Today it is not that often when we travel that we are immersed in something completely new or foreign. It is not lost on us that we have been very fortunate for the amount of travel that we have been able to do are grateful for the opportunities and what they have given us. However that does not diminish the excitement of diving into the unknown nor lessen joy of discovering something new. We were therefore very excited when an old friend of mine invited us to visit him in Kosovo where he recently relocated.
Despite having lived in Europe for so long and having been to the Balkans a few times, somehow Kosovo still seemed distant and remote to me. This probably has a lot to do with the wars of the late nineties that are still in many of our memories. One of the unfortunate features of the human mind is to regard all that is unpleasant as distant. My ignorance shocked me when I found myself surprised to learn that a flight to Pristina from Basel was less than two hours. When Abe invited us to visit him, we didn’t hesitate to take him up on the offer to learn about a place about which we had been so ignorant.
Abe and Emma could not have been more kind hosts and tour guides, giving us a small but fascinating window into Kosovo and its culture, people, and challenges. Roaming about Pristina, I was reminded very much of eastern Hungarian or Romanian towns that we saw struggling to emerge from communism so many years ago. There are signs of life all around amidst clear signs of struggle. This is a country that is trying desperately to emerge on the world stage, but is still struggling with resources and developing its own administrative skills to nurture its own industries. This is a country building its hope on the peace it now enjoys, but is constantly reminded how recent it is by the continued KFOR presence.
Even if Kosovo as a state is new, its history is staggering, with some historians theorizing that the ethnic Albanians who make up a majority of the population descend from the ancient Illyrians. Kosovo is also a spiritual home of Serbian orthodox culture, home a number of ancient monasteries of impressive beauty and a proud Serbian minority.
It was also strange to be a US expat in today’s international political climate and be somewhere where Americans are still highly regarded. Xhorxh Bush Street, Richard Holbrooke Street, Bulevardi Bill Klinton (including a bronze statue of the former president): the gratitude of Kosovars to US intervention is reflected in its street names.
It was fantastic to spend a weekend being whisked about a new land, absorbing all I could while Abe played driver, concierge, interpreter, and tour guide. We are looking forward to hosting him and Emma to return the favor.