By Anne de Graaf
On the Turkish Airlines flight from Schiphol to Istanbul. Erik playing on his phone. Beibhin writing in her journal. Iris remembering her study abroad in Istanbul last year. Andrea and most of the others asleep. I’ve just read their project proposals, due last night at midnight. Yesterday they took their exam on Balkan history and Kosovo identity. Quite a challenge forcing so much information into just one week of lectures. They co-presented most of the info, and it was so, so interesting to watch their understanding spark and kindle. First few days overwhelmed, then the patterns start to emerge and themes resonate.
Now we’re off to Prishtina for 10 days to visit various organizations from the UN to a Roma camp, NGOs dealing with LGBT rights, women’s rights, anti-corruption, EU governance, and everything in between, including a community-based initiative that brings young musicians from both sides together to just jam. This year we’ll also be spending the night in the mountains near the Serb border, on a lake, near the hometown of one of the UN Serbian guys who has sort-of adopted us during our visits.
It is very special—we are very special. When we walk in somewhere people look at us: young (well, most of us-ha!) and beautiful. Our backgrounds: Turkish, Irish, Italian, Dutch, American, Serbian, German, Colombian, Bulgarian, French, Armenian, Egyptian, Surinamese and Finnish. We are what Kosovo wants to be: the Young Europeans and then some!
Post-conflict country, identity, them-and-us, transitional justice, everyday peacebuilding, hidden transcripts—all phrases we have discussed and made our own this last week.
Yesterday after the exam I taught them interview techniques: Our phrase for the trip is: I’m trying to understand this a bit better, I wonder if you could help me, please. And I taught them my Colombo trick of almost ending the interview, then saving the most important (and sensitive) question for last, almost as an afterthought. It’s about building trust and timing.
This is the third year that Erik and I have had the privilege of taking young people to this great little country with a Europe-sized heart. Our Kosovar-Albanian friends and adopted family there will once again take our students into their homes and spoil them thoroughly. We watch and listen and laugh. At night we will all talk at once around long, candlelit tables, as we process the emotions and challenges of the day. In this way we grow in understanding—and that is in itself so very crucial to the process of peace.