Looking for Answers in Kanton

July 19, 2019

Benjamin Ma, C Watch, Brown University


Ship's Log

Current Position
2° 48.408’ S X 171°  42.851’ W

Ship’s Heading & Speed

Sail Plan
Kanton Atoll, sailing to Orona in the coming few days

pink skies, slow breeze, calm seas

Souls on Board

And if you told me that I would’ve survived the first leg of this trip, I wouldn’t have believed you for even one second.

It has been a long two weeks on the Robert C. Seamans, laced with dark nights and happy memories with plenty of time for moments of reflection and silence in between. Life on the ship is busy, but it is simple. There are orders to follow, ropes to haul, and friends to laugh with. There are sunrises to beat, squalls to conquer, and always a beautiful sunset to compensate. I look at the horizon far beyond reach, and yet the most stationary thing to exist, in hopes of easing my motion sickness. When the sky falls and there is nothing but purple nights and a high moon, I instead look at the stars. I spend most of the day trying to figure out a new skill on the deck, performing nutrient filtrations, or delved into a microscope processing the marine life we find below us. Within this time, there are 21 other students alongside me, all who share this same experience. We take any evening we can to relax on the top decks of the boat, share a meal, and a token of wisdom we’ve gathered from the day’s tasks.

I have not been in the best health since leaving dock in Pago Pago, but today has allowed me to look at the amount of progress I’ve undergone and the opportunity for growth in the coming weeks before returning home. We are nearing our second night in Kanton and days are much slower than they are at sea. C watch took the deck today while watches A and B enjoyed a series of snorkeling excursions and hikes around the island. I have since been able to enjoy exploring the life around me after my final watch task this afternoon at 1600.

I’ll take my first few steps off the boat and once again learn how to stand on solid ground. I’ll continue to sway, similar to the ebb and flow of the ocean despite having been docked for over 24 hours. I’ll take the best nap ever since stepping on this vessel; I’ll remember my bed from home and try to quickly forget about how wonderful it felt. Beyond the railings and across the large area separating the ship from the shoreline are small homes for the approximately 40 native people of Kanton who have moved in near the sea to be with us. There are children who join the ship mates for a long game of soccer in the heat far too unbearable yet common near the Equator.

I’ll peek into the open doors beyond the villagers’ yards and see nothing but rugs, blankets, and other empty spaces. I think about how there was always something for me to complain about in the states, how the air conditioning wasn’t strong enough, or how there was too much traffic in downtown Houston, how dare some restaurants tried to serve me room temperature water. I glance at the laundry lines all across the land and then remember how easy I have it to be able to forget about what hard work felt like while my laundry machine does it for me. I’ll look at the faces of these children who physically have so much less than I do, and yet so much more to offer to this island they call their home. When I have gazed far too long at the bushes before me, I shift my eyes out to the open ocean and trace my hand across  the ring of landscape that is  Kanton, and I’ll try to find an answer for how in  the world I got myself here. I’ll wonder what led me to leave home to a place so far away, and I’ll do it until the clouds have softened and the skies have changed their shades of lilac and aborigine to pale palettes of pink. I’ll look at the time on my phone and see a picture of my parents who I’ve saved as my lock screen. I’ll look back at the horizon and think about how much I miss them.

Words cannot explain how difficult it is for me to live in an environment where you are thrust into a surge of different factors I can barely juggle. However, I then remember that in just a few moments, there is a sunset to smile at. There are people to have dinner with and a family I will get to see again. There are friends I will hug in due time and a sister I will get to spend the night with. I keep looking at the horizon knowing that there is a place to come home to.

To my friends: I miss you. I’m serious. I miss you.

To my mom, dad, grandparents, and Maggie: I love you guys so incredibly much. Thank you for everything you guys have done for me.

See you all soon,

- Benjamin Ma, C Watch, Brown University

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