I’m in Accra, the capital of Ghana, and I flag down a taxi. After explaining my destination and haggling a bit for a price, I get in. I’m playing on my phone – checking Google Maps to make sure we’re going in the right direction and texting my friends that I’m on my way. The driver strikes up a conversation. “Where are you from – Germany?”. “No, I’m from Canada” I reply. He smiles and says he LOVES Canada.
The situation above happened to me almost daily when living in Ghana. The last statement was usually followed by some version of the following three scenarios:
1) How do I get to Canada – can you help me with a visa?
2) I have a cousin/brother/aunt/etc… who lives in Canada. It’s so beautiful there. I’m going to go one day when…
3) You should marry me so I can come to Canada!
I had a number of different responses depending on my mood, including how cold Canada was, that I have a boyfriend who lives there (who isn’t 100% white, which shocked them – but that’s a different story for a different day), or that yes, Canada is a very nice place to live (with a bit of a geography lesson about the different parts of the country). At first it annoyed me. How dare they ask to marry someone they just met, and don’t even pretend it’s for a reason other than personal gain (getting a Canadian visa)? But after awhile I started to get it. In many “developing countries” there is a serious lack of opportunities for work, good school, and other public services. Why wouldn’t they want to do whatever they could to make a “better life” for them and their families by moving to a “developed country”?
Even if they have enough money to travel, most Ghanaians can’t easily get a visa for a country like Canada. They need to prove tons of things, like how much money is in their bank account (so they can pay for their own expenses), that they’re not at risk of staying in Canada forever (by proving ties to the community), that they have a good job (even though many people in Ghana work in the informal economy), etc. Even after providing all the paperwork, they often have to jump through many more hoops, like in-person interviews, invitation letters, etc. In fact, people often only tell their families that they’re moving away about a week before they leave. Although the process of getting a visa takes many months/years, they know that it’s not a sure thing. They don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, so they wait until it’s finalized to tell everyone. Conversely, when a Canadian wants to go to Ghana, it’s pretty easy for them to pop-up to an embassy, provide a few easy documents (passport, photos, return flight information, etc.), and be on the flight 2 weeks later. This is what some people would call “passport privilege”.
Note: This post expands on some of the ideas that I covered in a previous blog “Is travelling classist? I certainly don’t think so!”, which looked mostly at people from “western” countries (North America, Europe, etc.) but didn’t really touch on the realities of people from other countries which have a lot more travel restrictions places upon them.