– Close the window, or you'll let mosquitoes in! - says grandmother in a worried manner. I comply and rush to the kitchen to eat some buns and drink some kisel. After that, I'm following my grandmother as a shadow and helping her feed the hens, pigs and our dog Barsik.
This is my home. It's a house in the Charopki village. There are eight families living in this village.
I don't know if I'll ever see this house again. And it's not just because after my grandmother's death my mother sold the house, and the new owners were so careless that they accidentally burned down the house… It's also because now it's not safe for me (along with many others) to return to Belarus.
One Belarusian writer posted on Instagram that "The ability to return is more important than the ability to leave". I couldn't agree more.
I've also been thinking that the Ukrainian filmmakers can return home and shoot movies there notwithstanding the grave danger of the war, while the Belarusian filmmakers can't return to a seemingly peaceful country. How so? What a Schroedinger's cat situation!..
It's unnerving to think about the gap between those who left Belarus and those who decided to stay. There is a strong desire to preserve the bond between all Belarusian people, regardless of where they happen to be now. I really want this distance to unite us during these trying times. At the moment, the only possibility for the "Northern Lights" not to lose "touch with reality", meaning those who stayed in Belarus, is to continue organizing the film festival, even though it's in an online format, thus communicating to Belarusians in and outside of Belarus that we are all one, and we all have a common goal.
Sometimes I call my mother and ask her:
– Mom, can you show me my books? I miss my books.
My mother laughs and tells me that I'm funny, but still shows me the bookshelf. And so I look at books of poetry by Baradulin and Buraukin, and at the "Voices from Chernobyl" by Sviatlana Aleksievich, all of them signed by the authors. I look at Valzhyna Mort's first book, and at Pavel Stsiazhko's "The Culture of the Language", a book that at some point opened my eyes at why the logic of the Belarusian language is how it is and not otherwise. I flip through the pages of the books of Tsiotka's poetry and Ursula Radzivil's plays in my mind.
The impossibility to touch the books, hug my mother and father, show the "Northern Lights" in Belarusian cinemas is a torture. I'd never imagined that for me, a woman with a wanderer's soul, the ability to return home would mean that much. I understood that only when I lost that ability.
It is precisely because we want to preserve the feeling of safety and homeliness, and because we believe that there should be something constant and anchored in life, we are continuing holding The Northern Lights Film Festival. This is our mobile home, a minibus that we've made ourselves at home in, putting some vintage furniture and moomin cups in, a home we've transported to a safer place. We hope this is not for a prolonged period of time, though. We really feel at home here. What is the meaning of this? Is that the internal immigration or a healthy attempt at surviving in inhumane circumstances?
"Every person carries their sky with them", Uladzimir Karatkevich once wrote. We've spread around the world, carrying our homes with us.
The minibus called "Northern Lights" has wheels that could at any moment start moving towards our home.
We are constantly headed home. It's a long way home. Імбрычак, галавешка, шуфлядка, сланечнік, шыпшына, вейкі, ложак, зэдлік, завіруха, лістапад*. Life is a constant way home, way to our own selves, way to our identities, a journey of our souls. This is a road for the brave. The road is us. The road feels like home.
*Belarusian words for kettle, charred stick, drawer, sunflower, brier, eyelids, bed, stool, snowstorm, November/leaf fall.