by: Jonathan T. Calope (class 2008)

               Five days before Christmas, we were at the Pacific Ocean heading for Quintero, Chile. It was a typical Monday morning and everyone was doing routine jobs onboard M/T Walnut Express. Rhay, one of the A/B’s and I were washing the poop deck, the open floor located at the rear of the ship in layman’s term, when I struck a conversation about his life.  You see, during this time, I have been wondering if being a seafarer was really my call. I still was not sure then so I asked Rhay if he is satisfied with the profession he chose. Well, I actually remember asking him first about his relationship with his late father who was a seaman himself, a chief officer to be exact.  He said that it was kind of different compared to those who have their father with them at home every day after work.


           “When I was a kid, I was always craving for his attention everytime he’s on vacation. It was obvious that my father felt the same way towards me and my three sisters. However, when I grew older, I started liking the fact that he was not home most of the time because I was able to do whatever I want without him breathing down on my neck.” Rhay said.

            There is actually more to Rhay’s story which he later on told me about. His father, who as I mentioned earlier was a Chief Officer, died during an operation on his kidney. During that time, Rhay was onboard and was in deep turmoil. Their ship was somewhere in Mauritius when he requested for his repatriation since he has already finished eight months of his contract. However, lack of support both from the ship’s captain and the agency has kept him from seeing his father for the very last time.  

            “My father has been a good provider to my family. We were all sent to private institutions and were well fed and provided for. He has given us what we needed and so much more. I guess that was his way of making up for those times when he was not around.” Rhay solicitously told me.

            After the tragic death of his father, life for his family has never been the same. Rhay, who got married at a young age, has taken over the responsibility of sending his youngest sibling to school whilst providing for the needs of his own young family.

            They say life is a never-ending battle for survival and that when trials are coming our way, we can chose to either face them now or ignore them and hope that they will just pass us by. Nevertheless, fate chose such a dilemma that left Rhay’s family no choice but to face head on once again. Six years after his father’s demise, his mother got gravely sick. 

            “My mom was diabetic which led to several complications on her organs.  One of her legs was already rotten and her kidneys were no longer able to function the way they should. She stayed at the hospital for two straight months until she died.”

            During this time, Rhay, in such an unfortunate stroke of fate, was away working onboard— again.

            “You see, I owe my colleague a thousand dollar which I sent home for my mother’s medication. There was no way for me to pay him back if I decided to go home and I would have to pay for my repatriation expenses. I was really torn between my desire to go home and the necessity for me to stay and continue working. I knew then that being practical was my best course of action so I just consoled myself by praying that my mom would understand why I chose to stayed.” He said.

            Rhay further related that it was one of the saddest and most wounding decisions he has ever made.  Being absent on his father’s wake was already bad enough considering that that time he was left with no choice and when the time for his mother came, he did have two options but he had to choose the option which hurt the most yet the most practical given the situation.

            “It did not have to be that way if not for my mom’s dialysis.  The complications caused by her diabetes forced her to undergo such and it did cost us lots of money, money which we did not have so we had to borrow.” Rhay continued.

            During which he was telling me his story, most of Rhay’s salary goes to those whom they had borrowed from. He said that he would probably still be paying up until half of his next contract. That is four months more worth of an A/B’s salary after the eight months that we worked together.

            “It is not really that bad. I mean my family is quite okay with our current situation. My wife does have a job and together we are working it out. We’ll just have to stay strong and continue being optimistic towards a better future for us and our growing family.  I’m pretty confident that we will get through this soon and when that moment comes, we will be stronger than ever.” Rhay lastly stated.

            Listening to Rhay recollecting those moments of grief without breaking into pieces made me realize how strong of a person he is. And based on his final statement, I guess it would be safe to conclude that he is satisfied in this profession.

            His tale, on the other hand, got me into a really serious thinking. If, God forbid, and only if what Rhay has gone through would befall on me in the future, would I be as strong as he had been? Would I chose to be practical or I would let emotions rule over my better judgment? Would I even think first before doing any action? I really do not know. Up until now, I am still not certain of what really is meant for me.  What I do know, however, is that as long as I am in this profession, I am not going to stop to want for more. More of myself and of my purpose for being here, even for being alive.

            Rhay got married at the age of 22 right after he disembarked from his first vessel. At the present, he is about to become a father of three since his lovely wife is carrying their third child. I think this should be a secret but he assured me that his wife would not mind if I mention that their third babe was conceived when our ship was at port in Batangas where they saw each other after a couple of months’ separation. This detail is somehow significant since Philippines, being the port of call of our ship, is a rare occurrence— happens once in a blue moon, so they say.

romeo
8/15/2011

thank your sharing a heartfelt article Jonathan. I know that someday, your will still have the time to share the tale of the sea to your aspiring students in your alma mater.

have a happy sailing ahead of you...



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