In the last few years I found myself spending large parts of my holidays in places that were very close to country borders. It didn’t start as a plan but I suspect that, at some point, the decision to plan holidays in border areas has turned into a conscious choice. There is something about borders that draws be back again and again, some personal meaning that calls to be explored and unpacked.
I am not that interested in exploring the main points of entry, the highways, the hundreds of cars crossing the border each day. I focus on small border villages, backroads, and borders drawn along rivers and other natural demarcations. These are regions that often struggle with crime and unemployment (read here for instance).
Life at the borders
There are borders that are meant to keep people in or out. They prevent people from traveling to see how life looks on the other side, or to prevent those who are unlike us from mingling with us. There are a lot of ways in which we dehumanize others in order to justify why they are meant to be kept out.
The borders meant to keep people in or keep them out are clearly visible, militarized, cold. People need to comply with conditions in order to be granted passage, to enter or to exit.
In a large part of Europe, there are also invisible borders. They mark administrative and political divisions but are not visible any longer to the casual traveler. There is no need for a visa. No control. No conditions to comply with.
We’re all travelers crossing borders
This summer I spent part of my holiday close to the border between France and Belgium and I hiked seamlessly across it. As I was doing this, I couldn’t help but think about the borders from my childhood, built to keep people in.
I also thought of how we define the other, the stranger, the one who needs to be kept away from our sunny shores and lively cities. I thought about the different stories we tell ourselves in order to dehumanize others and turn them from fellow human beings into foreigners, migrants, aliens.
As I was hiking across the border, I thought about my own experience of being perceived as an alien and a migrant. Somebody less than fully human.
It’s funny how so many of us don’t seem to realize that we are all potential aliens in the eyes of others. We are all part of different groups that are not welcomed somewhere.
We are all travelers, crossing borders and waiting to see how we will be met on the other side.