Passports are funny things. Just little books of paper and stamps. Yet for some odd reason they represent part of our very being, embody our nationality, our character and in some way define us. They give us somewhere to belong, a sense of pride, even a homecoming.
When I painstakingly completed the forms to renew my passport and that of my son, I did it with the complete certainty that we belonged and it would merely be a bureaucratic inanity to give us new ones. I was wrong.
First of all, the forms themselves are about as long as War and Peace, only even less accessible. I tracked down a person allowed to ratify my photographs, one I actually knew and that was a stroke of dumb luck. Then I set off to the nearest Postnet and couriered the whole lot to the Embassy in Pretoria.
Boy, was I in for a shock.
“I’m sorry,but there is a discrepancy.”
“Well… it appears you shouldn’t have been granted a passport in the first place.”
“Hang on. I’ve had it for 20 odd years. I’ve renewed numerous times. Why now?”
“Ah well,we pick up these things all the time. Forty, fifty years on.”
About now me and my cool, calm, collected demeanour parted ways. I felt a bit like I was being accused of obtaining a passport through nefarious means, although how I would have accomplished that at the age of 9 was quite beyond me.
I felt absurdly hurt and abandoned. Combined with my local Home Affairs losing my son’s foreign birth application, one phone call made him a stateless entity.
By the timeI calmed down a bit and managed to sift through the detritus of the internet tofind a direct line back to the embassy I was stricken, confused and faced with the implication that we didn’t belong.
I found a care call line that would have cost me the better part of the month’s salary for each minute I spoke, but through trial and error managed to find someone, who managed to find someone I could talk to.
He was very British, very polite and terribly apologetic.
Apparently my file said that I did not react well to the news. No, I didn’t. I felt like Wile E Coyote must have whenever he got hit with a falling anvil.
I was told to find a registration certificate that I would have been issued back in the mid-eighties. There was a sad tone to his voice, a sort of pitying ring thats aid he didn’t think I had one of these treasured pieces of paper. Of course,there was also the repeated use of the word “if” that eroded my confidence into a little heap of dust.
Thank the Lord my mother is a pack horse and my father more organised than I. Tucked away in an old steel box was this tenuous link to my citizenship. To say I fell on it with glee would not understate my reaction.
The embassy was astonished, but ludicrously happy for me. They even let me scan it in and email it.
Accompanying it was an affidavit explaining that my passport had suffered some water damage. Basically I was not about to sign an affidavit saying I stupid enough to stick it in the washing machine.
I was warned that the passports would take four weeks, but everyone was extremely nice to me. I felt that I had misjudged them, and so I had.
For precisely 8days later a young man in a DHL truck pulled up at the gate and handed over our shiny new passports. I am terrified to let them out of my sight.
I never knew this one thing could unsettle me so much or leave feeling quite so bereft.To belong to a country again feels good, really really good.
And next month we will be jetting off for two weeks in the English countryside.
So, British Consulate Pretoria thank you for your patience and courtesy in dealing with an irate and tearful woman, but most of all thank you for coming through with shining colours in my hour of need.
I can’t give you knighthoods, but you totally deserve them.
PS: I have put certified copies of that registration certificate in every safe south of the Equator.