It has been 2.5 years since I left Europe and started my island life in the Philippines. It has been 1.5 years since we last set foot in Europe. When we first left, it was paradise that we were heading towards. The white beaches, coconuts, azure sea and abundance of time and nature. Yesterday we landed on European soil again (for a month visit), and as the little image of the airplane kept approaching Europe on the interactive map on the screen in front of me, I felt happier and happier. I felt so blessed to be able to visit what now felt like paradise.
So what changed? Where is this paradise we keep chasing, and does it even exist?
Traveling is a privilege for few
We have many local friends and colleagues in the Philippines who would love to travel. Some dream of traveling on an airplane for the first time, some dream of visiting the next island for the first time, and then there are the lucky few who can actually afford to dream of international travel. Whereas we just pick a destination and start checking for cheap flights, our local friends prepare themselves to disclose everything they have and own in order to perhaps be eligible for a VISA. You need to show money, you most likely need a sponsor and your entire life gets under a microscope for a while. You fill in countless of papers, explain the purpose of your visit and the travel itinerary per hour, travel to the capital for an interview, and then wait for excruciating weeks for the inevitable denial of your request.
By this time your little travel dream has already cost you some serious capital. So you appeal, pay again, explain again, try again. This can go on and on until you either give up or pay some more. Depending on a country you are trying to get in, you might be granted the possibility to travel for some weeks, and if you are luckier, for some months.
As I listen to my friends adventures in trying to get a permission to fly to Europe, I am filled with mixed emotions. Guilt for sure, since guilt regarding my privileged existence is a regular companion these days. I have almost learned to live with it by now, but it still often stings. It’s just always there, moving me and making me feel uncomfortable. After all, I don’t just have one passport to this magical continent, I have two. And just because I have two of these little red booklets I am more free than I could ever imagine. Paradise is at my feet.
Paradise as we know it
So as we landed to Europe, I marvel the clean streets, the unpolluted highways that are only filled with new cars and the wellbeing that seems to shine off from people. The small towns and cities are filled with organized bicycle roads, nice rows of houses, clean gardens and at times it all seems like a Disneyland of sorts. Safe, secure and beautiful.
Again I feel shame for ever wanting to leave. For not appreciating what I have, for laughing sarcastically to the saying we have at home “If you are born in Finland, you have won the lottery” and for searching for paradise when in fact it was all around me the entire time. Paradise is my ability to travel, my ability to receive healthcare and afford a coffee at Starbucks. When my friends are asking me how life is in paradise I want to tell them to ask any local if they feel they are living in paradise because there are coconuts, sunshine and beaches. Then again, ask any European if they are living in paradise because they have clean houses, water, electricity and kitchen cupboards full of food.
What’s wrong with us?
I suppose there are as many definitions of a paradise as there are people. For some it’s clean water, for some is a house of their own. For me it’s freedom to travel from paradise to paradise.