Topographic over political

I have reached a fork in the road. An immigration officer holds a stamp and examines both my face and passport, about to make a decision that will redirect my life. I have crossed the Estonian border without interrogation, but they seem to be rather fastidious on the Russian side of the gate. As I try to maintain a confident expression, I realize that the outcome of this situation is the least bit up to my discretion. Ironically, the choice is bestowed upon the man in navy-blue uniform, sitting inside the acrylic booth with a distrustful look on his face. He poses a series of questions in a language I don’t understand, and which – together with impatient stares coming from the people who wait in line, eager to get back on the bus – makes me increasingly apprehensive. But as dissimilar as we may be, I feel a sort of kinship towards him, understanding that apart from his official post and my wretched passport photo, we aren’t a whole lot different. Without a legitimate reason to refuse my entry, he stamps my documents and reluctantly signals for me to pass. I walk through the glass door, into the freezing temperature outside. I’m officially in Russia but the feeling of apprehension still lingers inside me. Suddenly, the concept of borders feels like an absurd, slightly revolting idea.

The significance of having arrived in a different country lies more in the sensations that emerge from the physical, psychological, and spiritual transitions than in the act of crossing an imaginary line, or getting a booklet stamped. For a moment, our senses are attuned and where we are becomes trivial. Gravity feels dubious and it’s the weight over prospects of novel experiences that keep our feet on the ground. Despite an almost mystic excitement for what lays ahead, we unconsciously cling to plastic aspects of the transition: the new legislation, currency conversion, time difference, visa expiry date. Nowadays, the word ‘border’ bears more negative connotations than positive ones. It is mostly seen as division, rather than union, with the colorful and democratized structure of modern-day cartography bearing clear evidence to this construct.

To stare at a topographic map over the regular political model seems both more interesting and reasonable. The lines that once blindly guided our eyes along the edges of a given country suddenly vanish, allowing for gradients and textures to create a much more sympathetic conception of the planet: enhancing altitudes instead of naming capitals; portraying vast plains as opposed to sectioning an environment into territories. The vicinity of a border represents a fusion of cultures and peoples, suggesting that transitions between regions aren’t so abrupt as the lines of a political map indicate. And such could be our view of each other: topographic over political; faded textures merging, rather than lines dividing.

But it seems like our never-ending need for definitions – a human characteristic that uses the rational to explain the intuitive – has also somehow contaminated the general concept of where a place becomes “another place”. This system of lines and colors on a map – of nationalities and anthems with people – is the way we found to organize ourselves and “our” land. A practical, comprehensible, and almost innate approach designed for harmonious coexistence but which turns into a hazard if it mutates into generalization. We have increasingly learned to acknowledge (even if unconsciously) an individual as belonging to a certain area, bringing forth assumptions on behavior and characteristics; giving him or her a title without their consent. “Russians drink vodka”, “Brazilians are great at football”,“a Japanese that doesn’t eat sushi?!”; “Germans are always on time”; “Italians are the Jedi of pizza”. Such widely accepted abstractions are caused by a “line-induced means of organization”, among other things. Albeit there are clear vestiges embedded in us by our homeland – in scopes like languages and traditions – when conversing with someone who bears an unfamiliar passport, it becomes clear that where we come from only dictates so much of who we are.

Our ability to define is treacherous, even if necessary. There is an urgency to question this political pattern of human interactions and move closer to topographic connections, in order to establish more meaningful – as well as fair – relationships. By breaking through the concrete aspect of the term ‘border’ we may indulge in its true significance; by placing a monochrome filter in a multi-colored map we can translate division into union. Everyone who has shared a drink, a smile, a stare, or a handshake with someone other than a fellow countryman has noticed that no type of border can delineate sheer, human integrity. A political view of the world makes us feel like to arrive in a different country means to step into a new world, when in fact it represents a different angle of our own, ever so vivid reality. After all, the world keeps spinning regardless our point of origin, and it will keep spinning at the same rate in our next destination.