The study session started as soon as I was chosen as one of the CCs - the volunteer interpreters. There were 12 of us: 2 Spanish & English CCs and 10 English CCs.
On January 23, 2011, we got on the Oceanic with about 30 Peace Boat staffs, 850 Japanese passengers, 10 volunteer language teachers (GETs) and 200 ship crew to start the eastbound around the world cruise.
By the way, since this entire voyage is organized by an NGO, it is relatively low budget trip for the passengers. So the ship was old and not very fancy.
The first project I was assigned as CC with 3 other girls was Orizuru Project. This was one of the core projects of Peace Boat in which the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombing make testimonies in each country we visit.
It made me very busy in the first two weeks until we arrived at Tahiti, because there were participants from 3 different countries (Japan, Tahiti, and Australia) of 3 different languages (Japanese, French, and English), and CCs had to simultaneously interpret the English into Japanese which was consecutively interpreted from French.
CCs were busy throughout the journey; I couldn't take more than 10min for meal.
Because it was an eastbound trip, we lost 1 hour whenever we get into the different time zones. 23h/day was short, but because of that we had the same day twice when we crossed the dateline.
One of the venue became bar/club space at night, so we could dance till late. There was no worry about the last train like in Tokyo, because it took less than 5min to go back to my cabin from "the club."
There were so many things ging on during the cruise, and it was never boring, despite of the fact that we spent most of the time in the ship.
I did salsa teacher with other CCs, MC in many fun lectures, planned my own events, and had fun with my awesome colleagues.
We aarived at Tahiti, the volcanic islands, on February 5, 2011.
It was my first time in Tahiti, and it was very exotic place to me. What interested me was tattoo almost everybody had. It was a part of their culture and had traditional meanings. The geormetric patterns and the signs of the sacred animals were beautiful on the people's colored skin.
I was CC of the cultural exchange tour. At each port, Peace Boat prepares sightseeing tours and exchange tours. Since most of the local guides do not speak Japanese, CCs accompany the tour for the interpretation.
We visited the cultural village to meet the local people, and we all cooked traditional food of Japan and Tahiti together, and danced together. The Tahitian girls knew Japanese TV shows very well from internet, and they were fans of very well known boys band in Japan. Although they couldn't speak Japanese, they managed to communicate with the young Japanese passengers by only using the unique names.
On February 17, 2011, we arrived at the port of Callao, Peru, and it was the dodgiest (I don't know how to say this in American English) port ever. The drivers didn't look alright to drive at all, and there was no sign of taxi on their cars. They tried to overcharge with USD, and there was no space to negotiate.
Anyway I followed the sightseeing tour as a trainee on the first day, enjoyed my second time Lima. After the tour, I met my then-boyfriend. He came to Lima after traveling through the Amazon, where he worked until the end of January. I also managed to meet my friend Janet, who worked in Lima. It was always a big challenge to meet somebody without a cell phone! But I always made it. People lived without it anyway until 2 decades ago.
All of CCs had diarrhea after Peru. I was the last one to have this symptom, maybe because I had resistance from the past experience in South America. But I had it anyway right before the arrival at Panama.
On February 23, 2011, the ship entered the Panama Canal. I did CC for the sightseeing tour that went to Gatun Lake and the jungle nearby. The ecosystem of the jungle was similar to that of the Amazon in Brazil.
We arrived at Cartagena, Colombia, on February 25, half day behind the schedule due to the late departure from Panama.
Cartagena was a very pretty historical town. It became even more beautiful at night from the lighting.
Port of Spainm, Trinidad and Tobago
February 28, the ship arrived at Trinidad and Tobago. During the tour, when we went up to the viewpoint, we could see our ship and unclear silhouette of Venezuela, because it is only 17km away.
Then we visited a steel pan factory. One passenger bought an entire set of steel pan, spending more than 1,000USD. I was surprised to hear that buying steel pan in Trinidad and Tobago was one of the motivations to participate this voyage. It could cost double the price in Japan, since this instrument is delicate and nobody in Japan can do the tuning.
We had very delicious lunch, with the live band of steel pans, and had a great time.
Despite of good times, I started to feel stressed out. CC was always busy and always in between some conflicts. These factors made my skin, whcih was about to heal, go worse.
My roommate was a Spanish GET teacher, Maria. GET teachers teach language onboard to the passengers, and they are volunteer like CC. She was the best roommate ever. We spent a lot of time sharing ideas and thoughts. Although the time schedules of GET and CC are different, I had no difficulty living with her because she always paid attention not to bother my sleep.
Maria is such an independent, very rational person, and she has her own opinion towards anything. What I admired about her was that she never lied to herself or to others about any small things. I learned a lot from her.
On March 10, 2011, we arrived at Casablanca, the place I will never forget.
On the first day, I accompanied sightseeing tour to Rabat. The guide was Zahir, like the title of Paulo Coelho book, and he was a Berber. Lunch was tajine and couscous, which I love ever since. We walked through narrow streets with white walls and blue accents, and had sweet mint tea.
The tour was over before dinner time, so CC Michiko and I went to check out the souq. Casablanca was stinky but fun. Moroccan people were nice and friendly.
We ended up in a local night club, and people paid for our drinks all night, so we spent only 50 cents that night.
When we got back to the port, it was all dark and we couldn't remember where our ship was. Michiko was desperate to go to toilet and we had no time to wander about. There was a light in the warehouse-looking building, and there was a man inside. We first asked if we could use the toilet. The man smiled and said of course. Later we asked him if he knew where the Peace Boat ship was, because we got lost. He did, and he gave us a ride! I loved Morocco from the first day.
The following day was March 11, 2011.
Most of CCs had free time, so we went out altogether, first to internet cafe, where I opened Yahoo! Japan website and found the earthquake notice.
It was a breaking news, and it was renewed each time I renewed the page. But it was hard to grasp the entire picture because the death toll by then, according to the articles, was still less than 10, and the breaking news only reported about each aftermath.
By checking several SNS and Japanese news websites (because at that time I believed whatever happened in Japan was reported most precisely and accurately by the Japanese media), I got the idea that something serious was happening in Japan. I yelled to other CCs in the internet cafe "It seems like a big earthquake hit some part of Japan!"
I gave up on collecting further information because the media itself seemed confused. We decided to enjoy the souq as we first planned. After nice lunch and my fevourite mint tea, some of us went to internet cafe again.
Then I got message from my family in Tokyo that they were fine. I used Twitter direct message instead of email, and that was a good decision, because most of email servers in Japan were down by then.
After we returned to the ship, there was announcement, repeatedly, saying "A huge earthquake hit the northeast area of Japan. The further information will follow as soon as we have it..." But it was never followed, at least through an announcement like that.
We arrived in Malaga on March 12. The tour I went with was the sightseeing in Mijas and Malaga. It was my third time in Malaga, though I did not really remember anything.
After the tour, we had a few hours free. So I went to the town again with other CCs and passengers, enjoyed the night walk and nice dinner and coffee. As soon as we got into Europe, the quality of coffee improved so much.
CCs, GETs, and some Peace Boat staff gathered in one cabin with food and drinks we bought at the previous ports, and enjoyed talking. I loved spending time like that.
When I got back to my cabin, Maria showed me a newspaper she bought in Spain. The entire front page was about the disaster in Japan. I think that was the time I finally grasped the whole picture of what was happening.
The ship sailed through the Mediterannean Sea, and on March 15 in the morning, we arrived at Naples.
CC Belle and I went straight to the station, walking, to go to Rome by train. In a small store where we bought water, the lady asked us if we were Japanese, and said they were sorry for what happened in our country.
In Termini station there was a TV inside coffee shop, and it was showing the scene looked as if the ocean was invading the city. On the footage I could recognize Japanese subtitles. I stopped walking and called Belle. I could not believe that was what happened in my country.
As we planned, we took metro and went to Vatican, but all we could think of was that footage we just saw. We bought The Guardian and Newsweek and went into an internet cafe. From reading The Guardian, I understood that the nuclear reactors were in danger, but the major Japanese news websites had a different tone, and that made me feel anxious.
I was not feeling alright at all, but there was nothing I could do. As originally planned, we met my friend Val, who I traveled with in Brazil and Venezuela in Kumuka tour. She lived in the town 3h distance by bus from Rome, but she used to live in Rome and knows this city very well. So She booked a very nice cozy hotel for me and took us to the night city tour.
There are ruins from the Ancient Rome, the middle age, and the Renaissance everywhere. Dinner was very nice, and we enjoyed Rome so much.
Next morning, when I checked the news on internet, I leant that now the radiation could be leaking from the reactors. It was a nightmare.
Val took us to the city tour this day, as well, and each time I met beautiful things or had nice experience, I felt bad. Not only tremendous amount of peple died or are missing in Japan, the half of the entire land is under the risk of the exposure to ratiation.
An anti-nukes demo was taking place in a square, but not many people were around to listen to the group. There were a few media people with camera. It looked so small scale that at that time I had no idea Italy ended up announcing the abolishment of the nuclear reactors.
Val took care of us, and Belle and I were so thankful. She always travels, and she showed me pictures she took in Laos. She is now working as a tour leader and travel writer.
The port of Naples had free wi-fi, so I went online again to check the news. The situation in Japan progressed each time I checked. Using internet onboard costs a lot (4,000JPY/100min) because it uses satelite. So I took my iPhone or laptop to whereever it had wi-fi.
Until March 17, there was no briefing onboard about the disaster in Japan, and I was frustrated and wondered why. Because of lack of information, most of the passengers didn't seem to care at all about the incident.
At night, the session about the earthquake and the nuclear situation was finally held, and I raised my hand to do simultaneous interpretation for this session. I studied the termns and learned about the structure of the reactor to get prepared.
During the session, I couldn't believe the passengers reaction as if they knew nothing, and only knew about it for the first time. Maybe it is possible when you are abroad without having internet access. Maybe the passengers (most of them were over 60 years old) did not know about internet cafes. Or maybe, they assumed the proper announcement will be given by Peace Boat if the situation is that serious.
Still now I think that Peace Boat should have given the information earlier to the passengers, and that the passengers were too passive and dependent on the organizer of the voyage.
The management staff must have had their own reasons not to disclose the facts. Maybe there was an intention to avoid panic in the small closed community of 850 Japanese, but this logic is exactly the same with the Japanese government. Peace Boat office in Japan started the relief activities straight away, but the situation onboard was completely different.
CC Manami and Kiyo had downloaded the tsunami footages at local internet cafe. So CCs could see them and understand what happened. It was my first time watching the footages that long. CC Chihiro, who was from the disaster area, started to cry. The girl sitting across the low table was crying with her iPhone in her hand, watching the screen.
Athens & Mikonos, Greece
March 19, 2011, arrived in Greece.
I accompanied the Athens city tour. We had a very nice food, and the great experience of climbing up to the Acropolis.
But I was constantly worried about my country. I read in online news that there were still aftermaths. What will happen to the contaminated sea, field and forests? What will happen to people live near the epicenter? I could hardly control my anxious feelings.
There was wi-fi inside the terminal of the port, so I just stayed in this area after the tour for about 2 hours, just collecting the information about Japan.
On this day, The French army started the air raid to Lybia, one of the destinations of this cruise in the original itinerary. Any media had news of both Lybia and Japan as top news.
We arrived in Mikonos Island in the next morning. As soon as I arrived, I went to an internet cafe to talk to my family in Tokyo via Skype, but it only made me feel more depressed. The information and the attitude we had were completely different; I wanted them to leave Tokyo, but they tried to convince me everything was alright, and that there were workers and firefighters risking their lives to take care of the situation.
I thought it was insane. Everybody should have just evacuate instead of being entranced by the heroism. Then I realized that the way Japanese media reported this issue was weird. At that time I wondered why my sister, whose English is native level, did not check foreign media. But who thinks the country experiencing the incident reports insincerely, and the others do it more correctly?
I was so depressed and walked around alone in the pretty town of Mikonos almost crying. There was nobody on the street thanks to the low season, and I only met a few locals. They said hi to me, smiling. Since Crying does not change the situation, I went into a pretty cafe and ate crepe.
Mikonos people were constantly painting the walls white, and it made me think of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The Greek Orthodox churches were white and simple outside, but so dark and gorgeous inside. The old ladies there wore black, quiet, and looked scary, but they smiled and offered me sweets.
We arrived on March 21, 2011, at 6:30am, in Turkey. CC Manami used to live in Izmir and so she took us, 5 CCs, to the Izmir tour.
It took more than 2 hours to get there by bus, so we only had about 3 hours in Izmir. It was hot and dry. We enjoyed the market. Everything we ate was delicious, crafts were exotic, and people were friendly. Unlike the town of Kuşadasi, Izmir was not touristy at all.
At night I participated the Middle East conference and dinner, to which the activists from Middle East countries and UN officials participated, as CC. It was a bit frustrating for me because although many interesting projects came up during dinner talks, I was only an interpreter, like a machine to convert the language, so I was not there to join the conversation even if I also had my own idea and wanted to join so much.
On the following day, I did consecutive interpretation of the session about the Middle East issues for the passengers. The Egyptian activist who I did intepretation of spoke very fast and hardly ever took a break for me to interpret. Later on I was too exhausted, could not speak, and went to bed by 20h.
Port Said, Egypt
We arrived in Egypt on March 23, 2011. It was about 1 month after the revolution, so we were not allowed to go inside the country on our own, and everybody had to join the tour which was accompanied by guard during the transport.
CCs and GETs joined the same tour and visited the Great Pyramids and the Great Sphinx, spending 3 hours in bus to go and another 3h to come back.
I looked through the bus windows. There were mosques everywhere and the River Nile was beautiful. But there were tanks and military on the street.
As rumour said, there were so many souvenir venders at the Great Pyramids and Sphinx, and they were almost annoying. But for them, we were long waited tourists, which they didn't have for a while because of the revolution. They must have been more aggressive than usual.
Somebody told me when he came to Egypt long time ago, women dressed in more westernized manner, but they dress in more strict muslim style.
Although it was not recommended, we walked around the town for about 20min, and the town was about the same level of dirtiness with Bolivia. But people looked happy and energetic.
Later we had the session with the activists who led the revolution which defeated Mubarak regime. I asked one of them about the diplomatic policy of Egypt towards Israel, because I couldn't see the consistency, but it was not a good question because the leader of the country was now gone, and they were not even responsible for the old policy.
But from the female activist's explanation, I understood that the logic of assisiting Palestine while having the peace treaty with Israel did not contradict, because thre was the idea that Hamas was their enermy, not Palestine.
Next day, the ship started to sail through the Suez Canal.
Jeddha, Saudi Arabia
On March 26, we arrived in Saudi Arabia. I had never thought of visiting Saudi Arabia in my life.
My skin condition was getting worse, due to the heat and emotional stress that came from the busy work and the radiation issues in Japan.
At the disembarkation, all women were strictly told not to show hair at all, wear loose fit clothes not to show the body lines, and cover any part of skin except for hands and face. Choosing clothes made me sigh.
There is no such thing as tourist visa for non-Arabs in Saudi Arabia; there are only business, diplomat, or pilgrimage visas. I heard that we were allowed to go into the country because the executive member of Peace Boat knew some powerful person in Saudi Arabia.
As the tour bus ran through Jedhha, I could see there were American names everywhere: McDonalds, KFC, Domino Pizza... There was no young woman on the street. There were a few women, not young, entirely covered with burka. The food court of shopping mall had women-only area which was totally hidden. It made me wonder how dangerous men are in this country.
Later on, we headed to a landowner's house, and nobody knew who this person was. Anyway lunch was served in a huge dining room to almost 100 passengers, and then live music and dance show started in the hall. Most of the servants were from Yemen, and they turned from waiters to dancers or musicians, changing the costumes rapidly.
Later in the afternoon, we all went to the vast backyard which also belonged to the same landowner, to have tea and watch his camels. Saudi Arabian coffee is almost white because the beans are not roasted, and tea was spicy.
When we left the house, the servants waved the Saudi Arabian flag. We were all impressed by their hospitality. The tour finished after watching the lighted up mosque on the coast of the Red Sea.
Although I enjoyed the tour so much, I got very sick after coming back to the ship. I found myself shivering at night, and I felt so dull and uncomfortable all night.
In the next morning, I realized that my body wouldn't let me get up from the bed, so I told Maria that I was sick. I was sick for about 2 days, and on the third day, I managed to take shower. I still don't know why.
The ship was off the coast of Somalia by then.
We even had drills to get ready for the attack from the pirates, but nothing happened. Our ship made a fleet with other Japanese ships, guarded by Self-Defence Forces of Japan.
As soon as I recovered, I started to check the news from Japan. I had the impression that the risk of radiation was not emphasized enough in any articles. It must have helped people taking the situation less seriously.
Then the Japanese government finally admitted the fact of plutonium leaka. My family in Tokyo told me not to come back to Japan, so I started thinking about leaving the ship at Manila and fly to where my father lived: Amsterdam. I didn't care if it was against the contract with Peace Boat. It was about protecting my own health and life. Whatever happened, I had to fight for myself.
The film Earth was shown in the auditorium, and I went to see it because it was an important film for me. From the first time I saw this film, I always wanted to understand this planet as one unique being.
On April 3, 2011, we arrived in Kochi, Kerala. It was my first time in India.
My image of India was hilarious and surreal, maybe because of the Bollywood film I saw long time ago. The tour was fun but not hilarious. It was hot and humid.
I forgot to bring my credit card with me, and I only had my Citibank cash card. I had no time to go to ATM, so I could not buy anything, although I loved Indian textiles.
In the shopping street, I had a strange feeling about those prices associated with beautiful products. Price was supposed to be equivalent to the value of the product, but it was not the case there. The cheapness was treating the product injust, that's how I felt. I would have never felt that way if I had money to buy things there. But I was neutral then; I was neither a seller or a buyer.
After the city tour, we went to the cltural village to eat curry and watch Kathakali Dance show. But that was not the end! India was preparing an amazing gift for me.
After returning to the ship, CC Daisuke, who went to the exchange tour, showed the message card he got from the counterpart. And I laughed so hard for the next 30 min.
It was supposed to be an official message from some high rank person of the state, but it was obviously copied and pasted from the Google translator. Japanese is very difficut to translate because there are too many rules and different styles of writing. Those styles were randomly mixed in this message and created original rhythm and style.
Only exchange tour participants had this card, but I kept telling Daisuke that I want that card so bad. So Daisuke and his wife Sohia gave it to me on my last day on the ship with thier sweet messages written on its back! This card is traveling with me since; it is my treasure.
On the next day, I did consecutive interpretation with CC Sumi of the session by Kimi, which was about GLBTQ and gay rights. Kimi, who was a volunteer web reporter, came out in this session. Not only Kimi, but Martin, GET English teacher, also came out. They decided to do so not only for their own sakes but to raise the awareness, so the audience may reliaze thier prejudice or misunderstanding about gay people.
I told other CCs and GETs that night that I was leaving the ship before arriving at Yokohama, and there were 4 others like me. Anyway the voyage was almost over. I worked so hard and put so much energy to everything happened in the ship, so I had no regrets.
Towards the end of my journey, finally I could see dolphines in the ocean. I had no time till then to watch the ocean waiting for dolphines to come out.
At the noon of April 8, we arrived at Singapore, and I learned that Japan was hit by M7.4 aftermath. No matter how many times the government officials said it was alright, I didn't think that the reactors could survive those big aftermaths.
So I talked to my mother and siter, who were still in Tokyo, on Skype from the internet cafe in the Arab Street. However the information they had and I had were different, and so were the realities we believed. I could not convince them to leave Tokyo.
In the shopping mall near City Hall, I found dead sea spa body mud. The shopkeeper told me it was especially good for eczymas, which was exactly what I was suffering from. The girls there were from Phlippines, and worried about Japan so much, because many Philippinos were working in Japan.
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
We arrived in Malaysia on April 11. I did CC of the tour that visited Lok Kawi Wilflife Park, where Borneo Elephants are rescued and kept secure.
It is due to the mass production of palm oil used in almost anything we consume. Huge plantations of oil palm are made from the rainforest and so the Borneo Elephants are losing their place. As their habit, they don't change the route even if there is no forest anymore, and as a result, they cause damage to the plantations and are treated as pests.
It is imprtant that we know about this fact, because we are consuming what is produced from these plantations. For exapmle, each single Japanese is dependent on 10m² size of plantation in Borneo, and Japan is 15th in the ranking of palm oil import. (*)
Snacks, instant food, detergent, cosmetic products, bread, chocolate, margarine, candles and even biodiesel, almost anything we consume contains healthy vegetable oil, which apparently is palm oil. We are sacrificing the rainforest of Borneo.
*For more information, please go to the webiste of Borneo Conservation Trust Japan (Japanese only).
April 13, 2011, was my last day of the voyage. In the morning I dreamt of all CC and GET members.
When I said goodbye to them, I cried so much like a little kid. It was too sad to leave the people I liked. Thanks to Belle who came to the city center with me, otherwise I had to go down the gangway alone, crying. I didn't know I was such a sentimental person. Looking back at the old ship was enough to make me cry. That was my home for the past 3 months.
Manila was so hot. Belle and I took a taxi. On the back of the driver's Tshirt, written my destination: "Holland." We had lunch together and then I headed to the airport.
When I checked the online news at the airport, I learned that M7.1 aftermath hit Japan, and that my family in Tokyo decided to go to Paris temporarily, because the danger level became same with Chernobyl.
Also, my father who lived in Holland suggested me to go meet with my family in Paris, and that he will come with me to France.
My trip was over. After going around the earth, I am even more sure that the happiness is all about feeling and being with the order of nature. Traveling gives the feeling that the earth is alive and it is where you belong to.
I said goodbye to the ocean the previous day and also wished that everything goes fine.
I took the flight first to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and then flew to Amsterdam by KLM.