Friday, June 22


It's Friday afternoon and time for a story. I have had a few opportunities to live at the 10% consumption level instead of the 100% consumption level. One of those was during my college years when I took a year off and traveled in the Gulf of Mexico and to Central America with a missionary organization.

This was an international, not a US group, and for the first part of the trip I lived on a refurbished 1950's combination cargo/cruise ship with 300 some-odd folks. We were all expected to live at basically the same level of consumption. I had one suitcase for an entire trip, a small locker to put things in, and a bunk bed. My three roommates and I shared a room that was about 10x10, had a small desk and a bookshelf.

Showers and bathrooms were down the hall, shared by about 30 folks. The standard for taking a shower was to get in, turn on the water, once you were wet turn it off, soap up, turn it back on and rinse off.

Meals were communal and served buffet-style. Breakfast featured tubs of granola, milk, juice, coffee, and fruit. Lunch was salad and leftovers from dinner the night before (or any of the previous nights). Dinners were recognizable to American palates, but rarely our star dishes like steak and potatoes. I actually forget most of the dinners, but I assume we had things like meatloaf and spaghetti and taco salad. (I do remember the catfish and the liver and onions... the only two dishes I couldn't work up the courage to try. ;-) )

Despite the word "cruise" in an earlier paragraph, the ship was pretty much in a 100% working state. Our visits to US ports consisted of making presentations to businesses and professionals to collect donations and recruit folks for the 3rd world parts of the trip. Well, that's the glamor side. For people like me, it was to do intensive maintenance on the ship for her 3rd world trips. (I got to refinish the teak railings.)

Another difference from a standard cruise was that fuel was an incredibly short resource for us. Cruise ships maximize their time in international waters to maximize the time people spend gambling. We sailed from one close port to the next and stayed in port for at least two weeks.

The one exception was when a Hurricane Gilbert hit Jamaica. We were docked in New Orleans at the time, and there was a huge outpouring of compassion for the people of Jamaica. Companies donated fuel to fill our tanks and charities filled our holds with food and clothing donations and we sailed off to Kingston.

We didn't have TV on the ship. There was a movie room, and movies were always a group affair. It's hard to get away from people when there are 300 of you on a 552 ft ship. The galley was a place to read quietly, and the former bar had group-inducing round booths that always had an interesting conversation, or 5, to check out. During our off hours we could explore the city... anywhere we could get by foot or public transportation. There were also always extra tasks that could be done. I remember one afternoon that I spent shoveling ice out of one of the walk-in freezers, and got a Twix bar as a thank-you. ;-)

As an American, my fee to join the ship was in the highest tier -- $3,500 for the 5 months. That's nearly $6,000 in today's dollars, or $1,200 a month. I think my carbon footprint would go down pretty quickly if I were living on that instead of most of my current take-home pay.

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NotSoBigLiving is the story of a woman inspired by Sarah Susanka, Bill McKibben, Airstreams, Tumbleweed houses, Mennonites, Jimmy Carter, hippies, survivalists, Anasazi, Pema Chodron and Joko Beck, Scott Peck, Buckminster Fuller, and Al Gore to see what she can do to reduce her carbon footprint in her mid-80's suburban townhome. Strategies include roommates, alternative travel, organic eating, planting a victory garden, mindfulness, and a belly full of laughter.