Thursday, June 29, 2017

Are we really living?

By Peppi Vaananen
This is the last week of the academic year. You can see the ranging emotions from wistfulness amongst the graduating students to the excitement of the others to have a summer break. But for us Peace Lab students, the work is not yet done. We are currently presenting on our projects that were created during the trip to Kosovo. If you are interested in what Rachael Liss and I were working on, please take a look on our Soundcloud page (spoiler alert: the topic is alcohol and we have included some hilarious stories, so it is fun to listen): Raki: Connecting people

The first group presented on the “Voices of Kosovo” Facebook page, and introduced a theme that they encountered in their interviews. The group noticed that many people in the post-conflict society are waiting for something. Often this was concrete, like a move abroad, but more frequently the wishes of the people were abstract. They used sentences like “There is no life here” and “One day, I hope to join my aunt in Germany to find a job and start living”. The Kosovars are dreaming of a better tomorrow, but everyone had a different idea on how to get there, whether it was improving the economy or reconciliation between the communities. The common theme was that many of the Kosovars interviewed were not content with their current lives, often due to the situation of the country. They were questioning, are the lives that they live really what life is supposed to be about?

Our professor threw this question back to us: Are we really living? I was stunned. A word as simple as “life” has so many connotations, depending on the time and context. I think that the people we met meant “life” as a synonym for life worth living. How can one define when life is worth living? Is there a threshold to be crossed to get there?

It is unfair to present this question to you, the readers, because I have not found a satisfactory answer myself. Still, if anyone asked the question “are you really living” while I was in Kosovo, my immediate answer would have been yes. I believe that many of my fellow students would have said the same.

To me, life worth living could mean that you are truly happy with the situation you are in: this encompasses that you are happy as you are, where you are, and with whom you are. Seems like an uncomfortable amount of gratefulness? Well, the reason for why I believe that I was all of the above in Kosovo has a lot to do with the attitude I had. Sometimes the biggest threat to “really living” is accepting the happiness. How can one learn to accept the situation as it is, and allow oneself to be happy?

I learned many things in Kosovo, but perhaps the most valuable lesson that I will always carry with me is that focusing on the moment makes all the difference. We had one thing to focus on while in Kosovo, and that was to be open to the learning process. Yes, we did have to work on the projects and write diaries, but the real message behind these assignments was to open up for the new experiences and learn on the way. When I do only doing one thing at the time, whether it is a school course or hobby, I am able to fully commit all of my energy to it. When all my focus was towards understanding the context of Kosovo, I dedicated all my senses to the situation. When I did this, it allowed me to appreciate the moment and to realize how happy Kosovo made me. I felt what “really living” means to me.

Many have asked, how is life after Kosovo? To be blunt, for many days after the trip had ended, I felt empty and spent my days thinking back to the good moments that we had during the trip. I have to keep reminding myself of the lesson that Kosovo taught me; you can be truly happy in whichever situation, if you decide to be living in the moment and appreciate it. There are times when things need to change and I still struggle with living in the moment instead of dreaming big, but Kosovo taught me that sometimes not much else needs to be changed than your mindset.

The idea that happiness comes from within cannot be taught. It needs to be experienced. I wonder if Kosovo as a state can overcome the barrier of acceptance: we are here now, and on the way to a better tomorrow, we can be happy too. But how can a state experience happiness? Does this mean a good standard of living for all? What can the state do to get there?

If you give the post a second look, you might notice that almost every third sentence is a question, which is fairly representative because instead of giving me answers, Kosovo provided me with questions. This is the type of learning that takes up all your time and energy and that you do not experience in a classroom, but it will surely teach you more than any scholarly article ever could. So I try to keep living with these questions and what I learned during the trip: through giving all you have to the learning process, you will learn much more and above all, enjoy the journey in itself.

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