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Me and Archbishop Desmond Tutu on a cruise…


Evelyn Hannon

Sometimes our travel dreams are highjacked by the Travel Goddess. When that happens there's nothing to do but accept and take the road she sets out for you.

I was the embedded blogger on Semester At Sea's Enrichment Voyage of Central America and the Panama Canal. When I was offered the opportunity to interview Archbishop Tutu aboard the MV Explorer I was delighted. ‘Sure,’ I said.

My goal was to discuss travel. In my mind’s eye the Archbishop and I would be sitting on the deck enjoying the sun and having a chat about where’s he’s been and which piece of clothing he never leaves home without.

Well, it didn’t turn out that way at all. Instead of one meeting, our resident Nobel Prize winner and I met several times but I never got that interview. I have to blame it solely on illness.


The morning I flew to meet the ship I woke with a very nasty head cold. My eyes were runny. I sneezed, I coughed, I wheezed, I was miserable.

My first morning aboard, Archbishop Tutu came into the dining room for breakfast. Wearing his trademark baseball cap, blue shorts and blue kneesocks he passed through the room stopping at tables to shake peoples’ hands.

I panicked when he began heading straight for me. In that split second I had to make a decision about whether to extend my hand and ‘hand off’ my nasty germs or say nothing and for the rest of my life be able to casually say (anytime I chose), ‘I remember the time I sailed with Archbishop Tutu and shook his hand.’

As the Archbishop approached, my body made the decision for me. Up went my hand like a cop directing traffic. The Archbishop stopped in his tracks; his smile wavered.

‘Stop, don’t come any closer,’ I said.’ I’m sick; YOU don’t want to be.’

To his credit, Dr. Tutu slapped his own hand several times (as if to admonish it for even trying to shake a hand), smiled, thanked me and walked to his table. I was utterly relieved and also, utterly disappointed.

That afternoon, Journeywoman was invited to sit in on an official taping with the Archbishop. The plan was that once that interview was over, I’d sit in the interviewer’s chair and I’d ask four questions of my own. Every effort was made to keep the room completely silent so that the sound track would be perfect.

My throat began to tickle during the third question. I thought to myself. I. will. NOT. cough. I discreetly cleared my throat. No relief. I tried again. Nothing. My cheeks began to burn with the fear that I was ruining the interview. When I could no longer hold back. I bunched up my shawl, covered my complete face with it and, hoping the sound was muffled, coughed and coughed and coughed

The interview stopped long enough for me to leave the room. With it went my opportunity to ask any questions at all.
Despite my disappointment, I think there is a definite upside to this story. Honestly, I don’t think Archbishop Tutu will ever, ever forget me.



Nobel prize winner Desmond Tutu's autograph...

Before he left the ship, Archbishop Tutu had a book signing and autographed my copy for me. It read:

Evelyn, God bless you. (signed) Desmond 12.18.2010

What a special souvenir!




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