Maya Angelou once said that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights. I think a lost passport needs to be added to the list.
Yesterday, I was supposed to be heading to Argentina to fulfil a long-held dream of seeing the Iguazu Falls. Instead, my flat looks as if it has been raided by pirates (“it’s unlikely that my passport is in the fuse box, behind the picture frame, at the bottom of the bin or inside the heater – but I’ll just have a look”), and I’m still at home in Santiago de Chile.
I’d been saving for the trip for months. This week, I’ve been excitedly buying little bottles of shampoo, borrowing books to read and imagining my adventures in a place that is said to make the Niagara Falls look like a dripping tap. I never thought for a moment to look for my passport because I always keep it safely in the same place. Except when it came to packing up my things, it wasn’t there.
After turning my small flat upside down and desperately trying to remember when I last had it, I finally had to concede that it was gone. I still can’t explain what happened. The most likely scenario is that when my old handbag broke, my passport (which I’d used for a trip up north) was still hiding inside the lining when I threw it on one final, undignified journey down the rubbish shute.
And so it was that instead of heading off to the airport yesterday in an air of excitement, I got 3 hours of fitful sleep before spending the day learning that in Chile, the computer always says no.
I went to see my boss, a Chilean with contacts at the embassy and the airline, but he hadn’t gone into work. Next, I went to the International Police to report it missing. Scores of bored-looking policemen lounged arrogantly around the office tossing peanuts into their mouths and discussing breakfast, whilst incorrectly filling out the crime sheet as slowly as they could. For two minutes I was briefly elated when told that I could still travel to Argentina with my Chilean ID card, before a phone call confirmed that in fact I could not. The British Embassy told me by phone that for the breathtaking price of 130,000 pesos (£150) I could have a new passport and be on my way. Half and hour later I received a call to tell me that was wrong too. That service was only for people travelling home to the UK. Later, friends and work colleagues pumped all their contacts at LAN to see if there was a way of refunding my ticket or changing my flight to a destination in Chile, but the computer just said no more loudly and in a variety of different ways.
In an effort to comfort me on the phone last night, a friend told me that I should try to learn from the experience. I told him rather gruffly that as I’m neither careless nor disorganized, I couldn’t see what possible educational value there was to be found in the whole fiasco.
But I have learnt something. I can see now that I’m no better at dealing with disappointment than I was when I was 13. In a hundred other ways, I’ve matured gracefully but when my dreams are dashed, people let me down or my heart gets broken, I appear to be completely incapable of taking it on the chin. I withdraw and wallow. I reject company, I sit around in unwashed clothes, I fail to comb my hair and I draw the curtains. I go off my food and drink too much. I stubbornly refuse to see the bright side and my internal child chants the mantra ‘It’s just so unfair’. Although I don’t do it, I want to scream and scream and scream until I’m sick.
I know of course that the loss of a holiday and a few hundred pounds is nothing compared to what millions of people around the world suffer every day. While I was mournfully waiting in line at the British Embassy, a poster appealing for news about Madeline McCann and leaflets about missing relatives made me feel guilty for being so upset over something so frivolous. However, I also know that if you get a paper cut and someone else is terminally ill, your cut still hurts. It might be nothing compared to their suffering, but it doesn’t stop it being painful. Right or wrong, I need a moment to wallow.
I’ve also learnt, and not for the first time, the value of friendship. Friends come and go, but the good ones stick around through the bad bits too. Yesterday, a friend selflessly postponed her own trip for a day to see me through a rough night with chocolate, wine and TV. And, as I write, others are trying to coax me out of my stupor with offers of trips to the cinema and strong cocktails. I still desperately wish I were on my way to see one of the wonders of the world, but my friends are pretty wonderful too and for that I’m thankful.