Saturday, 30 March 2013

But There's Nothing There!

Moving to Calgary and buying a home here a while back was exciting.  I bubbled with enthusiasm telling people where we lived when someone made the strange comment "but there's nothing there!"  I didn't know what to say, bewildered that someone could be so insensitive.  It was as if we had not met the standard, like nothing good could be found where we live. But I discovered over the years, that our subdivision was indeed originally part of a wild, untended piece of "hinterland", and that some people really are safest huddled in their small lives. Of course, Calgary has since become such a sprawling metropolis.  I wonder whether anyone now hears "but there's nothing there!"

People sometimes inadvertently say inconsiderate things, which becomes problematic when politicians, historians or commentators assert their authority over lives, places and things without considering the people themselves.  And worse still, historians are often swayed by the political will of the ruling order in the land. Imagine a New Yorker who has never seen the Rockies saying "but there's nothing there" about Calgary these days!

So I am reading the highly recommended resources for an upcoming travel program to the Black Sea to enhance my understanding of the people of this region.  I am beginning to hope that it is simply setting a tone. Talk about politics, which investor established a business hub where, which figures from the times aristocracy used the region for a vacation site, seen through the eyes of a foreign economic lens that really says little about the actual people who for generations have raised their families there.  Or perhaps it is intended this way.  Looking at my ancestral homeland through a museum guidebook or a textbook is interesting reading.

The way of life, richly colored daily routines, familiar smells of home cooking, intricate decorative sewing, cleaning-building-horticulture-agrarian practices, the art and craft of regular people living regular lives - these things have interest for me.  The belief systems, the resilient spirit, the body of accumulated practice, the remains of a life well lived - these draw my curious mind. Maybe these things have always been the prize, hoarded by grave robbers, looted from kurhan mounds, and pillaged from Ukraine's archeological sites over the centuries. The material cultural treasures, ancestral memory, the handiwork of people living normal lives is on display in wealthy, powerful and imposing museums the world over - all originating from a place where "there's nothing there". Really!

My home in Calgary is indeed close to Nose Hill, still a wild place with coyotes, deer and teeming with life.  Calgary may once have been Canada's hinterland, much like Ukraine may have been considered a bordering land for her neighbors. But times change.  Whose telling the story now?  Calgary's city boundaries were redrawn a few years back, so my home is now considered part of the "inner city". With the political winds of time changing, I think the pedagog who defined the name "Ukraina" to mean "hinterland", really got it wrong.  Everything on the outside is her hinterland!

With an admiring gaze I listen as my mom unravels the stories of our family geneology, and stand in awe as she unfurls thousands of family names, dates, photos, details. I realize that family is the real treasure, and the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sentimental feeling of ancestral family is the jewel in the crown. The winds of time have carried the seeds of our family here, but the roots are firmly planted in a place teeming with life, just north of the Black Sea in Western Ukraine.

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