10 THINGS I LOVED ABOUT THE YOUTH EXCHANGE IN TRSTENIK
Text: Shkurta Januzi
Photos: Milica Kinolli Milović
Shkurta, the author.
One might wonder what around 30 young people from 5 different countries could be doing in a mountain house for ten days in a row. Well, aside of living in fresh air, eating healthy food, and getting to know each other, what else but trying to change the world for better.
When I applied to Balkan Myth Busters Youth exchange, organized by Volunteers’ Centre of Vojvodina, I was pretty doubtful that I’d get accepted. When I received the acceptance email, I was pretty convinced my parents would not give me permission to become part of the project (since it was going to be held in Serbia).
And finally, when I and the other people from Kosovo started our journey to Trstenik, I was pretty scared. Pretty scared I was not safe, pretty scared I would have nothing to offer to the program, pretty scared I could make a fool of myself, pretty sure I would not like the food, pretty convinced I wouldn’t be able to fit in, pretty scared… pretty sure…pretty doubtful… pretty… pretty…pretty…
Once we arrived at the mountain house, settled our stuff in the sleeping room, and sat down at the saloon in the first floor, every other word after the word ‘pretty’ just vanished. And I knew that the days ahead would be only ‘pretty’, just as the faces of all these people around me were.
I could write pages and pages, about everything that happened during those days, which seem so short to me now. But I’ll make this long story short, and write about 10 things I totally loved during the Exchange.
- Milica’s and Vlada’s food
This was one of my biggest ‘pretties’. I was sure I wouldn’t like the food. I never do. My grandpa often jokingly tells me I should be left to starve, since I refuse to eat most of foods. Strange enough I liked the food that Milica and Vlada cooked for us. Though I had tried most of the foods earlier, I felt they tasted differently and smelled differently. I am sure that one of the reasons of the deliciousness of the foods is all the love that Milica and Vlada put into it while cooking.
- The fire pit
Just outside the mountain house, under the pine trees there was a fire pit with stump stools around. We would sit there during our breaks, evenings, and we even held some of the sessions there. At night we would light a fire and sing or just talk. It felt so peaceful, and somehow it just made me feel closer to all the people around me. As if we were a family.
The fire pit. Talking about vampires.
- Walks with Natasha
Natasha is a real rambler. She was willing to come and walk with us whenever we’d ask her. She’s even a great conversationalist, so she just didn’t let you get bored no matter how long the walks were.
- Hiking night
We hiked through the mountains of Trstenik one night, wearing our warmest jackets and comfiest shoes, carrying water and snacks in our backpacks. We walked for more than two hours through the Gledić mountains to reach the Samar peak which has an elevation of 922 m above sea level.
During the whole hiking we had the chance to make small talk/deep talk with each other, tell jokes, and get to know each other even more. The nigh was quiet and chilly but we were sleepless and full of energy.
- The visit at Gornji Dubic’s school
During one of the days we visited the only school in the village of Gornji Dubic. We played games with the kids and painted a mural in one of the walls of the school. The teacher and other school staff were very welcoming. Also, we ate delicious food prepared by local people. At the end we even received gifts from the kids. It was one of the nicest days, as you can see in the video below:
- The sessions
I was expecting the sessions to be something very serious, where I would have to think a lot of what I had to say rather than just express myself freely. But it wasn’t like that. We could all say what we thought, and how we saw things from our perspective. We would often try to see things from the perspective of the other and talk about the reasons behind our ways of thinking.
I believe the sessions were very effective because of that, since they were more natural and comfier. We held the sessions in the saloon, the balcony or the fire pit.
- We learnt new things about the other countries
We learnt new things about the other countries, from the people coming from those countries. We learnt that kind of stuff that school books don’t teach us and the media don’t show us.
Petar and Valmir in artistic mood.
- Everyone cared about each other
It was strange and beautiful. But within the very first two days, everybody was taking care of each other and showing love and kindness. We supported each other and felt like a family, though we were meeting for the very first time. I think we managed to create some friendships and bonds that will break no matter the distance or differences.
Happy birthday, Valmir!
- The legends
During the sessions we discussed a lot about the legends which we grew up with. I came to realize that the countries of the Balkans have a lot of similar legends, and also heard some scary stories about the vampires.
- WE ATE FLIJA*
Okay, I loved Milica’s food, but this was FLIJA, you know! I still cannot understand why I and everyone else love flija so much. But the day before the last we cooked flija and everybody was so happy about it (especially the Albanians). I must thank Bleona and Kafu who did most of the work. The process was hard, but the taste was rewarding.
*Traditional Albanian food
One thing I hated during the exchange
Maybe ‘hated’ is a very strong word, but those energizers were like a thorn in my eye. Every time somebody shouted Energizer! I just felt a huge desire to go and hide somewhere. But I must accept the fact that after each of them I had more energy, so it was worth it.
*The Youth exchange in Trstenik (Future myths from the past) was part of the Erasmus+ project called Balkan Myth Busters. Volunteers’ Centre of Vojvodina is the carrier of the project, together with GAIA Kosovo, CID Macedonia, CVS Bulgaria, SVI Hellas, SCI Germany, VUK Kuterevo, PVN Albania and the Regional Association of Youth offices in Serbia.