Just when we thought we could sneak back into New Orleans without another mishap,
disaster struck again. Just as we entered the Mississippi River basin, we
looked out the window and saw another cruise liner strike an oil rig! What a
horrifying sight! All those poor passengers covered with oil slick, all those pretty
white sun-tan chairs blackened permanently, all those nice tee-shirts ruined forever.
Fortunately there were no casualties. No one could sink in the oil muck. For a while the
passengers just sat in the deck chairs on top of the water until the muck thickened so the
passengers just walked back to shore. What a trip! Just about every day another
terrible thing happened!
The Story of the Jamaican Stowaway
I may have slightly exaggerated a tale or two in this Seven-Day
Chronicle of the SSQQ Odd-essy,
but this final story actually happened.
On Saturday we finally made it back to New Orleans. As I sat in the cabin
awaiting disembarkation procedures, I heard my name paged. "Mr. Rick Archer, please
report to the Library". Once in the library, I was asked to sit down and wait.
I found a table and watched as the immigration officers checked the passports of many of
the ship's crew before allowing them to go to shore. Although I didn't expect the wait to
last for what seemed like an hour, I had expected this moment to occur. I knew
eventually I would have to face the authorities to clear myself of a possible charge of
aiding and abetting a fugitive stowaway.
On Wednesday our ship visited Jamaica. After the rafting trip, our bus
took us into downtown Montego Bay and basically told us to get off for the "shopping
experience of our life". Little did I realize how prophetic their advertising
slogan would be. As we got off the bus, we were immediately besieged by sales people
like mosquitoes to fresh blood. I ducked quickly into a jewelry store to try
and break a $20. A lady named Cindy had shared my raft earlier. She had done all the
tipping for the two of us since I hadn't anticipated the need to carry a roll of $1 dollar
bills to survive in Jamaica. Now I was able to to reimburse her. I kept $5 and put it with
my ship's boarding pass in the left pocket...my blind side (I am blind in my left
eye). Then I went next door and spent my two traveler's checks on tee-shirts,
postcards, and beach towels. As I came out of the store, a Jamaican man bumped against me
from my blind side. I looked at him. He muttered, "No Problem", and just kept
walking. I didn't give it a second thought until I noticed on a random pocket check that
my boarding pass was missing. Hmm.
Another hour later, the bus finally deposited us back at our ship. First I
had to have my backpack and shopping bag searched by Jamaican customs. Thoroughly. Then I
had to pass another gauntlet of shops and aggressive vendors. I was also offered drugs for
the second time today. I was so rattled by the constant pressure I almost started to run
for the ship. Once I got to the ship, I reported my missing ship card to the officer
at the door. I didn't have my wallet with an ID, but he recognized me and didn't give me a
hard time. He had me write down my name on a report, checked my bags for alcohol, then
sent me through. I went straight to the Purser's Desk and had my missing ship card
canceled immediately. I went back to my cabin and basically crashed.
Two hours later we were out to sea. I was still alone in my cabin
when I heard a knock at my door. I was astonished to see the same man who had brushed into
me back outside the T-shirt shop in Jamaica ! He was a tall, powerfully-built
man wearing slacks and a polo shirt, black, about 25 years old, and clean
cut. No dreadlocks, no appearance out of the ordinary, but obviously scared out his wits.
That made two of us.
The Jamaican man quickly said, "Don't be afraid !" Then he
gently, but definitely pushed me back into my cabin. He obviously didn't wish to be
standing in the long hallway a moment longer. "Mister, please help me ! I am
sorry, but I used your card to get on the ship. I want so much to join my friends in
America !" Although I was in shock and afraid, he did not attempt to
scare me. He essentially threw himself at my mercy and begged me to help him. He
said he was poor and could not afford to get to America, but that Jamaica was full of
hungry people. He wanted desperately to try for a better life. He had found my cabin
because the number was printed on the card he had used to get on board. We talked for
perhaps five minutes. I must say I really felt sorry for this kid. You can call me crazy
and judge me any way you wish, but he seemed like a decent sort to me. His English was
excellent, he expressed himself well, and despite his size he did not seem dangerous. I
was overwhelmed with memories of "Anne Frank", "Shindler's List",
Quaker stories of the Civil War Underground Railroad, plus a recent HBO movie,
"The Stowaway". On an impulse I decided to help him.
First I had to get him out of the cabin. He had asked to stay with me in
the cabin, but I explained I had a family and there was no way to hide him from them or
the man who cleaned two times a day. He said he was hungry, so I decided the best thing
was to show him the all-day Bistro where he could eat at any time. As we walked upstairs I
said that he could eat whenever he wished and to simply act like he belonged on the ship,
then make a run for it at the pier. How he intended to get off the ship unnoticed was
beyond me, but I imagined he could dive into the water and swim to shore. As I look back,
the ideas that flooded my head were pretty ridiculous. I am afraid I have seen too many
movies where the near-impossible looks easy.
Just as we left the cabin, walking down the hallway were Judy and Sam.
I said hi and promised I would be right back after I showed this man something.
Without breaking stride, we kept going. I was pretty nervous. Surely this pitiful man
behind me was even worse off. He begged me to simply bring him some food, but I said I had
no way of knowing where he would be. I told him the smart thing to do was to not eat for 2
days, but in his defense he may not have already eaten for 2 days. Who knows ? I
have always thought that good judgment and good morals were much easier for well-fed
people to have than hungry people.
Then I walked by Alison Terzakis, one of our SSQQ group. For some reason,
seeing her helped bring me to reality. I wondered for the first time if this man was
taking this enormous risk to escape Jamaica for reasons more sinister than I was aware of.
Up to now I had taken everything he pretty much at face value. The young man wanted very
much to disappear, but he also wanted food. I found the Bistro, showed him where it was,
grabbed him an apple, and told him to go hide. He was gone in a flash.
Shaken, I went back to the cabin. Judy was curious about the young man she
had seen leaving our cabin. I did not answer. If I told her the truth, then she
would be involved. However I would not lie to her either. I said I needed to think for a
moment and I would tell her later who he was. I was sick to my stomach. On the one
hand, I wanted to help this man. He had thrown himself at my mercy. He had begged me, a
total stranger, for help. If I turned him in, surely he would go to jail. He had not hurt
me nor had he threatened me. He did not seem to be a threat in any way. On the other
hand, what if he was a criminal in his homeland ? He didn't strike me that way, but
who was I to decide on the fleeting impression of a momentary encounter ? Seeing
Alison had snapped me to the thought that the community at large trusted me and that I was
risking her safety and the safety of everyone on board. My next thought was not quite as
noble. I realized for the first time if this man was caught, I would surely be
charged with abetting a crime. Was I prepared to risk my reputation and fight a legal
battle ? Perhaps if it were the horror of Nazi Germany or a cruel Southern
plantation owner in the 1800's or the danger of a brutal ship's captain (the HBO movie was
billed as a "true story" where the captain murdered in cold blood 8
Nigerian stowaways he found on hiding on his ship and threw their bodies overboard. One
man escaped to tell the story). Under these extraordinary circumstances, I would hope to
find the courage to take such a chance, but as I came to my senses I realized those
conditions did not exist.
No, I decided. I wasn't ready to take that kind of risk. I assumed the
Jamaican man would be dealt with in a civilized manner. I wasn't willing to go down
for a man I didn't know unless his life was at stake, but it wasn't. I made up my mind,
quickly explained what had happened to Judy, then went straight to the Purser's Desk. I
was about to betray the stowaway. I felt disgusted.
The ship's personnel were shocked just as I had been. This had only
happened once before in anyone's memory and they had actually ended up putting the guy to
work. Maybe they said this to make me feel better, but it seemed a romantic thought.
My conscience was heavy with guilt.
It took four hours to find the man. After they questioned him, they
questioned me. As I expected the Jamaican had blamed me for everything. I have seen a
million "Law and Order" episodes on TV. Is this how we prepare for all
unexpected moments in our life ? I was frightened, especially since my first impulse
had been to help the man, but after I explained what had happened they were satisfied with
my side of the story.
I spent the rest of the trip dealing with my conscience. I felt very sorry
for this young man. I hated turning him in. I sent him a letter with $100 enclosed
in case he needed to call home or whatever. I doubt the money ever reached him.
I asked the Catholic priest on board to go and speak to the man and see if there
was anything he needed. The ship's personnel would not allow the priest to speak with the
On Saturday as my name was paged over the intercom, I knew I was about to
be quizzed by the authorities concerning my involvement. I was worried. For one
thing, I had already admitted trying to help the man at first. It was unlikely they would
take the Jamaican's word over mine, but I had no idea what he had told them either. Would
they detain me in New Orleans for questioning ? Would I need a lawyer ?
I had an hour to carefully consider all the possibilities.
When the customs agent finally talked with me, it lasted all of five
minutes. The agent just wanted to verify that the information on the document I had signed
three days earlier for the ship was correct. I could go.
I had not intended to discuss this incident with the group. The truth is I
was (and still am) embarrassed by this story. I did not enjoy sending this young man that
I basically admired to jail. He did nothing to hurt me, yet I took his freedom away to
save my own skin. This man had a lot of courage. If he had chosen not to involve me, he
might have actually made it. It is easy to spot someone when you are on alert, but the
threat of a stowaway is practically non-existent. No one would have been on guard. It took
them four hours to find him even once they were aware of his presence. If the ship was
unwarned, the Jamaican could have blended in. He was a nice-looking man and he was
casually dressed just like every person on ship. There were many black people on
board. As long as he did nothing to draw attention to himself, I imagine his
chances of success were better than 2 to 1. Of course this is easy for me to say because I
can size up the situation from a detached point of view. Whether he had the savvy to
conceal himself without the benefit of knowing the ways of the people on board or the lay
of the ship I will never know. I just know what he did took a lot of nerve.
After I was released, we had to wait still another hour to get permission
to leave the ship. It turns out that some people try to leave without settling their bill
first, so no one gets to leave until everyone in their particular section of the ship pays
up. The rich people get off first for two reasons. First they all have the money to pay
their bills and second they pay more money for their cabins so this is a small privilege.
Since most of us had cabins in the less-than-rich part of the ship, we got to wait the
longest. Lucky us. The group had heard my name paged. They knew I was stuck for over an
hour in that library for a reason. In other words, they knew something was going on.
When they saw me, they asked me what the deal was. I wasn't in a mood to play games, so I
decided to tell them the story. Now you know it too. In retrospect I am still sorry I
turned the man in and I wish he had never come to my room. However once he involved me,
despite the fact he had my sympathy, without life-threatening circumstances I
wasn't willing to take a chance on a complete stranger. All I feel is regret.