Ref. :  000000250
Date :  2001-02-01
Language :  English
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The Foreigner


Author :  Tanella Boni

On the threshold of the 21st century, in view of making the world fit for habitation, let’s take the risk of considering every individual, as paradoxical as this may seem, as a foreigner and let’s give them the right to cross a few borders. Whilst crossing, they will learn the hard laws of the market; such as protection of territory; they will also have an idea of the existence of the ‘networks’ that make up the world. For all crossings are places where powers meet. At each crossroad, his memory will tell him who he is, where he comes from and which worlds he is bringing amongst his baggage. All kinds of guardians, ‘Temple Guardians’, survey the comings and goings of individuals. The foreigner – that we are – will only have his light footsteps to guide him on the roads to come.

The foreigner we are talking about here is not the nomad who literally and figuratively journeys across nature, fields and cultures. He could be a sedentary person who knows that the world is composed of borders and that the same and the other exist separately or at the same time. For the sedentary person today, living in a town or in a village, is he not at the same time a nomad in spirit and in thought, a nomad in his relationship with technology and information? In this sense, he will always be a foreigner faced with the information that he receives, the new technology that he uses, perhaps out of necessity. From one continent to the next, from one town to another, and from one individual to another, inequality of access to information is, now, the thing that most of the world has in common.

The foreigner also knows that he does not know, that he cannot know everything about everywhere he goes; for the world has become a face to face battle of wills. Meaning that reason does not govern the globalised world. Desire is omnipresent, love and hate can still be considered as the world’s driving forces. Neither nomad, nor sedentary, but one and the other at the same time, the foreigner passes from one local world to another, he becomes the singular representative of a globalised world that alters, standardises whilst the borders and networks consolidate or shift passing from the real to the virtual.

Around the foreigner a complex world is forming itself which is in no places identical and whose parts are more or less unequal.

So we are faced with the question of the foreigner: to live in one world while carrying another world in the head and in the heart, is already to be a foreigner in the eyes of others and to oneself. But to be a foreigner is it not also to wear a Harlequin costume? The Harlequin costume, the patchwork or the pagne n’zassa of the Côte d’Ivoire, are made up of juxtaposed geometric shapes. To wear such a pagne, could jump out at the other as he looks at me/you. The real tragedy for every foreigner, at the threshold of a new century, is that he no longer knows what makes him distinct from the native or citizen of another country. His skin, made of many cultures, is it still comparable to a patchwork? It is indescribable. It could be made of an accumulation of layers from different periods and places in his life. Only the memory that lies within him always remembers who he is.

But who is he if he is not a being of all junctures? Supposing that he is a sedentary person, he could have had many unexpected encounters, which will have left their traces in his memory, marks on his skin, ideas in his head. These traces, marks and ideas will add themselves to some old deposits. But what are the primary elements of culture that allow a foreigner to be distinguished from a native? The sedentary person of whom we speak could be this culturally impossible to define man because he will have shed his first skin and the culture he claims as his will have already undergone some mutations. Is not now all culture a meeting of cultures? The native, who owns his territory, who claims a culture and traditions there for himself, might wake up one fine day and notice that the time had come to disrupt his quest for authenticity. His language will have lost some words. It will have absorbed others that do not rightfully belong to it. He will be sat in a chair that his ancestors did not know about. At the same time, as elsewhere pictures coming in, by satellite, will arrive on the television screen in front of him. For decades, in the villages of the Côte d’Ivoire, the radio invaded the villagers’ lives, stuck to their land and little inclined to move. Thus in the villages too you learn to cross borders in spirit and in thought without even knowing it…

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