greenbottletree











{30/06/2012}   Your passport and life without it

It transpires that after my day trip to France last week, I am no longer in possession of my passport.  My friend’s text revealing that she has it sent me into an unexpected panic (she lives in London, it’s not exactly a huge issue!) coupled with a feeling of losing a freedom.  This is highly irrational but it is a feeling I get whenever I am parted from my passport (renewal, visas and incidents).

I suppose your passport is like a key, without which you are barred entry from places you want to be.  It doesn’t matter that I have no foreign travel plans, the point is that if I did, I couldn’t go.  I can see I’m being a bit melodramatic but I suspect I’m not the only one with no-passport-fear.

Whenever I see statistics about the amount of people without a passport, I am shocked, particularly people from wealthier countries.  I feel there should be a Christopher Columbus in all of us, a desire and interest to discover new things.

There have been two occasions in my life when my passport has been taken away from me and I have been “checked out”.  The first time was 13 years ago when I returned to Japan after my dad died.  As I’d left the country unexpectedly and in a hurry,  I hadn’t been able to get a re-entry visa to keep my work visa valid.  I had lots of documentation in support of my reasons for not having the re-entry visa, but still I was stopped at immigration.  All proceedings were conducted in Japanese, which to me at that time, more so than at any other time, was just incomprehensible noise.  In other words, I had no idea what was going on.  My passport was taken from me and in what I recall being angry tones, I was (it felt like) frog marched into a small white room with no windows.  I mean everything was white:  floor, ceiling, walls, furniture.  And I was left shut in there.  For hours.  No passport and no idea what was going on or what would happen.  Obviously in a situation like that you think of lots of things that could happen.  One recurring thought I remember well was that I was worried about my suitcase going round the carousel unclaimed and that they would probably open it and confiscate my massive block of cheddar cheese I had snuck in!  After I think four hours, futile questioning in Japanese, quite a few annoyed men in uniform coming in and out and speaking to me in Japanese, my passport was finally handed back, I was reunited with my suitcase … and my cheddar cheese!

The other event occurred at Denver Airport last November.  There was a long queue at immigration, though only from my UK flight.  Everyone was spending a long time at the immigration booths.  A young, pleasant-looking man was at the booth in front of me.  He had a rucksack with him and looked like a travelling student.  He was being asked a lot of questions, though I couldn’t hear what.  After over five minutes, he went on his way and I got called forward.  By this time I felt strangely nervous.  While I would never condone lying to immigration staff, I would suggest that being economical with the truth if your reasons for being in the country are unusual will save you a lot of hassle.  I was going to Colorado to meet a friend who is American who lives in San Diego because Denver is sort of between San Diego and Chicago, where I was going afterwards, though, yes, a few days in both cities might seem odd, but I was going to Chicago to collect a steno machine because they don’t make them in the UK but, yes, you can have them shipped, but I wanted to visit my friend but San Diego was too far but I know my friend from Japan but she is not Japanese and has an American passport, though she is actually from the Philippines … seriously, we went through all this in huge detail.  I was getting quite uncomfortable and he was an officious knob.  He then stamped my passport (almost in!), had it in his hand to pass back, then said, “have you ever lived in the States”, to which I said no.  Then I remembered that I had so changed to, “yes”.  His face changed, he retracted my passport, questions were asked and I was escorted, in no uncertain terms, to a waiting room where my passport was handed over to officials (such an appropriate word).  Some people in this room, which had an official name, like Immigration Holding Zone or similar, looked like they might be unwelcome in the US, shall I say.  Others looked as bewildered, tired and worried as me, and some had clearly been detained for quite some time.  Again, with time to wait and wonder, I was convinced that the time I was very drunk on a dry university campus in Mississippi at the age of 20 and had a brief encounter with the police, that that had been recorded and I would be sent to prison or deported, never to return to the US.  I was asked a lot more questions about my time studying in the US and why I was visiting, etc, and they had clearly done a check on me, but again I was reunited with my passport.  It really soured things though and I was quite surprised by how upsetting I found the whole experience.

I’ve gone off on one today!  I shall soon be reunited with my passport and I shall love and appreciate it forever and ever.

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