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I always come back to Kosovo

By - 08.06.2023

How I cultivated an old love in a new place.

“I would like to live between Japan, America and Italy, but I always return to Kosovo. In fact, what I would like most is to spend the day with the beautiful sights of Italy, and in the evening to return to Kosovo to drink tea with my mom. It’s not that I like tea or my country, but my mom does, so I want to spend eternity there.”

This is a diary entry from last year, when I was living in the comfort of an Italian paradise. Today I am writing from harsh Kosovo, which I don’t want to call the opposite of paradise necessarily (though I often feel that it is) because then how could I justify choosing hell over paradise?

I only lived in Italy for six months, but the experience was so deep that I almost dare to say that I lived a kind of migration. As much as I fell in love with the beauty of Italy, I could not stop thinking about Kosovo.

If in the past I dreamed of living abroad, life seemed to tell me that I could not. Perhaps I am the suffering type. As someone who is passionate about art, it would not be surprising.

Jokes aside, Kosovo is not entirely without its joys, it is not a synonym for suffering, even though it often seems that way to us. Amid the beauty of Italy, in the midst of a new love, I cultivated an old love.

I will not end up like the Albanian poets who cry for their homeland in foreign lands. I promised that to my mom before leaving, as a joke. I was a bit tired of our literature, which knew nothing other than patriotism. Also, I told her that I would not cry for Kosovo I was sick of it.

Honestly, the new places were so beautiful that I didn’t miss anything about Kosovo. However, I had it in my heart the whole time. Every place I visited, as I admired the colorful buildings, I felt bittersweet. If only my people in Kosovo could see what I am seeing. If only I had my mom there, if I could share this with my old friends, if everyone in Kosovo could see this beauty.

Would we smile more?

Looking back, I was also laughing more than usual. It is easy to laugh when you are far from your problems, far from a sad, centuries-old history. It’s easy to choose kindness and warmth when nothing is gnawing at your soul.

It is not difficult to find beauty in a foreign country. The beauty I longed for went beyond the aesthetics I found in the cities. It was more about the ease of living that I saw in people.

There are so many problems in Kosovo that sometimes it is impossible to see even the little beauty that surrounds us. While I was visiting new places, I didn’t ask myself “why don’t I live here?” Instead, I asked “why doesn’t my country have this?”

That’s how I spent my time, between the two countries. During the day I enjoyed new adventures. But at night, sleep brought me back to Kosovo. I often woke up in the middle of the night and every time, like the first time, the reality hit me that I am far from the country, far from people, so far away, in that lonely room. Sometimes it seemed that I could barely breathe, I felt like I was living in a completely different world. More fascinating, yes, but the distance, confronted in the dark, was terrifying. What comforted me was that I would go back home. I had a return date.

Those who witnessed my days but not my nights were surprised when I told them that I do not plan to live anywhere except Kosovo. Wasn’t I the one who had complained about my country to them for hours? Was I not the girl in a permanent state of delirium with this fairy tale called Italy? I wasn’t lying to them, or to myself. I did not understand why each new journey brought me back deeper into the national core. It was almost funny. When did I return to Asdreni, Migjeni, Mjeda, Fishta and Konica?

At first I could not accept that the longing for my homeland was hurting me. It was almost pathetic. One day, sitting on the grass, I felt like a fragile flower about to be stomped into the ground. Confused, I took out my journal, not having any idea what to write.

In the absence of original thoughts, I noticed that I was in the middle of a poem, which I had recited at kindergarten:

“You opened your wings, flew away

deep into the blueness.

You migrated, you migrated,

where will you build your nest?

To you, nothing seems good enough

Not even this tree? Not even this stone?

Finally, you brave one,

Choose the flag as your nest.”

-Xhevahir Spahiu

I laughed, I didn’t have to deny it anymore. You cannot escape this poetic feeling of migration if you are an Albanian who writes in a foreign land.

I’ve returned in Kosovo

Now I no longer find fairy tales on the streets, only on paper. What fairy tales am I talking about? The magic that allows you to express your emotions without fear. Of course, life is not perfect anywhere. After all, the Italians I saw smiling on the street had their troubles. Perhaps, what they have that we do not have is the freedom to express these troubles, to live a colorful life without fear.

We aren’t encouraged to share our emotions in Kosovo. Perhaps because we have so many problems, there is a fear that the outside world will turn away if we say them out loud. Being away from home, where I was free to cry and not hide a bit of emotion, felt like a miracle. It’s magical to have the freedom to be yourself.

Fairy tales are beautiful, I like to live and create them. Perhaps the essential difference between these two states lies precisely here. In Italy I was a fairy tale character written by someone else. In Kosovo, I can be the creator of fairy tales myself. My own country is the only place where I can truly write my own story. You can make a change in another country, but it’s different when you do so in the country where your roots lie. If I am lucky enough to visit the most beautiful places in the world, the most I can get from them is new ways of reading. You have to go back home to start writing for real.

The process of creation is extremely difficult and painful. It takes a lot of time, effort, and patience. Especially if you try to fix a draft with so many mistakes, like our Kosovo. But creating something beautiful, despite the challenges, is priceless.

Our life is wild, unfair, difficult, rude and ugly. I often wonder why that brave eagle from the poem chose such a place to nest? Did its choice affect me as a five-year-old when I read the poem for the first time? I can’t go back in time and escape from this poem, or other poems, just like I can’t change my (bad) luck and be born somewhere else.

Would it have been better if I was born under another flag? I will not lie, yes. But today, with this flag, would I accept otherwise? No. Why? What brings me back to my nest that sometimes doesn’t even look like a nest? Well, the answer is the simplest because it’s my nest. I don’t want to leave my things, so I can’t leave Kosovo. You cannot abandon what is yours.

In the first days of my return, I dreamed that I was walking the streets of Kosovo and everything was clean, beautiful and colorful. I was experiencing an indescribable happiness. Finally, the two states merged into one. I opened my eyes, but not without bitterness.

I want to live in a beautiful, good and advanced country, more than anything else in the world, but only as long as this country is Kosovo. And what if Kosovo is not yet that place? In my dream it was, and dreams are the beginning of a new reality.

I used to live with the idea that Kosovo is hurting me, now I understand that Kosovo is hurt. Let’s face it, the cheerful blue skies from Spahiu’s poem are missing in Kosovo. I can move to a country where the skies are blue and everything works, or to work hard to bring blue skies to Kosovo. I don’t care if I use up the last drop of my soul for this country. The blueness is mine, but so is Kosovo.

I can try to run away from the darkness in Kosovo to somewhere filled with light, or I can work my whole life to illuminate Kosovo with what little light I have. I hope I will choose the latter.


Illustration: Atdhe Mulla via MidJourney

This blog was published with the financial support of the European Union as part of the project “Diversifying voices in journalism.” Its contents are the sole responsibility of Kosovo 2.0 and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

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