I’m in Nicaragua right now and taking advantage of my American right to travel. I can move fairly freely in a country impoverished by my nation’s doing–and by extent my own. I certainly benefit from globalization and the United State’s imperialism, do too little enough to actively resist it.
I arrived last night, and slept as Princess Managua Hilton, which caters to North American businesspeople. I’ve seen plenty of security outside stores and hotels, but nobody has stopped me or questioned my right to enter as I’ve explored the surrounding blocks with my travel companion.
I’m here for the Vuelta de Nicaragua, a six-day bicycle stage race. My brother’s cycling team, First Rate Mortgage, is competing. The race begins tomorrow, and I’ll be in the car caravan handing out water bottles and taking photographs. I’m sure I’ll have some stories to tell in the coming days, and maybe when I get home I’ll write a followup post reflecting on Nicaragua like I’m about to reflect on Canada in this post.
I went to Spain on a class trip when I was in high school, but besides that I’ve only traveled internationally to Canada. I live in Bellingham, Washington, which is less than 25-miles from the border, so I visit Vancouver a few times a year to visit Andrea and other friends. Even though the Minutemen and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement have a presence in my county, nobody has ever questioned my right to travel freely between the United States and Canada.
Just last week, my friend Helen and I took a bike trip to Vancouver Island, which is a three hour boat ride from Bellingham. We loaded our bicycles up with camping gear and peddled 50-kilometers from Victoria to a campground in the wilderness. We spent two nights.
Helen and I had a great time, and as radical university students tend to do, we discussed plenty of critical issues raised by our trip to Vancouver Island. Much of this was prompted by Michael, a man we met in the campground. We stayed in a communal campsite for cyclists, and Michael was our only neighbor the first night. He was a friendly white man perhaps 40-years-old, wiry and leather-skinned from a hard life. He called the campground home for the summer and kept all his possessions in the campsite, but held a job in Victoria and travelled to town on his bike or bus to work. While he smoked ganja, added to his impressive pile of empty beer cans, and told us about a life very different from ours, Helen and I were a little on edge.
We huddled up in our tent that nigh and stayed awake until we heard Michael go to bed. We continually checked in with one another, and discussed what we’d do if Michael tried to get into our tent or if we heard him riffling through our bags. Neither of us slept well until Michael left at 5 a.m. to ride to work.
When Helen and I got up, we spent most of the morning make a strategy for avoiding another uncomfortable night in the campground. Energy another person might have spent hiking or exploring, Helen and I put into our safety.
I really felt it then that I’d never be brave enough to travel alone, to go camping alone. I haven’t traveled much without my family, so I didn’t realize then what opportunities I was missing. Because I’m a woman, my mobility is limited not only at home, where I must consciously choose the safest route to walk home at night, but abroad, as well. I don’t feel comfortable traveling by myself even in a nation as culturally and geographically close to my own as Canada.
But Michael’s mobility is limited, too. Because he is poor or an alcoholic or a criminal, he doesn’t have a passport, and he can’t travel outside of his home, either. The fear I had of a poor man prevented us from connecting on a deep level, from navigating beyond our gender and class tension. Patriarchal, white supremacist capitalism thrives on oppression because Michael and I didn’t connect, didn’t truly know one another as humans.