Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Six months at sea, 11 and a half hours in the air.

Six Months at Sea

I had an 11 and a half hour flight ahead of me on 7 August. It promised to be a drag. I had left Jakarta 3 hours earlier and boarded the flight from Singapore to Frankfurt last night.

Once on board the 747-400, I realised my seat was hard up against the galley and there was no room to recline the seat. It looked more uninviting each minute. But I hadn’t counted on my two lively companions. I heard bottles clinking in plastic bags as the pair sat down. They introduced themselves as Alex and Mikhael. Alexander Alexanderov, is a 23 year old from Sevastapol, in Ukraine. And Mikhael Mikhaelov, a 50 year old from Sofia in Bulgaria.

“It is time for drinking” said Mikael in Russian. As he drank, Alex told me his story. Born in Ukraine, he was lucky to have a good English teacher at high school. From school he joined the Ukrainian Navy as an able seaman and a few years ago, joined a German shipping company where he is a deck hand. He gets US$ 1200 a month and works for six months at a stretch and then takes a few months off before rejoining one of the company’s ships. His friend Mikhael is the ship’s cook.

“ I don’t like the f---ing Germans,” he said so almost all the Germans on the flight could hear. I tried to shrink. They are still bitter after the wars they fought with Russia and our Ship's Captain treats us badly,“ he added.

At the rate they were drinking it appeared they would exhaust the stocks so I dropped off to sleep for a few minutes.I awoke to see Mikhael making a stop sign with his hands and arms in front of my eyes and he said “stop sleeping and join us for more drinking.” Alex filled my glass with whiskey, it tasted like a single malt.

“ We left our ship after six months today in Singapore and are drinking,” shouted Alex. If I hadn’t noticed. They were speaking so loudly that various flight attendants came up and asked them to be quiet so people can sleep.

Alex told me he was single and supported his Mother and Father, sister and grandparents and was able to save a little. “Money is everything, that is all people think about in my country,” he said.

“I hate nationalists” he said. “We had the orange revolution and everyone wants to be totally independent from Russia, but without Russia we are nothing, “ he fumed passionately.

Mikhael started telling me in Russian and broken English about his wife and two daughters. His eyes were misty as he told me lovingly about his daughter being seriously ill.

“ Money, and looking after your familiy is what life is about,” said Alex as he scoffed another whiskey. Despite his alcoholic haze, Alex continued his story, and told me he wanted to become an officer and go back to school.

I have a great lovee of Russian poetry and opened the subject with Alex. ”Puskin was a great poet” said Alex as he broke into Russian quoting him with gusto Alex was winding up now as an attendant tried to quiet him down. “Then there is, Dostoyevsky, and Anton Checkov, now he’s a joker, and our own Shevchenko,” he puffed proudly.

Meanwhile Mikhael was getting agitated as Alex was ignoring him and talking only to me. They pushed and shoved each then embraced. They had another drink and vowed to their undying friendship.“

“ I love the sunsets at sea and seeing the dolphins and whales playing near to our ship, “Alex slurred to me.

Mikhael and Alex fell asleep after ten hours of flying time. A potentially long and boring trip made the flight pass in a flash.

Story telling is alive in Ukraine and Bulgaria.

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