Goodbye Quarter Card, Goodbye Russia...NOT

When I was a kid, my Uncle Brad would give me "quarter cards", which were his business cards with a quarter taped inside. The thought was that I would always carry it, and if I was ever in a bind, I could use my quarter card to call him (and although I've never used a quarter card, he has come to my aid on multiple occasions, by the way). Even though it has been over 15 years since I received my last quarter card, and cell phones have since rendered them obsolete, I still carry it in a safe place when I travel as a sort of symbol of what it represents. Sadly, I lost my quarter card sometime in the past few days. And along with it, my passport and Russian visa.

In my adult life, I can't remember ever losing a key, wallet, or anything else of significance. Now there's certainly a chance that I could have dropped by security "fanny pack" between the time I removed my ticket to board the Trans-Siberian (Moscow to Ulan Bator, Mongolia) train in Moscow and the 10 seconds it took me to walk to my cabin. But as far as I knew, it was sitting in the front pocket of my backpack, tucked under my bed, for the 4 days of the train ride. I left it unattended for a total of 4 hours in 4 days. Bottom line though, it's my fault for not keeping it with me 100% of the time.

What's done it done. The fact is that I need a passport. As soon as I had finished tearing apart my cabin 3x and consulted a Russian friend on potential passport-less scenarios at the Russian border crossing, I decided to get off the train at the next stop - the small city of Ulan Ude, which is just a couple of hours from the Mongolian border. Within 10 minutes, I packed and disembarked with no cell phone or blackberry service, into a town where I couldn't find a single person that spoke a single word of English. I tried to stay cool...Thank God I spread my resources about me, I thought (I keep credit cards and cash in my pocket at all times, a wallet with plenty of cash in another pocket, and copies of my documents in a folder and in my jacket). But when 2 stray dogs began following me, I metaphorically knew I was fresh meat for the taking.

I jumped into panic mode. First of all, Russian cops don't speak English. Secondly, if they catch you without documents (and they will ask), you go to the station and pay lots of money or are detained. I flagged down the first taxi I could find and folded my hands under my tilted head to indicate that I needed a place to sleep. I soon arrived at a hotel, but realized there's no way to stay anywhere in Russia without having cleared it with the government prior to entering the country and obtaining a visa. After much pleading and hand motions, however, I convinced the receptionist to make a temporary exception. Take 1 complete.

Task 2: Get in touch the the US Consulate / Embassy. Considering all of this happened on a Saturday, I knew my chanced of getting in touch with an American were slim. Still, I found an internet kiosk at the local post office and jotted down some numbers along with the Russian words for "lost", "stolen", "passport", "police station", "police report", "train station", "ticket" and a few others. phone. We will come back to this one.

Task 3: Find a translator. Had I a phone, I might have called my good friend Anya in NYC (she is from Russia and speaks Russian fluently) or Olga, the translator of my Uncle Brad and Aunt Linda during trips to Russia (Uncle Brad's quarter card in disguise - I did send her an email yesterday from the post office kiosk). I set off roaming from hotel to hotel, thinking there must be a receptionist at one of them with some English language skills. "Call me Jane", she said. And with Jane's pocket dictionary, incredible generosity and patience, I walked her through what had happened.

Task 4: Succumb to the authority before the authority descends on me. In short, in a matter of hours, the Russian police would receive a call from my hotel and I would return to find a posse of unfriendly police officers waiting in my room. After asking Jane to accompany me to the police station, we decided it might be better to call the police to the safety of the hotel lobby (I'm sure this was great for business). Once they arrived, I stood quietly as Jane walked them through my story and answered 100 questions through translation (you have no idea how seriously Russian authorities take passports and visas unless you've been here)....Eventually, I was told I'd be going for a late-night ride. I was then led to a police van and taken back to my own hotel, where I and a cop ravaged my room, including picking up every piece of clothing and shaking it to "ensure I hadn't missed anything" (I'm convinced there were other reasons for this search as well). Once he was satisfied, we got back into the police van, my passport copy and driver's license in hand, and returned to Jane. Upon entering, I was introduced to a second translator, a friend of Jane's named Tuyana. I then set up a meeting, through the two policemen present, with a local police chief for 10am the next morning (Sunday). Tuyana would accompany me. My objective? Well, after reading through all of my options on the US Department of State website - obtain documentation from the police to safely take a 2-day train to Vladivostok (the closest US Consulate). There I could apply for a new passport (2 weeks processing), then a new Russian visa (? weeks processing).

Task 5: Find a phone. After finishing for the night with Tuyana and Jane, the police dropped me off at my hotel. I even noticed a break in their normally stoic, intimidating composures - a slight smile and a "bye" in English. It's too early to tell, but I think I'm glad I called them. Getting a phone card and a phone to use from my hotel's receptionist was a piece of cake after the day I had, so I called the number for the 24 hour "duty officer" at the US Consulate in Yekaterinburg, which is 2 1/2 days west by train. After 4 rings, Tristan Spiceland answered. After a 25-minute conversation via his cell phone, I hung up with confidence that I was taking the right steps, an offer to put him on with any authorities, and a plan to call him every day (or as necessary) to keep him posted on the situation. God bless America....truly.

I hope whoever has my passport uses it for something good. I believe they will, and therefore, I'm happy for them, and I'm happy to be blessed with an additional 3+ weeks in a country that inimidated the hell out of me. I guess I can give Russia a chance after all. Stay tuned for part 2. From Russia with love..... -B


Unknown said…
Incredible Morgan! Good luck buddy!