to Mauritius, I just wanted to mix and mesh, talk for hours and give giant hugs to each of men and women on board. I wanted to tell them how much I appreciated what they were doing and that it was good to know that the Navy was out in the world training and sharing knowledge with different countries and with different people and not just floating about the seas shooting guns.
However, as a GenXer, if you push too hard with the sell, we aren’t going to buy. I didn’t just fall out of a palm tree. I know the Navy still has guns (duh); but to also know that training was happening to show people how to properly anchor a boat or how to correctly patrol the waters for pirates or how to better police a port was, indeed, not only necessary; but something, that after living here for while, was a happily welcomed event by not only myself, but by many of the locals, as well.
Who wants pirates wearing khakis controlling the seas or containers filled with kidnapped prostitutes? Not me, sirs.
And so, someone who never really gave any deep thought to the military before, was suddenly invited to go visit the Navy in Mauritius. Needless to say, I was excited. REALLY excited.
Of all the different events that I have experienced while living on this island, this will go down as one of the more memorable. Granted, it wasn’t as star-sparkling as when I attended an Indian, Bollywood theater show here and then after the show, was invited to a well-known, local’s house, and asked to sit in all the different types of traditional Indian furniture while being told parables about intelligence in broken English.
I had visions of me, wearing something nautical, boarding a small, orange, inflatable raft-boat and being zipped out across the waves in the sea to meet the ship. As the boat would approach the ship, my hair flying about my face, I would stand up and yell out, “Permission to come aboard, sir! I’m an American! I’m from Minnesota!”
Boarding the ship, I would be hardily greeted by a line of strapping, young Navy folk (with maybe a few of the more muscular men in tight, damp t-shirts – hey, a lady can dream). Stories and laughs would be shared and an unspoken bond of being an American outside of America would be formed.
Of course, this is not what happened. Not at all. And the expectations I had and then the actual experience was sort of like when I first went to register at the US Embassy here.
Perhaps, if the ship had been filled with a jolly gang of American expats who had been living and working in different parts of the world, a more immediate, joyous and festive sense of community would have been felt by me.
But, these people were highly trained military men and women and they were working. It’s not like they just came over here to sit on a ship and take in the sun. And even when they were ‘off’ and taking a quiet break, they still seemed ‘on’ to me.
As I was walking about the ship and talking like I had just discovered the ability of speech, I’m certain more than one sailor found my abundance of excitable energy rather odd.
During the tour, I also saw from a distance a small, Mauritian coast guard boat (for the first time) and a fishing boat coming in to dock that had freshly washed clothes hung out to dry on a line. I’m not certain that my tour guide understood my level of fascination with these two boats. But, I landed here a while ago and the sighting of these two local mysteries was almost as exciting as the giant SWIFT ship, itself.
My tour was still enjoyable if not as excitable or fluffy-filled emotional as I thought it would have been and I just want to give a proper shout out to the Sixth Fleet. It takes a lot of mojo to do what you do and I respect your dedication and commitment to service. Thank you for giving me a tiny glimpse into some of the things that you do.
And if you happen to come across two clear, plastic band-aids, those are accidentally from me. You see, I never wear pants or shoes that completely cover my feet anymore and the invitation to tour the ship said to wear long pants and flat-soled shoes.
As I’m sure many of you noticed, my rather cute, black ballerina flats have a tendency to cut in to the back of my heels when I wear them without socks. I placed two band-aids on the back of my heels as a sort of protection (ladies, you know what I’m talking about) before I left for the tour, but because it was so hot and because I was so sweaty, they must have fallen off during the tour. My sincerest apologies.
I’ll always be an American even if my taste buds become French and my world-view turns into a complete splattering of colors mixed with different shades of grey.
I shall continue to believe in my country, no matter where I make my home, and do whatever I can as a citizen to help make it, as well as, the world in which I live to be a stable and peaceful community.