Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Quote discipline Day 10

In the state of nature...all men are born equal, but they cannot continue in this equality. Society makes them lose it, and they recover it only by the protection of the law.

I live a life in which not all men are equal, and the law only reinforces this inequality. Consider the following:

- When my Babci passed away last August, I was in Syria finishing up a summer of intense responsibility. I needed to buy a last-minute ticket to New York and wrap up my life in Syria two days early. Plus, I had guests coming to spend the day. And before I could leave the country I needed to add pages to my passport. So, emotionally distraught and stressed out, I headed up to the U.S. Embassy first thing in the morning, arriving 15 minutes after it opened. Because I was "late", the embassy employee made me wait an extra 3 hours to get my pages added. During those three hours I alternately thought about everything else I had to do that day, my visitors who had arrived early, and the fact that my grandmother would never call me "shatze" again. I couldn't keep the tears back and bawled for three painful hours waiting in the bland embassy waiting room. A 20-year old woman came up at one point to comfort me, asking me what was the matter. I told her the story, and she gave me a hug and emphathised. It was so sweet, and the sense of guilt I felt was overwhelming: she was there to apply for a U.S. visa, waiting much more than 3 hours, required to pay more than 100 dollars (added pages to a passport are free), and was most likely going to be denied the visa.

- In Timor Leste, it is said that a Timorese can rent a three-bedroom house for less than 50 dollars a month. A foreigner will pay 300-800 for the same house.

- When I went with some co-workers to participate in a Catholic youth camp, my Timorese friend and I were invited to dine with the bishop and the special emissary from the Vatican who were visiting - because I was a "malay", a foreigner.

- Since I arrived in Asia, almost every single time I have been in a car with other Asians but no other white passengers, I have been given the front seat. I'm exceedingly grateful for this offer and do not refuse, because I tend to get madly carsick in the back seat. But sometimes I wonder if one of the passengers in the back seat isn't feeling just as ill as I would be? At least one time, I found out a few days later that my very gentlemanly older colleague who had sat in the back so I could take the front had been nauseous during most of the journey.

- I get indignant when I am not granted a visa-upon-arrival. I'm used to being allowed into everywhere, and when someone makes me wait, not to mention turns me back(!), I get angry. But, wait a second, they do treat me kindly and offer me tea while I wait or arrange a taxi back to the nearest city for me. Do I even want to stop to imagine how my country's border officials would treat them if they were to show up without a valid visa already stamped and paid for?

- If I stay in my current career, my salary will probably be exponentially more than that of my colleagues. It's already more, but it's just going to soar higher. By Western standards, my wages aren't that much money, but in the countries where I work, my colleagues may be making 1/10 of what I make. In some cases, the only difference between me and them is the writing on our passports. I don't want to be a benefactor, always buying things for others, because that feels like a showy display of wealth. But is there any way to avoid a skewed relationship?

Equality? What equality? Perhaps if the laws were taken away and only culture remained, we could uncover a bit of equality. But for now, the law only gives the inequality a clear framework to follow.

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