Resolutions weren’t the only things that flooded my timelines at the dawn of the New Year. Social media “goals” suggestions did, too. Attached to the hashtag “global citizen” were images of people living their best lives hashed accordingly from “jet-setter” to “Global Citizen” to “travel expert”. The hashed illustrations portrayed the privileged awaking for breakfast in one country, enjoying lunch in another country, and before retiring for the night, enjoying dinner in the day’s third country. Jet-setting. Other hashed #yolo, #globalcitizen, and #jetset pics illustrated the enjoyment of elephant rides in Africa and canoodling moments with tigers in Southeast Asia.
Hashtag: Shameless plug. Listen, come out of the tiger cages. Put the camera down. and start asking questions about how your Instagram prop is treated after hours. Pictures in tiger sanctuaries don’t make you a global citizen. It makes you part of far-reaching problems. Whenever one being chains, drugs, and/or sedates another to subdue and impose their will or desires onto them, that parallels RAPE. The rape of humans. The rape of cultures. Need I go on?
While I am a proponent of all pursuing and living their best lives, I am also a champion of being mindful and informed while doing so. What we share in the age of social media across platforms has the power to inform and exponentially influence how those in our spheres and web of connectivity see and interact with the world. What’s shared and “hashed” inspires thought and perspective which sometimes translates into action….or, inaction. While I have no interest in policing how one travels (do you and be great), I believe it is imperative to be mindful of our usage of labels and self-proclaimed titles that our life’s work has not substantiated.
WHAT IS A GLOBAL CITIZEN?
Global citizens, those who are that in every sense of the word, anyway, aren’t necessarily those who are “jet-setting” and anxiously posing for pictures against the backdrop of debauchery and locales that inadvertently promote the brutalities of the world. Global citizens are, however, those who often lay down at night with a heaviness that no one word can adequately describe. These are they whose minds are a constant storm of thought as they work to not only identify plights--great and small, domestic or international---but also work to bring awareness to issues that touch all of us. These are they who align themselves with the issues that call to them and, consequently, strive to effect change through actionable solutions. These are they who are actively seeking to answer and end the issues of our time. True Global citizens are constantly working to better understand the world at large and their place in it, identifying not only as a citizen of their country but of the world.
The belief that citizens in one country should “mind their business” and first “fix” the problems at home before reaching out to champion change and provide effective aid in another country is antiquated and divisive. The problem with this view, one I formerly held, is that it’s simply bullshit. And it pits the poor and vulnerable against each other while asking that we consciously choose to ignore issues that affect the human race as we attempt to address those that affect our own communities.
While we are all born citizens of the world, it takes a while to understand and exercise the power that we hold as a global citizens. It takes a while. It takes exposure. It takes patience. It takes being open to stories that challenge the narratives you’ve known and loved. It takes becoming aware by simply looking around and asking “Why?” One can never “arrive” in their role as a global citizen, and I will be the first to admit that I’m not “there” yet. Working towards it, but not there.
The beauty of global citizenship is that there is always room to improve and opportunities to deepen involvements in various aspects of what it means to be a citizen of the world.
Travel has taken me around the world and exposed me to the plights and beauties of this place that we call home. My explorations have indulged curiosities while introducing me to the stories of those who have triumphed against all odds in the face of evil, fled wars and war zones, escaped unlawful detention, and watched as their family members were carted off into the night to die in Killing Fields. These are stories that not only awakened me to the power and impact of stories themselves, but demanded that I become a better listener, a better traveler and an active citizen of the world.
While a date night in Lebanon with a ridiculously handsome gentleman wasn’t the event that catapulted me into the desire to be a better traveler, it reminded me that there is ample opportunity to deepen my involvement in the field of Human Rights.
The morning of 2018’s Christmas Eve found me wandering around downtown Beirut, Lebanon. The skies were a vibrant blue with white clouds that seemed to move to the rhythm of the nearby sea; The crisp sea air blew through tendrils of hair, and the sun’s rays offered a welcomed warmth. As one who enjoys exploring by foot, I looked forward to getting lost in Beirut’s offerings--traces of war and ruin amongst new developments; Sophistication and relaxation. After all, downtown has been deemed the “Paris of the Middle East”. My sequined sweater glimmered in the natural lighting consequently drawing the attention of passers-by who were on foot and in motor vehicles. Two cars pulled over to pay compliment to what they perceived to be an unusual solo beauty in an unlikely place. 2 hours into my by-foot tour, I happened upon what I later learned was the Beirut Souks…..and it was there that my sweater would be the reason that a beautiful story of triumph would make itself known.
“Are you lost?”
I hate shopping. I hate shopping in the U.S. and I certainly hate it abroad. My disdain for browsing racks of clothes keeps shopping malls off my list of must-sees, and so, happening upon the Beirut Souks brought about an immediate desire to leave. As I pulled out my phone and attempted to make heads or tails of where I next wanted to venture within the area, a gentleman walked over after noticing that I’d been staring at the map and turning my phone as though it were a compass for 5 minutes. “Are you lost?” he asked. After a brief exchange, he offered to escort me to my destination--an 8 minute walk. At the end of the escort, he turned and asked if he could meet me for an early dinner. True to 2018’s commitment to say “Yes” to opportunities of interest, I agreed to meet him later.
Date night went amazingly well! Two hours into dinner, we extensively spoke of some of the greatest lessons we’d learned during our twenty’s. My date shared that he was from Syria--Aleppo to be exact--and that while he did not necessarily miss Aleppo, he missed his parents and family who were still there. My ears immediately perked up. A Syrian? From Aleppo! (For those of who you are unaware, at the time of this writing, Aleppo is one of many cities and towns that are just now recovering from years of war (2012 - 2016) that displaced millions of Syrians)
We chatted into the night about a myriad of topics, and although the evening eventually ended, we remained in contact. Over the course of the next few days, he began to share the story of how he ended up in Lebanon. He was Syrian soldier who fled at the height of the Civil War after receiving orders to begin executing men, women, and innocent children, an ask that was all too high. In the middle of the night, he fled, defying a military order and essentially defecting. He shared that for 2 weeks, he traversed the terrains and mountains of Lebanon and Syria, sleeping in bushes and the woods, and eating whatever strangers would offer him.
Resilient. Brave. Incredulous.
His was a story laced with elements of God and country, the power to end life and choosing not to do so, abandoning an unworthy cause and institution, defecting, and….illegal immigration. (Did you catch that?) Defecting and deserting, punishable by years in prison or death, in order to escape the order to execute.
It Takes A While
As mentioned, while date night in Lebanon wasn’t what catapulted me into the desire to become a better citizen, it reminded me of my responsibility as a global citizen, much of which resting in being aware, having the courage to speak out, and the balls to get busy identifying and addressing issues that most matter to me.
How can you begin your journey to becoming a better traveler and effective Global citizen? Easy!
Before embarking on your trip, identify 3 issues that affect the citizens of your chosen destination (by the way, do the same for your home city). The issues they face often greatly influence how they see and interact with you.
Strive to set aside at least 2 hours of your “vacation” time to volunteer with an organization who is working to combat the identified issues of your destination. Too often do we vacation in others’ hells unaware.
Willing listen to others stories.
Lovingly correct those who misspeak about issues that they are ignorant to or just don’t understand.
Lastly, believe in your ability to effect change.
Resources and Tools to Help You Begin to Become a Better Global Citizen:
Human Rights Report--Department of State (state.gov)
The International Rescue Committee (www.rescue.org)
Various Google Searches “social issues in (insert place you wish to visit here)”
Join various Human Rights groups on Facebook and follow various Human Rights accounts on Instagram
Cheers to caring, paying attention, and being open to what’s so much greater than ourselves,