We left the library with a mission – to get to the TV station, persuade the host to interview me, and make my appeal to the good people of the Dominican Republic to turn in my passport if they came across it. But first, we had to remedy the small problem of me being almost completely penniless. We went to the chino where I told Rosa about Manuel’s plan, a plan which she agreed was worth a shot. Having received her approval, we went to Western Union for Rosa to collect the money my sister had wired to me.
As she spoke to the counter staff, who seemed to be asking an interminable number of questions (I guess it’s not every day that someone from Singapore wires anyone in the DR a significant sum of money), I paced nervously at the side, fingers crossed that nothing further would go wrong. Eventually, Rosa turned to me with a smile, and an envelope clutched tightly in her hand. I heaved a sigh of relief – finally, things were turning around.
Money in hand, I followed Manuel to the TV station while Rosa headed back to work. When we arrived at the TV station, we were immediately ushered to the recording studio. Apparently, Manuel had called ahead and informed them that we were coming, and Nelson, the host had agreed to do my interview. Another show was being recorded, so I got to see some behind the scenes action in TV show production. Once they wrapped up, the crew jumped into action to prepare for Nelson’s show.
Nelson came up to me and introduced himself, expressing his sincerest regrets that such a mishap had befallen me in his country. He asked me a few questions and then briefed me on what would happen during my segment. The makeup and wardrobe artist came over to prep me for my 5-minutes-of-fame, but was waved away – I guess I made for a more pitiful character with look of exhaustion, puffy eyes from crying and lack of sleep, and mismatched clothes.
And so it came to pass that I went on national television in the Dominican Republic and told my story (entirely in Spanish, mind you), and made a public appeal for someone, anyone to return my passport. Once the show was over, Nelson shook my hand and took down my phone number – he was visibly upset by what had transpired and said he would call me to take me out shopping for any clothes and necessities I needed. It was such a lovely gesture that I was almost moved to tears.
Manuel and I were just about to leave, when the producer of the show stopped us. The police had arrived and wanted to see us. I had no idea what was going on, and neither did Manuel, so we blankly followed the producer to where a police jeep stood, along with two constables.
“Por favour, vienen con nosotros. El coronel quiere hablar con ustedes.” – Please, come with us. The colonel wants to speak to you.
I was rather taken aback at being taken to speak to the colonel, and looked to Manuel for support. He nodded reassuringly, so I climbed into the jeep, as did he, and off we sped. In the jeep, Manuel explained that these constables were from PoliTur, a different branch of the police which dealt exclusively with tourists. We were taken to a different police station than the one I had gone to in the days before, where we were shown seats in a small office, awaiting the arrival of the colonel.
The colonel arrived a few minutes later, a portly man with an impressive moustache but a friendly demeanour. At that point however, he wore a stern frown as he entered and introduced himself. Taking a seat across the table from us, he asked me to relate what exactly had happened, leaving no detail out. As I spoke, the colonel listened carefully and took notes on all that had transpired. Just as I had finished my story, another high-ranking officer showed up, and I was commanded to repeat my story for him. This happened a few times, such that by the end, the colonel had taken over relating my story and merely looked to me for confirmation.
When it finally seemed that all the important officers who needed to hear my story had heard it, they all disappeared into another office for an intense discussion as to what should be done. After what seemed like an eternity, they emerged with a plan. We made a quick stop at the main police station for me to sign another report that they had submitted on my behalf, and then off we went to the airport to discuss with the airlines and immigration officers what could be done for me.
After much futile discussion with the airlines and immigration officers, it was determined that because I had no passport, no embassy that could process a temporary travel document for me, and no way of returning to Singapore without setting foot in another country on the way, there was nothing much to be done. The options I was finally presented with were:
a) find some way to get to a neighbouring country with a Singapore embassy (so that I would be someone else’s problem)
b) agree to voluntary deportation which (according to them) would bypass the need for proper documentation, but would potentially bar me from returning to the Dominican Republic again
c) marry a Dominican and apply for citizenship to return to Singapore as a Dominican Republic citizen
None of these options seemed particularly appealing, but I told them I would think about it, and we headed back to the PoliTur HQ to start the investigation on the culprits. I was questioned repeatedly by different officers, and eventually the police uncovered a discrepancy in my story that gave them their key suspect.
Lenny had initially told me that we were going to go to San Jose de Las Matas, a section of river that was about 1-1.5hrs away by car. However, when I mentioned to the police that we had only travelled for a maximum of 20minutes in the taxi, their suspicions were aroused. Using advanced technological tools (Google Street View), they tracked my route out of the city, and ascertained that I had not ever set foot in San Jose de Las Matas, but had instead been taken to a different river much closer to the city. And since Lenny was the one who had planned our trip and taken me there, all suspicion fell on Lenny.
Now that they had a lead to pursue, the police sprang into action, escorting me directly to the chino, their best chance of finding Lenny. Lenny, who had not been seen since he asked me for money to recover my passport, still hadn’t come by the chino, but the police took that opportunity to question Rosa, Rosita, and a few other people at the restaurant, while I waited in the safety of the police jeep, with another constable. Interestingly, his mother who usually worked at the restaurant as well, had not turned up for work in the past few days. Eventually, the police wrapped up their questioning, having gotten the leads that they needed to pursue the case.
Rosa was just about done with work for the day, so we got a police escort back to her house. Quite a few heads turned the presence of a police vehicle in the neighbourhood, but at least we got home safely. The police officers took a few photographs of the house, the street, Rosa and me individually, and then in front of her house, before finally letting us go in. They only drove off once we had shut the gate on them.
I collapsed on the couch, exhausted after my eventful day, and Rosa filled me in on what had been happening at the chino. Lenny had appeared earlier that day with some money that nobody knew where he had gotten and when questioned, harsh words were exchanged before Lenny stormed out and disappeared. Apparently, my situation was causing tensions to run high in the chino and Rosa advised me that it would be better for me to stay at her house and avoid the chino as much as possible, till tensions died down.
I merely nodded, saved from responding by the ringing of my phone – the PoliTur colonel was calling. He was just calling to check in on me and to make sure that I was safely in Rosa’s house. He said that his team was following up on some leads they had gotten and that he would be calling me once he had any updates. He ended off with a dire warning.
“Ten cuidado, señorita. Estas no son buenas personas, y otras personas han sido asesinadas por menos. Has tenido suerte, pero ten cuidado.” – Be careful, miss. These are not good people, and other people have been killed for less. You’ve been lucky, but be careful.
I murmured my assent and hung up, but sat silently on the couch for a very long time afterward, as I considered the severity of my situation. It felt like my life had turned into a bad B-rated movie, and this was just another plot twist to add to the drama.
—–Stay Tuned for Part 6!—–