Our eight and six year olds had never met their Kosovan grandparents, so this summer we ventured to the Balkans, to their father’s homeland, for an adventure. It was both magical and emotional for us all to physically appear in my husband’s tales of his village, destroyed in 1999 during the Serbian war. His stories materialised as we found ourselves standing by the well looking at the remaining rubble of a once happy, self-sufficient home. He showed us the arduous route he had to endure twice a day to walk to school, literally over a mountain and forest, and I realised he had not been exaggerating when he detailed this in reply to our winging six year old, unwilling to make the short, easy walk to school. We passed a memorial stone where a close relative was killed. The sense of atrocities and loss loomed in this beautiful landscape. Fruit trees flourished with pears and plums, flowers blossomed – a reminder that life continues amidst the ruins. There may no longer be cows and chickens, but the relentless rattle and hum of crickets and bees ensure that we acknowledge that the village is alive.
We spent one night in the Rugova Mountains in the most idyllic wooden chalets with breath-taking views. On the drive up there we stopped at stunning waterfalls and encouraged the children to literally scream as loudly as their lungs would let them (something they are always being told not to do at home!) It was exceptionally liberating, (yes we too had a go) and I was able to release recent frustrations that I had been subjected to, some minor like the lack of diet drinks, skimmed milk and sweeteners, some, however, pretty major in my sheltered, spoilt middle-class life. Chain -smoking around children and fires at the sides of the roads were everyday occurrences that no one batted an eyelid at. The lack of level crossings, toilet paper and seatbelts were equally amazing for me. After a good scream I was ready to embrace the culture, delve in completely and immerse myself and the children in the Albanian traditions. We sat on the floor to eat, we ate with our hands, we learned the traditional greetings for the festival of Eid which marks the end of Ramadan, we danced at our cousin’s wedding, and we too sat on the ground after hearing five gunshots during the marriage celebrations. (I learned later that this was for good luck not, because we were under attack!)
The intense love that the children received from not only their grandparents but from their eleven first cousins was overwhelming. Family is at the core of everything for these people. I have never experienced such warmth and hospitality and to say we were welcomed with open arms is an understatement. This meant saying goodbye was exceptionally hard and yes tears were shed from almost every family member. A truly memorable trip, where heart and soul replaced a full board 5* experience.
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