Sunday, 1 January 2017

(To Be) Turned Away

On New Year’s Day 2016, I found myself watching the sunrise over Jirisan Mountain in Korea with my oldest and closest friend, C. We never planned our adventure, we just took off on a whim the night before, we ended up driving for 6 hours until we made it to the deserted National Park. We found a room to crash in for the night, outside of it there were heaps of snow, a burning fire and a couple of hounds, above, there were a million stars- it was so mystical and dreamlike; that scene. I remember we woke up early the next morning to watch the sunrise before taking off again, to some new unknown destination. That's how we were, that's how we had always been- spontaneous, fearless, slightly crazy.

This year, we were supposed to be reunited in London. I couldn't wait to see her, my friend who over the years had become a close sister to me- closer still. We shared everything, adventures, stories, memories, laughs- so many laughs. I couldn't wait for us to be together again, to witness the dawn of a new year, a new beginning.

I never got to see C, because they never allowed her across the border into the UK from France. She called me from a police station on New Year's Eve. She said they didn't believe that she was visiting me. She didn't have many clothes or fixed plans, she did have a return ticket though and details of a hostel she had booked. The plan was we'd spend a few days wandering around London, we'd re-live some of our early adventures and embark on new ones, and then when we got bored of the crowds and the buildings, we would take a trip to the South Coast where we'd spend a few days walking by the coast, and talking about the things that mattered- often absurd and stupid things.

They never let her cross the border- the border (real and made-up) that separates people- and keeps them apart. They never let her cross. She said they asked her a stream of questions, and detained her for over 15 hours- they asked her so many questions. Are you married? No. Cross. Are you working? No I left my job. Cross. What do you do for money? I run an airbnb. Cross. What's you're fixed address? I currently live on a boat. Cross. Why do you have so few clothes? I don't need very many clothes, I can borrow my friends'. *suspicious look* cross. They never let her cross the border. They went through all her things, they read her diary- it was in Korean. They laughed at her. They told her she was a suspicious character. They made her cry, they said they were crocodile tears. She felt powerless and frustrated and so so sad. I could hear it in her voice. I felt her pain.

In this modern world, it's very hard to live an unconventional life and not be demonised for it-  it's hard to live an alternative life where you don't plan, where you don't have a fixed address, where you don't have a partner or a 'purpose,' you're not driven by materialism, and your sense of self is not reliant on the work that you do or the title that you hold. The things I love most about C, are her bravery, her sense of humour and the way she lives, freely, unconventionally, unbound by society and people and their small mindedness. I love that she never asks me how work is going, or what projects I'm involved in- all these too small questions in a too big world. Society doesn't like people who they can't put in a box, they don't understand vagrants, wanderers, poets, the starving artists and struggling writers- most importantly those with no titles and no need for them- the free. There is a price that you pay for freedom. There is a price you pay for living an unconventional life.

They never let her cross the border. She couldn't believe it, she said she couldn't imagine a worse way to end the year. She told me she would never try to visit Britain again. She said there are far better countries out there, and she'd lived in many of them. She said she only came to see me. Of course I knew all this. I knew it. All I could do was try to comfort her, tell her everything would be fine- that I'd come out to see her in Paris as soon as I could and sorry she had to go through this. I thought back to November last year when I rocked up in Seoul with a half-packed suitcase, a bit of money, an address scribbled on some paper and no plans. They let me through. They didn't ask me any questions. It was the first time I had not been questioned at border control. It felt amazing. I felt sad that she didn't experience the same kindness and hospitality I had. I felt sad that I couldn't give her the presents I wrapped the night before, that I couldn't buy her a dozen lunches, and take her on a few hundred wanders. I felt so sad, all I could do was comfort her.

At the end of the conversation, she laughed it all off good-heartedly as she always would, said they were just doing their jobs, and maybe she was in the wrong. I assured her she wasn't. I told her no one should be made to feel like that, made to feel less than human- I knew how painful it was- to be in that situation, to be asked a thousand questions, to be doubted and never believed, to have all your belongings searched, to be laughed at for your inability to live life in a conventional way- to have lots of clothes, to have lots of money, to have an itinerary, a plan, a plan, a plan. I know what it's like, and it's not nice. There's a price you pay for living free- if you're of colour that is. Maybe only if you're of colour.

Some people come into your life, and change it forever. C is one of those people. She's one of the few people in the world who I can be myself around, the most authentic version of myself, there's something about being around people who are unashamedly themselves, who live day by day and carve out new paths. There's something about people who don't give a shit about fitting in, and living a standard life. It's hard, it really is. But if anything, this experience has taught me that sometimes things worth fighting for are hard. The system is broken. It has been forever. Live the life you want to live, do what you want, and don't ever change to fit in to society, or to cross any borders (material or immaterial). Those worth crossing, won't need you too. X