Now you know what I look like after I have been up for 36-hours traveling through the night across the country (see image above). So let me explain to you my current situation.
I am wanted by the Jamaican immigration authorities for currently being an illegal immigrant in their country. How did this happen? Well, lets go back to about a week ago.
My boyfriend (let’s call him Mr. X even though his identity is evident) and I decided to escape the States for a seven day cruise around the Caribbean to connect with ourselves. We had been looking forward to this trip (especially the beautiful views and adventure of the high seas) for a while and were exhausted by the time we entered the great ship. Before booking directly through the cruise line we made sure that we could be accommodated since I am a vegan and he is a pescetarian. They said that this will not be an issue and we believed them. We opted for a suite so that we had the extra balcony space and privacy. Was it worth the hard earned money that we invested? We thought so. We told ourselves we deserved it. The first and second day of the trip we tried desperately to find fresh food but it just didn’t happen. We even had made prior arrangements to experience the exclusive “Chef’s Table” for dinner (i.e. booking and confirming three times to let them know we have special dietary restrictions). This turned out to not only be a huge disappointment, but they also served us a course with bacon. We were in dire need to receive some real food and could not wait to get to “Labadee," Haiti (not to be mistaken for Labadie, Haiti) to enjoy a Haitian plate of food. Sure, I understand that I do not have the typical American diet, but how is anyone expected to eat food out of a can, or in my case, frozen vegetables cooked in boiling water for every meal and not be completely ill?
On the third day we reached “Labadee” and were stoked to pack our backpack and get off the ship so that we could have a proper Haitian meal. Well, this didn’t happen. We had been told that we could sign a waiver to release us on the island and away from the faux Haiti experience. However, this wasn’t true. We reached the barbed wire gate (similiar to that of Jurassic Park) and were immediately turned away by a security officer. Okay. I know that this may come across as a what did you expect moment but I honestly didn’t think that we were going to be completely confined to a prison-like structure. So, basically, we are being told that Haitians are dangerous people and cannot be trusted (racism at it’s finest). As soon as we got back to the ship, Mr. X decided to make some phone calls, which required him to go back and forth between guest services and the corporate offices. I, instead, walked around and started to truly observe what was happening on this ship; People from all over the world were here and suffering. I began to talk one-on-one with the employees and began to understand that not only are they being paid pennies but they are working ridiculous hours. On top of that, they are being served the shitty leftovers from the day before as their staff meals and pay unconscionable pricing for Internet, which is their only means of communication with their friends and family. I was appalled. I was sick to my stomach. I was supporting human suffering and the disadvantages that one may have just because of where they are born. I went back to the room and Mr. X was fired up. “We are getting off the ship when we dock at Jamaica,” he told me. I agreed. Enough was enough. We were done. We signed up to be transported from one exotic land to another. Little did we know that we were relinquishing our custody for an alcohol-fueled, glutinous, consumer-driven bubble of false reality. The ship was essentially a floating mall combined with a hotel. We had become the definition of a captive audience literally and figuratively.
We then booked flights from Montego Bay, Jamaica back to San Diego, California for a week later, extending our holiday for a few extra days since we truly hadn’t had the opportunity to relax and enjoy our time off.
The next morning as I began to pack our bags I couldn’t find my passport. It was gone. I had no idea where the hell it was. Mr. X assured me that everything was going to be just fine and that we would speak to Immigration Service once we disembarked. We were escorted to the Jamaican Immigration and, after some time passed, we were not permitted to leave due to my lack of passport. I was sick to my stomach. I couldn’t get back on that ship. It was a nightmare. So, instead, we booked two new tickets for the same day to go back to the States. The Jamaican immigration escorted us to the airport and there we came to a whole other situation with my lack of passport. Basically, I was stuck, well, we were stuck since we were in this together. The authorities were intimidating and I felt weak both mentally and physically. I didn’t know what to do. Mr. X hasn’t taken a vacation in eight years and right here, right now, I felt as if I were going to ruin everything. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “We still have a few more hours in Jamaica. Let’s enjoy the island and get back on the boat. As long as we are together we can make it work.”
On the escorted drive back, which we paid for each way, we decided that if we get enough fresh fruit from the island that we could easily be happy until we reach Cozumel, Mexico two days later. So that was the plan.
We made it back to the ship, got our passes back and headed to our room. By this point it was already the afternoon and we had to haul ass so that we could enjoy a few hours on the magical island of Jamaica. We left our luggage, packed a day bag each and headed off the boat. For the record, I was not wearing a short red skirt with a backless red top as every news outlet feed to those listening. I was wearing a long-sleeved medium length dress with blue jean shorts and black sneakers.
Mr. X and I began to walk around Falmouth and realized that we hadn’t had one thing to eat that day. Immediately we went to get a couple of veggie patties and while we were there we friended a fellow (let’s call him William). William was a happy guy and was excited to show us around. His energy was chill and we thought why not? We were so limited on time at this point that we definitely needed a guide to get us around. There was one moment when the three of us began to walk down the street that I thought maybe we should just turn around but we didn’t. Instead, we jumped into a van filled with school children (known locally as a route taxi) to get to Montego Bay. I felt comfortable and safe, especially because there were children present. We traveled for 30 minutes before we got to Montego Bay and at that point Mr. X and I were a bit concerned about time. Our new found friend didn’t seem to totally understand but told us that if it made us feel better we could take his car around the city before heading back. Again, maybe this wasn’t the greatest idea but at this point we weren’t in the best area and he had thus far proved himself. When we approached the car he asked, “do you want to drive?” to Mr. X. He did. It made him feel a little more in control. We cruised around for another 30-minutes seeing the sites and then began to head back to the ship. Well, we thought we were heading back to the ship. By the time we realized that we were heading in the opposite direction it was too late. We were completely lost and so far away from Falmouth that there was no way in hell we would make it back in time. Fuck.
I went into survival mode. We needed a place to stay that was safe and gave us time to come together to figure this one out. The closest city to us was Negril so we headed that way. Our “guide” led us to a hotel, we gave him some cash to leave and we got a room. As Mr. X and I were discussing what the fuck we were supposed to do I realize that I left my passport on the counter in my home. I never needed it at this point because I checked in with my birth certificate and drivers license. Fuck. This is were we needed to start. We couldn’t go back to immigration. They were going to be so livid due to our earlier interactions. Fuck. We had to figure this one out.
The next day I decided to reach out to an associate of mine that helps me with various Fiercely Optimistic projects (plus she is one of two people that actually have keys to my place). I tell her that I need my passport overnighted and she agrees to do so. I give her the address of the new place Mr. X and I are staying at and we agree that this is by far the best idea. We enjoy the day together mingling with locals and savoring their delicious Jamaican specialties. Today was a good day and everything was going to ahright.
That was Wednesday. Now comes Thursday - the day we realize what is actually going on. Mr. X and I take the scooter up into Orange Hills to visit his old friend, Marley (again, his named is changed to protect his privacy). We are welcomed with open arms and fresh mangos from the trees. Then we walk the gardens and begin to tell him how the heck we got there. This is when he informed us that we were declared missing and that we were wanted. My heart sank into my stomach and I all-of-a-sudden felt light headed. Fuck. The Jamaican authorities have our photographs and are actively looking for us. I didn’t know what to do. Mr. X immediately calls his mother to tell her that he is safe and I quickly call my parent’s landline and leave a detailed message. We truly had no idea what had happened and actually we thought that we were doing what was right by retrieving my passport before heading back to the authorities. Marley tells us to get out of Dodge and hands us two hats. He tells us it is better if we handle this with the American Embassy rather then the Jamaican authorities. So we give him and his son a hug and head down the hill back to our hotel.
Once we get to the hotel I call my associate and ask for the confirmation number for the FedEx package that I was under the impression that was already shipped. It wasn’t. Why? Two reasons: 1) My friend wanted me to know that it had expired this month. Fuck. 2) She didn’t ship it because the earliest it would arrive is Monday. Monday! That’s forever away. Mr. X immediately called the American Embassy to let them know that we are safe. I, not Mr. X, am here illegally and it’s me that they are looking for. It’s a four hour drive to Kingston and I need to be there first thing in the morning. We are reminded that if the Jamaican authorities find me first then I will be put in jail, tried and deported. Fuck. Now, I am terrified. This whole situation feels so completely out-of-control and I am scared.
In order for Mr. X and I to get to Kingston we would have to hire a private driver since each route taxi has a specific area for transportation. It would take five taxis in order to get us to Kingston. We needed help. We needed a friend. So we asked a guy at the hotel (let’s call him Wayne) if he could help us after we explained our situation. He happily agreed, checked us out of our room, arranged of a car and picked up us a short time later. We were on the run. We needed to make our way to the Embassy in Kingston and so we did.
We stopped once to use the loo and another time for petroleum. Everything was going smoothly until we saw that we were being pulled over at a police checkpoint. Fuck. Wayne was asked to roll down all the windows and get out of the car. Our photographs had been distributed to all authorities (from our understanding) and all it was going to take was one officer to recognize me and it was over. Part of me at this point wanted it to be over. I felt like a criminal. I am not a rude gal. Rather, I am bad girl gone good. I have lived my days on the edge and now find comfort in peace. The person they were looking for was gone a long time ago. This was simply an unfortunate mistake gone wrong.
Luckily for me, we were not recognized and proceeded to our route. We made it all the way to Kingston and found a nice hotel. Our friend checked us into the hotel under an alias as we sat in the corner of the lobby. I was watching everyone while trying to keep my head low. Damn. I definitely do not have a poker face. As Wayne just about finishes up, I see a hotel security guide escort him outside. What the fuck is happening? Then, about three minutes later, a team of men in suits and earpieces begin to walk towards us. I practically faint and look over at Mr. X who has no idea what is just before his eyes. The men then turn and form a secure aisle for someone uber important as they all enter the elevator. Fuck. I can’t live like this. I am about to faint.
Wayne comes back in with the keys to our room (apparently he needed to move his car) and we call it a night. He agrees to pick us up at 7:30am and take us to the American Embassy so that we can fix this whole ordeal.
Of course I did not sleep that night. I have never been so unsure of my future in my life. Get me to the Embassy I keep thinking to myself. God, please get me there safely.
The morning arrives and the three of us head to the Embassy. We make it through security and begin to explain our situation to the team of consulate officials. They are happy to see that the two “missing tourists” are okay without any foul play. I apply for an emergency passport, get it and they send me on my way with “good luck.” Why, you may ask, did they send me off with these specific words? Well, because I need luck. Just because I now have my passport in order does not mean that I am in the clear. Jamaican immigration is still looking for me. I am unlawfully here and if they find me, there is an extremely good chance that I will be taken to jail, tried and deported back to the U.S. in handcuffs.
So I sit here, in the jungle, writing with Mr. X by my side, waiting, waiting for the next opportunity for us to make our way to the airport without any retribution for our mistake in this beautiful country filled with the most amazing people. Pray for us. For there is no certainty in my future.