I have lived here for 25 years but to say that I know Kosovo would not be not completely honest. I don’t know the people who live here, nor the places I have or haven’t visited, nor the sadness and happiness that fill the hearts around me.
Yes, Kosovo is a small country. Yes, you see the same faces everywhere you go. You hear the same line from everyone, said with the most nonchalant tone: “Things will get better eventually!” You see the same frozen smile on the face of every parent, who feels guilty that they might not be able to provide a better life for their children.
You’ll inhale the same amount of dust each morning. The same problems you have today, you will have tomorrow. You will have a power outage, because, once again, there is a problem with the electrical wires in the neighborhood. You will be forced to turn off your phone because the debt collector keeps calling. Your child will come home crying again, because there’s no one to intervene with that bully in his class.
You can see the gloomy sky reflected in the eyes of everyone who is fated to live here.
There is more to see
My life is very simple, maybe to some it may look too simple, even boring. The music I listen to stays the same for months, the clothes I wear stay the same as long as they are clean, the movies I watch seem as if they will be on constant rotation until I die. The poem I write will come out the same, even if I try to write it a hundred times. The places I visit are the same as they always were, but this place is so magical that it often makes me feel like a tourist visiting it for the first time.
The bus that takes me from Fushë Kosova to Prishtina gives me this feeling. The whole journey is an experience in itself, except that in the mornings and evenings you feel suffocated because the bus is jam-packed with travelers like sardines in a can and it is rare to find a free seat.
Even though I take the same route every day, it can be unpredictable.
When you sit down, you feel stuck because you won’t be able to ignore a gentleman’s noisy conversation next to you. Then eventually you surrender and become the 35th member of his audience.
The experience of the National Library is also beautiful. It’s a building that I’m as connected to as the monk from Yukio MIshima’s novel “The Temple of the Golden Pavilion” is connected to his temple. I use the library to work on my laptop, I say “use” insofar as I am allowed to use it. It is surprising that a state institution, which is visited by hundreds of students every month, functions without actually functioning.
Maybe, it’s me who causes bad luck with my requests.
If I need Wi-Fi, they tell me: “We’re sorry, the network just happened to be down today!” If I need a free seat, they answer: “We’re sorry, there are too many students because it’s exam time” even if an entire empty hall is closed for some reason. I need to use the toilet: “Sorry, there are no hygiene products.” You have to pretend to be a robot and forget about the physiological needs of your body.
God forbid that you ask for a book to read. On that day, the system will break down, the library’s website will be down and the program that orders books will not work. Finally, the conveyor belt system that dates back to the 1970s, which goes to the underground floors where the books are kept, will not work either, because something is stuck on it. Ha ha.
But it’s the endlessly welcoming and polite library employees that make you feel comfortable and happy to come back the next day.
I find the library not particularly beautiful and very melancholic, but despite this, it is the most beautiful place in the world to me. I like to joke that being deprived of all these privileges will put me on the path being fully prepared for a zombie apocalypse.
So yes, I feel like I still need time to sit and learn more.
Even more special are the city’s cinemas. If you decide to go and see a film by an old French auteur, let’s say Godard, and you’re prepared to go back in time and witness pure cinematic art, it may happen that another hungry spectator decides to do the same as you that night.
And what happens once the lights go out and the movie starts? A bag of chips is opened and the sound of chewing resounds throughout the movie hall. And you can’t decide what’s the most true and original art in that room: Godard or the crackling of potato chips? I say that I should stay here because I really have a lot to learn and reflect about the art and artists in Kosovo.
As a coffee lover, I also agree with the idea that we have the best coffee makers in the Balkans, and also the kindest. There’s nothing better than sipping a warm cup of coffee in the sunshine while trying to put that idea that’s been running around in your head for a month now into words on the screen. An idea that has been frustrating you so much that you feel like banging your head on the wall in front of you for 10 straight minutes.
But no, the coffee is so good that the idea stops running through your mind and slowly crosses to your fingers and starts to write itself, with a fluidity that surprises you in the moment.
I hate to be emotional, but it seems to me that a coffee with loved ones by my side is even more delicious, even if I’m sitting at a cafe table in the middle of the street next to the city’s stray dogs who, among other things, “stink” of tenderness and kindness.
Every shared bar of chocolate is sweeter than the next, and tastes even sweeter when it has the inscription “Made in Kosovo.”
Every night I spend here I hold close to my heart, where through the most beautiful Albanian words, I learn more about the people around me. Then, I feel sad about how quickly I assumed that I was alone in going through problems that everyone seems to go through.
I have the impression that even the sky above is more beautiful and more blue, because it ignites your fantasies and arouses your curiosity. It makes you look beyond the places of infinite beauty and happiness that it stretches over, which makes you believe in the infinite blessings that God brings us from above.
And until I understand what lies in those unknown parts of the sky, I want with all my heart to learn about the infinite potential in the hearts of the people around me. And I think that will take time.
So, I will stay for a little longer.
Illustration: Atdhe Mulla via MidJourney