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The Scariest Thing in my Life

If you’ve been watching my facebook, you might have seen a couple of statements about a passport issue.  Allow me to explain:

Two nights ago, I left Newark on Continental flight 064 from terminal C, gate 74.  I most definitely had my passport, because without it, I wouldn’t have gotten my boarding pass, wouldn’t have gotten through security, and (most importantly) wouldn’t have gotten on the plane.

After the people at gate 74 scan my boarding pass and take a quick look at my picture, they hand the passport back to me.  I move into the mess of a line of people trying to jam onto a Boeing 757-200 (in my opinion, this is a small aircraft for a transatlantic flight, but it made it, so okay).  There’s a couple behind me talking about carry-on luggage and they pointed to my little purple suitcase as the limit size, so I started talking to them.  They were on their way to Rome, and their daughter had arranged the entire trip for them and paid for everything.  Good daughter, right?  While we are talking, I bend down and put my passport in the top pocket of my suitcase with my cat hair-encrusted red cami that I found that morning and zip it shut.

Seven hours later, after the flight had already been delayed and after our plane was asked to wait a bit before it could land (flying in circles!  yay!), we land in Lisbon.  I’m thinking to myself, “I can’t believe I actually made it” but not in terms of the flight landing.  I mean in terms of the financial aspect of attending the ILP, which was an intense struggle to say the least.

So I get off of the plane, walk through the little tunnelly bit and then unzip the pocket on my suitcase to get out my passport and… it’s not there.

I start digging through all of the stuff in my suitcase and in my backpack, and it’s still not there.  When all the passengers have gone and the flight attendants/pilots all come off the plane, I look up at them and say as loudly as I can, “Excuse me, I can’t find my passport!”  They direct me to go straight back to the plane, and there will be people there to help you.

So I run back through the tunnelly bit and the security people won’t let me on the plane, but they look for me.  They check three different times, each time coming back to confirm my seat number and say that they hadn’t found it.  By the time they tell me that it’s not in the plane and I need to check my carry on bags again, I’ve devolved into complete hysterics.

As calmly as I can, which involves massive amounts of sobbing and pulling everything out of my backpack (while simultaneously thinking ‘I did not put it in here. I did not put it in here.’), I look for my passport.  No use.  Not there.  Another security guy, who is wheeling a woman in a wheelchair, sees me freaking out and tells me it will be okay.  I go with them to customs, he explains to the border patrol people that my passport is missing and that I’m in shock, and then for the next two and a half hours, I’m stuck in border no-man’s-land while the border patrol decide what to do.

All I can think is “Gonçalo is waiting for me.  Tia Catarina is waiting for me.  I’m supposed to be there for lunch already.  Everybody’s waiting for me.  I worked so hard to make it here.  I can’t believe this happened.  How did this happen?  Why is this happening?  Everybody’s gonna be so mad at me.  Everybody’s waiting for me,” in a circular manner.  Even scarier than being stuck on the Argentine-Bolivian border with the Rotary club.  I only calm down when they tell me that they’ve spoken with my cousin Gonçalo, who’s waiting for me.

So what they do is give me a special visa, valid for five days, and tell me to go to the US Embassy and get a new passport.  I finally get through the airport at 11:30 (the plane was supposed to land at 8:20) to find Gonçalo and his girlfriend Margarida waiting for me.  First, we get me hooked up with a cell phone (one that is remarkably ghetto and almost identical to my Argentine phone), then the three of us head to eat and get directions to the US Embassy.  Gonçalo (wonderful human being) takes care of everything while I slowly stop panicking and start resigning myself to needing a new passport.

When we (finally) find the US Embassy, the security people shoo Gonçalo and Margarida away because only I can enter.  As I’m pulling the heavy stuff out of my backpack to carry it in, I pull out a book and guess what I see stuck inside the cover.  You guessed it, my passport.

All of a sudden, I’m like “WTF??  OMG!!!” because I did not put it in my backpack, and even if I had, I already checked my backpack like a dozen times, including pulling the books out and shaking them.  This cannot be happening.  I already emailed my mom that I need a new passport.  I’ve already accepted that I need a new passport.  How dare my passport have the audacity to do this to me??

So I go to through the process of explaining to the people at the gate what happened, they let me in, I’m back in the US of A on my way to PASSPORTS/VISA ISSUES.  Kudos to the USA, lovely landscaping.  The guy at passports/visa issues listens to my story, and says that I don’t have to do anything.  What?  “Keep the temporary visa with your passport, but you don’t have to do anything else.”  Not even get a new stamp in the passport??  No.

And Gonçalo picked me up, we drove back to town, and I fell asleep for five hours.

Welcome back to Portugal, Maggie.

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6 thoughts on “The Scariest Thing in my Life

  1. Wow, Maggie. I’m so happy you made it safe and sound and everything worked out in the end. Great story though, hope it serves as inspiration!

  2. I just told this story to Erin, Shannon’s sister (Shannon’s the friend I’ve been with all week who is getting married in…three hours). She says it’s a good one.

  3. At Tedfest we, well a couple of us that talked about your escapade, decided it was either little blue men that accidentally rearranged reality incorrectly so that your passport was in the wrong place, or God, providing a lesson in trust and revelation. It was a good conversation. Some how appropriate to Ted.
    Thanks for the blog about it. And thanks for already starting to see the amusement in it.

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