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Covis-19: Day Fifteen – Cruise Ships and Aircraft Carriers – Lemon Grass and Murunga Leaf Soup


In times of a pandemic, one thing we have learnt is that fairly well-off people and the working class staff on cruise ships are extremely vulnerable to Covid-19. As the tourists on board are much older on average than the working people on board, many of whom are very young, the toll paid in terms of illness and death of the tourists from the coronavirus is much higher. The illness spreads and the passengers, like the workers, become prisoners on the cruise ship. The bosses and shareholders, who make the profits from the cruises, are not visible, even in these times of distress. Although they may well be stricken by the coronavirus, too. It is symbolic of helplessness, even of the elites, faced with epidemics. In Mauritius, some of the journalists at virtual press conferences ask questions as to whether private clinics could not perhaps also take coronavirus cases. As if a fate worse than death for someone in the “private clinic classes” is to be put in ICU next door to the common man or woman. The answer is, of course, no. The epidemic is forcing upon Mauritius the need for us all to be treated equally, because the virus treats us all equally.

The Worldometer that keeps track on-line of how many cases test positive and how many people die of Covid-19, goes to the extent of giving figures for two of the ships concerned, the Diamond Princess that was docked in Japan and the MS Zaandam that is docked in the USA, as if they were “countries” – so heavy are their tolls. 

Just yesterday two cruise ships, the Zaandam and the Rotterdam, after 12 days of being barred from landing in any of eleven countries, were finally given permission to dock in a Florida, USA port. One had 13 stricken passengers and one crew member being rushed straight to hospital on stretchers, so critical was their condition. A third ship, the Coral Princess is waiting its turn to dock there, after being turned away by countries in Latin America. 143 crew members are sick with flu-like symptoms, but are remaining on the ship. Another 45 tourists are sick enough to stay on board one of the ships until they recover.

The Florida Governor had, at first, said he did not want “foreigners” “dumped” there. But then he found there were 305 Americans aboard, many from Florida, and 700 other travellers from US ally countries like Canada, the UK and Australia, so he changed his mind. In fact, Florida is the State in the USA to which old people retire, and its reckless Republican Party Governor, Ron DeSantis, still had no social distancing in his State until two days ago. 

The cruise ships become a symbol of capitalism. The elites, who run the system for the capitalists, live relatively well in the good times on board cruise liners but have no control over the ship, while the workers, from Captain to galley slave work away either hidden in the engines or laundries or silently serving in cabins, concert rooms, or dining halls, with even less control. The owners and controllers, the actual capitalists, are invisible. And the Governors and even the Presidents or Prime Ministers, so accustomed to being at the service of the capitalist class, in general just flay around helplessly until it’s very late.

And there is yet another symbol of the fragility of the macho capitalist system: aircraft carriers. The USA’s ship USS Theodore Roosevelt is one of its 11 aircraft carriers in service (of 80 counting those in reserve and decommissioned). These represent the military might of the USA. Anyway the Roosevelt had 2,700 sailors aboard, and within a few days the numbers of coronavirus disease case rose to 137. The ship was outside Guam. Guam was at first unable or unwilling to take the huge ship in. This was pure hell for all those men and women, most of them working class. When the Captain Brett Crozier, now a hero for all the sailors, sent a desperate memo to his bosses in high command, he was “removed from office” for “very poor judgement”. His fate at the hands of the authorities was worse than that of the Chinese Dr Li Wenliang, who was “reprimanded” after putting out the first warning of a SARS-like outbreak in Wuhan out. (He was later exonerated.) 

 This one Aircraft carrier has come into the news. But all the 22 in action around the world – 11 US, two each for China, UK and Italy, and one each for Russia, France, India, Spain and, curiously, Thailand – are in danger of having coronavirus on board, waiting to show itself. The Aircraft carrier has also become a symbol of the extreme fragility of capitalism and even its militarist arm. Something as tiny as a virus, and something not even independent, can make capitalism and its military cower, and lash out at a reasonable Captain. (Source: Wikipedia – so take it as approximate.)

 And so, these events come and force our minds to actually work. 

 And we learn from our grandmothers. So, just this one morning, I was making lemon grass (citronelle) tea, then Ram was making the spices for vegetable pickle (zasar legim) as I cut up the carrots, cabbage and a few green beans we had frozen. And tonight it’s murunga leaf soup. 

 A friend whose father was a planter, as well as a plumber, is planting seeds I had kept for hard times, remembering her father’s knowledge.

 Yesterday, before the planting, she, who hates shopping, says she did enough shopping – five hours of it in a supermarket queue and then getting totally confused for 15 minutes once inside – to catch up for what she owed in shopping time for her whole previous life. (People abroad need to know that shops and supermarkets and bakeries had all been closed down for eight whole days of super-lockdown, and were opening up slowly. So yesterday, she was in the second batch (surnames G-N) after the total closing down of retail commerce.) She came home with two bags full of this and that, mainly essential goods. She could not find dried pulses, like lentils and dhal, which are the Mauritian mainstay. She tells that the supermarket, as if in a joke, was selling toilet paper by 24-rolls-at-a-time. She reports that the vast majority of people had very humble, restricted trolleys. She felt quite ashamed at two bags and a mountain of loo paper.

 Another friend, in a supermarket queue in the sun for hours in the middle of the day in another part of Mauritius, saw a man nearby in the queue faint and injure himself. When she went to help carry him to the shade, she assured the other woman helping her that she had some hand-sanitizer with her for afterwards.  Some very mild-mannered police officers helped from then on, to take the man home. Our friend then offered to buy and deliver his shopping list for him. All he was queuing for was some sunquick orange juice and sugar, and a vegetable or two.


Lindsey Collen

for LALIT, a personal view.