Thursday, June 16, 2016

Kosovo's Story and Our Story

By Maria Gayed

It is officially day 9, the very last full day we will be spending in our beloved Prishtina. I’ve just woken up from a night of going out in a typical Prishtina (maybe even Balkan) club: many confident-looking men, flashy lights, music that people scream along to, smoke, and women in extravagant clothing and insanely high heels.  I love it. As I’m writing this, my lovely roommates are getting ready for the day, and I can’t help but revel in the fact that we feel so at home here. Marijn is doing her stretching exercises (I can’t find the energy to join her), Jasmin is packing her bag for the day. Iris just came in our room only to brush her hair for a few minutes (honestly, she just wanted to chat with us, isn’t that so sweet?). We all go about our way in amicable silence and its great; at this point, we’re so comfortable with one another that talk isn’t necessary anymore. You’d 10:31I think back to the progression that everyone has undergone during this trip. If anyone of my group is reading this post, I urge you to do the same. Think of the first time you saw some of our friends (I don’t consider us just classmates anymore), and their first day here in Prishtina, and think of yesterday’s meetings. Haven’t we all grown so much? Haven’t we grown together and with one another so much? I’m not talking about knowledge about Kosovo or the Balkans only; I’m talking about how we’ve grown to intertwine in big and small ways together.

When we’re in the club and Rihanna or Beyonce comes on, I run to Lisa and Clara to dance with them. Then, a hip-hop, rap song is thrown in the mix, and although Reeta says that’s not necessarily her favorite music, we dance together as if we belong in that scene. Next, a song to which everyone knows the lyrics to is blasted through the speakers and of course I will have to run to Roos then to sing, scream and dance my heart out to it, with her. Would I have known these things if I just asked them about their favorite music? No. And without this trip, we probably wouldn’t have gone out with each other back in Amsterdam. What I just described may seem superficial to you, but I promise you it isn’t. These connections go beyond having a fun night out.

Beyond having a great night out with my people, I think of the silent communication that we’ve been building over the last days. From the very first day, we worked together to ask questions to the organizations and places we visited. Our questions pull and push together; from heavy questions about conflict and identity, we’re able to transition back to a funny or motivating question accompanied with some giggles and kind eyes. To have that from the very beginning was very natural for our group, and very special to see because not all groups will have this chemistry right from the start. However, this group chemistry has deepened to more: now we’re much more aware of what we’re doing. We support one another in the process. At UNMIK Jasmin asked the senior political affairs officer to help her understand (oh, another word to add to our list of Anne’s vocabulary) what the exit strategy of UNMIK is. She did it in such a beautifully diplomatic way. Around the table, a few us take a moment to send her an appreciative and encouraging smiles.  At the meeting with Vetëvendosje, whenever its president makes questioning statements I share a look with Marijn and it reads something along the lines of ‘ is that really true?’ and ‘ that is most probably different from reality’. When we’re at the EULEX meeting, I get a paper message from Simona to ask if it would be worth it to ask about corruption in Kosovo. I reply to her that you could, but that the answer probably won’t be super spectacular (no offense). She reads it; we nod to each other and she proceeds to ask the question. Yesterday and the day before, the very last days of meetings we laugh out loud whenever Jasmin introduces herself (Hi, my name is Jasmin and I study international relations, political science, and law), or when Berna asks the first question at almost every meeting (Hi, I’m Berna and I study Medicine and International Relations. My question concerns the …). We laugh, because we’ve heard these introductions time and time again, and we poke fun at it.

I can’t even count all the knowing smiles, raised eyebrows and small nods I’ve shared with all of you. To be confronted with such a different (but in some ways also similar) reality here in Kosovo, there’s no other option but to break small little pieces of yourself open for the rest to see. When you’re having dinner at a lake near the Serbian border, and we do a checkout of the day, literally almost every person says how much he or she appreciates this group. It’s endearing to see the small drops of tears forming in the eyes of my friends, and to laugh at them for it while secretly wiping away your own. Some of you I’ve gotten to know much more extensively, from sharing secrets and life stories (thank you for sharing those with me, I can’t tell you how honored I am that you would share those things with me), and with others I’ve shared numerous laughs, so many silly and wrong jokes.

I think that beyond getting to know Kosovo’s story, we’ve all gotten to know each other’s story. The relationships built here are things we need to cherish, to foster and to continue developing when we’re back in Amsterdam; it is one of the valuable gifts we’ve been given and built ourselves here.

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