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  • Jerome Kocher

46. Train to Prishtina

In Peja, Kosovo I took a taxi to the train station. We drove by Bill Clinton Street, Tony Blair Street, and Gen. Wesley Clark St. (NATO Supreme Allied Commander 1997-2000). Those names and dates tell you all you need to know about Kosovo’s relationship to the U.S. In both Albania and Kosovo families name their kids Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. Albanian Kosovars are very clear that without American support the country of Kosovo would not exist. U.S. NATO forces stopped Serbia’s genocidal aggression against Kosovo in 1999. Here, Bill Clinton is a god, deservedly so for taking action while Europe sat on its hands.

But back to the train station. It’s good that I didn’t arrive early because the stone station building itself was closed. I waited in the shade next to graffiti walls and weed invaded tracks. At least it was original from the era of communism because over 25 years ago the city of Peja had been mostly destroyed by the Serbs. Several Kosovars I had talked to this week had never taken the train. They mostly take busses with more routes and connections. There’s just one train track going from east to west.

I waited next to a family of three young sons with their mother. We could barely speak until one of them indicated they were Kosovars living in Germany, coming here twice a year to visit family. I could then practice my German. Their father had left Kosovo 25 years ago because of the war. The boys had a soccer ball and a shared smart phone. The train opened its doors and we were ready to go.

I sat near my newly befriended family after choosing one of the window seats with less shattered glass. It would offer a less distracted view of the agricultural country side, mostly corn crops with spotted hay fields that had been hand cut by scythe and placed into large conical hay piles. The middle son kept looking out the window like some lovable labrador in the back seat of a car. But occasionally he would have to duck back in to avoid shrubbery and branches brushing his face. I avoided putting my fingers out the window because my bandaids were securely packed away. It was a tight ride. The older son practiced his illegal soccer moves by bouncing the ball back and forth with his fists.

But when the family got off, the trip became even more interesting. There was a young teenager across from me traveling solo. I noticed the conductor had forgotten to ask him for a ticket. I spoke first, and for the next hour we never stopped the conversation until we reached Prishtina.

He was Aryon, an art student returning from a family visit in a nearby village. The family raised peppers, one of the primary foods in a Kosovar diet. I had tasted yoghurt with peppers more than once, a common side dish. His father experimented with seeds to get the perfect variety. This was a better life than his time spent in prison during the late 90’s war. But 19 year old Aryon did not have those wounds or scars, only family stories. He was bright and fresh, leaving the past behind. He is the future hope of Kosovo.

And then I asked about his art. He pulled out a small notebook with sketches. They were beautiful. I especially noticed a small oil painting of a young woman, then sketches of his dog and a man. There were many more. He was actually creating a small side business of wedding paintings. He would arrive early and paint the wedding scene and then from a photo of the couple he would paint them into the scene later. Yes, there’s wedding photography and video, but who has a wedding painting. That is uniquely special.

Aryon was a wonderful ambassador for the youth of Kosovo. In fact, 53% of Kosovo is under the age of 25. And in Prishtina with its university, 70% is under 30. Unbelievable! Aryon hopes to travel outside Kosovo, but currently their regular ID visas only allow them to cross into Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia and Turkey. He said this will change in January, but later an older woman reminded me that every year the same January promise had been made.

We arrived at Prishtina and Aryon courteously escorted me a quarter mile till I could find a taxi. The day’s trip with morning taxi, a 2 1/2 hour train ride, then another taxi cost less than nine dollars. But remember, this is a country where the average pay is $300 to $500 a month with a minimum pay of $320 a month.

My next stop, find Aryon’s mural at the NewBorn Brew Cafe, his favorite social spot near the university where he had been commissioned to paint a landscape scene on one of the walls. It’s difficult being an artist anywhere in the world, but in Kosovo the struggle to survive makes it even harder.

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Jul 21, 2023

Wonderful to hear about this country from someone firsthand.


Jul 21, 2023

So interesting and vivid.

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