Thursday, January 22, 2015

Global Citizen

Where we are born is one of the single biggest contributors to our well being. The geographic lottery decides who gets to be born into a wealthy, liberal, democracy with lots of welfare support should things go wrong. Last night I became a dual citizen of South Africa and the United Kingdom. The ceremony for 48 new British citizens was like a United Nations convention. There were people from all over the world - Ghana, Mauritius, India, China, Bulgaria, Russia, The United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa etc. (I lost count but there were not that many clumps from one place). Countries that welcome immigrants should feel proud. Currently I couldn't repeat the process I have gone through over the last 6 years because the rules have changed. There is a backlash of popular sentiment against the flow of people. This is presumably natural given difficult economic times. It is also something we should fight against. It is pretty random why we should feel empathy for those who happen to live close to us, and forget about those who live far away. 

Imagine a world where you didn't need passports? The yogi who brought the Yoga I practice to the West also thought borders were over rated. Swami Vishndevananda learnt to fly a plane and in 1971 flew into Belfast along with Peter Sellers, 'bombing' the troubled city with flowers. He also flew into other war ridden areas like the Suez Canal, Pakistan, India, and across the Berlin wall. He had a handmade passport declaring himself a universal citizen. I don't quite have his charm, so have had to take a slightly longer route to expanding my ability to live, work and travel more freely.

I moved to London because I was keen to get some experience in a big global city. The main reason it was London was because my niece was about to be born, and I hadn't lived close to my big brother in years. Being on a South African passport meant I still had to go through quite a lot of admin every time I wanted to do some travelling. I couldn't just pull out my colouring pencils like Swami Vishnu. I have been lucky in that work brought me back to South Africa often and social media means I still have access to the same people. In some ways, it feels like just a different city in the same country. I only visited Cape Town once in the first 18 years of my life, having grown up in Durban, and I was two years old. Like a New Yorker who didn't visit San Francisco. 

By working in a global city, you don't leave home. You get to mix with people from all over the world. You get to break down the global lottery of who you meet and what ideas you interact with. In my Utopia, there would be a few global cities with very accepting immigration policies allowing people from all over to come together. With a free flow to and from their homes, those ideas would filter out. I am very aware of how lucky I am to have been allowed that opportunity. I wish it was more freely available.

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