by Antonia G.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ALAN COMPTON
Coming to Ireland was a spontaneous decision. It’s an English- speaking country far enough from russia.* We came here to wait for a visa appointment to go to the USA. While waiting, we fell in love with Ireland, the land of broken umbrellas and beautiful rainbows, and rather than going to another hemisphere, chose to stay here until it is safe to return home. Generally, Americans think that everybody in the world dreams to become American. Many Irish men and women, in contrast, looked me in the eyes compassionately and said with a kind and somewhat shy smile, “We know you’d rather be at home. Our own people often left Ireland because they had to, not because they wanted to live elsewhere.” Later someone told me, “Didn’t they warn you on arrival about the quiet seductive energy this land holds?” Nobody warned us, and I’m glad they didn’t – I needed to experience Ireland for myself. We were only half conscious for the first six months after the invasion. However, we gradually took care of all the necessities like securing jobs, renting our own place, enrolling our child in school. And only after that I allowed myself to reflect on what really matters to me in the light of the events, when life proved to be so fragile. Part of this process was trying to regain the perception of time, because it was significantly distorted by the invasion. I pursued this task quite literally by dedicating a family trip to the theme of time. We came to Waterford, Ireland’s oldest city, visited the Irish Museum of Time, took photos near the Clock Tower, and found this coffee house called Under the Clock. Sipping from a mug I continue this mental journey through my belongings. Rushing to stuff the items of the first necessity into a suitcase, I managed to put in a pair of tango shoes.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ALAN COMPTON
The Shoes These beige shoes are elegant and pretty. Although their thin stilettos do not look very stable to a random observer, they are designed to help me to keep my balance. They gracefully carry my weight and add the feeling of lightness to my life. The thin straps around my ankles hold the shoes perfectly tight. Not too tight as to not hurt me, but tight enough to give me the freedom to move and to feel good. Why did I put them into an evacuation suitcase?
I witnessed (and to a certain extent took part in) two revolutions in Ukraine – one in 2004, when I was a student and protested against corruption, another one in 2013, when I was a young mother. I witnessed and wept over the bloodshed in 2014, when there were victims among protestors, the annexation of Crimea, a sly and sordid invasion of my native Donbas and Luhansk regions by the russians* who claimed that it wasn’t them but “pro-russian* rebels.” I felt I was drowning in lies, injustice and treachery. “Freedom is our religion!” – stated a slogan on the main square in Kyiv to remind everyone that the country entered another loop in a spiral of its fight for freedom. Amidst this turmoil we, ordinary Ukrainians, tried to navigate our way through these tragic and painful events while living normal lives, constantly balancing on the edge of the political and the personal. Children were born, people married, got divorced, pursued new careers, discovered something new about the world or themselves. Tango became my most powerful indicator of normality, something that helped me to keep my balance. Tango I haven’t tangoed since the invasion, finding it difficult to allow myself to feel alive, when every day brings death and suffering to my homeland. However, in my attempts to make amends with Time – this relentless beast – I came to Waterford, not only to attend the museum, but to go to a tango night. I attached a lot of meaning to this event, because it was a birthday party for the oldest tango dancer I know. Jim McManus turned 103, the same age as Ireland’s independence. Prior to coming to Waterford, I’d read a couple of articles about him and found out he was a WWII veteran. People don’t talk much at tango parties. I gave Jim a Ukrainian flag as a birthday gift and later took a photo with him. He thanked me, saying that he’d display the flag in his window. But still – most of my perception of Jim is just guessing. I’m inspired by the idea that if a person who lived through a lot of events can find joy on the dance floor, then maybe I can too. Jim gave a birthday speech in which he said, “Tango is very important. It’s the most important thing in the world.” All the dancers laughed and applauded. Indeed, tango is the most important thing in the world. Along with art, singing in a choir, playing musical instruments, doing yoga, going for long walks, working, gardening, watching your child’s peaceful sleep. Alas, now there’s still a need to defend the right and the ability to enjoy these simple things. That’s why a lot of tango dancers in my country changed their tango shoes for military boots. The same applies to IT specialists, artists, singers, construction workers, engineers, athletes, farmers, teachers, and others. Some of them will be able to return to their normal lives, some of them will die in this unjust and cruel war. And I will be forever indebted to all of them for the gift of my ordinary life. I take the last sip from my mug before I go to catch the bus. Thank goodness buses run on schedule, unlike our lives. Encounters and events (sometimes carefully planned, sometimes totally unexpected, sometimes personal, sometimes national, and sometimes global) shape me over time. Time never stops. But when people dance tango – it disappears.
*If russia’s attitude and politics towards Ukraine change, we’ll use the capital letter again. But for now, this is how Ukrainians write this word in media and even in schools.