For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
– Nelson Mandela
Dear Ava and Kayan,
Today is the Fourth of July, a day when we celebrate our freedom as Americans. We’re observing this day from South Africa, a country that gained its independence in 1934 but continued to oppress the majority of its population via Apartheid until as recently as 1994. We have been traveling around the world for eight months and we have seen the many ways that freedoms are curtailed and enjoyed around the world. All of this has awakened us to freedoms we enjoy as Americans but take for granted.
As an American and as travelers, one of the greatest freedoms we enjoy is the freedom to roam. We are able to visit 10 countries in 10 months because we have the right passport. Many people around the world, even those with the means to travel, don’t have the freedom that you do to hop on a plane and cross borders. At two and four years old, you’re both already running out of pages on your first passports. We hope that you use and wear out dozens of passports in your lifetimes. Use this freedom to roam and explore our world, but always be respectful of wherever you land and defer to your host country’s way of life.
You may find out, as we have in our travels, that you aren’t always happy with how other people live. You are both already well versed with the Internet and enjoy watching episodes of Dora the Explorer on You Tube. However, the world’s second largest economy, China, doesn’t allow its people to access many user generated sites. Even this blog was blocked there, probably because we used the f-word (Facebook). As Americans, you have the freedom to read and watch what you want. Use it to educate yourselves and spread what you have learned.
You also have the freedom to say what you want. Ava, you use this freedom constantly for the 12 hours a day that you are awake. When we were in Myanmar we saw that the only widely distributed daily newspapers were government run and they told the people only what the government wanted them to hear. In contrast, we have been able to share our own travel stories with whoever wants to read it on one the world’s most widely read online news sources. When you grow up we suspect there will be information everywhere in forms that don’t exist today. Every story, even those you will read in school, have a point of view. Absorb as much as you can, but take the time to form your own opinions and then use the freedom you have to speak your minds.
Tell stories about what you currently think and what you foresee, but also share stories of where you have come from. You have the freedom to be be anything you want to be because prior generations fought for both of you to have equal opportunities. Your great-grandmother was denied the opportunity to become a doctor because of her gender. Things have changed. Ava, America chose to elect its first non-caucasian president the year you were born. A woman came very close. Take advantage of the path that has been paved for both of you.
Excel at whatever professions you pursue. But also use your the freedom you have to grow yourself spiritually. As an American you have the freedom to follow whatever religion you want. Even if you choose not to follow any religion, find what connects you on a deeper level to our world. Kayan, at only one year old, you already showed traits of quiet contemplation. You enjoyed every temple we visited in Thailand and seemed to instinctively know that they are places of quiet reflection. We hope that you hold on to this side of your personality as responsibilities grow in your life.
As an American, serving your country’s military is usually a choice. Your great-grand father chose to serve in the Indian Army and in Malaysia and Myanmar we visited the places where he was stationed. In some countries that we visited, such as Turkey and Greece, military service is a requirement. The decision to serve the military will be yours. If you choose not to, be sure you still serve the country by using your freedom to vote, your resources to give back and your education to be contributing citizens.
In Namibia and Greece we were free to appreciate so many natural wonders, from endangered animals to pristine beaches. These marvels are here today but you need to take care of them so that your own kids can enjoy our earth. Remember what we taught you about simple things taking care of plants and flowers so others can enjoy them, putting things in the garbage so our world stays pretty and turning off the water so that there is enough for everyone else.
We will be spending next month in Brazil, where our friend Joe and his boyfriend are going to come stay for a few days. America gives you the freedom to love who you want to love. You are free to commit yourself to anyone of your choosing. Whatever love ends up meaning to you, love yourself first and foremost and know that we will always love you.
As Americans we enjoy many freedoms. However, there are so many things that we can do to continue to enhance freedom within our own borders. You are lucky to have friends from a variety if backgrounds, but the reality is that most of our country still lives in pockets and you will have to make an effort to form relationships with people who are different from you. While we have the freedom to speak, we rarely talk openly about our most sensitive issues. There are things we would like to do but can’t because everybody is worried about getting sued. So even in America we have created our own borders and boundaries and some people would say that we aren’t really free. Freedom is a matter perspective, but take time every once in a while to appreciate the freedoms that you do enjoy.
Like our nation’s first settlers, your own grand parents immigrated to America in hopes of giving their descendants a freer future. Today you can embark on whatever journeys you want. Remember that it is not enough for you to be free, you must use your freedom to improve our world.
Dada and Mama
This post was inspired by the Facebook Families on the Move Group. Several members from all over the world chose to write posts today about freedom and travel. You can read their stories below.
Let Freedom Ring by The Nomadic Family
Are we free? by Living Differently
The Freedom to Choose by Living Outside of the Box
Freedom and Straying off the Beaten Path by Barts go Adventuring
Living a Free and Meaningful Life by Flashpacker Family
What is Freedom by Family on Bikes
Do you know what Freedom is by Bohemian Travelers
Free Falling by Break Out of Bushwick