Passport Renewal and the Ensuing Separation Anxiety

Sending my Precious to the Land of Red Tape…
Separation from the passport, for any duration of time, can be a debilitating event for an independent traveler. Yesterday, with a heavy heart and sweaty palms, I double-wrapped my passport in a weather proof envelope, triple checked the envelope for the necessary proof that I exist, tucked the package in the priority envelope and slapped a delivery confirmation on my precious document and wished it a safe journey as it heads onto the State Department.

Why can’t my passport be good for 30 years, like my shiny new Arizona drivers license? I wouldn’t have to needlessly suffer every decade as my ticket to other worlds leaves my possession and enters the dark, surly world of federal bureaucracy. Poor thing.

In a moment of panic, I called the State Department to confirm the length of separation and the lovely lady on the end of the line assured me that in the event that I need my passport sooner than 6 weeks, I can call, cough up 60 bucks and they’ll push my little Precious on through the reams of red tape and get her back in my hands ASAP.

Such an attachment to a travel document may seem strange, but for the nomadic soul its a necessary requirement to feed an obsession of experiencing unknown destinations and unmitigated chaos. I carry my passport with me at all times, if I leave the house, that little document is tucked inside my purse. Without question. My justification- if I happen to be strolling down the sidewalk and someone stops me and says, in an urgent, authoritative manner, that I must catch the next flight to Tunisia and here’s the ticket, I can fulfill my obligation. I, at any moment in time, can hop on the next plane across the pond and be in a distant land.

That, dear friends, is the insane train of thought that runs through my thought bubble as I leave the house. Every time.

So, here I am, in the redneck Rivera, a place one would flee at a moments notice to any other destination, foreign or domestic, without my Precious. Without the document that says, “yes, I’m a real person, I’m not an ax murderer and my visit to your country will be beneficial to all of your residents,” or something like that. Oh, and my poor little truck has a broken axle and drive shaft, so I literally am stuck. Here’s where I get twitchy.

So, in honor of my Precious and her well-earned visa stamps, I would like to wander into the social ramifications of the passport.  Spawned, in part, from the most recent edition of Adbusters and last night’s Daily Show, so hold onto your panties- its a rant!

Why More Americans Need to Ship Themselves to the Developing World…
Landing in a strange land can be jaunting, at best. Odds are, you’ve just spent 14 hours or more crammed in a tiny little seat trying desperately not to sleep so hard that you cuddle up to your seat mate in your dreams but trying to at least drown the cries of the screaming infant three rows over with a few hours of sleep so you can speak coherently to the customs official who determines your entry to their country and hail a proper cab.  Your food was slightly runny and distinguishing between chicken and carrots was an unsolved puzzle and brushing your teeth in the airplane bathroom makes you want to vomit. So, needless to say, you’re exhausted, your stomach is growling and gurgling and you have three inches of fur on your teeth.

Once in the airport, as you try to fight the odd sensation of the swaying beneath your feet, you shuffle underneath a sign that states that you are definetely not from here.  You wait patiently as the stark, serious faces of customs agents inspect travelers documents, bags and faces for signs of ill-will or intentions of staying in country past their visa expiration. You glance around and see a melting pot of faces, a veritable scene from “Its a Small World” playing in real time right before your eyes. You glance at everyone and see these colorful little books in their hands. Everyone has one, they all have different colored covers and emblems and look so damn official. You share a common bond with these folks. You feel privileged. You feel special. And if you’re American, you think, damn, this little book is the most valuable piece of paper in this joint. Short of a diplomatic passport or paperwork indicating you are a decendent from the Monarchy.

Yep, even with the tarnished international reputation that the moronic W. administration provided for Americans, our passport is the most valuable one to hold. Obtaining a Visa from a country while holding that nice, dark blue passport is a simple endeavor with little questions and minimal fanfare. (I will leave my border crossing experience in Israel out of this article, for that would fill volumes and negate my previous point- but that country is its own little world, where logic is optional)

Back to my point. As you stand in line and see the value of the passport and all the people that hold one, you have to wonder, “why do only 30% of Americans hold a passport”? That statistic makes me want to weep. I get that not everyone is an international traveler, but what if someone just wants to take a jaunt to Canada or a tropical island? Or what if a person, on a whim, wants to visit the homeland of their ancestors in a distant land? And, truly, we are a privileged society, shouldn’t we embrace the freedoms others would fight and die to obtain and get the damn passport- just because we can? Isn’t that the American way?

Ask any Palestinian about a passport.  I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear their response. I met a Palestinian man who had to go to the police department in his local town EVERY morning to obtain permission to leave the city and travel one hour to see his wife and children- and they never let him go. Think about that for a minute. I met Tibetans who will never, NEVER, be able to obtain a passport. They don’t have a country. Imagine that. And here we sit, the most privileged country in the world (though, that’s debatable) and only a small fraction of our population every bothered to obtain a passport.  Much less use it.

A Bedouin child with her family outside of Jerusalem. The children play as the parents talk with us about the encroaching settlements and the loss of their mobility and freedoms.

A Bedouin child with her family outside of Jerusalem. The children play as the parents talk with us about the encroaching settlements and the loss of their mobility and freedoms.

I turn on the news and I look at the people making headlines- screaming, angry faces with tea bags hanging from their earlobes, costumes of colonial era patriots covering their white bulging waistlines carrying signs of hatred from a long ago era, that apparently never truly died, and I pause.

Seriously?  Have you people ever been to foreign land and witnessed another culture? Do you even hold a passport? Have you been in a developing country when the government collapses and social services, like trash collection cease to operate? Have they ever seen a city park turn into a landfill overnight, with mountains of trash, in 90 degree heat causing a cholera outbreak. I have, and it stinks. That’s what happens when you’re government goes away, nothing functions.  And the shit turns rank. Is that necessary?  I’ve seen what happens when children don’t have health care- its not pretty!  Is that what we want for our children?

But seriously, would there be so much hatred, so much bigotry, an over abundance of racism and intolerance if Americans obtained a passport and traveled to the countries they bomb, berate and belittle on a daily basis. Would we have so many battles over oil and the possession of natural resources if people disengaged from the “Second Lives and Worlds of Warcarfts and cable television news” and engaged in the First life, the one they are living?  Would Americans not stand up and demand peace and sound governance if they had left the couch and traveled to a country with over a billion residents all fighting to put food on the table or a country where the government just collapsed?  Would we fight so hard for the right to consume if we could witness, first-hand, the effects of our unnecessary consumption on other cultures and children in a distant land?

Maybe we should demand that in order to hurl racist slogans and carry signs of ignorance and bigotry, you must hold a passport and travel to a distant land, first.  Then protest. Maybe we should gather all our Senators, Congressmen and administration officials and send them to the countries they seek to control with wars, violence and unsustainable means of production.  Maybe we should gather all the CEOs and stockholders of the major corporations- and their lobbyists; Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Agri, Wall Street and the military industrial complex and send them to the refugee camps that litter the borders of the countries with the puppet governments they install, manipulate and support with cold hard cash and see if our current foreign policies withstand their travels.

And well, I’m sure there will be opinions on this article, so fire way…  Keep it civil though, and slightly intelligent.