from Sandy Needham

Monday, January 11, 2010

Nigerian Fishermen Follow-up

We found out from Glades during our holiday travels that all the fishermen had been sent back to Africa by the Natal Chief of Police. The two Ghanans - Charlie and Francisco, and Leandre from Benin left on December 22nd. The Nigerians - Captain, Indian and Williams, left on December 30th. Knowing that we would probably never see them again (except Williams, if he manages to return to Glades), I did a double take with a pang of sadness every time I saw a very black Carioca in Rio to remind me of our dear friends.

We met Glades at Zen Bar once we returned home to hear the whole story: Four days ahead of glades with boatdeparture, Glades was informed by the Chief of Police that Leandre, Charlie and Francisco would be flying back to Africa on December 22nd. Glades could not get the information about what airline, flight and time, but arrangements were made to pick up the three, plus Williams and Glades to see them off, at 11:00pm for a 2am flight to São Paulo. Leandre - who always wanted only to get home to his family - was just beaming at the airport. Four police officers, including one woman, accompanied them on the plane to São Paulo. Glades, who is always sharp as a tack with authority, had reminded the police that they were not dealing with the deportation of criminals, just fishermen, so there were not the usual two police escorts per deportee, just the four.

Once they arrived in São Paulo at around 6:00 am, they had to wait for the late afternoon Lufthansa flight that would eventually get them to Africa. Upon check-in, they found out that Lufthansa was not aware that this was officially a deportation, something they do not accept and for which they have no protocol. The police then had to find a new flight for the fishermen - on the national airline of the United Arab Emirates that went to Africa via Paris.

Glades got a call from Leandre that he made it to his family in time for Christmas Day! She laughed at the prospect that the Arab Emirates airline could have stopped over in Dubai where Charlie's brother works and has invited Charlie to work...with the young Francisco ready and willing to follow in Charlie's footsteps. Imagine their getting deported from Dubai back to Brazil! Glades enjoyed throwing the police chief into a tailspin with such a suggestion! At least Charlie was the one with a real passport. Both guys really wanted to stay in Brazil by then, and Charlie may get the support from his brother to study at the Brazilian maritime college in Rio eventually. For the time being, the two are back in Ghana.

Buzios neighbors

Captain and Indian, remaining in the rental house at Buzios Beach, were properly feted over the holidays with lots of invitations and contributions of beer and food from their Buzios friends. Captain was having a fling with Andrea, the owner of the shrimp beach restaurant. Indian wanted to get home to his struggling family. Williams was still living at Glades’ and celebrated Christmas Eve with Mary and family.

Then Glades got the call for the Nigerians to leave on December 30th. She and Williams had been running around desperately trying to find a legal way for Williams to stay, but to no avail. It was necessary for him to go back to Nigeria and get a real passport (not a temporary) before returning to establish legal residency. There was much crying over this period on Glades’ and Williams’ part. This time four different police officers would be accompanying Captain, Indian, and Williams. The officers tried to make things convenient for themselves by planning to pick the Nigerians up in Buzios at 6:00 pm for the 2:00am flight (so the police could go home for dinner and sleep till time for the flight)…saying that the Nigerians could “relax” at the police station and order dinner. Glades, always on her toes, said that would be impossible as she had no way to contact all of them immediately and that there would not be enough time to close the rental house up properly, so the pick-up would need to be at 11:00pm. Actually Williams - who had been working for a Brazilian on a tourist fishing boat, though not legal to work - was still not home from there! Next, she had to convince the police officers to pick up Captain and Indian in Buzios and then Williams and her in Pirangi on the way to the airport. The police wanted everyone in one place so Glades could interpret, but she assured them that the two guys would know to come out to the car with their things when the police arrived and signaled to them…without needing an interpreter! After the tearful good-byes at the airport, the three flew off with their escorts to São Paulo and then caught an Air France connection, also through Paris. They arrived in Lagos, Nigeria in the middle of the night on New Year's Eve/Day. Indian did make it to his family at last, Captain is forced to be a good husband and father, and Williams actually may make it back to Brazil in a relatively short time!

The owner of the fishing boat – the long-lost boss who basically abandoned the fishermen in Brazil for 3Glades & Williams months - had decided near the end that he wanted his boat back. He is arranging for Williams to accompany him back to Brazil as the assistant engineer to oversee the repair of the boat. The boss has been working to get Williams’ official passport and will pay for his flight back. Even though Glades has been in touch with the boss and will hopefully get paid to interpret for him in Brazil, she does not know if he plans to get the boat back to Africa somehow or just sell it once it is unstuck and functioning. Williams will still have to come up with the money to reimburse the Brazilian government for his flight home to reverse the status of a deportation, which disallows re-entry. Then he and Glades plan to marry.

Glades was in charge of moving the valuable equipment that was stored at the rental house. She got some neighbor men in Buzios to carry the impossibly heavy, now-repaired generator to a pick-up truck, along with many smaller pieces of the boat's communication system. The generator is now stored at Mary's large complex where José, her husband, thinks he can find a buyer. The fishermen already informed the boss that any money from the generator belonged to them since they received no more money from the company after the first week in Brazil. Glades has all the pieces of communication equipment at her apartment.

Williams in hat We’re holding a Las Vegas baseball hat for Williams, as he requested a present from the US. Maybe we’ll see him sporting it soon!!


PS It is heartbreaking to know that these lovely men who happen to be Christian will be regarded as dangerous and undergo humiliating treatment whenver they attempt to fly, thanks to the one Moslem Nigerian who tried to blow up a plane on Christmas Day. This is why 'profiling' doesn't work. It will always marginalize the innocent and prejudice the ignorant.


  1. Needham, did YOU park that boat?


  2. Pretty amazing story and ending. I would love to see them pull that boat back out into the bay. It is sitting high and dry.

  3. Finally got a chance to catch up on the story! So fun to hear about it all after seeing the FELA on Broadway with you. An EXCELLENT show! !

  4. Additional update, 2014: Williams never could return. Eventually, when the calls between him and Glades became evermore infrequent, the two just gave up. He could never raise the money to repay the Brazilian government for the cost of the escorts and the flights. The fishing company boss came to Brazil alone and, through Glades, negotiated with various officials regarding getting the boat unstuck. Never one to miss a beat, Glades realized that the officials were all corrupt and demanding outrageous fees for de-rusting and moving the boat: $50,000 - that they would pocket. Last scene: the boss crying at the meeting. The boat remains stuck on the beach five years later, a completely rusted hulk eyesore.


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