Day 7
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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!

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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 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 Jamaican. 

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. 

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