December 25, 2001
Sometimes itís hard to believe, now, that we really did sail around the world.
Back in our beautiful home, in the paradise that is Canada, surrounded once again by modern conveniences - a dishwasher, a car, a bathtub, a telephone, ah yes, a waterbed - our days of crossing oceans have begun to seem very, very far away. It was just a year ago that we were struggling our way up the last of the difficult, dangerous Red Sea.
Yet I still find myself unexpectedly shocked by ordinary things - like a smooth paved highway without a single pothole, or an efficient bank teller, or electronic gadgets that work the way they are supposed to. Just this morning Herbert said, "Itís great to just turn on the TV and not wonder where the electricity is coming from . . . now we only have to wonder how to pay for it."
When we returned to our house in September, we were greeted by the sight of our neighbours, many of whom weíd never met, weeding our long-neglected front garden and delivering it from the clutches of thistles that were taller than I. Other friends, old and new, were hard at work liberating our furniture from its storage spot behind a false wall in the basement. It was the start of a new life for us, a life that has been immeasurably enriched by new friendships brought about by our voyage.
The boys have adapted well to life ashore. Michael joined his high school swim team and made us very proud recently by winning the novice boysí high school championship in the breaststroke. His four years of practicing burpalese on the boat have stood him in good stead, with his male classmates at least. He boasts of being the belch king of his high school - no, he corrects me, heís the Belch God. Mike is the happiest of the five of us to be back, and comes home almost every day chanting his personal mantra, "Life is glorious!" He in no way resembles the uncertain boy we dragged away on our adventure four years ago.
Jonathan had a shakier start on the school year, as he learned to navigate t hrough the eddies and whirlpools of a social context even trickier than the reef-strewn waters off Sudan. After his first week in grade eight, he was disillusioned and asked whether we couldnít just get back on the boat and sail around the world another time. But Jonathan's big heart and generous soul are helping him make his way through, and now when our front doorbell and our phone ring, which is often, itís usually for him. Heís involved with Boy Scouts and has taken a babysitting course, and is figuring out creative ways to make money. Of the three boys, he probably thinks the most about the people and places weíve left behind, and how he can continue to make a difference in the world.
Christopher had no memory whatsoever of the house we left behind when he was five. For the first few days back at home, often found himself turning the wrong way in hallways. He came back from first day of school with a little booklet in which he had written down what he had done for his summer vacation. It said, simply, "I sailed around the world!"
But heís had an easy transition, and now has, by his count, 17 friends. Heís upset with anything less than 100% in math and spelling. He has already set a few modest life goals: to become a scientist, cure AIDS, win a Nobel prize, and with the prize money, take his mom and dad back to Borneo to establish a gibbon sanctuary there. And heíll probably do it.
Christopherís teacher professed to us that she was a little disappointed he doesnít talk more about his experiences to the class. About the only time he voluntarily referred to our trip was when she introduced the song, "Itís a Small World" - whereupon Christopher piped up, "No, itís not!"
Every day people ask Herbert and me whether weíve re-adjusted back to life on land. The honest answer is probably "no." Weíve been so busy with the aftermath of the trip - working on the book, a multimedia CD-ROM project, public speaking, a TV documentary - that we havenít even finished unpacking all the 130 boxes of stuff we carted off the boat. I have also taken on the onerous task of chipping away at that gigantic 25-pound Hershey Kiss we were given at Petrie Island. Itís hard work, but somebody has to do it.
The thing that feels the most meaningful about our new life ashore is continuing to remain involved in our two special projects, in Indonesia and Kenya. Thanks to a large contribution from the people who gathered to meet us on our return home, and additional contributions from people we meet, we have been able to extend more support to the veterinarians helping to protect endangered animals in Borneo. We are also expanding our plans to provide education for more Kenyan children.
Magic the Cow, purchased for our young Kenyan friend, Hamisi, is pregnant and will soon be producing milk. Bonifaceís brother, Mark, has finished the hairstylist course we sent him on, and is working to establish his own salon. The owner of Charlyís Hair Salon on Richmond Road, Karen Sharp, is generously donating all her profits on the first Tuesday of each month, to help Mark get established in his new career.
Bonifaceís father, Kitsao, finally had his much-needed surgery, paid for by Ottawa Citizen readers, and is now recovering at home. Boniface finished his year of school successfully and is about to enter grade ten. His oldest brother, Andrew, communicates with us regularly and sends his heartfelt thanks to all the friends of Northern Magic whose caring saved his fatherís life and who are helping his family find a better future.
Northern Magic is resting at a marina near Hawkesbury, awaiting spring so that she can be repaired from the accident at Trois Rivieres. Weíre in communication with the agents of the Greek ship that caused the damage, and are still expecting compensation. When sheís repaired, we hope to find some new owners for her who can take her cruising in deep water, where she belongs.
And the Stuemer family has a brand new addition, a wonderful puppy named - what else? - Magic. This mixed Labrador-husky has indeed brought some new magic into our lives. When we went to select a puppy, she separated herself from her siblings, nestled herself against Jonathanís feet, and hasnít left him since.
As we celebrate our first Christmas at home in five years, we canít help but reflect on all the people and experiences that filled our lives and our hearts during our journey, changing us forever. Every day theyíre in our minds - our Cuban friends, who still write regularly - the people of Palmerston Island, who made us feel like kings - Petiola, the woodcarverís wife, who invited us as guests of honour at a solemn Tongan wedding - Steve and Melissa in Australia, who now have a new baby boy - a longneck girl named Ma Chok in the remotest hills of Thailand, who dreamed impossible dreams of travel - an old Maasai woman whose earlobes hung down to her shoulders - roguish-looking Salem holding Christopherís hand and saying, "Smile! Youíre in Yemen!" - the inimitable Captain George in Greece, showering our cockpit with candy - and too many others to list.
The world has seemed a more hostile and frightening place in the months since September 11. But that is not the world we came to know. Because no matter how misguided various governments, religious leaders and extremists may be, the truth is that ordinary people everywhere are overwhelmingly kind and peace-loving. If thereís one thing we learned in our trip around the world, itís that there is no "them" and "us"; there is only "us".
I often think, particularly since September 11, about a fellow we met on a wooden boat deep in the jungle of Borneo. I donít know his real name; everybody called him "Mr. Ambon", after the city in West Timor from which he came. He was a friend of our guide, Andi, and since Mr. Ambon didnít speak a word of English, Andi translated his many questions. Most of them had to do with religion. Mr. Ambon was a devout Muslim, and we were the first Christians he had ever met. He had come on our river expedition only because he wanted to talk to us.
During one of our many philosophical conversations on the tree-shrouded, chocolate-coloured river, Herbert and I made the comment that all the worldís major religions are founded on the same basic beliefs. It was more important, we told Mr. Ambon, to remember to love each other as human beings than to worry about the things that divided us. I watched Mr. Ambonís face as Andi translated that thought, and saw his eyes brighten and his head nod, as he understood what we had said. Then he leaned forward with an eager smile and said, "Do all Christians believe as you do?"
I couldnít speak for all Christians, I said, but this was our familyís belief, and it was shared by most of the people we knew. There was another pause as Andi translated, and then Mr. Ambonís broad, cinnamon-coloured face broke into the biggest, widest grin Iíve ever seen. He leaned over and clasped Herbertís and my hands, holding them long and hard.
"I am so happy", he said, his eyes glistening, "because thatís exactly the way I feel, too."
Mr. Ambon certainly isnít celebrating Christmas right now, but somehow my mind keeps returning to that steamy day in the jungle when this simple but profound man reached out to us, across cultural, linguistic and religious barriers, seeking friendship and understanding. Thereís a Christmas message there for all of us.
The land-locked crew of Northern Magic send you our warmest wishes for a happy, prosperous and love-filled 2002, and our hopes that you will find a way to make the world a little better in the coming year.
Diane, Herbert, Michael, Jonathan and Christopher Stuemer