We do not take journeys, they take us.
We are in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia, bound for Salalah, Oman. The nautical chart on the Bridge has this zone shaded pink with the printed notation ‘High Risk Area.’ These are the waters made infamous by the Tom Hanks film in which pirates hijacked a merchant ship terrorizing her crew. Although entertaining and ‘based on a true story,’ the movie defamed this beautiful sea. And the people of Somalia. There are no pirates working today, only a passenger liner on her way to Suez.
Although I occasionally yearn for the society and comforts of a cruise ship, I am happy aboard the Ural. I took this adventure for several reasons, but one was to experience the earth firsthand. Looking at maps and picture books gives no human measure of the great seas and vast continents of the planet. Travel by air defeats our apprehension entirely. A container ship cruises at about 14 knots per hour, the speed of a weekend cyclist on level ground. That speed is within my ken. I can wrap my mind around it.
This is my fourth week on the road. I have personal experience of time and distance between West Cork and Somalia. Cycling and traveling by container ship have given me a yardstick, a sense of scale. Imagine if you gave up your car for lent, how quickly you’d know the real distance to your grocery market. You’d experience the place you live in a different, more intimate way. That’s what I’m doing with Mother Earth, getting to know her.
Somalia – If I could, I would pause here. I am certain that film and news reports, like air travel, mislead us in matters of scale. However, in Africa it’s not about time and distance. It’s about suffering, a matter of the heart. People are starving. They are dying for lack of medicine, dying for lack of clean drinking water. I’m not sure I could bear to take the measure of their lives, spend a day walking the streets of Mogadishu. However, if I did that, I might understand the desperation which drives men to piracy.