The cruise in the Alaskan Inside Passage was a dream come true, even better than ever expected, a real blessing. If that was my first and also my last cruise, I would have been content for life. Another cruise was not part of our plans, in our schedule or even somewhere on a radar screen. When Tinus suggested it while we were struggling to find an affordable solution for our 5-14 Sept. empty timeslot, it was an exciting thought, but put aside because of the "unrealness" of it! Luckily Tinus pressed on, investigated and came with the good news that a cruise crossing the Mediterranean Sea, departing from Marseille (where we were in a home exchange until 5 September), will be of lesser amount than travelling to Greece (where we wanted to go), accommodation there and food for the week. Almost too good to be true, but true!
We were scheduled for yet another cruise! That is a special spoil, blessings running over, and I tasted what Jesus meant when He spoke the words in Luk 6:38 " Give, and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom." What we are receiving is so much more than what we ever have given, so much more. But yes, that is the God we serve and worship: the So-much-more God!
So it happened that on the 5th of September 2009 we boarded the MSC Fantasia, excited and ready. We looked forward to the new adventure, because although it was also a cruise, it was on a different ship, cruising different waters, stopping at different ports. This was also not "freestyle cruising", which meant that we had routines concerning our dinner time, place and dress-code.
The wonderful thing of a cruise is that no one in the family has any planning, organizing, deciding or working to do. The food in the buffet-cafeteria is ready for breakfast when we wake up, it is again ready when we are hungry or coming back on board at lunchtime and it is ready at 19h00 in the fancy restaurant. The dishes are taken away and washed by someone else after the meals. The boat is in a different port every day and is usually there already when we wake up. (It also happened once that it arrived at the port while we were eating breakfast. We loked at people tying ropes and working hard to get us docked, and we did not have to do a thing.) Whenever we are ready, we leave the ship to go ashore and come back, usually many hours before departure. Again, we will be lying on a sunbed or playing cards, and we feel the boat starting to move and hear the horn blow. We are off, and we did not have to do a thing! We did not have to pack, or hurry to get in the car, we don't have to find the road or even make the decision that it is time to go. We just sit, minding our own business and we are departing! That is fantastic! That is to taste and feel the spoiling you are privileged to experience. (You will understand this spoiling of "doing nothing" and not concentrating at all, better, if you understand how "doing everything while absolutely concentrating" was part of this past year!)
We visited Genoa and Napoli on the Italian west coast and then Palermo on the island of Sicily. All 3 very Italian and very old, but very different. We walked for kilometers, just exploring the cities, admiring the old castles, churches and piazzas - open plains or squares next to massive buildings, which succeed in creating a feeling of space in the midst of all the cluttered buildings. And when we're fulfilled...back to the gigantic ship along the seashore. A strange observation is that none of these places have well kept parks or green areas in them. If there are plants, they grow in pots and the parks we did see, was parks decades ago – now they are empty, dusty areas with sorry trees. On the Monday in Napoli, we saw 10 brides posing for pictures in front of different old buildings, most probably due to the lack of green, leafy backgrounds. We speculated whether it was Wedding-madness-Monday, or why so many marriages late on a Monday morning?
On 09-09-09 we set foot on African soil again – the first time in 8 months and Tinus especially, had a noticeable happy face! We visited Tunisia and could go into town, to the market, for 1hour after standing in the passport control line for 2 hours. All the places we have visited so far was old and dirty. Tunisia was also old and dirty, but also neglected. Yes, we were in Africa. But we knew with a sureness: this is our continent, this is where God wants us – in Africa. We surely are Africans.
The next day Palma, on the island of Mallorca was on our itinerary. This is not only Raphael Nadal's hometown, but also the playground for many very rich people. Although it has it's fair share of old buildings, the city was clean, the roads wide and the traffic orderly. Must be a combination of money and good leadership in the municipality that leads to this pleasant difference.
There is one thing that Namibia and Mallorca has in common: the gecko! Wire, metal, glass and cloth geckos are for sale everywhere. We found ourselves actually having a strange longing for the friendly, mosquito eating geckos in our house on the farm!
On 9/11, the day America remembered the tragic day 8 years ago, we docked in Barcelona, Spain. (This was our last port before arriving back in Marseille again.) It was a public holiday in Spain, and the whole of Barcelona was on the streets, browsing through the many street markets. We marveled at beautiful old buildings and the architecture of Gaudi, which differs so much from the rest of the European styles. Once again the walking fitness we gained throughout the year, like so often before, served us well. We walked far to reach the city, but saved many Euro's that way by not taking a shuttle bus or taxi!
That is a summary of the ports visited and the "free excursions" we planned for ourselves and enjoyed tremendously.
Another thing I would like to mention to make sure that I do not forget it in the future, is the evening meals. It was fancy and we had to dress for the occasion! We had our own table where we sat every evening, looking out over the vast mass of water, and with a personal waiter, Gede from Indonesia. He is working for his 10th consecutive month of this year, that is without 1 day off ever – 7 days a week, non stop. This is his 5th year working like this. He gets 1 month per year off, when he goes home. He does this because there is not work opportunities back home. Every one on the boat works like that. They never strike or call on the unions. They all just appreciate the fact that they do have a job and an income and then they work, 12 hours a day. We pray that he will find a good job in his homeland when he goes there in December, he wants to be with his wife and children now and feel it is time to return.
Back to dressing for the occasion: Strict rules apply – only long pants and no jeans allowed in the evenings. Luckily we knew this beforehand, and bought a pair of brown pants for each of the 2 young men (who has only 1 jean each on the tour.) What we did not know, was that the captain decides when it will be "informal dress", meaning the long pants and a shirt with collar, or "formal dress" (a tuxedo and bow tie will not be out of place!) Obviously we could not reach those standards, but boy, did we gear up! We laughed and joked that other people won't think we look too formal, but they did not know that we were wearing the topclass of what we had in our suitcases, that we made effort with our appearance – it was the best we ever looked the whole year. Tinus and Dawie each bought a long sleeved shirt on a sale in Michigan City and Charlie received a "too small shirt " from one of the BC boys in NY and that was what they wore: the brown pants with the black long sleeve shirts and very important, they had a "formal attitude" in their eyes and posture. Dawie J was even better! He had his only long pants on and a black shirt of mine, which sleeves I folded and sewn in place. He combed his hair real neat and had the same posture as his brothers. I had my (only) best blouse on. We were accepted. It was definitely the posture and confidence that granted us entrance, and not the clothes. Yes, the Fouries can gear up with what we have if it is needed! You guessed right that we looked exactly the same on both formal evenings.
We enjoyed the evenings, the special service, the food which we ordered from a menu and especially the conversation. We spoke for hours about many different subjects. Outsiders must have thought that we saw each other many months ago and that we had some catching up to do on the talking! What a blessing. Yes, it surely is a blessing that we love and like each other so much and enjoy our fellowship and being together to such a degree. I thank and praise God for this regularly.
All too soon we arrived back in Marseille and it was time to leave the ship. We agreed that we made the right decision in taking this cruise. It was really fantastic and usually the expensive part of a cruise is to get there at the port of departure, if you come from Africa. But we were fortunate enough to already be in Marseille. We just realized once again that inviting God into your plans, right in the beginning of the planning, is the wisest decision that one can make, because God sure makes good plans. Excellent plans as a matter of fact and we simply say: "Yes, we will go ! Thank you, thank you very much."
Yet another story on the blessings of the Lord. We are grateful for all that we may enjoy and experience. May God's blessings flow through us to those whose roads we cross...