breaths of celebration

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Ardiana Shala Prishtina

Waking up, I pick up my phone to see if Kyiv still stands. It does. I take a deep breath of celebration. I take a shower and while the water runs down my body, I wonder if Ukrainians still have running water. My Ukrainian friends, whom I have never met, tell me, they do. I take a deep breath of celebration. I eat breakfast and with every bite I feel guilty at first, because my table, unlike Putin’s, is not so long as to extend into another country’s borders. I wish it was, though my table would be, unlike Putin’s, crowded with laughter and happy free people. Then my friends from Ukraine tell me they have bread. I take a deep breath of celebration. Have you noticed when Ukrainians say bread they also mean food. We Albanians do the same. We say „let’s eat some bread“ when we mean food, lunch or dinner. Bread has been the food that kept our souls together. Because you can break bread with others and connect. Food is only something you buy and sell.

I go to the grocery store, I take Ukraine with me. Refresh, refresh, refresh. Is Ukraine still standing? She does. My friends from Ukraine tell me. Buildings are falling. People are falling. Ukraine is picking them up in her big heart and growing stronger. Yes, Ukraine is a woman. Have you not seen how she fights? Her strategy follows her heartbeats. Her heartbeats break bread with the whole world.

I sit down to work on my research. Every line is overdue. Then I stop. Then I write a line. Then I stop. How can I write about war trauma and war experiences of the people of Kosova without the fear that I am writing about Ukraine, too? Yes, I fear, because I want Ukraine to be saved from my pages of pain, I as an Albanian know only too well. Then I listen to my recordings with war survivors of Kosova and I am reminded of the resilience and strength. I hear hope and love. It is the same story my Ukrainian friends tell me: we hope! I take a deep breath of celebration.

Theoretically, my research is about trauma, but it is actually also about hope. You know there are many theories and research on war trauma as a collective experience, but there is so little on hope during war as a collective experience. Hope is contagious. Hope is everywhere. One thing is clear, no weapon has been invented yet that can destroy hope. You know why? Because people break bread and never forget. People break bread across borders, across cultures, across dreams and stories, and never forget. I realise I am the birth of that hope. I take a deep breath of celebration.

Foto: Fjolla Besimi, Marshojme s’festojme

I call my mother whom I miss hugging and kissing. The pandemic has changed me. This feeling of protecting her from bringing death to her by hugging has created a space between us, almost like Putin’s table, which we fill with love, though, but still hurts. Daughters are not supposed to love their mother from afar. Daughters are supposed to lie on their mothers‘ laps and feel like babies. Their mothers‘ fingers on their hair circling around gently and healing every fucking pore of hurt and despair. How are you? Did you sleep well? Do you need anything? What are you doing now? and then again, do you need anything? Do you need anything? Do you need anything? I ask her. No, she tells me for the thousandth of time, I am fine, I will let you know if I need anything, don’t worry, just focus on your work. But mother, I cannot, your happiness is my only worthwhile work. I want to scream. Oh God, how I need her to need me. Then I realise she needs me not to need her. Her work is to prepare me for the future. She only thinks of the future. She does not remember any of her suffering. She does not remember any of the hardship to raise me. Well, she does, but she withholds. Mothers only think of the future. Something I reconfirmed through my research as well. Motherhood as a weapon against trauma. If every country could be built on mother’s images of the future, just imagine all the love. Can you? I get scared, because the future she is imagining is also one where she knows she will not be around forever. She is preparing me not to need her. Before we end our conversation, she asks me: Have your read about what is happening in Ukraine? We talk about Ukraine. And we do not have to say it, but deep down she knows, and I know, that we are thinking of all the mothers and daughters in Ukraine and wondering: do they still have each other? Before I properly say bye to her, I open my Twitter feed and there are the heartfelt messages of my Ukrainian friends: One of them is united with her mother. The other one had to flee and leave her mother behind. Her mother did not want to go. She had said she was not leaving her home ever again. Another one is cuddling her children in a shelter. Another one is sharing a drawing of her child: Two tanks on opposite sides facing each other. One man with a smile on his face above the one tank. One Putin with a sad, angry face on the corner of the other. The man’s tank is making „boom“. Putin’s tank is rusting and has the colour of shit. Another woman just crossed the border to Poland. Her husband disappeared in the crowd behind her before she could say goodbye. Another one sent her children to her mother in a safer place, and went back to Kyiv to fight for her country. A woman just gave birth right there in the underground station. Bomb raids for lullabies. Baby and mother are well, I read. I take a deep breath of celebration. Happy birthday future!

I make a coffee and lit a cigarette and think of all my sisters in Ukraine. Will we ever have a coffee together? Of course we will. Because there is that thing called ‚hope‘. I do not know when, but I know I will one day go to Ukraine and meet these incredible women, who in the darkest hours of their lives are taking care of me and giving me love and hope and strength. With every ‚good morning‘ they utter to the world, they are healing my own war trauma, over twenty years old now. I do not know if they realise, how much they are doing for us outside Ukraine on this big picture of a European tragedy. We are supporting them as we know, as we can, but hell, they are supporting us back. One day I want to go there and say, thank you! Today I want my Ukrainian sisters to know, do not think you owe us any gratitude, we are in debt to you! Your voices are waking up the world and this fucking world needed to be awoken.

I go to bed. I do not sleep till early mornings. I wait for my Ukrainian friends to go to sleep. I feel like I have to guard them through the night. Pathetic, I know. What the hell can I do from over here. Scream on Twitter…? But, then again, sleep is a luxury at war and this is my war, too. I’ll stay awake, even if for nothing else, just to share with my Ukrainian friends the fear of darkness and hope that in the dawn of every new day we can take a deep breath of celebration together, knowing hope is still standing.

My phone has become my breathing machine. Refresh, refresh, refresh. Stand with Ukraine!