The things I had to do to get decent wireless...
The first time I walked in, I couldn’t believe I was going to have to live in there for 14 weeks. I bleakly noted that at least it had a three-foot square window, at that moment looking out onto the black nothingness of Nassau, Bahamas, where we were docked. I stood in the doorway with one bulging bag slung over my shoulder and another large rolling duffle trailing behind me and thought: “How the hell are we going to live in this tiny space until May without killing each other?” My heart sank.
The cabin was about 10 feet by 10 feet with two single beds, one against each wall, each with a life-jacket lying ominously on the pillow. Immediately to the left of the door where I stood was a large two-door closet that ran floor-to-ceiling. A built-in dresser sat next to the closet with a small refrigerator and television on upper shelves, both secured to prevent unfortunate mishaps during stormy seas. On the right, I took in the tiny bathroom that was barely big enough for one person; and beyond that, a three-paned vanity mirror with desk and a small armless chair. The mirror seemed incongruous: we were to live in spartan close quarters for a whole semester, but at least there would be plenty of opportunity to primp.
It was January 2008, and my partner Margie and I had just opened the door on the adventure of our lives. I’d been asked to spend the spring semester providing library services to 732 undergraduate students on board the MV Explorer as we voyaged around the world. We left Charlottesville in a snow storm, barely getting out before the airport closed, and arrived in balmy Nassau that night. Once our names were found on the manifest we were allowed to board the Explorer about 15 minutes before last call at 2300 hours in the faculty/staff lounge. The first impressions of the cabin were rushed and not very positive as we tossed down our luggage and scurried off to explore the ship and hopefully down a much-needed glass of wine.
Our cabin, 5002, was at the very front of the ship (“fore”) and adjacent to the captain’s quarters. Only faculty were assigned rooms on this particular hall, so it was quiet, but more subject to the extremes of riding the waves. Eventually we got to be old sea dogs about it, but early on it was downright alarming. We’d ride up a wave about 20 feet, then come slamming down with a thunderous crash. I learned not to leave my laptop sitting on the desk after it collided with the floor. Safer, I determined, to just leave it on the floor where there was plenty of “to” and “fro” but at least no more “down”.
On our first few nights at sea the ship pitched and swelled. We were tightly tucked in our little beds but nonetheless we rolled fore and aft, from port to starboard. The dresser drawers opened and slammed shut, the television rhythmically swiveled back and forth, bottles in the refrigerator rolled to and fro, the chair toppled. Nothing stayed on desks or night tables. Sleep? Yeah, right. We kept the life-jackets within easy reach and learned to anchor everything down.
Being a librarian on a ship means pretty much always being on duty. In this floating Academical Village the faculty and staff live 24/7 with the students: we did almost everything together as a community. Everyone attended Global Studies class at 1020 hours each class day; everyone attended the pre-port lectures to learn about customs, health concerns, and logistics a night or two before docking in a foreign country. We ate together in the same dining rooms, we socialized together in the evenings. We were everywhere together. There was little privacy. It was like summer camp, but without mosquitoes.
The first few weeks were rough. I had to adjust to seasickness (meds helped but made me woozy) and we lost an hour every other night as we sailed across the Atlantic. When not on duty in the library I snuck away to my cabin to catch a catnap. Sometimes lying down was the only way to counter the nausea, but it was calming, too. I missed my dog, but we put photos of her on the walls, and our belongings decorated the space: clock radio, books, jeans, pillows, all from home, all making the space familiar and comfortable as we adapted to our new surroundings.
Traveling in third world countries was fascinating but exhausting. When I arrived back at the cabin after a few days in port it felt like I’d come home. Hot and tired, we’d swipe our IDs to enter our clean, cool cabin, and collapse onto bed with great relief. No space has ever felt so welcoming and safe.
The cabin came to be my refuge, my cozy little home. Who needs more space? I didn’t require more than I had in that tiny cabin: a little floor space, a little natural light, a serviceable bathroom, my own bed. It was private, it was peaceful, it was perfect.