Posting this at a time when I am way better. Kept it the same as I had written it down, as always, on an airplane.
The last part of this story is full of those moments that you finally spot some water in a desert and run there with last bit of your string only to realize that it was just a mirage. If not all the story, most of it.
Last thing I knew was that my valid was sitting in a security office in Chichen Itza, literally continents away from me. After learning that the visa on that passport was my only chance to work in or even get back to NY, I immediately asked Chichen Itza guy to ship it to me. Then we waited for another day for him to pick it up from the office. Then he also told me that he didn’t have enough money, which was more than fair given that the +$100 Fedex shipment was a big sum in Mexican Pesos. It was fair even if he simply didn’t want to pay it himself before making sure I’d send it.
The only problem was that international money transfer would take a few days and I didn’t have an hour to lose. Immediate solution I could think of was asking my Mexican friend Axel, one of my saviors in this whole thing, to transfer him money through a local Mexican bank and me sending Axel through an American banks. The next day, Chichen Itza guy took the morning off for me and went to Fedex. I played the “chief operation manager” for our mini Whatsapp group. A guy from New York, sending money to a guy in Valladolid, to send a package to Istanbul, and me sending money back to a guy in New York from Corum. This was first in history, and it will probably be the only instance of its kind. There was a good 15 minutes of silence from the Chichen Itza guy after Axel sent him money. I was honestly chill, because if the guy turned out to be a scam and didn’t send my passport, I would truly believe that this entire thing was a camera prank and then probably be diagnosed by schizophrenia. But the guy was a good guy, I could tell, and indeed, he soon started sending picture of every step of Fedex shipment and that was it. Passport was on its way.
I was VERY MAD at Chicen Itza guy initially. Why didn’t he inform the police or the embassy or at least the tourist office in Chichen Itza, but just kept the passport in his drawer and thought I’d see the message… For me, calling the embassy when I find a passport is like calling the ambulance when I see a car accident. It is also written in all passports around the world: “if found, contact the closest embassy”. Anyway, maybe it’s just me… But he was a good person. He kept the passport safe, didn’t ask for extra money which I would definitely pay and got to work late for one day to ship it to me. I will always be grateful for that.
In the meantime, I started working on the work authorization. Filled in a gigantic form, got three different signatures from two different time zones, and submitted it in one day. I was acting more like a normal human at that moment. On that Friday, I asked my parents to take me to our house in the countryside. I enjoyed the winter sun, had some good Turkish grill, and baked potatoes in an old-fashioned stove. There is a giant hill at the back of our house there. I used to be afraid of going up there as a kid, and never tried it in so many years. This type of mental breakdowns make you do radical-ish things, like getting a new tattoo or starting an RV trip. In Corum, your options are limited. So, I went up there instead. The path was indeed very narrow, and I thought I was brave as a kid even to try that route. Those naked, sepia hills which I could only remember all green in the summertime were reminding me “yes, we all have ups and downs.” They were so right.
That weekend, I tracked the passport every day. I’ve never been to France, but that passport has. While it was sitting in Charles de Gaulle Airport over the weekend, I was in this transient mood of preparing for a trip but also not keeping my hopes high. Sending identification documents are actually not okay, so it could have been flagged at the customs. Also, that visa was technically in a “lost passport”, so I wasn’t still sure if embassy’s guidance was sufficient to take me through the immigration. There was also this overarching risk of my work authorization not being approved even if I made it back to NY, in this case only for a few weeks. That scenario made me laugh so hard in my imagination. Hard enough to put a funnel on my head. But the decision was made, and there was no going back.
I picked new clothes to take with me, ordered some gifts for friends, asked my mom to make “sarma” to take along with me, got packs of Falim gum. Then I waited, and worked, and waited. In the meantime, as if the universe was trying to tease me, I got three callbacks from job applications, two for an interview and one for “their commitment to find a suitable role for me”. I didn’t even know if I could work in the US but still, I kept my options open.
Just going back to New York was not enough anymore, I wanted to go as soon as possible. After all that, I just wanted to be back by Wednesday for my classes and walk in the campus to see friends. And of course, there was the cost aspect. I was lucky to have almost enough Turkish Airlines points to book a one-way flight from Istanbul to New York, mostly thanks to extravagantly expensive Mexico flight. An amazing friend of mine, Irem, also accepted transferring some of her points that would expire soon. However, tickets you can book with points were limited per flight, so I needed to decide soon. Like, ideally at least 24 hours before.
On Monday morning, I slept at 5 AM as usual and woke up at 8:30 AM for calling Fedex. The shipment was to my uncle who lived in Istanbul, to avoid the transfer from Istanbul to Corum. They informed me that my shipment was in the customs, being processed. I checked two more times. Finally, a lady told me that my package was approved in the customs and was waiting to be transferred to the distribution center. I immediately submitted a request to collect it from there in person and booked my flight for Tuesday evening. Finally, something went well.
Then nobody replied when and how my uncle could pick the package. The snapshot of Monday was the following: 6 customer service calls, 3 claiming that my package was ready to be sent to distribution, 3 claiming that it was still in customs which could take longer. Unfortunately, there was no lead by the evening of that night. There was no visa, no info when it would pass the customs, but a flight to New York in less than 24 hours. I was dumb enough to get excited over a stupid customer service promise. Why pushing so hard to go on the day I wanted to go, instead of accepting the fact that I needed to wait? Why fighting for a sweet delight, starving for hope after so many days? I was a vase, broken down over and over. No glue could ever stick together what was left from me that night.
I was so lucky that on that same Monday, Biden announced that air passengers needed a COVID test from the last 24 hours instead of 72. Of course, I wouldn’t leave my chance to the airport test, so now it was an operation. I took a test in Corum at 9 PM on Monday, but if I wouldn’t get the passport by that flight, I would need to find a testing site in the hell named Istanbul and pay for it again. Whatever. Then I needed to take a 10-hours night bus with almost no sleep. By the time that Fedex opened on Tuesday morning, I felt like I was a piece of trash, not even recyclable. I called them again at 8 AM while I was still on the bus. Same answer: “not processed yet”.
The bust left me at a noisy terminal in Istanbul. I had literally nothing to do apart from waiting. Turkish Airlines told me that I could reschedule the flight by paying a fine by 1:15 PM. After my second call, Fedex sent me a long email saying that “there was nothing else to do but patiently wait and they would call me as soon as it passes the customs”.
If there was one word to define the bus terminals in Turkey, I would say “waiting”. Those terminals were the same in every city. Big, ugly, have the same metal benches, tea in paper cups, bad sandwiches… An “iconic” set for the best drama of my life. I got some tea, sat there and started doing homework with construction sounds at the background. I knew that I could not stay there any longer, so I took a shuttle bus to Besiktas, a central place with many cafes that I knew. I went to Starbucks, opened my PC as if I was casually chilling there, watched high school and university “kids” pretending to study and then started staring at my PC’s clock. It was about to be 12 and I still haven’t heard from Fedex.
I should have learned that sometimes, things just don’t happen. But I couldn’t learn it by then, so I kept trying. I first tried to find someone working at the customs and ended up talking to two friend-of-a-friend. In the meantime, I was talking to a friend to stay at hers for that night and looking up the closest COVID test locations to hers. Every minute reduced from the time window I could reschedule my flight added up on my heart rate. Still, I must honor myself that I was unexpectedly calm. Especially in that last hour, I was just a sandbag, sitting on a comfy Starbucks chair.
When there was only 30 minutes left to reschedule my flight, I did what Fedex begged me not to do. I called them again. A woman I haven’t spoken to yet answered. I told the entire story, without any hope that I would hear an update. I was lucky if she didn’t curse at me. Then she said “Your passport is sent to distribution center and can leave the facility anytime. Do you want to pick it up in person?”
I couldn’t process it for a minute. So, they pseudo-madly told me to bad word off and they’d call me when the passport was done with the customs and now, this lady was telling me that it already made it to a distribution center in the city. My first reaction was “Are you sure?”. She put me on hold and I reached to rocket speed. Took all my bags and started running in the street. There were 20-ish minutes to reschedule the flight and the distribution center was 18 minutes by car. I was sure that I wouldn’t believe whatever they say on the phone without seeing the passport with my bare eyes. But then, the lady said, “it is… a passport, right?”. I never told them what it was, but because items are opened at the customs, they could know. After she said that, I took a deep breath. There was no way she could confuse that package with another after that keyword. Still, I asked if she was sure, and she sighed deeply before saying “Yes… madam… I am hundred percent sure that the package is in Kagithane.”
This was the beginning of the happy ending in my mind. Still, I didn’t let myself to build expectations. Until I step out of the airport in New York, there was no happy ending.
I hopped on a cab and called my uncle to come down their apartment. I haven’t seen him for more than two years, since I was already in abroad before the pandemic, and just didn’t see old relatives during the pandemic. It was so weird to see him in that cab after so many years, realizing that he was 70 now and my parents were over 65, chatting about my cousin’s little baby which I haven’t seen yet as if we were talking about a casual football game from the day before, and checking out the GPS in the meantime. It was as weird as the ride in Mexico City which I cried in a complete stranger’s car while trying to navigate to a photo studio.
We finally arrived at this random Fedex storage in a very industrial part of Istanbul. It was clearly not meant for a customer to go pick up a package there. The officer handed me the opened bag from a platform almost the same height as me after checking my uncle’s ID. There it was, my precious, with only a little mud stain on its cover, otherwise as young and good as its first day.
It happened so fast that I couldn’t believe all those days of stress was for those couple of seconds only. The cab driver was still waiting for us outside. We started talking more normal stuff like traffic and how Istanbul changed over years. Back to normal. My uncle didn’t allow me to pay and waived at me as I continued my way to airport shuttle buses after dropping him off
Funny enough, I sat next to a nice lady who was heading back to Izmir where she came from that morning for her US visa appointment. She was upset for being rejected, and I was surprised since she had a very strong passport that verifies her public service for more than 15 years. She told me that “she wanted to surprise her aunt living in the US and didn’t ask for an invitation letter”. Such a simple mistake which she couldn’t think of, and it caused her all this hassle. I paused for a second… Was I getting mad, finding similarities between my horror story and everything else in life? Maybe. It was too late to get worried for that.
I arrived at the airport even before the check in opened. Then another round of stress started. Would they ask why I had two passports, looking valid for six more years? Would they not accept embassy’s answer and declare that the visa in a lost passport would not be used? I went through the five-fold, ultra-annoying US flight security check without any problem and even managed to call a few dear friends who were worried about “something going on” and had no idea what it was for a while. In the boarding area, I finally sent a picture to my friends who had my spare keys. I am officially going back.
The plane is half empty and kind of old. Maybe Turkish Airlines is assigning better planes to JFK, not Newark. I am watching “Walk the Line”. It is Johnny Cash’s biography, starting Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. It is a good movie. It reminds me of our karaoke night with the folks from school.
So… happy ending? I’m not sure. I don’t see any of this “adventure” as an adventure. I wish it didn’t happen. I would love to go back in time and change things. I got experience, yes. I feel slightly wiser to accept that I am truly getting dumber, yes. But I would be so down for a bit of “eternal sunshine of a spotless mind”. Anyway, this is how this story ends. I am resisting my eyelids getting heavier. I want to sleep at home, finally.
Final note: By the time I am posting this, I finished school and my work authorization is approved. I’m staying as much as I originally planned to stay and will start working in a few weeks. All good news. The stress that all the bureaucratic procedures put me through was such a waste of time and effort, but there is nothing I can change at this moment. It still does not feel like an “adventure” to tell, but I started to think that it will be very soon.