A Letter to Every Foreigner and Stranger

Dear Foreigner and Stranger,

Hello. How are you? What does life look like from your corner? How are you feeling today? What thoughts are running in your head? Or better yet, who are you and where do you come from?

Perhaps you’re a native of Belgium or an expat just like me. We might have crossed each other on the street once or sat across one another in the bus. And maybe for a moment, we glanced at each other and saw nothing but the face of a foreigner, a stranger. But are you and I really all that alien to one another?

The color of your skin may be white or black or olive or yellow, and mine is brown. Yet when it rains, both our skins get wet in the same way. And in the peak of summer, the sun scorches my skin as it does yours. In whatever color they come, our skins know the same sensations.

We probably dress differently too. You may be wearing a hijab, a suit, or a dashiki, while I’m in my usual shirt and jeans. But when winter comes around and we both fall prey to the same biting cold, don’t we all end up looking the same? Like walking overstuffed pillows.

We may speak different languages. And if we tried conversing in English, we probably wouldn’t always get each other, considering the semantic nuances and cultural contexts of communication. But there are certain things we will both understand in whatever tone or time. Like the warmth of a smile, an act of kindness, and the power of love, fear, anger, sadness and other emotions that affect us all. The curses too.
And they will always feel and mean the same to both of us in whatever language we express them.

Perhaps you come from a developed country, one with a properly functioning government and a stable economy. And I come from a less developed part of the world where realities are far harsher than you can imagine. But when we hear of a bombing in London, an attack in Brussels, a deadly fire in Portugal, or the pronouncements of a particularly troublesome president of a powerful nation, we realise that we face the same threats and we get bothered by the same issues that beset this one same small world we live in.

We may subscribe to different political views. Extreme right, right, center, left, or extreme left. Yet no matter how firmly we believe in our own world views, we may find that neither you nor I have the longlasting and sure-fire solutions to every problem and issue in society, and that political discourse amounts to nothing unless we find ways to work together based on values and aspirations we both share.

You may find it strange that I eat a lot of rice even with a plateful of potatoes. And I may not enjoy pasta or moussaka or couscous the way you do. But however different our traditional dishes are, we will always be foodies, you and I. And once we start drinking or getting drunk together, we just might become brothers and sisters for life.

Our cultural personalities and habits may differ. You may lean towards pragmatism and cool rationality while I may be more spontaneous and expressive. I might find your formality a bit baffling and my cheerfulness may somewhat unnerve you. But however differently we do things or conduct ourselves, for sure neither of us will enjoy being the victim of cultural discrimination or judgment. And we share the same hope that others will respect our right to be.

Above all, both you and I will always be foreigners and strangers to some, and family or friend to others.
We both know what it’s like to belong and not to belong, to be home and to be far away from home.

After all is said and done, we may be foreign to each other yet not so foreign, strangers yet not that strange to one another. Despite our obvious differences, we are all governed by the same laws of nature and driven by the same universal forces. However our perspectives may differ, in so many ways we still share a common reality. Regardless of culture or nationality, we all belong to one and the same human race. And at the end of the day, wherever we came from, we are all just trying to get home.

So the next time we cross each other on the street or sit across one another in the bus, hopefully you would see a little more of yourself in me and I would recognise a little more of myself in you. Perhaps then, both of us would feel a little safer and more at home in this world.


Your fellow foreigner and stranger