Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Worst That Could Happen

Yes, it is true. A traveler’s worst nightmare and it happened to me.
Kees and I need to be on an airplane flying to Guinea, West Africa in less than a week. A few days ago we decided we would entrust Kees’ good friend Kieta with our passports to go down to Brussels, Belgium to get our visas. Keita is originally from Guinea and is also going with us on the trip to be our guide and visit family. Kees trusts him fully.
When I saw Kees yesterday he told me he was having a terrible morning. He came to pick me up as usual but was clearly uncomfortable and something had gone wrong, but it was clear he wasn’t about to tell me. In the car I asked him if I could guess what was wrong and he insisted I shouldn’t.
“Keita lost our passports.”
He looked away and that was answer enough.
“He did, didn’t he?”
A scared nod. Luckily, somewhere in the five minutes between seeing his face and leaving the house, I already knew. It was a sure feeling I had which amazingly came with a calm realization. That was that and there was nothing I could do. I suppose I may have been in a state of shock because I received the news well, no tears, not even a pounding heart.
Aside from my journals, my passports have been my most treasured possessions for the past 8 years. Carefully picking each spot where the next stamp will be, leaning over the counter to tell the border guards exactly where it needs to be on which page, treasuring each and every stamp and visa and the stories they represent. Keeping it safe, every five minutes checking that I had it safe in my pocket or backpack whenever and wherever I travelled. To have it stolen while completely out of my protection kills me.
But of course, these were things I could not bear to think of or I was sure to break down in a sobbing baby fit.
Keita had driven down to Brussels and stopped at a hotel restaurant to get a bite to eat before heading to the embassy. He left the passports, money, and his camera in the car unattended and the window was smashed and everything taken. It’s a loss only a passionate traveler can truly appreciate/understand. The thing which really put a rock in my soul was thinking of Ammon, Mom and Bree and having to tell them.
I don’t know how to explain the feeling. It would be the equivalent if each of the LOTR’s hobbits had a ring to represent their journey and one got lost. Or like one of the Ninja Turtles losing their shells. I’ve lost an irreplaceable part of my life but also a puzzle piece within our group that will never again be complete.
There are many regrets I can list in this story. I feel angry at myself for not listening to my instincts that I should take photos of each page just in case it doesn’t come back, to which Kees says “If you have that kind of feeling you shouldn’t hand it over!” I regret so carelessly handing over my treasure without even putting the effort to tell Keita how important it was to me and to be extra careful.
When I came home and was talking to dad, he said, “Sihpromatum?”
I had to pause a moment to consider. At this point it was hard to see how it could possibly be considered a sihpromatum. I’d actually already asked myself this question and it did help. Perhaps, if we’d gone to Africa something would have happened (though this is scary to think because we’re going to try up to the last minute to get on that flight). It could be a lesson in carelessness and to not take things for granted. Or maybe we’re in the midst of a miracle happening and it’s all just a test of my faith.
Maybe, maybe not. But I prefer to think that there is a good reason behind it, and I’m content that I may never know and choose to be grateful.
“Sometimes miracles happen,” I said.
“Ya. We’re just going to have to force one,” Kees replied.
On Kees’ insistence, we drove down to Brussels that very night with Keita and his car to leave it in the same spot it was broken into with signs in both Dutch and French saying “PASSPORT stolen. 500 Euro reward. No questions asked” with a telephone number and email address.
Keita is fully aware of the general impressions Europeans have of his African culture, that they are lazy and untrustworthy. For this reason Keita always strives to do his very best and tries to prove that that is not the case. So for him to have to admit this fault, he was feeling pretty awful too. His passport was also stolen along with his camera and his window broken, yet he wanted to do everything to help me.
We arrived in Brussels at midnight. The flickering florescent lights of the Hotel De France casting a blue light on the wet pavement of the side alley tucked in next to the highway separated by a dark hedge. There was construction on the building next door. Yellow and black striped tape rattled in the nippy wind, like chains on an old abandoned swing set. Red and white pieces wrapped and fraying around a dirty old no parking sign. This wasn’t comforting since we hoped to leave the car for a few days.
As soon as the boys stepped out of the cars they were approached by a guy, “hey, hey you want to buy this phone. Galaxy. Good phone.” No doubt stolen. This was a good sign that at least the thief was likely to be doing rounds here again and may see our signs. My heart did clench a bit at the idea of leaving my passport alone in the car on a street like this. Something which, if it had been under my protection would never have happened, and I can only blame myself. I had not realized that for most people, a passport is simply a document, a few pieces of paper with a picture. Most people don’t have the same kind of connection with their passports.
Watching all of the sketchy guys walking by, Kees said, “I just hope this crazy idiot comes and collects his 500.”

“This is one of the ultimate painful stories.” I complained.
“Which one? The one were living?” Kees said. “I think the passports are still around, Sweet. There is a chance with all those little scavenger thieves around here. They aren't just going to chuck ‘em.”
So at 2am Keita was running around making signs, taping them up in the street and in his car in the freezing cold. He was doing a great job and really trying his best to fix it. There was another African guy Keita had brought along. When Kees asked “what was your friend’s name again?” Keita responded, “He’s not my friend. He’s my petite.” It’s hard to explain what this means, but funny to see the difference in cultural mindsets.
We asked the hotel receptionist if we could leave our car and he informed us that they would not tow the car, but would fine it twice a day for 17 euro. Having come so far, Kees told Keita he would pay the fines to leave it there for the next few days. Keita drove back with the snow coming down and covering the world in white, while Kees and I slept in the back with a pile of blankets and pillows I’d brought along. We arrived home at 5:30am.
There is only hope and prayer left, but they can be powerful.
So on top of this, it is now a big question mark whether or not we will make it onto our plane on Wednesday. I’m praying we’ll get the passports back. In the meantime we are just going to have to try our best to get temporary passports. For the Dutch passports that should be possible within a couple days, but my problem is that I need proof of my Canadian citizenship before they’re going to issue me a new passport. My proof is a birth certificate which right now is sitting in my grandma’s drawer in North Vancouver, Canada. Holding our breath we hope the express mail will come and we’ll rush to put it in the embassy in Den Hague by Friday, cross our fingers that it’s done on Monday or Tuesday, race down to Belgium to get our Guinea visa then pack our bags and be on a plane the following morning. It seems like a long shot at this point but we have to try. I feel terrible for Kees that this could be the second year in a row he’ll have to rip up his Guinea ticket. I told him that he needs to just go without me if my passport isn’t done in time, but he refuses to listen to that option. “Sweet, I’m not going anywhere without you.”
It's a lesson to follow your instincts. I knew it when they were gone. It was the same calm feeling that I should take pictures of the pages. But I didn't. I can live without it. There are worse things to happen, but I'm still devastated.
I’m going to end this story with a twist and tell you that I so enjoyed spending 3 hours with my Kees talking in the car on the way down to Brussels, having an adventure together in the Belgian “slums”, eating shwarma’s on the go at 2am and snuggling in the back of our van piled in with blankets and pillows and falling even more in love with him than ever. Perhaps, it was a sihpromatum? After all what is more powerful and important than love?

Though it’s a devastating loss for me, I know can live without it. There are much worse things that could happen.
Ps. Dutch cheese is freaking to die for. AAAAA-mazing!!!!


At 6:11 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like how Kees says "We will just have to force one"

haha awesome... I go...

."""""(((( FINGER WIGGLE)))) """''


SAVANNAH.....I went through that same horrible feeling when my car was busted into and i had all my stuff taken....including, journal, hcg work binder with everything in it...and my passport.....guess what...all the important things came back!!!! So ..... Drawing it to us!!

Also I love how you guys got to have such a romantic mission lol I love love stories....thanks savanniii...they are my favourite!!

p.s : You are always a part of the original four!!! no matter passport or not.

love you sv.

Bree Bree

At 9:30 PM , Blogger Marie said...

Oh, that is so devastating!! I have a hard time understanding why people leave valuables in cars...I am not generally a paranoid person, but I never leave anything valuable in my car. I know so many people who have had their cars broken into and purses, laptops, etc. stolen. So upsetting--I hope you get it back, or at least are able to move ahead. You have a great attitude about it.

At 7:43 AM , Anonymous The Guy said...

So sorry to hear of such a terrible thing and what awful timing :-( I'm always wary of leaving things in the car or at least visible in the car. You never can trust anyone these days, not even for a moment.


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