As soon as I stepped out of the plane everyday life in Berlin took hold of me again: Here I am, in the midst of this metropolitan city with its majestic avenues and magnificent buildings, its large green parks in which young couples and their nicely dressed kids have a picnic on Sundays, its abundance of big, clean supermarkets, restaurants and shops.
The tropical heat driving sweat into my face, the goats and cows walking on sandy dirthpaths alongside women carrying cans of water on their heads and the colourful chaos of overcrowded streets in Ghana seem to be far away already, images that fade away so quickly.
I won’t forget though, and in certain moments I realize how much this short insight into a different world has influenced my way of thinking.
Yesterday I was sitting in one of Berlin’s countless vegan-vegetarian cafés with a friend, having a cup of fresh mint tea and a piece of healthy tasting whole wheat rhubarb cake (something I had missed in Ghana, but, once here, I can’t stop thinking of the fresh, sweet mangoes that seem to taste better in Ghana than anywhere else in the world).
We were talking about the overwhelming mass of possibilities that have opened up for our generation in terms of travelling, exploring the world, choosing where and how to live and what kind of work to do.
“Isn’t it great that we can just go wherever we want, do whatever we want and explore each corner of this wonderful planet”, my friend said, “It would be so restricting to stay in one place and never see the world, I feel bad for everyone who doesn’t jump at that chance.”
Yes that’s very true, I thought, being confined to one place seems awfully restricting. Not everyone has the means to seize these opportunities though, and I never grasped the full extent of what that actually means as clearly as in that moment.
Travel broadens the mind. But the ones travelling are usually the privileged ones who were lucky enough to be born in first world countries to relatively well-off parents, being entitled by birth to a passport that opens doors – and international borders.
The bigger part of the world’s population, however, can’t join in the pleasures of exploring the world. Restricted by financial straits and the exclusive immigration policies of wealthier countries they are compelled to stay within the narrow boundaries of their everyday life.
I don’t mean to say that staying where you were born is necessarily a bad thing. Some people don’t wish to travel as they have found fulfillment in something that is unattached to place. But stopping the ones longing to see the world and explore the endless possibilities while at the same time making use of exactly these opportunities oneself is unfair and hypocritical.
When I was talking to friends in Ghana, many expressed their wish to travel outside of Africa, to explore other cultures and to study abroad. A friend of mine, a very talented young artist, would love to further his understanding of art by attending an art college abroad. When he got accepted at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto he was overjoyed.
However, the immigration authorities require him to prove that he has enough money in his account to fund his tuition, his living expenses and his transportation which is in total 100,000 CAD for four years of studying – an obstacle that seems impossible to overcome for a 21 year old, not yet established artist who grew up in the impoverished neighbourhood of Kissehman (my friend is trying to raise the money anyway, if you want to support him or have a look at his beautiful paintings, click here).
Whether the restrictions are imposed by financial or political constraints, the borders separating Africa from the rest of the world are one way doors, only open in one direction, and well-equipped military units guard them bravely against desperate castaways arriving in fragile, overcrowded boats from the wrong side of the ocean.
Passing the borders from the other direction works well though. US-Americans and Europeans who like to call themselves “expats” rather than “immigrants” enter African countries lightheartedly to work for multinationals, to benefit from the low living expenses and to enjoy the beauty of Ghana’s tropical rainforests and white sandy beaches.
It’s partly due to such double standards and protective immigration laws that we still live in a world in which young people are hindered to follow their dreams, and prejudices and hostilities between different cultures and countries prevail. They can be overcome, but the only way to achieve this end is more exchange – of people, ideas, skills – in both directions and fair immigration policies.