Sarah Calvert

"It's no fun being an illegal alien." Phil Collins

 

“It’s no fun being an illegal alien.” Phil Collins

 

 

You can say that again. First off, I want to apologize to those friends who came to the fabulous Sun Ra on Tuesday night to see me. Sorry I couldn’t make it. I was in jail. Well, sort of. Funny how things change so quickly; last week I was posing with Pete Townsend, and this week found me detained in a cell.

Last week’s blog reminisced about how I got off one boat in Guadaloupe and came back to Antigua with another boat. Easy. Uh…not so much, if you don’t know the protocol. Apparently I should have been signed off the first boat as a crewmember, and put on the list of the returning boat and cleared customs when I reached Antiguan shores. After telling a few people my saga, they suggested I find out what the deal was with customs. And so, on Tuesday morning, adorned in my yoga gear after a class I headed to English Harbour to clear up any confusion. My, my, you would think that turning 40 would dispel some of my naïveté, but alas. When I arrived and told them my story, my passport was taken and I was told to have a seat to wait until the supervisor came in later that afternoon. I was not allowed to go to the bathroom on my own (and for those of you who know my bladder capacity, you know that those officials had a lot of trips to and from the loo with me in tow), and sat for over two hours before the supervisor came in. I was escorted into the office to speak to James, a demure gentle man who seemed to understand my plight, and yet felt like his hands were tied and had to call his supervisor in St. John’s. I wrote out a statement, admitting that I unknowingly didn’t adhere to protocol, and thought I would just get a wee slap on the wrists with a “don’t do that again” warning. My blonde locks didn’t help me this time. Neither did the polite smiles, nor the tears that came later. Nothing was working and I found myself in an immigration paddy wagon late afternoon heading to St. John’s.

Upon arrival there, I was “greeted” by the officials there who told me that I was now a stowaway and I’d have to wait to see their supervisor, who unfortunately had already left the office, meaning I’d have to stay in custody, overnight. The air conditioning, along with my slight dehydration and lack of food rendered me freezing, and was told that I could call someone to bring me food and clothes for the night because, “it gets pretty darn cold here at night.” Luckily, my friend and fellow yoga teacher Lyn came round the station equipped with an arsenal of necessities: chocolate being number one. It was going to be a long night. She, like me, was incredulous as to why I was being treated like a criminal, when I really hadn’t intentionally done anything wrong and had gone on my own accord to try to rectify the customs situation out myself. The officials had no real answers and basically just gave us the runaround. Lyn left her book for me, and I asked for some paper and a pen to write, but found it hard to concentrate. I meditated to Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, and did some pranayama under the fluorescent lights and white walls of my “accommodation” aka: cell. I was even more upset as I’d been rehearsing a load of jazz standards to perform that evening in the harbour. At around 7:30, which was the time I was to start my performance, I did indeed give an a cappella performance and sang about 6 songs to the bewilderment of the officers at the front of the building. They could take my cell phone, my passport, and my freedom of mobility, but they could not take my voice…. “No they can’t take that away from me…” I noticed the officer sitting on the chair tapping his toes and swaying to my tunes, so at least somebody was happy. It certainly wasn’t me. I offered one of the women officers a piece of chocolate to try and bribe my way into good standing, and was dismayed when she took over half the bar of chocolate. This was simply too much. “Excuse me, but I said you could have a piece. If I’m in here all day, I’ll be needing that. Can you please just break off a smaller piece and return my chocolate to me?” She was a woman. She got it and meekly handed back my sugary treasure.

 

My “bed” was a hard bench just over five feet long with a couple of old chair cushions fashioned as a pseudo-mattress, and my pillow was the blanket from the other cell. My feet dangled over the edge and constantly fell asleep throughout the long night.  They wouldn’t turn the lights out until after midnight so I tried to tie a shirt around my head to block out the lights, and sleep on my good ear to block out the hum of those lights. When I awoke, I laid the blanket on the floor and did an hour and a half yoga session followed by a meditation. At one point, one of the women came back to check on me, “You’re so quiet. I wanted to see if you were okay. What are you doing? Praying?” I told her I was doing yoga and her eyes perked up, “Okay now, show me some moves that I can do to get rid of this here belly,” she said as she patted her midriff. I told her to come in and I showed her a couple of asanas she could do to tighten up her flab. Man, these guys had it good, they got a free concert the night before and now were getting private yoga sessions.

 

After 9:30am I was taken in to see the supervisor again who told me his supervisor wanted me out on the next flight. I had already deduced that telling the whole truth really wasn’t getting me anywhere so I held up my hands helplessly and told him all the West Jet flights were booked; I had already checked as I wanted to fly out a bit earlier to get home in time for my sister’s birthday. Luckily, he took my word for it without going online; I think he wanted me to be set free and keep my ticket because I heard him on the phone, “She’s got a ticket booked for February 12th…it’s not even 2 weeks away. All the other flights are booked.” By 11:00am I had a stamp on my passport dictating that I had to leave the country on the 12th and was not allowed back in the country for 6 months.

 

“I guess this means I can’t really extend my flight, right?” I sort of bashfully smiled. “No miss. Your vacation is over.”

 

I was ecstatic to get my passport and phone back and be taken to the bus terminal to head home to Marsh Village. Never before had freedom, which I have taken for granted for so long, been such a revered sensibility. I’m so used to going where I want to go, when I want to go that I really had a shift in my perspective and am so humbly grateful for the freedoms that I do have. I now sit at my friend Lucy’s overlooking the harbour, sipping tea, warm and fed, and am reflecting on how this experience has really shown me the power of community. I had people all over calling lawyers, willing to pull strings, worrying and caring about me and sending me good vibes. I’ve been fortunate to meet and befriend so many lovely people in my short stay here, and I’m already a bit melancholy with the prospect of leaving so soon. It could have been worse though and I could have got a $10000 fine and been on the next flight out. As it stands now, I think I’ll spend the afternoon on shore, set some new intentions for this new moon (which will probably include crossing all my t’s and dotting all my i’s when it comes to paperwork) and have a short siesta on a bed, with real pillows. Yes, life is good, and I can see that I am indeed blessed. Anyone else have any pirate stories or stowaway stories to share? Anyone else out there whose had a similar experience? Please share!

 

 

Love and light,

 

Sarah

 

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