This Little Storybook that Holds My World

My passport expired a few months ago, and since I’m about to go traveling again I needed to get a new one. When the lady at city hall asked for my old passport I was startled. Did she want to take it away?
It left me wondering, Why do I care so much about this little booklet?

Among TCKs there’s a joke that the most valuable book you’ll ever possess is your passport.
This little booklet tells stories.
Stories of travels to foreign countries.
Stories of adventures in unknown cultures.
Memories of people, smells, and food so different from who you are.

Like the story when we were stuck at the airport in Entebbe/Uganda for hours because the officer wouldn’t accept our residence permits. We didn’t want to pay the customary “fee” (we would call it a bribe), so he made us wait in this unknown country. Our work and lives for the next two years would depend on this little piece of paper. When he finally let us go after lots of questions, it felt like a relief and the stamp of entry like a triumph.

Like the story when we traveled to Tanzania, a 10-12 hour bus ride. Crossing the border was a matter of hours again because the border patrol enjoyed talking to the only Mzungus (white people) on the bus in the middle of African bush land. Only when they were sure my dad was Jesus (because of his beard and longish hair), they let us pass, and we had a new stamp in our passports to remember this trip.

These stamps are not just stamps on a piece of paper. 
They serve as a conduit to our memories. 
Images of sun-drazed hills, humble yet elegant and amazingly friendly people, and the most
breath-taking sunsets come to mind when I flip through the pages of this little booklet.

Many pages are filled with visas, but in between there are also a few surprises. Like the entry stamp of Abu Dhabi I had not intended to get.
My flight to Johannesburg, South Africa was delayed, so I had an extra night to spend in this desert metropole. At immigration I was searched by a completely covered-up woman, which felt intimidating since she asked me to take off my clothes. As soon as I left the nicely cooled airport a heat wave hit me and made my clothes stick to my body. The cab passed by simple white houses in the desert, the skyscrapers downtown looming in the background. I was taken to a hotel which could’ve easily been the scene of a Persian fairytale and met some friendly fellow travelers.
The Arab letters in my passport remind me of my first encounter with the Oriental culture, even though it was just a peek.

To get a visa or entry stamp from the US is quite a journey which starts a few months before actual departure, when you go to the embassy, wait a few hours, and endure security protocol. Just to get a five minute interview in which you state that you definitely don’t want to emigrate to the US or have a secret fiancé there. The long line at the airport and a suspiciously looking border patrol officer in Charlotte, NC almost seemed like a piece of cake afterwards.

Passports tell stories.
Our stories.
Just like photo albums they take us back to adventures and memories of the past.
An invaluable treasure you don’t want to give up.

And yet, I guess that many TCKs might agree that their passports can be a burden for them sometimes.
This little booklet doesn’t just tell what you experienced, but also who you are. 
Your place of birth, your family name, your nationality.
You’re a citizen of country x. You belong to the people of y.

But what if I don’t feel like it?
What if my heart doesn’t match what it says on that paper?
What if my soul is lost in the beauty of Africa, the hospitality and openness of people with a different skin color? 
The allegiance of my heart cannot be described by one single country code.
I am German and yet I’m not. I feel African, but so many things drive me crazy about it.
I’m a mix of everything, which sometimes feels like nothing.
My passport reminds me of this cultural conflict I find myself in, this search for a sense of belonging, a sense of myself, a home.

After a bit of paperwork the lady at city hall handed me back my passport.
With “expired” written across the page in bold letters.
Even though my old passport has expired, my stories are not. 
Because I’m still here to treasure and tell them.

A few weeks later I got my new passport – many more pages to fill with new experiences.
New memories.
New stories.

Author: Katha von Dessien

Teacher. Believer. Third Culture Kid. World Traveler. People Lover. Writer.

6 thoughts on “This Little Storybook that Holds My World”

  1. Oh, what a story, Kiki! I have left books on planes, which already killed me – don't even want to think of a journal! Hope someone found it and was blessed by it. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I really enjoyed this, Katha! I feel like you'd appreciate this: after studying abroad for 6 months in England and keeping a daily journal, I wrote my last entry on the plan coming back to DC. AND THEN I LEFT IT ON THE PLANE. Because I can't bear the thought that it was tossed in the trash, I like to think that someone found it and read my secrets and my adventures: how I felt so ostracized for being American that I tried to hide through clothing and silence; how I came THIS close to getting engaged to a British guy named Pete; how Jesus spoke to me in new ways in a new place. Anyway. It was heartbreaking except for me thinking that someone, somewhere read it all. 🙂

  3. I love the analogy of your passport as the conduit to your stories and how important these are to us. Our life is a story and every treasured moment needs to be bookmarked and saved for a rainy day. So glad you linked up at The Weekend Brew.

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