Saturday, February 13, 2010

Alien’s Burden

For about the past 10 years of my life, I have lived outside my homeland as a categorical foreigner. This period has coincided with what I believe are considered my formative years. I wonder what has been more integral to that moulding – my age or the fact that my sense of identity has been so tested by my whereabouts. One thing is for sure: this sojourn from the land of my birth and the continent to which I owe my passion, has made me realise what is most important to me, what I stand for and crucially, what my purpose in life is.

One could question whether it’s actually being away that has encouraged these insights or whether they would have appeared at the same time no matter where I was. There’s no way to confirm either way. However, there are some specific things that being a foreigner helps you to appreciate.

I was talking to my boyfriend, who has been a foreigner for most of his life, growing up in four different countries (before the age of 18!). However, here, in the UK, and in most of the world, his red passport deems him right at home. I on the other hand, have had some “interesting” times with the immigration authorities. At times, it’s worryingly been down to misinformation and miscommunication on their part! In my dealings with them, I have not once been made to feel welcome, as you can imagine, and have often felt like I’m begging to pay UK taxes. With my Kenyan passport, it’s almost the same story wherever else I want to go in the West (which I affectionately refer to as other people’s countries). No spontaneous weekend trips to France for me! Instead, months of planning and providing documentation in order to contribute to their economy.

So what would happen if tomorrow somebody offered me a red passport, with compliments?

The thing is this: that I experience the above difficulties in travel, reminds me of who I am. When I am reminded that I am different, I am challenged to fully appreciate that which makes me different. That I am made to feel like a parasite in foreign lands means that I cannot forget history, and how those same lands came to their current prosperity off the exploitation of mine. That these truths are avoided and ignored, I cannot take them for granted. That these are my observations, I am reminded of my responsibility for change.

I often joke and call myself an “alien”, wrought as that word is with implications of isolation and sometimes distaste. For me, that proclamation comes from a place of pride. I am happy to be who I am and welcome all that comes with it.

“When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.”
— from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet