Tuesday, June 26, 2012


I have finished the classroom part of the Captain's license for un-inspected passenger vessels.  This coming weekend I'll be in the classroom for the Master's license.  This license will be for either a 25, 50 or 100 ton vessel, depending on the amount of sea time that I have and the size of the vessels on which I've worked.  I think that I'll probably have enough time (360 days) on board to get the 50 ton license.

I have five exams to take.  The first two, Navigation General and Deck General, will be taken this Thursday.  I hope to take the next two, Chart Plotting and Rules of the Road, on July 6 and July 7.  After those are done, then I will take the exam for the Master's.  Rules of the Road is the subject that requires a lot of memorization. It is also considered to be the most difficult because out of 30 questions, only 3 may be missed.

I have spent my time studying. I've also found that, while my memory is good, it is not nearly what it used to be.  All the little day shapes and lights and sounds for each vessel type are starting to come together but not at the point where I feel as if I can just reel them off.  I study them for a few hours each day, while also studying for the other exams.

I am not having much fun with this since there is so much material.  It is like being back in college on finals week.  But I keep telling myself that in another couple of weeks, it will be over.  Maybe then, I won't be driving down the road and see two white lights in a row vertically and be thinking "Those are lights for a tug whose tow is < 200 meters".

I have mentally been bemoaning that I haven't been having much fun lately.  And just when I do this, I get a reminder that what I'm doing for these few weeks isn't bad, not dangerous, not going to hurt me.  That reminder came in the form of a share at my home group meeting last night. It was the one year anniversary of J.  I remember when she first came to Al-Anon last summer, a shy young woman who just graduated from high school.

Last night, she told her story of being born in Mexico and at age 9 crossing the U.S. border with her mother and two brothers.  They had been told by the "coyote" to bring enough food and water for a day's walk.  After getting what belongings they could carry, the group of people started walking towards the border.

The walk across the desert turned into three days and four nights during which all ran out of water and had very little food.  J. told of seeing dead bodies as they walked, of people on the journey who became sick and were left behind, of the heat and thirst the group endured.

The group eventually arrived at a house where people brought over by other "coyotes" were staying.  There were perhaps forty people in each room.  The "coyotes" carried guns and threatened to tie concrete blocks to the legs of the children and sink them in the river unless they were paid.  J's mother was waiting on money to be sent from her sister in Florida, but it didn't arrive right away.

After several days with threats from the "coyotes" and with violence among them as one group tried to take guns away from others, the police arrived.  J. and her family escaped from the house during the commotion and found their way to a 24 hour convenience store.  They had no money but thought that they would be safer there than in the woods.

During the late afternoon, a woman and a man drove up in a van.  The woman bought something in the store, came out, and kept looking at J. and her family who were a road worn and sad group.  She eventually came over and asked them if they were okay.  J's mother told her what had happened.  The woman went to the van, said something to her husband, and came back to invite the four of them to their house.  They stayed with this kind couple for three weeks until the money finally arrived from Florida.  The family then boarded a bus that took them to pick oranges in Florida.

After the orange harvest, they traveled to South Carolina to pick tomatoes.  J.'s father arrived here after his border crossing.  The family decided to stay in SC and were offered work on a farm where the mother cleaned, the father and sons worked in the fields, and J. took care of the animals.

Not long after their arrival in SC,  J. was raped by her step-brother who had come to visit.  She was raped later by a cousin as well.  She didn't tell anyone immediately because she had been told that she would be killed if she told.

By this time, she was enrolled in school, being tutored in English and making excellent grades.  The first rape happened on a Sunday.  Because she didn't want to miss school, she went as usual on Monday.  At school, some of her friends knew that she was troubled so she confided in them about the rape.  Soon the teachers knew and J. was taken by a counselor to a hospital where she was examined and evidence collected.

After the rape, she became despondent. She couldn't concentrate in school.  Her grades slipped.  She kept going to therapists but mostly they would ask, "How do you feel today?".  Finally, she was assigned to N. who really listened to her.  J. began to trust N. and talked to her not only about the rape but about how both her parents were alcoholics.  It was through N. that J. got to Al-Anon and the little meeting that I call "home".

J. is a remarkable young woman.  She graduated in the top five of her class in middle school and in the top ten of her Senior class in high school.  She has been verbally and emotionally abused by her father, yet she feels compassion for him.  Her full brother who is a drug addict stole all of her saved money from her.  She called the police who deported him.  She works whenever she can taking care of animals and babysitting.  Her hope is to become an American citizen, go to college and become a nurse.

I know that there are so many people like J.  She has come a long way since struggling across the desert.  She shared that she has found people to trust in Al-Anon, people that she can call, people who won't judge her.  And that she has found her own Higher Power who gives her comfort.

I heard just what I needed to hear from this young person at the time when I needed to hear it.  Amazing how that works.

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern
past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

"How do you know if you are going to die?"
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
"When you can no longer make a fist."

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.— Naomi Shihab Nye


  1. I often wonder how much compassion people would have if we would remove all of the dehumanizing labels like "illegal alien"?

  2. This is just stunning in its power. Why don't we all know these stories? I am so enraged when I hear people talk about "the illegals" with such disdain and fear- that they are going to "take over," that they want all our jobs.
    No. They simply want a life in which they can work and live in peace and that is just this short of impossible, given all the factors. And yet, they risk their lives to try.
    Oh Syd. I was thinking about you this morning, thinking of how hard you are working.

  3. You have found room in your being for this young woman. Them that say we have no room for her and them like her,who study go to school, work and generally are more "American" than most Americans can kiss my salty sailor veteran behind. We have room for good, troubled, healing, healthy people who only want to make themselves and by extension all of us, better.

    Uh Syd on another note...do me a favor don't Cap'n any boat I am on over 13 tons until you got years under your stripes not hours OK?

  4. Love "when you can no longer make a fist".

    When my son was homeless and hungry in LA, he says the Mexican community treated him the most kindly. They gave him food, let him do odd jobs at their stores and restaurants for money, and didn't judge.

    We are all in this together, aren't we Syd.

  5. Mark, I hear you, man. I think that this license is more for my own personal satisfaction. I know that I could run the Water Taxi or one of the large pontoon eco-tour boats. I have 720 days at a minimum on all size vessels (haven't counted all sea days since 15) but worked on deck with trawls and other sampling gear on the 150 ton-200 ton ones. I don't think that I will be captaining any of those, so you are safe, Mark. LOL.

  6. I remember when the captain I sailed under was studying for this test. Every morning on the way to pick up the day's charterers he would hand me the flash cards. Sorry now that I didn't take the courses myself. Good for you for doing it.

    J's story was just what I needed to hear this morning. "When you can no longer make a fist" will stick with me a long time.


  7. We never know from whom or when we are going to hear exactly what we need to hear. So we should always aim for the open ear approach. I needed to read this post. I'm pulling for you, Syd. I have a deep admiration for your skill and work ethic. It will all be over soon.

  8. good job on the schooling so far man...and best of wishes for the exams...that can be tough...about to head back to school myself...

    what a story J has...and a rough one...but over coming as well...

  9. Oh Syd, I have missed you! What a beautiful post. Congratulations on all of your boat license stuff! LOL You are amazing!

  10. Thank you so much for this post, Syd. I often wonder what ever happened to the nation that we used to be ... when the famous words on the Statue of Liberty actually meant something "Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free".
    Our nation is built on the backs of these courageous people and we seem to forget that. We have more than any other nation in the world and yet we fear that "they" will take it from us. It makes me so angry and I love the fact that Alanon is a safe place for her. Give her a hug from me.

  11. the first Americans would mostlikely have said the first white people were illegal aliens as well.

  12. What a wonderful story, thanks for sharing that with us Syd.
    It sounds like you are working so hard but not for much longer, then you and C can relax on the boat . . . you might need to start building a bigger boat, an ark?

  13. I hope you pass your class. Your compassion moves me...

  14. What a heart-hurting story. The strength of some people amazes me.

  15. Are you taking any extra omega oils?
    That's good for the brain and try not to stress too much that your memory isn't the same as it used to be..apparently stress makes us more

  16. J's story is the kind of story I live with here Syd, so moving and heart-breaking. And the poetry of Naomi Shibab Nye takes my breath away.

    Good luck with your exams.

  17. Excellent read this morning Syd. It's harder and harder to memorize stuff as I get older....damn.

  18. Thank you for the wonderful share. We are lucky to have the program to help nurture and support young people who have so many struggles to overcome.
    One day at a time
    Naomi Nye rocks!

  19. I love stories like this. They endear you to others in a very special way. ;D

  20. Sober not SomberJune 29, 2012 at 7:26 AM

    Wow. You are an excellant writer! It is easy to get caught in the trap of rejecting illeagle aliens as a group and forget the fact that they are desperate people.
    I welcome the immigrants because my ancestors were immigrants. My objections to this situation is that our own government seems to encourage immigrants to become part of our 'melting pot'. If all immigrants, like my ancestors, became American citizens; learn English, work for a living, etc., I think the objections would cease. As it stands these people are yearning to be free but are kept in a class that prevents them from attaining true freedom. There is no melting pot. The government has instead created an 'us vs. them' situation in which we are opponents.
    Shame on the politicians for encouraging this to taint the welcoming spirit of The United States, that same spirit we have always been known for.

  21. That is a remarkable story of strength and courage.

    Sounds like these courses are helping expand your mind! You are an inspiration with your tenacity.


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