by Stu Lucy
This week I’d like to offer something a little different. Rather than an article gunning for the Western neoliberal establishment and its detrimental effects on a particular aspect of African society, I would like to take a more pensive stance on an issue that many of us, to me at least, seem to have assimilated and normalised into our daily lives. I hope this article provokes a thought towards those in ever more increasing numbers that lose their lives in a desperate attempt to achieve something more than the lot they’ve been given.
I am lucky. I often forget just how fortunate the timing and location of my birth was in affording the opportunities available to me. Speaking as a global citizen, which I think we all now must, I am firmly in the top tiers of income and life expectancy as well as access to quality healthcare and education services. In light of this, I regularly attempt to take stock of these gifts in order to curb my wants and comparisons to others, often recollecting the experiences I have so far amassed in my short time on the planet and the places that I have been lucky enough to travel to.
I often forget just how fortunate the timing and location of my birth was in affording the opportunities available to me.
My early years were pretty uneventful in this regard, rarely leaving the small island off of the south coast of England that I grew up on. As I reached young adulthood though, I was lucky enough to attend a university in Scotland, this being the furthest I had ever travelled away from home and my first taste of real urban life. While it was at times difficult being in a relatively alien environment, I was still within my culture and so much remained familiar to me, plus I could always head back to where I called home if it ever became too much. During these four years, my newly acquired student status afforded me the luxury of a disposable income of which I invested a proportion in obligatory right-of-passage summer trips across Europe, as well as the odd weekend away with my girlfriend at the time, I think I visited 12 countries within the block all in all. These countries, while all different to one another, all shared the same quality: they were not my own. As much as many of the cultural and social differences were both endearing and enjoyable, it was always nice to get home, put the kettle on, and settle down in a place I knew well and felt an instinctive and effortless connection to.
Whilst at university I also spent time in Uganda volunteering with a small charity for a month. This was a completely different environment to any that I had experienced in my short time exploring various foreign lands. Sights, smells, sounds; everything was different, I felt like a complete alien with an embarrassingly reduced capacity to engage in activities that back home would have been automatic. The food was different, the weather was at times unbearable, and the culture was a million miles away from the Western tradition that I called my own. I learnt a great deal in that month and made friends are now some of the most important people in my life – that said, when sat on the flight ready to return to the UK, all I could think about was a hot shower, pizza, and House.
Following university I have been fortunate enough to travel to even more countries, some as exotic (to me) as Uganda, some more akin to mine. When I consider how lucky I am to have seen so many places at such a relatively young age, what always follows is the appreciation that not only was I able to come home to a familiar environment, but that I preferred that environment to others. Security is paramount to an individual’s self-esteem and character; knowing you have a safe place to call your own, with people, places and customs that produce a pleasant and relaxing ambience is something that I think many too often take for granted.
Billions of people find themselves in environments in which no matter how hard they try, structural inequalities will prevent them from ever having the opportunity to secure themselves the standard of living of even a fraction of my own. Economic imbalances mean that even with a degree level of education, they are forced into hawking on the streets, unable to secure even a menial job with assured continual employment. While I enjoy a healthcare system ready to treat me free of charge for any ailment I may have (for now), many children do not see their fifth birthday simply because of diarrhoea. The only travelling most of these people will ever do in their lifetimes is not to see far and exotic lands, or sample the cuisine and culture of neighbouring nations, but rather a last-resort journey of desperation in an attempt to secure a better existence.
I often ask myself what must it have taken for someone to decide that travelling across multiple countries, risking assault, rape, enslavement or death, only to find themselves presented with a rickety boat they may or may not capsize halfway through its voyage, sending then down into the murky depths of the Mediterranean, is more appealing than staying put? To give up one’s home, to say goodbye to all whom they hold dear, to surrender one’s entire existential self-definition in favour of an outcome that at best finds them homeless, insecure and often unwelcome in an alien land can be no minor decision.
knowing you have a safe place to call your own, with people, places and customs that produce a pleasant and relaxing ambience is something that I think many too often take for granted.
While we have become accustomed to dead children washing up on the shores of southern Europe, while we debate effective immigration policy, while we assimilate the images of crowds of people wearing orange life vests into our daily news feeds, how many of us stop and think about how lucky we are? How many of us can honestly say that we have spent any time actually imagining the particulars of such an abhorrent existence that one must endure to consider taking the risks that so many do just for a chance to feed on the offcuts of our good life?
I believe in order for any individual to take a meaningful stance on resolving the global inequalities that underpin the motivations for some to take such great risks in order to improve their chances, they first must look in the mirror and realise what they have. Only when we no longer take for granted the luxuries of security, familiarity and mobility afforded to us by the lottery of birth, may we begin to appreciate our luck and others’ misfortune, and with this humility will come the motivation and passion to try and change the course of economic disparity that forces so many to risk it all for so little.
Featured image CC0
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