[…] It was clear that he had the ideal picture of our country in his head. The country he dreams of being a part of is kind and noble, driven by justice and dignity, where people live in peace and travel the world. Tears welled up in my eyes. Feelings were raging inside me. I love my son very much and I love my country, but to my regret, this ideal country has never existed. On the contrary, the worst oppressive practices of the Soviet Union started to mutate in an ugly way in nowadays Russia.
You have to hold yourself in your hands—a literal translation of a saying we have that means something along the lines of “get ahold of yourself.” In the days since February 24, I have spoken to my cousin Oksana frequently. She lives in Odesa, our home city in Ukraine.
[…] Afghanistan moves something inside me, a feeling, a motion, a disturbing sensation. Afghanistan is more than a place under a killing sun. It is a feeling from deep inside me. On the surface, it may comprise various geographical references: countries like Syria, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, or Saharan Africa. We are so far apart, so alien to one another, and yet, thinking of those places, I feel as if a strong and old experience of them hides somewhere deep inside my body.
[…]What had I done? I thought my words would be harmless, a mere repetition of hers with a millimeter of meaning attached. I had hoped they would let her know I heard her. How did I alarm her instead? She had been pouring poison in and out of her cup until my words stopped her, as if the poison turned real when I spoke. I should never have linked play with harm. It was weeks before she would come near me again.
Smoke is engulfing the streets of Odesa from the bombardment of the city’s oil refinery by Russian missiles. The Zatoka bridge, which links the city with the rest of Ukraine, has been attacked and destroyed. I watch the news with horror as the map of Russian-controlled territory expands. I fear for Odesa, the “Pearl of the Black Sea.” I fear it could become another Mariupol in Putin’s brutal war. Because I have traveled to Odesa, the news feels personal. Odesa is a city redolent with memories of dear people and precious encounters.
In a single month, I, along with millions of people around the world, and most painfully of all, of course, people in Ukraine and Russia, have witnessed and experienced a strange psychosocial dynamic. The most well-meaning, thoughtful people, usually inclined to carefully reflect on matters that concern them and not in any sense radical, have now been “moved” from a shared reality into separate realities.
Being a child during the Communist dictatorship was something like walking naked on the street without ever being able to take a rest. It felt like the others stared at me, but I couldn’t tell who “the others” were—they had no face. I was ashamed.
[…] We usually leave our home forcibly or by choice, as exiles and refugees, immigrants, travelers, or simply because we were attracted by other landscapes and civilizations. Even when we declare allegiance to a certain place, the place we call home changes. This is partly because of our nomad nature and partly because of the fluctuations of history […]
In my childhood backyard, there were large ferns beneath which I existed for long hours in the summer, imagining and tending to a world of dirt, potato bugs, and the layer of cool air under the canopy of fronds. I’ve only thought recently about what kind of longing comes over me when I pass by a randomly situated copse on the freeway and have an urge to simply be in it. And I’ve only recently thought about this longing in the context of climate breakdown, walking alongside a creek and coming to a place where the banks form an enclave, where I can transport myself momentarily to a world after collapse, a post-apocalyptic state of survival, one that is “prior” to the aliveness of this world.
Whenever I dismounted at Lydia’s home of gray boards and dried palm grass, her son hastened to hitch and water my horse while Lydia offered me lemonade and a spell of rest. Then she would walk with me among the shacks of her community, introducing me to other villagers and discussing her concerns about the health needs of her town.