While in Peru I took a train from the centre of Lima to the city’s outskirts with my student, Nancy Edith. Together we rode the city bus and train — both modes of transportation regularly used by many residents of Lima.
It was only hours before I was scheduled to depart for Atlanta, Georgia. That night, at Nancy’s home we talked about the importance of the English language and the job of teachers.
During our meeting, Nancy’s daughter presented me with a bracelet as a gift. It’s purple so I planned to give it to my nieces. Instead of carrying with me on my journey to Atlanta and later on to Korea, I decided that it was best for Nancy’s daughter to send it directly to my nieces in Los Angeles. In fact, it would be more efficient to do this because I would not stop in Los Angeles on my journey from Peru to Korea. Nancy’s daughter wrote a letter to accompany the bracelet. I covered the shipment cost.
Today my nieces opened the letter from Nancy’s daughter and received the bracelet.
The last part of this story takes a turn for the dramatic. After leaving Nancy’s home that night, I noticed that the police’s presence around the train stations was noticeably heightened.
As I was exiting the turnstile at my destination I was accosted by Lima’s Policia. They demanded to see my passport. I should have been carrying it with me. Had I done so I would have probably avoided any further hassles. Since I wasn’t carrying it they demanded to know what I was doing.
Officer: Tragame! (translated: give it to me)
I thought he meant my train card. I handed it to him.
I gave him my California driver’s license.
Officer: (after inspecting my card he demanded) Pasaporte! Pasaporte! (becoming visibly angry)
Not sensing what kind of trouble I could be in I said:
Me: Lo siento, no tengo mi pasaporte ahora.
The officer waved his hand to say follow me. I gingerly walked behind him to a squad SUV where there stood more officers. The officer who sat inside the SUV extended his hand and the first officer passed my California driver’s license to him. After looking at it he said:
Officer 2: Pasaporte!
At this point, I was getting more nervous because without my passport they had reason to detain me long enough to miss my flight. Worse, if they suspected that I was smuggling drugs I would be thrown in jail I feared. Images of Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and Oscar Grant immediately came to mind. I thought I was a goner.
I reached into my wallet to retrieve my passport card. It was the only other official form of identification I was carrying. Thank God I had something. The second officer looked at it, checked the information. Meanwhile I spoke to the first officer.
Me: Lo siento. Mi pasaporte es en mi hotel.
Officer: Porque tu aqui?
Me: Soy un profesor de ingles. Por dos semanas trabajo en Punta Hermosa. Soy un profesor para el ministerio de educacion de Peru. Soy estado unidense. Naci en la ciudad de los angeles.
The second officer after having looked at my passport card must have become frustrated or maybe satisfied with what he did not find, or found, respectively. However, I doubt he could find anything because my passport number and passport card are completely separate documents with different numbers, respectively. He returned my documents. Finally, the first officer waved his hand to me. It was a gesture that meant I was free to go.
I took my happy ass on my way. Gracias, Jesus Christo!
Being detained and arrested was a real fear. The lesson I learned through all of this is always carry my passport (or a photocopy of it). My fears were only more real because I watched the video below prior to traveling to Peru. Around 24:30:00 there is discussion about what I feared would happen to me if the police suspected I was a drug trafficker. Even though I am not a drug trafficker the documentary still scared me.