The Privilege of Freedom of Movement

by Editor on May 8, 2020

by Nicolette Hutcherson

Lebanon has never been an easy place for us to live. We’ve been here long enough that we’ve passed through some really difficult times – suicide bombings, the garbage crisis, threat of war. This year has been an absolute doozy. 204 days (and counting!) of Revolution. Economic collapse. And now corona. Schools closed at the end of February (and are still closed). Shortly after that, parks, restaurants, and shops followed suit and closed their doors.

Even in the midst of all these crises, we are able to recognize our privilege. I know that using the word privilege has a lot of baggage, but I also believe that not acknowledging it causes more harm than good. We are privileged by nature of our skin color, the families we were born into, our passports. My prayer is that we always use our privilege to call out injustice and for the benefit of the oppressed, but that’s for another blog post.

Anyways, one example of our privilege here: we have foreign bank accounts and foreign credit cards, so even if it means we have to book a quick trip outside Lebanon to pull out cash from the ATM, we still have access to our money. While we are struggling with the skyrocketing cost of living, it’s nothing compared to those who have to deal with the rising cost of food while at the same time not getting their salaries, or having their money held hostage in a bank account.

Another privilege that I have often felt so ashamed of is our freedom of movement. Even in the worst of times, when car bombs were exploding every week, we always knew in the back of our heads that we could jump into our car, drive to the airport, buy a ticket to almost anywhere and get out. It’s not a privilege we think about often, but I think it’s always there, in the deep recesses of our mind. We are free to leave whenever we want.

It’s put in sharp relief when I sit with my refugee friends, who have the complete opposite of freedom of movement. They are stuck. They can’t go home, they can’t go somewhere else. It doesn’t matter that they aren’t allowed to work, that their children’s school decided to close its doors to Syrians, that they need medical or psychological care that they can’t get here – they are stuck. I do my best to sit with them in their grief, in their “stuckness,” and to empathize as much as I can with the unfairness of the cards they have been dealt… but the privilege is still there. I hate it, but the reality is, I could leave any time. 

Until we couldn’t. In early March Lebanon stopped flights from most European cities, and then shortly after the US did the same. (And now the airport will be closed until at least June 8.) So even if we wanted to buy a ticket somewhere, not many places would let us in. Our border to the south is completely closed and under heavy military guard, to the east and north we have Syria, which is not accessible for Americans, and to the west the sea. So that leaves out a road trip anywhere. We don’t have plans to leave, or even want to leave, but all of a sudden, as the travel restrictions came one after the other, I could feel the signs of my PTSD coming back…. headache, shortness of breath…. wait, aren’t those also the symptoms of corona!?

I wish we’d never heard of this blasted sickness. I hope the measures people are taking will stop the spread. I pray that no one else suffers or dies from the virus. But I’m also thankful that because of corona – even if only for a fleeting moment – I learned what it feels like to be stuck, with no freedom to move, a reality that millions around the world live with on a daily basis. 

I’m not saying that a few weeks of being stuck is at all comparable to a lifetime, and even in our stuckness, we are still healthy and safe. But I hope that this small taste allows me to love and care for my truly stuck friends in a deeper way, even when I get the privilege of freedom of movement handed back to me, for no reason other than the passport I hold.

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Nicolette grew up bouncing around the U.S. and the world but has finally settled in Beirut, Lebanon, where she and her family have been serving since 2008. She is the director of Safe Haven, a home for abused and disadvantaged girls, and is involved with refugee ministry and community outreach through her church in Beirut. Nicolette blogs about life as an expat in the Middle East at www.calebandnicolette.wordpress.com

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