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Kosovo: Rediscovering the Familiar

A friend once told me, No place is better or worse, just different.

In May 2015, the opportunity arose for a group of friends from Serbia to visit Kosovo, as part of a cultural mission to build bridges by promoting writing in English. The group, hereafter, the Fellowship, lead by Nathan William Meyer, an ELF (English Language Fellow), was set on breaking prejudices, learning, and experiencing something new.

Our hosts took us to a traditional house converted into a museum

From a young age we are fed prejudices and blatant lies, sometimes intentionally, through the media, sometimes unintentionally by the sorry ignorance of our parents and teachers. A part of me feared what may come of this journey, but not wanting to give up before even trying, I went, wanting to be open minded, to learn on my own. Yet, when I got there, I didn’t like it, at all. I disliked the air, the colour of the sky, the waste of the land, nothing seemed right. We arrived in Pristina and I didn’t like it either. Too gray, too windy, too concrete. We went to sleep.

However, with the morning came an extraordinary day, and it seemed unreal how so many great experiences can fit in a mere 24 hours. Everything changed when we met our hosts, kind students welcoming us with huge bright smiles, and their leader, the mighty ELF, Kate Mulvey.

While journeying through Pristina, we witnessed the struggle of a new country to find its own identity. The city was a mash of old Serbian legacy, buildings from our beloved communism (you can always spot a communist building, it’s the huge gray ugly thing defiling any architectural design that might have once existed in a city), muslim sacral tradition and culture, and modern construction.

A house in Janjevo

We sallied forth to beautiful Janjevo, once an important mining town, tucked away in gorgeously green hills. The narrow cobblestone streets lead the way to the church of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of the town, only a 100 m away from the main mosque. The stone houses, once populated mainly by Croats, now half in ruin, ooze a certain charm, and stand as reminders of the rich history of these parts. In one of the local homes, we were treated to a traditional lunch, something between a gibanica [1] and savijača [2], with yoghurt. We could have been in the heart of Šumadija [3], meaning, we felt at home. The host spoke Serbian and shared stories of his time studying in Belgrade. Us being from Serbia, and him being a good host, rakija [4] was offered. We of course declined politely, after the second shot that is, we didn't wanna be rude.

We also visited Gračanica, if only she was not made of stone [5]. The monastery, a witness of olden times, made me realize, that even when people change, and places change, buildings can remain the same. Looking at her, I felt respect and love and pain, but, life is painful like that sometimes.

Anica reading her story at the conference

My dear fellowship was later given the honour of presenting at the KETnet Conference where we learned a lot about the Albanian culture, sang along to a Lepa Brena's song [6], and spoke in front of 60 people, even managing to get a few laughs. Then we continued: hotel, hectic, changing, hurrying, beer, beer, and Pimp my Carroça event. It was a great cultural happening seeking support for the destitute people who survive by collecting and selling recyclables from the trash. By ‘pimping’ their carts, the event strived to raise awareness about the plight of these people and the public service they unwittingly perform.

We ended up in our rooms long past midnight. Lying in bed, happy, thinking, it dawned on me! I realised that buildings and streets and trees are not what gives colors to places. People give colors to places. That day was not gray, we spent it in a magnificent rainbow.

No food, only notebooks - the writers' dinner

When the next day we got together with the students from Pristina, we were already friends. We recognized faces, we smiled back, we were basically the same, and we understood that now. We shared the same patriarchal upbringings, the unique experience of growing up in the Balkans, school and exams. We also shared the wish to see the world, meet people and make friends and honestly, have some fun. This short trip was breaking of prejudices, building of character and getting to know ourselves and others.

Fighting the heat in the centre of Pristina

On a less serious note, it was running through fountains, elves, strawberries, group hugs, and a goat.


[1] a traditional pastry dish from Serbia popular all over the Balkans

[2] a traditional savory pastry from Serbia, resembling a strudel

[3] a district of Serbia located in the central part of the country

[4] a fruit brandy popular in the Balkans

[5] from the poem Gračanica by Desanka Maksimović

[6] a Bosnian turbo-folk singer

All of the photos are courtesy of Nathan William Meyer

#travelogue #Kosovo #KETnetConference

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