9/01/2008

How Not to Get a Passport


From green (old) to maroon (machine-readable, new):  

It wasn’t going to be an easy day. I’d be dealing with the government—the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). I had to renew my passport, the one that got hacked in Philippine Immigration during my last travel abroad. It therefore needed changing. A new system required one to appear personally; I prayed for a good amount of grace to sustain me.

(For the record: I am a good citizen. I pay my taxes, vote, and rise when the National Anthem is sung, cross the street only on pedestrian lanes, and don’t badmouth my government among foreigners or in foreign countries.)

I donned my crispiest blazer. By experience, if I dressed up like a CEO, the usually grumpy guards doffed their hats, stressed salesgirls smiled, and taciturn tellers said, “Ma’am.” True enough, the guards didn’t inspect my bag and I was ushered to the right gate.

The DFA building is old and decaying, and always packed with a sea of humanity. With or without blazer, one isn’t spared of the heat and crowd and the musty smell—a lethal combination of dust, sweat, damp rag, and toilet bowls that don’t flush.

One is also not exempt from the three long rows of creaking, chipping chairs reserved for passport applicants.

My travel agent was solicitous, totally deserving of his fee. He reserved a seat in the middle row. Then like an explosion, an old man, directly behind me, started berating the young man in front of me. “I don’t owe you anything! I don’t have to do this! I am only doing it because of your grandmother! You are taking too much of my time. And you don’t deserve it! Bang, bang, bang!” He seemed ready to run amok.

The young man blanched and said humbly, “Yes, I’m sorry sir.” But the older man spewed more lava like a raging volcano that had been dormant for a hundred years. I rose and moved as far away as possible. My agent ran after me and begged, “Ma’am, please stay in line. It’s almost your turn.”

When my name was called, despite my blazer, the document officer behind the jail-like bars said very respectfully, “Sorry, Ma’am, your passport photo is unacceptable. Your bangs are covering your forehead.”

Of course! They’re called bangs, aren’t they? I’ve been wearing bangs since the creation and now you want to get rid of it! I screamed, silently of course.

My agent quickly said, “I’ll go with you to the Rush-ID booth, Ma’am. It won’t take long.”

Inside the Rush-ID booth, there were more people than there was room. Soiled, once-dark blazers hung from nails for those who didn’t look like a CEO. I refused to do anything with my bangs—the photographer patiently brushed them up. And as coup de grace, he said, “Please take off your earrings, Ma’am.”

First my bangs and now, my earrings!—the two things I can’t leave home without. And the horrid photo cost twice that of my original photo with bangs.

Getting out of the booth was harder than getting in. I was shoved and pushed by now fellow CEO-looking frantic passport applicants chasing deadlines. My sneezing fit had gone from worst to impossible.

A-choo!

At the finish line one hour later, I peered again at the face in my new passport photo and I knew I had lost me. Someone said, “Ma’am, your new passport will be ready in ten working days.” That important little book, which will take me outside the country, doesn’t have me!

A-choo!

“I’ll see myself out,” I told my agent who couldn’t keep up with my brisk pace, the result of daily morning walks.

A-choo!

I had to break free from that torture chamber masquerading as DFA.

By grace, I lived to blog and laugh about it.

2 comments:

Mekhismom said...

That sounds like a rough one. Sorry to hear about the hacking in the first place.

Grace D. Chong said...

I often wonder why things are as rough as they are. Maybe it's just a matter of mindset, of acceptance.