ZA Postscript: Passport Kontrol

My friend A suddenly stood up and went to bed.  In someone else, I would have interpreted it as pique, but he just didn’t want the conversation to tail off into those empty things you say when you are leaving and you don’t know when you’ll see each other again.  In the same spirit, I silently gathered my things in the dawn and slipped out the driveway before he awakened.

I thought I would be pressed for time, but it was not to be.  Retracing my steps into Cape Town’s heat, as hot as blood, I got the rental car settled and took the couple of hours hop to Jo’burg, checked in, went to the Mugg & Bean to do a few emails (this is my 4th time in this airport this trip), and when I returned to go through security, I had no passport.

I am quite unconsciously careful of such things, being fairly experienced at travel, but either the agent never gave it back to me, or it slipped out or – this is Johannesburg – someone lifted it deftly from my jacket.  That desperate feeling – going through everything six times, running back through the airport to everywhere I had been.  Of course I was mortified and enraged with myself at such a stupid error, but what to do?  A helpful agent got my luggage off the plane in case it had slipped in there, and then the plane was gone, the airport deserted, I feel grimy and suddenly worn down in immunity where I had felt strong until that moment.  How fragile is our physiology, our psychoneuroimmunology!

I had fancied that I was reluctant to descend back into the maelstrom of more travel, more teaching, even the varied demands of home, after the few days in the whispering desert.  But not going back was worse by far.  And what about my trip to Canada on Monday, and the Russian visa?  I missed home with an ache that was all too palpable.

But there was nothing to do but take a cab downtown, toss and turn through a night at the hotel, and show up at the American consulate at 8am.  Armed with Tammy’s faxed documents, I got the new passport in a couple of hours.  I had my taxi driver, Sam, wait, and it was a good thing – when I finally got to the head of the line, I could not take my computer in under any circumstances.  I left my backpack in the taxi, and went inside to do battle with the bureaucrats.

While I was inside for these hours (they had numbers, but they called them in utterly chaotic fashion, you had no idea when you would be called), I hoped fervently that Sam would remain outside with my computer, and more money than I would like him to have known was in the pack.  I was counting on him wanting the follow-on fares, and, sure enough, there he was when I emerged.  I could have kissed him – or anyone, so glad was I to have a passport, however temporary.

My wanderlust is utterly sated – I spent the day by the hotel pool, reading and content to withdraw from any engagement with the sociology of South Africa.  Sun, quiet, a book, and with my passport on me at all times, my hand was going to my pocket more often than a 15-year-old boy.

But this rime it was all alright, and I made it home to Misty and Quan and the cats for a 24-hr blitz of changing suitcases, before finding myself in this hotel in Canada, awaiting my next class. But for this last screw-up, South Africa is a dream, a good dream.


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