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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Undocumented

What an ordeal the past 48 hours have been. I never ever thought that I would be the one who would face having to cope with a missing passport hours before I was scheduled for an international flight and yet, Tuesday night at 8.00 p.m. we realized that my passport was not where it should be. After tearing up the house numerous times, including even looking in the freezer and refrigerator(!), by about 1.00 a.m. I was coming to the sad reality that I would not be leaving for the US at 10.15 a.m. A variety of issues coursed through my mind but the loudest of them all was the voice screaming at me, “What have you done with your passport?!” I had no recollection of the last time I had handled it and thus could not figure out why it was not safely snuggled in its special little place in Doug's dresser. Then there was the matter of the flight that was departing in a few hours. I knew it was key to deal with this before the flight took off and yet I also knew that we had not purchased travel insurance, had not bought a refundable ticket, had not done any of the things that perhaps might be a wise idea but cost money and you think, why blow that cash? I'll never have a problem. Because I had booked with Travelocity, I had to work with them to figure this thing out. Fortunately they have a 24 hour support line but unfortunately Travelocity customer service is ranked #522 out of the 561 companies that have a CustomerServiceScoreboard.com rating with an overall score of 20.96 out of a possible 200 based upon 321 ratings. This score rates Travelocity customer service and customer support as Terrible. I have to concur with these thoughts as we received information that ranged from “If you do not get on that plane, you will lose your entire ticket. There is nothing we can do” to finally “You will get full credit for the ticket but when you rebook you will have pay a change and rebooking fee and of course, any change in the fare.” Fine. The latter suited me as I was really hoping that this ticket we had purchased wasn't going to be money down the drain.
After a night of very limited and not restful sleep, I rose in the morning to begin dealing with the passport issue. I have to say, when I crawled into bed that night, I felt a little weird. I said to Doug, “There's no way for me to leave Sweden right now. I have no papers.” When you live abroad, the ability to get to your loved ones in another country is a high value. At that time, I had no idea how long it would take the U.S. Embassy to process my papers so I felt a bit weird. It gave me enormous empathy for people who live in that in between place for their whole lives. Hardly a week goes by when we are not praying for someone who is seeking “permission to stay.” They have come as a refugee with no chance of returning to their homeland and yet, they have not been granted permanent stay in their new country. This is a very stressful place to be. I felt a tiny amount of that stress in the few hours I lived without a passport but I lived with it knowing that in due time I would be issued a new US passport, I had money to pay for the documents, late fees, phone calls, etc. and in the meantime had a job, a home, and stability. And I had legal status, just no proof of such. And yet it was still hugely stressful for me. I have gained an enormous amount of empathy for the people in our world who are living in between, for whom permanent stay or permission to stay is a hoped for yet often elusive goal.
I woke up Wednesday morning with one simple quest: Secure a new passport. I had found out from the U.S. Embassy that I needed a police report and new passport photos in order to request a new passport so my first stop was the police station. The police woman was incredibly kind and helpful and I could get photos taken in an automated photo booth at my subway stop. From there I went out to the U.S. Embassy, which is just a short drive from our house, and waited in the citizens of the US line. I was the only one in my line while the line for foreigners was substantially longer. Again, I was so grateful that I lived in a country where a good embassy exists and that I had access to it as an American living abroad. In the 14 years that I have lived here in Sweden, I have never needed the embassy for anything official! I was never so thankful for this place than I was on Wednesday morning. They processed me through and soon I was filling out the paper work for a new passport that they could issue the following morning. Wow. I couldn't believe it. That meant I could try to rebook my ticket as soon as Friday. Once I left the embassy knowing that 24 hours later I would have a new passport, I broke down into tears. I was so stressed out wondering what was going to happen and after securing the new passport, I just felt so much relief. It was far more important to me than I may have even realized, but I was also so grateful that it could be processed as quickly as it was. I drove to a friend's house who had pulled together a beautiful coffee time and it was refreshing to be received by her love and hospitality.
The next ordeal I had to face involved getting the flight rebooked which was harder than I realized. United wasn't easy to work with as the prices they were quoting me were double what the website was showing. Finally we made a decision to hang onto the credit and look for a brand new ticket that would better suit out needs. We eventually found a great flight, good routing, and a good price so we bought it but trying to make a new good decision about when to travel, what route, what price, etc. was super overwhelming for me. This whole process was so stressful for me. I'm not sure why I felt so panicky and overwhelmed. Nothing was life or death for me. In fact, in the midst of all the craziness I was feeling, I thought of a young family who have been through a terrible ordeal with their 8 year daughter whilst living in Sierra Leone. She contracted typhoid fever and was rapidly deteriorating. They had to figure out how to get her to a hospital in Ghana to stabilize her enough to finally get her to London for the desperate medical attention she needed. Now that is a stressful situation to be dealing with under duress! The kid is doing well at this point but I cannot imagine how those parents endured the stress they were under while trying to make really difficult travel arrangements while watching their daughter hover between life and death. And so now that my situation has been resolved and I have new travel plans that suit me well even though I had to cancel my stop in Chicago, as I look back on the past two days, I'm pondering why this whole situation was so stressful. Of course, any time we have plans in place and look forward to them, when they don't unfold as we had hoped it's tough. I guess for me I felt such a myriad of emotions, sadness and stupidity being at the top of the list. Mentally it was hard adjusting to thinking I was heading for a vacation in the sun and suddenly faced with staying put at work in a climate that is quickly losing daylight. And I really wanted to spend some time with my parents as both of them have significant health issues to deal with and I want to make every minute we have together count. In the midst of the craziness of not being able to find my passport, I lost my mind a bit. I allowed anxiety to grow large and grew uncertain about my ability to make good choices. Fortunately I was surrounded by a loving and patient husband and the care and empathy of good friends. I had to keep reminding myself that this was not a life or death situation, that I had choices, that money is only money and that our lives were not going to be in tatters if we didn't get this worked out and that even if I couldn't travel right now, I would be able to again in the near future. Even so, the stress that losing my passport and missing a flight has caused me has given rise to a variety of thoughts and feelings, but the most predominant is surely thankfulness. I am so grateful for the privileges I enjoy. And my empathy for those for whom life is not so easy has grown one hundredfold in the past 48 hours. Having resources, having community, having opportunities, having connections...it all makes a huge difference in the way in which we enjoy life. And when something trips up those of us with all of the above, it's stressful because it's a disruption but not because our very lives depends on it working out in a certain way. For others however who live in nations at war, corrupt government systems, countries without opportunities, undocumented refers to a way of life that must carry more stress with it than I ever realized.
Happily reunited with my new passport
Today I am in possession of my emergency issued passport and have a new ticket to fly to the land of my citizenship on Monday. My stress level is decidedly lower. But I am carrying in my heart, in a special way, those who live without proper papers in our world, knowing that the circumstances that landed them there are far more egregious than simply misplacing an important document and the hope for resolution of such much more complex than what I have been through over the past 48 hours. Say a special prayer today for all the undocumented human beings trying to find their way in a hostile world. Believe me, it is more stressful than you can imagine.