Is your native language something you take for granted? Well, for me it has been a struggle — a struggle with history, politics, society, and myself. Yet something guided me through it. I don't know what you heard about my native land — Belarus. For most of the world it is a new country, as four centuries of severe Russian assimilation devastated Belarusian culture. But some of it managed to survive, mostly in the villages. This shaped my biography.
Although I was born in a city in the western part of then Byelorussian SSR1, the first six years of my life I spent in a village with my grandparents. I remember the manmade old woody gate to the orchard. I remember noises of storks on the roofs of the houses and frogs croaking in the evening. I remember the sounds of whistling "ts," "dz," tough "ch," "r," "dzh" people made while talking. "Volya..." I would hear from my great-grandparents, and I would feel proud as this word also meant "freedom." All of those sounds seemed to come from nature, creating feeling of harmony and peace.
At the age of six, like thousands of other children in the 16 Republics of the Soviet Union, I entered a school in my native town, Brest. It was at school I noticed I spoke a different dialect than the other children. They said I had bad grammar and pronounced words in strange, "village" ways, ways they used to correct. I felt ashamed because of my lack of education. In those soviet 80s, for the city people "village" was almost a derogatory word. Little by little, I learned to speak correctly. But during vacations I went back to the village, and the world there worked in other sounds — in another language. I would no longer accept that language as it stood for som...
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...an culture, I can afford it, because I am out of the country for most of the year. My parents use Belarusian in the city themselves when I am in Belarus. As for strangers, I chose to surprise them, sometimes meeting resistance or anger, sometimes recieveing thanks and cheers. It is a battle every time I leave my apartment in Brest. It is hard to get used to. But sometimes that what it takes to be who you are. When I visit my grandmother, she laughs: "Remember, when you were a kid you used to correct me when I said "stork" in Belarusian to "stork" in Russian, saying that now you knew how to say it correctly. Old people also know something about life."
I use a different spelling of Belarus and Belarusian when I refer to the Soviet era, as before 1991 the country's name was translated to English from Russian as "Byelorussia" or "Byelorussian SSR."
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