Twenty-nine years ago, my biological being came into existence and I was issued with a birth certificate – my first official piece of paper to say that I existed. I became a British citizen by being born to British parents in the UK. I did not choose for this to happen, but now that it has happened, I am freely permitted to live on pieces of land that cover 241,930 km2 – approximately 0.0474% of the world’s surface, or 0.1624% of the world’s land mass. To put that into perspective, I cannot freely choose to live on 99.8376% of the world’s land area without getting permission first. [Note: I have excluded Europe from the figures where considering where I can live due to the upsetting turmoil regarding Brexit that is currently occuring.]
A few years after I became a statistic, another biological being came into existence. Sadly her papers were issued on the opposite side of the Atlantic ocean. What this means is that these two members of the same species are separated by invisible walls and thus, are not able to live in the same part of the planet without first getting permission. Which turns out to be very difficult. In order to be together, we have lived in Turkey, South Korea, and Australia, as well as visiting tens of other countries in between. And in the hope of continuing to be together, I have spent tens of hours compiling hundreds of pieces of paper to apply for a visa that will cost around £3,500.
How does it happen that we live on a planet where we separate ourselves with imaginary walls, defined by the pieces of paper that we have? We sit in our houses watching the bad news and think of bad people and how they should be stopped. Over the past five years I have probably hitchhiked more than 500 rides in thirty or so countries – and every single person I met had something good about them. No matter their race, wealth, religion, education, nationality, or anything else you can separate people by, they were all human beings. And we were able to connect because we minimised our preconceptions of one another – I was someone on the side of the road, asking for a ride, and they were someone who was kind enough to give me a lift.
I have heard some funny things on the news recently, despite trying to avoid it. One American gentleman – who has the potential to become very powerful – recently said, “I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me –and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” It troubles me that humans have become so divided that there are people who think like this. I am aware of many issues that arise when a country experiences heavy immigration – but where is the humanity in such a view? Because of our pieces of paper, we write off people who have different pieces of paper and we dehumanise them. Every single human on this planet has a story, has hopes and fears, and many of them try to make the best of their life. If we were to take the time to listen to other people’s stories, we would see how much good there is in the world and its people. There are many people who do bad things to other people, but these are not the majority – yet these terrible acts make us afraid of each other.
A few years ago I was in Istanbul during the riots around Taksim Square. I was walking through the debris of burnt police vans, smashed buses, and paving ripped from the streets, talking to my Syrian friend. I thought what was happening was pretty mad (and quite exciting), but my friend was unfazed and he said to me, ‘Jamie, this is nothing. At home there are bullets and people are dying.’ He had left Syria to get away from that. If we were to turn off the news and meet the people we have preconceptions about, we would realise that every other person on this planet is a human being, just like us. How can we deny other humans the right to escape adversity and try for a better life, purely because of the pieces of paper that define who they are?
We are nothing but ghosts driving meat covered skeletons made of stardust, riding a rock floating through space. But sometimes we forget.
Update (21st November 2016): I may have found a solution…