Why I’m Moving (Back To) Belgrade

I was born in Jugoslavia, a country that no longer exists.

Perhaps as a result, I’ve always felt a little unrooted. I had the very good fortune of growing up in Canada, and while I speak English without the trace of an accent, while I know all the words to the national anthem, Canada has never felt entirely like home.

When the house I grew up in was sold, levelled, and a McMansion that extended to the property line was built upon its ashes, I felt something that was already frail snap. There’s this part in the book Nausea by Jean Paul Sartre where the protagonist, Antoine Roquentin, says that the past is a luxury of ownership. He notices that people who have homes live amidst their legacies, that each gift, each trinket, each piece of furniture contains a memory: “Pendants, medals, portraits, seashells...they have armoires full of bottles...old clothes and newspapers, they’ve kept it all.” But he wonders how he, having no home, nowhere to stow his memories - how will he conserve his past? “One does not put the past in his pocket," Sartre writes. "He must have a house in which to put it away.”

“On ne met pas son passé dans sa poche; il faut avoir une maison pour l’y ranger.”

I could no longer point to the modest house on a quiet street in Richmond and say, “I grew up there. That’s where my past lives.” I had already kind of felt like a stranger in a strange land, not really belonging, just passing through, like some kind of child exile. Now I felt completely untethered.

When I go to Belgrade, I am a stranger in a strange land for real. I have a funny accent, and folks always ask me where I’m from. “From here,” I insist, “but I live in Vancouver.” My ways are strange, my etiquette all over the place, and compared to the beautiful women that parade the cobblestoned streets, I look like an ~*actual*~ homeless person. And yet, it feels like home in a way that Vancouver never has. When I walk the streets, I feel they are mine. Every time I have to leave, I feel like there’s been some kind of mistake: I’m supposed to be staying longer. There’s a typo on the ticket. This isn’t right.

I’ve just turned 31.

While my friends are buying houses, reproducing, leaning into their careers, I'm actively avoiding anything that could fetter me. My Master’s degree gathers dust while I take off every few months to go on another trip, because my serving job gives me flexibility that is the envy of my more professional friends. Don’t get me wrong, most of this flighty behaviour is the result of my nature, I'm a classic mutable Air sign ;) But a little over a year ago, I realized that all this floating about was also due to a driving desire to go home. One extreme begets its opposite, I suppose. I deflected jobs, let responsibilities ricochet, so that the path would be open for me to return home for as long as I needed to. Because I knew I did need to. I needed to remind myself that I am from somewhere. From a place both make-believe and very real. I needed to remember that I used to be someone. I used to have a home. That I haven’t always been this way -- floating.

I think that instinctively, I took up the practice of Yoga because I was looking for a way to ground myself. I was looking for an experiential means of reminding myself that I am connected to, and in fact a part of, something solid. Something unchanging, eternal, and bigger than my wee self.

Yoga can be a way to feel at home in your own body, connected to something deeper, older, you-er than you are. A way of coming home to yourself, of integrating the different parts of yourself when you feel more like fractions than a whole.

I am so excited to share this practice that in the place where I feel more grounded, more like myself, than anywhere else. Indeed, it was through Yoga, through this practice of becoming quiet and listening for what it is I might actually need, that I was able to discern this call Home.

So here I come.

I want to see what it’s like to step onto the street and feel the magnetic pull of the earth beneath me. To live where so many generations of my kin lived and loved and built and died. To be near my ancestors’ bones. So many influences determine who we are, but there’s something so potent in place. I've always wondered what I might have been like if I had not left. I’m going back to try and find out.

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