Freedom to travel
“I miss travelling sooooo much!”
I have heard this being said here in Finland a lot. And I know, I miss it too. But let’s talk about that for a while from a different point of view.
Due to the corona pandemic the world kind of closed down and many travel plans were cancelled, ours included. And still it is advised here to avoid travelling abroad and kind of stay put. As many of us sit here in the dark cold Finland mourning over the holiday trips, adventures and opportunities to explore the world gone and lost it is good to acknowledge one thing: at least I have (or had) the option to travel.
The world closed down. But actually, it was never even open. I am not even talking about money, yes it is an issue and many people can never travel because they cannot afford it. But I am talking about the passport. The issue that even if you have all the money in the world but hold “the wrong” passport doors stay closed.
I have an European passport and I spent my youth travelling around. Worked a lot while studying, spent recklessly and just went to places. Entering a country was never a problem. Sometimes you need a visa, yes, but then you just buy one at the border or beforehand online. The only problem might be to remember to carry enough USD in cash with you. So easy.
Ask someone holding a non western country passport how easy it is. A Kenyan passport holder cannot transit through Heathrow airport in London without a separately applied and bought transit visa. My husband’s family members cannot visit us for a holiday in Helsinki because “we cannot guarantee they will return to their country of origin”. Back in the days we had invited Ozzy and four other East African artists for an already set cultural exchange project with fixed funding and all but they were never granted visas due to the same reason. (If I remember correctly, Ozzy, who I had never met in person back then, responded “Why would I want to stay there?? To do what?!? Live in the bushes of Finland?? I hear it’s freaking cold there.” )
Stories like this are plenty. And reasons behind these limitations on freedom to travel are also plenty. I am aware of them and do not mean to enter the realm of issues with runaway visas or illegal immigrants and all that. Way too big and political discussion for now.
But what I do want to draw attention to is to acknowledge the privilege of travelling. How lucky am I that I, (at least in theory) have the opportunity to go anywhere I want, because I have “the right” passport.
AND how I should use that opportunity as soon as it's possible again and take my privileged but to places. Because for sure the sudden death of tourism and global explorers stuck at home means loss of livelihood for so many people depending on foreigners spending money on services and products on their travels. But I guess that is again a whole other topic.
I am part of a Facebook group called wanderlust diaries. The group is basically for people who love to travel or are currently on a trip, so they share photos, videos or even strike conversations that remind people of places or associated events. I find some of the posts quite interesting and they remind me of how much I miss travelling too.
I believe it enhances a some sort of “global culture”; a universal pride in something we all love. Travel and adventure. Enjoying the sights and sounds of places we have visited or can only wish to see. But Africans as well as Arabs and probably Mexicans feel like “global culture” exists only for the ones who make the rules. The big brothers that live to bully others into submitting to economic and diplomatic treaties that benefit themselves don’t make it easier for the rest of us. Come on, it is literally a miracle to get an American or British visa as a Kenyan! Visa fees are ridiculously cheaper for a Westerner travelling into Kenya with no bureaucratic prior application or waiting period. This global paradigm is supposed to elicit a kind of diplomatic jargon that is incomprehensible to a local citizen but the simple truth is… we feel hated.
So Saara has "the right" passport and yes, she could go anywhere if she could afford a ticket. It’s not the same story for me. But to be totally honest, I really like it here.
I love LOVE Africa. I love it knowing all too well that there are millions of Africans who don’t share my sentiments. There are those who’d rather swim and risk their lives in cold dangerous waters just to get and find greener pastures. But I really believe otherwise. I feel like I must create my best version of life here. Of all the countries I have visited, African countries are definitely my favourite. Madagascar tops my list. It has a special place in my heart. I love Kenya, the sights, sounds and social vibe here is super exciting. Some people may find Kenyans a bit rude, but I think they can equally surprise you how knowledgeable and intelligent some of them are. West of Africa, especially Senegal comes third on my list. The cultural vibe is really cool too. Don’t forget remarkable Rwanda.
Having your passport full of visas and airport stamps is a prestigious 'world citizen' title that most of us can only dream of. In fact I don’t think I could have travelled as much as I did if I wasn’t an artist. But I suppose “global culture” should allow all of us to see ourselves as people of one beautiful and diverse earth. But politics will always rear it’s ugly head in thoughts like these.
Travelling is great. Especially when you can have the opportunity to do it. It has really opened up my mind and soul over the years. But it is a privilege others don’t have even when they get the opportunity. The best part of visiting or touring other places is the cultural or social tourism. There’s great satisfaction in seeing nature and animals you probably only see on your discovery channel, but I’m always quite excited to experience new cultures, people… life!
I know I’m not totally free to travel, but I have absolutely no Interest in throwing away the little freedom I have remaining.
--- Ozzy ---
P.S. We would love Ozzy to visit Finland after the Covid restrictions cool down a bit. Anyone of our Finnish readers interested in marrying him so it is easier to get a visa???