I’ve been stuck on a cruise ship now for exactly 33 hours. The reason I am stuck is simple – I’m in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. So, I’ve been at adult camp, surrounded by a modge-podge of people from all sorts of backgrounds. I’ve found myself waffling between engaging in all of the nonsense, the programs and shows and whatnot that the cruise liner puts on for the passengers, and thinking about how ridiculous this whole thing is.
Last night, our waiter at dinner shared that he has been working for Carnival Cruises for the last 18 years of his life. He has a 10 and 12 year old at home in Guatemala. He said he works for 7 months and is off for one or three months. 7 months in a row, he waits on tables of people who are generally dismissive and disinterested in his life, who don’t feel compelled to tip (since they paid for their gratuities with their tickets). And he keeps smiling. He said he gets one lunch off per 7 days and a couple of breaks here and there. This guy, with a small family in Guatemala, works 20 out of 21 meal shifts in the middle of the ocean for 7 straight months, in order to provide for his family.
This got us thinking thoughts you’re not supposed to think as passengers on a Carnival Cruise, but we thought them anyway: I wonder if Carnival takes care of these employees whom they rely on so heavily week in and week out? I wonder if they get paid a decent wage? I wonder if its worth it for these humble people to work this rather un-rewarding job on a boat in the middle of the ocean away from everyone they love? And, are we part of the problem? Is there a problem? If we, and all the other 2200 people aboard this ship, decided that it was not fair to ask these people to work such heavy amounts of time, would these employees of Carnival have work in their home countries to provide for their families? Which is worse: working 80 hours per week for 7 straight months with one break per week, or not being able to provide for your family?
With all of these questions in our minds, we keep working to look the employees in the eye and relate to them as fellow humans, not just “the help”. Willie is a beautiful man who is the steward of our floor. He is non-stop working with his staff to make sure every passenger on the Main Deck have everything they need to not notice anything at all. Willie takes his job seriously. I appreciate that. I also appreciate that Willie is taking this job seriously because he is providing for his family elsewhere in the world. I hope that he is well-provided-for by Carnival, because he is doing an excellent job. He deserves more than he makes, no matter what that amount is.
And then there’s Marcelo, the kid working in the gift shop. He is 24 years old (that means born in 1989), and has been on the boat for 2 weeks. He said he is from Mexico, and was disappointed when he was contracted to work on this boat, as it only makes trips to Mexico. So much for seeing the world. He basically just sails to his home over and over again. He is a business-minded young man. He said he sells fertilizer and blue fin tuna and minerals used for mining for petroleum. Marcelo is working for Carnival in order to network with passengers, in hopes that he might strike a business deal that will make his life better later.
I asked Marcelo if he makes a decent wage working for Carnival. I think he could tell that I actually meant the question, or he is so new that he was open to sharing, but he said he was told he will make between $1500 and $3000 per month, depending on the “success of his team”. He’s in sales (liquor, jewelry, cheap gifts, candy bars), so I suppose his monthly earnings are at least in part based upon commission. He then said that he was placed on this boat, which is much smaller than the other Carnival cruise ships, so his wages will be between $1300 and $1500. He lamented that all of his math about this job was way off.
$1500 per month for 6 months is $9,000, or $18,000 per year. When taking into account the fact that Marcelo works at least 12 hour days for 7 days each week, he is earning about $4.50 per hour of work. Not exactly minimum wage, even considering housing and food allowances. If I let myself think about this too much, I’ll jump ship. It’s not exactly a fair wage, by American standards. However, Marcelo said that his earnings are, when translated into Mexican pesos, pretty good over a six month period. Plus, the opportunities to network for a young Mexican entrepreneur like him are invaluable, potentially.
The receipt printer was not working in order to print out a receipt for Jessey’s Kit-Kat bar. He said he may have charged us twice. We didn’t care. The best part was that this kid did exactly what I would do in this situation. He wrote “Kit Kat, $1.69” on a blank receipt and asked Jessey to sign it. He then gave Jessey her “copy”, another blank receipt, and laughed. Marcelo, the kid from Mexico making way less than he should, is also not taking the whole thing too seriously. He’s having an experience that may lead to something better for him. I sure hope he meets someone that sees what I saw in him tonight: namely, the ability to articulate what he wants and what he has to offer, the knowledge of what he wants to do with his life, and the potential to do something great.