Dawn broke the next morning and I awoke to church bells ringing – it was Sunday. For a few seconds before I remembered the predicament I was in, I smiled to myself, contentedly wondering which hostel I was in, in which part of the world. Then, it all came rushing back to me.
I sat up and checked my phone (thankfully, Rosa had a charger I could borrow to charge my phone) for emails from MFA. There was nothing of use, but I sent a quick update to my friends and family who were undoubtedly worrying about me. I headed out to the living room, where Rosa’s mother was waiting with freshly prepared breakfast and served me up a hearty portion.
I was honestly so touched that Rosa and her family had welcomed me, a complete stranger (and undoubtedly a silly one at that, in their minds), into their home and treated me like one of their own. And these were not, by any means, rich people. Rosa worked at the chino, earning perhaps something slightly better than minimum wage, to support her mother, two school-going sons, and (I suspected) her sister and her two children, one of whom was an infant. An extra mouth to feed was not a small matter, but Rosa absolutely refused to take any money from me, insisting that I needed it more. She and Rosita, her friend, gave me clothes, bought me food, and generally took care of me like their own sister, and I am truly indebted to all of them. It just goes to show that you don’t have to have a lot, to give a little.
Anyway, since it was Sunday and I couldn’t get anything done, I spent the day with Rosa’s family – I helped her sons with math, practised English with her nephew, and played with the baby, and they, in turn, invited me to a game of hopscotch and zero-point in the street with the rest of the kids on the block. It was a wonderful day, and a welcome distraction from the awful mess my life had become.
That evening, I received an email from MFA (Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for those of you who are unfamiliar – the Ministry in charge of providing consular assistance to Singaporeans abroad) about applying for a temporary passport, or a Document of Identity (DOI). I would like to reproduce the entire email for you, but it’s classified restricted, and I’m not particularly inclined to antagonize the Singapore government, but allow me to summarize.
The email basically outlined a list of documents I would have to provide in order to get a DOI to facilitate my return to Singapore, which wouldn’t necessarily allow me to get back to Singapore because other countries were free to accept or reject the use of the DOI as a valid form of identification for travel, and the US (wonderful country that it is) was not known to accept DOIs, which meant I had to find an alternative route back to Singapore that did not transit through the US, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
The list of documents was as follows:
- A letter of authorization so that my sister could process this application for me in Singapore with ICA (Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, the body that handles passports and identity cards and such)
- Copy of the police report
- My complete set of fingerprints, taken at and endorsed by the police station for identity verification purposes.
- Passport-sized photographs
- My sister’s identity card that proves her citizenship – essentially, if I didn’t have any Singaporean family members, I couldn’t get this DOI processed (what a ridiculous requirement).
The MFA official was also kind enough to advise me that if ICA found the documents to be unsatisfactory, I would have to courier the documents (with what money, I have no clue) to them (which could take months, or get lost in transit – based on my experience with sending and receiving mail in South America, I was not convinced that any document was going to make it to the other side of the world), after which my sister could submit the application (in person), and collect the DOI once processed (possibly 3-5 business days later, again in person) and subsequently courier the DOI to me in the Dominican Republic (where I, like thousands of other locals, had no mailing address, and no guarantee that it would ever reach me).
Even if the DOI did eventually reach me in the Dominican Republic, whether weeks or months later, I would then have to figure out a way to get back to Singapore without transiting in the US. If you’ve ever looked at a map and know where the Dominican Republic is (and how small it is), you would know how ridiculous that is. A quick search on Skyscanner affirmed my fears, at that time, a flight leaving in two weeks that didn’t transit through the US, was a route transiting in Panama City, then Frankfurt, at the nice, affordable price of only 5000USD. For a one way ticket. Well, I decided to cross that bridge when I came to it. With nothing else to do at that point, I decided to call it a night and get some rest. The next day was going to be a long one.
Monday, yay! I headed to the police station for what felt like the thousandth time – this time to get my identity certified by the local authorities, and to get my fingerprints taken to send to ICA. When I got there, I was informed that I had to pay (quite a hefty sum, given the measly amount of money I had) and get some photos taken before I could process the ID certification, but I pleaded my case and managed to get out of both paying and getting my photo taken. Perks of a country that doesn’t really work – rules can be bent. Fat lot of good getting that ID did me, since I couldn’t use it anyway, but a family sitting near me in the waiting room heard my sad story and gave me some money to buy myself some food. I can’t even imagine how miserable I looked to warrant that, but I gratefully accepted.
After that, it was off to jump through more hoops to get my fingerprints taken as paper-pusher after paper-pusher directed me to office after office to fill in this form, and get that signature, and stamp this leaflet, but eventually, I had a copy of my fingerprints proving that I was…me. Finally done at the police station, I headed back to town, this time in search of a Western Union, so that my sister could wire me some money for expenses. Western Union flatly refused to accept neither the copy of my passport nor the Identity Certificate issued by the police of as a form of ID, which meant I either had to survive on 20USD, or get my sister to wire the money to someone else with an actual ID.
I headed back to the chino to update Rosa about everything so far and to ask her if my sister could wire her the money on my behalf. My sister didn’t feel comfortable doing that, and neither did I, but what alternative did I have in that situation? Rosa willingly agreed, and I sent my sister Rosa’s details for her to send the money. If Rosa decided to double-cross me and disappear with the money, well, there was nothing else to be done.
It was only just about lunchtime, so I decided to cheer myself up by wandering around town and doing some sightseeing, while picking up some necessities – things like new underwear and socks, and placing an order for a new pair of glasses. First order of business though, scanning and sending the documents off to my sister so that she could hopefully start the DOI process for me. That done, I hunted around for the stuff that I needed, trying to spend as little as was possible. Thankfully, Santiago is cheap, so I managed to find what I needed without spending too much (by that I mean I spent 10 dollars).
Santiago is not that bad a city, and doing some exploring definitely took my mind off things for a while.
I also came across *drumroll please* the Public Library of Santiago! With free wifi! I’d been using my phone and a prepaid data plan to connect to the internet, so it was such a relief to use my phone in peace without worrying about burning through my data allowance too quickly. Just my luck, fifteen minutes later, an apologetic gentleman came over to me and informed me that they were closing and I had to leave.
Nothing more to be done, I reluctantly left and headed back to the chino, waited despondently for Rosa to end work, and then went home with her. I fell into a restless sleep and woke up in the middle of the night to see a text from my sister saying that she could not wire me any money because a) she didn’t have Rosa’s address, and b) the woman at Western Union decided my sister’s reason for sending money wasn’t good enough. I was thrown into a panic – with only about 300pesos (about 6USD) left, it was a scary situation to be in. In addition to that, the MFA official had sent me a text asking me to send all the documents again at a higher resolution scan, along with a passport-sized photo that I had to courier to him. It was a ridiculous situation to be dealing with, let alone in the middle of the night, but such was my life.
I eventually sorted out both situations and managed to catch a few more hours of shut eye before waking up again. Rosa had already left for work, so I made my own way into town to get her to collect my money for me but when I got there, she was busy so I ended up talking to Herman the German instead. Hearing my story, he was shocked and did not believe that Lenny might have had a part to play in the whole thing. Remembering what Rosa had warned me about, I cut the conversation short and headed to the library to get more free wifi.
I’d hardly been there fifteen minutes, when the same gentleman from the day before approached me.
“De donde es usted? No es de aqui, pero pasa mucho tiempo en la biblioteca.” – Where are you from? You’re not from here, but you spend a lot of time in the library.
With that, we started chatting and eventually I related the story of the past few days. He was astounded at what I’d been through and called his colleagues over to discuss what could be done about my plight. The library was almost completely empty, and their lives must have been rather lacking in excitement that they all took and interest in me and started discussing ideas for me to get at least my passport back. Finally, Manuel, the librarian, turned to me.
“Puedes ir al canal de television. Hay un Senor, Nelson, que puede hacer una entrevista, y puedes hacer una peticion para que devuelven tu pasaporte.” – You can go to the TV station. There is a gentleman, Nelson, who can do an interview and you can make a plea for your passport to be returned.
I looked at the other librarians. They eagerly nodded, chorusing approval.
“Si quieres, podemos ir ahora.” – If you want, we can go right now.
What more did I have to lose? Off we went to the TV station.
—–Stay tuned for Part 5!—–