#19 Their Passports
Feb 2 note: As we post this, Mo-ha-med is Tweeting from Tahrir Square, Egypt, as massive anti-government protests take place and pro-government regime forces are violently attacking the protesters. Be safe, Mo, be safe.
Although they seldom admit this in public, Expat Aid Workers love their passports. And of course, they love collecting stamps in their passports. The more unusual, the better. And best of all, from countries they’re not really supposed to visit. (for Americans that might be Cuba or Yemen, for Egyptians that would be Israel, for everyone you may think of Iran, etc.)
Expat Aid Worker passports are accessories to the act of establishing field cred, and so it is very common for Expat Aid Workers to want to share the stories of how they acquired particular unusual and/or forbidden stamps: “I was stuck at the Syria-Lebanon border crossing for six hours overnight and I had to negotiate in Arabic with the Lebanese customs officer to give me a visa even though foreigners can only get their visa on arrival at the airport,” for example, is the kind of hard-to-top story that immediately sets the teller apart from newbies and poseurs.
For effect it is, of course, important that the Expat Aid Worker’s passport be reasonably mishandled and the cover be somewhat wiped. A variety of security stickers on the back is a useful touch as well. A new passport might incur a haughty look from veteran Expat Aid Worker, until an apologetic “I had to get it renewed, I was running out of pages” is uttered.
But it’s not just about owning a busy passport: as with a trophy wife or expensive pet, the fun is not complete until the EAW can show off that official scrapbook.
Our Expat Aid Worker will carry her or his passport in pocket while at home, generally with the excuse that he or she has to stop by the consulate of Bouringa to see if a new visa/residency permit is ready. There’s a good chance friends will be curious enough to ask to see it, or will see that they’re burning to display it and so will indulge by asking to take a look. Either way, the Expat Aid Worker is set!
For tougher audiences – like, actual disaster zones – the Expat Aid Worker may have to get creative about showing off that passport. One great strategy is to put it in the same pocket as loose change and get it out when paying for a pack of cigarettes (another thing Expat Aid Workers like) or a stick or gum. Not very slick these days, though, as this one’s been used a lot.
A good occasion, however, to display said passport is when you’re showing ID at a club somewhere – “but i only carry my passport” automatically gives you the ‘seasoned expat’ aura. Another solid tactic is saying things like, “pay by visa? Oh, you meant visa card? See when you say ‘visa’ I just automatically think of this time when I was stuck at the border of Lebanon…” Improperly played these can backfire and make you look desperate. We recommend using with caution.
Non-OECD-country Expat Aid Workers, who need a visa to get to virtually anywhere, have twice the advantage, as they also can display shiny EU and US visas (“Oh, that was for the World Bank ABCDE conference in Stockholm”) next to the “we went snorkeling in Zanzibar for the R&R” visas.
Those who happen to be UN laisser-passer holders are in a league of their own. And not just because it lets them stand in the diplomatic line at airports, but also because that silly inscription that “the Secretary-General of the United Nations requests all those whom it may concern to extend the bearer courtesies, facilities, privileges and immunities” in 6 languages turns out it to be useful at times.