Snapshot 3: Bureaucratic miracles

Feb 18th – 23rd

If you were to pin me to the wall and demand to know what this year’s “big idea” has been at work – the theme, the big-picture pattern – I would say this:
planning and logistics.

For example:
How do you get students to organize and execute a fancy fund-raising dinner?
How do you take 20 people kayaking and camping in Kenya?
How do you coordinate student community service field trips?
How do you put together an all-school yearbook?
How do you take 11 choir kids to a choral festival in an Arab country?

The Habitat Gala Dinner was in December. There wasn’t a blog post, but hey, it happened. They raised a chunk of money. And you’ve already read about the kayaking and service trips. The yearbook … well, we’ll see. I’ve been teaching the class all year, and technically it should have gone to publisher last week. We’re two weeks behind schedule. As of now, that’s an unfinished story. The choral festival though – that’s a good story. My next post will be about the festival itself. This post is about getting there.

In September, I heard about a festival of choirs hosted every year in February by the American International School of Muscat (Oman – northeast of Yemen, southeast of Saudi). Like I said, I’ll tell you more about the festival later, but for now: just know that I decided to take a group of kids to sing. From September to February, I did everything I knew how to do to make it happen.

* Sent letters to parents
* Gathered and verified student passport info
* Drew up a budget
* Collected payments
* Rehearsed the music with the students
* Made travel arrangements – flights, buses, etc.
* Got t-shirts printed
* Had a few students update their passports because I was told that Oman won’t let in any traveler whose passport is less than six months from expiry.

The tickets arrived from the airline at the end of January. Everything seemed set to go for our February 23rd departure!

The weekend before we were to travel, the school had a long weekend and so I took the opportunity to head south to visit good friends in Tanzania. Standing in the airport, waiting to check in, I flipped through my passport and suddenly my heart sank to my toes.

Date of Expiration: April 4th, 2011

Now, I’ve known my passport information cold for the last seven or eight years. Shake me in the middle of the night and asked me my passport number, place of issue, date of issue and date of expiry, I’d be able to tell you without even opening my eyes. And here I was, five days from traveling as the only chaperon with eleven students to an Arab country with strict entrance rules, and my passport was only six weeks from expiring. How had I let this happen?!

It was Thursday night. Friday I would be in Tanzania. Saturday and Sunday are not days to get anything done. Monday the embassy would be closed for Presidents’ Day. My flight was on Wednesday. That only left Tuesday to either get a new passport or find another teacher to go in my place. And the thought of not going made me want to cry.

But you know that I went … so how did it happen? A bureaucratic miracle …

On Friday I called the US embassy in Nairobi and got an appointment for Tuesday afternoon. On Tuesday my 5th grade students were on a field trip, so I had the afternoon free to go to get my “emergency passport.” In two hours, they issued me a six-month passport and I submitted an application for my ten-year passport.

That’s not really the miracle though.

I walked out of the embassy that evening with the six-month passport and I felt much relieved. However, there was a sliver of fear in the back of my brain. Technically Oman required that the date of expiry be NO LESS than six months from the DATE OF TRAVEL. I was traveling the next day … and it expired six months from the day before issue … so technically it would be six months less two days. Would they be picky? By their own laws, they certainly had the right.

I called my principal that night and discussed options. He put me in touch with a different person at the consulate who told me that her office should have issued me a one-year passport. Not standard operating procedure, but mine was a special case. If I came in first thing Wednesday morning, she would print one for me and swap it for my six-month version. (Remember, I’m supposed to go to the airport with the kids Wed at noon.)

In the morning, I went to school first to assess the situation, and I realized that there was no physical way that I would be able to get to the embassy. I decided to risk flying on the six-month passport and called my contact back to tell her so. She promptly told me to simply send the school driver with the passport and he could do the trade.

At 10am I handed my short-term passport over to the transport department.
At 11:30am the head of transport came to my classroom and handed me my one-year emergency passport.
At 12:00 noon I got on the bus and went to the airport with the kids.
The Omani officials didn’t have to bat an eye.

That’s the miracle.

As for the trip itself … more on that soon!

6 thoughts on “Snapshot 3: Bureaucratic miracles

Add yours

  1. So glad to see some new posts…I love catching up with your news. The trip to your teacher's family's tobacco farm sounds like it was interesting and very thought-provoking…sad about the realities of tobacco farming. Your kayak trip sounds amazing…I would especially have loved to see the turtle rehab place. And hooray for the trip to the choir festival, and your incredible story about getting a new passport a half hour before your departure! Looking forward to hearing about the trip. Hugs. 🙂

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