7. Diamonds & Lumber – part 2

There was still time before lunch duty and so we relaxed on deck –yes, away from the passengers- and watched the ocean go by.  Regardless of how I was doing it, I was thoroughly enjoying my new adventures at sea.  I’d catch full views of whales occasionally and other fish swimming around too, it was fun!

It’s the 7th day and our ship is approaching Honolulu Harbor, it is still the dark hours of the morning. The ship has slowed its pace as it enters the waters of Hawaii, the Harbor Master must board, enter the Bridge and take over, bringing the boat into the port.

I am awake and find myself at the railing on deck to bare witness something I never even dreamed of; the lights of the city. Twinkling from the homes along the mountains were thousands of tiny lights; it was like someone tossed millions of diamonds on to hills of black velvet and I remember saying to myself, “Oh God this must be heaven.”

The experience of a different place; it is now twilight and as if lost in a dream yet feeling the state of wakefulness, I watch the sunrise happening over Honolulu. It was something completely new to me.

It wasn’t at all dark like Fiji as in the level of lights there; just as you cannot count the stars in the sky, it’s how the sight of those lights affected me at that moment. I am looking on at Waikiki.

Back to the kitchen for breakfast service with a definite air of excitement!  We’ve stopped here for supplies such as fresh water, fresh foods, mail and laundry exchange as well.  The length of our ship’s stay in port is 12 hours; our shore leave would be about 4-6 hours.

A group of us hailed a cab and asked the driver to take us to a great place where we could shop and check out a little of the local scene, which we could enjoy in a short period of time.  He took us to a big mall complex (which a few years ago I returned to, it was still there) and I ate pineapple of course!  And for another enjoyable treat I had a watermelon shake for the first time in my life, it was delicious!  I bought some Hawaiian shirts too.

Back to the ship and we are heading towards Vancouver, Canada and another 7 days at sea. Our ship is bringing sugar in from the plantations of Fiji for delivery into B.C., Canada. British Columbia was extending a wet welcome – it was soooo cold especially due to the fact I come from a southern tropical climate. I was used to warmer rains!  This rain was freezing and it was my first experience in cold rainy weather.

There was a warming period however – I met and fell in love (or so I thought) with a lovely French – Punjabi girl.  Sonia was 18 and one of many daughters of a sawmill big shot in Canada.  We first met at local nightclub, dancing and having a drink or three.  Hold on, I got just a little ahead of myself, so I’ll detail it out for you just a bit.

A friendly passerby on the street directed my friends and me to this particular club as we walked along the streets of Vancouver one early evening.  He too was an Indian national. We fell into a mutual hello as our eyes met, we all began conversing.

It started off with our ‘what to do around here’ answered with his suggestions of shopping, restaurants and a great club that was a good place where a younger crowd meets.  He told us that he too went there sometimes.

We found it and went in. It was a nice dance club, no hard liquor, only beer and soft drinks; that’s a good thing as younger people were welcome there too.  We grabbed a few seats and about 3 or 4 tables away sat a group of young girls.  I couldn’t see exactly their faces but naturally that assemblage received my attention.   Ah, eighteen and still so innocent.

At first it was difficult to catch a full glance of her face but as the girls began going off to the dance floor, I got a clearer vision.  And I’m so glad I did.  She and I definitely began to notice one another; it was that subtle eye flirtation and shy quickly looking away yet a corner smile would form as the head turned.

And every time I looked her way I noticed she too was looking my way.  All the while I’m going through fifty ways in my head as to my approach and if I did, what should I say?  This went on all evening.  I felt we were surely on to something and I wanted to know what that might be. I felt she may be thinking the same things, I hoped.

Well that night, we didn’t meet, the guys and I just hung out for maybe two and a half hours but not once did this young lady and I verbally communicate.  The guys and I had to return to the ship for an early morning start for breakfast, so we left and that was that.

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Sonia is of course a fictitious name but trust me, the young Canadian gal was very real  🙂

 

7. Diamonds & Lumber – part 1

At this time Honolulu was protected by United States but still independent from America.

This first experience I had on this job was a seven-day journey from Fiji to Hawaii; this was just the first leg.  My shipboard position placed me in the pantry, which is where we prepared the foods that were just cooked in the kitchen for the waiters to serve the passengers in the dinning room.

Even though this was a cargo ship, there would be passengers on board.  These people paid good money to be on a cargo ship instead of a cruise ship mainly because the stops in port were for longer periods of time.  Plus it’s not as crowded.

While on the ship we worked every day but we also had several long breaks in between meal times.  The routine is easy to follow and it works flawlessly.  My new friends, workmates and I would always listen to music, we’d play cards a lot and enjoy a beer or two along with lots of great conversations; life-stories and what have you.

I did my best to take my time off responsibly as call of duty was 6am regardless, there were no excuses and no exceptions; passengers were my duty, that’s it!

I will tell you some thoughts I initially had while out at sea on this very first adventure of mine. I missed my mother terribly, my sister-in-law’s cooking and my close family members and friends.

I was not scared about anything; I loved the ocean so very much.  I felt its beauty as I saw its power and in its calm and rough faces I knew I made the right choice.  I have to admit here, I did experience seasickness at a point for a couple of days, and then it was over and thankfully didn’t occur while I was at my post.

And just so you have a little idea of how the mornings went along, I share this:  after breakfast service was over, we’d clean the dining room and set up for lunch service.

Then we could order from the chef anything we wanted to eat and it was our turn to enjoy a very nice breakfast. I do recall the chef definitely took pride in his meal preparations for anyone that would be eating his food and a bonus; he was a very nice man.

After breakfast it was time for us to get into the passengers’ rooms and tidy them up.  We were multi-taskers as this ship was not staffed the same as a luxury liner would be.

The captain’s boy who had originally set me up for this position on board the SS Lakemba kept me at his side and we’d handle the skipper’s quarters.  Once all the rooms were done, we had to get our own cabins cleaned up.

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Once again I thank you for checking back with us.  I hope everyone has been enjoying the holiday season in one form or another.  The Little Blue Masala has finally set sail, tasting the open sea and different climates too!  Well, at some point we all have to get our feet wet don’t we?

 

 

6. 🤷🏽‍♂️ Tailoring My Way Off the Island – part 2

June 1953.  I am now 18 years … and 2 months to the good.

Oh, the ol’ friend of a friend routine, eh?

From days gone by I had a friend who knew a man working as an agent under W.R. Carpenters Group (SS freighter ship owners among many other prosperous business ventures) which regularly came into the Port of Suva.

In turn he had a friend who worked on the SS Lakemba as a waiter who was most often in personal service of the captain by order of the chief steward and having been aboard for quite sometime, earned his trustworthy status.  My friend’s friend, called upon his friend.

It was easily decided between us; just as soon as an opening came up on the SS Lakemba, it could be mine.  That wasn’t so hard right?  There were a few other Indian nationals on the kitchen and dining room staff and so, in this new life’s adventure I could find a comfort in the workspace accompanied by sheer bliss of the open sea!

The freighter ships would enter the port about every 3 months and I was all but on board.  It was to the customs office where I would go to sign-up for employment on this ship.  And so with the confidence of a well-learned trade, an excellent letter of reference and the respected recommendation of a senior captain’s boy, I was ready for my life’s next chapter.

One afternoon while still at work in the tailoring shop, I heard from the Carpenters Group agent who called to inform me that my current future’s balloon had been popped!  Sadly, another chap unexpectedly took the position.

Even the agent was baffled at the thought of how someone else could’ve taken this spot as we were all but certain it would be mine for the taking.  I went home that afternoon with a splitting headache, restless, cranky and fevered.  I took some aspirin and fell asleep.  Little did I know my stars were lying in wait just over the horizon with some pretty serious plans for me.

The accepted candidate who should have come in to sign his paperwork and be officially entered on the payroll, never showed.  The slightly distraught Skipper then said to the senior waiter, “So where’s this guy you told me about before, is he still available?”

Right away Sir!  This young man -the agent’s friend- immediately caught a cab and came directly to my house.  He frantically pounded at my door and when my mother opened the door, she was greeted with, “Where is he?!”

She told him I was asleep and asked for the reason of his hurried inquiry.  He very quickly relayed there was an opening on his ship and I was to be brought immediately to the ship’s office for processing!  “Please wake him now!”

She left him at the porch, more than a bit suspicious of what her dear young son may have going on and she woke me.  She carefully asked me if I knew why there was an anxious man at our doorstep, asking for me and babbling on about taking me to a ship.

I popped up right away with a few thoughts of my own which were soon confirmed as I walked towards the door.  When he saw me his words were immediate and to the effect, something like, ‘We have to go right now, they’re waiting for you!  The job is yours!’

You can imagine my surprise … I knew also then -and in my excitement, left it alone for the time being- that my mother’s heart was being torn right out of her body.  “I have the taxi outside.  We must go to the office straight away!”

I quickly straightened my locks and locks of soft, wavy hair just a bit as I dashed past my mother with a smile, stopping only for a brief moment outside to splash my face with cool water and then climbing into the taxi.

We had arrived at the customs office in moments flat.  I was officially accepted for employment on the SS Lakemba that evening.  I couldn’t believe it!  I went home to begin packing, have my dinner and say my goodbyes.

I had to report back to the ship very early the next morning to begin my new position, my new life.  My mother cried … a lot.  I didn’t want her to hurt but I also knew that I had to go the way my heart was guiding me.  The next night would be my last night at home, this time.

⚓️ Once on board, my uniforms were assigned to me, the how-to of things to do were laid out and practiced and I received my cabin assignment, there were four to a cabin.  I found I needed no time to adjust, I knew I was already at home on the ship.  🏝 On the 3rd day, we sailed and I left my Suva behind for the first time in my life … my little tropical paradise was disappearing into the horizon.  Yes, that horizon.

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AND by the way, that bit about the locks & locks of soft, wavy hair is actually true, also … as everything else in these chronicles.  It’s just that today, Little Blue Masala still goes on about all the hair he used to have and well, I couldn’t resist the entry!