I've been told a few times that I should write about my story. Here I am, finally getting around to it!
Let's start from the very beginning.
I was born aboard an American-run, Maltese-registered ship in Danish waters to New Zealand parents in 1990. My first decade was spent aboard that ship. Every three or four weeks the ship would leave port and set sail for a new country, so I spent my early years sailing the world - mainly in South, West and North Africa. My earliest memories are of riding a bike in Denmark and playing soccer (and losing miserably) in an African orphanage, though I can't remember exactly which country it was.
The ship that I was born and grew up on was the MV Anastasis. It was a hospital/missionary ship run by an American evangelical organisation called Mercy Ships. The Anastasis would sail to developing countries and offer medical services. The ship acted as a temporary hospital and the missionaries would travel to villages and help build facilities. There was also a lot of preaching. My parents were missionaries aboard the ship. They had left New Zealand for the missionary life 10 years before I was born - so neither of them had much in the way of professional skills.
When I was born, the ship was berthed in Copenhagen port. As I was told it, my father drove my mother to the hospital as she went into labour to find that they couldn't get in due to a nurses strike. He panicked and drove back to the ship, where I was born shortly after. Again, as I was told it, the Danish government wouldn't issue a birth certificate as the ship was registered in Malta, so technically I was born there. The Maltese government wouldn't issue a birth certificate because I was born in Denmark. At the end of the day, the captain of the ship issued me with a birth certificate. My official place of birth is 'Aboard MV Anastasis'.
Those stories didn't exactly check out. I have looked many times, but I can't find any evidence of a hospital strike or closure in late August 1990. *cue X Files theme*. But it doesn't matter. At the end of the day, my father clowned it, and I was born at sea.
The ship had a crew of about 350 people from all around the world. There were even enough families aboard to warrant having a school. Most families would move aboard and stay for one or two years, so other kids were constantly arriving and leaving while my two brothers and I stayed. As you can imagine, a school run by evangelical missionaries was rather religious in nature. Dinosaurs weren't a popular subject.
The way we (the kids) learnt to get to know each other was to ask where we were from, because we were all in neutral territory. Despite only having spent a month in New Zealand when I was 4, I was 'Josh from New Zealand' growing up. You can imagine that this may have caused some identity issues later in life, and indeed it did! We'll get there.
Now, you may or may not have expected this from an evangelical missionary, but my father was a profoundly angry man. He was manipulative, abusive, and good at hiding it. His mother, my grandmother, was the 'boss' of the ship. She protected him from repercussions for the way he treated the people around him. I'm not going to dwell on his antics here, but needless to say he became increasingly unpopular as time went on.
In 1999, when I was nine, my family went on a mandatory holiday to New Zealand. A week after we arrived, my parents were informed that they weren't welcome back on the ship. My parents hadn't lived in New Zealand for almost twenty years. And there we were. Two forty-year old parents with no formal education or employment history and three sons aged eleven, nine and four.
I was actually going to be 'Josh from New Zealand'.
Stay tuned for the next instalment!