April 25, 2011

It’s All Relative

Filed under: Blog — Tags: , , , , , , , — admin @ 2:55 pm

Recently, in January, there was a big scandal in Norway regarding the deportation of a young Russian national back to Russia, as she was living in Norway as an illegal immigrant. The backlash was intense and the Norwegians were up in arms about the unjust treatment by the government of this young woman Amelie, who had lived in Norway for years illegally after going into hiding when her request for asylum was rejected in 2003. She managed to get her Master’s, and wrote a book on her experiences.

Deportation of anyone in Norway is seen, at least through the media lens, as victimization. It’s an embarrassment for such an “open”, “advanced” and “tolerant” nation. It was easy to sympathize with Maria Amelie and root for a reversal of the decision. She became the face of the faceless refugees who come to Norway’s shores for a better life. But I wonder if she would have had as much support and publicity if she had been a refugee in Russia? I am quite certain the answer is no.

At times I get a real impression that we live in a fish bowl, where we only see our own reality. Always on the inside looking out. I hear so many complaints from expats, immigrants, refugees and even concerned natives living and working in ie. Sweden (and the EU), Norway, and the U.S. (countries with which I am very familiar) about the bureaucracy, long waits, laws and regulations limiting their ability to gain residency or citizenship in said countries. I don’t mean to belittle the frustrations felt in the pursuit of belonging, a basic human need and, I believe, right. I too have had to wait in line, fill in paperwork and come under scrutiny for years in order to gain a residency or a citizenship I felt should be my birthright.

But when I read an article such as this one about the situation for foreigners in a country such as Saudi Arabia, I get angry. These are people who have lived for generations in the Kingdom. Can this be right? It is scarcely believable. In comparison, how can we possibly complain?! And Saudi Arabia is far from being unique in this. Look at the rules for Japan, Thailand, or even Russia. In comparison, getting residency in Scandinavia or the US is a walk in the park – on a sunny day, in spring! The rewards surely make the wait and the worry worthwhile.

I know that I could get unhappy responses from those who tried to go through the legal process (including my husband), who did nothing wrong and were still denied work, residency or citizenship for a seemingly random reason. I realize I am making a general point. But I hope you see it. I want you to be aware of what hoops others have to go through. As for Maria Amelie, she returned to Norway April 16th with a work permit, thanks to new legislation brought about by the uproar her case caused. Now THAT is democracy at work. And again, that is something we should be grateful for, and which the Indians and Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia can only dream of.

April 1, 2010

The visible “placeless”

Some call them expats, some refugees, some global nomads. In The New York Times article “The Struggle of the Global Placeless”, Anand Giridharadas calls them the “global placeless”. The term encompasses anyone living away from home, from refugees and migrants to professional workers and expats. It even includes President Barack Obama, himself a multicultural third culture kid with roots on three continents.

The author begins with globalization and its long history, despite opinions that it’s a new phenomenon. But who hasn’t heard of the Silk Road or the Viking voyages or the spread of the Roman Empire? Cultures and civilizations have been mixing since their beginnings, because there have always been wanderers, nomads and explorers among us.

But now, there is more attention placed on the “placeless”. The norm may be to be rooted, but some among us will always refuse to lay down those roots. And perhaps, the author suggests, the balance is shifting. “Placelessness” is possibly becoming not only the norm, but also a “virtue”. Or perhaps it’s only a fad. It continues to clash with society’s expectation that we be rooted in one geographic location.

He goes on to describe the traits characterizing the “placeless”, and focuses on the challenges of those less privileged “placeless”, who are often not recognized or given the rights of those they live and work among.

The privileged placeless are those of economic means; expats on assignment or those who choose a new home because we can. In this, I recognize myself. I am a global nomad and TCK. And as such, I had to laugh as I read the following excerpt, which describes me to a T:

“But the problem is not just external. The placeless often also suffer a gnawing tension within, a love-hate relationship with roots.

They find that their connections can run worldwide but only an inch deep. They may find it easier to ask friends in five countries for a favor than to ask a neighbor for sugar. They may know something of the foods of every continent but be unable to cook expertly in any one cuisine. They may have visited a greater fraction of the 10 largest cities in the world than of the neighborhoods of their own city.

“Placeless” souls of means have a way out. They find ways of splitting the difference, living rootlessly and yet making space for roots.”

The “placeless” struggle with an inherent dichotomy – wanting to set down roots but being unable to do so. Because rootlessness is their essence. They will always be outsiders if not externally, then internally. Their experience of “placelessness” means their world view isn’t like that of someone rooted. They know that part of their identity will always belong elsewhere.