Do not ever, ever lose your passport.
It’s the most important document we expats own – the one that lets us fly back and forth from our rocks to our home countries.
When I “reach,” as the Bahamians say, I immediately put my passport in a particular drawer; same routine when I return to the States. And when I travel, it’s always zipped inside a pocket of my purse.
I travel to and from Eleuthera every few months, sometimes leaving my husband Dave on the island.
On one trip back from the States, I followed my usual routine once my American flight landed at Nassau’s US terminal: I showed my passport and entry form to Immigration, picked up my luggage from baggage claim, presented my papers to Bahamian Customs, and strolled over to the domestic terminal and the Southern Air counter for its 4pm flight to Governor’s Harbour (GHB). It’s an exercise I do so often that the folks at Southern Air recognize me. One of the baggage agents, a husky Bahamian with a gold tooth and a big smile, hugs and greets me like an old friend.
This time, my flight arrived very early. At the desk, I pulled out my passport and reservation, but the agent said it was too soon for me to check in and that she was still processing passengers for a full noon flight. I walked briefly around the domestic terminal and waited on a chair until I saw passengers checking in for the 4pm flight, the last flight of the day.
When the agent asked for my passport, I couldn’t find it in my purse. My baggage buddy offered to go through my purse and carry-on while I watched. He couldn’t find it either. What followed was a drawn-out series of surreal events that had me frustrated, frightened, but ultimately, forming an unlikely friendship:
The Southern agent said that because US passports were valuable for resale, she and her supervisor suspected that a pickpocket may have taken mine. She called Airport Security, and an officer arrived. He asked me to retrace my steps inside the terminal. He checked video from the limited number of security cameras, but the video didn’t even show me.
By then, I was upset. I borrowed a phone to call Dave, but I got no answer at the house. I figured that he has already left to pick me up. I saw a man in the Southern Air line who was going to Eleuthera. I asked him to look for Dave and tell him that I was okay, but that might not be back on the island until the next day.
Airport Security called the Nassau police, who said they didn’t have anyone available to come interview me. They asked if I would come to the station. The thought of getting a cab to the police station, finding a hotel for the night, and getting back to the airport the next day was more than I could handle emotionally at this point. So I did what any desperate woman would do: I cried.
The Southern Air agents took pity on me and said they’d let me on the 4pm flight, provided I went straight to the Governor’s Harbour police station upon arrival to file a complaint about my stolen passport. Like a criminal, I was escorted through Security and onto the plane.
As instructed, Dave and I stopped at the GHB police station, but the sergeant who needed to take my report had left for the day. The corporal told me to come back the next day. Once home, I called the US Embassy in Nassau, reached the night duty officer, told her what had happened, and asked that she cancel my passport. Thankfully, I had all of the information she needed, since Dave and I keep copies of all our important documents at the house.
The next day, I drove back to the police station. The sergeant still wasn’t in. I asked what his schedule was for the following day, then returned the third day, and he was out responding to a call. On the fourth day, I called to make sure he was in, and I quickly drove the 6 miles to the station. He was there! He questioned me and typed the report on an ancient computer. I left quickly, with a copy of the report in hand.
The following day, Dave got a phone call from Tracy, one of the GHB airport baggage handlers who knows us well.
“Did your wife lose her passport?” Tracy asked.
“Yes,” Dave said excitedly. “How do you know about it?”
Apparently, an American tourist had picked up both hers and my blue US passports at the Southern Air counter in Nassau when I first had tried to check in. She didn’t realize until several days later that she had my passport. Rather than turn it into the police or try to reach me, she simply dropped it off at the airport counter on her way home, not even leaving her name.
I was ecstatic to have my passport back – until I realized that it had been cancelled. I called the US Embassy again, and the official there said they could not reinstate it, that I would have to fly to Nassau to apply for a new one, bringing with me the old passport, the police report about its loss, and a second police report explaining how I got it back. It would then take several weeks for a new one to be mailed to me on the island.
I was not looking forward to returning to the police station to file yet another report. This time, though, it took only one trip. I thought maybe my luck was changing.
The officer said the second report, clearing the incident, had to be sent to Police Headquarters, several miles away, and that the Assistant Superintendent of Police for Eleuthera would have to review it, sign it, and send it back to the local police station, where I could pick it up in a few days.
Based on that, Dave and I made plans to fly to Nassau so I could apply for a new passport. Not knowing what was involved, we figured the cost would include at least two round-trip air tickets, a night’s stay at a hotel, 3 meals, and a rental car. A lot of trouble and expense for something that wasn’t my fault. Darn the US Embassy and I for both being so efficient!
I waited several days, then went to the police station. The sergeant said he hadn’t sent the report to Headquarters yet because their only printer wasn’t working and he couldn’t make a copy. (Don’t ask me why the reports could not be sent electronically.)
I’m no computer whiz, but I was so frustrated that I finally asked, “Do you mind if I take a look at your computer?” I fiddled with it for a while and somehow got the computer talking to the printer, which finally spit out a copy of my report. Hurray!!
“Can you drive it to Headquarters today?” I asked. “We’re leaving in a few days to go to Nassau, and I need this second report.”
“No, ma’am,” he said. “All of our cars are out on calls.”
Emboldened by my computer success, I asked, “Well, can I just drive it to Headquarters myself?”
This obviously was not typical accepted procedure, but, with a little pleading, he finally agreed.
I took my report and drove to Headquarters. The receptionist said Assistant Superintendent Armbrister was busy and I should leave the report with her. I told her I needed it soon.
After several more calls to the local police station, I was told that Lucas Armbrister had not sent the report back to the station. I groaned. Then it got worse. Armbrister wanted to see me in person.
Would he refuse to sign it? Would he deport me? Would he ban me from the island? Would he scold me? Would he fine me?
Queasy and sweating, I drove back to Police Headquarters. The receptionist pointed to Assistant Superintendent Armbrister’s office at the end of a long hall. I dragged my feet, feeling like a condemned woman walking the Green Mile. I knocked on the door and entered cautiously. Behind the desk sat a tall, handsome man wearing the impressive uniform of the Royal Bahamas Police Force – white shirt and navy suit, with his red-and-braid-trimmed hat sitting in front of him.
I sat down. He was very quiet for a few minutes, studying my report. Then he looked up. In words drawn out excruciatingly slow, he began:
“Never… in… all… my… years….”
My mind was reeling. Next would come the harsh words, the scolding.
“…have I met someone with the same birthday as me.”
It took a minute for his words to register. I wasn’t being lectured. I wasn’t being punished. He just wanted to meet a person who shared a birthday with him! Relief set in.
The next summer, I was back in the states when Dave got a call on the island.
“This is Assistant Superintendent Armbrister. Is Mrs. Addis home?”
Now what kind of trouble has Kay gotten into? Dave wondered.
No trouble, actually, just my new friend calling to wish me a happy birthday.