I’ve always been fascinated by maps. And globes. Atlases. I can lose myself for hours turning pages. I have an old atlas that was a gift when I was a child. I pore over it, looking at the names of exotic places–Mauritius, Timbuktu, Nome, the Cape of Good Hope, Alice Springs. I ponder the faded outlines of countries that no longer exist.
I look at a map of Africa that shows Zaire and Rhodesia, and think about what it’s like for your entire country to be wiped off a map, to cease to exist, to be no longer. To be landless, placeless, homeless. Or to be the takers of that land, establishing (or reestablishing) a homeland on the ashes of a failed nation.
I think of countries that have risen up, punching through the sky, to become independent from colonialism or oppression or homogenization: East Timor, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia. I think of Balkanization, which reminds me of the word vulcanization; I think of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, of Serbia, of Montenegro and Macedonia. I think of earth-shaking explosions and wide debris fields.
I think of places we never even bothered to name. Territories of native people, swept up in revolutions, migrations, land grabs. Place names that never made it onto a map. Or maybe later, after archaeologists insisted: the Mayan Empire.
Most people just think I’m trying to plan my next trip. But sometimes, I think I’m just searching for an answer, hoping to find the country called “home.”
Countries dissolve for many reasons: political, economic, social, sometimes through natural disasters. Borders move, change, are erased, disappear, harden. Cities flood or are engulfed in mud and volcano ash. Troops invade, and heavy black boots are used to scuff away the manmade lines. Maps are often not to scale–so when something looks nearby, and then you try to go to it, you discover it’s farther than you thought.
Sometimes, there’s a revolution. Guns are taken down from the mantles. People are injured. There are protests, marches, shouting. There’s always lots of shouting, flinging of objects, breaking of glassware. Outsiders try to understand. They send money and good wishes. They take sides, make proclamations. Blue helmets appear, smiling and bearing fresh water; and then they go home. Strife remains, usually.
New boundaries are placed, for a time. But they shift. The map never stops changing, even when we wish it would, because somebody’s always dissatisfied with their circumstances.
Every border change creates more dissent down the road.
My country can’t be found anymore. It was a revolution, a natural disaster, and a coup d’etat all at once. Guns were gotten down from the mantle. People were killed. We survivors redrew lines over the top of the old country, learned to speak in different tongues. Allegiances shifted. Blue-helmeted people came and tried to help; they tromped around a bit, did little good. I’m sure baked goods were involved. They left dissatisfied–we hadn’t appreciated them enough. They went elsewhere to help more grateful citizens.
I think of the nation-state of Granny. Our Switzerland–old, wise, calm. Always there, never divulging our secrets. When Switzerland was no more, all the maps shifted again. Other states came in and left, sometimes suddenly–a matter of hours to rearrange the sands. Sometimes the shifts took years.
I look for the independent republics of the aunties. Like the EU, borders are easier to cross. The currency is the same. Things are civilized. You will be welcomed, fed, not yelled at. Dinner, like German trains, appears on schedule. You feel safer.
There are the far-flung provinces of the cousins, declared independent and no longer obeying the old guard. The trains don’t always run on time, and the elections are sometimes rigged, but–by god–they are no longer a “-stan.” I suppose I am one of these, too, technically. The Balkanized. I’d like to be Montenegro, please. I always thought it had the prettiest name. And it’s small: I really don’t want to be a large nation–too complicated, too much effort, I’d be dissatisfied with the borders. Mostly, I just feel like an exile, but I realize the place I came from no longer exists. The return journey is not possible.