Thursday, July 13, 2017

Learning to Breathe and Why I Collect Stories

By Andy O. Daab

The day we came back I encountered a mountain of work. While my friends slowly finished their work and duties and entered the holidays, I to this day am still working on several personal and professional projects. Consequently, breathing has not yet been a luxury I got to enjoy. But I must say that I am extremely happy and grateful for drowning in work.

During our last class we recalled how people in Kosovo would often say, “We want to start living. This is no life here.” There was always that drive to do things now so that in the future something would begin. And it made us think how we interpret our lives. I often catch myself doing something so that in the future I can yield something different from it. But if we pause and think, we realise that what we do in the very present moment is living. Our lives do not start tomorrow, that piece of paper saying bachelor on it is not some magical ticket to suddenly start living. We live with every second that we breathe. And that is when I realised that drowning in work was not about me not breathing, it was quite the opposite. Being able to do all this work, having been granted the trust and confidence to be doing it, all of that was me breathing to the top of my lungs. Right now I am living. And I am enjoying it. In fact, I love it. So  even though I might be prioritising a lot right now and cannot give time to reflect on every single thing, I am actively leading my life. And maybe in the future I will find the time to reflect, but it will need to be a decision to make in the moment.

Talking about reflections though. I got to write up the story of the stories. The what? My project was focused on Serbian youth perspectives in Kosovo and it has been one of the most exciting experiences. To that end, I started having ‘sessions’ with young Serbs in Kosovo via email and skype. In the sessions I would let them tell me a story. Sometimes I would ask them if I could guide them by asking questions. It soon created its own dynamic and started to have a life of its own. Only now that I got to sit down back home in Amsterdam and read through it, was I able to see a wider picture. And that wider picture included more than I would have thought. Of course, there were so many new tremendous perspectives within this project, but something else I realised came to light in the reflection we had to submit.

What motivated you? Well, as you might have read in my first blog post there was a personal connection that led me to build a frame and an objective. But during my project I realised that the frame and objective can only get you so far. To truly open oneself to a story, sometimes one just has to let go and trust the process. So what motivated me, suddenly became the question of what motivated me to collect stories. To share stories.

Looking back I realised that being part of the LGBT community contributed to my constant ambition of sharing stories, of encouraging representation. Growing up in the 1990s there were not many out and proud people in the public space. There was no one like me on the tele, in the cinemas, or the books that I read. School did not teach us about the healthy and natural variations of sexual orientations. And for the longest time there was no Internet to share information. When I was born my civil rights just about extended to not being punished for loving the person I love. Only slowly did that extend to the right against discrimination, to equal access of partnership and the institution of marriage, the right to a family. From the early 2000s onwards, LGBT representation and appreciation slowly developed in the mainstream media. But until that point, I never once had heard a story of someone like me. I grew up thinking something was wrong with me. The subtle everyday homophobia all around did not help. I believed that I was not allowed to have a story, that my story was worthless, that I was not worth having one. Maybe if I had grown up knowing just one story like mine, I would not have been ashamed coming out to my parents. Maybe I could have been as proud of and loving to myself as they were in that moment.  Maybe I would not have felt guilt and shame for experiencing love growing up. Maybe I would not question the legitimacy of my relationship when in public. Just one story could have given me courage.

Nonetheless, I grew up to be a proud and strong gay man. I know how hard it is to think I might not have a story. And even though I never realised it before, I have internally vowed to myself that no one should ever feel as though they do not deserve a story. In the end I guess Kosovo taught me how to breathe, and where that strength to breathe comes from--two realisations that will accompany me for a long time to come, much like the beautiful memories of Kosovo.

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