One of the hardest things about the work down here is the regimented schedule. In my normal life, I hit the sack somewhere between midnight and one AM. I often read in bed a little, either at night or sometimes in the morning when I wake up. I usually get up around 9 a.m., take my shower, turn on NPR, have some breakfast and spend about half an hour reading the paper. I usually start working around 10. Pretty relaxed way to start the day, and it’s one of the main reasons I’m a freelancer.
The situation here is totally different. The lights come on in our “barracks” at 6 a.m., which is pretty damn early. Some people talk about how wonderful it is to start the day fresh and early; me, I find it depressing to wake up when it’s still pitch dark outside. Anyway, we’re supposed to show up at the kitchen around 8, so depending on whether or not I took my shower the night before, that leaves me very little time to hit the Port-a-Potty, struggle awake, dress, and eat breakfast, before hustling out the door for the shuttle. No personal time, no reading the paper; it’s a Red Cross world and I’m just living in it.
My ERV is on one of the longer routes, as we leave the kitchen at about 10 in the morning and don’t come back to base until 7:30 or so. And we’re working pretty much all that time, humping Cambros and snacks on and off the truck, driving around, serving food, re-supplying, and doing the whole process over again for supper. Once we’re back at the kitchen at the end of the day, it’s about an hour of cleaning the ERV and preparing it for the next day’s run (as well as helping other ERVs get squared away). Invariably, I catch the last shuttle back to SeaBee base, and often don’t get here until 8:30 or 9. Barely enough time to talk with folks at dinner, read a book, or check my email (when the Internet is working, which is rarely), before lights-out at 10 PM sharp.
So that’s a 12-hour day — every day — with one, maybe two days off in three weeks. Sometimes I think my value to the Red Cross is simply that I am a human machine, able to carry out orders every day. I often question at the beginning of a day whether I’ll be able to make it through, and yet I always do. I’m tired. I’m tired of being tired. But it means something to know there’s a bunch of other folks in the same boat, and that the people we’re helping truly do appreciate it.