The first week of the 69th Global Voyage for Peace was full of opportunities for participants and staff to get used to life on the ship, meet fellow participants and become part of the onboard community. Thanks to the great diversity of participants, every new encounter was a new chance to learn about a different life story, the unique motivations of each participant to join this trip, as well as their dreams and goals.
Joining as a volunteer interpreter for the first time, the first week also gave me the opportunity to understand the significance of this global voyage for the participants, many of whom were leaving Japan for their first time, and the role I would be playing to connect them with international realities. During one of my first on port exchange programs in Vietnam, I was able to see how Japanese and Vietnamese youth came together and built friendships overcoming cultural and language barriers, and the great impact that such a simple fact could have in the participants, many of whom were shedding tears as the ship left the port behind.
As we crossed the Indian Ocean, having visited China, Vietnam and Singapore, now it was the time for me to open up to new realities and an unknown world. Having gotten used to the work and life onboard, interpreting for some of the guest educators, assisting with the Spanish open classes, attending lectures on a diverse range of issues and interacting with the many participants on board, we were approaching our next ports, Egypt and Jordan, where incredible encounters were waiting for me.
From the port of Safaga, on the Red Sea, it was an adventure in itself just to negotiate for a mini-van to take us to Luxor. Situated along the Nile River, Luxor is famous for the Karnak and Luxor temple ruins that can be found within the city, and for the many monuments, temples and tombs found across the river which include the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. From Safaga, it was a 2 hours trip through vast dunes and small villages, giving me a small insight into the agricultural and cultural landscapes of the region.
In the ship we had learned some useful Arabic phrases such as As-Salamu Alaykum and Shukran, in order to interact with the locals, but never did I expected to be invited to a wedding during my short one night stay in Luxor. During lunch Nial, my Irish roommate, was approached by an Egyptian guide offering us a ride in a felucca, the traditional Nile sail boat. Reluctant at first, we ended up accepting his offer, and after a very nice ride enjoying the cool breeze and beautiful blue sky, our guide, Eddie Murphy, as he wanted us to call him, invited us to his cousin's wedding (or one of the many celebrations during the 3 days long festivities).
It is really difficult to explain the feeling we had as we entered their neighborhood, walking across a backyard where a man was reciting verses from the Koran, and were lead to a small dining room were some food was served for us. It wasn't a luxurious banquet, just some bread, beans and meat, but the incredible hospitality and kindness in Eddie and his family's face, even when we had just met him a few hours before, left us speechless as we ate.
After eating, we spent the rest of the night in the backyard we had just walked through, chatting with Eddie and his relatives, and playing with kids. Deeper into the night, they invited us to the dance floor with some western music, and once we were up and dancing, they changed it back to traditional music and started showing us some steps. As we danced, more and more people came into the backyard, and in the end there was only space for Natsuko, one of the other guests on board Peace Boat to dance with an old man what seemed like a very traditional dance using a stick while turning around in circles.
We only go to meet the newly wed couple just before leaving, as they made their appearance for the night followed by an even greater crowd who came to give them their greetings and blessings. On the way back Eddie couldn't stop praising Natsuko for her traditional dance moves, but we were all still trying to get over the amazing experience we had just had.