Sailing to Gaza on the waves of freedom

Written Thursday, October 11, 2012 in international waters between Italy and Greece

It’s 6:30 in the evening. After reading several chapters of a book that was given to me by a close friend, I find myself sitting in the dining room of the sailboat, the Estelle. In another table, close to me there is a young sailor by the name of Herman, and Jan who works in the kitchen. They are laughing because Herman has just placed the tattoos that they give away in the bags of potato chips on his neck. We are lucky that we are entertained since life at sea can be pretty boring. Just a half an hour ago I could see how Herman, Charly and Wello struggled to design a way for us to shower with sea water. The days go by and there is a lack of water, so it is important to think of alternatives. They have not just thought about the situation, but they are doing something about it. They are handymen. One can tell they are sailors with experience. Herman who is 23 years old had always thought about becoming politically active for Palestine and when he had the opportunity to participate as part of the crew, he didn’t think twice. The other members of the crew have done the same. Here nobody gets paid for their work, and some have left their jobs to join this mission; this is a clear example of their show of solidarity.

Some minutes have passed. Nils, the cook of the ship appears with two cakes in his hands. It is really incredible how well they look after us. In the afternoon we always have something sweet to eat. They say that sailors have to be well fed in order to prepare for their daily work. It is true. I have seen that the good spirits of the people are related to what they eat and how they sleep. For the most part (and how they say in Latin America), we have got“good vibes”.

This is my fifth day on board the Estelle. Here the days fly. We take turns in shifts of four hours and it is my turn, with four other comrades. Our shift is from midnight until 4am and from noon until 4pm. During the shifts we hoist the sails, we take them down if the wind dies, we move the sails if the direction that the wind changes, we take turns cleaning of the ship and we also take turns at the helm of the boat. Like everything new, it seems very difficult, but in the end, you find the trick and it is fun. These are moments of closeness and laughter. Everything depends on the way the conversation goes, but what is clear is that these are the moments that are really worth it.

When we are doing our shifts, we normally sleep read, talk or we lie on top of the cargo compartments and contemplate the spectacular ocean that surrounds us. Some have seen dolphins, but I haven’t been that lucky. Nature is spectacular everywhere you go, but it is even more extraordinary for me in the middle of the sea, because of the freedom that you breathe and especially to be sailing in this beautiful ship.

We are on board the Estelle. This sailboat is 90 years old and its presence is felt in this immense ocean as it breaks the waves on its way to Gaza. A little more than a week is left until we reach the coast of Palestine and we know that when we arrive we will not be alone. Thousands of people are following the route of freedom from land. They are passengers on land and they are just as important as the crew and those of us who are on board the Estelle. This sailboat of the Freedom Flotilla is full of solidarity that we breathe and hopefully the people on land also can feel this. Only together can we obtain a better future for all of us. For me, to break the siege on Gaza is one of the best ways to construct a better world.

Laura Arau

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