A Nation of Walls

South Africa is a nation of walls. Though, now that I think about it, gates is probably the most appropriate word. South Africa is a nation of gates, fences, insert any entity that can both keep things in and let them out. 

If you ask anyone why every building is essentially a gated community, the person you are talking to will tell you the gates and walls exist to keep crime out. Whether or not that is entirely necessary, I don't know but since this is not the place from which I come, I take them at their word. 

South Africans take their gates seriously too. You will often find that they have electric wires on top of a wall that already obliterates any view of what lies behind it. Gates are only to be opened when they are in use and even then they should be closed very quickly thereafter. 

I noticed South Africa's gated communities almost immediately upon arrival here three months ago for two reasons. 

  1. In the America I know, gates/walls/fences are only used to contain ones backyard. My Midwestern upbringing did not include fences that ran all the way around ones home. Fences were for the back. Leaving the front of the house either open or vulnerable - depending upon your perspective. 
  2. 45, aka the orange man, wants to build a wall along the US-Mexico border. A wall he argues will curb "illegal" immigration and people he has deemed to be unworthy of coming America in. 

These two points made me think about the things we bring and the things we take. What we let in and whom we leave out. How convoluted our notions of security have become. The fear we have of those who do not look, speak, think, worship, or live like us.

I have spent the summer reflecting on development, travel, and globalization. The walls I have built and those I have always hoped to tear down. Trying to reconcile the history of this work with the current state of being around the world. Trying to develop a manifesto of engagement. 

Walled in, or out. That works both ways right? Walls. The things we let in. The things we let out. The things we try to keep at bay. Try. Keep. Damn, souvenirs again. 

We build walls because we are afraid of, don't trust, respect, or like what we see or believe to be on the other side. If development is about "developing," then someday, all the walls will have to come down won't they? We'll all still be the "Other" to someone, but just by the nature of our humanity, we'll also be (and are) all apart of a global family - which shouldn't require any walls. Right? 

Gabrielle HickmonComment