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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Learning and appreciating the real meaning of Christmas

Learning and appreciating the real meaning of Christmas

Refuges try to flee from a desperate situation.

How long does it take to learn and appreciate the real meaning of Christmas?

The answer to this highly debated question is exactly 11 days shy of 41 years!

I will explain in detail just how delicate the numbers factor in, and end up with this sum of 14,954 days to learn and appreciate the real meaning of Christmas.

First, let me elaborate a little about myself and who I am. My name is Terry L. Hunter, Jr. and the very proud father of Terry L. Hunter III. I was born on Jan. 4, 1972, was raised in Galliano and also lived in Greatyarmouth, England as a toddler.

I come from a mariner background on both sides of my family.

I started working for Edison Chouest Offshore when I was 15 years old. I can’t say enough about the Chouests and how good they were to me for so many years. The influence they had on my future cannot be measured.

After graduating from high school in 1990, I began a life at sea like my father, uncles and grandfather. To say the first 23 years of my sea-fairing days were uneventful would be very far from the truth. In those years I went around the Caribbean Sea numerous times and encountered some very poor regions and societies.

I transited the Panama Canal 3 times, one of which I was enroute to Kodiak, Alaska where I turned 21 years old. My voyages kept getting longer and to more unique places. I was lucky enough to board a vessel bound for Europe and thus made my maiden ocean crossing.

I worked in numerous countries and ports in the North Sea Region, UK, Holland, Scotland, Denmark, Germany, and Norway, just to name a few. I also was fortunate enough to make a vessel crew change in Yarmouth and visit a place I was too young to remember living as a toddler.

After my tours in Europe, I was fortunate enough to be part of a crew bringing a vessel to Nigeria, West Africa.

I thought I had witnessed poverty and 3rd world cultures in the Caribbean, but little did I know my eyes, heart and soul were about to be opened beyond my imagination. I spent some time in Nigeria where poverty, homelessness, neglect and famine go beyond anything we can imagine.

After my tour in Nigeria, I worked in Russia. That was an eye opener as well … as much as Nigeria, but different. I can honestly say the Russians were good to me.

After that I came home and worked the West Coast and Gulf of Mexico for approximately 10 years.

As faith would have it, I had a chance to return to West and South Africa and worked in Takoradi, Ghana and Walvis Bay, Namibia … again being submerged into cultures and societies I can’t even begin to get the average person down on the bayou to understand.

At this point I thought I had a thick enough skin to be able to handle most anything that came my way. Sorry to say I was wrong!

I left in September last year and flew to Singapore to board an anchor-handling vessel. We towed a barge north into the Andaman Sea and started laying a pipeline off the Coast of Myanmar (Burma).

Here is where I was humbled most in all my travels and experiences.

It was December 25, 2012. We were running anchors like usual keeping this 400+ ft. mechanical crab walking and laying pipe on the sea floor. Of course we had gumbo to eat and plenty food, but because we were so far from home and away from our families and loved ones with communication limited at best, we were gripping and complaining and thinking how bad a Christmas it was for us.

Then a call came on the marine VHF radio to black smoke to the Starboard side of the barge ASAP. Upon arriving at the barge, I was humbled beyond belief! Not begging starving children, nor dead bodies floating down a river could compare to this.

A small wooden lugger/oyster style vessel about 65 foot with approximately 100+ people inside of it was alongside the barge. I think had it been all grown men, I could have tried to hold it together, but it was men, women, and children, all refugees fleeing from North Mynamar and Banglidesh. All of their life-long belongings and all that they owned in this world was with them on that little wooden boat, which consisted of mostly rags that covered their famished bodies.

We tried giving them food, but that just made a bad situation worse. The men took the water or bread from the women and children, and if they tried to keep it, they paid the price physically. It was human instincts dwindled down to the basics of survival. It was like watching the alpha male lions on National Geographic.

But these was real people, women and kids, some so weak, they just laid there, not sure if it was physical exhaustion and famine or just more than the average person could handle mentally. Had they just broke and given up all hope?

They requested diesel fuel and lube oil to keep their dilapidated wooden vessel powered and running to hopefully transport them to a better life.

They were to a point of desperation that they offered young ladies as trade for supplies and they weren’t planning on returning to pick them up. They were willing to trade them of like dry goods or supplies. These women was somebody’s daughters, sisters, etc. It was truly horrible to be in a boat on the other side of the world from Bayou Lafourche and just a hundred yards from these refugees, but it may have well been spaceships because we were worlds apart!

These were poor people, with nothing more than rags to their name heading for some new country that would hopefully accept them if and when they made it there.

We finally got them away from the barge and I escorted them out of the anchor pattern with my vessel. Later that night the wind freshened and the seas built, nothing for the sturdy vessel I was on, but for them God only knows!

Their spirits still haunt me or lack of it for that matter, dwindled down to meager existence and an old wooden vessel, their only hope for getting to dry land and safety. I can’t forget the look that some of them gave me as they sailed away, not only into the night but also the unknown.

I thought I grew up poor and had it rough watching my mom do all she could and more for me. I realize now that instead of thanking her all these years, I should have worshiped her for all the struggles and hardships she went through.

But if I could ask mom for one more Christmas present at 41 years old, anything in this world, it would be to get me a Christmas Card with every single person who was in that boat, and get their signature, or some kind of way to assure me they found refuge and most important hope for survival, hope for a better future, hope for their sisters, brothers, children, etc, because to witness first hand, numerous people who have totally lost the hope and will for basic survival of life, is beyond anything I can explain in words or a letter!

The photo of the vessel shows one passenger risking his life attempting to climb up the side of the barge on ropes and chains, with a look of desperation that compares to nothing I have experienced before.

So this Christmas season, while we think we’re not getting or receiving what we want or we’re having it bad at work, or we may not have our favorite dish or desert, think about those 100+ refugees and what their meaning and appreciation of December 25, 2012 was all about!

As for myself, I realize now we were not close to being poor. In fact most people in the USA don’t realize what poor is, or the limits of it, for this one hour of my life nearly a year ago, I have a whole different appreciation and meaning for Christmas!

God bless Bayou Lafourche, USA, and all our troops that keep us as a society and give us the opportunity to live and succeed in the way that we do.