Two years ago Joce and I were in Greece on the island of Lesvos. We were spending time in Moria, the refugee camp on the island, helping out wherever was needed. Lesvos was about a 45 minute ferry ride to Turkey. The closest town, Avalik, had a huge bazaar and we reallllly wanted to go. Turkey was so close. We asked the lead volunteers at Moria what would help most at camp and we’d go buy it at the market. Turns out it was men’s underwear. Not something I’ve sought out before, but off to Turkey we went.
We showed up at the port early, bought a $6 roundtrip ferry ticket, flashed our American passport, and were there within the hour. Bought 75 pairs of men’s underwear (what an experience communicating that to a Turkish vendor), had a meal we couldn’t pronounce, and headed on back.
I had traveled a good bit before Greece. But Greece was the first time I really realized what my citizenship and pretty blue passport got me. I left my new refugee friends in Moria, a former prison compound surrounded by fences and wires, and went to another country for a fun day trip. They had to stay there, didn’t have the right passport. Then I came back. Easy as easy could be.
Today, I paid $8 for an exit fee from Costa Rica, bought a cheese empanada, and walked across the border to Panama. Went through Customs, went through Immigration, then got on my shuttle for Bocas del Toro.
Traveling is an incredibly huge privilege. It’s a bit of cognizant dissonance for me that I am traveling through and staying in countries that many people are fleeing. My end goal is to learn Spanish and I am really enjoying meeting local people and experiencing a bit of their culture. I want to learn Spanish in order to return back to the States and hopefully, in some small way, help us not be such a shit show when it comes to welcoming new people to our country. And for those people who immigrated and have been living in the U.S. for years, hopefully I can better connect with them by speaking with them in their native language.
People fleeing their countries love their home. They love it like Americans love the U.S.
Central Americans, Syrians, Somalians, Afghanis, Rohingyans. They want to raise their children and teach them about the land that makes up such a huge part of their identity. They’re proud of their heritage.
But right now their countries are failing them. What does it say when it’s safer for a child to be on a lifeboat than on land? Safer to cross through an incredibly dangerous desert because staying at home is a death sentence?
I walked across that border today holding food and water and my belongings. Which is what many migrants come holding when they enter the United States. Except I wasn’t tear gassed. And wasn’t fleeing for safety. And my intentions for entering the country weren’t questioned. And no one assumed I was an obnoxious, ignorant, bigot just because I’m from America (maybe they did, but I do know their president didn’t tweet about it).
What we’re doing with immigration isn’t working. It’s heartbreaking, embarrassing, and infuriating. I’m not sure when enough is going to be enough, but it sure is getting pretty damn close.