Choosing a sailor's life

Updated: 2013-09-03 08:02

(China Daily)

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Home comforts

Suriya Matimin, 21, one of the three Uygur women, hails from Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. She said all the people in her hometown are proud of her.

Choosing a sailor's life

Suriya Matimin, 21, dances with a local man during the hospital ship's visit to the Maldives. Photos by Zhang Hao / for China Daily

"When I walked down the streets of my hometown wearing my uniform, strangers stopped me to ask if they could have a photo taken with me," she said. "People from my neighborhood call my mother the 'navy mama' and my 4-year-old brother always refers to me as 'navy sister' when he talks with his friends at the kindergarten. Every time he sees any news on TV about the navy, he shouts, 'My sister is there! My sister is there in the navy!'"

Out of respect for the traditions of the Uygur ethnic group, the ship provides the women with halal food, which is prepared by a separate cook who only uses utensils and cookware reserved for halal cooking.

If they want, the women can also head to the kitchen and cook for themselves, storing any leftovers in their own separate refrigerator.

Nurpaxa has enjoyed cooking traditional food from her hometown. "My favorite dishes are noodles and fried rice," she said. "We cook once or twice a week, or sometimes more often if we feel very homesick."

She said the crewmembers have helped the women celebrate traditional Uygur festivals, such as the annual Corban, or Sacrifice ceremony. "We made our traditional food with chicken and lamb provided by the ship and shared it with the other members of the crew," Nurpaxa said.

"People from all ethnic groups are part of a large family and we all make a contribution to our homeland," said Shen Hao, rear admiral and the commander of the 2013 Peace Ark mission. "The navy fully respects the cultures, religions and traditions of all the ethnic groups."

Guo Hongxia, the lead officer of the Peace Ark's 12 female sailors, said the 2013 deployment was the first time female sailors had served on the hospital ship.

"It was also the first time I'd worked with the Uygur girls," said Guo. "I researched their traditions and culture on the Internet to avoid offending them without knowing. I need to know them to help them to blend in."

Guo said that although the women have been given separate food rations, they don't enjoy any other privileges. "They have been well trained and have to do everything required of a sailor on a voyage," she said.

In addition to three-hour shifts as a signal woman, Nurpaxa has to swab the top deck, which is about the half the size of a basketball court.

The sweat streamed down her suntanned face and dropped sizzling onto the deck, which was roasting from the heat of the tropical sun.

She is also responsible for raising and lowering the navy's flag at the stern every day the ship is in port. "I am very proud of my work," she said. "People passing by stand to attention and salute when I raise the flag. Sometimes seagulls circled me as I pulled on the halyard. It was as though they were keeping me company. I love the creatures out at sea, such as seagulls and dolphins."