Dew from Heaven

By Lew Toulmin

Too often, we cruise passengers think of our cabin stewards and stewardesses as 2-dimensional persons, without families, lives or futures. So aboard Crystal Symphony on a cruise through the Mediterranean in the summer of 2005, my wife and I decided to have a chat with our energetic, attractive, 24-year-old stewardess, Rasa Janonyte of Klaipeda, Lithuania. The following reflects our conversation.

Q: What does your name mean?

A: Rasa means “dew.”

Q: Tell us about your family.

A: My father worked as an engineer building ships, but now he works in a meat-processing firm. My mother is a cook. I have a sister two years younger than I.

Q: Where did you grow up, and what do you remember most of that time?

A: I was born and raised in Lithuania. I was only 10 in 1991, but I remember that was the time that Soviet tanks killed many of our people. Later that year the Soviets pulled out of Lithuania, and we had a big party.

Q: Where did you go to school?

A: I graduated from an art-oriented high school. I got a bachelor’s degree from the Lithuanian Christian Fund College, founded by Canadians and Lithuanians.

Q: What was your major?

A: Theology and sociology — not too close a tie to cleaning cabins aboard a cruise ship!

Q: Your English is excellent. How did you learn it?

A: I studied English and Russian in high school, and my college was taught entirely in English, so now I write better in English than I do in Lithuanian.

Q: Did you work and travel before joining Crystal Cruises?

A: Yes, I worked in Norway and Ireland as a cook and baby-sitter. Ireland was hard for me, because as a devout Christian I do not drink, so it was difficult to see many people dangerously drunk.

Q: How did you hear about Crystal Symphony?

A: I got an e-mail from our college placement service saying that Crystal was recruiting for 5-month-contract stewardesses. They said Crystal paid well but had 6-star service, so I would have to work hard. English was required, but that was no problem for me. Crystal flew me to Florida and I immediately joined the ship for a Caribbean cruise, starting in Key West.

Q: Was the work difficult?

A: The other stewardesses said the work was so hard that I would probably cry for the first two weeks, and it would take two months to get fast at my job, but I am used to hard work and international situations, so in fact my transition was very smooth. No crying, for me. I have been here almost two months and I am pretty efficient now. I tend to feel at home wherever I am, so I am quite content here.

Q: Did the other stewardesses help when you started?

A: Yes, I was surprised and pleased by the close teamwork. The experienced staff all helped me. They said that on other cruise lines there is a lot of jealousy and fighting, but here we really are like a happy family.

Q: What is your typical day?

A: I get up at 6 a.m. and have breakfast in the crew’s mess. We have very good food, almost as good as the passengers’. I start work at
6:45 and have eight to 10 rooms to clean. I usually finish by 1 or 1:30 p.m. Then I eat lunch and often take a nap. Sometimes, if we are at sea, I go up and stand in the prow of the ship to see the ocean and get some fresh air. My friends tease me and call me the Titantic girl. If the ship is in port, I will go ashore and walk around for two or three hours, usually alone. I love architecture and nature. At 6 p.m. we have a management meeting, then I do the evening cleaning and turndowns until 10:30 p.m. After work I have a midnight lunch and check my e-mail, then go to bed at 1 a.m. Five hours later I start again.

Q: What is the most difficult thing about cleaning a stateroom?

A: To enjoy it. That is a challenge, but I usually succeed.

Q: Do you go to the gym?

A: No, there is no time. And we work so hard that we keep the weight off.

Q: What are your favorite ports?

A: I usually can get ashore in four out of five ports we visit. I loved St. Barts in the Caribbean and Monaco in the Mediterranean. I walked up in the hills above the castle in Monaco and enjoyed the lemon trees and orange groves.

Q: What are your hobbies?

A: Ashore I love to study art history, read and sing the lead in my church choir. I brought some books aboard, but there’s no time to read.

Q: How much do you get paid, and what are the tips?

A: I don’t want to go into details, but of course the reason I am here is that I can make a lot more than the $200-per-month minimum in Lithuania. Most passengers give the recommended amount for tips. [Toulmin: This is $4 per passenger per day, or about $8 per cabin per day x 30 days x 8 cabins, which equals about $1,920 per month. Crystal Cruises stated that all tips are earmarked for each stewardess and are not “pooled.”] And I get free room and board. So I can save some money if I am careful about spending in port.

Q: What is your cabin like?

A: I share a cabin with a girl from Latvia. It is small, with a bunk bed and shower, but it is comfortable.

Q: What do you like about your job?

A: Here I get paid more than I would at home, and I get to see the world and meet interesting people from many countries.

Q: At home, do you do any volunteer work?

A: Yes, I have volunteered for five years with Youth With a Mission, teaching troubled kids in youth camps.

Q: What do you want to do in the future?

A: I will probably leave the ship after one contract. Someday I want to open a youth center in Lithuania for the many kids with drug and alcohol problems. I want to offer them Bible studies, fellowship and an alternative to the streets. I think I need more training before I try this, so I plan to go to the U.S. to obtain a master’s degree in youth ministry, with additional studies in music, art and drama.

Toulmin: Thanks, Rasa. I think a little dew from Heaven has fallen onto our ship.