I’ve recently had to renew my passport. I was out of pages. Ever since my brand-new, yet-still-handwritten passport came back from the embassy in Berlin, I’ve been feeling bouts of nostalgia. I’ve had my old, worn-out, faded passport for the past eight years, and they have been the most exciting years of my life – not just in terms of travels but as formative years that have given shape to who I’m meant to be.
Not only has my old passport documented my travels across four continents, it has also been a source of countless awkward moments, punctuated by embarrassed smiles, at immigration counters. Confused immigration officers would take a look at my emblem-less passport and struggle to figure out where it’s from. If I was standing in line asking for a visa-on-arrival, immigration officers would scratch their heads in confusion and wonder what kind of visa rules apply to me.
Upon landing in Georgia (yes, the country), my two travel companions sailed through immigration on account of their Australian and American travel documents. The poor Georgian lady who had the misfortune of getting stuck with me spent 25 mins consulting other colleagues to decide whether or not I might need a visa. Not a lot of Bangladeshi apparently wash up on their shores.
Upon exiting the European Union once through Amsterdam, two young immigration officers held my passport up with disdain and asked, “What is this?” Like they couldn’t believe such old, tattered travel documents could still exist. I plastered on a polite yet apologetic smile, and tried to look suitably sorry on behalf of my offending travel document. They barked at me to have my passport changed, because it appeared unusable from their perspective.
My trusty passport not only gave me an identity, it taught me unlimited patience to deal with individuals of below-average intellect. I’ve also learnt to wear a nonchalant, disinterested look when immigration officers are too proud to ask me where I’m from (alas, shouldn’t they be able to figure out themselves?) or struggle to find the right visa page.
KLM even made me go through repeated checks prior to letting me board the flight to Costa Rica because they just couldn’t believe that I could actually enter Costa Rica with my Schengen visa. When I did eventually turn up in San Jose, the befuddled immigration officer had no idea what rules applied to me (or where Bangladesh is, I’m sure), but said, “¡Ahhh, Alemania!” and let me in with a broad smile.
In Panama, a woman who barely spoke English but was incredibly kind asked me to wait in line for 20 mins until she could clear with her supervisor that allowing me in on a day visa would not be illegal in any way.
While I’ve had my reservations about not getting a digital passport this time around, I am still going to carry my hand-written passport like a badge of honor, with my head held high. Here’s to another decade of adventures.