By Rabiya Chaudhry
When people hear the word Kosovo, the first thing that might come into their mind is an image of a post-conflict country trying to move towards development and reconciliation. However, when I hear the word Kosovo it brings back all those beautiful experiences and memories I shared with 22 other people. Friends and family ask me: “how was Kosovo?” and honestly I have no words to describe what I felt and experienced during those nine days away from Amsterdam.
Before boarding the plan to Kosovo I was so nervous and scared but once I reached there I realized something completely different. Of course, the environment was different than Amsterdam but in some ways, it reminded me of home. Maybe it was the warmth of people, or their generosity or the hospitality I experienced but being in Kosovo changed a lot of things for me personally. I was always a person who took things for granted and going to Kosovo and meeting people especially the kids in the Ideas Partnership really changed my outlook towards life. It taught me to appreciate everything I have, and every opportunity I am open to due to the life I have been blessed with.
Even though I have a lot of times in Kosovo that are worth mentioning, for example, our swim in the lake in Mitrovica, or the dinner in the beautiful Germia Park, and the time I spent with Julia and Sahar at the nail salon. However, my most fun experience was the car ride I took on the way back from our dinner at Germia Park. In Amsterdam when you get a taxi, you have to be disciplined, and listen to the driver playing music and wait patiently for your destination to arrive but in Kosovo that is not how you experience a taxi ride.
Imagine four girls slightly tipsy sitting in a car when the driver starts playing house music which is a mixture of English and Albanian pop songs and all of us jamming to the beats of the music. While observing our enthusiasm for the music, the driver turns up the sound even louder and starts driving at a high speed while the windows are rolled down. Driving on the main road, with music and a soft wind blowing in our faces reminded me of the long drives that my brother would take me on when we were in Pakistan. At some point during our journey back home in Kosovo, we asked the taxi driver if he could stop at a shop so we could buy cigarettes and water bottles but what he does catches us off guard. He takes out a pack of cigarette and offers us one each, while he lights up his own cigarette and starts enjoying the moment with us. This openness is what I have missed in Amsterdam; it's not only the taxi drivers that were so enthusiastic to host us but almost everyone we met in restaurants or on the streets. They tried their best to cater to our needs, play us music, and give us the best time in form of their hospitality.
I remember going to the corner café often, it was located on the main city square opposite the Newborn monument. As we went there regularly the waiters started to recognize us, and every time we would go there, we would see them arguing about who would serve us. This was obviously because we tipped them every time, and they always made sure that we had the best experience ever. This hospitality was everywhere in Kosovo, it did not matter if we were at a small café or a big restaurant. People just showed us love, never annoyed because we only spoke English and they were sometimes unable to understand us. This hospitality is also something I experienced with our host family. To accommodate us and make us feel at home they gave us their own bedroom while all of them slept in the living room together. This touched my heart so much because they let go of their own comfort to accommodate and cater to our needs. This is something I will never forget.
Lastly, to give back something to the beautiful people we spent our time with, Julia and I decided to make a blog (kosovoidentity.blogspot.com). In this blog, we both wrote about the existing majority and non-majority groups present in Kosovo along with lingering tensions and the positive initiatives taken for reconciliation between these groups. It is amazing to see the motivation that the people and youth of Kosovo have for improving the condition of Kosovo.