Never again

Today I sat on a Cambodian sidewalk and cried. I must admit, I drew a sizable crowd. Actually, a little preface: I squatted on the grass in front of a Buddha statue, silently cried for 20 seconds, and was helped to my feet by a toothless Cambodian woman selling cigarettes and phone calls (people without mobiles pay her to make local calls). She wordlessly led me to a small plastic chair (like the ones for toddlers with pictures of Tom and Jerry or Powderpuff Girls on the back), motioned for me to sit down, and climbed back into her hammock that was strung between a telephone pole and a tree.
I sat in my host's bright pink Hello Kitty chair and cried for five minutes, staring through unfallen teardrops at my dirty fingers and at the flies landing on my legs. I'd be thinking the same as you if I were reading this blog: what a pathetic and weak soul. Crying because she feels sorry for herself, when she's two meters away from a Cambodian who sells talk time for a living and surrounded by barefoot children who somehow still wear smiles above their hungry bellies.
In my defense, the past four days have been rough. On Tuesday, I went swimming in a gorgeous freshwater lake created by a crater, nestled in the jungles of a relatively unpopulated Northeastern Cambodia village. Three friends and I splashed in, swam crooked lines, dived off of fallen trees, and washed our dusty bodies. Long story short, I returned to my hostel to find that my money belt had been stolen, and a desperate trip back to the lake ended in a confirmation that my cash, credit card, and passport were in the hands of a thief. It was 6:30 in the evening when our moto driver dropped us off for a second time at our hostel, and I immediately set off in search of a phone line. Priority: call Peace Corps to let them know, call my dad to cancel the credit card, and get some dinner.
Well, the town of Ban Lung sleeps early, and the locals all pointed to one store when I asked where I could call long distance. Frustratingly, that store was closed. Locals just shrugged and said "too-maa-woe." I couldn't wait until tomorrow, so Julia and I headed off to the other side of town. Suddenly, the entire town's electricity cut off. It was pitch black. The only lights were from the motorbikes in the road and flashlights dancing from inside the stores we passed. Judging by the locals' laughs and lack of reaction, electric outages occur fairly often.
After asking around, we found the only other store in town where it was possible to make a long-distance phone call, but had to wait until electricity was back (internet connection). Finally, the lights flickered on and an atheist me looked upstairs and said thank you.
First, I called the Peace Corps office in Jordan to let them know that my passport had been stolen. Our conversation:
PC: Hello?
Me: Hi, it's Mindy.
PC: Hello?
Me: Yes, I can hear you. It's Mindy.
5 second pause
PC: Yes! Mindy, how are you?
Me: Not too well. My passport was stolen today when I was swimming.
PC: Passport? Hello? Stolen?
Me: Yes, can you hear me? My passport was stolen.
PC: OK, are you safe?
Me: Yes, I'm here with Julia.
5 second pause
PC: OK, where are you?
Me: Ban Lung
PC: What was stolen?
Me: Money, credit card, and my passport.
PC: OK, listen to me, Mindy...Mindy?
Me: Yes! Yes! Hello, can you hear me? I can hear you...Hello?
2 second pause
PC: Yes, Mindy, listen to me. You must go to the US Embassy in Phnom Penh and apply for a new passport. When can you get to the US Embassy?
Me: Julia and I booked a bus ticket for tomorrow morning...we leave at 6 a.m. and should be in Phnom Penh by latest 6 p.m..
PC: OK. Give me a phone number I can reach you at tonight.
Me: Um....we don't have any.
PC: A phone number.
Me: I didn't bring my cell and we lost Julia's a few days ago in Siem Riep.
PC: OK. What about a hotel number?
Me: The hotel doesn't have a phone line.
5 second pause
PC: OK, then tell me exactly what happened so that we can file a police report.
Me: Julia and I went swimming today at a lake about 30 minutes out of Ban Lung, and we put our bags and clothes on the dock. We were swimming for maybe an hour and a half, and then we went back to the dock and got dressed. We rode a motorbike back to the hostel, and then I realized my money belt was missing. Hello? Hello?...Hello?
Guy who works at the internet center: Wha happen?
Me: I think the connection was lost. Can you help us redial?
Internet guy: OK.
After fiddling around with the computer and unsuccessfully getting a ring, he checked the account.
Internet guy: Oh, I sorry. Look like we don't have money. No more money for no more phone call.
Me: So can I call him again or get more money?
Internet guy: No, I sorry. You must go to Phnom Penh. They have international call.

The next day, Julia and I spent ten straight hours in a mini bus clogged with locals and us travelling to Cambodia's capital city. To make a very long story short, I'll only give you the outline. Three trips to the immigration department, three hours at the US Embassy, bribe payments to officials who said that an extra ten dollars would speed things up, and many headaches later, I got my emergency passport and exit visa.

Part 2 of the nightmare: I urged Julia to head to southern Thailand without me, because we had booked flights earlier that week to fly from Cambodia to the gorgeous beaches of Thailand. I changed my flights so that I could pick up my visa from the immigration office Friday morning and fly out to meet Julia on Saturday morning.
But somewhere between picking up my visa at 10 a.m. and walking the city for six hours, I lost my second passport. Not even a day old, and it was stripped from its mother who had forked over countless 50 dollar bills to stroke its beautiful blue cover.
That's why today, I sat in a Hello Kitty chair and sniffed snot running down my nose. That's why a group of thirty Cambodians were clustered around an Asian girl, feeling sorry for her but not knowing why. That's why today, I retraced every step I had taken yesterday in a desperate attempt to be reunited with my second passport, asking all the locals and policemen, "Passport? Passport?" (only response: blank stares or smiles). And that's why I'm not frolicking on sun-kissed beaches with Julia, eating pad thai and sticky rice with mango. Instead, I'm typing out my woes to see if writing really is a cathartic release and hoping that some miracle will bless me.

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