The weekend turned out very differently than I planned.  It could have been much less.  And it would have been, had we not reached out for help, stepped outside our guide book and took a small risk.

kosovo5.jpgAfter asking for information and directions on public transportation, a man we meet outside the closed National Museum offers to spend his Saturday with us and take us to the Field of Blackbirds, 8km from Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.  My mother always told me not to get in a car with strangers.  This is either the first line of my obituary or an amazing opportunity.

Kosovo3After several hours of deliberation, we accept Valon’s kind offer and meet him the following morning.  The day is perfect and unlike any other.  It includes surprise stops at the Jewish cemetery, Gracanica Monastery, and the Tomb of Sultan Murad.  Instead of looking at the empty Field of Blackbirds with a guide book in hand, we are instead able to talk through its history with both an expert and a local.

Kosovo2.jpgA long lunch is filled with discussions of family, wars and occupations of the distant and recent past, travel, and culture.  As always happens when I travel, I leave with more questions than when I arrive.  As twilight descends, he takes us to his office at the Ethnographic Museum, where we have cups of tea before a private tour the way only an expert and student of cultural anthropology can give.

Kosovo4.jpgIt has been four years since our day with Valon but I remember it so clearly, much more than if we’d played it safe and been tourists instead of travelers.  That day we made a friend.  It also watered a seed.  The day helped me understand the region, but also to understand myself.  It’s really the confluence of history and culture that inspires me, how they create and shape each other.  Seeing these sights with Valon and being able to talk with him about these ideas I began to see what no travel review website could ever tell me.

Kosovo6.jpgMy second lesson that day is one I continue to relearn every trip.  While Valon is exceptional due to his work and knowledge of his country, his kindness is representative of the region and the world.  Time after time I’ve had interactions with individuals who bent over backwards to help.  Interwoven into each trip is the story of a former stranger who became a friend once I was willing to let go of a little fear and just smile, say hello or ask a question.  Since that weekend, Valon and I have remained friends, and I look forward to the day I am back in Pristina, and we can catch up over cups of tea or Turkish coffee.

Thank you to my friend Walter for use of his wonderful photos from this trip.  You can see more of Walter’s photos on his Facebook page at Spokenlight Photography.  

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