Thursday, June 21, 2012

Rescue in the Caribbean

     I’m straying a thousand miles from my usual Colorado adventures. Being a writer at heart, when things happen, events take place, or something just plain touches me deeply, I must write about it. The latter happened on a recent dream vacation.
     We were blessed to take a Disney Cruise with our daughter and her husband a couple weeks ago. We planned this dream for a couple years and it finally came true. You know the Disney saying, “Dreams really do come true!” The biggest blessing was being able to spend a week with our kids just having fun. Going on adventures together as family.
     We looked forward to our planned excursions of swimming with dolphins, seeing Mayan Ruins for the first time ever, and a dune buggy ride on an island leading to a snorkel adventure.
Blue as blue can be.
     The ship was beautiful. We loved exploring it at every opportunity on the first full day out to sea. The sky was clear and blue as we headed through the Straits of Florida heading southwest toward the western edge of Cuba. Grand Cayman being our first destination. The water far below us was a blue like you’ve never seen. One can’t even describe the beauty of the water as you head for the Caribbean Sea. It just gets better as you go. The color alone can instill such peace in your heart, let alone being on vacation and no worries that you could do anything about.
     We had gone to a delightful church service that Sunday morning up in one of the funnels with thirteen other people. Afterward, we played the shipboard game of detective work seeking an animated framed painting that came to life with your special card giving you the needed clues. When we succeeded in “rescuing the Dalmatian puppies” in the game, we decided to head to lunch. Something felt odd as we walked down the hallway, and stepping out on deck we realized the ship was turning a wide circle. We made our way to the upper deck where people were gathering at the rail on the port side. Everyone was sharing news that some people were waving from a boat needing help.
     The Captain’s voice came over the loud speaker stating that they had indeed spotted someone in distress and were turning back to help.
     This particular cruise ship is almost four football fields in length, so seeing it turn a circle is quite something. We were all watching, searching the calm sea for sign of this boat. Everyone had their cameras on zoom scanning the vast horizon for this boat. Speculation of the situation rolled through the crowd of voices.
     Just a speck was spotted forward from the boat at about eleven o’clock. My husband Ron zoomed in as far as our camera would allow seeing people sitting on something. All those around us, wanted to see what his camera picked up.
     The ship drew nearer moving at a snail’s pace. The excitement of this rescue at sea built stronger among the crowd gathered at the rail.
     Our cabins were on the port side of the ship and we shared a balcony. Since it was difficult to see over so many heads, well…except for Ron who stands six-four, we went below to watch the rescue. We now had some great “seats” to watch this unfold.
     From our balcony, we saw through our telephoto lens, four men positioned on a crude raft made from inner tubes likely tied together and covered with an old brown canvas. Towed behind, was another uncovered tube that held a make-shift sail and homemade paddles, all lying down; the sail being unnecessary since there were only light, soft ripples from a slight breeze on the sea around them.
     The men didn’t look overly distressed, but the whole scene appeared to us – on our luxurious ship – to be one of desperation. There was no more room on that raft than holding those four men and a smattering of supplies. There would be no stretching their legs on that craft.
     They had three hats on board, the kind that is woven out of wide blade grass. One of the men wore a long sleeve white shirt, the others had short sleeves. All wore shorts. I imagined myself with my beyond white Scandinavian skin color being stranded out to sea like that under a hot Caribbean sun, and how it wouldn’t take long to turn the color of an overly ripe tomato until I was sick from the heat. I could not imagine how these men felt before spotting our ship.
     The ship was now at full stop. The water no longer stirred next to the stern where the engines added air to the water turning it a pale blue. We looked down when voices were heard and saw some crew members two decks lower as they readied the speed boat to go investigate the raft. 
     It was almost an eerie feeling being on this huge ship at a total standstill, nothing around us but the deep blue sea. So surreal it was looking at the situation of these men obviously desperate to flee a country that oppressed them so deeply that they could choose this current situation in the hope that they might find something better wherever the sea and the wind would allow them to go. And with the present state of the weather, only the water would steer their raft.
     I tend to research things like this when it is a direct experience. I have a need to know more. In my attempt at understanding, I came upon an article that talked a lot about why so many thousands of people attempt this type of change in their lives. I learned that many die trying to cross the Florida Straits or they are killed by Cuban gunboats as they attempt to leave the island. The Cuban government touts their criminal records, not mentioning that many of the “crimes” are those practicing Christianity, or refusing to serve in a military of an oppressive regime, or if they had been deemed political dissidents, their “crime” was getting food from the black market in order for their family to survive.
     And here we were on a luxury ship sailing away from our cares.
     It was sobering.
     Of course, this as with most things can become and has become a very political topic. I guess I gained a new perspective. It boils down to the fact that these are human beings out there subject to the ocean’s whims and ways. They are searching for something better. Something safer, even if it is at great risk to their lives.
     Our crew went out on the speed boat and circled the raft checking out what they had on board and their demeanor, I imagine. They were close enough to communicate with them. When they determined there was no threat, they brought two of the men on board their boat. We watched the other two load up a large black bag with their meager belongings. When their turn came to be rescued off this crude raft, the bag had to be left behind. The cruise line cannot risk illness, parasites, or danger to the paid passengers. The raft floated away and the coast guard was notified of its last location. They probably sink it. 
     We found out that the refuges would be taken to Grand Cayman, our first port of call. Disney takes very good care of them, getting medical help and then taken to a destination other than Cuba where they would most likely lose their lives.
     I’ve learned this is a more common experience than one might imagine. With millions of refuges over the years trying to escape to a better life, cruise ships in the Florida Straits have picked up a fair share of them. But so many have lost their lives. Men, women and even children.
     Later in the week, the ship turned again. We watched from our balcony as another raft was circled. This one empty. Were they saved? Did they perish?
     The sea was calm this day of rescue. But what of the days when the storms rage, when nothing about their escape seems to go right, when a leak occurs on the raft, when the waves are steep and slam into their poorly made raft, bouncing them into the air, desperately trying to hang on, food and water run out, when the sharks circle…
     Then I thought of my own life. The lives of my friends and loved ones. What do we hang onto when the storms rage? How do we hang on?
     We’ve faced some raging storms over the last year. Certainly not hanging onto a raft for dear life out in the middle of the ocean, but it did tend to feel like that at times. Sometimes life just slams into us. The fact is, disease and aging problems sooner or later affect us all, either personally or in our loved ones. Trials of every kind, financial, emotional, Spiritual come and go often. When I look back over the previous eighteen months and list the inventory of what we went through, I get overwhelmed. Then I realize I got through it. The currents carried me. I made it to shore. I survived. Again.
     But how?
     The only way I know how. I leaned on the Captain of my life. The only One that can get me through these challenging times. The One that can steer me to the answers and provide the comfort and peace that I so desperately need. When at my lowest, I know that I can reach out to my Lord and tell Him that I can’t hold on any longer, that my grip isn’t strong enough to keep me from sinking into the abyss. Then I hear Him say in that still small voice, “I’ve got you. Don’t be afraid. I’m not going to let go!”

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