Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What a trip!

Dear Friends, Të nderuar miq, драги пријатељи,

This is Erik de Graaf here. I am married to Anne. She is the person guilty of arranging this trip. I was invited to come along and I gladly participated. All throughout this academic year, I have got to know the students through the eyes of Anne, or more specifically, through the warm effect they have on her. I was happy to have a first-hand opportunity to get to know some of them personally.

I was supposed to add some weight to the group. That much I achieved. And to show some muscle if needed. I sort of became the muscle-man, who happens to come from Scheveningen too.

The main thing I am taking home with me from this trip is the realization, no rather amazement, of how 19 students and some organizers grew into a tight, committed and caring group. And as a collective, we were able to share and experience all of the flavours of Kosovo. All of the colours of its rainbow. We were torn apart by some of the hopelessness, surprised by some of the initiatives and frustrated by some of the stubbornness. We were taken by its kindness, grateful for its friendships and thankful for its openness. We sought each other out to process all of it. And particularly during the last magical evening, we were able to share some of our individual experiences and feelings. It gave some closure to an emotional week full of contradicting views and opposing camps. We all sort of felt like we had become part of this community. Perhaps by now we all are Newborn Kosovars.  

But when I woke up at home on Saturday, I realized I was even more confused than before I left. Some IR instructors may see this as evidence of a successful trip, but I think that most of us grew to feel so close to Kosovo, that it hurt a little, if not a lot. A sense of helplessness came over me, for there seemed to be little I could do. A good illustration was our brief meeting with students from North Mitrovica. The meeting was so short, that I felt we left there without having been able to convince the students of what may be considered the right attitude in working towards a sustainable peace for the region. However, reality forces me to accept that even if we had spent the whole week there, the outcome would most likely have been the same.

But in the mixture of experiences, some of us were lucky to get a flavour of how Serbs and Albanians can live together in some sort of harmony, even play for the same football team, and share music, dance and culture. How they are learning each other’s languages. And how they are building friendships across the divide. A taste of how it is possible to live together and respect one another. Some of them said they would not forgive, they would not forget, but they would move on. A bit along the lines John F. Kennedy paraphrased regarding the East-West differences in 1963: 
So, let us not be blind to our differences. But let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.
I am grateful to the students for welcoming me and making me feel part of the group. Now I actually have come to realize why Anne enjoys teaching at AUC so much.

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