Before I go off on a trip, I usually give a public heads-up for the benefit of friends and clients. There are also some people on my social media pages who really enjoy following my trips in real-time, instead of waiting for the final posts weeks later on my blog. Yet, today I am in Jamaica, and until my Instagram post yesterday, very few people knew this. In fact, I have been here since Monday on my usual 5-day travel plan.
I didn’t tell anyone unless they were on a need-to-know basis because being in Jamaica is always a security risk for me. I spent most of this trip in Kingston and the last time I called this city home, I fled my apartment in the dead of night, not to escape thieves or gunmen, but to get away from a family member. Let’s just say my biological father’s side of the family is fifty shades of crazy with very few exceptions.
The Reason for my Rendezvous
So, with such great risk to my person, my privacy, and overall well-being, why was I in the city I hate most in all the world? Well, I had to renew my passport in a rush. I’ve been travelling on my driver’s license for my trips around the US, and though I kept my green card and passport handy, I never used them.
Then, earlier this year, when I booked a cruise, my travel agent advised me that my passport had expired. Since I had a green card, I didn’t really think I needed a passport to travel outside of the country (silly me!), but it turns out you do.
Unfortunately, finding my consulate took so long, that by the time I got a hold of them, I would be cutting it real close to renew my passport via their services, which included no express options. There was a 50/50 chance I would not get it back in time, and since Jamaicans aren’t particularly known for our punctuality, I decided to look for an alternative route.
Then, a crazy idea crossed my mind. Why not just fly to Jamaica on my expired passport and renew it on the island myself, where we actually have express options?
The Risks of My Rendezvous
It was risky. My green card expired in the summer and is currently on an extension while I wait for Uncle Sam to decide whether or not he wants to renew it. Could I get away with travelling on one definitely-expired and one-sorta-but-not-really-expired travel document?
When I got to the airport, the first attendant was in doubt.
“I know my rights,” I told her. “You can not, by law, deny me re-entry to my own home country. You have no choice but to send me home.”
She laughed and pointed me to the check-in line.
The second attendant was also skeptical, but did not hassle me. She read all the procedures and guidelines related to my risky rendezvous, warned me that I would not be allowed back into the United States without a valid passport, checked me in, and wished me good luck.
She gave me no trouble over my extension letter from Uncle Sam, though I also did have to provide my driver’s license so she could get the expiration date just right.
Expediting My Passport
When I arrived in Jamaica, they didn’t make a fuss over my expired passport either. However, the immigration officer did warn me I could not set foot out of Jamaica without that passport renewed.
After I left the airport, I headed straight to Half-Way-Tree to start the renewal process. I had a hard time finding a notary, but then it turned out that one of my Twitter friends, who was a friend of my best friend, and also my college mate from UTech, was a notary. She signed with no hassle and sent me on my way.
By 0959 AM the Tuesday morning, I could declare my mission accomplished.
Reconnecting With My Roots
With all the hard work behind me, it was now time to explore. While my friends were at work, I went out alone. When they returned home, we went out to eat and drink and talk and laugh.
As much as I hate Kingston, to be with my own kind again on my own soil—can you even begin to understand what that feels like unless you too have returned home after being made out to be the unwanted immigrant from a sh!t-hole island in someone else’s country? This was the first time I had set foot in my homeland since July 28th 2015. Why? I wrote all about that here, in 2017:
Still, true home for me is on the North-West coast of the island, in the city of Montego Bay. So, I left before dawn on an express route to see family and friends, but best of all, to answer the call of the sea (don’t tell them I said that!). My life revolved around the beach when I lived in Jamaica and to enjoy it once more in the flesh was the best welcome I could ever receive.
Returning to Uncle Sam
I am now on my way back to the United States with my renewed Jamaican passport, my expired green card, and Uncle Sam’s extension letter. Yes, I took a serious risk running out of America with these documents, but I don’t regret it. I have said it before and I’ll say it again:
I did not move to the land of the free to live like a caged animal—in fear.
But what a bitter medicine it is indeed when you must learn the hard way that true freedom is often the very homeland you left behind.
Still, poverty has its own chains. It was life in America that gave me the freedom of 5 days “off” every week to do as I please, and which made it possible for me to afford a trip to the Caribbean on a whim. And, for that, I am eternally grateful. So much so, that though a part of me wishes I never had to say goodbye to Jamaica again, I know I must. In fact, I’m actually looking forward to going home to my parents, my partner, my cat, my mountain bike—even the rainy fall weather.
But, will Uncle Sam let me back into his country? Your guess is as good as mine. For those of you who follow me on social media, you will likely hear via Twitter or Instagram, whether or not I have been denied or allowed re-entry to the United States.
Yay or nay, in the coming weeks, I will be blogging about Jamaica. Kingston isn’t the safest place to be walking around shooting videos and snapping pictures with expensive phones and tripods, so rather than the usual storytelling route, I’ll mostly be sharing travel tips for surviving Kingston and enjoying Montego Bay.
Wish me luck!
Bondye be with me!
Update 11/10/2018: I tried to update this post last night at the airport, but looks like it didn’t go through. The kiosk machine at customs and immigration made a fuss about my documents, but the officer I was sent to thankfully did not. My only remaining challenge from my little escapade is trying to make it through my 16-hour shift on jet lag and 3 hours sleep.