This used to be our home

02/07/2020Yann Junod / Bojana Papic
WEB 200628 Desired Spaceas Junod Papic

This used to be our home

I have been having this dream lately of falling in a swollen river after a heavy rainfall. I am carried away by the strong current of the murky waters. I try to swim towards the banks or grab onto something. But the force is too great and I am unable to resist it. I am struggling to keep my head above the surface long enough to catch a breath before being pulled down again into the depths of the inevitable.

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The film crew came again. After what happened, many came - ministers and presidents during election times, NGOs, international peace agencies and movie stars. At first we were happy to see them, to tell them about our predicaments, about the citrus groves we lost and the loved ones we have not seen in years. They showed their interest and sympathy with rehearsed expressions and shoe-box packages of imported candy, colouring pencils and blocks of scented soap for the children. But with their arrivals and departures nothing ever happened. The hope they brought quickly faded as the change they promised never took place. We grew weary of talking and their visits became fewer and further apart. Who are we to them after all - a campaign promise, a dinner conversation topic, a title in a highbrow movie festival, distant people in a land far from home.

I never imagined my life to be this way. But I guess it is so with most people, it never really turns out the way you expect it to. Sometimes I wonder about leaving, about going to the ocean. I long to embark onto its vast openness. Nothing but horizon in the distance where the limitless sea is spilling over into the sky. But where would I go and who would I become? What life would I hope to make for myself after I start over? I am not sure I would know how to be happy anywhere else. What scares me the most about leaving is not the unknown, but that I might never be able to come back to what I have now. After all, this old house and my mother’s pita in the rusty wood oven is all I ever knew and all I ever loved.

I thought I saw Keti today. I followed her silhouette around the street corner. I called her name, but she never answered. Hers was the first house in the village to be absorbed.

In summer when we were kids the villagers would dig out a basin in the river bed and we would all go swimming. We spent the afternoons on the rocks soaking up the sun and fading in and out of sleep. As the sun started setting behind the mountains, we would walk back to the village in a tranquil slumber from the heat and the cold water. Keti and I were always falling behind the other children, dreaming up a future that would never come true.

It seemed like it happened overnight, but in reality it was creeping up for months. Centimetre by centimetre. We all thought we were going crazy. The day my father’s grave was absorbed we thought he moved it himself. Some thought it was an omen and others started tying their citrus trees and chicken hoops to the ground. But the day the fence reached Keti’s front door, we realised it came from the other side. We were sane enough to know houses do not have legs. That was the last summer we went to the river.

Since then, olive groves, orangeries and whole mountains have been swallowed by the fences. Every year one more family is either separated or reunited beyond that metal line. It feels like we are losing the ground under our feet. The houses we lived in our whole lives are becoming foreign and our neighbours are turning into strangers. At first we thought it was just our village, but the stories are reaching us from all over the country. We are told of other absorbed fields, forests and towns, and divided cities. In the beginning we were relieved to know that this is not an isolated event and that there are others like us. But as the stories keep multiplying we are growing less comforted and more resigned. This invasive power is too great to be opposed.

I ponder sometimes on what will happen when the fences from east, west, north and south all meet each other. Will the village still exist? Or will it only remain as a memory, an outdated myth? Will our children speak the language of our mothers? Will they know of a different time? Perhaps they will write about us as savages who were reeducated and civilised. Or maybe one day, many years from now, we will get our land back. We might live again as we always have, content with what the land gave us and wishing for nothing else.

Of course Keti did not turn back when I called after her. It is better that way for both of us. The less we all know the better. But I do wonder if she still has dreams, and if hers are, unlike mine, more than just escapism.

Yann Junod and Bojana Papic / Architects and urban designers at Luftschloss Collective