Travel Notes

On the border: Good fences don’t make good neighbors. (Just ask the Handmaids)

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence


(“Mending Wall” by Robert Frost)



Traveling is all about borders. There are the physical or literal ones, the metaphorical ones, and the deep spiritual ones. As a traveler you consider all borders. Can I cross this? Who will I be when I am on the other side of this border? Why do we have these borders in the first place? And right now, we the people, are having to rethink borders altogether. Again.  


The ancient Greeks saw unrestrained movement as “one of four freedoms distinguishing liberty from slavery.” An influx of migrants added to wealth, taxes and local defense — all assets really. But this thinking is now all gone. We have had wars, excessive poverty, terrorist attacks, and environmental changes forcing people to move, and as a result walls are being erected everywhere.


Humans like borders. As a species we like to make sure things aren’t too blurry, or too complex. That, to our mind’s eye, keeps it all under control. And so since WWII, national leaders and the United Nations have said – let’s delineate, and give this globe higher walls and longer borders. All to pretend they’re offering their citizens extra safety. Countries all over the world have done that, lied about the value of borders.



Ye Olde World….. when borders were less defined and, er, subject to frequent change Photo provided by Wonderlust



We’re not saying borders should be totally open, there should be reasonable checks and restrictions, and in most of the world that is the way it is. But we’re saying they should also be reasonably compassionate, and respectful, and common-sense flexible. As they are in most of the world.


In the ‘80s the big talk was globalization, and living and traveling in a borderless society. Finally a moment to challenge borders had come. The European Union was created to facilitate this concept (and has rapidly expanded its reach eastwards since); the African continent was establishing a Pan-African agreement to facilitate ease of movement; and even the US, Mexico and Canada once tried to keep things breezy and easy to scurry through. But as expected, it was all too loose and hippie-ideal for the power elite. Just look at the happy travelers buying fantasy world passports who thought they could finally explore this globe freely! Musician Mos Def was arrested in South Africa in 2016 for trying to leave the country with his World Passport.”  


So, 30 years later we know the border-free dream has finally collapsed. But we should hold onto some variant of it, to the best principles.


But as we speak the new Chinese Imperialists are laying down borders in Africa; Mother Russia has expanded her reach; and America is cruelly raising its drawbridge to try retain both labor and capital, and turning its back on legitimate asylum seekers. What a turn of events now that cheery Canada is showing the world how to handle migrants: how to document them thoroughly and integrate them into Canadian bliss. A Maple leaf tattoo optional.


Germany, out of guilt, or some confusion, forgot the integration and documentation part of rightfully letting in millions of hard up migrants — and now has a glut of people not quite fitting into that Deutsche lifestyle. Shall we bring up Brexit, and the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, and how that will impact travel in the next few years? No wonder the system that is “Europe,” is calling foul.


If you missed the travel news of this last week, let me brief you. Forty-five decided that his shameless wall facing Mexico isn’t enough. What is of more importance to him is to make sure that immigrants are kept out at all costs, resulting in the internationally watched scandal of splitting up families at the border and detaining them in wartime-like internment camps. Then the Supreme Court upheld Forty-five’s long argued travel ban, accepting the government’s argument that the ban was within presidential power to craft a national security policy, and thus his authority to “suspend entry of aliens into the United States.” For instance, Iranian nationals and their families who are perhaps American citizens, or even dual citizens, or Green Card holders, are all unfairly, discriminatingly affected through restricted travel. I call it unconstitutional.


But it’s all because the concept of a border has evolved. Remember  “Follow the money” in the 1976 film, All The President’s Men? — it would be wise to do heed that now. Border control and infrastructure are big business, and besides the negative effects borders can sometimes have on humanity, corporations are profiting off our (often manufactured) fears. That bogeymen fear of the Other.


Race, religious beliefs, sexual expression and gender issues belong to the unpleasant club of the Other. So fear drives countries to build ever stricter and more expensive to manage borders, and corporations and probably some compliant politicians to profit from the imaginary enemy.


Some powers around the world seem to think that grinding down minorities will keep them in check. But as Simone de Beauvoir, author of “The Second Sex,” said “all oppression creates a state of war; this is no exception.” Blessed be the fruit — a dark war is being birthed.



The Handmaids know all about borders, and it isn’t pretty for them either HULU



And that is why Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale is the greatest show on television this century. It depicts a world where borders are both physical (between the The Republic of Gilead previously known as the US and Canada) and between genders (handmaids and commanders). The show helps understand the disturbing reality of this administration’s racist policies, a new Supreme Court Justice, as well as Erdogan’s recent victory in Turkey.


Be prepared for this journey. It’s an epic travel which offers no immediate reprieve.


But with pointing out problems, we must also offer some solutions. Remember the 1972 educational television series Free to Be… You and Me? Folks like Roberta Flack, Michael Jackson and Diana Ross remind America that gender and racial stereotypes can in fact be broken — women are shown as construction workers, and African-Americans as doctors. It’s now nearly half a century later, and we need a new version of this: “Free to be…here.” Could someone gather a handful of music legends, and work with iHeartmedia to record this for Hulu, Netflix or Snapchat please? The message is simple — America shouldn’t judge you, because unless you’re Native American, you’ve come from somewhere else. A catchy jingle on every radio station across the country would never do better public good. If radio can magically make you hum Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, well…

Author Dr. Reece Jones in his book Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move, argues that getting rid of borders is in fact simply a human rights issue. Because let’s face it, the border is, in fact, only inside you. And it’s time to rethink how you’re living, voting and being in this world — are they keeping them out, or keeping you in? Under His Eye.