Do you know that feeling when something has been on your mind for so long that you don’t quite know how to start sharing it? This is what I’m feeling now, as I stare at the blank page which is to become my blog. It’s the final week of my very first term as a PhD candidate in Slavonic Studies at Cambridge University. In the Oxbridge system, these autumn months are called the Michaelmas term. Lent and Easter terms will follow here in Cambridge; they’ll be called Hilary and Trinity terms in Oxford, where I worked on my Master of Science degree in 2006-2007. And, just like others who have started their doctoral roads this autumn, I’m up for at least three such annual cycles before I might call myself a Dr.
Michaelmas – Lent – Easter, thrice. This blog will accompany me through it all. Why? Well, in part due to my supervisor’s urging. But in part, too, due to the fact that some discoveries are more exciting when shared, and some challenges are best faced when discussed. And the biggest challenge for me in the next few years will be coming to terms with my identity (Ukrainian? Eastern Ukrainian? Russian? neither?) while undertaking academic explorations of issues that might sometimes hit quite ‘close to home’. The question is: How does one become an objective and thorough scholar of things she cares about on a personal level? Because the post-Soviet space is personal to me. And so is my place within it.
Officially, then, this blog is about my doctoral work, and all its accompanying discoveries. Unofficially, though, it is about a post-catastrophic, post-traumatic search for identity. After all, historical trauma – and people’s memory of it – is the main focus of our interdisciplinary research team on the Memory at War project. And things that are happening in the post-Soviet world, where I was born, are certainly post-catastrophic in many ways.
In lieu of a standard ‘intro’ paragraph, then, I think I’ll open this blog with an entry I wrote as one of my privately listed notes on Facebook two years ago, in November 2008, when I lived in Washington DC and worked for a children’s rights non-profit organization. It might help explain, at least, the weird tint of this blog’s background. :)
DEAF CHILD – say the big yellow traffic signs at both ends of my one-block street. Those signs were here when I first entered this house as a lonely foreigner in my early teens in the 1990s. According to my stepfather, they were also here when he bought the house – way back when.
Every morning, as I stand on the bus stop and wait for my ride to the metro station, I look at the signs and wonder about that deaf child – the one who has remained young through at least half of my lifetime. Even if that person still lives here, he or she has long ceased to be a child. But the signs remain. They even got upgraded to a yellow color brighter and fresher than the one I remember from before.
Maybe the neighbourhood keeps them up because they slow down some of the speeding drivers on our street. Maybe the process of cancelling them with the city management is too bureaucratic. Or maybe everyone has simply forgotten the signs are even there, and they’ve turned into a sort of street sub-name. Either way: Deaf Child – I read again when I return from work, as I turn into a street which, I’m pretty sure, has no children these days. And I think: where is she today?
And I also think – every time – how good it would be if the handicapped people in my country, and in all those dear countries across the ocean, had access to a similar level of care and attention, symbolized by that simple yellow square. I think of the few remaining World War II veterans who still wear the Soviet-style bright blue tape on their ancient glasses, to keep the lenses from falling out; of Afghanistan veterans missing arms and legs; of Chernobyl survivors struggling with cancer; and of all the handicapped children and adults who dare not leave their homes, because the streets, the transportation system, and the public mind of the former USSR are, in general, not adapted to their needs. You don’t see them much on the streets. But they are there, invisible, in far greater numbers than most would want to know. Even a fraction of the Deaf Child care would make their day. No. It would make their lives.
And so I tell myself: the next cause I take up shall have a yellow background.