A Day in the Life: Passport Renewal

(This is a true-to-life event recorded by Cherith Mitchell)

One time, someone told me about the ordeal they had while renewing their American passport in the US. They had to go all the way to the Post Office to fill out the application. Fifteen minute drive, they said. Both ways, they said. A whole lunch break wasted, they said.

I laugh, not because I don’t understand the frustration, but because I do. Quite well. In fact, too well. Renewing passports is one of those necessary evils missionaries have to go through to stay in the country they’ve adopted as their own. Unless you’re lucky enough to still be dealing with visas, in which case, you’re in for an even more “enjoyable” treat in your country of residence.

Let me explain. (Bear in mind that the details contained in this blog post may not be accurate in the next ten year cycle, since this was not the process the Mexican government used in the last renewal. They’re keeping it interesting, I guess.)

The country of Mexico has a phone number that you must call when you’re ready to renew your Mexican passport. Yes, that’s right. The country of Mexico has a phone number that you’re supposed to call when you’re ready to renew your Mexican passport. One phone number. For the country.

Because my parents care about using the gifts of generous donors in more effective ways than sitting at the end of a ringing busy-tone phone for a week straight, they tagged team with a good friend of ours, Pamela. She called. And called. A trip was made down to the local office (the department of the Secretary of Exterior Relations), to see if there was any way around the phone call. Apparently not. Some phone calls were made to verify this insanity. Then back to calling The Number. Finally, Pamela made a break-through. The incessant busy-tone went silent, and after a crackle and a pop, someone started talking much too quickly and much too quietly.

Pamela relayed the relevant information to my parents. Nothing was getting lost in another language. She heard correctly: two appointments could not be made with the same phone call. With my mom’s appointment set, Pamela went back to making the call and hearing the ringing and ringing.

Again, Pamela finally got through to the over-worked, probably under-paid, Passport Renewal Appointment Maker. Appointment for David’s passport renewal was set. For the day after Karen’s.

I know. I know. This is a really long story, and look, there’s still more to scroll through, but bear with me. It gets better from here.

So my folks went to the first appointment. It’s an hour drive into Morelia, the state capital and largest city near Los Domos, our home and camp laboratory for starting new camps around the country. When they arrived, the harsh reality of an under-staffed and over-crowded office hit. There were multiple appointment made for the same time-slot. My parents knew by the length of the three different lines that they’d be there a while.

Grateful that you have to provide all your pertinent information prior to arriving, as well as filling out the documents and making the payment at the bank (a previous trip), they settled in for a long wait. The clock on the white washed-wall ticked eternally at 11:42, taunting them with its time keeping paradox.

The lines were long. The government employees were super, somehow incredibly courteous and helpful officials. They were obviously intelligent, remembering our names and details about our case among the masses, making mom and dad feel special and speeding up the process (as much as that was possible). They were helpful, courteous, and rapidly multi-tasked. The issue was not the service. The issue was the system.

A several hour wait, mom’s picture taken (again because the person who took it a few weeks before in another place did not follow required procedures correctly—more time/money), fingerprints inked twice (why? I don’t know), contacts and earrings removed, and hair pushed back from her forehead to meet the most current regulations. Mom somehow made it through the day.

But don’t worry. Because my parents enjoyed themselves so much, they got a free pass to repeat the process the next day, with dad’s appointment. One good thing is that mom’s passport will be ready tomorrow. At the same time as dad’s appointment, you ask? Well… no. They will have to hang around the city for three hours after his appointment, before they can pick up the passport. And then go back the next day to pick up his. It’s really just that they enjoyed my parents company so much, they can’t get enough.

Which just might explain why it takes so long to get stuff done around there…

(UPDATE: As it turned out, dad actually got his passport a couple of hours before mom did. From start to finish, the process lasted a few months and was filled with unknowns and lack of assurances. In the end it cost more and took much longer to get the passports in Mexico than it would have in the States.)

So yes, when I hear about the lunch break wasted I laugh. I see your lunch break and raise you a work week. May God grant us patience. (Proverbs 16:32.)