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Monday, 15 June 2015

Logos Hope; The Return #logoshope

Walking down the gangway of the Logos Hope for the final time in September 2013 was such a relief that I honestly didn’t expect to return. My time on the ship wasn’t all negative and I am grateful for my experiences in the Philippines whilst on-board that led me into full-time Missionary work. However, I struggled with many things whilst on-board for a 2 year commitment. Maybe I will write a book about that soon….

I was surprised to hear that the ship would be returning to the Philippines this year as I expected it to be 4 or 5 years before they re-visited due to the amount of time they had spent here recently. Initially Subic Bay wasn’t included in the list of proposed ports probably because there was a time when many of us, as crew members, felt as if we lived there due to the extended dry dock in 2012. I was pleased when the schedule was changed to include my former place of residence and began making plans to visit.

Last Saturday I woke up later than planned and really wasn’t in the mood for the long journey to Subic Bay by bus. I hadn’t been feeling that well for a few days and lacked energy due to the heat but I decided that I should make the effort as I had a few people to meet on-board. I walked to the bus station grabbing take-away breakfast at MCD’s en route. The Victory bus terminal is about a 25 min walk from my house but I didn’t quite make it that far as I saw several buses travelling in the direction I needed to go and one of them had an Olongapo signboard (Subic Bay.) It also had the SCTEX label which in English terms means “faster bus” due to the route it takes. I was happy to see this bus and flagged it down only to be told that it was full. Why the drivers stop when the bus is already full I couldn’t tell you; maybe because they are being polite or because I’m a foreigner.

I was reduced to begging the conductor to let me on the bus and after a few seconds he told me it was standing room only which I agreed to as I didn’t want to wait in the bus terminal for hours. I felt a bit embarrassed as I boarded with my coffee in one hand and MCD’s takeaway in the other. I normally try not to appear too Westernised avoiding things like Starbucks/Smartphones which Filipino’s spend their limited money on. There isn’t really a concept of saving money here and many Filipino’s will use half a days wages just to buy an expensive coffee rather than the very cheap option from the street vendor or supermarket. I think it’s more of a status symbol than anything else, but being of a mind-set where cheaper is ALWAYS better even though I do have money to spend, I struggle with the spending habits of many here who really can’t afford to live as they do.

I braced myself for the usual open stares as I looked for a floor space in the centre aisle. This was not the “done thing” from a Filipino perspective as they tend to treat Westerners like royalty and here I was unashamedly begging for a bus space and then about to sit on the dirty floor to eat my breakfast :) There was a scrambling motion at the front of the bus as the conductor found me a small plastic seat (probably removing it from some poor local person, but I didn’t see that or I would’ve given it back.) I gratefully sat down feeling quite hot and bothered and tucked into my burger getting ketchup everywhere in the process. That part was the easy bit as it turned out. Have you ever tried making coffee whilst sitting on the floor of a moving bus in Manila? My big mistake, I took the lid off the coffee before opening the sugar and creamer. The result; coffee everywhere and a burnt hand. Undeterred I tried again and again, becoming increasingly amazed that despite the many local people staring at my predicament no one offered to help me! Eventually I was successful and drank my coffee without further incident. I spent most of the 3 hour bus journey standing as it was just too uncomfortable to sit down and in the last 15 minutes a kind man offered me his seat.

As we reached the Harbour Point shopping mall in Olongapo where we had previously stocked a mini version of the Logos Hope BookFair a strange feeling of nostalgia flooded over me. As it was very hot I approached a taxi rank, taking number 2 in the line as number 1 tried to rip me off. Being dropped off about a five minute walk from where the ship was docked I could only see the very top of the ship with the familiar logo. I felt excited and apprehensive as I walked towards the ship and was greeted by various BookFair staff who didn’t know that I was ex-crew. Happy to remain anonymous I paid the small entrance fee and began wandering towards the visitor’s gangway only to be recognised by the Personnel Manager Dan who happened to be coming down the crew gangway. This was the first of many hugs. I had forgotten about the hugging culture on Logos Hope which I had just about adjusted to after 2 years on-board. I have spent the last 2 years re-adjusting as I like my personal space! I thought back to when I was leaving the ship and one of my closest friends Nick had said to me “normally I would hug you now but I know you don’t like that because you are British!”

Hug and questions over I met up with my friend Arlene who was also visiting for a few days. This was when things got very surreal as we headed for our favourite seats in the Dining Room. I’m guessing that the crazy people who had extended their commitment thought they were in some kind of time capsule as they saw us sitting there again. I poured myself some of the powdered lemon juice drink and chatted with various people feeling very odd and kind-of out of place but everyone was very friendly. Then we headed down to the BookFair where I had previously worked as Administrator and Product Placement for the Children’s Book’s area. I had brought 30 copies of my book "They're Rugby Boys, Don't You Know?" to sell to the ship. Unfortunately as they had been printed in the UK (expensive) there was limited room for negotiation and the kind BookFair Manager even offered to buy them from me at the retail price. In the end we settled on a profit share of 2/3 to my charity and 1/3 to the ship.

Next we went to the International Café (Icafe) where I had also worked when first on-board. I thought back to the many conversations with various visitors and some of the incidents that had taken place amongst the staff. I recalled a water-bomb fight using a blown up plastic glove that exploded on hitting its target and the many times that less capable crew members had poured the heavy ice cream mix over the top and side of the machine when refilling instead of into it, resulting in the machine coming to an abrupt standstill and beeping loudly in protest, as thousands of people waited not-so-patiently in line.

The ship seemed eerily quiet during our visit and I asked Arlene whether she had also noticed the silence and whether it had been like that when we were on-board. It seemed to me that it had always been relatively noisy and full of life and activity especially in the more public areas. On reflection, I realised that the ship hadn’t changed but the people had. Most of my friends had moved on and as it was the people that had made the experience it felt strangely wrong without them. I was really glad at this point that I hadn’t booked to stay on-board as I think it would’ve made me feel very alone and nostalgic.

Arlene had to get back to Manila for a Church meeting in the evening so we planned to leave after just a few hours. One of the nicest things about the visit was the great sense of freedom I felt as I walked around knowing that I could stay for as long as I liked AND leave whenever I wanted. It may sound a bit odd but towards the end of my time on the ship I felt a little like I was in a prison, just because I couldn’t leave, as I was determined to finish my commitment. Many of my in-take (PST Penang) left early so the last few months were especially tough.

By chance (or God) an American lady with a very nice spacious air conditioned car happened to be heading back to Manila as we were leaving and offered us a lift. So we travelled back to Manila in comparative luxury. Arlene is heading back to the ship this weekend and also paying a visit when the ship moves to La Union (6 hours from Manila.) But I think for now a short re-visit was enough for me and once again it was the people that made the visit enjoyable. Thanks everyone :)