How I Ended Up At the U.S. Embassy In The Philippines

How I Ended Up At the U.S. Embassy In The Philippines

I generally don’t randomly blog about me… or about my experiences. Or about my travels. I mean, I may mention things about my life when talking about X, Y, or Z. But dedicated blog posts about something that happened to me? Nope. I just don’t do it. But today seeing as though today is my birthday… heck, why not.  So yeah, today is story time.

So, recently, I spent 25 hours on planes and arrived early in Manila for work. (Working on developing NGO websites to help children in poverty – but that isn’t the point.) One of my tricks for adjusting to a massively different time zone (like +15 hours) is to just treat it as your new time zone, and a new day, when you step off the plane. Nap, and you are dead. Crumble during the day, and it’s over. The rest of your trip is going to be spent out of whack. Awake at night – dead during the day. Right?

Well, we spent the day just keeping ourselves busy and decided we’d go see a movie around 4 and that would keep us up until 7 or so in the evening. We’d have dinner, and then go to bed. So there we were, watching Warcraft (oh, I can’t wait to write about that humdinger of a movie – which was one of the greatest AWFUL movies of all time. Like of all time.) And the guy sitting next to me was all up in space. One thing about me you need to know is that I’m fairly personal space aware. My personal space bubble is enormous. Walk into the bubble, and you better be telling me a secret, and then stepping back out of my bubble immediately after you stop whispering – thank you very much.

But here was this guy, elbow all over my arm rest. It was sort of wigging me out. The movie progresses, and (have I mentioned just how dastardly awful it was) I start to blink out. I’m nodding. Head’s jerking. I’m fighting to stay awake. (Watch this movie yourself, and you will tell me that you are amazed I saw as much of the movie as I did… I promise you. You will fall asleep in this movie even on a full night of sleep. I swear to you it is that bad.) But I’m awake enough to notice that my personal space bubble is getting encroached on at all new levels of encroachment.  Now this guy has his jacket draped over the armrest and it is LITERALLY in my lap. On my leg. So I elbowed it away. Minute later? It’s back. Warcraft, “BLAH BLAH BLAH”. Jacket encroachment. Elbow. Warcraft, “BLAH BLAH BLAH.” Elbow. Blah. Elbow. Blah…

And then a new development occurred. My phone is falling out of my pocket. Shove it back in. And now the cycle is going like this: Warcraft, “Blah.” – Jacket – Elbow – Phone, Shove. Blah. Jacket. Elbow. Phone. Shove. Blah. Jacket. Elbow. Shove. Phone etc.

Since I’m pretty sensitive about my phone, I decided I didn’t want it to slip out, I was done with this. And I pulled it out of my pocket and put it in my other pocket. And the next thing I know, 10 minutes of the movie was gone. I drink some soda. I smack my face. And I lean forward, and now I’m awake. And I’m able to watch the rest of this awful, terrible movie experience.

embassyA few hours later. I realize my passport is gone. Wait, WHAT? I went cold. Normally, when in foreign countries, I keep my passport extremely secure. I giggle when I hear stories about people that have gotten their passports nicked. In the back of my mind I think, she must not care – like at all. And here I was, sans passport. What the HECK just happened? Well, Mr. Armrest guy didn’t get my phone. But he did get my passport. And here I was, in a foreign country, with other countries to get to with only a 3 day lead. There is no way. No way. I’m stuck. I’m abandoned. And trapped. There is nothing going now.

Done. I’m done.  FINISHED!

But, I had a couple things going for me. Before every trip I travel, I photo my passport. (Mainly because I’m not organized enough to remember where I put stuff. If I were really cool, I’d have just stored it somewhere.)  So that night I started cracking. I found the 5 forms necessary, and the 15 step checklist from the state department and I was off. I had a ton to do, and I had zero time to do it in. And the next thing I knew I was standing at the Embassy gates, wondering what I’d gotten myself into.

When I took this photo – I was instantly jumped on by 4 guys out of frame to the left here. The guy standing behind the machine gun turret jumped up and started yelling.

Apparently, photographs were not allowed.

As I arrived at the entrance to the compound something terrible happened. I was there at 7 am. And yet, there were THOUSANDS of people standing in long long orderly lines lined up near the compound walls. I had meetings to get to today. (I did come to the Philippines for a reason after all.) But nope. Not only am I not going to be able to leave the country and get moving to the next country, but I am also not going to get the meetings done today that I needed to get done. Gah!

But apparently, at the American Embassy, locals are there petitioning to get a non-immigrant visas. And there are a ton of people wanting visas apparently… because they are everywhere. And I’m at the back of this enormous line! And then something magical happened. I wandered up to the most official looking person nearby, and I asked, “I’ve had my U.S. passport stolen… where do I go to get it replaced? Over there?”

“No sir.” (Oh my gosh, if another Filipino calls me sir!) “Please come this way.” And she walked me, literally, half a mile, past line, after line, after line. Until she shepherded me into security to get frisked, and then onwards into 3 more empty lines. Until I finally arrived, 7th in line. And three hours later, after five different conversations, I was done. My passport wasn’t done – but I was able to send someone back to the embassy later that same day to pick up my completed passport. Done in one day. Done in one day?! hahaha.


But I started noticing this thing. Like, this insidious, awful thing as I walked past everyone else and was ushered to the front of every line, and given primary concern in all things. It wasn’t just at the embassy though that I got this treatment. It was everywhere. And not only that, but in a country where labor is so cheap, and salaries are so low, there are more attendants and helpers than necessary. In the department stores, there are an individual person per every 4 racks of clothes. Right? There were people EVERYWHERE trying to help. I kid you not, they hire people to stand and open the door for you at the hotel. They have people (plural) to push the elevator button for you.

And when you have that kind of catering and elevation – it is not good. Like literally. Not good. No wonder racism is a thing. No wonder race wars are a thing. World War 2, yeah. Awful, but yeah. It just get to this point of, yeah of course. I deserve this sort of treatment. And sure, I’ll let you clean my shoes. And heck, why not… I’ll let you carry my bags. Not a good thing. It’s bad enough to pay for that sort of treatment with a cruise or with a vacation… right? But it’s another thing entirely to have an entire nation treating you that way constantly. It’s like poison for the brain.

So, I spent some time at the poorest of the poorest of the poorest people of the world yesterday. I walked into homes that I could touch the ceiling with my head, and all four walls without moving. I saw bunks, where 5 people slept that were no bigger than a twin bed. If. I saw stacks of these homes piled next to rancid (and by rancid, that word isn’t toxic enough… I am literally search my brain for a more toxic word to use. Anthrax Ridden? Chernobyl filled? Cataclysmic? I just cannot even describe this river to you strongly enough) that overflow so regularly that their homes are basically temporary.

And when someone in one of these homes – who’s husband, I might add, has gone missing for the last five years… and the only thing or evidence is the car he was in that they found riddled with bullets, and who cannot leave the area, because he might come home, and find his home missing, and his wife and children gone – offers you cinnamon rice cakes, that are her only means of income, that is when it comes through and you know that enough is enough. That this holier than though business? That that is a lie. That you aren’t better than these people. And that you don’t deserve the shortest lines. And you don’t deserve the best of everything… because you know what? We are just lucky. We are blessed. We need to be thankful for what we have, and stop with damn charade that we deserve more. Because you know what? We really don’t. We don’t deserve more. We have what we have by grace alone.

And so I say, drop the holier than thou. Drop the attitude. Drop the expectation for more. And be thankful for what you have. Even if it is just a replaced passport.