I’m on my second day of my cruise up
the Amazon, and I’m only just becoming “stabilized”. It’s
not just the time zone difference (I’ve crossed the Atlantic many
times, so I’m used to 8 or 9 hour jet lag: 5 zones is only an
intermediate level) or the endless hours on a jet where your butt
falls asleep but the rest of you remains completely and uncomfortably
awake. Arriving like a zombie is standard fare for a job like this,
but arriving in Brazil without the standard paperwork is a whole new
level of pain.
I arrived in Rio after nearly 24 hours
of flying and transfers, and I presented my “back door visa” to
the authorities. My back door visa happens to be a Bahamian Seaman’s
book which proves you intend to work on a ship, therefore avoiding
the time and expense it takes to get a Brazilian Visa. Thanks to
George Bush and his stupid xenophobic foreign policy, all citizens of
Brazil must get expensive visas in order to enter the U.S. Brazil
reciprocated by requiring the same in reverse. What, do they think I
want to DEFECT to Brazil? Give me a break!
So, here I am with my Bahamian
“passport” and they take me aside for what I thought would be a
standard immigration interview, like the U.S. authorities do.
Instead I sit on the side of a hall for an hour while they try and
find someone who knows what this document is supposed to be.
The supervisor entered the hall with my
Bahamian book: she was a tall, thin woman dressed in a worn black
business suit. She was probably in her 30’s but years of smoking
and hard partying aged her to 40-something. Her long hair needed
cream rinse and her highlights desperately needed retouching months
ago. Everything seemed to bother her.
She said that I had to have a
representative of the ship to speak for me and prove that I actually
worked on the ship. I showed her the contract that came from
Radisson’s head office in Ft. Lauderdale. She shook her head,
flipping her long, semi-bleached curls over her nametag.
“These contracts are not good
enough?” I asked.
“Those contracts do not prove you
I retorted, “Yes they do. Look at
the date. Look at the signatures. Look at the nice, shiny paper
that says in bold type: RADISSON CRUISE LINES ENTERTAINER CONTRACT.
Under that is my name, address, date of birth, phone number, pet’s
name, and zodiac sign.”
“This contract is not the document we
need.” She stonewalled, un-amused.
Well, what DO you need, lady? A
friggin’ picture? A certificate embossed with gold? This woman
must have been a Samba dancer for years and years during Carnivale,
but it felt like she never had a day’s fun in her life…
“Come on! This contract is the best
possible way you can prove I work for Radisson!” I added, “It
works for the Americans…”
“We’re not American.” She said,
and before I got deported, I added, “What do I need to do?”
“Call your ship’s agent. Do you
have the number?”
Ahh, she can be helpful! I thought
maybe she wasn’t just some bitter, blind bureaucrat.
“Easy. It’s right here…no,
wait…here? Oh, no.” I fumbled through the documents: I had no
“I have to phone my booking agent in
Miami. He’ll know.”
“No, you have to phone the SHIP’S
agent in Rio.”
“I don’t have the number, but my
BOOKING agent in Miami would know that number.” I said.
“You can’t call long distance in
“Well, can’t I use that phone down
the hall?” I offered.
“You have to be cleared first to get
into that public area.” She countered.
“Well, then, have one of your staff
follow me and make sure I don’t run away!” I reassured them.
“They’re busy.” She blurted.
I looked around the room: They were
talking to each other, sipping small cups of coffee while the
immigration hall was completely empty. “I see…maybe the guy
who’s asleep on the desk can take time off his busy nap to help
“You cannot go into the public area
without being cleared.” She was sounding like a skipping CD. (A
broken record is sooo last century!)
“I can’t be cleared until I make
that phone call.” I said, exasperated.
“Then you’ll just have to wait
until the representative shows up, or you have to go back to
“CANADA, actually.” I corrected
her. Not that I wanted that, either. I began imagining a call from
a pissed off Radisson management, swearing never to use me again for
following their advice. I was beginning to think I was Dilbert.
“Please, let me use that phone!”
“I can go with you.” A guy about
my age with the deepest tan a white man could ever have approached.
His white shirt only deepened the hue of his face. He put down his
coffee and escorted me through the security doors to the kiosk while
the supervisor glared at him. He paid no attention (obviously she
was not HIS supervisor!) and took me to the phone. “Do you have a
phone card?” He asked.
“No, but I could buy one from that
store there.” I cringed, thinking he wouldn’t allow me to go up
the escalator, but he sighed and said, “Come.”
I had my card and phoned my agent in
Miami, who immediately sent someone from the Rio agency to meet me
“Do you have your original contract?”
I handed him the precious document, and 30 minutes later, I was sat
in another empty hall, where another man smiled, introduced himself
as Renaldo, and gave me my contract back. I thought it would be all
over soon, and I could make my flight…if I hurry.
2 hours later, I had not been seen,
talked to, or heard from. I was getting more and more anxious,
pacing the waxed marble floor, rearranging music, and generally being
restless. I would have driven my ex up the wall.
Renaldo finally came back and reported
that they were waiting for a fax from Radisson’s Ft. Lauderdale
office. It was the document proving I worked for the company, but
apparently, no one has faxed it yet. “Do you have your contract?”
He asked, and I handed over the papers once again.
“Call them again.” I said. “For
crying out loud, I’ve been here 2 hours.”
“I will, but I’ve already called
them twice.” Renaldo explained.
“Well, call them again. My bags are
whirling around the carousel, just waiting to be stolen. If I lose
them, I can’t work, then you might as WELL send me back to America,
and you can KEEP my damn contract!”
“OK. Please be patient. I will take
care of the bags.”
I grunted, throwing my hands up, “I
got all day.”
10 minutes later I finally got my
clearance: They got a fax from Radisson’s Ft. Lauderdale office
proving - once and for all - I worked for the company…
It was a copy of the EXACT same