A Way of Seeing

Illustration by Mairi Hedderwick

Illustration by Mairi Hedderwick

16 October 2013
9:31 pm

T. —

Again, I had things to write about. But you know that feeling when you’ve been punched in the stomach at the end of a book? Good lord. I’ve been reading Sea Change by Mairi Hedderwick at bedtime for the past month or so, and I just finished it tonight. It ends with a letter. This letter.

Karibu Guesthouse
Dar es Salaam
October 21st

Aye, Aye Crew,

Do you remember asking me why I didn’t take the two Belgian girls right up to the caravan door and give the parents a severe lecture on risking the lives of their daughters?

Well, I understood your amazement because that’s exactly what I would have done in the past. I would have verbally horse-whipped the parents for their negligence and felt fully justified.

I now see a different picture.

It’s like this. Those girls had a life threatening experience; they were involved in the misery and discomfort of it for long enough for it to have had a lasting effort. They believed they were going to die. They might well have done had we not been where we were and they visible at that precise moment when you saw them. The girls realised this of their own volition. They told me so in the dinghy. They were incredibly lucky. They knew it.

I believe these girls experienced something uniquely personal; what they learned is their property, not transferable. It was the right, therefore, of those two young people to inform their parents in their own way as to what took place. Or perhaps say nothing at all.

My involvement, beyond ensuring the girls were safe and no longer at any risk, might have upset or angered the parents and jeopardised the girls’ positions. They could well have suffered as a result of further intervention by me.

While returning them in the dinghy, after you had begun their restoration, I emphasised the need for them to build and maintain body heat, suggesting a long hot shower and that they would be wise to go to bed early or straight away if they felt like it. They understood this as a consequence of their hypothermic state.

It may sound strange when viewing the proceedings from the outside, but I have a belief which emerged clearly at that time. It said that the whole of our boat journey with all of its delays from day one because of floods, through the running dry of diesel, the grounding and its subsequent holdups, the change of mind under Connel Bridge, The Rock, the ‘careening’, unscheduled time spent in Loch Nevis, the stillness of Drumbuie as well as the extra time enjoyed at Kingairloch, even the lack of wind, all this held us back from arriving on the island at the wrong time. We were there with sleeping bags, a travelling rug and a down duvet and standing on the only spot in the island where we could have seen those girls at the exact moment they came into sight and saw us too.

Fate? Perhaps coincidence?

No, I think it’s a way of seeing. When you are confronted with some with something as stunning as this — how close those girls were to being dead — then your mind threads an explanation. The girls were finally safe, it never became a public drama, so they could deal with it in their individual ways.

Imagine the scenario when the press had got wind of it? Sure, our anonymity would have been interrupted, but imagine the possible abuse of privacy the girls might have suffered. Well, I think my intervention with the parents might well have generated something similar for the girls. So now, can you understand why I am content to be amazed at the experience we have shared?

Tanzania is an astounding country. The people have such an easy generosity of spirit. I haven’t got another boat yet or caught a coelacanth. Trains are fun in Tanzania, tho’.

You should come and experience it. We could journey to Congo to the place your father was born.

Yours over the yardarm,

The Captain.


What can you say after that? Except to hope our lives might have a similar purpose.



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