Lone man on the bus

June 2005. “De donde eres (Where are you from)? Guatemala?” asked the cab driver. “De los Estados Unidos (From the United States)," I replied. “No hablo español muy bien (I don’t speak Spanish very well).” “Ah!” he said in a knowing tone. “It’s very hard to go north,” he continued in halting English. He grinned …

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One too many passports

January 2008. The immigration officer flipped through my American passport. It was past 9 at night in the sleepy town of Lethem. All I wanted was for the man to stamp me into Guyana so I could crash onto a comfortable bed. That wasn’t to be. “Where did you come from?” he asked. “From Brazil.” …

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Riding with Santa over the Andes

January 2018. The bus tried its best to reach Mendoza before sundown. It sped along the highway, following the course of the Mendoza River toward the Argentine city, east of the Andes. But even with the abundance of sunshine due to the southern summer solstice, we were losing the battle with daylight. It didn’t have …

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Ětes-vous javanais?

December 2007. For the millionth time, I explained, “Non. Je suis américain.” The driver didn’t believe me. I handed him my passport which he examined carefully while steering the van through the streets of Cayenne. The other passengers anxiously waited for his opinion. “Ah!” he uttered with a sigh of relief. He assured everyone that …

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The burden of labels at Novi Pazar

May 2007. The United Nations officer flipped through my passport carefully. I waited for the question, “What are you doing here?” But it didn’t come. Instead, he filled out a card with my details, stamped it and inserted it into the passport. “Don’t lose this,” he said. That went more smoothly than I expected considering …

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The accidental mule

May 2003. I searched for my luggage on the carousel at Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport. There was a gentle nudge on my daypack that hung limply from my right shoulder. It was a German Shepherd sniffing at it. When I looked up and recognized the uniformed man holding the leash, I realized that I was …

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