First world problems.

It is a phrase I say all the time when reminding myself that I have nothing to complain about. Construction traffic in Denver? Canceled yoga class? Three days of rain on a seven-day charter? No big deal. First world problems.

Today, though, as I watch my fellow citizens hoarding toilet paper and other essentials, clambering for the last jar of pasta sauce, and fretting about what the future holds, I think there is a lesson to be learned about just how complacent we’ve become. As Americans, we simply are not accustomed to not getting what we want when we want it. It isn’t that we aren’t grateful for what we have, it is that we can’t fathom not having it.

Uncharted times are ahead for all of us, and fear of scarcity, poverty, illness, and the unknown looms large.

When we chartered a sailboat in Cuba less than two months ago, my biggest concern was provisioning. How would we feed ourselves? Would we be able to get what we needed? What would that process look like? I knew their system would not be as robust and predictable as ours, but I didn’t truly know what to expect. We packed our own muesli and peanut butter, we brought a roll of toilet paper, we tried to prepare, we hoped for the best.

I’ve always planned to write a blog on provisioning in Cuba detailing the specific process and what to expect so that other future charter sailors would have information that I wished I’d had before going. I’ll get to that.

But in a world that has been told to go inside while we wait out this pandemic, I can’t help but think that it is the provisioning lessons – not the logistics – that might be most beneficial.

Be grateful

The most important lesson is to be grateful for what you can get, not anxious about what isn’t available.

We had been given a provisioning list to fill out ahead of our Cuba charter. We were told they might not have all the items when we arrived. We didn’t realize how many items they wouldn’t have.

The state provisioning store at the marina had pasta, but no pasta sauce. No real milk, but powdered milk was available. No garbage bags, no tuna, no mustard, one type of beer when six had been on the provisioning sheet, no jelly, no beans. The “not available” list goes on.

But there were blocks of fresh butter and cheese, the available wine was exceptional, and the meat, fruits, and vegetables that our provisioning company secured at the local market in town were outstanding and plentiful.

An assessment the night before we set sail was that we had enough. It was a bit of an odd combination and it wasn’t what we were used to, but we had enough.

Be creative

We had not planned on eating peanut butter, honey, and plantain sandwiches on dinner rolls for lunch each day, but that is what we had so that is what we ate. It wasn’t bad! Lots of meals included potatoes and onions, our daily snack was carrots and peanut butter, and we ate fruit all day long. Coffee with powdered milk is just fine.

The point is, you can make do, it just takes a positive attitude and willingness to be creative. Whether at a spartan marina shop in Cuba or your local grocery store where others have pillaged the canned goods, pasta, and potato chip aisles, being resourceful can make all the difference. Unusual cheese options, that strange root vegetable that you’ve seen but not tried, frozen vegetables, the tofu that seems to still be on all of the shelves, and the canned beets which you never considered before now could all be an option. Never tried the gluten free version of something? Now may be your chance.

Be patient

When we entered the small state-run provisioning store at the marina with one clerk helping a single group at a time, we knew it would be awhile. There was a large group ahead of us from the Ukraine and an hour later they were still being helped. There was a point at which I was legitimately concerned that they might actually buy all of the food and alcohol available. Kind of like the insensitive hoarders taking everything for themselves in the grocery stores today.

Our only option was to patiently wait our turn. I see a lot of that in today’s world. My hope is this seemingly heightened patience with long lines and dwindling supplies has emerged out of a realization that we are all in this together and not just capitulation.

As we stay in our homes and cancel our plans, it is important to remember that we are all in the same boat. Not just now, but always.

Be prepared

We never check bags when we travel, but on our trip to Cuba, we checked two bags and carried on bags as well. Inside? Things we were pretty sure we would have a hard time finding at our destination. Spices, sauces, protein bars, fishing equipment, and the aforementioned toilet paper, cereal, and peanut butter. Next time I’ll bring coffee too…just in case.

The “be prepared” advice as it relates to our current world may be a bit late, but assuming we all emerge relatively unscathed from this recent pandemic experience (and we will), we should keep it in mind for next time we are thrown a collective curve-ball.

It is important to be as prepared as possible for the unexpected, so identify essentials and make sure to have them on-hand. Have extra food in the house, have a meet-up plan with family members should things go sideways.

Think about things you don’t think of – like matches, a go-bag for each person, cash on hand. I am not trying to encourage you to be a prepper, stockpiling guns and MREs. But a little advance planning for whatever surprises may come our way could make a difference.

If we’ve learned one lesson from this experience it is that things can change in a hurry, and what you take for granted today may not be available tomorrow.

Be supportive

There were a few occasions on our trip where we were able to interact with the Cuban people. These opportunities were hands-down the highlight of our charter experience. A separate blog on this to come.

One thing we did when we had a chance was to support small local restaurants. Outside of the large cities like Havana, the menu almost always was limited to a combination of beans, rice, fish, and plantains. Nothing fancy, but it was good. We always tipped generously because we knew we had more than the people serving us. We wanted to be supportive.

If you have the means in today’s chaotic world, consider extending a bit of extra support where you can. Order take-out from local restaurants or offer a helping hand to your neighbors to make sure they have the items they need. Support is critical now, and as the weeks unfold there will be opportunities for each of us to do our part.

Amid a social distancing mandate to stay apart, we should connect more than ever before. As families, as communities, as citizens of the world. A simple truth: it is not how much we have that defines us; it is how much we give.

Stay well, stay safe, be happy, be grateful.

Lea Maxwell

Lea Maxwell is the sailor and scribe behind Escape Under Sail, a web|blog project that connects new and future bareboat sailors with the resources, information, and motivation they need to competently and confidently sail beautiful destinations around the world.

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