life travel

Item: One Passport


I keep my passport in a case that says “without this I’m nothing”. I love this case, because I love the friend who gave it to me, and because that is exactly how I feel about my passport. I’m sure in German there’s a word for the adventurer’s fear of being separated from their passport.

I lost a passport once. Returning to Sydney from a ski trip to NZ. I’d wiped out and banged my head, so I was walking through the airport slightly dazed. The case survived. In North Korea I got into an argument because they take your passport away from you. I lost that argument. They are pretty rigid about things in North Korea.

So much anxiety about the physical thing. It turns out, the biggest risk to my passport was the quasi-democratic process that has led us to Brexit. I say quasi-democratic, because the leave campaign was so full of misinformation they actually took the website down days after they “won”. I say quasi-democratic because I don’t understand how something of that level of importance gets decided at less than 52% (surely a 2/3 majority is standard). I say quasi-democratic because it’s not at all clear what people were voting for (which is probably why so many of people who voted to leave regret it).

So many Americans have told me that they feel the same about El Cheeto. But what they don’t seem to understand is that with El Cheeto there’s hope. He could die. Be impeached. Or at least, not re-elected. What’s the best case scenario with Brexit? That 10 years from now, once the financial industry has left London, the NHS has faltered (because it depends on EU workers), and the economy has collapsed… Britain begs to rejoin and goes through the process to qualify again?

There was a point, sometime around the illegal war in Iraq, that I was so ashamed to be British that when people asked me where I was from I would say “Europe”. Last year I would dodge the question and respond “I live in Colombia” (to which people would reply, “oh your english is so good!”).

I hate beer, and football. I speak conversational French and functional Spanish. I’ve spent years roaming, but I always planned to come “home” to Europe, which probably didn’t mean the UK. Brexit put a ticking clock on that, and I thought, well, maybe it’s time anyway. I’ll just go and claim residency somewhere, and it’ll be OK. And then at every point it’s been so much worse than I thought it could go. This thing that is so clearly – look at the plummeting value of the pound (down 15% against the dollar, and 10% against the euro) – a terrible idea. I hear politicians tell this story about how they are respecting the democratic process, the popular vote. I think they’re all just playing chicken. They didn’t stand up for Europe before the referendum, and they won’t stand up for Europe now. They won’t stand up for the younger generation – who overwhelmingly voted against Brexit, and our future. They’re too busy pandering to old racists.

It’s a disconcerting and horrible thing to discover that you can be stripped of a core part of your identity. That the premise on which I’ve built my life – of free movement within the EU – could collapse. It’s become this thing, that hasn’t quite overtaken my life, but that I think about every day.