By Maria Gayed
When you’re a student at AUC, just like students at any other institution, you sometimes question what you do it all for. At least, that’s what I did when I typed away at 3 am two nights before the Capstone deadline. That deadline became one of many deadlines, piling up – one after another. With each new paper submitted, you ask yourself, “What am I doing?”. Surely I’m not the only one who has felt like this, but even if I was, it still would be a legitimate question. Not to be too existential here, but what is everyone doing? And why? I can safely say for myself that I was getting stuck in a rut. Though you know the reasons you studied for, with each new deadline or presentation, those reasons became fuzzier and fuzzier. Perhaps this sounds dramatic, but that is the intent, because who wouldn’t be dramatic after such little sleep in such stressful times?
And now you’re back in Amsterdam, and it’s day 10 since being back. Like all your other Peacelab people (read: friends), you answer each question about how Kosovo was with a, “nice” or a “great”. However, later, you spoke to people outside of AUC, who literally have no idea about anything. And they ask you, “So, how was your holiday?”. Holiday? Holiday? And then a “nice” or a “great” doesn’t suffice at all. You opt for launching into some sort of objective explanation of what you did in Kosovo and why you went for a course, and the reaction is so minimal. “Oh, that’s interesting.” Interesting doesn’t even cover it, but that’s okay. Because the less I have to tell you about it, the less I have to explain, the more I can keep in my heart.
Every time I speak about it Peacelab, I feel I don’t do it justice. Words like amazing, inspiring, transformative – they don’t make a dent in the people I’ve spoken to. They don’t know how much I mean those words. Still, it’s okay. It’s okay, because one way or another, I’ll have to show them how it has changed me. It won’t be noticeable right away, and it won’t be so visible like a tattoo on my head, but slowly the changes will come trickling in. Like many, we haven’t learned only about Kosovo or the Balkans, but we’ve learned about mankind – about ourselves. When I see the warmth and care of Bardha and her family, and their super honest but well-meaning ways, I learn. I learn to incorporate parts of their ways into my ways. I don’t know if it will last, but even small changes make a difference, no? You know, this blog post was supposed to be about how we had changed after the trip, and though I feel like I have already, I don’t think I can pinpoint in what ways, yet. But I am aware of some things that I’ve learnt. I learned from Nienke’s enthusiasm, no matter what time it is or who she’s with and I want to try to bring that back with me. I learned from Thomas’ constant hugs and smiles, and try to give that love back to others no matter how tired I am, just like him. I learned from Anne’s patience, the endless patience she gives us. When we’re late, she says that it’s more important that we’re here and safe. She makes it seem so easy, and then I witness a moment in which she gathers her patience for just two seconds, and then she sighs and proceeds to give us more patience. Though she might not have liked me seeing that moment (I don’t know), it was good for me to see. It showed me that it is something to continuously work at, that it doesn’t just come like that, and I learn from it. The next step is incorporating all those lessons, all those traits within yourself to truly change.
However, the biggest thing that has been given to me is to see the power of youth. The youth in Kosovo had been imperative to the protests in the 1990s, and are imperative for the changes made today and tomorrow. After this trip, I can say that I’ve seen young people around me change from students into people who will change the world without a doubt. When we had our last check-out that night at the lake, we listened to what was on each other’s mind. During those moments, and those check-outs, I realized that I’m seeing transformation happen before my eyes. I’ll share two moments with you, but I assure you that I’ve seen transformation in every individual there. When Shelby stood up and gave her check-out, you could see how baffled, and how touched she was by the entire trip. One thing stood out for me: when she explained that she had never been aware of how corruption in Suriname really is and how it’s really not okay to let that continue, she says, “That just means I have a lot of work to do.” And when you heard her say that, you can’t argue with that: you just know that she does have a lot of work to do indeed, but more so, that she really will do all of that work. I think we all listened in awe to our friend who was angry, determined and full of heart to change Suriname. Never underestimate the power of youth.
This is also the advice I’d like to give to the politicians and the officers at big international we visited. When we visited Vetëvendosje, some of us (including me), were impressed by the words of its president. We were swayed by his rhetoric and explanations. Later, we visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of European Integration and again, charming politicians make their way into our ‘little brains’. But it’s okay to sway, as long as you look back on it later and realize what has happened. Though, I don’t think these politicians had any idea of what they have shown us. When Vetëvendosje’s president tells us that the idea of ‘Greater Albania’ “is stupid”, although it was their own rhetoric only two years ago, and he informs us that joining with Albania is a form of national unification, he shows us how politics work. By showing us the exact same idea in a different jacket and how much better it sounds, he has given us the tools to spot such decorations of ideas in other politicians back here in the Netherlands, in Europe, in the world. When a deputy minister of foreign affairs is sitting in his seat, relaxed, laid back, charming and seemingly so open and honest, he shows us once more a form of decoration. This time the decoration is placed around him and not necessarily his ideas. By showing his youth, his humour, his relaxed demeanour and a sarcastic but honest sounding tone; he has decorated himself in such a way that we believe everything he says. I describe this, not to tell you that everything that is being said is a lie, but that it shows us how our own politicians sometimes play the same games. And I thank all of them for being the way they are, whether some found it a positive or negative experience, because by seeing the way these politicians and officers operate, they showed us much more than we could’ve hoped for.
I would tell these politicians, don’t underestimate the waves your making around the world when you meet with youth. Those waves could be felt in the Netherlands, Suriname, Ireland, Norway, Italy, you name it. There is such potential here, and that should not be taken lightly.