When I was 6 weeks old my parents took me to Germany on a military transport ship. Apparently I slept in an orange crate on the journey, there being no cribs available. After returning to the US when I was 5 years old, I stayed put until I was 14, when I visited England with my mother and grandparents. From that point onwards, I’ve had itchy feet and felt completely at home anywhere I went. People have been friendly, kind and generous in every single place I’ve visited or lived. And that’s been a LOT of different places.
I’ve been lucky enough to have lived and/or worked in Germany, Switzerland, Scotland, England, Turkey, Taiwan, Qatar and, of course, the U.S.A.
As a tourist I’ve visited Canada, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Scotland, Ireland, England, Belgium, Italy, France, Poland, Luxembourg, Spain, the Netherlands, Austria, Greece and Australia.
My youngest brother says “You could drop my sister into any city in the world and within a few hours she would know how to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’. Within the day she would have found that corner shop where everybody meets and you can get a cheap meal. Within a week she’d be best friends with the family who owns the shop.”
However, in the past few months, I’m afraid that my nomadic life, the freedom I experienced and the joy I found traveling and living in so many different places and cultures and meeting so many wonderful, amazing people, is all too quickly becoming a thing of the past.
It began with the vote in the UK to leave the EU. Its come to be called Brexit and that was the first sign that people want to close borders and keep others out. Then came the first (and now second) travel bans signed by President Trump in the USA.
Just last week, the EU Parliament voted to require visas for US citizens to visit certain EU countries (Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus) because the USA hasn’t honoured it’s agreement to allow citizens from those countries to come into the USA without a visa. Tit for tat.
It seems to me that gates are closing and it’s becoming more difficult to go somewhere and talk face to face with someone from a different country who lives in a different culture and may hold different beliefs. Sadly, this is happening at the same time that intolerance of those different from us seems to be on the increase.
I’m sad about these changes, but I’m also frightened and frustrated. Living in an isolated society, without knowledge and experience of someone who lives differently builds walls, creates barriers, creates mistrust, and eventually fear, can flourish. It’s already happening.
When my daughters were young and I was teaching in a public school, I always said that the BEST education any child could have would be to travel the world with their parents, meet people, learn new languages, experience different beliefs and values, understand different economies, observe different religions, hear different music, eat different food – in short, come to the knowledge through direct experience that we are all part of the beautiful, creative, vibrant, incredible thing called humanity.
No longer do many of us grow up and stay in one place. Many of us have partners from another country or even continent. We might even have children who were born in a third place from where the mother or father call home. The family might have lived all over the world, as I have.
Which gates will keep them out?
What will happen when all the gates close?
Will we feel safer or just trapped?