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A passport is not a visa?

How did I end up here?

Quentin Smith


Two airport security agents stand in my way uncompromising. Witnesses, as I imagine, are getting a tad anxious. I feel them watching out of the corner of their eye as to not draw attention to themselves. I don’t blame them, I envy them.

The dimly lit, narrow hallway has three booths active with passport control officers. The line runs long because of me.

As I try to explain my situation the agents firmly grasp their automatic weapons hanging around their necks. They need to be ready for the unknowable. But I don’t quite understand, the unknowable was knowable. They do not need the weapons. It was known, I am an exchange student ready to be an ambassador for the United States. I am travelling to Indonesia to learn about culture. I was chosen. I went through the three eight hour training sessions; the boring lectures on what to do in any situation. I knew preventive safety. I was ready.

I quickly realized feeling prepared does not necessarily mean no triviality. I think back, pinpointing the exact moment where I went wrong. I immediately think about signing up. The mistake was signing up. I wasn’t ready for this.

Through exhaustive hand gestures and pleading I purchased a 30 day visa for travel and leisure. I walked through the airport; the lighting became brighter. A little encouragement to my psyche. As I was getting into my host families car, I put the situation in the back of my mind. I was ready to enjoy the adventure. The exchange will not start like this.

Pulling out of the pickup area, I quickly notice how beautiful the motion of the vehicles were. The motion of the vehicles weaving in and out of each other with fluidity felt like music or art. I had the impression of two different art installations being performed at once. The four wheel automobiles followed and created lanes. The second performance was by the two wheeled motorcycles and mopeds. While the cars and buses were bumper to bumper, the motorcycles filled the gaps. They were unruly and drove wherever they wanted including sidewalks. I couldn’t understand the telepathy between them all. No one else seemed to notice. It was beautiful but brief. It soon turned into gridlock for all.

As everything came to a stop, so did my thoughts. I was not able to fully appreciate the beauty of Jakarta traffic or see the wonderful city. I was dreading the looming presence of leaving my year exchange 11 months early.

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