Gary & Mandy Senn in Paris

Emergency Passports Obtains - 5/29/07

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Below is a description of the events leading to our eventual and successful receipt of new passports. The options of returning home are here.

5/29/07 – Emergency passports obtained.

After a long weekend of being closed, the US Embassy welcomingly opened its doors again on Tuesday, 5/29/07 at 9:00 a.m.  We arose and made our preparations to start the process of obtaining new passports.  We had been carrying a copy of our passports and a copy of the police report as we worked through collecting the money that was wired to us and obtaining a new American Express card.  We decided to take the original police report with us to the Embassy and leave the copy in the hotel room.  Mandy assembled the required passport forms that she had completed the night before. We headed out of the hotel room at 7:51 a.m. to board the train to Paris.  Soon after we arrived at the station, the train pulled up to the platform and we boarded.  Mandy asked me if I had the copy of the passport and then I asked her if she had the photographs.  She said she did not.  The bell indicating that the train door was about to close sounded and we quickly detrained.  I told Mandy to stay at the platform whilst I ran back to the room to snatch the pictures that were left behind.  I made very good time to the room.  As I rounded the corner to the final straightway to our room, I noticed an oriental woman attempting to enter her room.  She had a confused look on her face, was jostling the handle and had her key card inserted half way into the slot.  I paused long enough to show her how to open her door, for which she was very grateful and bowed to me several times.  A thought crossed my mind that her struggle with the door was actually a ruse to distract me whilst her partner in crime lurked in a corner waiting for the opportunity to take advantage of an unsuspecting Samaritan.  I went to our room, located the pictures, and headed back out the door.  I ran to the elevator, which opened to let someone out as I approached.  While riding down the elevator, I slipped the pictures into our Frommer’s Paris guide to protect them from bending, and then I put the guide into my fanny pack.  I wondered what would happen if this time, someone stole the entire fanny pack instead of just my wallet.  Obviously, I had become preoccupied and paranoid in the aftermath of the stolen wallet.

As I arrived at the top of the steps leading down to the platform, a train was preparing to depart from the station. I ran down the steps to the platform and notice Mandy hurrying toward an open door because she observed my approach.  She stepped into the train and I followed.  I asked her if this train was going where we needed to go and she shrugged with uncertainty.  We had gotten on a wrong train one other time and I did not want to repeat the same series of events.  I knew that another train would soon depart so in a split second, I decided that we should get off.  I started back out of the train as the doors were closing.  The doors paused briefly as I pushed on them and then I jumped onto the platform.  I looked back to see a very panicked look on Mandy’s face and knew that she was not going to jump through the half-closed doors to join me on the platform.  So, I jumped back onto the train again.  As we went to our seats, I noticed a number of strange looks from people who had witnessed my quick boarding, de-boarding and re-boarding.  Most were just shaking their heads in disbelief. 

When Mandy responded to me that she had not checked the schedule, I replied with, “You have got to be kidding!”  Of course, my tone was not very loving and was certainly inappropriate.  When we located seats and got settled, I noticed a number of strangers looking at me, but my wife would only look away.  After about 20 minutes, she did look my way once and accepted my apology for my poor response to a stressful moment.

We arrived at the address for the U.S. Embassy at precisely 9:00 a.m.  The doors were locked shut and there were a few people awaiting entry.  A few minutes later, the doors opened and two people went inside.  We managed to slide in next only to be stopped by the guard.  He asked us about our business there and then pointed to a sign next to the door.  He explained that the embassy had moved down the street and pointed out where this was clearly stated on the note.  It might have been clear to most people in Paris, but since it was in French, we had no idea that the message was for us.

After about a 5-minute walk, we arrived at the correct location only to find a line of about 100 people in front of us.  A man approached us to ask about our business and when he learned that we needed to replace stolen passports, we were escorted to the front of the line.  That was a very exciting experience for me. 

Waiting for us inside the entry area was a French security team.  They made me leave my water bottles and camera behind before we entered the embassy.  Waiting with us was a couple who had their credit cards and money stolen, but, fortunately, they still had their passports.  He was a retired U.S. ambassador who had served in several countries.  After passing through the initial security check, they were taken further inside the embassy.  The wife took great pleasure in commenting to us that she had pulled a few strings.  We had to take a number and wait for one of the 18 available windows. 

The embassy staff had a nice system for calling people for service.  Visitors selected a ticket and were assigned a number based on what business they had with the U.S. government.  We were there as citizens seeking replacement passports so we were assigned to the shorter list.  However, there were only three windows taking care of this short list.  There were 10 windows taking care of the long list with some other windows taking care of other lists.

We were called up to one of the three windows where we had to explain our situation and provide our documentation.  We were told that we had French ID photos and that they were smaller than US ID photos.  The lady helping us said that she would try to use the photos that we had but that there was a chance that we would have to get another set of photos taken.  She spoke to us like she was going to plead our case for us and was on our side.  Wow, did I feel like I was part of a team now.  When the lady finished with us, she said that we would have to have a short interview and then we would be able to get our passports.

Some time later, we were called to one of two other windows.  These two windows were for interviews and the most important handoff of new passports.  The interview was almost identical to the conversation we had at the first window.  Mandy and I discussed why this was an important step in the process of obtaining new passports.  The interview lady was very friendly and portrayed herself as very compassionate for us and empathetic toward our trying lives over the past few days.  When she finished with us, she said that it would be 20-25 minutes for staff to print the passports.

Up to that point, we had been waiting in some very uncomfortable, fiberglass chairs.  Mandy’s back was bothering her tremendously, so I directed her down some stairs where I had discovered some more comfortable seats.  I sat with her for 15 minutes and then went back near the window to await news of our passports.  As I approached the window, I noticed that our number was already displayed.  I hurried to the window and the same compassionate woman sternly informed me that she had not called my number.  I very politely explained that my number was displayed above her window, which caused her to show a puzzled look on her face.  Then she conscripted me into helping her identify if any actions she attempted changed the number displayed above her window.  Our number stayed there so after a few minutes, she gave up and went on to the next person.

Eventually, her window display was fixed, our number reappeared and we collected our new passports.  They were emergency passports that were good for only one year.  They could be replaced for free once we returned to the U.S. but it would take two months for them to be returned to us.  We walked away from the window at 12:12 p.m., just over three hours after arriving at the original address we had for the embassy.

We were very relieved that the process was successful and we looked forward to our return to the U.S.


The plan for return:

We are on standby for a flight to Atlanta at 9:30 a.m.  If we make that flight, then we are on standby for a flight to Columbia that leaves at 3:10 p.m. and arrives in Columbia at 4:15 p.m.

As an alternative, we are confirmed on a flight to Cincinnati at 11:35 a.m.  We are on standby on a flight that leaves Cincinnati at 8:00 p.m. and arrives in Columbia at 9:15 p.m.

Our hope is that we will make it on the Atlanta flight.  We would rather be stranded there than stranded in Cincinnati.  With our recent history, there is no telling what might happen.

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