So, here’s what we know: my wallet with my passport, almost all of my money, my credit cards and my drivers license was stolen on Wednesday afternoon when somebody unzipped my backpack as I was wearing it, and took it. Being in a developing country, it is very difficult to get money wired from somebody internationally. In other words, my mom who was freaking out in Wisconsin. Even after running throughout Córdoba and checking about six Western Unions, I was still without money, as the Western Unions either didn’t have enough money, their systems were down, or they didn’t accept transfers from foreign countries. So, I was without money and without a passport. Basically, I was screwed.
Fun fact: If you are in a foreign country when your passport is stolen, it is required that you go to the nearest U.S. embassy in-person in order to get a new one. As luck would have it, the U.S. embassy closest to Córdoba was located in Buenos Aires, a 10 hour bus ride away. Additionally, I barely had any money- $500 pesos (about $35 USD)- which in Buenos Aires doesn’t get you very far.
Late Thursday night, I departed Córdoba completely by myself en route to Buenos Aires and the U.S. embassy, with my backpack, my cellphone (completely useless without wifi), and the little money that I had. I didn’t sleep the entire 10 hour bus ride.
At 9:30 Friday morning I arrived at Retiro, Buenos Aires’ main bus terminal and a terminal notorious for being a little bit dangerous, put my head down and found a taxi. Fifteen minutes later, I arrived at the embassy, located in one of the nicest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires: Palermo. I was directed to the back of the building- U.S. citizen services. Being alone, American, a woman and the youngest in the room, I was anxious. I took a number and took a seat.
Another fun fact: the U.S. embassy is only open from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. every weekday, and closed on weekends (yay, bureaucracy!). I arrived at the embassy around 10 a.m., which only gave me two hours to sort out the problem of not having a passport and no way to get home. After waiting for a while, my number was finally called, and I walked up to the window where a woman waited. At this point it was about 11 a.m.
I explained to her the situation: I am a 19-year-old student in Argentina by myself, I am volunteering in a poor barrio in Córdoba, I have no money, no passport and a flight departing for home in a week. I used almost all of my money to get to the embassy.
This woman, emotionless and completely impervious to the fact that I was terrified, sleep-deprived and young, looked at me and immediately told me that there was nothing she could do for me. Yeah, you read that right.
There was nothing she could do for me. She told me that I shouldn’t have come, and that in order to get a passport I would need to come back Monday. Her reasoning was that an emergency passport (a passport with a waived fee), only lasted for a week, and since I wouldn’t land in the U.S. until 5 a.m. on Saturday morning the 30th instead of before midnight on Friday the 29th, the passport would be invalid. I was only 5 hours short of the government’s policy.
My heart sank. Shaking, I explained to her that I spent all my money to get here today, and that I would be unable to come Monday. She responded with: “well, then I guess you have an hour to find $2,100 pesos ($100 USD) to pay for a non-emergency passport.” Mind you, I had about $200 pesos at this point and was in a huge city alone with no way to easily communicate with my family. And ironically, you can only get money if you have a passport.
I pleaded with her, asking if there was any way she could extend the emergency passport just a couple hours so that it would be valid. She proceeded to lay out my options: 1) somehow find the money to pay for a non-emergency passport, 2) return to Buenos Aires Monday morning, or 3) change my flight so that I left Thursday instead of Friday. All of these options required money that I didn’t have. I felt helpless.
I rarely cry in public. Very rarely. But in that moment, with this woman staring at me from behind a glass pane, alone without a cellphone, in a room filled with adults speaking Spanish and nobody speaking English, I began to cry.
And you know what this lady did? She looked at me with a smile and said, “see you Monday!”
I packed up my things, put on my jacket, and stormed out of the embassy. I was a U.S. citizen with no way to get back home to the United States. I was at an American embassy. I am 19 years old, alone in a foreign country. This woman, an employee of the U.S. embassy and somebody who is supposed to be a friend and a help to me, turned me away. I wanted to scream. I thought the U.S. embassy was supposed to help Americans get home, not make it impossible.
I walked to a McDonalds a block away, found an isolated corner where I could steal the wifi, and called my mom. I began to sob. “They won’t give me a passport. They’re telling me to come back Monday. I barely have enough money to get a taxi to the bus terminal, and I don’t have any way to get money.The embassy closes in 30 minutes.” My mom was livid. And if you know my mom, you don’t want to be the one who pisses her off. And you especially don’t want to mess with her kids.
My mom hung up with me and proceeded to call the state department, the U.S. embassy, and the office of Ron Johnson. She joked later that they could make customer service tutorials out of her phone calls because she yelled at so many people. She told a lady who wasn’t cooperating to “get her ass in gear.” I love my mom.
Within ten minutes, I was told by my mom to return to the embassy so that I could be there as she sorted things out. I walked back and got the attention of a guard.
“I need to talk to the woman I was talking to before, in U.S. citizen services, about my passport.”
They wouldn’t let me in, but the guard handed me a phone through the tinted window and told me she was on the other end of the line. I began to plead with her again, and asked her if she had heard from my mom, Kathleen Brandt. Note: my mom had been on the phone with the U.S. embassy at this time.
She told me, no, she hadn’t heard from my mom (lie) and that no, she didn’t know I had no money and would be unable to return Monday (lie- she saw the official police report stating that all of my money had been stolen). Again, she refused to work with me or give me any more options. I said “thanks,” slammed the phone back on the counter, and ran back to the McDonalds to steal more wifi.
After more tears, more phone calls and a lot of strange looks from the people at McDonalds, I returned to the embassy where I was given an emergency passport. The woman gave it to me reluctantly, silently and with a fake smile. I grabbed my things without a word. I wanted to tell her she was number one, but with my middle finger. I resisted the urge.
For a third time, I returned to McDonalds (at this point I think the employees thought I was insane) and bought the cheapest burger they had. I ate and realized that I hadn’t eaten in more than 12 hours. I was exhausted.
My mom bought me a plane ticket home to Córdoba so that I wouldn’t have to endure another ten hour bus ride alone. I caught a taxi, arrived at the airport, and got on a plane. I didn’t have any money to pay for the taxi ride back to the hostel, so the president of the AIESEC Córdoba committee met me at the hostel and paid the fare. Huge shoutout to AIESEC Córdoba.
Fast forward to now, and I have money, a passport and a new flight itinerary: I had to change my plane ticket back to the U.S. so that I would arrive before my passport expired. After all of the chaos, the last thing I needed was to get trapped in Brazil with an expired passport.
Those were undoubtedly the hardest 48 hours of my life. I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat and I cried more than I have cried in the past 10 years. But I am still so blessed because I am surrounded by people who don’t hesitate to support me. I am so grateful for my amazing mother, who made a million phone calls, calmed me down over the phone and spent days trying to fix things from halfway across the world. I am so grateful for Ximena who ran with me throughout the entire city in search of money. I am so grateful for the family and friends who reached out to me with kind words and prayers. I am so grateful for the members of the AIESEC Córdoba local committee who loaned me money, offered support and gave me direction. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be in Argentina.
In a couple years, this story will be something to laugh about. Right now, I am just relieved. I have a way to get home.
To the heartless woman at the embassy who watched me break down in tears and offered me nothing but a smirk: you need Jesus.