Well, not quite at sea—docked off Singapore’s coast aboard a cruise ship devoid of passengers, waiting to set sail for America on a test voyage.
Felicia had spent her first days back on the job quarantined in her cabin. In the weeks that followed, her vessel was dispatched to Manila to pick up hundreds of essential crew members—medics and engineers, mostly—who had flown in from around the world. Felicia was tasked with testing them for the coronavirus before they were transferred to their respective cruise liners, which were also berthed off Singapore. No one was allowed to leave their ships, so even when Felicia was anchored in Manila, she couldn’t step out to meet up with her Filipino boyfriend, Joshua, who lives in the city.
This time, it begins after dark. There’s a solemnity that was absent from the previous day’s rituals, which I had witnessed when the sky was still light. “This time, we have to be serious. We can’t be jokey-jokey,” says Syafiq Dendi Abdullah, a twenty-six-year-old shaman and an activist- leader of Malaysia’s indigenous Temiar community.
Upon first impression, Belfast looks like any European city, with the usual high-street stores and Caffé Nero outlets. But the past hovers.
“Come to the city center after 6 p.m., and everything is closed,” says Paul Donnelly, a former conflict mediator who leads walking tours about how the Troubles—which claimed over 3,600 lives in Northern Ireland between 1968 and 1998—affected ordinary civilians. What he calls a “dead center” is a hangover from that time, when the city’s core was barricaded by a “ring of steel” built by the British Army. After 6 p.m., no one was allowed to enter. “We haven’t emerged completely from the patterns of behavior the Troubles produced. Even now, some of us will never sit with our backs to the door in a pub or restaurant. That’s classic Belfast.”