By Julia Keizer
Being back in Amsterdam, I can’t help but feel a little strange. I know time has passed because my friends are talking about their finals for their intensives, but it feels like our time in Kosovo was a good, but distant dream. Sitting in a café having a €3 coffee, I start to miss mornings (and amazing coffee) at Newborn, as well as much more that we left behind in Kosovo. Every time I am asked: “How was Kosovo?” I however struggle to find the words to describe the entire trip in a few words, as there is not one single reason why I miss Kosovo or think Kosovo was great, but rather many different unrelated reasons, making my stories very incoherent a lot of the time. In this blogpost, I will nevertheless try to explain one experience that made the trip special to me, and how it forced me to reflect.
One of my favourite experiences in our free time in Pristina, which was not completely related to the course (sorry Anne!), was going to a nail salon. Our local guide, Bardha, had recommended the salon and took us (Rabiya, Sahar and I) there after our last meeting one day. Bardha had showed us the Instagram page of the salon, which showed colourful, sparkly pictures of professional manicures and pedicures. When we arrived at the salon, we were welcomed into a tiny room with three young women sitting behind tables, working on the nails of other customers. The walls were covered in grey tiles, with the pink letters “ARJANA NAILS” spelled out vertically on the wall in the middle of the room. There was a black, old-looking leather couch in one corner, which we sat on, while the women and customers sat across tables from each other, on either desk chairs or plastic garden chairs. Bardha explained to the women what we wanted, and we chose the colours for on our nails. After waiting a little while, it was our turn, and the ladies got to work.
With customers coming in and out of the tiny salon, and with the salon’s owners chatting away to the customers in Albanian, the atmosphere was pleasant. We were talking amongst ourselves in English, trying to engage with the girls who were doing our nails by communicating with gestures and hands and feet, when we were kindly helped out by another customer, who spoke English. She told us that the three girls were sisters, and that they set up the salon together. The customer told us that she herself had just finished her high school exams, and that she would start university in Prishtina after summer to study English literature. When I asked her why she had chosen this particular subject, she answered, “I’m not sure, I didn’t know what I want to do, and I enjoyed English in school, so I just chose it.” She continued to explain that it is difficult to find a job after finishing university, a sentiment that we had heard all too often that week. She hoped that her degree in English literature would help her become an English teacher one day, and thus increase her chances of finding a job.
When she left the salon, it left us in silence for a while, in the friendly atmosphere of the salon. While the Albanian chatter was still going on, I thought about something that had been mentioned to me several times throughout the trip. That life in a post-conflict area is often not about constantly thinking about the difficulties in the times of war, but that it is simply about wanting to “live a life, have a livelihood, a passion, without conflict.” (Youth Assembly Representative). I respected the young women for starting their own business in something they enjoyed, which would also bring joy to many others, that perhaps created perhaps a small step towards normalization and also a step away from being defined as living in a “post-conflict zone.”
As cheesy as this sounds, this experience made me reflect on some of my own privileges, which I had mostly taken for granted, and which I felt rather guilty about. One of these privileges is my Dutch passport. I had always regarded this as “normal,” as many of my friends growing up held the same passport, or similar European or American passports. Being in Kosovo however, made me realize that while I can book a trip to London or Paris in the blink of an eye, without even thinking about how I will enter the country, many (young) people in Kosovo are not as lucky, having to endure long visa processes, which might not be successful most of the time. Going to Kosovo made me appreciate what I have, but also to keep an eye out for, as Anne says in class many times, “what has not been said”. Before starting Peace Lab, I was not aware of the difficulties experienced by Kosovars in getting visas for Europe, and the injustice that is felt by many Kosovars about the EU’s conditions for visa liberalization. I think that NGOs such as Kosovo 2.0 are therefore playing an important role in creating this awareness and dialogue about these issues, but I also worry about how much awareness there is created within the EU itself.
Not to leave this blogpost on a negative note though, I have also heard a lot of hopeful stories from people in Kosovo for the future, and I feel as though this is definitely not the last chapter. I wish young Kosovars, such as the sisters running a nail salon in Pristina, the girl studying English literature, as well as the members of the Youth Assembly a bright future, and I hope for all of them that visa liberalization will be granted soon. While there are many negatives to say about Kosovo, it is always more important to look at the many positives and look towards the future, or what solutions you can implement to change.