The single most disgusting thing I have seen travellers do over the years – in every airport, on every continent, people of all ages, men and women alike, from every country imaginable – has been to shove their passports in their mouths as they use both hands to find their damn boarding pass. Come on, people. Stop and think about where your passport has been. You might as well stick your tongue out and go lick the handrail of an escalator.
The stamp from Turkey (May 2008) is the most colourful of all, and the most expensive. As I stood in line to get my visa I was stunned to see that Canadians paid the highest amount of all foreign nationals for visas to enter Turkey: 60$ US. It seems that the Turkish government was not happy that the Canadian government officially recognized the Armenian genocide as just that, a genocide. That was one reason, at any rate.A well-used passport is a skeletal travel diary. The places are there, but none of the stories. Each stamp exudes a memory, or rather a multitude of memories of the locations visited, the people encountered and the (often) tedious wait at customs to get through. (Mental note: avoid JFK airport in New York at all costs.) My passport is a reflection of the last four and a half years of my life. If a stranger were to pick up my passport and flip through its pages, they would quickly figure out that I did not go on fun and sun vacations, nor was I a businessman globetrotting to financial hubs to seal deals. Stamps from Iraq, Malaysia, Lebanon, Israel, Morocco, Senegal and Indonesia might leave the person wondering what the hell I did for a living.
The one from Iraq (November 2009) is the most unique in the collection. Landing in Kurdistan at four in the morning after three consecutive flights from Jakarta, I passed through a brand new airport that was infrequently used, and unsurprisingly quiet. With a sufficient dose of paranoia about landing in Iraq, knowing that I had additional insurance to cover my death in case of a terrorist attack, I was reasonably, but needlessly, spooked.
Ouagadougou (January 2011): it would be impossible to forget landing at night at a tiny airport that had been under construction for over a year. Dirt floors, no electricity, and airport employees with no idea what they were doing contributed to a sweaty and chaotic scene that brought back memories of the vibrant, alive, and utterly disorganized Africa I loved and loathed. The welcoming party of several friends, patiently waiting in the dark, made everything all right.
And of course there was Indonesia, several times over the last five years, each visit consuming a full page of my passport. My trips there were so frequent I could walk from the plane to the visa counter with my eyes closed. The unmistakable smell of clove cigarettes as I stepped into the terminal seeped through my nostrils and permeated my skin instantly. Perhaps owing to the frequency of my visits, I always got what I can only call a comforting feeling as I arrived at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. It’s almost as though I was coming home. When you’re travelling as far from home as you can imagine, there is no feeling that is more comforting.
I bid a fond goodbye to my last passport. It has taken me safely to places I never thought I would visit, time and time again. I’ll stash it somewhere in my junk at home, only to uncover it in a couple of years as I try in vain to tidy things. By then it will be a welcome surprise to see it again. As I flip through its pages, I’ll be awash with memories of a life that defined me. The new one’s coming in the mail next week, just in time for a new trip to a country I’ve never been to before: it’s going to be a great start.
I love my passport, but not so much as to chomp down on it and have all its germs seep through my lips. I felt a slight but unmistakable stab of sorrow and pain as my last passport had its edges cut off and the words “ANNULÉ CANCELLED” stamped on its first page. The most faithful of travelling companions, it has rarely left my sight while overseas, always carefully guarded in my front pocket by day or in a hotel safe or by my bedside at night. I never fully understood why some hotel managers insist on holding on to my passport until they can get it photocopied. Especially when the copier is broken. Fiercely possessive of my identity (which technically belongs to the Canadian government), I get more than a little irked when hotel staff insist on keeping my passport. The last time that happened turned out to be on my final trip with my passport, with the dim-witted hotel lackey at the reception taking away my passport and insisting he would need “for 5 minutes.” After half an hour, I went to collect it. “But sir, we have not photocopied it,” he said. “I don’t care. I was here three months ago, go find the copy you made then.” Hmph.