(By Sophia Bensch)
While consciously trying to make ourselves more aware of all the different angles of the current situation in Kosovo, many things may have been happening within us that we were less aware of. Today, after a few days with little sleep, reminiscent of our time in Kosovo, I feel myself strangely set back to my state of mind during our trip.
Instead of sharp, critical thinking, which I observed with many of my peers, it was my senses which seems to be taking a hit. Paradoxically (or maybe not), seeing beauty has never been so easy as in a place that has seen the worst kind of atrocities. My senses were hungry to absorb all the impressions coming my way. Even if I didn’t always know how to place them, I am convinced they are somewhere in there, hopefully ready to resurge and extend the magic of our recent experiences. What added to the sensory experience was the intensity and pace of our programme which required us to constantly adapt to new situations.
A day that immediately comes to mind in this context, is Saturday the 13th of June. In the early morning hours of that day we had been joyfully dancing in a beautifully decorated semi-outdoor club, which some of our newfound friends had invited us to. With seemingly endless supplies of energy we danced ourselves out of the premisses after closing time and continued our celebration in the taxi and briefly at home (we had the apartment to ourselves). Then it was time for a brief nap before the meeting with The Ideas Partnership, likely the initiative closest to my heart. Admittedly feeling a little mushy, I was in the most agreeable mood, excited to see the inspiring projects of TIP. During the introduction of staff and the tour around the TIP building I found myself staring, fascinated by the colours of peoples’ eyes or the sounds of peoples’ voices, which came to be a recurring theme for the remainder of the trip. However there was not only beauty to be receptive to in the Fushe Kosova's Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian community, but also pungent smells and the sight of dire poverty which left me frustrated. Having explored the area and interacted with some local kids, we were picked up by the bus taking us to have a much needed lunch. After the kind of night we had had, it was not surprising that the majority of the bus crashed and slept until the next arrival. Waking up from deep dreamy sleep, still digesting the heavy morning, my eyes were telling me that we had arrived at a lush Oasis full of waterfalls and flowers with a restaurant in its midst and a pirate sailing ship casually located next door. At the same time relieved and disgusted by the stark contrast to where we had been, what seemed like moments ago, I found my way to the long table prepared for us, where we had yet another delicious meal together. Next stop on our adventure was the Serbian Orthodox monastery in Gracanica. There, we were received by a nun, who briefly explained to us the history of the monastery and the meaning of the famous Fresco paintings inside. Very knowledgeable on the religious building and its artwork, she showed no sign of emotion to us which gave the visit a film-like, sinister character. Not usually an eager church visitor, I was hooked by some of the organically flowing, mysterious paintings, that made perfect use of the light and space, creating an uplifting sensuous experience.
When expressing the intensity of perception I had experienced that day, I was startled to hear that others had felt the same way, to the extent of having the same obsession with eyes.
This example shows how apart from the lessons learned about post-conflict societies and the different perspectives of people living within them, the trip to Kosovo has reminded me to live in the moment as much as possible and to truly soak up what I smell, taste, see, hear and feel.