By Sarah Calvert
In Antigua, I’m famous. Not because I was the only Kundalini Yoga teacher in the country, but because I spent the night in the slammer. For real. Why? Not for teaching the technology (Yogi Bhajan was warned about being incarcerated in his early days about teaching in India, so he had to leave), but because I didn’t know the rules about traveling in and out of international waters. I’m just a granola-glam, Sat Nam-ing, yoga-teaching, Canadian musician; what do I know about immigration policies? Now…I know a lot.
Talk about experiencing polarities: in the morning I awoke to a magnificent sunrise, took my cold shower, went for a hike, got dolled up in my whites and taught a sweet Sat Kriya class. By evening, I found myself in a cell, alone, cold, wearing someone else’s blue sweatshirt and gray track pants. The locals called me the Pirate Yogini when I left Antigua this February, after being deported for being a stowaway. A yogi stowaway. Here’s the story:
I sailed from Antigua (an island in the east Caribbean) south to the French island of Guadaloupe with some friends. They wanted to stay longer, and I had to get back for a gig so I hopped on board another boat heading for Antigua (about an 8-hour sail), played the lovely family some tunes on my guitar, and thought everything was easy-peasy, smooth sailing (literally sailing).
Uh…not so much. Apparently, I should have been signed off the first boat as a crewmember, and put on the list of the returning boat to clear customs when I reached Antiguan shores. After telling a few Antiguan peeps about my saga, they suggested I find out what the deal was with customs, before I got to the airport and ran into trouble.
And so, one morning after class, I headed to English Harbour to clear up any confusion. When I arrived and told them my story, my passport and cell phone were confiscated 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. Neither did the yoga threads, “Om”pendant around my neck, polite smiles, nor the tears that came later. Nothing was working and I found myself in an immigration paddy wagon late that afternoon heading to St. John’s. En route, the officers started pointing at me and laughing when they saw me put my seatbelt on. “See?” I tried to persuade, “I’m a law-abiding citizen!” This too did not help.
Half an hour later, 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 dehydration and lack of food left me freezing. They told me I could make that one infamous phone call to 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 by the station equipped with an arsenal of supplies: track pants, a warm hoodie, dinner and breakfast foods and a bar of chocolate. 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, should I become inspired a la Johnny Cash and write about being in prison. After hugging Lyn, I trudged back to my cell, complete with fluorescent lights and white walls…at least the walls were white: high vibrations and all. I chanted my Guru Ram Das mantra and hoped for a miracle.
Then I remembered what Yogiji had said, “I don’t believe in miracles, I rely on them.” I then chanted to Ganesh to remove the obstacles to my freedom. I basically had my own kirtan. I took comfort in the mantras. I’d been told that the same thing had happened a couple of weeks prior and the guys had to pay a $10,000 fine, and were deported—for life. After chanting I did some pranayama to calm myself.
I was even more bummed out about being locked up because 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 remembered the teachings and decided that even in this precarious situation, I could still give and serve, so I offered one of the women officers a piece of chocolate, but 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 a two-hour yoga session of warm-ups and the Kriya for Elevation, because it was the only one I remembered by heart. I finished with a chant, once again to Guru Ram Das. At one point, Chocolate Guard came back to check on me, “You’re so quiet. You okay girl? What you be 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, taught her the tuning in, and she joined me for the warm ups. Man, these guards had it good; they got a free concert the night before, and now were getting private yoga sessions.
At 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’d already checked as I wanted to fly out a bit earlier to get home in time for my sister’s birthday. Chocolate Guard vouched for me, “Oh yes Sir, all those flights are booked ages ago. She can’t leave early.” She looked over and smiled. I think it was my ability to stand up for myself and the yoga that won her over. Her boss explained this to his supervisor and eventually got off the phone telling me I could keep my ticket and leave on the 12th, with no fine. Wahe Guru! I thought I’d push for another miracle, “I guess this means I can’t really extend my flight, right?” I bashfully smiled.
“No miss. Your vacation is over.”
My vacation might have been over, but the memory of teaching yoga in the cell, and chanting to Guru Ram Das makes me smile. I still remember how peaceful Chocolate Guard was after the practice, and how I’d heard her humming the mantra from her desk. Mid-morning I was let go, and taken to the bus station to head back to English Harbour. I drank in the freedom and sunshine, had a piece of fresh fruit and breathed deeply—gratitude for freedom. All in all, I got to meditate for hours, chant and do yoga, write a song, eat (and share a little bit of chocolate) and teach what I love. This was no Sopranos episode in jail. This was no The New Orange is Black. This was the Life of a Songstress-Kundalini-Yogini.
Sarah is finishing her CD/Memoir project this spring called, “Masala: Memories and Melodies” about her travels around the world performing and teaching Kundalini Yoga in countries like Canada, Hawaii and India. To be part of the journey please visit her at: www.sarahcalvert.ca and read more about the project at: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/masala-memories-and-melodies#home