I have always taken books with me wherever I go, as if they are a part of my identity. The need to reach for something I could read at any time gave me a sense of security and belonging, no matter where I was physically situated at that given moment. Therefore, wherever I went before, I carried in my backpack a story that was waiting to be discovered, a story that is there to bring me back to myself when I lose my way.
For the first time, I decided not to carry any written word in my suitcase except of those on the barcodes of my cosmetic products. I decided to let loose all the knots that I have tied, not to drag with me other people’s retold myths. I decided to travel as if I were a feather floating in the air, a butterfly that dropped all its burden to the ground before flying. I had an uneasy feeling, as if I was leaving the saddle, as if I was separating from the microworld that I had so skillfully built all these years, like an armor that protects me from all external unpleasant influences, anchored in the books and movies which I could swallow forever in my solitude. For the first time I allowed myself to come out of the shell, to leave the nest. That was enough to make me immediately uncomfortable, uneasy, inconvenient, to provoke me to think that I was no longer me and that I would have nothing to reach for, nowhere to escape, in case the outside world became too heavy and dirty. I thought that I would not be able to maintain the purity, nor the clarity of thought that I get every time I open the first page of a book I had just bought. I thought all this with fear in my eyes and a cramp in my legs, as I slowly but surely convinced myself that I was only leaving the ground for a short time, and that I will soon return to it again.
When the butterfly lands on a flower with its roots deep in the ground, it also releases the spirit of the caterpillar it once was. Walking alone in the Portuguese forest I forgot how many books and nests I had left behind the scene. In the midst of all the unknown outside world I found myself as if I was somehow once again becoming just a silent witness of a story waiting to be revealed in front of me. More than ever it became clear to me that the liveliness of raw experiences was the kind of daily reading that was missing in my inner world. I found myself back in a home I didn’t know existed, a home outside of the plots of books and films I’m always curiously absorbing. Its time and space expanded amongst living beings who weren`t the familiar faces of relatives or friends. The people who were present there were the few lucky ones who didn`t get screwed over by wizz air or raynair. It was just a modest group of vulnerable humans who, with both their open doors and built walls, expressed and repressed inner emotions, came together to build a safe place for all those diverse voices to surface above. In the ether of that space, you could feel the eagerness of everyone to speak and listen, to cry and laugh, to sing, dance and scream, to share ideas about peace and conflicts in the midst of nature. It was that feeling of contribution to the community that brought me closer to the external world I was forever trying to escape with a book in my hand. I learned to absorb diversity and independence, to follow the development and passion of a provoking thought which is not static but in endless movement, I learned how to observe the dynamics of everyone’s face, how to see the feelings hidden in their voice, how to give everyone in the circle a part of my presence. Every wrinkle and verbal quiver carried with it some hidden truth, modified by the subjective opinions which we retold with pain and unjustified guilt in our eyes, as if the deeds of our ancestors were our own. Tears of despair and tears of joy shed in front of a group of people can tell us how powerful is the expression of a human emotion that the pages of a book cannot capture. Traveling to a new place like this, even for just a week can pause the role we have unconsciously accepted in our consumeristic fast environment.
Behind the loud laughter and the gentle sound of the guitar, you can hear the quiet rustle of the wind amongst the tall trees and melt yourself away like a burned marshmallow, so as to forget about all the problems your mind is waiting to create back home. The only dilemma left in my head was whether the warmth I felt inside came from the fire in front of me or from the feeling of belonging in a circle. Not once in a whole week, did I feel the need to talk just so that I can break the uncomfortable silence, because the silence there was never uncomfortable.
At the end of it all, I was torn between the urge to expand the time of the experience and to accept that the duration of it was exactly how much it was needed for it to be transformative as it was. I was torn between the differences of these two worlds, trying to figure out which one is more real and honest, the one where I left my book behind or this safe space which we build in one week? At that moment, I was reminded again of the question from the first day Jose asked us: “Where do you feel local?” and the answer back then was technical, reflexive, shallow, “I feel local in Skopje” — of course, where else can it be, if not where I am physically present most of the time, where I live? Now the answer is somehow the same yet different, more alive and it breathes as a candlelight in my chest. It shines just as bright and colorful as the lights and carpets within a small house in the woods of Portugal, in a warm place called Sende. Carrying this light within me as a form of gratitude, I return again to the nest of my unread books, but this time with the remembrance of who I actually was before I learned the alphabet.
Originally published by Marija Zelenkovska, participant of the training course “You Go! — Training Course on peaceful political participation”.
You Go! is a project financed by the European Union’s Erasmus+ Programme.
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