Hi faithful blog readers--Let me introduce myself. I'm the instructor at AUC who sort-of dreamed up this crazy trip. To give you a quick impression of what's we've been up to, here's an email I just sent to AUC:
Dear friends and colleagues,
I wanted to thank you for your best wishes, emails, kind words, and waving off as we left AUC on Friday. And I wanted you to know that we not only survived the 4-hour bus ride (in heavy traffic) to Brussels, and the flight to Prishtina, arriving safely in the dark Friday night, but we are thriving.
I wish you all were with us, because you would see what I do:
* The students watching out for each other—it began at the airport already. I call it the Litany of 19, as I went through the names and counted 19 every time we arrived somewhere (check-in, passport control, flight gate, luggage, bus…). But I soon learned that I wasn’t the only one checking to make sure we left no one behind. They have each other’s backs.
* Such a generous and kind group of people—if I had to generalize about our students, I would say they are so very curious and smart and kind and non-judgemental. The conversations I have been privileged to be part of have stretched my own mind and heart.
* We are having way too much fun! Laughter all the time.
So far, each day has been full of so many amazing impressions and discoveries, it’s hard to list them all. Friday night the students arrived at their Kosovar guest families. They were nervous beforehand. On the plane, a few were turning to their fellow passengers, asking if they were Albanian, then going over their vocabulary lists with them, learning Albanian pronunciation. Soon our entire section of the plane was laughing and learning. Yet they were nervous as we drew up in parts of Kosovo where it was apparent people are not so affluent as in Amsterdam. Pot holes, coal smoke, cobbled together houses and old communist-style flat high-rises—all new.
But the next morning when we gathered at the NEWBORN sign in the city center (referring to the newborn state of Kosovo), they told me stories of the children in their homes, and the food, and smiles and friendship. No water between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. is a new experience. Monika, my friend the terrorism expert who helped put together this trip, had told them all beforehand that hospitality is a precious gift here, and sure enough, our students have all been adopted!
We spent Saturday in a Roma camp, seeing the good work of an NGO, the Ideas Partnership, bridging education needs of Roma children. Hard. I felt like I was back in the townships of the Cape Flats outside of Cape Town. Mud and cardboard shacks, more mud on the streets, the men’s wheelbarrows which they use to gather salvageable garbage—usually their only source of income. Children with obvious physical problems with their eyes and skin. And local community leaders who are owning this project and have encouraged a vision for their children’s future. I saw our students playing with the children. Three of our guys were “arrested” by a group of small boys, who then put them against a wall and summarily “executed” them with a toy gun. Tough to watch this. But then our guys turned it around and grabbed the boys, throwing them over their shoulders to the delight of the crowd that had gathered.
Yesterday we visited a string of organizations: UN Development Program, a Kosovar think tank for policy and development, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the first openly gay lesbian, Migration, and a former student of Monika’s who is working here for an NGO. All these places have given us a wide variety of perspectives as we meet Albanian Kosovars who come from Albanian Muslim backgrounds, or Serb Kosovars who think this is still part of Serbia, or intermarried people who have a long string of hyphenated identities. People refer to the ethnic cleansing and missing bodies and burnt mosques with a mixture of relief and hope. Relief that is over, hope that they may prevent a repeat of the violence. One of our local guides and interpreters, Bardha, told me, "We will not forgive and we will not forget, but we will move on.”
At night we all eat together—riots of conversation and laughter. Last night the students dressed up and went clubbing after dinner finished at 11 p.m. Today we’re off to the PM’s office, so again we have more adventures around the corner. Am curious how long it will take before one of the students asks him about the charges brought against him re. organ trafficking.
The students are setting up a blog, where they can share their research diaries and photos. I’ll forward the link as soon as it’s live. Ivan is making a documentary for YouTube.
Full days and a full heart. My husband Erik, Monika, our two local guides Bardha and Enver, the students and I all send our warmest greetings to everyone back at AUC.
Kind regards, Anne