P1080791We don’t get to pick where we’re born. Some of us get lucky but mistakenly think their random chance is skill. Recently events brought home just how lucky we are.

We have some friends, a couple who are both teachers with two kids, one the same age as mine. Four years ago, they went off on an adventure–moving to the Republic of Congo (this is the Congo whose capital is Brazzaville, not the bigger neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which used to be called Zaire). They lived in the oil center of Pointe-Noire and liked it very much.

sunset 1
Random sunrise/sunset shots

When their contract was up, they weren’t ready to move back to France and got a new teaching gig in Bamako, the capital of Mali. This was very different; Mali is at war with Tuareg separatists in the north as well as Islamist terrorists. There’s a ceasefire with the separatists, but our friends aren’t allowed to leave the capital. Their children go to school and come straight home. They can’t go anywhere else–no shopping, no movies, no parks, no sports clubs.

sunset 5
Pyrénées at dusk. How many refugees crossed them to escape Franco and settle here?

It’s really sad; I visited Mali in 1999 (solo–it was before I met the Carnivore) and loved it. I went to Ségou, Djenné (home of the world’s largest mosque built from mud, a true marvel), Mopti (a city of 114,000 that I’d never heard of but loved), the Dogon country (home to animists who live in houses built into the sides of cliffs) and, of course, Timbuktu, which was as spectacular as its name suggests. In two weeks, I saw more of Mali than my friends, who have lived there for a year.P1080958The friends were back this summer to visit friends and family and we caught up. I drove the wife to say hi to some mutual friends. The conversations were interesting–everybody knew somebody who had worked in this country or that country. I also have many friends who think nothing of living in another country, usually sent for work. Even me–France is the fourth country I’ve lived in. We are citizens of the world. Not only can we pick up and move almost anywhere we want, but we actually get welcomed by other countries.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is not the case for everybody. Some people want to move because they’re ambitious and seek a better life somewhere else. Other people don’t want to move but are forced to by war or other problems.IMG_4331Our kid did a photography class recently. It started last year, after I decreed that the summer would not be whiled away on YouTube and Snapchat. This was met with a very negative reaction. “I won’t know anybody!” But I unleashed my inner drill sergeant, and my kid went to photography class. And loved it. And made a bunch of friends–many of the others in the class were refugees from Chechnya.P1080793This year, my kid eagerly signed up for summer photography, hoping to see the guys from Chechnya. However, they weren’t in the class. Other refugees, though, were. Two from Guinea (under military dictatorship) and two from Mali. Yup. While French people go to Mali for work, Malians flee to France for peace. It must blow these kids’ minds to be handed cameras that cost more than their families probably earned in a year.sunset 4My kid said one of the boys would sit in a fetal position and cry at lunch. I learned they were all unaccompanied. They are housed in small groups around Carcassonne, and looked after by counselors. The government covers their expenses. Let me say, I find this an excellent use of the taxes I pay and I am more than happy to pay it.sunset 3I cannot imagine what they must have gone through to travel to France. Alone. You must be desperate to send your child off to a strange land alone. But they’re boys, and the alternative is to risk seeing them kidnapped into an armed group or drafted into the army to fight. War either way. They chose life. At great risk, but everything about life comes at great risk in those countries, where they did not ask to be born.P1080788My grandmother’s family left her home country when World War I started. I had heard stories about how they were on the wrong side of the political fence, and my great-uncle was about to reach the age to have to fight. Instead, they fled to the U.S., and my great-uncle fought in the U.S. Army. It wasn’t a question of fighting or not, but of fighting for what.sunset 2The photography class is built around a changing theme of  historical heritage. This year, it was about the influx of Spanish refugees fleeing Franco’s regime. The class went around town to interview people who had fled Franco’s Spain. Imagine these refugee boys meeting others who also had been refugees. I wonder what was going on in their heads. The elderly people spoke of how it was hard to move to a new land, that they missed Spain, but that eventually they became integrated. I hope that these boys can look out to the day when they, too, will be integrated in the fabric of French life. If I can integrate, why not them?



45 thoughts on “Citizens of the World

  1. Beautiful images, and I was so moved by your text. Having crossed several borders, I have a lot of similar thoughts in my head.
    I really like how you sent your kid for the course – imagining him spending his summer on Snapchat kinda hurts. Those encounters are the best education. When you learn to see the world through somebody else’s eyes.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Did you take the class too? Your photographs were really lovely. Looks like someone had to get up early as well!
    Your thoughts on the luck of the draw hit home here in the U.S. We recently experienced an ICE raid in Nebraska that has many families in crisis. It is heart breaking to hear of those who have finally found some stability and built a life only to have it uprooted without asking questions and listening to the whole story behind how they ended up here.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You are so brave. And the children that are removed from their countries and families are also brave and scared. Who wouldn’t be. But when the choice is to see your family pulled apart and threatened by outside forces, I suppose it is not so much a choice but a primal need to keep your children safe. They have all sacrificed much. The photography class to help them process their feelings/thoughts and see the world and their situation through a new ‘lens’ is brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It is so hard to move, especially when you’re a child, even when your parents are able to move with you and there is a language barrier. As a child of immigrants, I grew up that way and don’t miss what we left. After much hard work, etc. America became our home as it has for many of ours friends who have immigrated from Ukraine, Chad, Nigeria, Finland, Japan, Taiwan, Viet Nam, India, Mexico, Burma, and mainland China. All these people are refugees who came seeking asylum, not knowing much English, and being afraid of what they would find here. Not all the family members were able at one time; some had to remain in their native lands until the ones here could get established and have money to bring them here. Thanks to the good graces of neighbors, churches and other organizations, those left behind were able to come here. We all owe America a great deal of thanks for “taking” us in and giving us a home. Doing things through channels is difficult and painful, but in the end. so worthwhile.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What an amazing class to be exposed to (sorry, no pun intended) as a kid, not only the photography, but the range of people in the class and the assignment to go out and meet other people. It’s such a great way for them to learn about other cultures and to see that we are pretty much all the same. I long to move out of the US, but somehow I doubt that dream will ever come true as more and more countries close their borders to immigrants.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Such a thoughtful post today. Our country has lost the parents of about 500 children here through deportation making them orphans possibly for life. I am not sure how this is going to be resolved. Lovely photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a powerful post, so well-written and thoughtful, not sentimental at all. It’s beautifully illustrated by your photographs and I expect your kid is developing a similarly skilful and thoughtful eye behind the camera, framing a compassionate worldview and learning how to share it with others.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I was a fairly brave traveler as a teenager, but of course it was by choice – Central and South America, during pretty significant unrest in some places, but I knew exactly how to get back home, and there were American expats everywhere along the way. Not exactly roughing it, or being involuntarily separated from everything I knew. I can’t imagine.

    Before my eldest daughter entered her sophomore year of high school, I asked my family if we shouldn’t just sell the house and live a different kind of life for a couple of years. I had Czech Republic in mind, nothing terribly exotic, but my husband I each have a Czech grandparent so it seemed like a good place to start. Alas, I learned my lesson – I should have just said “hey, we’re going to Europe” instead of polling this crowd. Now they have the nerve to ask what happened to my plan, it would have been so cool, yada yada. My youngest thinks it’s a good idea, he can help me work on my husband. We’ll see what 2019 brings.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a beautiful and moving post. I’m struck by the sensitivity and wisdom of the theme of the class, and hope that the young refugees took a small measure of comfort in the shared experience with the elderly Spaniards. And what a wonderful mind-expanding experience for your son.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The photography class always links to history, and I don’t know whether the organizers chose Spanish refugees as a theme knowing there would be a bunch of new refugees in the class, or whether it just worked out that way.


  10. I have friends (a doctor and a teacher) in the village here where I live who ran and funded a school in Mali for many years. They spent every holiday there. Then the Islamists built a madrasa right next door and began stealing their resources. Finally my friends, with much regret, withdrew. Their daughter runs SOS Méditerranée, btw.

    I made a much longer comment yesterday, but WordPress has decided it doesn’t like me. It must run some script that I have turned off on my laptop for security reasons. I’ll see if I can work around it for this blog and a few others I like and respect. Wonderful post as ever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Did you see the movie “Timbuktu” (from 2014)? Just fantastic, though sad. It is a great depiction of the craziness of the islamist extremists and how the locals just want to get on with their lives.
      Ever since the GDPR, comments I make on my favorite blogs just disappear into the ether. I suspect a link.


  11. This was such a moving post. Beautiful imagery and thought-provoking text. We all need reminding of how lucky we are and to be mindful that we are “citizens of the world”. You are such a talented writer. I wish I had that gift!

    Liked by 1 person

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