Thursday, May 19, 2016

Life on Planet Earth

Becoming a British Citizen was a long process. I was lucky to start with. In order to qualify I had to get a 'Highly Skilled Migrant Program' visa. This was based on age (not too old), salary (not too poor), proficiency in English (not too different) and qualifications ('useful'). There were also sponsored work visas, but this would mean you were tied to the company that brought you over. If you were unhappy, you would have to find another employer willing to sponsor you... or leave the country. I didn't like that idea of that gun to my head. So I qualified with points. 

I had previously come to the UK for two years on a student work travel visa. I did this in between school and university. Long enough to grow my hair long, decide what I wanted to do, and to allow my brothers to finish their studies before I started. When I returned, it was because I wanted to gain some experience in the big, wide, world outside of South Africa. One of my brothers was already (t)here, and my niece was in the oven. I was very excited to be an uncle and wanted to be close by.

The process involved a visa renewal after three years. Proof that I still had a job. Proof that I could still look after myself. Proof that I hadn't done anything naughty. Eventually after 5 years, I was able to get 'Permanent Leave to Remain'. This involved proving that I hadn't been out of the country for excessive periods of time, and a 'Life in the UK' Test.

I enjoyed studying for the test. One of the best bits was testing 'real' Brits who mostly tended to have no clue about the cultural, historical, legal and other essentials we needed to learn to pass the test. 

A 'Life on Planet Earth' book would be useful for Global Citizens. Most (All) of us tend to live in Bubbles where we only concentrate on things that matter to us. Everything else dissolves or floats through our ears and past our eyes. 

Taiye Selasi makes the valuable point that where we belong is based more on the rituals, relationships and restrictions that we face. The idea of 'Citizenship' is a construct. A story we have made up to bind us to where we live, our cities, our regions, our countries, our continents. We love categories and boxes to create our identities. It helps us build stories to understand ourselves. But life is much more complex, ambiguous and uncertain than that.

Having said all that, I enjoyed the ceremony at the end (a year after permanent leave to remain) when I became a British Citizen. I first had to ask permission from the South African government for Dual Citizenship. The story told of 'Britishness' is a very accepting one. There were people from all over the world who had chosen to come to this country and make a life. I felt proud. Not of the soil of this land. Not of the borders that made me different from people beyond them. I felt proud that despite all the efforts people put into building walls, I still think there is an underlying spirit in all of us that wants to connect.

To me, Citizenship is coming together to find a way to build a community. To find stories that work to bind us in common purpose. To find stories that release potential. To find stories that create meaning. Borders are stupid. Citizenship is a story. 

Global Citizenship is the best story we can work on creating together.

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