Thursday, July 10, 2008

Winding Down

Well, we arrived back in Mobile AL this morning but were not quite ready for the vacation to end. Since we really only had one day at the beach while on our cruise, we opted to drive to Gulf Shores AL (about an hour away) and spend the day (and night) on our own Gulf coast. Today was a great day to spend on the beach. When we tired of playing in the Gulf we walked back to the hotel property and spend time lounging around or relaxing in the pool.

Bilbo, I'm sure that you will enjoy the Mayan Riviera. We have vacationed at an all inclusive resort at Puerto Aventuras in the past and had a grand time. There are some great Mayan ruins in the area and Xcaret is a wonderful adventure should time permit. The closing program is fantastic. It is a musical history of Mexico. Unfortunately, it probably wouldn't fit into a cruise ship schedule.

The really dissapointing thing about our trip was finding out about the exploitation of foreign labor. I met several crew members from the Philippines, many from Indonesia, as well as Thailand, India, Columbia and all over the globe. From a first time crew member from the Philippines I found out that she signed a four month contract (most are usually four, six or eight months). Her job is a drink server/waitress. For four months she will work seven days per week for tips. At the end of that time, she will hope to have enough money for an airline ticket home with some money left over to live on until she either signs up for another cruise or makes a start doing something else.

Our dining room server has been with this cruise line for four years. She is a Team Head Waitress and makes seventy-five dollars per month plus tips. Her 10 month old baby is with her mother in Indonesia. Her husband is a waiter in the other dining room aboard the same ship. She plans on quitting soon to have a second child. After 20 years of service (four more years), her husband will be able to retire with a lump sum payout of $15,000 dollars. That will allow them to move to his home in Columbia and start a new life.

Needless to say, there were no US citizen working except as entertainers. For those that agree to work under these conditions they are seizing the best opportuniy available to them. They do get free room and board on the ship for the duration of their contract. I am appalled that the cruise lines would exploit poor countries and not pay their citizens for the work that they do. Without exception, the entire crew was hard working and extremely polite. I would love to sail with them again but will have to decide about supporting an industry that seems to operate at a level that is not too far above slavery. Weighing the low pay against the only opportunity that many of the crew will have to break out of poverty will be tough for a union man. My initial thought is that we may not be cruising again.

I wish that I could have given each of them a C-note as we left the ship. Unfortunately, that is not within my means. The circumstances really made me stop to appreciate how much I have. I also realized how spoiled we have become in the United States. We think that so much is owed to us as citizens. We are always up in arms about our rights being violated. When was the last time any of us worried about where our next meal was coming from or where we would sleep for the night? Have any of us ever contemplated risking our lives to journey 90 miles in a raft at sea from Cuba for the chance to work for a few dollars a week in a free country? Or risked jail or deportation just to find a better life for your family?

I can't imagine a young mother leaving a newborn baby unless she is desperate to provide for him. She has been providing for her mother and younger siblings since her father passed away. She has a positive attitude, a gentle spirit and a very kind heart. Yet there is obviously steel in this young woman as well.

Something tells me that I'll be doing a lot less complaining in the near future. I hope that it will turn into the same kind of infectious attitude that these young laborers from around the world displayed (although not all of them were young). I hope to be more gracious, less demanding and less critical of my fellow man.

To all of the crew that met our needs--Thank you. My thoughts and prayers are with you. I have learned much from you in the few days that are paths crossed. I hope that I can pass these lessons on to others.



Bilbo said...

Interesting comments about the wages paid to your servers on the ship. We have tried to get to know the staff people on our previous cruises, and never heard stories quite like those. Most of the people we met hadn't signed up for the money as much as for the chance to travel and get some time off in different ports. It's something to keep in mind, though, when we travel.

Anonymous said...

excellent post, John.

There are about 1,100 billionaires in the world. Together, these few people own more than half of the world's population. And lest we think that everyone is in undeveloped countries, the ratio is bad in the U.S. as well: 400+ billionaires own more than half of all individuals and families here.

And the rest of us who are in between seem to be standing on the sidelines, which is pretty much the same as participating in the exploitation.

Thanks for sharing your experience (and for seeing it in the first place). Yes, no cruise for me.


Sicilian said...

I find it interesting that we have lots of rhetoric about sending illegals home. Has anyone ever thought about what would happen if they all went home.
Why is it OK for us to exploit, and then on the other hand talk about how they are ruining our country. They would not be here if employers did not hire them. Stop the madness, and enforce the laws we have. I am sick of all the yacking on this subject that makes you seem unAmerican if you don't hate immigrants and want to boot everyone out of the country.
Sorry for the rant, but I have had it with all the conservative dribble on this subject.