Kosovo — mon amour
My whole family warned me about how unsafe it is (as if they knew), about criminality, war aftermath and all the terrible things that might happen to me if I dare to step the forbidden land of Kosovo. One of my Serbian acquaintances went futher, when I asked about how she’d feel about going there, she answered something extraordinary — “If I were you, I wouldn’t ever do it. You realize can be sold into organs?”
Needless to say how shit-scared I was to go to Kosovo. And I still did.
Hands shaken, feet trembling (I exaggerate here, the real storm was inside of my mind) I sat into the plane and started to fantasize about what I would see in a couple of hours. How do those people look? What does their language sound like? How do they percieve foreigners? I would expect anything but what I actually experinced there made me feel super comfy and confident.
So let me just take you through Pristina. This is not a guide (and I am not Oprah), but rather a set of my observations and ‘unusualities’ I found interesting.
Feels suspiciously like home
That very first impression when you arrive, go through the customs, exit from the airport, ride the taxi through the night city, smell the air… You just feel you’re home. Every local corner echoes with nostalgia sitting somewhere deep inside of you, every move, sight, taste comes back as a flash — you have seen it before. The city is dynamic and somewhat chaotic, the country itself is at interesting point in its history. In terms of architecture there’s nothing refined, polished or over-manicured, it’s just the way it is — and this is probably why it looks so painfully familiar and native to me. Because it’s real.
The city offers intimacy, this cozy feeling ‘Pristina and me’
You will see brand new buildings along with complete ruins in some places, even in the central part of Pristina, but hey, no one is perfect. It’s has some certain charm after all, it definitely has style — the one I call ‘romantic decay’.
Pristina leaves you speechless sometimes, sometimes fascinates, surprises and inspires, teaches and adds up to your mood. All you have to do is trust the place, unleash yourself, embrace and enjoy the city vibe. It won’t leave you upset.
Young people burn with light and huge potential for change, older generation complains about politics and corruption, and doesn’t not really believe anything will change, but still struggling scramble fixing their life.
They lived through war 16 years ago and I haven’t meet any ignorant, reserved or aggressive person in 10 days. Since I was there on a journalistic assignement, I talked to looooots of people, asked them a whole variety of questions and listened-listened-listened to their stories. I was truly overwhelmed by their hospitality — their doors we always open for us, complete strangers; willingness to help — whatever we might have need they would find/do/provide us with and would offer a cup of tea as a bonus :)
Once we were in a cafe in the center of Pristina with a colleague, we took a coffee, set up to do some work for a couple of hours, then we ordered something small again and then the waiter appeared out of the blue and proposed us to choose whatever we want absolutely free of charge. We started to laugh and said something like “look, we have already ordered twice”, kinda what-else-do-you-want, but he insisted to offer it. That was a very surprising moment and I started going over it in my head, why would he do that, is it the secret massive weapon called red lipstick, or the fact we were speaking English, so clearly we were foreigners and maybe that was a step to show off? Whatever, when I am in doubt I ask, so next time he approached us, I asked why he was so generous, “Because why not” was his answer.
I didn’t know it at that time, but apparently there is a nice tradition in Kosovo and Albania, when the third piece/item/food/drink goes as a present. Love it!
I should not even stop for long at this point as no words will ever describe the taste of that amazing traditional food anyway. Moreover, there is a high risk of making your mouth water — which is a useless stimulation if you are not actually in Kosovo right now!
But, well, couple of things:
- Huge. Soft. Hot. Tandoori breads, which accompany almost every meal, and are brought to you directly from the oven. And believe me, you can not resist (hope my nutritionist doesn’t read to this part)
- Coffee. You may say coffee is coffee everywhere: Colombian, Ethiopian, Brazilian, yes, but the way Kosovars make coffee is way beyond just good, it’s extraordinary. Macchiato is claimed to be the best outside of Italy, but hmmm…, how shall I even put it? Let’s say sometimes the student outstrips the teacher. The secret of Kosovan macchiato is locally produced milk, it’s just crème de la crème :) Oh, and yet again — cup of coffee is served with a little cupcake. If you know what I mean :)
- Meat and lots of it — in all variations, forms and sorts, super tasty.
I hate to say “it’s cheap”, because everything is relative and for locals the prices are normal or even high sometimes. So out of respect I’d say that it’s very affordable to western europeans. You can get a great meal (plus drink, plus dessert) for less than 5 euro, red price for coffee/tea is 1 euro (somewhere 80 cents).
All in all — it’s a gourmand’s heaven yet to be explored.
Albanian is an official and main language spoken in Kosovo, the other official language is Serbian. Some of the youngsters also speak English and — surprise — every 3rd person speaks German!
Albanian is a complicated language, very distinct from the rest of Indo-European group and it remains independent of its sub-group, the closest “relative” can be the ancient Illyrian language.
In 10 days my Albanian vocabulary has tremendously progressed to 10 words.
10 words was the edge of my learning capacity.
The only advice here — if your ears don’t capture the language, let your heart listen.
This is a bitter part, still makes my heart sink when I recall the experience of being a woman in Kosovo. Men simply don’t take you seriously, neither as a professional, nor as a human being in general. For the first time in my whole life (and extensive travel history) I have experienced something I call “a concept of transparent woman”. You are not there for them, neither you deserve a hand shake, nor being part of a conversation; leave alone other signs of attention. Many times I was left meditating aside while men where talking, joking, having fun or whatsoever. It felt weird the first day, then I got upset, on the third day I started counting the times I was actually addressed by name, then I angrily got used to it and commenced dreaming about getting home and finding myself in my husband’s embrace.
I’ve learnt an important lesson and got a totally new, richer and broader prospective on feminism. To me now, it’s not equality to men in attempt to pull the blanket on women’s side and overtake men’s business, but fairness and respect in all the spheres of life and work. I will expand this notion into separate discussion, when I get a bit more inspiration.
More than 10 years ago I have stumbled upon an article in a local newspaper about differences in perception of “home concept” between Ukrainians and Germans. While for Ukrainian, home space starts when the apartment door closes, the German understands he/she’s home when enters the block of apartments (so all common space, elevator, stair cases included). I remember, I reflected on this a lot and questioned my own boundaries yet then. This is when I decided I would expand ‘my’ territory to the streets of my city and then see how it goes. And it went further — all the way to understanding of public urban spaces, questions and answers about impacts I create as a consumer and a citizen, improvements in my social, professional and emotional spheres, and so on.
That’s why it’s shocking for me to see a man leaving his house with a huge plastic bag filled with garbage and then throwing it into the river right in front of his place. I simply don’t understand it. I don’t see any explanation and when I hear those impotent attempts to justify such a behavior, I just want to cry.
There is a lot of trash on the streets: plastic bags waltzing with the wind along Mother Theresa boulevard, papers flying all over the place, cigarette butts swimming in the fountains, plastic/glass bottles everywhere… It’s sad to see.
When in the supermarket you are given plastic bags and you kindly refuse it, you are looked at as if you were a black sheep. “It’s free”, they say, “I won’t take it even if you pay me to do so”, I answer.
Kosovo National and University Library is a result of outstanding and brave architectural design, as well as controversial creative decision. The architect, Andrija Mutnjakovic, has masterfully linked different geometrical forms: accurate cubes of various sizes, 99 white domes — as a tribute to Bysantine orthodox tradition, windows with vertical metal bars — to protect those sitting in the library from the street distraction; each part of the building is wrapped with metal fishing net, which also has some symbolic significance. This detail about Library’s exterior gives it a weirdo look.
It’s one of the most astonishing library buildings I have ever seen.
Ibrahim Rugova was the first President of the partially recognized Republic of Kosova. His portrait in full growth decorates the main square. At first I thought it was a portrait of a writer or an artist — such a tender, intelligent, kind, weak and strong at the same time, sincere and strong-willed character was depicted. When I looked closer and identified the word “President”, I have rolled my eyes and nearly fainted — have never seen presidents depicted the way Ibrahim Rugova was.
Kosovars from old to young admire him and are still nostalgic and hurt by his sudden death in 2006. Before going into politics, Mr. Rugova taught Albanian language and Russian literature in a middle school, spoke fluent French and Russian. He was a truly outstanding figure, I wish I could meet him, but there was no chance — I was 10 years late. At least, I was lucky to get a friend, who knew Ibrahim Rugova in person and even worked with him on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find his biography in English, otherwise I could tell you more about this prominent figure, but I will definitely research more — I am more than interested in learning more.
Kosovo has something for presidents — there’s a statue of Bill Clinton on Bill Clinton boulevard
and a poster of soon-president-to-be Hashim Thaci somewhere on the hidden streets of Pristina
To learn more about Kosovo, you might want to read the biographies of Ibrahim Rugova, Nena Theresa, Hasan Pristina, Nazim Gafurri and Anton Cetta for the start; watch ‘Two summers in Kosovo’ and recent Kosovo-Albanian Oscar-nominated movie ‘Shok’ (translates from Albanian as “friend”), check Alban Muja “Blue Wall Red Door” project and subscribe to Kosovo 2.0 e-magazine.
Kosovo has a lot to offer, leave your fears at home and head for an adventure.
Going back to where I’ve started — both of my kidneys, liver, stomach are on their regular places — no one has dissected me or sold into organs. However, looks like I have voluntarily left a piece of my heart there.
P.S. Hopefully, my next visit will be devoted to DOCUFEST, summer film festival in Prizran, I am so looking forward to it!