Friday, May 29, 2020

Leaving the HQ behind

We got word the other day that we're being kicked off the HQ.

     We've been working between Philadelpha, Baltimore and Wilmington DE for the past 2 months. It's been good. I was initially worried that we'd be under the watchful eye of far too many office folks, and indeed our first days seemed to bear that out. We were getting 4 phone calls from 4 people over every single decision, piece of paper or issue that arose. Some calls were from people who were looking out their window and asking about things on deck... this isn't something I'm used to, where I tend to have a more holistic vs. command-and-control relationship with the supervisory layer that sits between operations and management in NY... but you know, it worked out, and I've gotten to like the work dynamic down here, and the people too, especially their availability, since many of the office folks are sitting within 200 feet of us when we have an issue, whereas NY, space constraints, traffic and the pace of work make a visit to the office a rare treat.

 I enjoyed working here, is what I'm saying. It's not the pressure cooker environment that NY is and the people were way nicer than expected.

 But, sadly, we are a known quantity, and our time away from NY operations was always a TDY mission. We are experienced and have our niche, and they want us back up there. Sadly, the HQ, being a reflection of our values, is an ugly-ass mean lean bunker machine, and the Philly folks want to keep it. So we're heading up, but they're keeping the band together at least, and moving us up as a crew to a new HQ.

      Sigh. This is the 3rd time. The HQ was the HQ for 8 years, and we never really did get over the last time this happened, where after a year of sinking our own time and money into the living quarters of the original HQ, they had to swap us out and give us this place, which was well kept up outside, but the quarters looked like a Pakastani hospice because the crew were pigs.

   Well, I happen to know the former crew of the barge where we're likely to end up, and they're clean people (and good tankermen), and the barge itself will be a tolerable HQ. Not quite as lean and mean as the current one, but workmanlike and well-maintained. Beyond moving 20 years' worth of stuff (B has been with the company that long, and does not travel light)  and a shitton of food, the overriding emotion has been relief that we're together.
   Seriously, B and I are a great team. He's very much like an older brother to me, and we complement each other's style, and both of us are compatible- we both suffer badly when forced to live with incompatible personalities,  and fear loss of efficiency and quality of our work output as a result.
 And seriously, I get to work with my best friend. It won't, or can't, last forever, but after 9 years, the work environment has become more important to me than the salary. Should that change, I would seek out a higher salary elsewhere pretty quickly. Some things are more important than money, and some are not.
   So, who knows what the next few weeks hold. I, as someone who doesn't like change, anticipate that it will be annoying, stressful, but will result in good things in short order. Hell, 11 years here and I still like to come to work. I don't want that to change.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020


I've been home for a week now, and I took some time to do very little while I was here. It's been great.

 Being unproductive has never been easy for me. Despite knowing that I needed a few days where I could actually relax, drink beer and swim in the pool, I continue to feel slightly guilty for doing so.

 It was just a few days. And I'm much better now. I spent about 6 hours today pressure washing outside, which is like the Florida version of snow shoveling. Rainy season started last week, so there's afternoon thunderstorms every day now. Tomorrow I head into the shop and make some sawdust.

   Coronavirus has been awesome for my marriage, I'll say that. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife have always been mostly joined at the hip when I'm home, but the New Normal means we don't go out for dinner, which we tend to do twice a week when I'm home. Instead, we cook, and with our son home, and of an age when he's gotten interested in cooking, it's tending to be a 3-person event every day. I have a large kitchen, which helps.

 Next week I head back to Philly and back to the HQ. Going by the quality of my first week at home, I'll be going back rested and restored.

   And tan. pressure washing isn't worth doing with a shirt on.

Friday, May 8, 2020

A saint is made

So far as I remember, I've met three people who were living Saints so far in my life.

 I use the term in the Catholic sense, big S, not as in a really kind person, but an actual Saint. In all three cases, meeting them left me with the impression that while we were fully engaged at that moment, the person I was meeting wasn't all there, that part of them was already on a higher plane... and that's a shitty description, of that feeling, but it's about the best I can do. Makes the hair on your arms stand up, like being in the presence of a lion at bad breath distance, or I guess what people talk about who believe in ghosts. I dunno, I'm sort of agnostic about that sort of thing.

 The first one was Mother Theresa, who I met (and got a hug from) when I was in 2nd grade, in an unlikely series of coincidences.  The second was a blind priest who was prescient, and talked about things that were happening in my life that I was struggling with just after shaking my hands, and who gave me some amazing advice.  I'm less agnostic about that. Dude had a gift.

 The third one was Father Donald Sybertz, an African missionary whose sister lived down the street from my parents, and who became friends with my father. I only met the guy twice, at age 7 and again somewhere around 18. He lived in Tanzania for 65 of his 91 years. He's also the only priest I ever knew who was an exorcist, although he wouldn't talk about that and I only knew from my father's talking about it in his own last years. I'm even less agnostic about that. I respect the man enough that I believe that he could do that sort of thing.

 Father Don passed away a few weeks ago. I heard just about an hour ago. Strange that I was thinking of him a lot in the past few days, wondering if he was still with us.  He was a beloved man in his home region- all of western Tanzania, and to date still as far as I know the only Catholic missionary to ever not 'go native' after more than 30 years of working singlehandedly. 
 He was also the biggest Red Sox fan I ever met, even in the 70's, 80's and 90's. Obviously a man of faith.

Father Donald F. Sybertz, M.M, died on Sunday, 19 April, 2020 at the Assisted Living Center at Maryknoll, New York, USA.  He was 91 years old and a Maryknoll priest for 64 years.
          Donald Francis Sybertz was born 23 July, 1928, in North Weymouth, Massachusetts, the son of Frank W. and Helen Bronder Sybertz.  He had three sisters and one brother.  He attended Bicknell Elementary School and Weymouth High School (where he played second base on the varsity baseball team) and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Boston College before entering Maryknoll in September, 1950.
          After his ordination in 1955, Father Sybertz was assigned to Maswa-Shinyanga, Tanzania, where he served in the Kilulu mission in Shinyanga Diocese, the plains region of northern Tanzania.  Father Sybertz built the first home there to provide shelter and care for aged persons lacking families and housing.  He was later assigned to Gula Parish, a large sprawling parish undergoing expansion geographically as well as in the number of parishioners.  Eventually the parish was divided into several parishes, and Father Sybertz moved from Gula to Mwanahuzi and developed that center into a separate parish.
          Over the years, Father Sybertz was one of the Maryknollers most proficient in the Sukuma language.  His facility in the language, interest in the culture and knowledge of how to inculturate Christianity among the Sukuma people led him into a continuing study of how to relate Scripture and the African wisdom proverbs, sayings, stories and parables of the people. This study resulted in the publication of several books in Swahili, Sukuma and English as evangelization materials for the Tanzanian Church.
          Don Sybertz spent a lifetime (1955 to 2020) researching, writing about and using Sukuma (Tanzania) Proverbs. So far there are 19 Sukuma “African Proverbs of the Month” on our African Proverbs, Sayings and Stories Website ( Some of his favorites:
  1. June,1998: I pointed out to you the stars (the moon) and all you saw was the tip of my finger. NOTE: This was our very first proverb on our website.
  2. October, 2003: The hen with baby chicks doesn’t swallow the worm.
  3. February 2014: The hoes of two people cultivating together in a field sometimes clash (hit) against each other.
  4. October, 2018: The salesperson (seller or merchant) does not have only one door.
  5. February, 2019: The medicine for a rising river is to go back.
  6. October, 2019: Even an elephant, that is, an important person, can be sent.
These and many other Sukuma proverbs and stories are published in Joseph Healey and Donald Sybertz, Towards an African Narrative Theology, (Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 1996 (1st Reprint 1996, 2nd Reprint 1997, 3rd Reprint 2000, 4th Reprint 2005, 5th Reprint 2012) and Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997, (many reprints, New Cover 2012). Available as an Ebook on Amazon (for Kindle) and Google.
Orbis Books Website:
All this research and writing culminated in the creation of the:
Sukuma Legacy Project Website
The Sukuma Legacy Project promotes the history, culture, oral literature —  Proverbs, Sayings, Riddles, Stories, Myths  and Songs — and visual representations of the Sukuma People in Tanzania in East Africa. There are various examples of SCCs and community values. This website is dedicated to Father Don Sybertz, MM who stayed among the Sukuma people for over 50 years in Shinyanga Diocese. While staying in Ndoleleji Parish he researched the rich folklore and culture of the people. See a short film about him HERE. The research committee that he created at Ndoleleji Parish (known as the Kamati ya Utafiti) is still working up to today.
Reflects what traditional African proverbs, sayings, stories and songs used in Christian catechetical, liturgical, and ritual contexts reveal about Tanzania, and about all of Africa. Includes appropriations of, and interpretations of, Christianity in Africa.
Chapter Three on “African Christology” is called “Jesus Chief Diviner-Healer and Eldest Brother-Intercessor” and Chapter Four on “African Ecclesiology” is called “Church as the Extended Family of God.” It includes sections on: “African Metaphors of Church.” “Communion Ecclesiology from An African Perspective.” “Trinitarian Communion Ecclesiology.” “We Are the Church.” “Theology of Small Christian Communities as a New Way of Being Church.” “Ecclesiology of Church-as-Family.” “African Communion Ecclesiology and Pastoral Inculturation.”
          Father Sybertz spent his entire missionary career in Tanzania. He served as Pastor of the Mwanahuzi Catholic Church until it was turned over to a diocesan priest.
          Although Father Sybertz was given Senior Missioner Status in the Africa Region in 2001, he continued to work full time in Maryknoll’s inculturation and evangelization apostolate in Shinyanga, Tanzania.
          In 2015, Father Sybertz was assigned to the Senior Missioner Community and took up residence at Maryknoll, New York. He was appointed to the Mission St. Teresa’s Prayer Partners Team in 2016.
            Don was a huge sports fan – following closely every Boston, Massachusetts, USA team. He was a good winner and a good loser. We had a lot of fun over years talking sports. Sports was second to spirituality in his priorities. Years ago Don and I traveled to Ethiopia, Amsterdam and on to Newark. The first night home we stayed at my brother and sister-in-law’s house in New Vernon, NJ. After arriving at their house, within minutes the first thing we did was start watching the Red Sox – Orioles playoff game on TV! Don never got tired of baseball.
Many stories have grown up around Marehemu Padri Don Sybertz. Here is one: When Maryknoll priest Father Ed Hayes, Maryknoll Lay Missioner Susan Nagele and Maryknoll priest Father Joe Healey were preparing for the 1990 Maryknoll Society General Chapter we distributed a written questionnaire in the Tanzania Region. All answered but two Maryknoll Society Members including Father Don Sybertz who was “notorious” for never answering anything. After a weekend of a Red Sox – Yankee baseball series, I called Don in Ndoleleji Parish, Shinyanga from Musoma on the radio call phone system that we had between parishes.  For all to hear I said, “Don, I will give you the results of the Red Sox games only if you promise to send in your questionnaire.” He answered, “I promise,” for all to hear. Then I gave him the results of the Red Sox winning two games to one.
The next day he sent in his questionnaire! baseball series, I called Don in Ndoleleji Parish, Shinyanga from Musoma on the radio call phone system that we had between parishes. For all to hear I said, “Don, I will give you the results of the Red Sox games only if you promise to send in your questionnaire.” He answered, “I promise,” for all to hear. Then I gave him the results of the Red Sox winning two games to one. The next day he sent in his questionnaire!baseball series, I called Don in Ndoleleji Parish, Shinyanga from Musoma on the radio call phone system that we had between parishes. For all to hear I said, “Don, I will give you the results of the Red Sox games only if you promise to send in your questionnaire.” He answered, “I promise,” for all to hear. Then I gave him the results of the Red Sox winning two games to one. The next day he sent in his questionnaire!
            Father Sybertz was the brother of the late Dolores Hoyt, Loretta Sybertz, Ruth Hyland and Norbert Sybertz.  Father Sybertz is survived by many loving nieces and nephews and his extended family in Tanzania to whom he devoted his life.
          A Funeral Mass (Mass of Christian Burial) was celebrated in Queen of Apostles Chapel at Maryknoll, NY on 23 April, 2020 at 11:15 a.m.  Father Michael Snyder, M.M., was Celebrant. Father Daniel Ohmann was homilist and Father Edward Davis read the biography, Scripture and the Oath.  Burial followed in the Maryknoll Society Cemetery.
In the Memorial Mass for Marehemu Don Sybertz, Mwana Helena, in Nairobi, Kenya on 23 April, 2020 we tried to inculturate some Sukuma values in the liturgy. The “Prayer of the Faithful” ended with:”…in the name of Jesus Christ, our Eldest Brother/Chief Intercessor.” This is the Sukuma people’s name for Jesus Christ. It is the eldest brother, the firstborn male who offers sacrifice to the one God in the Sukuma Ethnic Group tradition. Compare Colossians 1:15: the beloved Son who is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” We used Preface III of Easter on the theme: “Christ living and always interceding for us.” It includes the words: “Christ never ceases to offer himself for us, but defends us and even pleads our cause before God.”
In this Memorial Mass we had a Dialog Homily when the homilist promoted interaction with the congregation participants using questions, invitation to make comments, proverbs and sayings (first and second parts) and open discussion. This was Don Sybertz’s favorite way of preaching. More of a conversational style. Example: Don: “I pointed out to you the stars (the moon)…Congregation: and all you saw was the tip of my finger.”
Some tributes: “We pray for and with our dear Marehemu Padri Don Sybertz, MM. He is now one of our ancestors in Christ, one of our “living dead.” The Sukuma people in Shinyanga Diocese, Tanzania loved him very much and called him the endearing name “Mwana Helena” (‘Child or Son of Helena’) after his mother.” “Padri Don Sybertz’s other Sukuma name was LUKALANGESE that means the one who finishes all the weeds in his field. Meaning: Take away all that is against the will of God in one’s life and put into practice the Lord’s commandments. Don prepared nicely his spiritual life by putting into practice the teachings of Jesus. That is why we consider him as a “Saint.” He also helped others in weeding their fields that spiritually means developing their lives by living according the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. He taught us on how to live a holy life.” “He was a living saint. What a blessing to have known him. Enjoy your heavenly reward.” “Raha ya milele umpe ee Bwana. Na mwanga wa milele umwangazie.” “Pole sana mwanajumuia Ng’wana Helena ametuaga yangu juzi tunatoa mistakes ajili yake Mungu ampokee. Kazi zake njema zimpeleke kwa Baba akayaone yale aliyotamani kuyaona.  Namatumai ikwamba ataiobea kazi yetu ya utafiti. Siku ya mzishi yake nitaongoza misa hapa kwetu.” “May the good Lord rest his soul in heaven. This is yet another African elder who has left us. Fr. Don pumzika kwa amani.”
“His co-edited book on African Narrative Theology was a wonderful resource to tie in
with scripture reflection in Tanzania. Helped bring the readings to everyday life.” I never met Padre Don, but this book was a great tool for me and my friends when we were studying theology at Hekima College. Even now as a communicator this is a great resource to appreciate our ancestors’ practical wisdom.” “Going through the African proverbs work, Father Don Sybertz really liked and invested his time in the proverbs collections and in sharing. A lot of work and enthusiasm in the project is truly seen.” Yes, Don was a great missionary. I remember him from the time that I was working in Shinyanga, and later from the Sukuma research. Accept my condolences  to you and your confreres. May Don rest in peace.” “He was committed to the SCCs Model of Church and promoted SCCs in his ministry of evangelization in Shinyanga Diocese, Tanzania. He integrated Sukuma proverbs and stories into his SCCs ministry as part of inculturation.” “My heart hurt yesterday when I heard this news. I bet I can tell some great Sybertz stories too. He was a faith filled priest. I will miss him.” “We can honor Don by promoting the Sukuma Legacy Project.”
“You and Don had unconditional love and esteem for the African culture and people. Together you compiled African verses. You both spent a life time in East Africa. Don loved what he was doing each day out in the bush. Several year ago, I visited Don and his brother when he was staying with his family in Weymouth, Massachusetts. His niece and family lived next door. It was a wonderful Sybertz compound. His brother also has passed away. Don never forgot his roots namely, New England, Weymouth, Boston College, Red Sox and Patriots. He never lost his enthusiasm for the games. Perhaps these and other aspects of his life made you and Don soulmates and at the same time adversaries in the world of sports. Don witnessed to us all what is the very best of a Maryknoll vocation. Now he has finished the race, may he receive the prize of eternal life and sit at the heavenly table with many friends from Tanzania who went before him.” “We loved Don very much. He will always have a special place in our hearts.”
During his last years Don would listen to St. Therese of Lisieux’s famous book Story of a Soul on his Alexa listening device given to him by his niece. In these sorrowful times we can be consoled by the words of St. Therese of Lisieux on her deathbed: “I am not dying. I am entering into eternal life.” RIP
Complied and edited by:
Rev. Joseph G. Healey, MM
Maryknoll Society
P.O. Box 43058
00100 Nairobi, Kenya
0723-362-993 (Safaricom, Kenya)

Thursday, April 30, 2020

a gauntlet to run

Yesterday was a crew change day, and the halfway point for me for this voyage.

  We're pretty busy here at the HQ. We've been sailing between Philly, Baltimore and Wilmington a fair bit. Lot of work to be done. Today, in fact, is our first fully free day, and sadly it's gonna rain, as it'd be a great day to do a little painting outside, which is something I enjoy for some perverse reason.

        I've been trying top figure out how to get home after this trip is done. My original plan was to rent a car again and drive the 1200 miles, but it seems that people are now choosing rental cars for travel more often, and the price has tripled from the last time.

 As much as I don't want to spend all day in a flying leper colony that may or may not get me to my destination, it seems I am going to be flying home, which is a disappointment... and judging by the lack of seat choices I had for the tickets that cost twice what they normally do, I'm going to be in close quarters with other potential plague carriers.

   Well, hopefully I get home on time, but hell, at least I got a damn job. I've been saying that a lot lately. Florida has a HUGE service industry, and so things at home are not good. Inappropriately Hot Foreign Wife and I are essential workers, and haven't had any interruption in pay, and that is a real blessing in a time and place where so many are struggling. It seems indecent to complain.

Sunday, April 26, 2020


Well, I've already been on board for about 10 days. Time is passing pretty quick. We're staying busy, too. It looks like clean oil demand (gasoline, jet, diesel) is in the toilet, but black oil (which is what I carry) has been popular here along the Delaware river, where the HQ is currently working.

       There's pretty obvious reasons for that, however. The Delaware river hosts a lot of food and metal processing plants. That is to say, there are a lot of food companies that own their own dedicated refrigerated ('reefer') ships, either old school bulk carriers with refrigerated holds carrying breakbulk (palletized or unitized) or container ships with a set of electrical connections for every single refrigerated container. Add to that, the steel ships. There are a lot of small ships that call on the area, carrying steel blanks, rolled sheet steel or other forms like scrap. This is a gateway area to the Rust Belt, after all, secondary maybe to the Great Lakes, but a hell of a lot easier for metals going across oceans to and from the adjacent Ohio Valley.

 So we're actually pretty busy here on the HQ. It seems like when I went home last time they had a fair bit of time lying to between jobs, but we're not doing a lot of that while I'm here.

    I'm content enough, though. Happy to be working. I still don't know too many people who lost their job, myself, but I'm aware that there are millions struggling.

  I need to decide how the hell to get home next time. My 2nd man lives in Dallas TX, and getting home was a shit show for him. He ended up at 3 different airports around the country from what was supposed to be a direct flight, and that doesn't seem to be too unusual. I can rent a car one-way for about the price of a round trip ticket, so the math suggests flying, but I don't relish the idea of being trapped in a flying leper colony and not getting home, either.
 Plus, there's a sawmill in NC that has a deal on walnut wood, which I love the look of, and which would keep me supplied for a long time at home.
 It's a conundrum.

Friday, April 17, 2020

sorta routine

I've been back on board the HQ for a few days now, and settling in. Things proceed as they usually do, just working the routine watch, on the routine jobs. Comforting right now.

 We're still working out of Philadelphia, running a 30 or so mile stretch of river, and keeping fairly busy.

   I started out here with this company, 11 years ago. I spent about 2 years working these same waters. It's been fun to wander across old grounds, seeing some old faces. There's some positives to having been shifted down here... the biggest, of course, being that we're not in New York for the shitshow that has been their response to the Kung Flu. Philly is quiet in comparison, and especially so for everything being idled.

       I'm extremely grateful for being fully employed. Although I didn't want to come to Philly for many reasons, I'm happy enough to be here. I'm insulated from some of the struggles that so many (Most?) people are dealing with, but that doesn't mean I'm ignorant of it or ignoring it.

       I got to drive from S. FL to Philly earlier this week, and it was surprisingly pleasant. I set the cruise control at 80 most of the ride, and with the diminished traffic I made excellent time. I stopped in Dunn, NC on the first day, about 6 1/2 hrs from Philly. I hadn't been sleeping well, and so I was pretty beat after just a single long day of driving rt 95 the whole way. Ate well, slept well, and off I went.

      My employer provides a hotel room the night before crew change for anyone who is more than 6 hours' drive from their home port. The last time I was working in Philly, we stayed at the Red Rash Inn, a discount hotel outside the city that was also housing whores, drug dealers and the semi-homeless. Somewhere between then and now, they switched to a NICE mid-priced hotel, and my hotel stay the night before crew change was actually really pleasant. I still didn't sleep well, but that's not the fault of the hotel at all. I don't know what's up with that. I wish the management in NY would follow suit, but to be fair, the shithole welfare/refugee stash house that they send us to probably still costs more than the nice hotel in Philly.

   We're looking at a busy weekend here on the HQ, and although it's going to be rainy and I'm on nights for the week, I'm content enough. We had time at crew change to stock up on basic supplies, so we're good and ready for some isolation.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Life among the natives

It took 3 days for me to get toilet paper in my home town.

      In the end, it wasn't hard to do. It just required a little bit of being a bad person.

 I tried, I really tried to be patient and follow the rules. But it wasn't working. I couldn't get shit tickets, chicken, clorox or a goddamn loaf of bread.

 Oh, I got them. On day 3, after wasting two half days, I came home with everything I needed by 0830.

 OK, so I live in South Florida. Sorta a hotspot for the Kung Flu, because the snowbirds decamped from NY/NJ and all came down here a few weeks ago, and brought their plague with them.

   To protect the vulnerable elderly, all grocery stores are having senior-only opening hours, where the first hour of business is for people 60 and up only.

  Again, I live in South Florida. Fucking EVERYONE is over 60. End result, by the time senior hour is over, everything is cleaned out. I learned this on day 2, when standing in line outside a local Publix with all the other early birds, and the old folks came parading out with shitpaper, meat, clorox jugs, and what have you. By the time I got in the store, there had been hundreds of seniors in before me.

 So, the next day was Sunday, and I was up at 6am, and at the grocery store by 0645. There were 20-30 cars there already. At 0650, I put on my surgical mask and took my hat off, to show off my being half-bald. Being fair-haired and fair of skin, and with a now mostly-white beard. and working outdoors, I look older. With the mask, I thought I looked plausibly middle-aged.

 I rolled in about #10 through the store, made a beeline for the TP aisle, and got a 12-pack of shit tickets. I raced on for the meat section, got a pair of steaks, and on to the next thing on my list, in descending order of scarcity. All told, I was in the store about 15 minutes. I had a system in place.

 By the time I recrossed the paper goods aisle, maybe 3-4 minutes after I picked up my poop paper, there was a crowd of irate elderly people all jostling for access to the goods. The TP was gone within 7-8 minutes of store opening, I would guess.  I hit the registers and bailed.

       So, yeah, I might be a bad person for impersonating a fossil, but I'll be damned if my family is going to have a TP shortage.