I was sitting on the steps of the docks in front of the Doge's Palace in Venice. My friend, Fay, and I were soaking in the last sunset in Italy of our week long journey. We had landed in Venice a week ago and traveled all across Italy to see as much as we could. I remember the city being cooler than the week before. Autumn was on its way. We both sat down on the steps of the dock; felt a sigh of contentment and a job well done escape us. St. Mark's square buzzed all around us, and the watery sun started to set behind the multi-colored buildings.
Fay and I had spent quite a large portion of the trip awestruck at the richness of the architecture. You could have frequently heard us keep saying "wooooow" with our mouths hanging open and eyes wide in wonder. But sitting on the steps that day, watching the sunset, I felt a different kind of awe. The wonder of a girl who had done something she had never thought in her wildest dreams were possible or achievable. One of those universal things most of us wish for but know that it's next to impossible. So we just keep wishing because that's a wonderful game of mind where we can dream up any possible thing our heart desires. Its like kids who dream of being the president or a princess because we would like to make important decisions or dress up and be royalty. That was traveling for me.
Dreaming of Far Away Lands
A bit of context. I was born in Bangladesh, to middle-class educated parents. My mom read a lot and so did I. So we had that travel bug but people of my socio-economic background don't travel. Definitely not as twenty-somethings and rarely to an European country. Most of the 'travelers' I know, from my family or family friends, are people born around the 1980s or after. They have usually traveled once in their lifetime and either for honeymoon or medical treatment. And at most to Singapore or India or Thailand. That's it. So, I spent the first ten years of my life knowing walking the streets of Rome or feeling the rush of the NYC crowd or walking through the walls of the Alhambra would be nothing but a dream. To be lived vicariously through the words on my book or the documentaries on my screen.
Before you jump to conclusions, it’s not that the Bangladeshi population or my family haven't been afflicted by the travel bug. Most of us were comfortable enough to be able to take more than just one trip in our lifetime. But very few of us do - out of a total of 160 million people.
An Extra Expense Most People Can't Afford
For one, the most obvious concern is money. The euro or dollar or most currencies in comparison to the Bangladeshi taka is expensive. But I have noticed even those who are comfortable, don't really think of traveling as an option. With that being said, me at 22 years old, fresh out of university with a hefty education loan was by no means rich or even financially comfortable. I have been at my job for 2 years and I still do not make enough to manage a proper rental in Toronto.
The second problem being: visas. Western countries aren't as open minded to others exploring and learning their culture as they are to their own 'cultural' trips around the world. It is perfectly normal for a picture to be found of an American high school teacher weaving loom in an unknown village in India with a room full of middle aged mothers. The other way around? No way. Never heard of it or seen a news cutting. Please let me know if you have.
What Passport Privilege Means For Families
My grandma's visit visa application was denied just two years ago. She wanted to come see me graduate from university. I am her first grandchild so it was a pretty important milestone. My grandma also applied for a visa to the UK to visit her cousins there. All denied. A bit rude considering the British colonial presence in South Asian for almost 200 years and the large South Asian diaspora currently present in the U.K for almost six generations now. Obtaining visa is a HUGE hurdle which is expensive, time consuming and very hard to obtain.
The Colonial Legacy Lives On
The third hurdle ties in with the first. As I said even those financially comfortable to travel do not do so because it’s saved up for a rainy day. My extended family which don't travel have a lot more money than I or my family combined. But I have security of a stable socio-economic or political safety. In economically developing countries that are slowly making their way, rebuilding themselves after years of colonial exploitation, things are rocky. Much like how Canada was after gaining independence from the British. So money is always saved for a rainy day. It’s a mentality that my parents have instilled in me.
All these facts of life led to a fundamental truth lodged in the back of my head: traveling was not something that was easily accessible to me. So I had a hard time believing I had not only traveled at such a young age but also without family or a spouse or "adult" supervision with just another girlfriend. It was definitely a new first for the family.
I explained all this to my friend but I never thought much of it, in relation to the bigger picture. But in relation to the discussion around immigration vs. travel; necessity vs. choice; it is a huge issue. The lack of travellers in developing countries is a result of years of an us vs. them attitude rooted in years of colonialism where its only acceptable for Western 'travelers' or 'explorers'. But when it comes to returning the favor, people are faced with long lines at the foreign embassy and a 99% assurance of a disappointment.
Written by Fatema