Sometimes you have this vision of your ideal future, and you cannot give up on that no matter what. You lose track of what fighting for that costs you. If you are ever like that, give me a five, this is your story.
Where did I leave off? The super-long and spiritual flight from Mexico City. When you have a temporary passport, the officer at the passport control takes you through some maze inside the airport and you sit with a police officer to give a statement of what happened to your passport. They watch an episode of some cheesy TV series on their mobile phone on the side while printing some documents that you need to sign and giving you a piece of paper with an entry stamp that you are supposed to hold onto. At least, this is how things are in Turkey.
Then if you have a glimpse of good luck, a dear friend, and your unofficial therapist, like Enis for me, picks you up from the airport and runs errands with you. First thing I did after landing in Istanbul was tracking down another lost passport of mine. Not a good track record, I know. I used to carry my expired passport with me, just in case, and had forgotten it in the Istanbul airport before my latest flight to New York in the past summer. Truly, this one was because of a horrible experience while trying to pick up my stuff after security officer detected my flip flops as a pointy object. Whatever. I had realized it before I took my flight but decided not to risk missing my flight for an expired passport and learned that it would be kept in a government office until I pick it up. That passport was significantly more valuable now because it had my US tourist visa, which was my only gateway to the US at that moment.
There was some hassle finding where that passport was kept, but thank god Enis was with me, otherwise I would lose it if I needed to take public transport or constantly look for a cab. It felt great to talk to someone and get encouraged to treat yourself nicely.
But then still, I was a total wreck, so I didn’t ping friends or stay in Istanbul for a weekend– which was an unusual decision for me. I took a bus to Corum that night, my very small hometown, 10 hours away from Istanbul by bus. I couldn’t sleep a second in that bus ride. When my father was driving me home from the bus terminal in the early morning, I couldn’t still realize the fact that I was in my little, foggy, run-down city with no people on its street.
My parents asked nothing, as I told them to do so over the phone. My mom had prepared one of my favorite breakfast meals. I ate it all, had a cup of tea, and went straight to bed when it was 2 AM in New York.
It was the weekend after Thanksgiving. No party that I needed answers for my situation was available. I was so blessed with having a tone of homework to do. I chained myself to my desk, had dinner in my room, and worked. Just worked. Constantly worked. On Sunday, I joined my parents and my brother for dinner for the first time. I told what happened to a few friends who’d realize that I disappeared, and some others randomly reached out to me as the news spread. I didn’t think people would understand how serios it was. But they did, and they were genuinely surprised, upset and wanted to help.
Over the weekend, I could write more sensible emails to the school and Fulbright, also reflecting on what I discussed with friends and searched online. I believed that the US embassy would give me a visa even if there was only 1 week of school left, because it was my right to be there in person. People would go to the US only for 2 days-long conferences, how different was that? I thought I could still submit a work authorization request, and the company would be examined by the time I get my new visa, and the immigration-related stuff could be done after. The school was supportive of that, but then given that “Fulbright” is this independent Pandora’s-box-type-of organization, they deferred the final say to them.
Monday was a new start for a new passport. The reason that I came all the way home, apart from needing my family’s support desperately, was that this type of bureaucratic stuff was easier in small towns. The embassy in Mexico wanted me to apply for an ID first since I didn’t have any official document to apply for a passport, which would take ages. It would be similar in Istanbul. In my hometown though, we knew people at the office, and they took initiative for using my fingerprint for authentication and submitted my new passport request at 9 AM on Monday. Vive la Corum, capital of enhanced identity technologies since 2000 B.C.
Sad news was that there was a lead time in passport applications, and they told me to expect waiting for at least 10 days. This punched me in the stomach. We went home, and I was dead silent. This timing would never work out. Then, my parents called our very close family friend who had a relative working for passport process in Internal Affairs Ministry at the capital. That relative advanced my request and sent the picture of the shipped passport that afternoon. This was purely unfair, something that I always complained how government supporters get things done in this corrupt country. I still don’t think it was right, but I just let my family help me. I felt like shit already, and it didn’t hurt feeling shittier.
On that first Monday, I expected the final verdict on what would happen to me. What I got was:
- Turkey Fulbright had no power at this point and I could keep trying to convince IIE.
- US embassy gave me an appointment for December 8th, which was seriously late for my program ending on December 23rd.
The real deal was IIE, the body that represents my actual scholarship sponsors, the US Department of State. My point of contact was my IIE advisor. She didn’t respond to me on Monday. I respected her time given that it was after a long holiday, and I had so much time until waiting for my visa appointment anyway. On Tuesday, I waited until it was 9 AM in New York and finally asked her if we could hop on a call. I was well prepared for all my logical question and sat on my hopes. However, she was also prepared, and told me that she had not responded the day before to “finalize” the decision on me with our sponsors: “They decided that they could no longer sponsor my visa to go back or start working given x,y,z and that was their final decision.”
A punch and then a kick in my stomach. I never experienced anything like this in my life. I rephrased my understanding. There was a point that I couldn’t utter a word. I couldn’t breathe because of the lump in my throat. I said, “I need a minute” and hung up on my advisor and then just let an earthquake take me over. All my dreams and hopes for what my life would look like that year, all my hard work until then, the feeling of home I built there… They were all gone, just like that. I tried to hush myself like a little baby and stopped crying after a minute. Called back my advisor. She was already on another call and texted me to call her in 30 minutes. Of course, life was going on and my earthquake was not even a small pinch in this universe.
The other day I tried to calm myself down and seriously looked ahead. Fulbright Scholarship had this condition that you can work about 1.5 years after graduation but then need to return to your home country for 2 years if you want to continue working in the US. So, my plan was to work for 6 months to 1 year and return back to Turkey or somewhere else in Europe after that and build my life there. My long-term plan wouldn’t be impacted much, and perhaps, it was an early start to what I had been procrastinating.
Of course, these consolations didn’t change how I felt deep down. I felt like something was stolen from me. I had so much that I was looking forward to, and now they were all gone, as if they never existed in the first place. Above everything, the real problem was that I was not ready to start something new in Turkey. It was just not the time that I planned, and I couldn’t adapt to that. Economy was at its worst, literally every single TV channel or news online would talk about it. My parents would constantly talk about it. My friends the same. Compared to that, my life in New York was a sweet bubble where I also was about to get the chance of working full time. Losing that and being thrown into the reality of Turkey at that moment was torture. Sometimes, you break up with your partner when the relationship doesn’t go anywhere, and you kind of already prepare yourself for it, and the breakup even feels like a new start. This was the finale that I planned for my life in New York, and I would be just fine leaving that behind. What I went through was like getting a call from a hospital and hearing that my partner died. I don’t know how many different analogies I can come up with to better explain this.
After disastrous Monday and Tuesday, I continued my remedy of drowning myself in work. Then, something happened around 3 AM on the night that connected Tuesday to Wednesday. We have this saying “seytan durttu” in Turkish, which means “the devil nudging you”. It is doing something out of nowhere, as if something called you to do it. I was checking out Messenger and just happened to press on my Messenger requests, probably second or third time in my entire life. Then I saw it. A Spanish name that I’ll keep anonymous sent me a Turkish Google Translate message. He said that he worked in security at Chichen Itza and had my passport, along with his phone number to reach out to him. He sent me this message the night before I had realized that my passport was missing. It was there, all along, and I never noticed it. I could think of posting messages to random “lost and found” Facebook groups in Mexico, but I didn’t think of someone just trying to reach out to me simply from my name and surname. That miracle we sought for days was sitting in my phone and I never realized it.
I went mad. My mom woke up to me yelling and walking like crazy in the living room. I called my friends from Mexico trip. Then my friend Julian called the guy and told me that he was a good man, who still had my passport in his office. For about half an hour, all the “what if”s raided my thoughts. There was smoke coming out of my ears. Then I started laughing. I caught that worried look in my mom’s eyes if I was seriously getting mad. Then I stopped. Nothing has seriously changed. That passport was gone and the decision on my future was made. I told the Chichen Itza guy that I would see what the best way would be to get it from him. I wasn’t sure if shipping a passport, even if cancelled, was a good idea.
Then of course, we started speculating. What if the visa in it was still valid? My uncle who lived in the US came up with this crazy suggestion of me flying to Mexico, picking that up and crossing to the US. I always loved how bold he was, but I had no hope for my future to burn another 2k $ at that moment.
I was not hopeful about that visa being valid. I was reckless enough to still ping the guy from Turkish embassy, and he thought it would be invalid. Online information also clearly stated that “if a passport or visa is lost, the person should apply for a new visa”. But then, it was not clear if that lost visa was actually found. Nobody entered in some database and cancelled that visa for me. Yet.
With these crazy questions in mind, I sent an email to the US embassy. Surprisingly, they responded fast. They told me these miraculous sentences: “If the visa is undamaged and the information on it is not changed, it was valid.”
This was a game changer. Firstly, I could have received it sooner than my new visa appointment, and I would need my student status in the US to end before entering with my tourist visa anyway. Secondly, if there was a valid US visa of mine somewhere in the world, then Fulbright could submit my work authorization.
I impatiently waited for 9 AM in New York and just called my IIE advisor. The call was no different than the first one, almost equally dramatic. But this time, my advisor understood that there was a chance to fight for and she promised that she’d reach out to sponsors to explain the situation before end of the day. I waited, and indeed, she sent me an email at 2 AM in Turkey time. She simply said “At this point, there is really not enough time for your work authorization to get processed. Also your situation already got weirder. But you are right that you can still try as long as you get that visa and travel back with it.” She emphasized “BE PREPARED THAT YOUR WORK AUTHORIZATION CAN STILL GET REJECTED.”
Those of you who I called out in the beginning of this article. You know that there was no option for me but to try. My current self, as a future-self reflecting all these, sincerely thinks that given all the pain and stress this process cost me, it would be the wisest decision to accept the situation and draw a new path for myself, which wouldn’t be drastically different in the long term.
But then, I am not wise.